‘Tipping Points’ - What Will It Take Us To Act?

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‘Tipping Points’ - What Will It Take Us To Act?


by Reed Anfinson
Publisher, Swift County Monitor-News


A half a world away from each other one small ecological threat and one very large environmental disaster are playing out. Both have something in common – the actions of humans.

First, let’s look at the local threat to the environment and our quality of life. A recent study of Norway, Games and Andrew lakes, in northwest Kandiyohi County finds that the three popular lakes are reaching a “tipping point” on water quality. Norway Lake is already considered “impaired” because of pollutants.

Minnesota lakes are considered impaired when they fail to meet water quality standards for any one of the following: bacteria levels, excessive nutrients such as phosphorus, turbidity, mercury, and other chemicals or heavy metals. When a body of water is impaired, it may no longer be “drinkable, swimmable, fishable, or useable in other designated ways,” the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency says.

“Decades of inflow from county ditches have carried high levels of pollutants including sediment and phosphorus, which fuels algae growth,” the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources says of Norway Lake.

The threat to the three lakes was identified through what the DNR calls a “detailed and powerful model developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - the Gridded Surface-Subsurface Hydrologic Analysis model.”

The study says that to save West Norway Lake the phosphorus load coming off the land into the lake has to be cut in half. It identifies Kandiyohi County Ditch 27 as the largest source of phosphorus feeding into the lake.

Buffer strips and restoring smaller bodies of water that once stored and filtered water are needed to improve the quality of the lakes. Farmers and lake cabin owners both have to take steps to reduce the flow of chemicals and sediments into the lakes, the DNR says, if they are to remain healthy and available for recreation.

On the other side of the world is the Great Barrier Reef, stretching for 1,400 miles and encompassing 133,000 square miles of the eastern shoreline of Australia.

Over just the past 18 months two-thirds – 264 miles – of The Great Barrier Reef have turned white as the corral that serves as a rich ecosystem to ocean life has died. The reason for the death of the corral? A warming planet.

“Rising ocean temperatures have caused the single greatest loss of coral ever recorded along the reef,” an Associated Press story about the plight of The Great Barrier Reef says. “The die-off is devastating for the thousands of species that depend on the reef.”

There is no doubt about the cause of the die-off of the reef’s more than 600 different types of coral – the Earth’s rise in temperature due to the production of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels is being absorbed by the oceans. As a result, they are warming and the coral can’t tolerate the slight rise in temperature.

“In many cases, their waters are now warmer than at any time in recorded history,” the story says. “Corals are sensitive to temperature swings. Much like a human body, a rise of a few degrees can lead to illness, and eventually, death.”

Saving The Great Barrier Reef and saving Norway, Games and Andrew lakes for the enjoyment of future generations have something in common – humans whose activities are the cause of the problem have to take responsibility for implementing the changes that will make a difference. We have to stop pouring greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and we have to stop dumping chemicals into our rivers, streams, lakes, ditches and wetlands.

However, there is considerable push back against the measures that will make a difference at the national, state and local level. Under the Trump Administration, the U.S. has now pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord, an international effort to stem the rise of global temperatures before their devastating impacts become more severe. Trump supporters pushed for leaving the accord saying it was damaging to American business interests. America is now one of only two nations in the world not part of the agreement with the others Nicaragua and Syria.

In Minnesota, Gov. Mark Dayton has made cleaning up state waters a primary goal and legacy of his administration. He pushed through adoption of Minnesota’s buffer law requiring filter strips along the state’s public streams, river, lakes and wetlands and along public ditches. However, many private ditches, conduits of runoff from farm fields to public waters, were removed from the law due to stiff opposition.

Those who fight for the implementation of steps to reduce the production of greenhouse gases and who fight to keep our water clean face incredibly powerful and well-financed forces. They lobby in Congress and at the state Legislature against laws that harm their profitability. In some cases, they put out false news that make the public doubt the causes of the problems – such as saying humans are not responsible for climate change. Meanwhile, the general public is far too indifferent to the growing problems and threats.

It is dismaying how little regard so many have for the world they will leave their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We suspect that future generations will look back at our lack of action with disbelief and contempt – disbelief that we would leave them such a degraded Earth and contempt for our greed that overruled actions that could have started to reverse the problems both here and half way around the world.


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