For a full day, the topic of discussion among academics, federal and state government officials, ecosystem managers, non- governmental organizations, the public, and even a few retired professors attending the Understanding Harmful Algal Blooms: State of the Science conference hosted by the University of Toledo on September 12, was the damaging effects of recurrent algal blooms on the Lake Erie ecosystem and current efforts to abate them. The conference was produced by The Ohio State University and Ohio Sea Grant, an organization that promotes research in the Lake Erie and the Great Lakes with funding from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The premise of the conference was that the Lake Erie ecosystem begins at the crests of the watershed on both sides of the border. Remediation of the recurrent cyanobacterial (i.e. blue-green algae) blooms that damage water quality, harm wildlife and threaten human health requires understanding the causes of these blooms and removing those causes from the watershed with the goal of a healthier ecosystem for the physical, social and economic benefit of all stakeholders. Below is a synopsis and synthesis of the 14 papers presented at the conference.
Better Prediction of HABs (Hazardous Algal Blooms) in Lake Erie
The ability to predict the timing and extent of cyanobacterial blooms in the western basin of Lake Erie is a measure of how well scientists understand the causes of these blooms, sometimes referred to as hazardous algal blooms (HABs). The better that scientists understand the causes of HABs, the better they can predict them. Past predictions were so-so. In some years, the predictions were accurate but, in other years, they missed the mark. Something was missing in the equations used to predict these algal-bloom events, but what was it?
Dr. Rick Stumpf, an oceanographer at NOAA, presented improvements in the ability of scientists to predict when HABs occur and how intense they will be. The size of the annual HAB in the western basin of Lake Erie is determined by the amount of bioavailable phosphorus (BAP) that is loaded into the basin, largely through the Maumee River. Only BAP loaded into the lake from early March through mid-June leads to the bloom. Recent studies have shown that the extent of the bloom also is determined by the temperature of the water in June through mid-July, even though the bloom reaches its largest size in mid-August through early September.
Using only the spring BAP loading to the lake, the HAB in 2019 would have been predicted to be among the largest on record. On a scale of 1 to 10, it would have been predicted to be about a 9.0 or 9.5. However–and this is the important point–because June was wetter and cooler than normal, the bloom was predicted to be modest, at 7.5. Observations to date indicate that the bloom appears to be about 7.5, exactly as predicted. This indicates that scientists are understanding the causes of these events better because the predictions are borne out by the observed extent of the HAB.
Progress to Abate P (Phosphorus) Loading to Lake Erie
In addition to the ability to predict HABs, scientists want to be able to prevent the blooms–or at least to diminish them. Many years of study into the land-use effects on Lake Erie’s water quality have shown that the majority of phosphorus loaded into the lake is from agricultural activities, primarily from the Maumee River watershed. BAP runs off fields in one of two ways: from the surface of the field as erosion or from drainage through tiles placed below ground that empty into streams and eventually into Lake Erie. Abatement is achieved best by having tile drainage pass through a phosphorus filter, a device that traps phosphate on industrial slag before it runs into streams. The filter is an efficient device but also an extremely expensive one, precluding its use on all farm fields.
Not all farm fields, however, bleed phosphorus equally. Some fields are much more potent sources of phosphorus. Scientists are looking for ways to identify these phosphorus hot spots and remediate them with phosphorus filters or other techniques. These other techniques include riparian buffer strips between fields and streams, the use of cover crops to retain phosphorus, and constructed wetlands. None of these techniques alone is sufficiently effective. The best approaches seem to be a combination of these techniques used in sub-watershed hot spots.
Identification of the source of the phosphorus has been relatively easy, and technological advances have readily identified procedures and practices that are likely to be effective. Implementation of these procedures and practices, however, will require substantial public funding and cooperation by a majority of individual farmers. Implementation also will require a well-informed public to provide the necessary political will and societal patience to achieve the eventual outcome of a healthier Lake Erie. Likely, it will take at least a generation to achieve the intended results.
Can that happen, or is this a hopeless pipe dream? The success of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Management Plan shows that it is possible to achieve the necessary cooperation between many layers of government and society. The Chesapeake Bay experience may well serve as a template scenario of management development and implementation.
