Tag: Climate Change

Grandparents for Grandchildren and the Great Lakes: The Future is Now

By Jim Olson

“With my Grandma I like to walk along the beach and find Petoskey stones. With my Grandpa I like to go in Lake Michigan and body surf the waves,” my 11-year-old granddaughter Ava Bachmann reflected in late August when she stood with me along the shores of West Grand Traverse Bay. We were ruminating together about the bond that grandparents and grandchildren share, and the responsibility that we elders have to leave behind a healthy legacy for our descendants.

“I just hope the waters can stay clean as long as they can possibly be clean,” Ava added. “It’s really fun to be spending time on Lake Michigan with your grandparents.”

Several recent events have prompted me to think about the urgency for those of us who are grandparents—whether by ancestry or the passing years—of wanting to do more for our grandchildren in the next decade. This urgency led to the idea of a new campaign that FLOW will launch that enables grandparents in the Great Lakes region to respond to this urgency to care and act for our grandchildren while we can. While we help out parents and care for our grandchildren day-to-day, what better way to care for them for a lifetime than increasing our awareness, support, and work to protect the integrity of water, communities, health, ecosystem, and quality of life right here in the Great Lakes Basin? “Grandparents for Grandchildren and the Great Lakes” is the name of our new campaign. We intend to form a continuing, engaged network of grandparents who are committed toward doing more to mitigate and improve the lives our grandchildren will experience in 20 to 30 years. To do this, we can form a network to increase our effectiveness by forming a network to work together.

I write “urgency” because I’m feeling a greater urge to care, act, and do what I can for grandchildren who in the coming decades will face tumultuous change—climate, pollution, flooding, droughts, collapsing safety nets of drinking water, health care, infrastructure, and political instability, in the midst of global upheaval and migration. Admittedly, this is made more poignant because of my age, 70-something, and the birth of my seventh grandchild (two more step-grandchildren will soon be added to the family tree). It seems as a grandparent I’m suddenly pressed to pay more attention to grandchildren—future generations—everywhere. To the power of the future in the present intensifies as the years pass. To the threatened if not certain cataclysmic changes to the air, water, land, forests, and life on this planet if people, states, and countries do not take sweeping action. The future is now.

In October 2018, the UN International Panel on Climate Change issued a grave warning about a narrow window for humanity to act to prevent the global temperature from rising more than another 1.5 degrees Celsius. The range of effects will unravel life as we know it if we do nothing; our grandchildren have a chance to experience the planet we know and love—if we do all we can in the next 10 years. Otherwise, the effects will whipsaw as extreme heat, flooding, drought. Here in the Great Lakes region, according to a recent scientific report published by Environmental Law and Policy Center in Chicago, the next decade could bring as much as a 30-percent increase in precipitation—translate that as flooding, infrastructure damage to coastal areas, erosion, property loss, and the loss of tillable land for food, plants and wildlife. If we think water levels and damage to ecosystems, wetlands, shoreline property, and public infrastructure are high this year, “we ain’t seen nothing yet.” And, of course, it’s not just the increase in precipitation. The other extreme, drought and low water levels, are just as real. Two billion people could be without water, portending death, suffering, and mass movements of people from one region to another for water, food, and survival.


Grandparents are the solution

I don’t write this blog as another “doom and gloom” threat with no solution. We have one—grandparents everywhere. Most of us grandparents want to do something for our grandchildren; it is human nature. We can all do something. If we do this together, the benefits to our grandchildren will multiply.

In June, this urgency must have been in the back of my mind when I walked by Ed Roth’s hat and t-shirt design store on Front Street in Traverse City before I reached the FLOW office. I noticed a hat with the words “crazy grandpa,” and a rush of emotions about grandchildren and the coming decades screamed, “Buy it.” So, I did.

In August, FLOW filmed a short clip of three of my grandchildren standing with me on the shore of West Grand Traverse Bay. The interview is a prelude to FLOW’s new “Grandparents for Grandchildren and the Great Lakes” campaign. My granddaughter Ava described her passion for swimming, searching for Petoskey stones, kayaking, and fishing, her voice joyful and clear as water. Then her voice turned more serious when she said how uncertain she was about the future of water in her lifetime. The words from a Leonard Cohen poem flashed through my mind: “Oh, and one more thing/ you aren’t going to like/ what comes after America.” And, these triggered lines of Fan-Chih from a collection of Cold Mountain Poems: “A hungry bird will gorge itself to death/like a man who’ll die to get his hands on property/ Money’s the thing that ruins humans/ the wise will keep it at a distance.”

The next day FLOW’s board chair Micheal Vickery sent me an email with a terse note: “What you think about this?” sharing the poem “Questionnaire,” by Wendell Berry — from his book Leavings(Counter Point, 2009). A few days later FLOW’s former chair Mike Dettmer sent me the same email.

How much poison are you willing
to eat for the success of the free
market and global trade? Please name your preferred poisons.

For the sake of goodness, how much

evil are you willing to do? Fill in the following blanks with the names of

your favorite evils and acts of hatred.           

What sacrifices are you prepared
to make for culture and civilization?
Please list the monuments, shrines,
and works of art you would
most willingly destroy.

In the name of patriotism and
the flag, how much of our beloved
land are you willing to desecrate?
List in the following spaces the mountains, rivers, towns, farms
you could most readily do without.

