Sunday, September 23, 2007

Copper Country residents discuss cutting carbon emissions

By Katie Alvord

HOUGHTON -- Locally produced biodiesel, cloth shopping bags, community gardening, and ride-sharing are among many measures that can help combat climate change and reduce reliance on fossil fuels, said participants at an Oskar Bay gathering on Sunday, Sept. 16.

The suggestions came from 22 area residents who attended "Reducing our Carbon Footprint in the Copper Country," sponsored by the Keweenaw Sustainability Project (KSP) and held at the Keweenaw Land Trust’s Marsin Nature Preserve.

Evan McDonald, Keweenaw Land Trust (KLT) executive director, standing, welcomes participants in "Reducing our Carbon Footprint in the Copper Country" to KLT's Marsin Preserve on Sept. 16. (Photo © 2007 and courtesy Michael Moore)

The meeting began with shared observations of local shifts associated with climate change. Some have proved pleasant: spring now arrives earlier, said some attendees; higher lake temperatures have made summer swimming more comfortable, noted others. Warmer summers have also ripened vegetable gardens more quickly.

Libby Meyer, a Hancock resident and music instructor, reported, "I actually got a watermelon from my garden for the first time this year."

But most observed changes were less beneficial. Milder winters with less snow have reduced opportunities for winter sports. In spring and summer, many reported seeing a big increase in the local tick population. Some expressed concern about warmer temperatures allowing entry to more invasive species. At least one attendee noted the greater threat of forest fires as a result of warmer weather. In the west, the recent significant increase of wildfires has been correlated with climate change.

Others brought up the recent lower lake levels, which have affected boating and fishing. Users of the Marsin Preserve, for instance, have been unable to launch a donated pontoon boat due to the lower levels.

There may well be a link between lower lake levels and climate change, said Sarah Green, Chair of Michigan Tech University's Chemistry Department, who attended Sunday’s meeting.

"It turns out that the water levels in Lake Superior are very sensitive to ice cover," Green noted.

Higher temperatures have reduced the lake’s ice cover over the last few decades and kept ice from forming until later in the season. This might be leading to decreased levels since the largest amount of evaporation from the lake generally occurs in December.

Ways to reduce fossil fuel use and carbon emissions

The Sunday afternoon gathering also brainstormed a long list of options for reducing fossil fuel use and carbon emissions. Suggestions included weatherization of low-income homes, more energy efficient construction, turning off lights and unplugging electronics when not in use, switching to compact fluorescent lighting, helping schools establish Safe Routes to School and Walking School Bus programs so parents don’t have to drive their kids, supporting efforts for improved walkability and bikeability such as the new Houghton Bike Plan, and joining the Keweenaw Freecycle listserve to reduce consumption.

Terry Kinzel, center, of Hancock, who uses water, solar and wind energy for his home, discusses energy efficiency with Libby Meyer, right, an organic gardener. At left is Dave Bach, who has built several energy efficient homes for Habitat for Humanity. (Photo © 2007 and courtesy Michael Moore)

Sarah Green and Hancock resident Keren Tischler both felt some sort of ride-sharing web resource would be helpful for local travel. Susan Burack of Hancock suggested expanding the use of cloth bags at area stores, and a spirited discussion of that idea ensued.

Jane DeMartini, a recent arrival to the area, reported using biodiesel to drive her diesel VW Jetta most of the way from the west coast when moving here. However, that ended when she reached the U.P. since, she noted, the closest place to fill up with biodiesel is in Green Bay. She and friends Susan Serafini and Ed Kraai have since looked into producing biodiesel locally on a small scale.

Other local efforts to develop renewable fuels have already begun, noted Melissa Davis of the New Power Tour. Several will be featured at the Energy X•Po to be held at Hancock Middle School on Saturday, Sept. 29, with events scheduled between 10 a.m. and 9 p.m.*

"We'd like to invite everyone to show up for the X•Po and get a better handle on renewables and possibilities for our energy future," Davis said. "It will all be gathered in one place -- that's a great opportunity, and maybe the weather will cooperate."

MTU student Matt Manders advocated community gardening, which can reduce the fossil fuel needed to get food from farm to table. He hopes to assemble a group to help foster community gardening throughout the region.

"I’m looking for gardeners to help start a fun-oriented organization that strengthens community through gardening in the Keweenaw," Manders says. "We are looking for people with a diversity of backgrounds in gardening who want to help assist all gardeners, create a network to share ideas, start new community gardening projects and educate all about the fun and benefits of gardening."

Both "burning souls" who want to help organize the group and people who just want to join in occasionally are welcome, Manders added. Anyone interested can contact him at 906 482-6137.

Attendees at Sunday’s meeting also discussed the art exhibit "Paradise Lost? Climate Change in the North Woods," which opened at the Omphale Gallery on Saturday, Sept. 15. The exhibit features artists’ interpretations of climate change and runs until October 25th.

Katie Alvord, right, author of this article and of the book, Divorce Your Car, speaks at Sept. 16 climate change gathering at the Marsin Nature Preserve.**

KSP organizers were pleased with the outcome of their event.

Beth Flynn, one of the organizers, said, "We were not at all sure how it would play itself out but were very pleased with the results. The attitude and contributions of the participants were wonderful!"

Michael Moore, another organizer, commented, "It was nice -- not to mention productive and inspiring -- to see our collective intelligence in action as a community. For anyone who feels uncertainty due to competing challenges such as climate change, the local economy, and the strains we put on our natural resources, it was good to come away with things we can actually do together."

However, added organizer Vern Simula, "We need to do more; we need to involve a broader, more diverse audience; we need to engage business and governmental decision makers at community policy levels; and, most importantly, we need to nurture the ethic of simple, sustainable living that will not only improve the quality of our lives but also be seen as the best way for us to cope with the 'hard times ahead.'"

*Energy X•Po details can be found at (Watch for an article on this, coming soon.)

Editor's Note: Keweenaw Now contributor Katie Alvord, author of this article, is a local free-lance writer. Keweenaw Now recently published her series of three articles on climate change: "Lake Superior warming fast: Researchers surprised by strong trends,"
"Lake Superior Basin feeling heat: Part 2," and "Businesses feel the heat: Lake Superior warms up, part 3."

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