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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Local residents protest projected Seaplane Airport Base at Pilgrim Point, Portage Township

By Michele Bourdieu

On May 14, 2022, concerned residents protest the projected Seaplane Airport Base that would impact bald eagles that nest at this proposed site for the project, Pilgrim Point in Portage Township. The Seaplane company has requested a Special Use for the project in the township's B-2 Zoning District. (Photo © Marie Gervais and courtesy Susan Schwenk)

[2nd UPDATE: The Portage Township Planning Commission has scheduled a Public Hearing with a Meeting to follow, beginning at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 9, at Houghton High School auditorium. The hearing is scheduled to hear a "special use" request for seaplane operations in the B-2 zoning district.]

[IMPORTANT UPDATE: Due to COVID positives with the Portage Township Planning Commission membership, thus concerns over having a quorum present, the Public Hearing and Meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, May 19, announced below, has been cancelled. Tentatively, it will be rescheduled for either June 9th or 16th, both Thursday evenings. The date/time and place will be posted and announced shortly. Click here for the official Portage Township announcement.]

PORTAGE TOWNSHIP -- Susan Schwenk, a wildlife photographer who lives near Pilgrim Point on Portage Lake, loves photographing the bald eagles who make their nest at that site, which is now projected to become a Seaplane Airport Base for Isle Royale Seaplanes.

Photographer Susan Schwenk is concerned about this pair of bald eagles, who make their home near Pilgrim Point. "They are a Mr. and Mrs -- yes, a couple. I call them The Pilgrim Point Eagles," Schwenk says. "I just ADORE them both!!" (Photo © and courtesy Susan Schwenk)

Schwenk has shared with other residents her concerns about the destructive environmental impacts such a project would have, not only on the eagles but also on air and water quality and the peaceful atmosphere of this area along Portage Lake, which is next to the Nara Nature Park and trails.* She also mentioned to Keweenaw Now that the Isle Royale Seaplanes company has plans for working with Viking Cruises to offer air excursions along the Keweenaw Peninsula in addition to trips to Isle Royale.**

Since the Portage Township Planning Commission is holding a Public Hearing at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 19, on a request for a Special Use under the B-2 (general business) zoning district to allow the Seaplane Airport Base, Schwenk organized a protest on Saturday, May 14, at Pilgrim Point to create awareness of the threats a Seaplane Airport Base would pose to the area. During the protest, she explained to Keweenaw Now how she first became involved in the issue and why she organized the protest.

Susan Schwenk explains her opposition to the proposed Seaplane Airport Base at Pilgrim Point in Portage Township. (Videos by Keweenaw Now)

During the May 14 protest local residents displayed their signs to passing traffic on US 41 and chanted their concern for the bald eagle residents.

Local residents opposed to the Seaplane Airport Base project express their concern for the eagles at Portage Point and for the nearby Nara Nature Park trails, which provide a peaceful walk next to Portage Lake.*

The Vollwerth family joined in the protest with two of their children. Portage Township resident Robert Vollwerth said he lives just three houses down from the proposed location for the Seaplane Airport Base and has enjoyed fishing in Portage Lake.

 "It won't be a quiet neighborhood anymore," Vollwerth said.

Members of the Vollwerth family are pictured here with their protest signs: from left, Robert, Ryan, 9, Mason, 8, and Amber. Two other children -- Kayleb and Jolena, both 12 -- were not present. (Photo by Keweenaw Now) 

Local resident David Aittama's sign expresses his views. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

Michael Gervais, who lives in Bootjack, a community across Portage Lake, opposite the Pilgrim Point site, participated in the protest, complaining about the noise and disturbance already caused by the seaplanes.

Michael Gervais of Bootjack speaks about his opposition to the noise and environmental impacts of the seaplanes, which would have several flights a day if allowed by a zoning special use.

Mary Schwenk Chopp, Susan Swenk's sister, also participated in the protest and commented on why she wants the area to remain as it is.

"I believe we have to preserve our way of life here," Mary said. "People love our area for the beauty and peace. We don't want our area to become like Traverse City where the locals can't afford to live here. I hope and pray our elected officials fight for us and our wonderful way of life. I choose trees over a parking lot any day! Not many locals  will use the seaplane but thousands every year enjoy the peace of the Nara's Nature Trail."