More than 4 million people participated in a worldwide climate strike on September 20, including the estimated 250 to 300 individuals–from students to the elderly–who gathered at Risman Plaza on the campus of Kent State University, carrying signs and speaking about environmental justice for future generations. According to 350.org, the strikes drew the largest crowds ever, sending a collective message to elected officials and world leaders that swift climate action is needed now.
The local strikers included Jeff Ingram and Doc, who played their drums to encourage people to stop and listen to the speakers, and Renee Zimelis-Ruchotzke, who encouraged speakers and singers to take a turn on the microphone.
Lila, a high school student, said that it was hard to think about the possibility that her children won’t have what we have now. She said that she can’t vote yet but is encouraging those who can vote to elect good leaders.
Another speaker talked about the need for a new president and vice president. Other speakers talked about how corporations put profits over people when they should be putting people and the planet over profits.
Jess, who works in the solar energy industry, said that people don’t need to burn anything to create energy. All that is needed, he said, is to connect to the sun. Jess noted, however, that Ohio has a dismal goal of 5% renewables, compared to 50% to 100% in other states.
A freshman fashion design student talked about the lack of sustainability in the fashion and clothing industries. Other speakers encourage people to “be the change you want.” Kevin sang an original song titled “Garden of Dust,” which described possible consequences that people and the planet face with climate change. Other inspiring songs and chants were interspersed with the speakers.
Here are more photos from the local climate strike:
At the Sixth Annual Environmental Science and Design Research Symposium held at Kent State University earlier this year, I was surprised to see a session on fashion. But I learned that fashion as we now know it is not environmentally sustainable and needs help from all involved to influence changes. Noel Palomo-Lovinski, an associate professor in the Department of Fashion Design & Merchandising at Kent State University, spoke passionately about the subject. She stressed that every step in the clothing-production process uses a great deal of the planet’s resources. For example, cotton, which is thought of as a natural fiber, uses enormous amounts of water and chemicals and undergoes intensive washing with more water and with other chemicals.
Then there are many fabrics that are petroleum based. Clothing production creates a lot of carbon dioxide pollution and is rated right behind the oil industry. Most people, said Palomo-Lovinski, don’t know how harmful clothes are to the environment. People want to spend less money but get more for each dollar, said Palomo-Lovinski. She added it costs more and more to make clothing today, and there also are environmental consequences.
She talked about how customers love all the colors and patterns, but they don’t see the rivers of dyes because most fabrics are manufactured overseas. Those dyes, she said, get on people’s skin when they wear cotton clothes. To make matters worse, all of the chemicals used in the clothing industry do not go away and instead leech into the soil and water. She then stressed the need to be transparent about the process. Time is irrelevant now in fashion, said Palomo-Lovinski. In two weeks, a new line of fashion can be manufactured and shipped all over the globe. She cited Zara and H & M as doing this. Because the fashion industry is operating at a faster and faster pace, said Palomo-Lovinski, the time people use their clothing also speeds up, further damaging the environment. The problem, she added, is getting worse and worse. Because people want cheap clothing, Palomo-Lovinski explained, it’s often made of inferior fabric and wears out sooner. She showed a picture of a fashions from the 1990s compared to now. They were extremely similar in appearance, so why, she asked, do we need to constantly reinvent the same fashions? All of this leads to an enormous amount of waste, said Palomo-Lovinski.
Clothing ends up in landfills because people don’t process used clothing fast enough. Of the clothing given to Goodwill, for example, 80% of it goes to Central America and Africa, which means that their clothing industry can’t compete. In the end, she noted, much of the donated clothing ends up in both countries’ landfills. So, what’s the next step for fashion designers? Palomo-Lovinski insisted that the way forward is not to distract from larger issues and feel good temporarily. Fashion designers, she said, need to think about sustainable-product service systems, which would require designers and consumers to do the following:
Co-design clothing with consumers to get them to hold on to clothing longer.
Repair clothing yourself, or have the designer change the clothing item for a better fit.
Take a clothing item back to the original company (For example, Eileen Fischer takes back the company’s clothing and then resells it. The company knows which chemicals were used to make the items and thus can recycle the items appropriately.)
