By Bill Bradberry
Niagara Gazette — I was prompted to ask the question five years ago after watching Bob McDonald’s presentation at the 2008 Rotary International District Conference, themed “On the Waterfront: A Clear Commitment”, and I was reminded again last week when our multi-million dollar wastewater treatment plant was overwhelmed by what some are calling a “100 year storm” which caused the entire system to fail, dumping more than 100 million gallons of “untreated” waste water including raw sewage into the Niagara River.
Is it just my imagination running away with me, or are these storms and their consequences caused by climate change; is the next “100 year storm” right around the corner?
Bob McDonald is a Canadian science journalist. He is the senior science correspondent for CBC Radio and CBC Television and hosts a weekly radio show, Quirks and Quarks. He also hosted Wonderstruck, a science program for children, and the special The Greatest Canadian Invention, and he has written a number of books including “Wonderstruck,” “Wonderstruck II” and “Measuring the Earth with a Stick: Science as I’ve Seen It.”
He graphically demonstrated that though water comprises the majority of earth’s surface (60 percent), and that the total supply of earth’s water does not change, the portion available for safe consumption (one percent) is falling, and that as stewards of the life giving, but limited supply, we have an obligation and an opportunity to protect, share and preserve it for future generations, especially now that the impacts of climate change are becoming so dangerously real to so many people as evidenced here, for example by the hundreds of flooded basements and millions of dollars in damages wrought by our recent heavy rains.
McDonald demonstrated how little of the water that covers the globe is actually safe and available to drink by filling a drinking glass full of water, then pouring out the portions not safe or available for human consumption.
Once the amounts representing salt water, polluted water, ice and the amount trapped in plant life or buried too deep to collect were discounted, there was barely a drop left in the glass to drink; a poignant illustration easily understood by all and highlighted again this week in Buffalo as local politicians and environmentalists gathered on the Central Wharf to debate the value of the $44 million dollar Buffalo River’s remediation project which is now being threatened by a proposed 80 percent cut in Great Lakes cleanup fund by the U.S. House of Representatives.
Declared “biologically dead” by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1968, the river is beginning to recover as the result of the removal of a million cubic yards of contaminated sediment according to Congressman Higgins who also claims that “the river will be swimmable in five years and the fish caught there suitable for consumption.”
Niagara’s wastewater catastrophe and the Buffalo River project are both part of the same ecosystem and should serve as fair warning to the entire Great Lakes community in particular, and to New York state and the rest of the planet in general; climate change is real.
One exhaustive study on the subject by the Union of Concerned Scientists, “Confronting Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region “explores the potential consequences of climate change, good and bad, for the character, economy, and environment of the Great Lakes region during the coming century. It also examines actions that can be taken now to help forestall many of the most severe consequences of climate change for North America’s heartland”.
Bragging that the Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada “is a land of striking glacial legacies: spectacular lakes, vast wetlands, fertile southern soils, and rugged northern terrain forested in spruce and fir” the study also recognizes that the Region is “home to 60 million people whose actions can profoundly affect the region’s ecological bounty and the life-sustaining benefits it provides” the study concludes that there is sufficient evidence that the region is already changing:
• Winters are getting shorter.
• Annual average temperatures are growing warmer.
• Extreme heat events are occurring more frequently.
• The duration of lake ice cover is decreasing as air and water temperatures rise.
• Heavy precipitation events, both rain and snow, are becoming more common.
The initial report, nearly 10 years old (by George W. Kling, et al, 2003) which is downloadable at www.uscusa.org/greatlakes fully examines these and other trends in detail and discusses the likelihood that they will continue into the future as well as certain steps we can take to mitigate the damage.
As the report concludes, “The consequences of these climatic changes will magnify the impacts of ongoing human disturbances that fragment or transform landscapes, pollute air and water, and disrupt natural ecosystems and the vital goods and services they provide.”
There are dozens of similar reports, many forecasting dire consequences if we are not compelled to take action, and there are other alleged “scientific reports” which allege that climate change is just a bunch of bunk; you be the judge; I prefer to heed the warnings of our own recent experience with too much water at one time in too many basements, and to ask the global scientific community to join us here in Niagara Falls on both sides of the border to try to figure out what to do about this while we still have time.Contact Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org