OPINION / COMMENTARY
In this Earth Week feature article, Terry Yonker of the Great Lakes Wind Collaborative shares scientific predictions of how climate change will impact Western New York and the Great Lakes, and why the need for more renewable energy resources.
Ian and I sat together, each observing the same glacial scene and coming to two separate conclusions: climate change is a hoax and climate change is a reality.
We were amongst many other scientists and non scientists who traveled together to Antarctica on a Russian Academy of Sciences research vessel in early January. We observed calving glaciers and massive icebergs, expansive penguin and seabird colonies, breeching whales and predatory sea mammals, and a continent that is changing almost imperceptibly, but changing nevertheless. Sea ice extent, krill populations that serve as the base of the Antarctic food chain, and glacial mass are all decreasing. For those of us who were involved in research on Antarctic climate since the early 1960’s, the changes are profound.
Although what is happening in Antarctica parallels changes that are occurring here in the Great Lakes, the impacts of global warming on the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem are different in several major respects.
Rather than rising oceans most scientists agree that water levels in the Great Lakes will decline, due in part to rising temperatures and increased evaporation, but also shifts in the timing and amount of annual precipitation. Evaporation will also increase because winter ice cover is expected to decrease or disappear all together. The implications of water level changes alone will impact hydroelectric power production, shipping tonnage through the St. Lawrence Seaway, flow over the Niagara Falls, and the biological productivity of the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem. Most impacts will be negative.
Climate impacts to Antarctica and the Great Lakes do have one thing in common: the 40 million people of the Great Lakes Basin are responsible for up to 15% of the world’s production of carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas contributing to global warming and climate change and most of the carbon dioxide comes from energy production, heating, and transportation that support a two trillion dollar economy, the world’s fourth largest behind the United States, China, and Japan.
Carbon dioxide emissions in the Great Lakes are already being reduced by the introduction of new sources of renewable energy (wind and solar) and the reduction in the use of coal to produce electricity. The potential of wind power alone is ten times the 100 gigawatts of electricity that are required to maintain the Great Lakes economy and its inhabitants. Ontario will shut down all its coal generators by 2014. Wind and solar power that generate electricity within a geographically diverse supergrid can easily replace coal, oil, and natural gas as baseload capacity when balanced by hydroelectric and pumped hydroelectric capacity. Western New York and the Niagara region of Ontario are blessed with hydroelectric and pumped hydroelectric generating capacity and could serve as the energy hub and nerve center for the entire Great Lakes region.
Perhaps Ian and I had different perceptions of what we saw in Antarctica, but the reality is we must address changes in climate that are already occurring here at home. What we do here to mitigate global warming will benefit the entire planet. The future wellbeing of the penguins of Antarctica may depend on what we can accomplish a hemisphere away.