Susan Schwenk, center, is joined by her sister, Mary Schwenk Chopp, right, and their 91-year-old mother, Rosemary Schwenk, at the May 14 protest. (Photo © Marie Gervais and courtesy Susan Schwenk)

Portage Township Trustee Bill Fink explained to Keweenaw Now the procedures that the Isle Royale Seaplanes company and the developer would have to follow should the Special Use under B-2 zoning be allowed. He described the Seaplane company's announcement that they plan to operate at this location before going through zoning requirements as "arrogant." He also mentioned the historical significance of the former Onigaming supper club building on the property.

During the May 14 protest, Bill Fink, Portage Township trustee, speaks about the various steps that the proposed project would require under Portage Township's zoning. Here he also describes the historical importance of a building on the property, the former Onigaming supper club.

This 97-year-old building is the former Onigaming supper club on Portage Lake. According to Portage Township Trustee Bill Fink, it is eligible to be included in the State Register of Historic Places, if not the National Register of Historic Places. This means that the Michigan Historic Preservation Officer would have to be included in a required site plan review of the project. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

Portage Township Supervisor Bruce Petersen said more public hearings would be part of the process should the Special Use be approved.

"It's a long process and it's very transparent and there are public hearings along the way to hear what the developer is proposing  and to learn about the site plan," Petersen told Keweenaw Now.

May 19 Public Hearing on Seaplane Special Use in B-2 Zoning District

[UPDATE: The Public Hearing and Meeting have been cancelled. See announcement above.] 

The Portage Township Planning Commission will hold a Public Hearing at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 19, 2022, to consider amending the Zoning Ordinance to permit seaplane operations as a Special Use in the Township's existing B-2 zoning district. A regularly scheduled Planning Commission meeting will immediately follow the Public Hearing.

The public may attend the hearing and meeting in person in the Portage Township Hall, 47240 Green Acres Road, Houghton, or via Zoom. The Meeting ID is: 836 3991 6832 The Meeting Passcode is: 428175.

Note: During the Public Hearing public comments will be limited to 3 minutes per person.

Editor's Notes:

* Click here to learn about the nearby Nara Nature Park and trails.

** See the Viking Cruises ad for "flightseeing" -- the Keweenaw Peninsula By Air.

Previously, in 2020, the City of Houghton Planning Commission had recommended proposed zoning ordinance 2020-315 to the Houghton City Council for a seaplane business to be located on Canal Road within the City. Residents on both sides of the Portage Canal protested and the proposal did not receive approval. See our December 16, 2020, article, "Residents concerned over City of Houghton proposed re-zoning along Canal Road; wetland, Cole's Creek to remain protected in R-1 zoning."

Resident opposition to proposed zoning ordinance 2020-315 on the seaplane business was also included in our February 23, 2021, article, "City of Houghton to hold Feb. 24 Public Hearings on rezoning proposals 314, 315; residents express environmental concerns."

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Protest against Seaplane Base May 14 to be followed by Portage Township Public Hearing via Zoom May 19

An eagle and its nest are one potential loss to the environment should a Seaplane Airport Base be allowed at Pilgrim Point. Concerned citizens are invited to express their views at a protest and a public hearing. (Poster courtesy Susan Schwenk)

PORTAGE TOWNSHIP -- A protest against the proposed rezoning of Pilgrim Point to allow a Seaplane Airport Base in Portage Township will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 14, meeting at the Nara Nature Trail parking lot near the Pilgrim River Bridge on US 41, Houghton.

This protest is five days prior to a Portage Township Planning Commission Public Hearing at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 19, via Zoom.* (See details below) The Planning Commission will consider amending the zoning ordinance to permit seaplane operations as a Special Use in the Township's existing B-2 zoning district at Pilgrim Point.

The Isle Royale seaplane operation base intends to relocate its seaplane storage and service hangars, along with its daily flight charter service operation, to Pilgrim Point. This operation would be located on a lot immediately adjacent to the Nara Nature Park, under an active bald eagle's nest and adjacent to many beautiful lakefront homes.

