CLIMACTIC CHALLENGE

Organization promoting bipartisan solutions to climate issues

Lake Superior is shown nearly entirely frozen over in this NASA photo from 2009. It was the last year the world’s largest lake surface was covered by that much ice until 2019. Climate experts say such widespread ice cover is becoming rare as the climate changes, and the lake will experience lower average ice cover and for shorter durations in the years to come. (NASA photo)

By Ron Carnell
As continued spikes in average surface temperatures and surging ocean acidity produce increased physical evidence of climate change, it’s now more difficult than ever to ignore (or dismiss) what is perhaps the most daunting global environmental challenge of the 21st century. Yet too many of the world’s politicians and dirty-energy tycoons still refuse to concede that sharp reductions in fossil fuel usage must be made immediately, or by mid-century we may be forced to endure a much more volatile natural environment. Global scientific consensus warns that universal, bipartisan action must take the place of further debate. And much sooner rather than later. Supporting the view that climate change must be approached globally, rather than through partisan indecision, is the worldwide Citizen’s Climate Lobby.
Started in 2007, CCL aims to give a voice to anyone who recognizes the urgency of climate change through membership and contributions to global government lobbying efforts. CCL has an advisory board, governing board, national and regional level staff, and over 500 chapters worldwide comprised mainly of volunteers.
“The Marquette chapter became active in February 2017, after I listened to the weekly intro call and was contacted by one of the Great Lakes Regional Co-Coordinators, Elizabeth Dell,” said Marquette group leader, Kristen Carlson.
“Our chapter is comprised entirely of volunteers, and I coordinate local efforts which contribute collectively on the federal level,” said Carlson, when asked how U.P. outreach fits on the national scale.
“We also have someone in charge of writing letters to the editors of local papers, with another volunteer in charge of tabling and other outreach activities.”
In just over a decade, CCL has the rare distinction of being an environmental group that successfully crosses the political divide. Through support from everyday citizens, the group was instrumental in bringing together US House Representatives from all points of the political spectrum to establish the House Climate Solutions Caucus. The aim is to keep the discussion alive on a federal level while addressing “causes, impacts, and challenges of our changing climate.” CCL also persuaded co-sponsors to get on board with the Republican Climate Resolution, another Washington DC voice for climate solutions.
With the help of CCL supporters, there are now 20 House members signed on in support of the bipartisan-sponsored Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (H.R. 763). The aim of the bill is to put incrementally increasing fees on producers of coal, oil, and gas. This bill will create incentives for fossil fuel producers to move toward cleaner and cheaper alternative energies. Dividends from this revenue are then dispersed in equal shares to Americans affected negatively by fossil fuel pollution, to spend however they like. The U.S. government keeps no money generated from the carbon fee.
This all sounds great, of course, especially to American citizens who are compensated directly. But regarding the bigger picture, does the U.P. really have to worry much about global warming?
It’s no news that the Midwest endured an unusually snowy and cold winter. By mid-March, Marquette and environs reached nearly 220 inches of snowfall, which is well above the average for an entire winter season. Arctic-like conditions at the end of January closed businesses and government offices all over Michigan, including two of the U.P.’s heartier holdouts against extreme weather closures, NMU and the post offices. Some regional locales reported subzero temperatures to rival those of winter in Antarctica.

Members of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby in Marquette distribute information at The People’s Climate March held near the Marquette Commons in April 2017. (Courtesy photo)