Upcycle clothing to extend its use.
Dispose of unwanted clothing appropriately, such as shredding it or reusing it.
Act globally and think locally, a practice in which collaborative designers focus on economic systems, environmental health and social well-being to influence customers toward a long-term perspective on clothing use.
Involve the marketing and communications fields in the clothing business.
Follow best practices, one of which involves localized points of manufacturing where different types of designers for different types of consumers all interact and therefore create a closed loop.
Designers today, said Palomo-Lovinski, are learning about the many issues in the larger world. She added that it is important to think about the designers of today as being at the center of that larger world, which includes marketing, customers, client motivation, a systems mindset and application of technology.
All of these components, said Palomo-Lovinski, overlap to affect environmental health, social well-being, and economics. To continue to be relevant, she added, designers need to focus on the industry’s consequences for the world as a whole. She also suggested that people voice their concern for the effect of the clothing-production process on the environment at the ballot box and with their money (in terms of clothing purchases), which can help motivate companies to be sustainable producers of clothing. “Society today demand a new generation of professionals that can design not only products but systems for living as well,” said Palomo-Lovinski.
While not part of the symposium, Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue, said during a television interview with Christiane Amanpour (Amanpour & Co., April 8, 2019) that even the high-fashion industry and the manufacturers of top brands are discussing the topic of sustainability. Amanpour talked with Wintour about the criticism the fashion industry has faced for being the second most polluting industry in the world during an existential environmental crisis while at the same time people are buying much more clothing than they ever did but using it for a much shorter amount of time. Amanpouralso referenced Stella McCartney and others who are trying to get people to use less of products such as leather, plastic and fur. Wintour replied that everyone she knows in the industry is aware of not only the disposable economy in fashion and its impact on the environment but also the overall climate crisis. She added that businesses are making five-year plans about what to do to help. “We [along with other industries] have been at fault and [want to do] what can we do in the very short amount of time we have to course correct. . . . It’s an urgency for everybody within the industry. There are organizations like Fair Fashion and others across the globe [working] to see what we can all do to correct it.”
More recently, the Akron Beacon Journal reported on August 23 that used clothing is a new trend, with department stores making room for gently worn outfits in attempts to lure customers away from second-hand clothing stores. J.C. Penny and Macy’s, for example, are piloting a program to set aside one section in select stores for used merchandise sold by ThreadUP. Neiman Marcus, according to the article, was the first big chain to embrace the trend by buying a minority stake in Fashionphile, an online seller of pre-owned designer accessories, and will allow customers to sell pre-owned designer clothing to Fashionphile in Neiman Marcus stores, in the hope that customers will spend the money from those sale at Neiman Marcus rather than elsewhere. The initiative these stores have taken is seen as a response to customers who do not want to see their clothes end up in a landfill. While the resale business is just a small percentage of retail sales, it is growing exponentially and is expected to increase from $24 billion last year to $52 billion by 2023, according to a report by GlobalData produced for ThreadUP.
Because of its location and plentiful water, the Midwest was thought to be sheltered from the worst disasters of climate change–but not from everything. Ohio’s record rainfall last year, Lake Erie’s water levels rising higher than they have been in a long time, farmers having a tough year, many communities with flooding problems and rains that never seem to stop have become common occurrences. Government leaders are beginning to pay attention. Some of them have implemented countermeasures, while others are considering or planning for stormwater management and ways to lessen flooding.
These actions, however, do not address the underlying problem, which requires putting coal-burning utilities out of business and learning to enjoy electric cars fueled by wind- and solar- generated electricity.
Meanwhile, many environmental changes are occurring around the world as officials and others argue about what the next steps should be. This following are a few items from recent news reports that illustrate some of the world’s environmental problems and the sporadic progress (or lack of it) being made to resolve the problem:
The sea is rising, prompting Indonesia to move its capital, Jakarta, farther inland. Jakarta has sunk more than 10 feet in the last 30 years, and estimates of average global sea-level rise this century ranges from 3 feet to as much as eight feet-amounting to a wake-up call for other coastal cities such as Mumbai (which is ranked as most threatened), New Orleans, Houston, Tampa, London, Tokyo, Copenhagen, Bangkok, Calcutta, Shanghai and Manilla (along with many others). Preparing for rising sea levels requires adapting to a new normal, and coastal communities need to be looking at 30-year master plans to positively address the threat, which could be different depending on location but are necessary for a sustainable future.
Record-High Carbon Dioxide Levels
Carbon dioxide levels measured at Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii reached record levels of 415 parts per million, which is the highest that carbon dioxide levels have been in the last 3 million years. Three million years ago, the seas were 65 feet higher than today and America was covered by forests.
From Coal to Renewables in Great Britain
Great Britain was without coal power for a week in May for the first time since the 19th century. Plans call for the removal of coal entirely from the energy-generation mix by 2025. The government also set a deadline of 2050 for the elimination of all greenhouse gas emissions, which environmentalists say is not soon enough.
Diminished Role for Coal-Powered Electricity in Ohio
Coal’s role in electricity in Ohio shrank from 87% 12 years ago to 47% last year. Natural gas generated 34% of Ohio’s energy need last year, while nuclear generated 15% and renewables 3%. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio’s forecast shows that the production of power from these sources in 2036 will be much as it is today.
Increase in Natural Disasters in Central U.S.
In the central U.S., levee breaches have caused floodwaters to inundate towns around the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers.In late May, 15 tornadoes in Ohio left a great deal of devastation. In Montgomery County, 631 homes were unlivable, while 2,550 more homes and 173 businesses were damaged. In Harrison County, 84 homes and 14 businesses were destroyed and 134 homes, and 19 businesses had major damage. In Dayton, 39 homes were destroyed, and 95 others were heavily damaged. Brookville also recorded 39 homes destroyed and another 42 unlivable. The preliminary count in Trotwood showed 33 homes destroyed and another 98 unlivable. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross were offering help.
Climate’s Effect on Baby Lobsters
The number baby lobsters is very high in Canada but lower than expected in New England. Some scientists have said the shellfish appear to be moving north as the New England waters warm because of climate change. The decline in the settlement of baby lobsters has raised concerns in Maine, although the industry is described as strong.
New Mexico Plan for Wind Farm
New Mexico’s plan for a wind farm is moving forward and is projected to generate 250 megawatts, which is enough to power 250,000 households. Scout Clean Energy won the bid for 25 square miles of property and will build the Great Divide Wind Farm. Construction could take two years.
Nuclear Plant to Shut Down
The Three Mile Island nuclear plant will begin shutting down June 1 because a financial rescue did not materialize. The expected shutdown has generated a debate about the zero-carbon-emissions characteristic of nuclear power in a time of global warming.
Booming Shale Business in Ohio
Ohio’s shale business is booming. It is estimated that by 2040, the Utica and Marcellus shale regions in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania will supply energy to 45% of the United States. Natural gas liquids (i.e., ethane, propane and butane) are expected to double during the period from now until 2040.
Pittsburgh Plans for 100% Renewable Energy by 2035
Pittsburgh has pledged to get 100% of its energy from renewable sources by 2035, while Illinois has pledged to do so by 2050 and California and Hawaii by 2045. Nevada pledged to get 50% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. In addition, 101 U.S. cities, 174 large corporations and many other entities have pledged to switch to 100 percent renewable energy. In 2017, public utilities in the United States invested more than $7.8 billion in energy-efficiency programs. The following year, substantial commitments were made by state and local governments to engage in energy-conservation efforts.
Planting of One Trillion Trees an Antidote to Climate Crisis
Research shows that planting one trillion trees could capture huge amounts of carbon dioxide, and this is by far the largest and cheapest way to tackle the climate crisis. Scientists calculated how many more trees could be planted without encroaching on crop land or urban areas and found that planting 1 trillion more trees could remove two-thirds of all emissions that have been pumped into the atmosphere by human activity. Other scientists, however believe the estimates are overly ambitious. In any case, everyone can get involved by growing trees themselves or by donating to forest restoration organizations. So, when it comes to climate change, we know what to do. We just need to find a way to do it.
Sources: The Signal Tree Newsletter (Portage Trail Group of the Sierra Club), July/August 2019; Akron Beacon Journal, April 25, 2019, May 6, 2019, May 7, 2019, May 9, 2019, June 4, 2019, July 3, 2019; Record-Courier, June 7, 2019, July 1, 2019; The Plain Dealer, May 17, 2019; NRDC Bulletin, Spring 2019; Solutions, Spring 2019; Guardian, July 4, 2019.
Young people all over the world see the looming climate crisis and are demanding that the adults take it seriously. 16-year-old Swedish student Greta Thunberg started protesting in front of the Swedish Parliament over a year ago. Her example caught the imagination of other young people and the media, and the movement has grown into an international effort.
These young people are organizing climate strikes all over the world starting on September 20. So far, there are 6 strike locations planned for Northeast Ohio on September 20th. Let us show our support and solidarity by showing up!
Kent State [noon] Risman Plaza. 1075 Risman Drive Kent OH US 44240 Sponsor: Students for a Democratic Society RSVP
Akron [noon] Akron City Hall (across the street). 166 S High Street Akron OH 44308 RSVP
Youngstown [noon] Wick park, the side facing Stambaugh auditorium. 1000 5th ave Youngstown OH US 44505 RSVP
Cleveland [noon] Public Square. 50 Public Square Suite 1700 Cleveland OH US 44113 RSVP
Wooster [11am] College of Wooster Campus – Kauke Arch. E. Henrietta Street Wooster OH US 44691 RSVP
Oberlin [10am] Tappan Square. 87 N Main Street Oberlin OH US 44074 RSVP
The Unitarian Universalist Church of Kent is teaming up with Green Paradigm Partners, Elsa Johnson and Tom Gibson, to offer a home permaculture workshop for those interested in learning about or building on their knowledge of sustainable gardening and landscaping.
The workshop will meet from 9 – 11 AM, September 14, 21, 28, and October 5 in Fessenden Hall [downstairs] at the UU Church of Kent.
The fee is $170 per household (Yes, bring your partner!) Space is limited, so register soon!
A United Nations biodiversity report in early May warned that 1 million of the planet’s 8 million plant and animal species face the threat of extinction, many of them within decades. This is happening tens to hundreds of times faster than the rate over the past 10 million years.
The 7 billion people on earth are all exploiting natural resources, causing pollution and driving climate change–an unnatural history. Urban areas have just about doubled since 1992, and crop production has tripled since 1970. Plastic pollution has risen tenfold since 1980. Human activity has “severely altered” 66% of marine and 75% of land environments, and native species have fallen by a fifth. More than 33% of marine mammals, almost a third of reef-forming corals and 40% of amphibians are threatened with extinction, and 10% of insects also are at risk.
The United Nations is calling for the world to see the situation as a climate emergency because human life is inextricably linked with
natural ecosystems. Authors of the report note that three quarters of the world’s crops depend on animal pollination and that $577 billion worth of crops could be lost each year is pollinators were to become extinct. Twenty-three percent of land already is degraded and less productive, and coastal habitat destruction has heightened flood and hurricane risk for 100 million to 300 million people. Robert Watson, one of the report’s authors, said, “We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”
Source: Time, May 20, 2019.
On a related note, KEC member Karl Liske recommends the book Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? by Bill McGibbon. Amazon.com says this about McGibbon’s book: “Bill McKibben’s groundbreaking book The End of Nature . . . was the first book to alert us to global warming. But the danger is broader than that: even as climate change shrinks the space where our civilization can exist, new technologies like artificial intelligence and robotics threaten to bleach away the variety of human experience. “Falter tells the story of these converging trends and of the ideological fervor that keeps us from bringing them under control. And then, drawing on McKibben’s experience in building 350.org, the first truly global citizens movement to combat climate change, it offers some possible ways out of the trap. We’re at a bleak moment in human history–and we’ll either confront that bleakness or watch the civilization our forebears built slip away.
“Falter is a powerful and sobering call to arms, to save not only our planet but also our humanity.”
Longtime KEC member Rick Feinberg wrote the following poem years ago after a hike through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, where his son decided to “wash” his hands in Brandywine Creek. River of Illumination There’s a chemical solution where you go for your ablution In the River of Pollution that is flowing through the Park. From the muck and from the mire rise the molecules of fire As the flames burn ever higher and illuminate the dark.
