This is a compilation in progress of material / developments related to the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth — the Great Lakes (Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, Ontario) — and how their overall decline and dramatic drop in water levels is symptomatic of the clear, present, accelerating threat / planetary EMERGENCY posed by the climate crisis RIGHT NOW to:
- global freshwater supply
- food / agriculture production;
- the security / stability of nations;
- within decades, the very ability of most life, let alone organized civilization, to survive.
Watch the videos in the playlist above for an overview. Further info in the resources below.
Quick facts about the Great Lakes
- visible from the moon, they began to form after the last glacial period about 10,000 to 20,000 years ago
- they contain 21% of all the world’s surface fresh water, 84% of what is accessible in North America, and 95% of supply in the U.S. (only 2 to 3% of all the water on the planet is fresh, with most of it stored in ice caps and underground aquifers, AND a mere 8% of the fresh stuff is unpolluted – watch video)
- they provide drinking water to tens of millions of people
- a major transportation route for bulk goods, they contribute billions to the regional economy
- in an ominous downward trend since the turn of this century, higher temperatures and droughts have heated their surface water, decreased precipitation (both rain and snow) and evaporated all of the lakes to historic lows
- Winter ice cover has declined by 71% since 1973, and in 2011/2012, only 5% of the lakes froze over compared to 95% in 1979
- climate ‘change’ (breakdown, disruption, destabilization), industrial pollution and moves toward privatization and bulk water export (see fact sheet in right column of this link), chemical contamination, over-extraction, abuse, mismanagement, neglect, the increase of harmful algal blooms / bacteria, the proliferation of aquatic invasive species from shipping, weakened fisheries, wetland / habitat destruction and biodiversity loss (home to at least 3,500 species of animals and plants), shoreline corrosion and more have all contributed to their deterioration and recent, widespread economic losses (watch video)
- 13 operational, but aging / dysfunctional water and waste-intensive nuclear power plants with a total of 33 reactors are located in the Great Lakes Basin: 3 sites in Canada with a total of 20 reactors (Bruce A & B / 8 reactors on Lake Huron, and on Lake Ontario, Pickering A & B / 8 reactors, Darlington / 4 reactors); and 10 sites in the U.S. with a total of 13 reactors (FitzPatrick, Nine Mile 1 & 2, Ginna on Lake Ontario, Perry, Davis-Besse, Fermi Unit 2 on Lake Erie, and Palisades, Cook Units 1 & 2, Point Beach 1 & 2, Kewaunee on Lake Michigan). There are also plans for a dump site to burn nuclear waste near the shore of lake Huron.
Global heating and climate disruption has already forced Arctic sea ice into a new state of ‘death spiral’ meltdown and it is anticipated to disappear in Summer months within a few short years (maybe as soon as 2013), many decades ahead of previous estimates. The air conditioner of the northern hemisphere and a major global weather regulator, it has lost 80% of its volume, almost 50% of its long-term (1979 – 2000) average extent since 1979 (watch video) and rendered the jet stream much slower, wavier, weaker (watch video) / prone to cause more extreme / prolonged weather events (storms, floods, droughts, wildfires).
Of EMERGENCY, ‘life or extinction’-scale concern (yes, really!) is the potential (already increased) escape of massive amounts of the powerful heat-trapping greenhouse gas, methane, buried in the frozen permafrost of northern Canada, Siberia and under water ocean shelves, which could very soon become an unstoppable blow torch accelerator of heat feedback. (See: Compilation: Methane Time Bomb.)
Ice loss in Antarctica is up by 50% over the last decade, and the rate of West Antarctica thaw is at three times the global average, which threatens its destabilization.
Around the world, glaciers (freshwater sources to billions of people) have shrunk / receded and are in imminent jeopardy. (See: Chasing Ice trailer and TED talk: James Balog – Time-lapse proof of extreme ice loss.) And many essential lakes / rivers / reservoirs are running dry. (Also see: 28,000 rivers wiped off the map of China.)
2012 was also the warmest year ever recorded in the U.S., which caused the most expansive and sustained drought since the 1950s/1930s over more than 60% of the lower-48 states. Even now, in 2013, there appears to be no end in sight.
2.8 billion people have been affected by either physical (1.2 billion) or economic (1.6 billion) fresh water scarcity. But with recent record droughts in Russia (2003, 2010), the Amazon (2005, 2010), East Africa (2011), Australia (from 1995 through 2012), the current dwindle of water supply in the Middle East and elsewhere, and the reality that, by 2030, China (1.3 billion+) and India (1.2 billion+) won’t have the water their massive populations will need to subsist, we are faced with not less than a planet-wide EMERGENCY — RIGHT NOW.
Over the next few years and decades, impacts will compound into a confluence of global crises that include threats to food / agriculture production, the security / stability of nations, resource wars, mass migration, disease proliferation and mass starvation, to name a few. For many, they already have.
Difficult as it is to communicate, absorb and process, let alone accept, and as shrill / alarmist as it may sound…
Our shared atmosphere is on an accelerating course to reach a state of potentially unsurvivable global climate extremes during the lives of today’s children and teens. (Compilation: +4C by 2060s or sooner catastrophic / incompatible with organized civilization.)
Clear, present impacts ALREADY displace millions / KILL hundreds of thousands each year, and compromise the lives of billions RIGHT NOW.
No less than the fate of all generations of all peoples and most species hangs in the balance TODAY. And only emergency international action at emergency (world war-time) speed FAST *may be* proportional enough to confront the scale, scope and urgency of what is ALREADY the greatest crime against humanity, most life and most future life EVER. (Compilation: Betrayal of Life.)
Watch the videos in the playlist above. Further info in the resources below.
Selected articles, posts, reports
- Article – The great dumping ground for millions of pounds of plastic, Huffpost
- Article – Water levels of the Great Lakes are declining, B. Oskin, LiveScience
- Article – Lake Erie could face slimy Summer toxic algae bloom, Toronto Star
- Article – Great Lakes hit record-low water levels, John Flesher, Toronto Star
- Article + vid – Low water in Great Lakes = high costs for Canada, Global News
- Post – How climate change is damaging the Great Lakes, with implications for the environment and the economy, Matt Kasper, Climate Progress
- Article – Great Lakes water temps at record levels, A. Freedman, Climate Central
- Post – Great Lakes ice cover down 71% since 1973, J. Masters, WunderBlog / CP
Selected websites, pages, Wikipedia
- Web page – The Council of Canadians – The Great Lakes – Dowload: fact sheet – Dowload: Our Great Lakes Commons: Protect the Great Lakes Forever, Barlow
- Website – GLEAM: Great Lakes Environmental Assessment and Mapping Project
- Web page – GLEAM: Lake stressors – Climate change
- Website – NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab
- Website – NOAA Great Lakes Currents Map
- Website – U.S. EPA – Great Lakes
- Web page – U.S. EPA – Great Lakes – Basic info
- Website – Nature Conservancy’s Great Lakes Project
- Website – Nature Conservancy – Nature.org
- Website – Environment Canada – The Great Lakes
- Website – GreatLakesCommons.org
- Website – Great Lakes Commons Map
- Website – Alliance for the Great Lakes – GreatLakes.org
- Website – Ontario Clean Air Alliance
- Website – StoptheGreatLakesNuclearDump.com
- Wikipedia – Algal Blooms
- Wikipedia – Aguatic Invasive Species
- Wikipedia – Freshwater
- Wikipedia – Great Lakes
- Wikipedia – Great Lakes Basin
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