An eagle is seen here on its nest, which is located near the proposed site of a projected seaplane charter business -- at Portage Point (the former Onigaming property) in Portage Township. (File photo © and courtesy Susan Schwenk)

This seaplane operation is on land that is not presently zoned to accommodate this aviation activity, and the zoning would have to be changed to make this accommodation. Local resident Susan Schwenk and a number of nearby neighbors, as well as many concerned citizens of the local area, including Copper Country Audubon, very strongly object to this type of use on the Pilgrim Point Property.**

There is a very rich and diverse listing of birds and animals within the nature park -- specifically the active bald eagle's nest. The site location for the proposed seaplane operation will likely be within 50-100 ft of their nest. It is highly likely that these eagles will abandon their nest, due to the extremely loud, obnoxious noise created by the radial engines of the numerous seaplanes -- not to mention the smoke, and oil leakage into the lake that these radial engines produce.

The proposed use of a charter seaplane operation base would be incompatible with the current use of the adjacent and surrounding residential and nature park areas.

If you can attend the protest Saturday, please bring a sign, banner, or just yourself and join concerned residents to raise awareness of this and to help preserve Pilgrim Point and its surrounding natural habitat.

* Zoom information for May 19 Public Hearing:

You may attend the Public Hearing and comment by Zoom:
Meeting ID : 836 3991 6832
Passcode : 428175

Note: During the Public Hearing public comments will be limited to 3 minutes per person.

The regularly scheduled Planning Commission meeting will immediately follow the Public Hearing.

** See the Feb. 27, 2022, Letter by Dana Richter, president of Copper Country Audubon, "Copper Country Audubon comments on seaplane project."

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Yoopers for Ukraine hold 10th Walk for Ukraine on Lift Bridge

By Michele Bourdieu

Participants in the 10th Walk for Ukraine display their signs and flags on the Hancock side of the Portage Lift Bridge. Click on photos for larger versions. (Photo © and courtesy Anna Hill)

HOUGHTON -- With the exception of a bit of wind on the Portage Lift Bridge, participants in 10th Walk for Ukraine from Houghton to Hancock and back on May 4, 2022, enjoyed pleasant, sunny weather and dry ground.

Adelina Oronova, far left, Ukrainian co-organizer, welcomes walkers at 5 p.m. on May 4 and announces the Walk is about to begin. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

Nazar Gora -- co-organizer with his wife, Adelina Oronova -- posted photos of the Walk on the Yoopers for Ukraine Facebook page along with these comments: "It's been more than two months of Russian aggression, and this is not time to give up! Here in Keweenaw, we show that our community is with Ukraine standing for the same values: democracy, freedom, and rights. And we are very happy for you all being with us and walking through this hard time for the Ukrainian nation. Glory to Ukraine! Glory to Heroes! Slava Ukraini! Heroiam Slava!"*

As the Walk begins, participants display their signs to passing traffic. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

One special guest at the May 4 Walk for Ukraine was Bishop Rayford Ray, the Episcopal Bishop of Northern Michigan (His diocese includes the entire Upper Peninsula), who traveled many miles to participate. Bishop Ray has his office in Marquette and lives near Rapid River. Here he speaks about the importance of events like this Walk for Ukraine:

Bishop Rayford Ray, the Episcopal Bishop of Northern Michigan, speaks with Keweenaw Now during the 10th Walk for Ukraine on May 4 in Houghton. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

Nazar Gora expressed thanks to Bishop Ray for a donation he made during his visit to Houghton.

"We would like to thank Bishop Rayford Ray and the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan for financially supporting Ukraine!" Gora said in his Facebook post. "The donated money will go to my family's friend, a military chaplain, who delivers military humanitarian help to the frontline in Eastern Ukraine. Thank you all for keeping in touch with us and caring about Ukraine!"

Participants in the 10th Walk for Ukraine return to Houghton from Hancock on the Portage Lift Bridge. (Video by Keweenaw Now)
On the bridge Jethro Loosemore displays a sign almost as big as he is. Jethro, 7; his sister, Kaitlyn, 9; and his brother, Jacob, 4, have participated in several of the Walks for Ukraine with their Dad, John Loosemore of Hancock. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

After returning to Houghton, participants in the Walk stood on the corner of the Houghton side of the bridge displaying their signs and flags to traffic passing by.

