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April 26, 2012

Forum: Climate change and our Great Lakes

Sixty years ago, Sarah Vaughan belted out the song, "Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year," expressing a sentiment that in 2012 can no longer be accepted as a valid assertion — at least in the view of 97 percent of scientists who have tracked and evaluated global climate trends since the late 1800s.

The data is irrefutable, indicating warming temperatures, declining lake levels, and more heavy rain storms. Professor Don Scavia, special counsel to the president for sustainability, and director of the Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute at the University of Michigan, recently released a study titled "The Effects of Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region," which ends with the two-fold question: "How are we adapting to the documented effects and how are we preparing to deal with the predicted effects of climate change?"

Since the 1960s there have been dramatic increases in average temperatures, causing, among other things, a reclassification of our northwest Michigan plant zone from a 5 to a 6. With rising temperatures, winters are shorter and spring comes earlier. Temperatures are rising twice as fast in water as they are in air, resulting in decreasing ice cover in lakes and rivers.

By the end of the century, models predict northern Michigan may have as few as 10 snow days with a climate similar to that of Louisana. With the loss of traditional winter weather as we have come to expect it, our great, great, great grandchildren will be experiencing a totally different choice of regional activities from those that are available to us today.

Violent storms, already experienced in the past several years, are predicted to occur with growing intensity. These storms, occurring primarily during the fall, winter and spring months, will create greater agricultural run-off, draining phosphorous and other fertilizers into the lakes, exacerbating algae blooms, which, besides their unsightly appearance, rob the water of oxygen and create dead zones. Fewer storms are predicted during summer seasons, creating droughts during the growing season.

Benzie Audubon President Doug Cook writes that "the early warm weather has had birds moving much sooner than normal, and we have been spotting some species we wouldn't normally see until later in the season ... the early blooming spring flowers "¦ seem to be about 10 days to two weeks early."

Even with dramatic controls of carbon emissions there is no avoiding the fact that our future will be impacted by conditions imposed by changing weather patterns. To ensure the sustainability of life on the planet we must face the challenges imposed by this threat. We have it within our ability as responsible citizens to at least reduce the most dire scientific predictions by moderating our behaviors.

The League of Women Voters is featuring Dan Brown, research assistant at the Graham Institute for Sustainabilty at the University of Michigan, a specialist in climate data, as keynote speaker for its annual meeting May 15 at the Park Place Hotel. The program, beginning at 7 p.m., is open to the public free of charge. Brown will be speaking on climate change effects in the Great Lakes region.

About the author: Mary Lee Orr is on the board of the Lake Michigan League of Womens Voters' Inter-League Organization, and is the Natural Resources Chair for the Grand Traverse Area League.

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of interest or expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by e-mailing letters@record-eagle.com. Please include biographical information and a photo.

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