State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes, the energy sources, the kinds of security, for which you would kill a child. Name, please, the children

whom you would be willing to kill.

Disturbing. How did we turn life and nature upside down? When did we start sacrificing life, natural spaces, water and health for gods of progress, money, and patriotism? Strange how reason can hide desire and excess, how the mind can slip into sophism—fallacious reasoning that covers up disastrous ends with supposed benefits—to justify our actions or apathy as sacrifice for money, markets, and nationalism.


We must sacrifice profit

The answer to Berry’s question is to turn sacrifice right-side up. How can we grandparents sacrifice our grandchildren and the planet with untold suffering in the face of the reality that we have a decade to prevent this suffering? Ironically, the traditional notion that we accumulate wealth to pass on to our children or grandchildren has become sophistry. What good is the accumulation of wealth or materialism in the name of legacy, when that legacy destroys the planet and the lives of our grandchildren? This has become a sophism, a falsehood. The truth is we cannot continue to slide into apathy when it comes to our grandchildren’s future, when it comes to climate change, water, human dignity, and, yes, the Great Lakes.

We are hundreds, thousands, millions of grandparents. The answer for us grandparents to protect and gift our grandchildren with life is to reverse Wendell Berry’s “Questionnaire.” How much world trade and free markets are we willing to sacrifice for our grandchildren’s health? How much land and water are we willing to preserve for their food and thirst? What blanks would you fill in for acts of goodness and love? What energy source, security, financial investment are you willing to sacrifice, give, to prevent flooding, drought, landslides, massive fires, or cause that kills a grandchild?

This is why we at FLOW have decided to announce our new campaign to build and sustain a widespread coalition of Grandparents for Grandchildren and the Great Lakes—a wave of grandparents and businesses whose single mission is to reverse the culturally perverse sacrifices we’ve made in the past. A new culture, one with the deepest roots of all, that chooses to sacrifice, give, and support all those acts of love, care, protection of our grandchildren and the water, hydrosphere, land, liberty, life, and civilization that they inherit. What better stewards, what better way to establish a trust for your grandchildren, a public trust ethic that protects what is essential for the quality of their lives across generations.

It is time for us grandparents to join together, compress time, give, sacrifice, conserve, support the ethical increase in taxes required for rapid actions to reverse or mitigate the harsh realities of climate change and impacts. It is time to become sensitized to the realities of the future our grandchildren face here in the Great Lakes Basin, really, grandchildren and generations everywhere. Stay tuned for the launch of this new campaign for grandparents in the Great Lakes region, grandparents everywhere, who want to do what we can for the Great Lakes, our communities, and future of our grandchildren and future generations. FLOW and I welcome your emails, texts, posts, comments and ideas as we launch Grandparents for Grandchildren and the Great Lakes. The time is now.

Jim Olson is the founder and President of FLOW. He and his wife Judy have seven grandchildren.



How grandparents can help:

• Join our “Grandparents for Grandchildren and the Great Lakes” campaign and pledge to pass along a healthy Great Lakes to your descendants. Click here to support FLOW’s work.

• Join a Great Lakes Beach Cleanup initiative

• Talk to your grandchildren about water protection, and about issues that affect the health of our Great Lakes and groundwater, such as Line 5, PFAS, and the lack of septic protections.

• Enjoy the Great Lakes with your grandchildren. Swim with them, look for Petoskey stones with them, bodysurf with them, fish with them.

Some Thoughts for the New Year: Common Home and Common Principles – Living and Working for the Common Good


Jim Olson FLOW Founder



By Jim Olson

President, FLOW For Love of Water, Traverse City

Attorney, Olson, Bzdok & Howard, P.C., Traverse City





When I look back over the past year, I can’t help but feel hope in the common goodness of people and communities.

I say this not without heart felt and serious concern about events in the world that point in the opposite direction – despair: increasing violence from guns, war, and sweeping droughts and floods, causing death and dislocation of millions of people and children, global warming and the push-back from unprecedented storms and extreme weather that compound drought, floods, landslides, which in turn destabilize countries like Syria fomenting conflict and conditions for ISIS. To paraphrase Circle of Blue senior journalist Keith Schneider, “The earth is angry and she’s fighting back.”

Closer to home, Detroit water shut-offs continue despite the devastating impact on the poor who can’t afford to pay a normal water bill, let alone the $100 a month or more claimed by the Detroit Water Board. State leaders finally stop denying the Flint water-crisis more than a year after residents demanded help, that its children and residents were exposed to high levels of lead from the city’s public water system. The problem is more endemic than Detroit or Flint, since both crises grew out of the unbridled power of Governor Snyder’s emergency manager law to usurp the power of city assets and revenues to pay debts regardless of the impacts to citizens. Flint’s emergency manager thought only of economic expediency in turning off water supplied from Detroit, and tapping into the filthy, polluted Flint River. Then there is the continual threat from the flow of oil in the aging, nearly 63-year old Line 5 pipeline under the Straits; the harm from a release or leak would be so catastrophic, the risk is unacceptable to everyone; yet the flow of oil continues without immediate temporary measures while state officials continue to study it as if it was an “issue,” and not the clear and imminent endangerment of the Great Lakes and the Straits of Mackinac – the fact is there is enough capacity within the pipeline system in the Great Lakes without Line 5 endangering the Straits.