Walkers continue to display the message of support for Ukraine on the Houghton side of the Portage Lift Bridge. (Photo © and courtesy Nazar Gora)

Terry Lahti of Houghton, retired engineer and longtime Copper Country resident, told Keweenaw Now he was participating in the Walk on May 4 to support Ukrainians fighting against Putin and his aggression.

"I am marching to support the brave Ukrainians who are fighting that murderous criminal dictator Putin, who has been responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent Ukrainian men, woman, and children," Lahti said. "Putin has started this war over false accusations of Ukrainian aggressions, just so that he could increase his control over the Russian people. The Russian people will eventually realize that Putin has killed thousands of young Russian men just to inflate his ego."

After returning from Hancock to Houghton, Terry Lahti of Houghton is pictured here, at right, with co-organizer Adelina Oronova. At left, Rick Stanitis, campus missioner for Canterbury House, the Episcopal campus ministry in Houghton, chats with Bishop Ray. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

Keweenaw County resident Joanne Thomas of Allouez, who is of Croatian descent, commented on her experience participating in the Walk for Ukraine for the first time.

"This was my first time marching for 'Slava Ukraini,'" Thomas noted. "I left the event reflecting on the sense of imminent desperation and anguish of the leaders of this group who are from Ukraine or have ties to their citizens. (They reminded me of the haunting gaze of friends from war-torn Croatia that I knew in the early 90s.) It is true that at this time, assisting in saving Ukraine is literally saving the free world from fascism."

Joanne Thomas of Allouez is pictured here, second from left, with Ukrainian Anna Hill, left, of Chassell, and John Loosemore and his children -- Jacob, Kaitlyn, and Jethro. (Photo © and courtesy Nazar Gora)

Yoopers for Ukraine, organizers of these walks, have been holding additional events in support of Ukraine, including displays of children's shoes and toys this week to honor the children killed during this war. Watch for more photos and videos, coming soon.

*Click here to visit the Yoopers for Ukraine Facebook page to learn more about their events, see more photos and videos, and join them in support of Ukraine.

Friday, May 06, 2022

Promote the Vote 2022 Petition signing available at Petition Drive Saturday, May 7, at Portage Lake District Library

HOUGHTON -- Promote the Vote 2022 (PTV 2022) is a non-partisan coalition seeking to enshrine our voting rights into Michigan’s Constitution. This action is necessary to protect voting rights from ongoing political and partisan threats. PTV 2022 volunteers are gathering 425,059 signatures from Michigan voters in order to put PTV 2022 on the November 2022 ballot. These signatures are needed by June 30, 2022.

The Petitions are here and signatures are needed now! Promote the Vote 2022 is one of four petitions that will be available for signing at a Petition Drive from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.. on Saturday, May 7, at the Portage Lake District Library in Houghton. Stop by for your opportunity to support Promote the Vote 2022 and/or these other petitions: Reproductive Freedom, Raise the Minimum Wage, and Allow Prisoners to Earn Time Off.

If you can't make it to the Petition Drive Saturday, how can you sign the Promote the Vote 2022 petition? Email one of the following circulators and they will make sure a circulator contacts you to get your signature. They will come to you! That includes book clubs, exercise groups, family reunions, house parties, etc. This includes events inside or outside. Also, did you know that churches are allowed to advocate nonpartisan petitions such as Promote the Vote? Ask your minister or priest if a PTV speaker can come to speak to your congregation or church meeting! Contact any of the following to arrange a petition signing:
    Keweenaw County and northern Houghton County: Elizabeth Benji:  erbhedgehog@yahoo.com
    Greater Houghton area: Valorie Troesch: vtroesch@gmail.com
    Baraga County and southern Houghton County: Liz Hakola: ehakola@up.net 
   Gogebic, Ontonagon and Iron counties: Corinne Duerkop: corinne.duerkop@gmail.com

Any circulator can take signatures from any place in Michigan. If you would like to be a circulator, let one of the above local circulators know. They need all hands on deck for this critical and urgent project and have only a few weeks to collect the necessary signatures.

According to Valorie Troesch of the local circulator team, "It's non-partisan, but we welcome opportunities to explain what Promote the Vote is about and to give people the opportunity to sign the petition. If the proposal passes in November the rights are enshrined in the Michigan Constitution and they're beyond the reach of partisan politics."

