Amerika First

A little while ago President Trump announced that the U.S. will be pulling out of the Paris Agreement on climate change. By so doing, we join Syria and Nicaragua as the only non-participating countries to this agreement. As the U.S. is the second largest global polluter, other countries might be discouraged from putting long-term considerations of climate ahead of short-term considerations of economic growth. Alternatively, China might take the lead and thus increase its global leadership over the course of this century. However, Trump’s decision might be offset by states such as New York and California, along with many cities that are implementing their own sustainable energy policies. Governor Jerry Brown of California has even stated that California will do all it can to encourage other states and businesses to go with renewable energy, something that is clearly underway (U.S. coal is in structural decline, due to its higher cost than competing energies and foreign competition).

So, although today’s decision may not have much effect on the future of climate change (scientists say it’s nearly too late to avoid catastrophic change), it reinforces the already sent signal that the U.S. is receding from the western alliance. As our global influence comes to rely more on our military might we risk becoming perceived more as a global threat. It also sends the signal that the U.S. cares more about protecting multinational corporations and the one percent that reap most of the former’s profits and less about future generations. The sixth extinction of species will likely accelerate.

In the meantime, it is more important than ever to photograph the changing landscape so future generations can better assess what we are doing.

Great Lakes Flooding

After a spring of unusually heavy rain throughout the Northeast, many lakes and streams have risen to flood level. This is particularly

Durand-Eastman Beach; Sept. 16, 2015

problematic along the southern shore of Lake Ontario when there is a strong North or Northeast wind. Although I could not get to the exact same position, due to flooding, the photos show Durand-Eastman Beach is essentially gone for most of this season. This flooding event is politically controversial because it pits U.S. Ontario and Canadian Montreal residents, and conservationists against each other. As reported in Rochester’s City Newspaper, Lake Ontario’s level was 33.1 inches above its long-term average on May 17, according to the IJC. However, in Montreal Harbor the water was 55.5 inches above average, causing evacuations of several neighborhoods. Although wider opening of the Moses-Saunders Dam’s  floodgates would have lowered Lake Ontario a little faster, greater flooding would have resulted in the Montreal area.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and environmental scientists say that

Durand-Eastman Beach; May 27, 2017

heavy rain is the major contributor to flooding. However, U.S. Lake Ontario residents do not accept the scientific data. Instead, they claim flooding is the result of Plan 2014. Scientists project a $20 million loss under this plan, compared with $18 million under the previous Plan 1958DD. Therefore, if Plan 1958DD was still in effect, it would only reduce shoreline damages by 5%.

The primary reason for implementing Plan 2014 was to restore the lake shore habitat. The wetlands developed over centuries, through constant shifts in the lake’s water levels. However, in the late 1950s, U.S. and Canadian public power utilities built a large hydroelectric dam (the Moses-Saunders Dam) between Lake Ontario’s eastern outlet and the St. Lawrence River to minimize fluctuations in water level. The result is that Lake Ontario cattails have taken over vital coastal wetlands, leaving important species such as muskrat and northern pike without critical habitat.

The Nature Conservancy predicts that healthier wetlands will improve fishing, hunting, and other outdoor activities, along with greater economic returns. Healthier, diverse wetlands, especially healthy ones that are not overcrowded, filter nutrient pollutants – animal waste and all fertilizers – out of the water. Those pollutants encourage algae and bacteria growth in the waters near the Lake Ontario shore. Research indicates that healthier, more diverse wetlands could help reduce pollution, something that cattails are less effective at.

Even though property losses have dropped since the introduction of the dam, the IJC has to balance the need for environmental conservation with the needs of lake and river shore landowners. Unfortunately, landowners in each environmental area feel their property should be fully protected—an impossible task. When I discussed this with people I know, one said the shipping interests are the ones the governments are trying to protect, another said, you can’t believe what the government tells you. Although it is generally true that laws and regulations typically favor the moneyed interests, in this case the primary concern for governments is to balance the environment, commercial, and landowners’ needs based on what the current environmental science tells us about the shores of the Great Lakes. Ignoring this risks our grandchildren’s generation.

As I write this, the Trump Administration has not included monies for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Although it has been reported that his budget proposal is “dead on arrival”, it remains to be seen whether this initiative will continued to be funded at an adequate level.

Little Ice on the Lower Great Lakes

Lake Ontario coastline near Sodus, NY Bay
Lake Ontario coastline near Sodus, NY Bay, Feb 2017 (Courtesy: Robert DePuyt)

As we flew along the Lake Ontario shoreline near Sodus Bay, NY this past Friday, we got a quick shot of the shoreline using a mobile phone. As you can see there is no evidence of pack ice along the shore. Compare this with the second photograph showing the more typical ice pack, taken on January 2015 from Durand-Eastman Beach. It is only about thirty miles west of this location; you can see a dramatic difference.

Lake Ontario pack ice
Lake Ontario pack ice, Jan 2015

Year-to-year ice levels will almost always vary. However, the overall trend is for less Great Lakes ice. You can the view graphics showing change over the years, based on scientific data at NOAA’s website.

The Day After . . . in Rochester, NY

Cities across the country held rallies today in opposition to the incoming presidential administration. About 2,000 turned out in Washington Square img_4059Park with signs showing their concerns for social issues they see as threatened under Trump.

The underlying issue is the growing inequality across industrialized countries and the failure of governments to more evenly distribute the “shrinking pie”, due to labor-saving technologies, declining resources, and climate change.

You can see more photos of the day at my online gallery.

Please share your thoughts during this historical time.

Global climate agreement finalized in Paris

A recent BBC article reported on implementing the Paris accord. Central to this agreement is limiting the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity to the same levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally, beginning between 2050 and 2100. The report goes on to say that the Paris agreement, even if adhered to, is only a first major step to solving the climate change problem.

I’ve presented data in several of my earlier posts, along with a page of information from reputable scientific institutions. However, although data powerfully persuades scientists, it does not hold as much sway with the public. But photographs do. So here are some photos taken of the Grinnell glacier in Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana next to the Canadian border. In the three following photographs you will see the dramatic recession of this one glacier.

Grinnell Glacier Overlook: 1920
Grinnell Glacier Overlook: 1920
Grinnell Glacier Overlook: 1940
Grinnell Glacier Overlook: 1940


Grinnell Glacier Overlook: 2006
Grinnell Glacier Overlook: 2006
Public domain: USGS
Grinnell Glacier Overlook: 2013 (Public domain: USGS)

Although we know that recession would have started shortly after 1850, due to rising temperatures, note the dramatic difference between the 1940 and 2006 photographs. Collectively, these photographs are evidence of  climate change acceleration. Rephotographic evidence shows that all glaciers around the world are receding, and acceleration is fastest at the poles—all inline with historical studies of atmospheric and oceanic data.