So why the hope? Other events have happened this past year that point to a new way of understanding and, perhaps, solving many of the threats that we face in the world and our communities.

First, Pope Francis issued his encyclical on climate change and the environment, connecting the reality of our excessive consumptive materialism, global inequality, poverty, ecological and community devastation, and violence that follows. He carefully documented that our way of seeing and doing, our post-modern god of the law of free markets and legally justified greed, our fragmented attempts at dishing out money to help the poor are not working. He says this because we are living a material, market place illusion, and not in harmony with the reality that the earth is our “common home,” and that if we do not share its gifts and respect its inherent natural limits, earth’s water, weather, soil, and the biological diversity on which all life depends will continue to worsen to even greater extremes. He points to a new paradigm, a framework in which we work and live with the understanding that a body of water, whether ocean, Grand Traverse Bay, or Lake Chad, are a commons, part of the gift of earth as commons to all. If we do this, not only with water, but the ridge lines and forests, the beauty and land that are home to our relationships, our cities, the neighborhoods within our towns, the soils beneath our feet, the air we breathe, then we will begin to reshape our life around truth and the given limits of nature, and this will guide our living, our way of life, or economy, full and rich with newly directed creative and sustainable opportunities and entrepreneur ship.

Second, amidst a world of conflicts, from Syria to the Ukraine, from our own cities, to Nigeria, Sudan, and Afghanistan, and in the aftermath of the mass murders from extreme terrorists in Parrs, the nations of the world cooperated: leaders of large and small, developed and developing, or undeveloped countries, recognized the responsibility to each other, agreed to something, the world temperature will not rise more 2 degrees, and maybe less. While it is not law yet, if taken implemented, it will help stave off global calamity greater than two world wars last century, by reducing the irreparable damage we face from climate change and global warming. There is hope in the agreement that we stop denying and see the mounting harm and set a goal that through hard-work and common sacrifice offers a way out of an unthinkable alternative for people everywhere.

Third, we witnessed the bridging of differences by our Supreme Court in precedent setting cases that demand human dignity for marriage between two people, human rights to housing and water for the poor without access, as wells as the genuine search for a common goal to address wasteful and harmful water rights in the middle of the historical California droughts.

Fourth, our political debate heating up even before the 2016 presidential election has pointed to something more than the old, increasingly polarized beliefs in market economy, through money at wars and problems, rather than considering the root of the problem might be the way we are looking at them. Regardless of my own or others’ political persuasion, there is a fresh voice in Bernie Sanders, laying out the case for a community based on sharing of wealth, taking care of neighbors, and our neighborhood, what Pope Francis calls our “common home,” and at the same time helping with services to the poor, respecting and honoring diversity, and encouraging new business innovation. We have been trapped in this country in a red and blue, right and left, straight-jacket of false ideology, rather than identifying those things that are essential to every one of us and providing for them as principle of our country—the common good.

Fifth, then Michael Moore comes out with his latest film Where to Invade Next? Good God, here we have the message that we here in the USA had the idea, come up with the ideas, of common good, yet go in the opposite direction of individualized competition based on a law of the jungle called free markets. Everything is about profit and money and bottom line. The world is not a corporation, it is a commons in which corporations organizations are simply a means, not an end.

Do we really have a choice? Our common home and communities are simultaneously local and global. It’s not just act locally, think globally, or act globally, think locally. It’s all of this and more. If we don’t act, for example, on climate change, or understand that climate change is not just an energy issue but about water and food, if we don’t move toward a renewable economy within a few years, small island countries will literally disappear, rainforests and biodiversity will disappear, coastal cities and other areas will increasingly flood and fail from even more extreme storm events or the day-to-day failure to change, adapt and embrace resilient cooperation—the common good. All one has to do is read through “4 Degrees Turn Down the Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts, and the Case for Resilience,” a report published by renown scientists and even sponsored by the more conservative World Bank. The picture is not pretty, and it would it is ignorant, even immoral, at this time in history not to act, even out of self-interest, for this common good.

So I end this year and start the next with hope. At FLOW, the Great Lakes and Water Policy Center, here in Traverse City, and other organizations throughout the region, we have chosen as a mission and goal to protect the waters of the Great Lakes basin as a commons with principles, known as the public trust doctrine, that require government as trustee and people as beneficiaries, to work together to respect and protect water and community that depend on it from impairment. Private control of public waters and other public commons has always been prohibited; this is because some things essential to all of us are common to all of us. If we don’t protect the commons, we undermine the air, water, community and neighborhoods where we live. To work and live toward the common good is to work for the commons and at the same time work for yourself, family and friends. To not work for the common good, is to continue the long, slow, or perhaps not so slow, disintegration that leads to destruction of the earth, water, air, community, people, and leads to a world violent and unsafe.

It is hopeful and reassuring to see positive events pointing toward this new way of seeing, understanding and doing – living and working for the protection and sustainability of our common home and the common good. They are one and the same. Here’s to another hopeful New Year.




The new abnormal: Ice cover and the ecology of the Great Lakes

Why is less Great Lakes ice a bad thing?