Promote The Vote 2022 will amend Michigan’s Constitution to permanently establish and secure the following voting rights for Michiganders:

  • 9 days of early in-person voting
  • Easy access to apply for absentee ballots with one permanent application (which allows the voter to receive an absentee ballot automatically for every election)
  • Creates tracking system for absentee ballots and right to cure defects
  • Easy return of absentee ballots with guaranteed drop boxes and pre-paid postage
  • Vote without harassment, interference or intimidation
  • Clerks get guaranteed access to donations and in-kind donations with public disclosure of charitable donors
  • Right to prove identity for voting with a legal document verifying identity
  • Count military/overseas ballots if postmarked by Election Day
  • Election audits are made more secure and accountable
  • Prevents politics from interfering into certification of elections.

For more information about Promote the Vote 2022 go to https://promotethevote2022.com/.

Click here for the full text of the PTV 2022 Petition.

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

Local NMU graduate joins fight against proposed Granot Loma rocket launch site

Caitlin Sternberg, new Director of Outreach and Communication for Citizens for a Safe and Clean Lake Superior, a group opposing the proposed industrial rocket launch site on Lake Superior, canoes on Millecoquins Lake while collecting water quality samples. (Photo courtesy Superior Watershed Partnership's Great Lakes Conservation Corps)

MARQUETTE -- Citizens for a Safe and Clean Lake Superior, (CSCLS), a Marquette County nonprofit, welcomes new staff member, Caitlin Sternberg, as Director of Outreach and Communication.

Cait, who graduated  Magna Cum Laude in 2021 from Northern Michigan University with an Environmental Science degree, "has the experience, talent, youthful energy and vision to help us raise awareness and unite our community to defeat the proposed heavy industrial rocket launch site near Lake Superior’s shoreline at Granot Loma," said CSCLS President Dennis Ferraro.*

View of Lake Superior not far from the proposed rocket launch site at Granot Loma. (File photo courtesy Citizens for a Safe and Clean Lake Superior)**

Cait previously worked as a Great Lakes Climate Corps crew leader with the Superior Watershed Partnership, partnering with diverse groups like the National Forest Service and the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community on environmental projects. She also worked as a Land Steward with the Rocky Mountain Conservancy in Colorado. These are examples of her organizational and leadership skills, according to Ferraro.

After growing up in a Chicago neighborhood where jets from O’Hare airport boomed overhead, Cait says, "Living near Lake Superior has reframed my world views and values." In addition to the strong connection that she feels to the Lake and surrounding habitat, Cait notes she is "also impressed by the connection people in Marquette County have to each other, and to the environment."
 
Commenting on adverse impacts of the rocket launch plan, including launch site explosions scattering toxic debris, extreme noise, disruption of wildlife habitat, interference with nearby popular natural recreation areas, and overall degrading of our quality of life, Cait views this type of "needless industrialization of our Lake Shore as an environmental and community threat" that will need to be guarded against "even after the rocket launch plan is defeated."
 
In addition to engaging people at community events, developing ties with community members, and involving volunteers to help with the CSCLS mission, she hopes to also expand participation of local university and high school students, whom she sees as very environmentally oriented.

Ferraro noted, "You will also be seeing a lot of Cait not only here in Marquette, but also at events with people in Powell Township, who have been such good environmental stewards in maintaining the wonderful natural landscape that we all enjoy."

About Citizens for a Safe and Clean Lake Superior

The mission of Citizens for a Safe and Clean Lake Superior (CSCLS) is to protect and improve the precious environmental resource of the coastal habitat, shoreline and fresh water of Lake Superior and its watershed in Marquette County; to oppose individual, corporate or governmental action which may jeopardize that resource; and to encourage community action to preserve the quality of life provided by this Lake Superior Coastline environment for generations to come. Contact CSCLS at contactcscls@gmail.com or visit their Web site or the CSCLS Facebook page.

Notes:

* See the April 24, 2022, New Yorker article by David Rompf, "The Plan to Make Michigan the Next Space State."

** See also the April 1, 2021, Keweenaw Now article by Dennis Ferraro, "Proposed industrial rocket launch site at Granot Loma threatens pristine Lake Superior shoreline."

