Is Global Warming Eating Our Lakeshore?

As we encounter families in panic, houses on the brink of destruction and the shoreline disappearing before us, one can feel exhausted by the approach of global warming or helpless altogether. Nevertheless, there are answers to these pressing issues, and there are significant changes that must take place. At the rate of flooding we see on the shorelines of Lake Michigan today, it is predicted that upcoming students may not even have a beach to sit on. 

According to David Karowe, a Western Michigan University biologist, there will be significant differences in the Midwest’s climate by 2100. In an article published by Western Michigan University, Dr. Karowe speaks of his predictions if Midwest climate continues at its current rate. These predictions are made assuming we make no significant changes to our societal practices. He explains that extreme precipitation events will be much more common, forest fires and flooding will increase, along with deadly heat waves and much hotter summers. The climate in the summer will turn dry and hot, which raises concerns about tourism during Michigan’s summers. Will people continue to come to Holland for the beautiful “summer vacay” or will the lakeshore become much less desirable? That seems difficult to imagine, yet partially possible in the eyes of one who has been watching this unfold for over twenty years. Dr. Karowe shared with Western University that the great lakes are already warming at an alarming rate. Assuming that the same rate will continue, ice will give less coverage and there will be an increased evaporation from the water bodies of the great lakes, which will lead to even more lake-effect storms in the upcoming decades. Instead of another polar vortex, as some may be preparing for, Dr. Karowe predicts that as the average winter temperatures rise, more rain will fall. Get out your umbrellas, because the climate will not be cold enough for snow. 

As an increase in precipitation occurs there is a significant increase in flood risk. Holland’s lakeshore is just recently recovering from a Lakeshore flood advisory, ending Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019. According to WHTC News, erosion is expected especially between Port Sheldon and Stony Lake, including Grand Haven, Muskegon and Whitehall. What does this mean for us? In the most recent storm, MLive reported powerful damage done to the lakeshore. After near record high water levels, the National Weather Service states the intensity of the storm was massive. Lake Michigan lost 30 feet of dunes in 12 hours during the storm, making it the most shoreline destructive storm since 1986. Not only are we losing places to sit for a desirable beach day, but the shoreline is disappearing directly in front of homes and small towns. The black river is making its way down streets at the same time that Lake Michigan seems to be eating staircases descending from homes on the lakeshore. According to NCBChicago, hundreds of yards of jersey barriers are being installed along Lake Michigan’s front this fall in Chicago, to mitigate flooding at eight locations. After the lake’s water level has increased six feet since January 2013, we are seeing a scramble of emergency action. 

If Lake Shore Drive in Chicago is seeing installations of flooding barriers, should we predict this for our own city? Many people are not sure if nature can be stopped but are interested to watch officials try. A common attitude regarding the lakeshore flooding, seems to be one of “It’s out of my control” or “I guess I’ll just watch it happen now,” or even more pessimistically, “we could have prevented this 10 years ago.” Many people think that it is too late now to fix what has been done to our lakes. How do we correct a force so large that is roaring and growing against our homes? Dr. Karowe from Western Michigan University is a proponent of the Paris Agreement in hopes that it could change our climate for the better in the upcoming decades. The Paris Agreement comes out of the United Nations. The U.S. signed it in 2015 only to quickly withdraw itself by 2017. The agreement holds each nation to a high standard, requiring them to achieve a lower carbon footprint. As nations assist one another in providing technical and financial help, they will also review one another’s efforts. The vision for the agreement is that combined national efforts would peak greenhouse gas emissions and reduce fossil fuel usage in a few decades. The Paris Agreement’s aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change. The agreement is set in place to increase the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change in their own regions, especially preventing temperature increase, and it specifically states a requirement for environmental integrity and transparency. It also ensures climate change education, training, public awareness, public participation and access to information for its regions participating. 

In enhancing our education and research regarding what is happening right beneath are feet, it could ultimately change the outcome of what we see by the year 2100. Dr. Karowe believes we need an “all-but-fossil fuel” approach to fixing our climate. A tangible contribution as a local in Holland is to reduce our fossil fuel usage. Scientists believe this will be a key answer to solving issues we see overarching our lakeshores. Instead of sitting by and watching it happen, one can learn ways to contribute now before it’s too late. Knowledge is power. 


Listed below are resources helpful in navigating climate change and the lakeshore; 


GLISA website, especially GLISA’s Resources pages


States at Risk, a special section of the Climate Central website


Midwest section of America’s Fourth National Climate Assessment


Explanation of the paradox of global warming and lake-effect snow


The Paris Agreement


Emily was a staff writer for the Anchor during the 2019-2020 school year. Her drive for journalism comes from her desire for storytelling. She is passionate about finding and creating a way for voices to be heard, that otherwise would be bypassed. The most important thing to Emily is people. The work just follows. Emily studies English and political science for secondary education. Some of her hobbies include hiking, international travel, hanging with kids and training her german shepherd!

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