For many in the Midwest, the Great Lakes represents an anchor to the region. The economy surrounding it is diverse, with vacation homes, beaches and industrial plants all relying on the same body of water. Many cities, including Chicago, exist chiefly because of their proximity to the lakes.
Now, in 2020, concern has been surrounding the region as lake levels rise at unprecedented rates. Low-lying communities have seen the worst effects of this rise, as communities on the lakes begin to flood. One of the most notable examples include a flooding last year in Mackinac Island, which washed portions of a paved road away.
Across the lakes, houses have begun to plunge into the water, roads have become rivers, and the routine life of millions of Americans has been interrupted by the phenomena. Property values have begun to plummet in what used to be high-scale vacation home neighborhoods. Residents have begun to look into what’s behind this trend and how they can stop the worst of this trend from touching them.
“Desertification can erase farmland, stronger hurricanes create climate refugees and heat waves can cause crop failures,” sophomore Nicholas Martin said. “If we as a civilization do not try and start solving these issues now, we will pay for it a thousand times over.”
Scientists have come to a consensus that a changing climate has led to these rising levels of water, as reported in a 2019 study from the University of Michigan. While the Midwest won’t face conditions as bad the ocean coasts, the Great Lakes will still feel the effects of an unpredictable change in weather.
“It’s important to differentiate weather and climate,” environmental science teacher Scott Kopecky said. “The Midwest in particular has been facing a change in climate that has been wetter and warmer than usual.”
The industry surrounding the Great Lakes has also been forced to adapt. Farming, an industry that built the Midwestern region, has suffered especially with the changing climate.
“Farmers will have to deal with a loss in revenue,” Kopecky said. “There won’t be a crop shortage, but there will certainly be a decrease in the amount of output seen from Midwestern farmers.”
With industry struggling to adapt to the recent weather developments, many have looked for a solution that involves federal assistance.
“I don’t think enough is being done on this issue,” sophomore Bruno Ibrahim-Betts said. “The Paris Accords were a nice start, but they didn’t go far enough.”
In response, politicians that represent states or districts on the Great Lakes have resorted to asking for federal funds for temporary fixes. This includes building levees and seawalls to prevent rural communities from facing complete devastation from rising sea levels. For the most part, this funding comes from a multi-billion dollar initiative from Congress named the “Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act.”
Federal lawmakers have also requested assistance from the Canadian government, which borders four out of the five Great Lakes. According to the Associated Press, cities on Lake Huron and Michigan have specifically asked the Canadians to halt the release of water from two major dams, despite the fact that it has only resulted in the rise of sea levels by a few inches.
Local governments have also had to drain their budgets to fund small dams and rebuild the millions of dollars of damages that come with repeated flooding. Infrastructure in rural areas is largely outdated and therefore can’t handle the toll of rising waters. This has resulted in bridges and docks at risk of complete collapse, according to Grand Rapids Press.
Rudimentary solutions in how the Midwest harvests energy has also taken place, ranging from a major investment in wind farms based in central Illinois to a solar proposal in Wisconisn’s 2019 ballot. However, the reliance on fossil fuels has yet to pick up as quickly as energy companies like ComEd continue to buy cheaper coal options.
“I think that there should be a great reliance on nuclear energy. It has gotten much safer since the days of 3 Mile Island and Chernobyl,” Betts said. “It can provide enough energy for all of us.”
As of now, there isn’t a clear light at the end of the tunnel. According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, forecasters expect the same warming trends to continue, meaning any relief from erosion is unlikely within the next year at least. This leaves the future of the reason in jeopardy as it attempts to quickly fix their way of life before reality invades.
“I am hoping that people and their nations start understanding that this problem will not go away, it cannot be forced to leave through prayer or money, we cannot make agreements with our planet asking it to stop getting warmer, nor can we make its more hostile weather turn peaceful with words,” Martin said. “We need to take radical action soon.”