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Participants in 8th Walk for Ukraine not deterred by cold winds on Lift Bridge

By Michele Bourdieu

Participants in the 8th Walk for Ukraine, on April 21, display their flags and signs in support of Ukraine to traffic in Houghton near the Portage Lift Bridge. Click on photos for larger versions. (Photo © and courtesy Adelina Oronova)

HOUGHTON -- Braving high winds on and near the Portage Lift Bridge last Thursday, April 21, participants in the 8th Walk for Ukraine held on to their flags and signs as they walked from Houghton across the bridge to Hancock and back.

Hancock resident and Army veteran John Loosemore, who has participated in several of these Walks for Ukraine with his three children -- Kaitlyn, 9; Jethro, 7; and Jacob, 4 -- posted on the Yoopers for Ukraine Facebook page and shared with Keweenaw Now some comments on last week's windy challenges.

"Kaitlyn was complaining about cold hands after we crossed the bridge in the strong wind," Loosemore writes. "I spoke to her a bit about the Ukrainian soldiers holed up in the bombed-out steel plant at Mariupol at that very minute. How they were without enough food or water or medical care or ammunition, completely surrounded by Russians who outnumbered them 10 to 1, without any realistic hope of rescue, and facing death at any minute, yet were determined to fight on for their country's freedom. Kaitlyn immediately suggested we should stay and hold our signs a little longer."

Loosemore adds he and Kaitlyn were keeping a very close eye on little Jacob during the Walk. He notes the wind and cold were the reason he didn't allow Jacob to carry a flag or sign that day.

John Loosemore and his three children wait in the wind for the 8th Walk for Ukraine to begin on April 21. Pictured with their Dad are, from left, Kaitlyn, Jethro and Jacob. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

Also participating in this Walk was Ženia Vorodis, a Russian graduate student in computer science at Michigan Tech, who opposes the war and supports his friends from Ukraine.

Ženia Vorodis, a Michigan Tech graduate student from Russia, tells Keweenaw Now why he is walking to support Ukraine. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

Jane Reoch of Hancock, also a veteran, displayed a sign she made for the Walk and expressed her strong opposition to Russian aggression against Ukraine.

As participants line up for the April 21, 2022, Walk for Ukraine across the Portage Lift Bridge, Jane Reoch comments on the sign she made and why she has participated in several of these local Walks for Ukraine. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

Participants in the April 21, 2022, Walk for Ukraine face high winds on the Portage Lift Bridge as they walk from Houghton to Hancock, displaying flags and signs in support of Ukraine. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

Janeen Stephenson of Houghton commented on her reason for participation in the Walk.

"The Ukrainian people have demonstrated to the world what courage is," Stephenson told Keweenaw Now.  "Putin's war on their country is brutal and the devastation of property and death of civilians is criminal. I joined the march on the bridge to show my support for the Ukrainian people and to bring local attention to the ongoing war."

Janeen Stephenson, right, is pictured here with other walkers on the Hancock side of the bridge, where they display their signs and flags for passing traffic. (Photo © and courtesy Anna Hill)

On the Hancock side of the Portage Lift Bridge, participants in the 8th Walk for Ukraine spend some time facing traffic despite strong, cold winds before returning across the bridge to Houghton. (Photo © and courtesy Adelina Oronova)

Ukrainian Anna Hill, now of Chassell, often brings sunflowers (the national flower of Ukraine) to the walks to share with participants. (Photo courtesy Anna Hill)

The Facebook group Yoopers for Ukraine has been organizing these walks on the Portage Lift Bridge. The 9th Walk for Ukraine will be held at 5 p.m. on Thursday, April 28. Meet on the Houghton side of the bridge. Some flags and signs will be available or you can bring your own.

