Environment Picture

President's Column: Pure Michigan means protecting, as well as promoting, our state’s natural assets

In August, I spent time exploring parts of Michigan I had never really visited until now. Walking along the Lake Michigan shoreline at Ludington I couldn’t help but marvel at the beauty of our state and the natural assets that we too often take for granted.

As the sun shone down, I waded in the warm water of Lake Michigan on my way across the beach to the Big Sable Point Lighthouse and marveled at what a great state we live in. Sure, we are struggling economically. In Manistee’s beautiful historic downtown, there were many empty store fronts, and unemployment in Michigan is unacceptably high. But all around me I saw promise and potential.

Lake Michigan was cool and clear. The beach and dunes were wide and inviting. It was the perfect “Pure Michigan” commercial. It is at moments like that when you realize how important it is that we protect, not just promote, “Pure Michigan.” Our state’s future is tied to how we manage our natural resources. Protecting the Great Lakes, which define us as a state and are the lifeblood that drives our economy and our communities, must be a priority for the next governor and legislature.

We have seen recently how mismanagement can harm this great resource. The broken oil pipeline in Calhoun County that spilled up to one million gallons might well have ended up in Lake Michigan. The headlines in the Ludington paper told of trash washing up on our beaches—most likely from stormwater overflows in Milwaukee. Beach closings continue around the state due to high E. coli levels. Over 40 billion gallons of raw or partially treated sewage are released annually into Michigan’s waterways. The threat of Asian carp to fisheries has become a national issue with both environmental and economic impacts to our state.

But the real issue isn’t the threats we face. Instead, it’s the future we can build. Our state’s natural resources, our water, beaches, forests, and natural areas are key to sustaining our state’s economic future. We must build an economic model on the sustainable use of our natural resources—evaluating each use based upon the highest and best use, not simply on extraction and consumption of our resources.

This type of economic model values eco-tourism as a viable business sector worth supporting and as a potential alternative to resource extraction. Our natural resources are the bedrock we must build upon to strengthen our economy and keep our communities and children healthy.

President Obama recently came to Holland, MI, for the groundbreaking of a new battery facility for the next generation of electric cars produced here in Michigan—the Chevrolet Volt and Ford Focus. The visit highlighted an emerging industry where Michigan stands to lead in the new green economy.

Our state needs to re-think its economic development strategy to keep that kind of progress moving. Our current strategy is based upon business attraction, chasing smokestacks, looking for the next big industry or business. We need to adopt an additional strategy that is based up the organic growth of existing Michigan companies. This is where the real job growth is and will continue to occur.

I am not suggesting an “either or” scenario, but one adopting an “economic gardening” model that focuses our policies on supporting existing small businesses (see the winter 2010 Michigan Environmental Report for an analysis of this model). If we layer this approach with a view toward sustainability, Michigan will truly have a cutting edge economic development strategy.

The next governor must decide which path to follow: One that exploits natural resources for short-term job creation, or one that recognizes the importance of our natural resources and builds a sustainable economic strategy for the state.

Only the latter brings us a better future and long-term prosperity. The choice is truly ours to make.
RELATED TOPICS: conservation, green economy
© Copyright Michigan Environmental Council, All rights reserved