Great Lakes: Managing our Response

Great Lakes Communities and Ecosystems at RiskThe Solutionsspacer
Confront the Challenge
• Climate in the Region
• The Report
• Technical Background
• For Teachers

Explore the Impacts
• Overview
• Migrating Climates
• Water Resources
• Sense of Place

Discover the Solutions
• Overview
• Solutions where we Live
• Reducing our Emissions
• Managing our Response
• Ten Personal Solutions

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Managing our Response

Prudent steps taken now to protect the Great Lakes land and water resources will pay big dividends in the future. The Great Lakes region’s economic wealth is generated by its vibrant manufacturing, services (including recreation and tourism), agriculture, and forestry sectors. Each of these sectors rely, in some capacity, upon the ecological resources of the region, and each sector will be affected by the impacts of climate change. We must act now to preserve and protect our valuable ecological resources. Great Lakes residents, planners, land managers, and policymakers can become better prepared to deal with the impacts of climate change.

Climate change is a long-term challenge much like education, child rearing, business investments, or Social Security. Reducing our emissions of heat-trapping gases is the most important action businesses, residents, and all levels of government can take to set us on a more sustainable and safer path. The climate benefits of these reductions, however, will not be seen immediately, as heat-trapping gases already emitted in the past will remain in the atmosphere for decades. As a result, some measure of climate change will occur over the 21st century. It is therefore sensible for us to begin developing strategies for how we should adapt our infrastructure and the management of our natural resources to changing conditions as we understand them today.

Confronting Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region explores steps that should be taken to best manage our response to climate change. Among the topics that the report explores are:

Air Quality Improvements
Air pollutants are a threat to the natural environment as well as human health. Reduction of heat-trapping gas emissions from sources such as coal-fired power plants and motor vehicles also yields a co-benefit of air pollution reduction. Coal-fired power plants—prevalent in the region—are the biggest single source of mercury emissions, which are a serious concern in the Great Lakes states.

It is estimated that 1,900 people die due to air pollution every year in Ontario alone, costing the medical system approximately $1.1 billion (Cdn) annually according to the Ontario Medical Association. Successful efforts to alleviate this burden have been taken by the city of Mississauga in southern Ontario through the implementation of a comprehensive air quality improvement plan. This has resulted in significant utility savings, reductions in energy use and pollution, expanded transit services and bike paths, and reduced air pollution.

Water Resource Management
The Great Lakes region is a place of unparalleled water resources. Protecting these resources, including both ground and surface water, and preserving the quality of aquatic habitats will not only benefit human health but also the species that inhabit these ecosystems. Efforts should focus on protecting riparian zones of rivers, existing wetlands and headwater streams, groundwater systems, and lakes.

Additional water conservation efforts should focus on creating reliable supplies for the industrial and business sectors dependent upon high-quality water. Upgrading of sewer and septic systems and containment of nonpoint pollution from roads, farmland, and other sources are key improvements. Supply concerns can be addressed by developing more effective water conservation strategies during summer months and in water-intensive agricultural and industrial operations. Water diversion schemes must have thorough evaluations of their environmental impact, given the potential for significant ecological changes and conflict arising from such projects.

Urban and Land-use Planning
Proper urban and rural land-use planning can reduce sprawl and prevent additional heat-trapping gas emissions due to commuter traffic. This will also reduce habitat destruction and population fragmentation of local wildlife and decrease the spread of the area of impervious surfaces such as concrete and asphalt that contribute significantly to flooding.

Grand Rapids, Michigan is receiving much attention for its anti-sprawl movement, including a civic campaign that led to comprehensive land-use policy reforms such as preservation of connected open lands and natural areas, establishment of compact business centers served by mass transit, and limits on extending water and sewer services.

Habitat Protection and Restoration
The Great Lakes region is home to an astounding array of biodiversity. Strategies to protect and restore ecologically important habitats should focus on rehabilitation of wooded riparian buffer strips, restoration of floodplain forests, wetland preservation and restoration, the reduction of impervious surfaces, and the control or elimination of harmful invasive species. Improved habitats offer an array of benefits including expansion of native species ranges, greater recreational experiences, and improved ecosystem services such as water purification and flood control.

Agriculture and Forestry Practices
While many projections of climate change impacts on agriculture have been favorable due to the ability of farmers to make many adjustments to changing conditions, the cost of these changes (including technology, resource availability, and management policies) must also be weighed when determining impacts. However, the choice of favorable crops and improvements in irrigation systems can be instrumental in minimizing problems such as limited water resources or elevated temperatures. In addition, farmers need to become aware of how their land-use practices contribute to heat-trapping gas emissions and affect water quality and quantity.

Foresters can also adjust to climate change by: shifting species and genetic varieties of trees; improving soil management, spacing, and tree rotation length; focusing on greater saw timber and less pulp production; using a diversity of tree species to enhance species dispersal; and, increasing investment in the prevention and containment of large forest fires and developing improved strategies for small fire management.

Education about Ecology and Global Warming
Finally, we need to raise awareness and understanding of global climate change in the Great Lakes region. This can begin by educating people of all ages about the cultural and ecological heritage at stake; about the fundamentals of ecology and climate, and what drives them to change; and about the viable and cost-effective solutions currently at hand.

Additional Information
• Minimizing Human Pressures: Technical Appendix
• Managing the Impacts: Technical Appendix

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to Make Change Happen

We can reduce global warming emissions and ensure communities have the resources they need to withstand the effects of climate change—but not without you. Your generous support helps develop science-based solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.