Visit the Yoopers for Ukraine Facebook page for more information on local activities to support Ukraine.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Guest article: Attending COP26: A lesson in distributive climate injustice

By Shardul Tiwari*

Shardul Tiwari, left, author of this article, is pictured here at COP26, the annual United Nations climate change conference, held last fall in Glasgow, Scotland. Also pictured during their presentation on climate action are Tiwari's colleagues from the Youth Environmental Alliance in Higher Education (YEAH), from left, Alexis Pascaris, Jacob Genuise and Amanda Pastore. (Photo courtesy Shardul Tiwari)

The Sixth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has unequivocally established the urgency of addressing climate risks globally (IPCC, 2021). The report further finds with a degree of high confidence that mean temperatures are expected to increase in the coming decades, combined with a decline in seasonal snow duration and glacial mass and high risk to coastal areas. It further predicts higher annual precipitation with a high level of inter-annual variability. All of these factors have significant implications for both mitigation and adaptation responses at the global level. The same was echoed at the annual United Nations (U.N.) climate change conference known as COP26, held from Oct. 31-Nov. 12, 2021, in Glasgow, Scotland. (Inset photo: Guest author Shardul Tiwari. Photo courtesy Michigan Tech University)

One of the questions that were raised more vehemently in this year's COP by different groups stressed the cause of climate justice. Low-income countries and the particularly vulnerable groups questioned the lethargic approach of international governance on climate change. In her keynote speech, the Ugandan youth activist Vanessa Nakate outlined the impact of climate change in her communities through her story of the direct impact of climate change in sub-Saharan African countries. Simon Kofe, foreign minister of Tuvalu, a small island nation, was standing knee-deep in the sea to deliver his speech, a symbolic representation of what the future might entail for island nations most vulnerable to climate change. He outlined how the small island nations are paying the price for the climate catastrophe, which they are not responsible for creating or exacerbating. These are just a few examples of distributive climate injustice.

If we look at the case of India, there is a rise in the intensity, frequency, and impact of climate change. India is already experiencing heat waves in the north this year in 2022. The marginalized communities bear the brunt of this really early onset of temperature rise that is normally observed around late May in the same region. This year's heatwaves mirror the summer of 2018, which was the sixth warmest since 1901. The 2021 and 2022 IPCC reports warned South Asia of extreme heat waves intensifying across the region. In India, the worst impacts of this heat are suffered by the homeless people with limited or no access to means of thermal comfort. Scientists further warn that groundwater levels across India, which are already under strain, are likely to be impacted further by these weather extremes. These climate extremes predict that an estimated 50 million more people can fall below the poverty line in the country by 2040. The injustice is in the fact that the people these climate changes impact are the ones who have contributed least to the problem in the country and globally. 

Village in "Tehri District," India. Villages like this one in the foothills of the Himalayas, without modern amenities, are most vulnerable to climate change. (Photo © and courtesy Shardul Tiwari)

Distributive justice is concerned with distributing the conditions and goods that affect the individual or societal well-being. COP26 emphasized the case of distributive injustice in the allocation of harms and benefits due to climate change, and one such example was climate financing. For instance, high and high middle-income countries pledged a yearly investment of $100 billion by 2020 over a decade ago in 2009 and reiterated the pledge while signing the Paris Agreement. However, climate finance peaked at $78.9 billion in 2018 and took a plunge due to COVID 19. COP26 parties reiterated the goal of $100 billion per year, but parties from developing countries argued that the goal of $100 billion every year is insufficient to tackle the climate mitigation and adaptation efforts. IPCC estimates an annual investment of $2.4 trillion is required for energy systems in order to limit the temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2035. Hence, current financial commitments are far below those needed to tackle climate change -- not just in vulnerable nations and communities but also in affluent parts of the world.

The COP26 agreement again put India and China in the spotlight after opposing a commitment to "phase out" coal while negotiating the final agreement. Instead, countries agreed to "phase down" coal, causing disappointment and concern over whether the world can limit the average global temperature rise to 1.5 Celsius. Emerging economies like India and China are making the case that they are not responsible for the past emissions accountable for climate change and are doing their best to improve sustainable energy generation with the financing available. For example, India, which relies heavily on coal-fired power plants for energy generation, pledged to become a carbon-neutral country by 2070 by increasing renewable energy deployment with specific yearly targets. However, critics argue that this deadline might not be enough to protect vulnerable communities that bear first the impact of any catastrophe.

Village in "Tehri District," India. Villages in the foothills of the Himalayas still rely on biomass as a predominant form of energy for household uses. (Photo © and courtesy Shardul Tiwari)

Just these few examples indicate much more effort is required to mitigate climate change's impacts. At COP26, world leaders, activists, and scientists echoed the sentiment of an approaching climate catastrophe that can soon impact our communities. Most of the people attending COP26 agreed that climate change is already severely affecting people in low-income and marginalized countries. If not tackled, climate change will indeed severely impact affluent communities of the western world as well. 

