Saturday, December 22, 2012

Sending the Great Lakes over the cliff


GreatLakeDrIt’s hard to imagine an environmental region under more pressure from Climate Change than the Great Lakes. This series of five great lakes was gouged from the receding Laurentide Ice Sheet around 13,000 years ago. In that span, this 94,250 square mile watershed that has produced a healthy, abundant, and resilient ecology is in a lot of trouble. Trouble for us: those who live near it, bathe, drink, dump, fish, boat, and get a lot of our weather (lake-effect storms) from this massive hydrological system. Indeed, it’s hard to believe that in only five hundred years we have managed to screw up a system that contains 21% of the fresh water on the planet, but there you are.

Threatening the Great Lakes are invasive species (like the Asian carp and Zebra Mussels); pollution from combined sewer overflows, micro-beads of plastics, toxic algae, agricultural runoff (phosphorus from fertilizers), and pharmaceuticals (none of our wastewater treatment plants can filter out these drugs once they’ve passed through our bodies). And like a lot of other stuff, much of it ends up in the fish. One way to measure this threat is to measure what bioaccumulates inside Great Lakes fish. Read Up to the Gills: 2009 Update on Pollution in Great Lakes Fish, by Environmental Defence.

To get a visual on what’s stressing the Great Lakes check out this map, from a great new media out of Buffalo, the Investigative Post. If you live in the Rochester, NY area, take a close look at all the red on the map. Red, in this instance, is not a good thing. We’re in trouble.

But there are two other threats to our Great Lakes that will overshadow and ramp up the negative effects of all of the above threats: Water scarcity and Climate Change.

A beautifully crafted documentary Last Call at the Oasis “Illuminating the vital role water plays in our lives, exposing the defects in the current system and depicting communities already struggling with its ill-effects…“ gives you an overview of how fresh drinking water shortages around the world will change our lives because other folks are going to want our water. The Rochester Regional Group of the Sierra Club focused on water privatization at last year’s forum: 14th Annual Environmental Forum “Our Water’s Fragile Future: Hydrofracking, Climate Change, & Privatization.” (Check out the video of the forum.) They intend to continue this educational forum this year:

15th Annual Environmental Forum: Protecting the Great Lakes Forever |Thursday, April 25 (evening), with workshops on Friday, April 26 A stop on Maude Barlow’s “The Great Lakes Need Great Friends” US Tour Location(s) TBA |Join us to hear internationally renowned speaker, Maude Barlow on tour in support of her publication, “Our Great Lakes Commons: A People’s Plan to Protect the Great Lakes Foreverr.” This report is intended to serve as a background and a call to understanding and action on a new proposal to designate the Great Lakes and its tributary waters as a lived Commons, to be shared, protected, carefully managed and enjoyed by all who live around them. Maude is also the author of the highly-acclaimed book, “Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water.” | Please email Wayne Howard at  if your organization may be interested in partnering with us to plan or co-sponsor this high profile event!

After you get your head around water scarcity, examine how Climate Change will affect the Great Lakes. Check out this expert video that explains Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region by Dr. Donald Scavia with the Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments Center and the Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute at the University of Michigan. To get a quick look at how Climate Change will affect our area of the Great Lakes, read this two-page summary Region Impacts on New York Communities and Ecosystems which is a part of Confronting Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region produced by the Union of Concerned Scientists in 2003. For later reports check out: National Climate Assessment: Midwest Technical Input Report , International Upper Great Lakes Study, Great Lakes National Parks in Peril The Threats of Climate Disruption , and On Thin Ice: Warming Winters Put America’s Hunting and Fishing Heritage at Risk.

I know, it’s a lot of stuff to absorb. Probably take you hours, maybe days to get through it all. But there’s nothing for it as we’ve been letting this slide for a long, long time. Now we are going to have to solve all the various environmental issues in the Great Lakes while at the same time protecting our waters and doing all this as everything warms up. Sadly, we keep passing critical points for taking action on Climate Change (Forget About That 2-Degree Future), and instead of things getting better, they get worse. As I write, we’re about ready to throw the Great Lakes over a cliff, as it were, because of our politically manufactured fiscal cliff (Fiscal cliff could dump sewage into Great Lakes) is being given a higher priority.

But to prioritize fiscal health over our freshwater supply is whacky. If Climate Change is a “serious problem” to 68% of Americans, then they better start proving it.

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