This year’s historically low Great Lakes ice coverage has attracted considerable attention. Less has been said, however, about what reduced ice means for the ecology of the Great Lakes. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, effects can be profoundly negative:

  • Aquatic species, including fish, rely on ice for protecting eggs and young. Plankton, an important part of the food chain, are more resilient when protected by ice. Whitefish and lake trout will be forced to compete with warm-water species migrating north with rising temperatures. Declining ice cover could also stress whitefish reproduction in Lake Superior where ice protects eggs from winter storm disturbance.
  • Reduced ice cover leads to increased evaporation, which in turn could lead to drastic reductions in Great Lakes water levels.
  • Nearshore ice sheets buffer coastal structures and infrastructure from winter’s punishing winds and waves. Less ice leaves them more vulnerable to costly damage.
  • Low ice cover fosters increased resuspension of sediments and may contribute to summer algae blooms.
  • Reduced ice cover leads to extreme weather, including increasing intensity and frequency of heavy rainfall and snowfall, including record lake effect snows.
  • Recreational sports, including ice fishing on the Great Lakes and inland lakes, are reduced or eliminated, cutting into culturally important harvests of whitefish, panfish, bass and yellow perch.

“The Great Lakes will continue to warm over the next several decades and despite year-to-year variability, Lake Erie is trending towards an ice-free status during the winter months,” says Dr. Mike McCay, director of the University of Windsor’s Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research. “Even though we have seen the lakes bounce back from adversity before, less ice cover will be a new normal.”

Great Lakes Ice Cover, 1973-2023 (click to play slideshow)

Great Lakes annual maximum ice cover, 1973-2023

How the Great Lakes Will Benefit from Governor Whitmer’s Energy Plan

Originally published October 6, 2023; updated February 29, 2024

In what is among the most comprehensive clean energy initiatives in the country, Michigan has become the first industrialized swing state to enact laws requiring 100 percent of electric power to come from carbon-free sources by 2040. The ambitious legislative agenda, fulfilling Governor Whitmer’s MI Healthy Climate Plan, also increases energy efficiency standards, address energy equity in disadvantaged communities, and empowers the Michigan Public Service Commission to consider climate change, affordability, and equity in its decision-making. The passage of the bills will save Michigan ratepayers an estimated $5.5 billion through 2050.

These benefits to Michigan are on top of the energy investments flowing from the federal Inflation Reduction Act that have catalyzed an estimated over $21 billion in new investment in Michigan, helped create almost 16,000 good-paying clean energy jobs, and brought twenty-four major new clean energy manufacturing projects to Michigan – more than any other state.

But these are not the only measurable benefits that the energy transition brings to Michigan. As we celebrate Michigan’s newfound leadership in clean energy, it’s vitally important to underscore the positive impact the energy transition will have on Michigan’s water resources.

Decarbonizing Michigan’s Economy Will Dramatically Improve Water Quality

Governor Whitmer’s MI Healthy Climate Plan will not only accelerate Michigan’s clean energy transition and decarbonize our economy, it will provide long-term benefits to Michigan’s water resources.

As we retire fossil fuel-based energy sources and replace them with clean energy technologies – wind and solar power, green hydrogen, electric vehicles, and energy storage devices – we will markedly and measurably reduce the harmful impacts that producing and burning fossil fuels have on our Great Lakes, rivers and streams, and groundwater.

Wind and solar energy are infinite sources of free, clean power. Unlike fossil fuels which are finite, costly, inherently dirty, and cause billions of dollars of negative environmental and health impacts, wind and solar energy are free, clean, and with far fewer impacts to the environment and human health.

Impacts from Thermoelectric Generation

Water and energy have always been highly interdependent. Producing power uses tremendous amounts of water. From the first water wheels used to ground grain 6,000 years ago, through the Roman age of invention where water was moved great distances to irrigate crops and provide drinking water, to the production of energy from hydropower, fossil-fuel, and nuclear power plants, water has always been an essential component of energy

Electricity generated by steam from burning coal or natural gas, and nuclear fission – called thermoelectric generation – accounts for 68 percent of water use in the Great Lakes Region and 74 percent of all water use in Michigan. Thermoelectric generation causes significant, harmful, and destructive direct impacts on our water resources.

Power plants need massive amounts of cooling water to operate. Water pumped from the Great Lakes and their tributary rivers “entrain” or kills millions of fish and aquatic organisms, including early-life-stage fish, eggs, and larvae. Once heated, water released from power plants causes thermal impacts that stress and kill fish and other aquatic organisms. Warm water also can change fish populations, decrease dissolved oxygen levels, propagate algae, and alter “benthic communities” – the broad ecological biome of animals (including crustaceans and mussels), plants, and bacteria that live in the water and the lake bottom.

Impacts from Coal

Michigan’s coal plants are also responsible for the widespread pollution of our Great Lakes. Available data show that Michigan-based coal-fired plants emit approximately 3000 lbs. of mercury – a powerful neurotoxin every year. Coal plants are responsible for 57 percent of all mercury present in the Great Lakes, resulting in official health advisories cautioning the public to limit consumption of Great Lakes fish. In 2021 alone, thermoelectric power plants in Michigan also emitted 64,301 tons of sulfur dioxide, 58,284 tons of nitrogen oxide, and 55,450,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide.

In addition to these contaminants, coal combustion produces air emissions that contain lead, particulates, and various other heavy metals that are deposited in our lakes, rivers , and streams. Coal combustion also produces fly ash and slag, which have been deposited in unlined landfills for many decades. Recent research has revealed that of the fifty-two known coal ash landfills in Michigan, almost all are leaking heavy metals into Michigan’s groundwater.

