29 July 2013

Erie and Ontario

One of my current projects is photographing the coasts of the USA.
As climate change impacts become more severe, the coasts will be increasingly affected, from heavy storm damage with tremendous economic impacts, to large-scale amelioration projects which will change the look of littoral areas. We could even witness a societal decision to retreat from the coasts and let them resume their buffering function.

The Great Lakes are a vital part of our coastal perimeter, and conditions are in flux there like everywhere.
While climate change is expected to cause increased storms and rising ocean waters, the effects on The Great Lakes is less well known, though increasing and increasingly erratic storm activity is a universal reality for any region in this age.
Paradoxically, while oceans elevate due to climate change, the lakes shrink due to reduced precipitation (especially snowfall) and increased evaporation. The Great Lakes fishing industry, valued at $7 billion per year, is under threat from numerous sources: invasive species, climate change induced water temperature change, and industry.

LightHawk pilot extraordinaire Bob Keller, with his usual skill, finesse, and insight, volunteered to fly this project. We documented extensive development on the coast, industries that are polluting the water, killing the fish, and contributing to climate change. Some of the highlights:

-The most problematic nuclear plant in the country, with numerous leaks and accidents.

-The most expensive nuclear plant in the country. So expensive, they stopped construction when they were nearly finished.

-A refinery taking tar sands oil, then selling their waste as fuel to the power plant next door, which is the largest killer of fish on the Great Lakes (an estimated value of $30 million worth of fish annually).

The Great Lakes are the seat of the "rust belt;" that stretch of industry that propelled the USA in the era when manufacturing was dominant in the country, and environmental regulation was weak or non-existent.

Much of this has disappeared, but much remains, perpetuating a legacy of pollution and climate change.
Among the points of interest:

-Seven coal-fired power plants emitting a total of: 43,000,000 tons of CO2, and over 2,300 pounds of mercury.
-The site of America's failed attempt at nuclear waste reprocessing, one of the most toxic sites in the country.
-Abandoned power plants, and paper mills.
-A train locomotive factory that is scaling back production due to reduced demand for coal, a result of hydro-fracking.
-A harbor with material transfer stations being dredged and dumping tremendous amounts of silt out into the lake.

The Great Lakes are a tremendous source of food and fresh water, two resources which are becoming increasingly rare in our day. We might do well to put efforts toward protecting them.