Time to Solve the Problem: Climate Change in the Great Lakes

“Science doesn’t solve the problem,” University of Michigan Environmental Sustainability Professor Donald Scavia told an overflow crowd at The Field Museum Oct. 7. “Politicians do.”

The problem Scavia was addressing was climate change, specifically its effects in the Great Lakes Region, including the fact that Chicagoans are seeing less ice on the Chicago River in the winters, spring flowers blooming earlier and corn in Illinois fields growing taller.

According to Scavia, the effects of climate change are already being seen in the Chicago area and more changes can be expected.
Audience members acknowledged they have already noticed such changes in Chicago and where especially concerned about what might happen in the future.

Justin Breaux, outreach coordinator for the Chicago council on science and technology, said he sees the effects of climate change himself. “I’m seeing real changes that are going on, I may not know about science, but I see it,” Breaux said.

Scavia presented a study indicating the people of Chicago can expect to see the following climate change effects in the future: shorter, warmer winters with fewer, more severe snowstorms; longer, more intense summers with fewer rainfalls and more drought; less ice cover on Lake Michigan and surrounding streams; and declining lake levels.

Scavia quoted John Magnuson, Professor Emeritus of Zoology at the University of Wisconsin, saying “winter is a part of our sense of place and we are losing winter as we once knew it.”

Other outcomes of Climate Change include flooding which can cause interstate and property damage, and extreme heat in the summers that can also cause health problems.

Scavia wanted audience members to take home the message, “Are we preparing?” Currently, most scientists think that the pace of climate change can be slowed by substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This would give governments, businesses and ecosystems around the world more time to respond allowing adaptation to climate change and reducing the overall negative affects of climate change-related impacts.

Although, what is being done so far?

Northeastern University Student Neelima Kurian agreed that people must take action immediately. “Everyone is going to be affected by it and for those who think they aren’t, they will, she said. “It’s going to affect our food, like fish.”

Abigial Derby, The Field Museum’s Conservation Ecologist, said it all starts with awareness. “Education is important; people need to know and understand what is happening with climate change in the Great Lakes in order for a push to be made. If more people know, more people can start to change their habits and vote for government action to take place.”

According to Scavia most people recognize the Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and Water Resource Development Act; however these laws are not making much of a difference. “No bills have passed both the House and Senate in the 111th Congress addressing the water needs,” said Scavia.

University of Chicago Professor, Michael LaBarbea said, “action must be prompt because the change in the Great Lakes is happening.” LaBarbea suggested people start lobbying elected federal, state, and local officials to sponsor legislation that will effectively address global warming and climate change. “Supporting candidates running for political office who will act vigorously to stop global warming is something people can do,” LaBarbea added.