Mining coal also consumes huge amounts of water In 2021, 50 to 59 gallons of water were used for each of the 577 million tons of coal mined.

Impacts from Oil and Gas 

There are more than 900,000 active oil and gas wells in the United States. Oil and gas production from shale formations uses 1.5 to 16 million gallons of water for each well. This water becomes contaminated with a variety of chemicals and oil and gas constituents.

Oil and gas produced from shale formations require “hydraulic fracturing,” a process using large volumes of water, chemicals, and sand pumped under high pressure to keep pore spaces open so that oil and gas can be recovered. The drilling process yields contaminated “flow-back” water, as well as naturally occurring brine that is pumped out with the oil and gas. This chemical laden water is then disposed of by pumping it back deep underground.

Burning natural gas produces emissions that include nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, volatile organic compounds, and particulate matter – all of which inevitably find their way into Michigan’s surface waters.

Pipelines transport crude oil and gas to refineries, and refined oil and gas to their end use. Between 1998 and 2017 there were 11,758 pipeline spills in the United States that were classified as “significant” by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Included among them is the most catastrophic pipeline failure in United States history. The Enbridge pipeline rupture near Marshall, Michigan in July 2010, released more than 1 million gallons of tar sands oil into a direct tributary of the Kalamazoo River. The rupture of Enbridge Line 6B resulted in pervasive contamination and massive ecological damage to the waters and surrounding wetlands.

Another oil pipeline now threatens the world’s most valuable fresh surface water system. The 70-year old Line 5, also owned and operated by Enbridge, traverses the Straits of Mackinac at the confluence of Lakes Michigan and Huron. The free spanning underwater pipeline has been repeatedly struck by ship’s anchors and cables dragged by passing vessels have damaged the pipelines and its supports. Line 5 is uniquely vulnerable to multiple impacts that could result in irreversible environmental harm and billions of dollars of damage to the Great Lakes regional economy.

Climate Change and Michigan Waters 

We are only beginning to understand the pervasive impact climate change is having on our lakes, rivers, and other water-dependent resources. Climate change brings specific climate related impacts, risks, and challenges to the protection and management of public water resources.

The combustion of fossil fuels has raised regional temperatures 2.3 degrees since 1951. Warming temperatures destabilize lake, river, and stream ecology, altering conditions and habitat for fish and aquatic organisms. Like the oceans, the Great Lakes are absorbing excess heat. Lake Superior, despite its size, is one of the fastest warming lakes in the world with temperatures increasing 3-4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Warming temperatures are changing our weather. The National Climate Assessment forecasts both increased frequency and severity of storm events in the Great Lakes region. Increased flooding will cause sewer overflows that reach our Great Lakes, increased soil erosion; and more fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides to wash into our streams and rivers.

The Energy/Water Nexus 

We can mitigate or even potentially avoid the most severe effects of climate change by implementing Governor Whitmer’s energy and climate plans. The transition from fossil fuels to clean energy cannot come soon enough.

The benefits of the proposed energy transition to our water resources are not speculative, they are measurable and based on science. Wind and solar energy are now the least expensive new energy infrastructure available worldwide. Every megawatt-hour of wind and solar energy saves 8,270 gallons of water from being used for thermal cooling.

An acre of solar panels producing electricity keeps 121 to 138 metric tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, every year. That same acre of solar panels can power an electric vehicle 40 to 100 times farther than ethanol produced from the same acre of corn. And ethanol production can require up to 865 gallons of water for each gallon of fuel produced.

The benefits of clean energy, significant as they are, pale when compared to the harms that clean energy can help us avoid. The economics of clean energy do not include the difficult to quantify but very real aggregate cost of “negative externalities” – the harmful environmental and health impacts that flow from the use of fossil fuels.

Annual environmental and health damages linked to coal mining, processing, and combustion have been estimated at $365 billion annually (2010 dollars). The annual environmental and health damages from burning fossil fuels have been estimated at up to $970 billion annually.

Globally, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that pollution from fossil fuels cost the world’s economy more than $5.6 trillion in 2022. This amount, roughly equivalent to total annual global energy expenditures, if added to the cost of producing fossil fuels, makes the favorable economics of clean energy technologies undeniable, and an overwhelming and compelling basis to transition from fossil fuels as quickly as possible.

Governor Whitmer’s clean energy and climate initiatives redound with multiple benefits to public health, the environment, the business community, and Michigan citizens at large. And thanks to the Governor’s policies that are being advanced today, the largest, most extraordinary fresh surface water system in the world – our Great Lakes – will also enjoy long-term future benefits and be preserved and protected for our future generations.


