OU hosts fourth annual Michigan Climate Summit

On June 2, 2023, Oakland University welcomed local climate leaders, state legislators, youth groups, and members of Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s administration for the fourth annual Michigan Climate Summit, hosted by the Michigan Climate Action Network (MiCAN). 

MiCAN is a statewide network of over 76 organizations and businesses and thousands of community members with the shared goal of mobilizing a stronger climate movement in Michigan. Through organizing events, such as the Michigan Climate Summit, and generating media coverage on climate politics, the MiCAN progresses its mission of advancing equitable climate solutions.

The theme of MiCAN’s fourth annual Michigan Climate Summit was “Sharing Our Stories.” The goal of the event was to educate attendees about climate justice in an accessible and interactive format. 

The summit featured various panel forums, workshops and art displays that incorporated discussions of intersectionality and the importance of cross-disciplinary action against climate change. 

Throughout the duration of the summit, attendees were invited to engage with various tabling organizations, view climate-themed art pieces, and create their own sustainable protest flyers.

The Habitat hosted the “Commitment Poster Production” activity, wherein attendees were able to view an exhibit of protest posters and create their own printed flyers committing to climate action. In the lobby of the second level, various interactive art pieces and student-crafted artwork were displayed.

Over the course of the day, over 25 tabling organizations, such as CASE-OU, the OU Organic Student Farm, and Public Citizen, lined the halls of the Oakland Center. Organization representatives spoke to activists about their mission and invited them to join their efforts.

“(The) summit seeks to integrate the science to policy, the grass tops advocates who are here, with storytellers, artists, and grassroots organizations so we can create a more inclusive pathway to engagement, to learning, and care about climate change and the people and places most disproportionately impacted by it,” Dr. Denise Keele, the Director of MiCAN, said. “I’ve done the science and the policy for 20 years, so I think what is missing in this movement is the heart, and all of you showing up today makes my heart full.”

After opening remarks delivered by Dr. Keele and an Indigenous lands statement, a recorded message from U.S. Representative Rashida Tlaib was played for the audience. Tlaib reminded conference attendees that she was an ally to the environmental activists and promised that she would fight for their rights in Congress.

Following Rep. Tlaib’s message, Ora Pescovitz, Oakland University’s President, and April Clobes, Oakland University Credit Union CEO, took the stage. The pair announced that the Oakland University Credit Union (OUCU) would be awarding Oakland University a gift of $1 million to support sustainability efforts on campus. 

“This gift is designated to provide initial funding for a number of sustainability-related strategies for Oakland University…the first among them will be the creation of a director of a sustainability program here at Oakland University,” Clobes said.

Other highlights from the day-long event included a MI Healthy Climate Plan Update presented by representatives from the Michigan Department of Environment Great Lakes, and Energy. There was also a panel discussion on state legislative priorities from state representatives and senators.

The “State Legislative Priorities” included State Representative Abraham Aiyash, State Senator Rosemary Bayer, State Representative Dylan Wegela, and State Senator Sue Shink as panelists. The politicians agreed that there are a lot of financial pressures placed upon politicians by major corporations that may make it difficult for climate activism efforts to succeed. 

“Our state legislators need to prioritize the kitchen table, not the shareholder table,” Aiyash said.

Various breakout sessions marked the afternoon, including “Shut Down Line 5,” “Social Change Through Storytelling,” “Oakland County Climate Action,” and “Students Driving University Action”.

Aaeshah Siddiqui, an Oakland University junior studying Political Science and Social Work was a featured panelist for the “Students Driving University Action” session. Siddiqui, who is currently an organizer for Public Citizen, said she was “immediately interested” in participating when she became aware that the summit would take place on campus. 

“Climate change means a lot to me because not only my generation and my community across the world are impacted, but future generations to come are heavily impacted and I seek to make their lives liveable,” Siddiqui said. “Not only that, but climate change is inextricably linked to various other social justice issues, including refugee systems, immigration, and even food and water insecurity, and I seek to work to address those issues in my life as well.” 

OU professor Jeffrey Insko, Department of English and Coordinator of American Studies, was heavily involved in the hosting of the event and was a featured panelist for the “Shut Down Line 5” and “Teaching the Climate Crisis” panel discussions.

Insko emphasized the importance of educational institutions and contributions from all disciplines in the fight against climate change. 

“Climate change isn’t really a scientific problem. It’s an imaginative problem,” Insko said. “What we need are new ways of living, new ways of being in relation with the more-than-human world and with one another. We need people (in social science disciplines) who can help us imagine those things.”

To learn more about Michigan Climate advocacy, visit MiCAN’s webpage. To join campus-specific sustainability initiatives, visit CASE-OU’s webpage