“Climate deniers” and skeptics of global warming–including President Trump–have quipped that we could have used a little global warming for this year’s unusually icy stretches of winter. However, besides the fact that climate is averaged seasonal conditions in a region over centuries — while weather is merely day-to-day atmospheric conditions — climate scientists claim that this is where the Arctic Circle’s polar vortex comes into play.
In short, the polar vortex is a wide expanse of cold air that is typically located over the North Pole. During winter months, the polar vortex expands, pushing colder air slightly to more southerly regions. The consensus among the world’s climate scientists is that the jet stream has weakened due to the warming of the Arctic Ocean, which is destabilizing the icy air and allowing it to move further outward more frequently. This shift is predicted to make our winters and those of other regions on the Arctic’s periphery increasingly colder during some years.
Michigan Tech University Distinguished Professor of Environmental History, Nancy Langston agrees. Langston, who moonlights as co-leader for the Houghton chapter of CCL, is an environmental author and an expert on Lake Superior toxics.
“The jet stream has been weakening over the past few decades, and as it weakens, we get heat waves in some places—like the Arctic right now–and cold snaps,” said Langston.  “This is exactly what we experienced this winter: an abnormally warm Arctic and some weeks of bitter cold here in the Midwest. Near the end of January, Chicago was 35º colder than parts of Siberia. Helsinki was 51º warmer!
Alas, Langston also hears the expressions of irony from her students who were caught up in the U.P. deep freeze.
“But underneath the jokes, we all know that the climate is changing,” she said.
Along with evidence that our oceans are absorbing much of the CO2 released into the atmosphere, a trend which has spelled doom for coral reefs, and countless fish, wildlife and plant species, our own Lake Superior is revealing undeniable clues of challenges due to climate change. Langston’s recent book, Sustaining Lake Superior, examines how Lake Superior is among the fastest warming lakes in the world.
“Water temperatures in Lake Superior are already rising at twice the rate of air temperatures in the basins,” said Langston. “Research by Jay Austin at the University of Minnesota-Duluth shows that surface water temperature in summer increased between 1979-2006 by 4.5 °F, or about 2° F per decade, while regional air temperature increased about 1°F per decade. At the eastern end of the lake, average water temperatures increased about 6.3 °F during the century between 1906-2006, with most of the warming occurring after 1976. These are big changes.” And they’re bad for plants, wildlife, and fish, and all the organisms at lower strata of the food chain.
After the winter of 2019, it might be unfathomable that ice cover on Lake Superior has dropped 79 percent in recent decades. Numerous sources in our region have reported that once all photos and measurements are in, we might have reached 90% or more for 2019.
“By February each year, the lake once averaged 75 percent ice cover, which is what we’ve seen this polar vortex winter. But by the end of this century, we’ll be lucky to get 10 percent ice cover.”
Langston also asserts that ice duration is becoming a lot shorter.
“It may drop by 60 days to less than half its current duration by the end of the century. Less ice cover for a shorter amount of time means the lake warms up earlier in the summer. Austin’s research shows that by mid-July in recent years, surface temperatures were 15 degrees warmer than normal. You don’t need to understand the details of limnology—the scientific study of lakes– to understand something key is changing when Lake Superior begins to warm so quickly that algae blooms become common.”
The many challenges humanity faces in mitigating the threats of climate change remain intimidating. More CO2 is released into the atmosphere each year to meet global demand for accelerated development and economic growth. But according to Kristen Carlson, the biggest hurdle to education, and framing the debate on how to move forward, is governments’ overcoming their differences and recognizing climate change as a dire threat to humanity with no borders or ideologies.
“I think the transformation of the climate movement into a partisan issue is the greatest political setback the climate movement has faced,” Carlson said.
“Somehow, the issue of climate change was labeled as a ‘red vs blue’ issue, when in actuality it is a global human issue. However, this divide is fading, and making climate change a uniting issue is a comeback we need to make. At a time when our nation seems so divided, we need a reason to come together and address an issue that affects us all, no matter which side of the political aisle we stand. Climate change is a pressing issue that needs our attention now and will take the action and cooperation of everyone to address. It is a great opportunity for all of us to come together and problem solve, innovate, and prepare for the changes climate change is bringing.”
Carlson offered that one of the best actions citizens can take is to let their member of Congress know they want them to support The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act.
Houghton’s Nancy Langston also notes that individuals can each take helpful actions like flying less or insulating houses to lower heating energy usage.
“These are important items, but political actions are even more important. Much of the time, it feels like politicians aren’t listening to us, only to corporations and their lobbyists.  But if citizens speak up together, politicians do listen. Citizen’s Climate Lobby gives each of us a concrete way to speak up and make sure the politicians who represent us know that we care and that we want concrete action,” she said.

JOINING THE CITIZEN’S CLIMATE LOBBY
There are several ways to become a member of Citizen’s Climate Lobby. Contact Sara Wanous at sara.wanous@citizensclimatelobby.org, or visit citizensclimatelobby.org. To get involved in the Houghton chapter, come to the monthly meeting. They are held the third Tuesday of each month at 5:30 p.m. at the Portage Lake District Library. To get involved in Marquette, attend the monthly meetings held the second Saturday of each month at the Peter White Public Library at 12:30 pm.

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook Email

No comments yet... Be the first to leave a reply!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.