Making a statement to protect our resources

Did you hear about Miss Michigan’s statement during the Miss America pageant this past weekend?

While introducing herself, she said, “From the state with 84% of the U.S. freshwater but none for its residents to drink, I am Miss Michigan, Emily Sioma.” I heard about this statement that “made a splash” during a radio news report while on my way to work Monday. You can argue that the statement is a bit of an exaggeration, but it gets your attention and creates pause.

It was a risky statement to make at this event, where most statements are spun in a positive angle. Choosing to become an advocate for any type of issue takes great discernment to balance passion with respect while being careful not to incite a riot.

The public relations trainer in me went to thoughts of how that statement may negatively impact perceptions of our state. The environmentalist in me listened to the statement with excitement.

Someone was brave enough to turn up the volume on an issue that still exists (and is growing), even though many details have long been forgotten by mainstream America. What a powerful way to change the narrative and light a fire for corrective action.

I’ve long been intrigued by how people of public standing leverage their notoriety to bring attention to issues of significance. As a reporter, I once interviewed a country music singer who was gaining popularity and had adopted the cause of the youth leadership organization known as FFA. I asked him why he decided to use his public position to support the organization; expecting some wonderfully positive backstory. I got the backstory, albeit a disappointing one. He said he did it only because his agent said it would be a good thing for him to do.

I recalled that conversation as I thought about Miss Michigan’s statement, delivered with authentic passion. An example of civil disobedience sure to make Thoreau proud. Any time someone sticks their neck out to take a stand, they are taking a risk. However, without people taking a stand, many of the freedoms we enjoy today wouldn’t exist. We have a crisis on our hands with water contamination, but it is not at the forefront of most daily lives. There are many cities with water quality issues. Beyond lead, PFAS and runoff are also damaging our water. Cleaning up past damage is only one part of the whole and I have more questions than answers.

What I do know is that the Earth has a closed water system, meaning we will never get any new water. What we have cycles between various states of matter, is naturally filtered to some extent by plants and soil, and, if contaminated, can potentially carry that contamination for generations. Aside from drinking, contaminant-free water is needed for healthy animals, plants and fish. We cannot go back in time and undo what has already been done, but we can educate ourselves and take action to make more mindful decisions for today and tomorrow.

As I walked toward the office after hearing the story about Miss Michigan, I passed an Alpena News kiosk. The front page headline read, “Microplastics in my microbrew?,” a story detailing the evidence of microscopic bits of synthetics floating around in our water system. Those substances are identified by the body as a foreign invader. For someone like me with an autoimmune disorder, my body hyper-reacts and not only attacks foreign material but my normal healthy body tissue, as well, setting off an inflammatory response and triggering symptoms that are often difficult to manage. I am probably not as concerned regarding my personal health as I should be. I am more concerned about preventing further damage to our natural resources for the sake of plants, animals, and future generations. When you know better, you do better. When you realize you’re headed in the wrong direction, don’t keep going. Change your course.

First, we have to accept that we are going in the wrong direction, and someone outside our circle may need to bring that to our attention with impassioned speech.

Thought leader Derek Sivers gave a great TEDTalk about how to start a movement. You can find his presentation on YouTube. It takes a bold, brave individual willing to take a few strange looks (among other things) to break the status quo and bring mainstream pause to an issue that needs more attention. It’s no secret that our water resources are threatened. Are we taking it seriously?

Often, we don’t take things seriously until it disrupts our lives on a personal level. But we don’t need to wait that long to be a part of the solution. I hope Miss Michigan’s statement starts a statewide conversation about creating positive change to protect our Great Lakes.

Mary Beth Stutzman’s Inspiring A-Town runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays. Follow Mary Beth on Twitter @mbstutz.