- On our part in Lansing, MI we marked the Earth Month by passing a package of bills to help people and our planet.
April is Earth Month and experts across the world are telling us our planet is at risk. As an immigrant, I know a lot about risk: I came to the U.S. on an F1 visa and a belief in the American Dream. I moved to Troy, Michigan ten years later with no job, no support system — just my toddler daughter, infant son, engineer hubby and Michigan’s promise of a path to the middle class. I quit my job three years ago to run for public office, with no campaign experience — just a conviction that quality public education is critical to ensure opportunity for all. Willingness to take risks is an essential ingredient to survival, as is understanding that we are in relationship with one another and with Mother Earth.
Growing up, I was a third culture kid — a term coined by MSU sociologist Ruth Hill Useem, for kids who spend their formative years in places that are not their parents’ homeland. I am now an American, born in India, raised in the USA, with a global perspective. I have worked on multinational projects in my professional life, and have personal connections across the world, including my parents in Hyderabad, cousins in Japan, classmates in the UAE. So in 2014, I read with pride an opinion piece by the leaders of my country and that of my parents’ — where they committed to bilateral cooperation to address the most important existential threat of our times: the well-being of our planet. Since then, I have seen our climate diplomacy falter, our commitment to the environment failing, and American influence flailing. I had to dig deep and believe in our ability as a nation to build bridges instead of creating wedges, to take risks and lead. I had to have hope.
During Earth Month, I saw hope from right here in Michigan’s capitol to the global stage. We came together as Americans, as Indian Americans and as India and America. Our relationships addressed urgent needs, to work for the health of people and the planet.
Last week in Lansing we passed a package of bills to help people and our planet: HB 4454-4461 passed with overwhelming support. We are rewriting Michigan’s solid waste laws: we will decrease the amount of trash disposed of in Michigan, (we are currently a trash importer), limit harmful pollution at landfills, and increase the state’s recycling rate to 45% in just over a decade.
Michigan’s recycling rate is less than 20% right now, far below the national average of 32%. These bills would also give local communities a say in the siting of landfills, increase fees on landfill owners and waste haulers, encourage the buildout of recycling infrastructure, improve the standards for coal ash landfills, and more. And in this time of political polarization, this was a solid bipartisan effort led by my colleagues Rep. Gary Howell (R-North Branch) and Rep. Bill Sowerby (D-Clinton Township) who recognize the need to preserve pure Michigan and the legacy we leave our children and grandchildren.
Cooperation came at the same time from the international arena, with the oldest and largest democracies announcing a climate partnership. President Biden picked up where President Obama left off and set the tone for renewal. Perhaps we are returning to an era of consistent American leadership, where we are daring to take risks and lead the world yet again — and realize that we are in relationship with a country on the other side of the globe.
As the situation in India became dire, Indian Americans across the country advocated for a stronger U.S. response, and their voices were heard. The U.S.’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke with India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, expressed deep sympathy, affirmed America’s solidarity with India, and began deploying available resources and supplies to protect public health and national safety. And in southeastern Michigan, Indian American organizations from across the diverse spectrum came together quickly to raise money and raise awareness to help our motherland — and identified one organization that had boots on the ground to ensure dollars were utilized effectively. A multitude of metro Detroit Indian immigrant community organizations came out of their silos and joined hands to address the humanitarian crisis in India. Earth Month 2021 showcased the importance of leadership and partnership in protecting the health of people and the planet.
Padma Kuppa is Democratic State Representative for Michigan’s 41st House District and has been just re-elected for a second term. A mother, an engineer from NIT Warangal, and an automotive and IT professional for over 2 decades, and a civic and interfaith leader for years, she is the first Indian immigrant and Hindu in the Michigan state legislature. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more at ElectPadmaKuppa.com or Kuppa.housedems.com.