Former Grand Rapids mayor speaks about environmental changes

By Kyle Doyle | 10/23/16 9:04pm

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GVL / Emily Frye Former Govenor of Grand Rapids speaks to Grand Valley students about sustainability within the community on Thursday Oct. 20, 2016.


Desolate wastelands span across the planet. Seas of unending destruction, devoid of life as far as the eye can see. Temperatures that rival those of the sun. Deadly storms that rage on in every corner of the globe.

To some, this is the future if action is not taken to prevent the effects of climate change. But the only way to do this is to start from the bottom up. This is something former mayor of Grand Rapids and current community sustainability coordinator at Grand Valley State University George K. Heartwell has successfully employed.

Heartwell gave a talk on the importance of changing environmental policy at the local level to help change spread up toward the global level at the Loutit Lecture Halls Thursday, Oct. 20 titled “Local to Global: The All in Effort to Save the Planet?”

Heartwell focused primarily on the changes he made to the city of Grand Rapids during his tenure as mayor and how he and mayors from across the globe influenced language at the Paris climate talks.

“We’ve heard Earth’s cry,” Heartwell said. “We’ve seen the rape of species to extinction, we can’t claim ignorance.”

Using his time as mayor as a focus, Heartwell took the audience through a list of things he did and helped do during his time as mayor of Grand Rapids.

During his tenure, Heartwell helped the city become one of the greenest cities in the country, winning awards from the U.S. Department of Commerce for sustainability and from the U.S. Conference of Mayors for environmental protection.

Heartwell was also able to get the city on track for numerous environmental goals including increasing tree canopy to 40 percent by 2030 and percent of municipal power coming from renewable energy sources by 2020.

Shifting from his help with local environmental protection, Heartwell talked about his experience at the United Nations climate talks held in 2015 in Paris.

"600 mayors attended the Paris talks," Heartwell said. "Mayors from all over the world and our sheer numbers helped influence the language put into the deal.

“Success of the international agreements requires the cooperation of us, the cities."

Heartwell said in order to implement change globally it has to be done locally, something that was hammered in at the Paris climate talks as he spoke with foreign mayors and White House administrators.

“I left Paris feeling inspired,” Heartwell said

Heartwell made it his goal to tell the members of the audience that progress can not be made with one city, but with all cities working together, no matter the difficulty.

“If Grand Rapids can (do) this, every city can also,” Heartwell said. “Every city should do this and more.”

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