Erod­ing lake shore­line sign of cli­mate change

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - CHICAGOLAN­D - Jerry Davich

The ero­sion of Lake Michi­gan shore­line is a rip­ple-ef­fect re­sult of cli­mate-change dev­as­ta­tion in our world, I be­lieve. The near record-high wa­ter level last month of our near and dear Great Lake is a har­bin­ger of the fu­ture, not a mean­ing­less blip in his­tory.

Warmer temps are an­other of th­ese lo­cal de­vel­op­ments, I be­lieve. I keep say­ing “I be­lieve” be­cause I know that some of you don’t be­lieve there is a causal or re­lated con­nec­tion be­tween global en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors and lo­cal en­vi­ron­men­tal out­comes. I dis­agree with you.

Mother Na­ture is cer­tainly alert­ing us to some­thing in­creas­ingly de­struc­tive in our world as well as in our tiny cor­ner of the world. North­west In­di­ana and com­mu­ni­ties along the Lake Michi­gan shore­line are ab­sorb­ing dam­age from ris­ing wa­ter lev­els, win­ter storms, and the dis­ap­pear­ance of beaches we’ve had in our lives for as long as we can re­mem­ber.

We now find our­selves driv­ing past lo­cal lake­fronts in awe of what is no longer there even as law­mak­ers in sev­eral Mid­west­ern states push for state-of-emer­gency dec­la­ra­tions to res­cue shore­line com­mu­ni­ties. I’ve been pay­ing close to at­ten­tion to what was once my fa­vorite go-to beach, the Portage Lake­front and Pavil­ion.

Its river­walk pier into the lake of­fers a great an­gle to view the de­struc­tion along the shore­line, es­pe­cially west to­ward Ogden Dunes. The lake re­lent­lessly bat­ters that town’s break-wall, threat­en­ing wa­ter­front prop­er­ties, and re­mind­ing us all that we’re only tem­po­rary guests — short­sighted and churl­ish ones at that — on this planet.

“The new Jan­uary record may be just the be­gin­ning, sci­en­tists say, and is likely a pre­cur­sor to higher lake lev­els dur­ing the wet months of spring,” a Feb. 5 Chicago Tribune story states.

“This is def­i­nitely a big deal,” said John Al­lis, chief of the Great Lakes Hy­draulics and Hy­drol­ogy Of­fice for the U.S. Army Corps of En­gi­neers. “This is go­ing to con­tinue to be a big prob­lem for peo­ple.”

It’s a big prob­lem whether or not we be­lieve it’s be­ing caused, or re­lated to, global cli­mate change forces. Flood­ing. Wild­fires. Droughts. Record-break­ing heat waves. Sev­ereweather events. Like frogs in the prover­bial pot of boil­ing wa­ter, we’re grad­u­ally get­ting con­di­tioned to this new nor­mal of cat­a­strophic cir­cum­stances. We’re not jump­ing. We’re barely flinch­ing.

We shake our heads while watch­ing dis­turb­ing weather-re­lated news re­ports from around the globe. Yet, we don’t be­lieve it will af­fect our lives here on Planet De­nial. No mass flood­ing here. No out-of­con­trol wild­fires. No se­ri­ous doom and gloom. No fire tor­na­does. Just, thank­fully, a warmer win­ter this year with less snow to shovel, right?

That is, un­til we take a glance at our badly-dam­aged or slowly-van­ish­ing lake­fronts, from Chicago to Michi­gan and be­yond in both di­rec­tions. At the Portage Lake­front, where I’ve been vis­it­ing since it opened in 2009, the view­ing plat­form has col­lapsed and a ramp has been swal­lowed by the surg­ing Great Lake. It looks like a corpse in the mouth of a shark.

Is there still a sub­stan­tially-sized tribe of Amer­i­cans who stub­bornly re­fute sci­en­tific study af­ter study warn­ing of “global warm­ing” and “cli­mate change?” You bet. Re­lax, many of them in­sist, God will pro­vide for us or Satan will doom us. There’s noth­ing much we can do about it on our own, they claim. Again, I dis­agree.

I’m not one of those en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists shov­ing a weath­ered sign into your face stat­ing, “The end is near!” I don’t be­lieve it is. Our lives, though, are go­ing to be af­fected by th­ese “nat­u­ral” dis­as­ters. Sure, Je­sus may come back to save some of his be­liev­ers, but he isn’t com­ing back to save our planet. Our messy, clut­tered bed­room in­side the Lord’s house is be­yond even His realm of con­cern. It’s up to us, not God, to clean it up.

Will we? Can we? No, I be­lieve. (See, I do have be­liefs af­ter all.)

I re­mem­ber in the not too dusty past when all this talk of doom and gloom was just that – talk. Sci­en­tific stud­ies. Pointy-headed pre­dic­tions. Ab­stract warn­ings about the fu­ture of hu­mankind dev­as­tated by forces we didn’t un­der­stand. And we didn’t want to.

It’s so much eas­ier to in­stead bury our heads in the sand, even as that sand gets swal­lowed up by ris­ing wa­ter lev­els.

It’s so much eas­ier to kick this can of con­cern down the road again. Or bet­ter yet, into a pud­dle so we can’t see it at all.

And then I drive by a lo­cal beach and sense Lake Michi­gan growl­ing at me like an un­leashed Dober­man as I walk past its prop­erty. Will the lake’s an­gry wa­ter level sub­side? Prob­a­bly.

Will it emerge again and at­tack our shore­lines in the fu­ture? Of course. We’d be fools to be­lieve oth­er­wise. Then again, we’re al­ready a ship of fools in a ves­sel we be­lieve will never sink. I see holes. Do you?

“The wa­ter lev­els of each of the Great Lakes peaked dur­ing the sum­mer or fall in 2019 and have been in de­cline since then, but they still re­main ex­tremely high, and sig­nif­i­cant ero­sion con­tin­ues in many lo­ca­tions,” that Chicago Tribune story states.

Can this be at­trib­uted to cycli­cal fluc­tu­a­tions that have taken place for cen­turies? Sure it can. And it does. With this mind­set, though, it’s too con­ve­nient for us to do noth­ing about it. All of us will be dead any­way be­fore any­thing se­ri­ous hap­pens to our area, right? So we lose some pub­lic beaches and priv­i­leged shore­lines. So what, right?

Such think­ing got us to this point of no re­turn. And I don’t see us chang­ing as quickly as the cli­mate does.


Waves crash over the pier at the Portage Lake­front and River­walk on Jan. 11. The view­ing plat­form has col­lapsed and a ramp has been swal­lowed by surg­ing waters from Lake Michi­gan.

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