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Utility Dive, Renewables would provide cheaper energy than 99% of US coal plants and catalyze a just energy  transition, February 9. 2023 https://www.utilitydive.com/news/renewables-cheaper-energy-than-99-percent-of us-coal-plants-just-energy-transition/642393/ 
NREL, A Retrospective Analysis of the Benefits and Impacts of U.S. Renewable Portfolio Standards, January 2016  https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy16osti/65005.pdf 
Columbia Climate School, Solar Panels Reduce CO2 Emissions More Per Acre Than Trees — and Much More Than  Corn Ethanol, October 26, 2022 https://news.climate.columbia.edu/2022/10/26/solar-panels-reduce-co2-emissions-more-per-acre-than-trees-and-much-more-than-corn-ethanol/ 
Columbia Climate School, Ethanol’s Impacts on Our Water Resources, March 21, 2011  https://news.climate.columbia.edu/2011/03/21/ethanol%e2%80%99s-impacts-on-our-water-resources/
Epstein, P., et al, Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard Medical School, February 17, 2011  https://nyaspubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1749-6632.2010.05890.x#:~:text=These%20costs%20are%20external%20to,of%20a%20trillion%20dollars%20annually
Shindell, D., The social cost of atmospheric release, February 25, 2015 https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-015-1343-0#/page-1 
International Monetary Fund, IMF Fossil Fuel Subsidies Data: 2023 Update, August 24, 2023 https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WP/Issues/2023/08/22/IMF-Fossil-Fuel-Subsidies-Data-2023-Update-537281#:~:text=Globally%2C%20fossil%20fuel%20subsidies%20were,warming%20and%20local%20air%20pollution

Canadian Wildfires and AQI

If you’re in the midwest or the mid-Atlantic, chances are you’ve been affected by dangerous air quality this summer. Here in northern Michigan, the Air Quality Index (AQI) soared above 200 in late June, as smoke clogged the atmosphere. Our most basic, life-sustaining element was rated “Very Unhealthy” to breathe.

This unthinkable situation stems from over 500 wildfires burning across Canada, consuming a record 23,491,740 acres as of July 11, 2023. A dangerous cocktail of unrelenting heat, parched ground, and lightning strikes thousands of miles away has brought climate change to our doorstep and into our lungs. 

In the fight to stabilize the climate and heal the Great Lakes, everything is truly connected, and everyone has a role. Here are a few resources that can help us better understand the situation:

Record-breaking global temperatures, raging wildfires highlight effects of climate change
PBS News Hour, July 6 2023

A Climate Laggard in America’s Industrial Heartland Has a Plan to Change, Fast
Coral Davenport, The New York Times
Lawmakers in Michigan have long fought tough pollution controls. But the toll of flooding, lost crops and damage to the Great Lakes appears to be changing minds.

How wildfires are changing in Canada
Benjamin Shingler and Graeme Bruce, CBC News, June 7 2023

Canada Faces ‘long, tough summer’ of with even hotter temperatures
The Guardian, July 7 2023

Why Canada’s wildfires will affect air quality for weeks to come
Li Zhou, Vox.com, June 23 2023

Wildfires & Pollution: What Comes Next (recorded webinar)
A Michigan Environmental Council conversation with Nick Leonard, executive director of the Great Lakes Environmental Center, and Melody Reis, senior legislative and regulatory policy manager of Moms Clean Air Force. 

AirNow Real-Time Interactive Air Quality Map
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Satellite animations of wildfire smoke movement in late June
RAMMB-CIRA, Colorado State University

Opinion // Keep Michigan water affordable and in public hands

By: Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director
January 17, 2023 // Bridge Michigan

Michigan is a water wonderland — think Great Lakes, 36,000 miles of rivers and streams, groundwater that supplies 45 percent of our state with drinking water, and more than 6 million acres of wetlands.

But these waters face a daunting array of challenges, everything from microplastics to toxic “forever chemicals,” inadequate infrastructure funding to the stresses of climate change. The impact on residents includes soaring water bills, water shutoffs and widespread concern about lead and chemical contamination.

In 2023, Michigan needs an inspiring vision, championed from the highest places inside our government and out. In her State of the State message set for Jan. 25, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has a chance to show the way by articulating bold proposals for Michigan’s water. I urge herto declare 2023 the Year of Keeping Water Public and Protected for All in Michigan.

Secure Affordable Rates and Public Control

  • Water affordability and access: Water is essential to sanitation, health and life itself. No Michigander should be denied public water service because of inability to pay. Michigan should enact legislation to ban residential water shutoffs, fix the affordability crisis and address water injustices.
  • Public Water Legislation: The state should enact legislation imposing royalties on bottlers who commodify waters owned by the State of Michigan at practically no cost and reap extraordinary profit on the resale. The royalties should make up a clean water trust fund to serve Michigan residents and communities for dedicated public purposes, including ending water shutoffs and helping people whose wells are contaminated.
  • Keep municipal water utilities public: Michigan must draw a clear line against any plan to privatize public water services, which weakens local control and can ratchet up rates while maintenance lags.

Protect Drinking Water and Public Health

We have made considerable progress in dealing with the kind of pollution the 1972 Clean Water Act targeted, but new threats continually emerge for which our laws are ill-prepared. The governor should call for actions to address not only these threats but also the mistakes of the past:

  • Groundwater: These vital but largely invisible waters are contaminated in over 15,000 localities. Another $50 million a year should be dedicated to the cleanup of toxic sites and prevention of groundwater contamination.
  • Climate resilience and water infrastructure funding: Climate change is putting unprecedented stress on already-faltering water systems. Despite a one-time infusion of federal funds last year, our water infrastructure faces a multi-billion dollar investment gap. We need long-term funding sources, and new water projects must be designed for an era of intensifying storms.
  • A new approach to chemical contamination: We can no longer deal with chemicals like PFAS one-by-one and after they have done environmental harm. Instead, the precautionary principle should be the foundation of our chemical policy, requiring chemical manufacturers to demonstrate the safety of the chemicals before they can be authorized for commerce.

