Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ian and I

By Terry Yonker
Immediate Past Co-Chair, Great Lakes Wind Collaborative

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 in January on the Akademik Sergei Vovolov, a Russian Academy of Sciences research vessel.  Ian from Ontario and I from New York both 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 Antarctica during the 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 climate differ in several major respects.

Rather than rising oceans, most scientists agree that water levels in the Great Lakes will decline, due to rising temperatures, increased evaporation, decreased ice cover, and shifts in the timing and amount of annual precipitation.  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 are expected to be negative.

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 address the root causes of 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.

The 42 million people of the binational Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem 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 CO2 increase 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 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.  Ontario will shut down all its coal generators by 2014.  Three coal plants in western New York are likely to be mothballed.

The potential of wind power in the Great Lakes is ten times the 100 gigawatts of electricity that are required to maintain our regional economy and meet the needs of our citizens.  Electricity generated by wind turbines within a geographically diverse supergrid can replace all coal and natural gas generated baseload capacity when balanced by hydroelectric and pumped hydroelectric capacity.  The Niagara region of New York and Ontario, the western Great Lakes, and Quebec are blessed with renewable hydroelectric and pumped hydroelectric generating capacity.  The Great Lakes could and should serve as the energy hub and nerve center of a supergrid that serves the entire Great Lakes region and the Eastern Interconnect.

The Great Lakes Wind Collaborative has to date avoided a full blown debate about the important link between climate change in the Great Lakes and the need to transition to a renewable energy economy.  There is some underlying view that to discuss the shift to renewables and global warming in the same breath is somehow the kiss of death for the wind industry.  Wherever I have lectured on the subject of climate change in the Great Lakes, I have emphatically made the link and it has resonated with my audiences, regardless of their backgrounds.  There are the Ians who, whatever their motives or beliefs, will try to make the case that both renewable energy development and global warming mitigation are not economically feasible, that wind power cannot provide baseload capacity, and that humans have no role in causing global warming and climate change.  I think the stakeholders of the Great Lakes Wind Collaborative understand the issues quite differently.  We need to separate myth from reality.  If we do that in assertive and positive ways, the case for mitigation of global warming and the deployment of wind power and other renewables is not a difficult case to make.

Terry L. Yonker, Immediate Past Co-chair, Great Lakes Wind Collaborative


  1. Right on, Brother Ter! I've been having a heated (no pun intended) discussion about climate change with a high school friend of mine who is a fruit farmer in west central lower MI. She is a classic climate denialist, which is hard to believe because farmers like her are some of the first folks to be impacted by climate change. She's already experienced the all-time record heat wave of March, and now is enduring the frost & freeze cycles that have destroyed her cherry & apple crops. She will be looking to go with vegetables instead.

    I tried to convince her that what she was doing was called climate adaptation, but to no avail. She's also a "Rush-Babe", so there may not be much hope for her!

    Regardless, great article. May we be able to convince our leaders that we need to address both climate change prevention as well as adaptation; we must do both. Our kids and grandkids deserve that from this generation!

    Love ya, Bro!
    Chris A. Yonker, Wayland, MI

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    1. Great post, Terry! Also, check out the recent article in which Dave Bradley (Wind Action Group) offers a run-down of New York state's electricity pricing and thoughts on a renewable energy future: