The Straits of Mackinac is a five mile wide expanse of water separating the Upper and Lower Michigan Peninsulas.With Lake Michigan to the west and Lake Huron to the east, this channel provides a vital link for Great Lakes commerce. The Straits also separate scenic Lower Michigan from even more scenic Upper Michigan.
In 1910, regular ferry service was initiated and access to the Upper Penisula for both tourism and minerals extraction became easier. Talk of building a bridge across the Straits began in 1921, but it took until 1957 to get the job done. The Mackinac Bridge is today a striking example of engineering achievement.
Water protectors. This is the self-proclaimed term used by those who are supporting the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in their efforts to prevent construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. They have won at least a temporary victory with the refusal of the Corps of Engineers to grant an easement for the pipeline across lands considered sacred by the native peoples. This is a victory for the local interests and, more broadly, one small step to hold off the planet-damaging effects of climate change.
Closer to home, we need to scale up our efforts to protect our own vital water resources. Surface water quality in Iowa, our lakes and streams is far from what it needs to be. We are attempting to implement some practices to improve water quality, especially on farmland, but we are not making significant progress.
Climate change is apolitical. Climate change is science. Climate change is happening regardless of political pronouncements, administrative actions, legislation, or judicial rulings. Climate change is happening because of what humans are doing to the planet.
This year, atmospheric carbon dioxide is 403 parts per million. Next year it will be over 405 parts per million. This continues the relentless trend of record highs, above anything that has occurred in the past 400,000 years. Science rules and there is nothing that any politician or any group can do to keep atmospheric carbon dioxide from setting another new record next year.
In the mid-1800s, people, organizations and companies were in the midst of a major shift in how they met their everyday energy requirements. Wood was being phased out. Coal was in. Shortly natural gas and oil, in addition to coal, would provide energy on a scale that had never been seen before.
Fossil fuels became the drivers of the industrial society. The expansion of the United States and progress around the world over the next 150 years would have only been a dream without cheap, readily available fossil fuel energy.
My engineering-student grandson, Will, has been exposed to many of my writings on climate change. I have appreciated his feedback and particularly his observation that my view of climate change often focuses negatively on the problems, and not enough on the possibilities that the problems can be solved.
It is refreshing to have this outlook expressed by a young technical person that understands the issue. Most importantly, this is a voice from the generation that will feel impacts of climate change as no other generation that has ever lived, and is the generation that will solve the problem if it is ever to be solved.
Control climate change; save the world. Continue to burn fossil fuels; destroy the earth. These are phrases heard frequently. I have used them in some form or other on a number of occasions. They don't make any sense.
Our world, planet earth, has been around for 4.5 billion years. It was formed out of cosmic dust, gases and energy in a process we marginally understand and that we can only marvel at.
What isn't there to like about Iowa in the summer?
Farmers' markets with fresh fruits and vegetables overflowing bins in venders' stalls. Better yet, fresh colorful produce right out of your own garden.
Flowers in yards and accenting houses. Flowers in roadside ditches, accidental or with some measure of planning. Flowers in the infrequent patches of native prairie, found only with persistent searching.
Climate change. Gun violence. One threatens our natural environment. The other threatens our social environment. Both are anthropogenic, caused by human activity. Both require immediate and forceful action if we hope to maintain the fabric of life in this country and on this planet.
There is a great deal of similarity in the political response to gun violence and climate change. Both problems have existed for some time. Both are worsening.
This year I will be another year older. It happens to every one of us every year but as the numbers pile up, they seem to churn by with an accelerated frequency. As is usually the case, added years present both advantages and disadvantages.
A major advantage of having more time to look back is that it offers perspective and an opportunity to reflect on changes that have occurred, not in the abstract, but in real time.
Prior to the Civil War, prior to the industrial revolution and prior to climate change debate, slave labor provided much of the “energy” for the production of food, fiber and goods throughout the southern half of the nation. Enslaved human beings were seen as absolutely essential to drive the economy and maintain a comfortable standard of living for everyone else.
Moreover, balance sheets of those engaged in commerce were totally dominated by two assets; land and slaves. Economic historian Gavin Wright estimated slaves represented nearly half of the wealth of the South just prior to the Civil War. It is no wonder that abolition became the lightning rod that it was. Some 400,000 slaveholders would be required to give up a major portion of their wealth with little, if any, financial recourse.