Our actions now will define and shape the future of the Great Lakes. This future demands a new relationship with water, and recognizes, in the words of Jacques Cousteau, that “the water cycle and the life cycle are one.”

Imagine a future where we place water at the center of all decision-making. And imagine the profoundly positive impacts that result in energy choices, food systems, the transportation and housing sectors, urban development, manufacturing and more.

Safeguarding our Great Lakes is a deeply shared value and, despite daily indications of bitter polarization in our politics, this important area of common ground bridges political divides. Prudently conceived and boldly implemented, keeping our water public and protected for all can help secure Michigan’s future.

Progress and Hope for the Environment

Ten years to save the planet from climate change. PFAS, microplastics, and invasive species. Wetland destruction and failing, polluting septic systems.  Sometimes it seems as though the only environmental news is bad news.

Here’s an antidote, borne in a glass half-full.

Great Lakes Piping Plover

An endearing, small shorebird that nests on Great Lakes beaches, the piping plover is on the federal endangered species list.  Its preferred habitat is also a lure to people and their dogs.  But thanks to intensive recovery efforts by federal and state government officials and citizen volunteers, the population of Great Lakes piping plovers has rebounded from 13 nesting pairs in 1990 to approximately 65-70 nesting pairs today, and the outlook is favorable.

Protecting Wetlands

Wetlands are important because they filter water pollutants, store floodwaters, and provide habitat for fish and wildlife.  Yet they were regarded as wastelands from the time Europeans arrived to the 20th Century.  Draining and filling cost Michigan 4.2 million acres of its original endowment of 10.7 million acres of wetlands.  But the passage in 1979 of Michigan’s wetland protection law has made a dramatic difference. It has sl

owed the rate of wetland loss to less than 2000 acres a year, from a former pace of tens of thousands of acres a year. Meanwhile, private groups are working to restore wetlands.

Michigan’s Recycling Rate Improving

For years, Michigan’s recycling rate was the lowest in the Great Lakes region.  But things are changing. Michigan has significantly improved its recycling rate from 14.25% prior to 2019 to 19.3%, based on an analysis released by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) earlier this year.  An EGLE survey found that Michiganders’ understanding of recycling best habits has increased in every corner of the state. The recycling rate translates to 110 pounds per capita each year.

Public Drinking Water

The twin lead-in-drinking water disasters in Flint and Benton Harbor have raised public doubts about the safety of community drinking water systems.  The good news is that community systems in Michigan and the Great Lakes region generally maintain a high degree of compliance with federal health-based drinking water standards. Of the 19.5 million U.S. residents served by public water supplies that rely on the Great Lakes as their source water, 99.1% had drinking water that met all applicable health-based standards in 2020. In the Province of Ontario, approximately 60% of the population is supplied with treated drinking water from the Great Lakes. In 2020, 99.8% of municipal residential treated drinking water quality tests met Ontario Drinking Water Quality Standards.

Defending the Monarch Butterfly

The exquisite monarch butterfly is in trouble, but the Village of Elk Rapids has stepped up to do something about it, recently becoming the second Monarch City USA in Michigan. The designation commits the Village to several actions, including:

  • Converting abandoned lands to monarch habitat
  • Integrating monarch conservation into the Village’s future land use conservation
  • Working with garden clubs and citizens in planting milkweed and nectar gardens
  • Building sanctuary sites, installing signage and hosting an annual Monarch Butterfly Festival

The population of migratory Eastern monarchs (those east of the Rocky Mountains) declined 90 percent during the last 20 years. If more communities follow the lead of Elk Rapids, the monarch butterfly has a chance.

FLOW Press Statement—Today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in West Virginia v. EPA

Traverse City, Mich.— The following is a press statement from Jim Olson, Senior Legal Advisor at FLOW (For Love of Water), the Great Lakes law and policy center based in Traverse City, in response to the United States Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision today in West Virginia v. EPA, which cripples the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to limit greenhouse gas emissions under the federal Clean Air Act from existing coal plants to combat climate change.

“It appears the Supreme Court has chosen a political agenda over the law and legal precedent established since the 1970 passage of the Clean Air Act, which authorizes the EPA to set standards on emissions from air pollutants. The Supreme Court previously ruled that the EPA has authority to set standards on emissions because greenhouse gasses are pollutants. Today, the Supreme Court departs from this precedent by weakening EPA’s authority to limit emissions from coal-fired power plants.

“The effect of the Supreme Court’s decision cannot be overstated: At a time when coal plants are being shut down as states, the nation, and world shift to renewable, clean energy, the Court has sponsored the continued burning of coal that will accelerate the climate crisis.

“It is now even more important that states like Michigan step up to defend and strengthen their environmental safeguards. Fortunately, under the Clean Air Act, states can continue to limit and force the shutdown of existing coal plants under state laws and regulations. Just last week the Michigan Public Service Commission, after nearly a decade of contested energy and legal issues, approved a settlement and order that will require Consumers Energy to shut down its remaining coal-fired power plants within 3 years.”

You’re Never Too Old to Become a Water Warrior

The northern part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore along the shores of Good Harbor Bay is one of Mulherin’s favorite places.

Author Tim Mulherin

By Tim Mulherin

For the past two months I’ve been interviewing a host of people in northwest lower Michigan for a book concerning the impact of the pandemic and climate change on the region, as well as the increasing pressure from tourism, and how economic and population growth can be optimally balanced with environmental conservation. I’ve spoken with a wide range of professionals including realtors, developers, politicians, public safety experts (e.g., representatives of the United States Coast Guard and Leelanau County Sheriff’s Office), retailers, members of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, and leaders of local environmental organizations such as the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, Saving Birds Thru Habitat, the Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay, and FLOW.

One question I ask of every interviewee is, what do you love most about living and working in the region? Although there are unique variations in the responses, there is always one predictable central word: water.

The inland sea, Lake Michigan, has a profound effect on everyone who encounters it for the first time.

I first laid eyes on Grand Traverse Bay in 1986. I was living in Indianapolis, and a friend who encouraged me to enroll in college at the “advanced” age of 26 invited me to come Up North for the first time upon my graduation four years later. I’ll never forget my initial exposure to the bay. I was driving west on M-72 from Kalkaska. As I crested a hill while nearing Acme, the expanse of the bay suddenly appeared. I pulled my car over, got out, and took in its stunning beauty. As a flatlander living in central Indiana where the glaciers had worn the terrain nearly bowling alley-smooth, I was totally enchanted by Grand Traverse Bay and its surrounding hillsides. The inland sea, Lake Michigan, has a profound effect on everyone who encounters it for the first time. Soon after, many start thinking about how to relocate to the area, whether ASAP or eventually as part of the “Silver Tsunami.” It’s completely understandable—for better and for worse.

Last week, I interviewed several experts from FLOW, including senior policy advisor Dave Dempsey and FLOW’s founder and senior legal advisor Jim Olson. Both enlightened me about the many threats to the Great Lakes while commenting on the specter of climate change. My conversation with Jim was, frankly, sobering. He characterized climate change as “the predominant force on the planet right now in terms of human impact.” Jim went on to say, “We’re existentially facing the end of the planet and severe suffering by our children and grandchildren.”

One question I ask of every interviewee is, what do you love most about living and working in the region? Although there are unique variations in the responses, there is always one predictable central word: water.

Now, thanks to what I’m learning from these environmental champions, I’m finally paying full attention to climate change—which is undoubtedly the highest stakes issue of our time. Simultaneously, my appreciation for the Great Lakes and what they mean to all living things that rely upon them is rising exponentially. I may be 66 years old, but it’s never too late to have one’s consciousness raised and to become extremely protective of this freshwater treasure—something we play in and on, drink from, and largely take for granted—and to recruit more “water warriors” to the cause.

If you ever have any questions about how vital and fragile the Great Lakes are and how climate change is impacting the region, our friends at FLOW will give you a straight answer, one that’s as hard to hear as it is hopeful and inspiring.

I may be 66 years old, but it’s never too late to have one’s consciousness raised and to become extremely protective of this freshwater treasure—something we play in and on, drink from, and largely take for granted—and to recruit more “water warriors” to the cause.

Tim Mulherin is the author of Sand, Stars, Wind, & Water: Field Notes from Up North, a nonfiction collection of stories and essays about his outdoor adventures in northern Michigan over the past 36 years. He can be reached at timmulherin@sbcglobal.net.

FLOW: State of Michigan Takes a Strategic Step Today in the Race to Prevent a ‘Line 5’ Oil Spill

Editor’s Note: The following is a media release issued by FLOW on November 30, 2021; please contact Executive Director Liz Kirkwood at (570) 872-4956 or Liz@FLOWforWater.org or Legal Director Zach Welcker at (231) 620-7911 or Zach@FLOWforWater.org.

“The State of Michigan took a strategic step today in the race to prevent a catastrophic Line 5 oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac by concentrating its legal efforts in state, not federal, court,” said FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood. “The state’s legal fight and the citizen-led movement to protect the Great Lakes, jobs, and a way of life continue full speed ahead.”

In response to Judge Neff’s November 16, 2021 decision to assume federal jurisdiction over the state’s 2020 case to shut down Line 5, the state has chosen to voluntarily dismiss that case and rely instead on Attorney General Dana Nessel’s 2019 lawsuit against Line 5-owner Enbridge in state circuit court in Ingham County.

This procedural maneuver will shift consideration of the State of Michigan’s legal efforts to shut down Line 5 back to a state-court forum where the matter belongs. The State of Michigan has paramount sovereignty over the Great Lakes that cannot be severed.

While the timing of a decision on the merits is still uncertain, dropping the 2020 case will almost certainly expedite resolution of the State Michigan’s claims because it avoids protracted litigation in federal court, which would be necessary to guarantee the State’s right to appeal Judge Neff’s legally deficient remand decision in the 2020 case.

“It’s vitally important to recognize that the action by Governor Whitmer and Department of Natural Resources Director Daniel Eichinger in November 2020 to revoke and terminate Line 5’s 1953 easement remains valid,” said FLOW Legal Director Zach Welcker. “While Enbridge continues to trespass in state waters and on state bottomlands, the State of Michigan can now move forward on Attorney General Nessel’s case filed on behalf of the citizens of Michigan in 2019 to shutdown the dual pipelines in the Straits.”

Background from FLOW:

For more information, see FLOW’s Line 5 fact sheets and blogs: