BLTs and bottles

What do you do when your hosts are making every effort to serve your needs but they unintentionally test your principles? The correct action isn’t always easy to determine. When writing the biography of Michigan’s longest-serving governor, William Milliken, I visited his Traverse City house to conduct interviews.  His wife Helen, a major public figure in her own right, offered to make lunch.  When the three of us sat down to eat, I was staring in the face of a BLT —and I was a vegetarian.  I spent a few seconds wondering whether I should advise the Millikens of my dining preferences or just eat the BLT.  I ate it and said nothing.  I was fortunate to be served anything by these two elegant people. I’ve probably given a hundred speeches or more over the years, generally at the invitation of friendly organizations interested in filling a half hour or hour with information about environmental issues.  In recent years, I’ll get to the podium to find a plastic bottle of water ready to help my words flow. My first impulse is to flinch.  Because by the time I notice the bottle, I am about to speak to an audience, I can’t privately ask the bottle be removed.  My second impulse is to ponder whether I should make a point in my presentation about the bottle.  But I don’t.  It’s bad manners. But we need a different set of norms, one in which serving what belongs to the public – water – that is captured by private parties and packaged at an enormous markup in price is considered bad form. ...

Place, People and Policy

How important is place? To Michigan’s longest serving governor, Traverse City’s own William Milliken, it was everything.  Considered the state’s greenest governor, the now 95-year-old Milliken credited northwest Michigan for his environmental concern. Read the whole article at...

Wow: An Environmental Book with a Happy Ending

The unremitting dismal news about climate change, our government’s denial of it, proposed elimination of Great Lakes funding and more can get you down.  But wait. Award-winning author Heather Shumaker has written a book with good news about one of the most important land protection campaigns by a nonprofit organization in Michigan’s history.  Saving Arcadia chronicles the successful effort by the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy to save precious Lake Michigan dunes and working farmland.  At times it reads like a suspense novel, as years of hard work seem about to collapse.  This makes the denouement all the sweeter. As a reviewer for Booklist says, “Formidably and accessibly tackling a very complex story, this will appeal to people who love wild places and want to see them preserved.” I recently shipped questions Heather’s way and received thoughtful responses. When and from what inspiration did you decide to write this book? I began this book ten years ago at the suggestion of Glen Chown, director of the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. Glen and I had worked together for years doing land conservation work and he knew I was switching gears to become a writer. “You want to write a book? Write about Arcadia Dunes!” he said. “The drama, the adventure, the inspiration, our mistakes, our successes.” He was right – saving Arcadia was a story worth telling, and ultimately it’s a balm for our collective environmental souls because it’s an inspiration. We all need good news. Saving Arcadia is that rare thing – a good news environmental story. What was the biggest challenge in writing the book? Writing about real living...

The Next Door Opens: FLOW

On Tuesday, April 4, I begin work at an organization of growing strength and influence in the battle to protect the Great Lakes, Traverse City-based FLOW. Here’s why. In a 35-year career defending the environment, I’ve never lived through times of such profound challenge — and opportunity.  The Great Lakes, in particular, and all they mean to us economically, environmentally and personally are at grave risk. FLOW brings to protection of the Great Lakes and other natural resources something no other group does: a focus on a centuries-old, often overlooked tool called the public trust doctrine, which imposes a duty on the government to protect commonly held resources for the public good.  By asserting it in the courts, deploying it in legislative debates, and educating the public about it, FLOW brings to life a potent force for good.  The public trust doctrine is not only a shield strong enough to fend off attacks but also a tool useful in advancing protection of the Great Lakes. FLOW has already demonstrated its effectiveness as part of the coalition seeking to decommission the dangerous Line 5 pipeline crossing the Straits of Mackinac.  FLOW has provided weighty technical and legal support to the campaign. The president and founder of FLOW, Jim Olson, is a nationally recognized legend in the field of environmental law.  Executive Director Liz Kirkwood is a brilliant strategist.  The rest of the staff and the board bring to this work an assortment of strengths in fund development, science, social media, engineering, law and public policy. FLOW will make a sustained impact for good in protection of the Great Lakes. In the end, my choice about where...