Well, the polluted and burning-river image is being put to rest this year on the 50th anniversary of the last fire on the Cuyahoga River, the one that appeared in Time magazine and helped spark the environmental movement and the Clean Water Act. The Cuyahoga River was named “River of the Year” by the group American Rivers in honor of all the hand work that groups have done to clean and restore the river and make it an example for the rest of the country.
All along the Cuyahoga River this year, the Xtinguish Torch Fest helped to highlight the progress that has been made. In Kent, the event was sponsored by the Kent Environmental Council, Davey Tree, Hometown Bank, Kent Parks and Recreation Department, the Portage Foundation, the Portage County Stormwater District, and the city of Kent. Many other groups and individuals donated money or their time to help plan the event.
There were many environmental exhibitors and food vendors for attendees to visit, and the Wick Poetry Center was helping people write more poems about the river. Although the rain canceled two band performances, music played from speakers on the Main Street bridge as Hal Walker rode in a bicycle cab while playing his instrument. The Kent Women’s African Drum Ensemble played from the river level, as experienced kayakers braved the very high and fast-moving river, and Marlys Rambaugh brought the torch in from the river’s source in Geauga County. Speakers talked about the improved habitat for fish and invertebrates, the increase in wildlife, healthier water and environment, and increased recreation on the river and on trails nearby.
A relief sculpture by George Danhires was installed on the railing below the bridge overlooking the river and formally dedicated. The image is of the river and a blue heron, which is a regular visitor to the waterway in Kent. The sculpture also displays the following poem written by fourth-grader Kora Mendez, which she read aloud during the ceremony:
The river knows that place in your mind that flows. You can feel the rocks on the bottom of your feet. And then it takes you home.
The torch was then passed to Elaine Marsh to take it to Cuyahoga Falls. From there, the torch was carried though the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and up to the mouth of the river in Cleveland.
Catherine Ricks from the Kent Parks and Recreation Department summed up the event best when she said: “The synergy of the torch festival team, public and participants was incredible and the rain feeding the energy of the river only heightened my awareness of the Cuyahoga being the reason we were gathered there. The river was singing her own renaissance song . . . loud and clear. We all followed her beat.”
The past several months have been full of news about climate change markers (e.g., permafrost and glaciers melting, record-setting heat waves, flooding, crop disruption) that were predicted by climate scientists but were not expected to occur until decades from now. Yet, these events are not eliciting alarm beyond those of us who have already been paying attention. What is it about Western society that is preventing us from taking action?
Epsen Stoknes, a clinical and organizational psychologist from Norway, offers insight into human psychology that outlines barriers to taking action as well as strategies to overcome those barriers.
His first insight is that once people have a basic understanding of the facts about climate change, more facts do nothing to convince most people to change their behavior. Stoknes believes that five (at least) psychological barriers interrupt possible action and that all of these barriers have been purposely triggered by the anti-climate-change movement:
The impact of climate change is at a distance for most Americans. Until there is a direct impact on us or our close family members and friends, we can set climate change outside of our circle of concern.
We are averse to messages of doom and loss. Without an accompanying message of hope and possibility, we feel helpless and shut down our creative abilities.
Much of our lifestyle is complicit in contributing to the problem of climate change, yet we don’t want to feel bad about ourselves or our choices. This creates dissonance, which causes us to downplay our impact.
When we feel fear, guilt or shame, it’s human nature to downplay the cause of those feelings by avoiding, ignoring or engaging in other kinds of denial.
Our social location and identity help to reinforce our beliefs, mores and values. If we take in and adopt information that threatens this sense of who we are and to whom we belong, we risk losing our social position and our identity.
Stoknes then shares strategies to address and dismantle these barriers, including strengthening social ties and community connections, nudging and supporting better behaviors, keeping the messages understandable and pragmatic, using the power of stories, and finding ways to create feedback loops to reinforce preferred climate-friendly behaviors. A few sections of the book are his outlines for new story frames (which did not resonate for me personally), but the book as a whole provides a practical road map for activists who want to have an impact on people’s day-to-day behaviors.