The students, scientists and young researchers who attended COP and came from the emerging economies did share a positive sentiment.

Eugene Agyei from Ghana said, "Attending COP for the first time was a great experience for me. Aside from meeting other young people who shared the same interest as me, to see the planet being saved, it also made me realize how complex climate change issues can be. As a young person from a developing country, I think COP 26 was an opportunity for developing countries to look into the future and work towards viable solutions as well as put in place effective climate mitigation strategy ahead of time."

Eugene Agyei at Cop 26. (Photo courtesy Eugene Agyei)  

Ayush Chutani from India was optimistic that everyone is working towards addressing climate change, noting, "There existed two worlds in Glasgow during two weeks, one inside the fence trying hard to fight with words in order to keep 1.5 degrees alive and one outside fighting with their voice to keep future alive."

Ayush Chutani at COP26. (Photo courtesy Ayush Chutani)

Sarah Green, Michigan Tech professor and interim chair of chemistry, led the Michigan Tech delegation to COP26 in conjunction with the Youth Environmental Alliance in Higher Education (YEAH) Green has served as co-vice chair for the Scientific Advisory Panel on the Sixth Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-6), United Nations Environment Programme. She is well known for her research related to climate change.

Jacob Genuise (YEAH fellow) with Shardul Tiwari (center) and Dr. Sarah Green at COP26. (Photo © and courtesy Alexis Pascaris)

"Climate change is an enormously multifaceted problem," Green said. "Many actions are urgent, so removing impediments to action may be the most critical starting point. Innumerable opportunities are emerging and many would flourish if obstacles were removed. Perhaps the most important aspect of policy is listening carefully to identify the key concerns of all players."

We always thought of climate change at the very best as a tertiary threat that might or might not impact us in the longer run. However, this myth was very well broken during COP26 by the stories of people directly impacted by climate change. Those impacts are still active and are growing by the day. We heard stories of floods in Africa, drought during summers, melting glaciers, flooding in coastal cities and more. These stories tell us the threat is real and present -- and hope is only possible if we act now.

Editor's Notes:

* Guest author Shardul Tiwari is a PhD student in Environmental and Energy Policy at Michigan Tech University. See also his April 21, 2020, Keweenaw Now article on COP25, "Michigan Tech observer team at COP25, Madrid: A perspective."

This is the third article in our series on Michigan Tech's COP26 team in Glasgow. See also "COP26 Reflection," by Alexis Pascaris, and "COP26 -- An Indigenous Experience," by Kathleen Brosemer.

** To learn more about the Youth Environmental Alliance in Higher Education (YEAH) visit https://yeah-net.org/

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District Tree Sale extends ordering deadline

Volunteers prepare tree sale items for the annual Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District (HKCD) Tree Sale. (Photo courtesy HKCD)

HANCOCK -- The Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District (HKCD) Tree Sale still has many items available to order in the next week. The original deadline for ordering fruit and native trees, berries, grapes, garden plants and wildflowers has been extended to a postmark on April 20, 2022. Pick-ups are scheduled for May 6 and 7 at the Houghton County Arena in Hancock.
 
According to Gina Nicholas, HKCD chairperson, orders can be postmarked by April 20 and mailed -- order form completed and accompanied by a check for pre-payment -- to the following address:

HKCD
205 Michigan Street
Hancock, MI 49930

As indicated on the order form, as of Wednesday afternoon, April 13, Sold Out items are Moorpark Apricot, Stella Cherry, all Blueberries, Caroline Raspberries, Gogi Berries, Ludwig Spaeth Lilac, All Summer Beauty Hydrangea, and White Birch.

"Everything else on the order form we have," Nicholas told Keweenaw Now on Wednesday afternoon, April 13.

So far the sale is limited to pre-order, pre-pay. Orders are filled when payment is received. Sales Tax is included in all prices. Items can be picked up on Friday and Saturday, May 6 and 7, at the Houghton County Arena, 1500 Birch Street, Hancock.

Download the CATALOG here.

Download the ORDER FORM here.