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Saturday, June 10, 2017

Houghton Elementary fourth graders present interactive skits on climate issues

By Michele Bourdieu

Houghton Elementary fourth graders take turns describing the advantages and disadvantages of various types of energy, from oil to solar, during their June 2 climate program, organized by volunteers from the Keweenaw Climate Community and their teachers. Each energy type was examined to determine whether or not it is "clean" and/ or "renewable." (Photos by Keweenaw Now)

HOUGHTON -- Last week, as President Trump made his announcement about pulling the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement, 106 fourth graders at Houghton Elementary School, coached by their teachers and several Keweenaw Climate Community (KCC) volunteers, were busy practicing for their June 2 presentation of lively, interactive, creative skits on climate issues.

The event began with a song about why we should try to "make the world a better place."

Music and art were incorporated into this introductory presentation with a motivational song and posters created by the students. Click on YouTube icon for larger video screen. (Videos by Keweenaw Now)

Next a game of "Jeopardy" involved all the students who, divided into groups, competed to answer questions related to renewable energy, pollution, ways to conserve energy and other climate issues.

KCC member Jim Vendlinski and his group of students take the stage to ask "Jeopardy" questions on the climate, while the fourth graders in the audience compete in small groups to be the first to answer correctly. At left, KCC member Stephen Handler assists his group by clarifying a question. The prize for the winning group: "bragging rights."

KCC member Andi Vendlinski coached a class in demonstrating -- through pantomime -- the many steps and many people involved in producing one apple that they might buy at the grocery store. Students were invited to mime the planting of seeds, fertilizing and watering the apple tree, picking the apples, driving the apples to the market and selling them in the store.

Students raise their hands to volunteer for the pantomime skit on the steps involved in growing, transporting, selling, buying and eating an apple. At center is Andi Vendlinski, KCC member and coach for the skit.

Andi Vendlinski noted the high interest and enthusiasm of the fourth graders.

"After the first lesson, all the instructors were really impressed with how much many of the kids already knew about climate change, and how eager and enthusiastic they all were to learn more," she said. "It's so much fun when the kids are into it!"

Following the presentations on different types of energy (photo above), the final skit told the story of how a local healthy ecosystem works and how its plants and animals might be threatened by climate change.

These students mime the change in trees when climate change begins to have damaging effects on the ecosystem.

Students demonstrate through pantomime the effects of extreme heat and flooding on the ecosystem that was once healthy. Click on YouTube icon for larger video screen.

KCC volunteers Rob Handler and Emily Shaw assisted teacher Ken Klein with this skit on the effects of climate change.

"We were in Mr. Klein's class for two days, talking about the effects of climate change on plants and animals," Handler said.

On the third day the students developed the skit, he added, and Mr. Klein had them practice it in class.

"They were awesome," said Shaw. "They practiced a lot."

In addition to Mr. Klein, other fourth-grade teachers who participated were Margo Hall, Neeta Jacobson, and Shannon Lehto.

Pictured here in the Houghton Elementary School cafeteria following the climate program are Keweenaw Climate Community (KCC) volunteers, from left, Hunter King, Emily Shaw, Jim Vendlinski, Andi Vendlinski, Stephen Handler, Kathy Halverson and Rob Handler. Not pictured is KCC volunteer Jenny Dunn, who also helped coach the students but was unable to attend the Friday program.

After the presentations all the students received LED energy-efficient light bulbs, donated by HEET (Houghton Energy Efficiency Team), and a reusable bag from Wal-Mart. Other sponsors were FOLK (Friends of the Land of Keweenaw), who donated supplies, and GS Engineering, who contributed funding for the project.

To learn more about the work of the Keweenaw Climate Community, visit their Web site and their Facebook page.

Editor's Note: Jim and Andi Vendlinski's children, twins Lewis and Catherine Vendlinski, who just celebrated their 9th birthday, participated, along with twins Stephen and Rob Handler, in the Keweenaw Climate Community's third Climate Café held last November. See our Nov. 30, 2016, article, "Keweenaw Climate Community to hold 4th Climate Café Dec. 1 at Orpheum Theater; video report on October, November KCC events."

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Questions on Eagle East: DEQ to hold public meeting June 8

From: Mining Action Group*

This aerial photograph shows (1) Eagle Mine facility and active drill rigs in the (2) southern drilling area for Eagle East, (3) northern drilling area for Eagle East and (4) eastern drilling area for Eagle East. The general location of the Eagle East ore body, some 3000 feet below the surface, is outlined by the large circle. Click on photo for larger version. (May 2017 photograph © Jeremiah Eagle Eye)

MARQUETTE -- The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is holding a public meeting on the permit amendment request to expand Eagle Mine's operations to include Eagle East -- and eight kilometers of tunnels to connect these ore bodies. The public meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, June 8, 2017, at the Westwood High School, 300 Westwood Dr, Ishpeming.**

While the proposed permit "amendment" is described as a "significant change" to the Eagle Mine permit, Eagle East is actually a new ore body, located beyond the previously permitted boundary of Eagle Mine. More mining spells serious trouble for the environment, with a widening industrial footprint and impacts never considered under the original permit. More mining means more tailings, more dewatering, and an increased risk of water contamination.


1. Lundin Mining claims that the Eagle East deposit will extend the life of Eagle Mine by only one or two years. What the mine doesn’t mention is that this modest extension to life of the mine comes at a cost: increased truck traffic, increased air emissions, more toxic mining waste permanently stored in a pit lake at Humboldt Mill, and increased discharge of pollutants to the Middle Branch of the Escanaba River. Is Eagle East worth the enormous environmental footprint?

2. Lundin describes the combined ore as "Eagle ore" but Eagle and Eagle East are two different ore bodies, born from different volcanogenic events and sources. The new Eagle East ore body contains higher grades of copper and nickel, as well as other toxic heavy metals.

3. How will this new ore body impact water quality? The Eagle East ore body is located three thousand feet below the surface, so the ore and waste rock contain high quantities of entrapped salts from ancient brines, laced with heavy metals. This will, in turn, create long-term problems for the Humboldt Pit, where the addition of huge amounts of Eagle East waste tailings will dramatically increase Total Dissolved Solids. At the present Eagle Mine, the wastewater treatment plant will also need a new crystallizer to handle the salts and metals.

4. Last year’s undisclosed "partial pillar collapse" at Eagle Mine draws the overall safety of the expansion into question.*** Has the underlying geology been thoroughly studied? Can we trust Lundin to tell us when our watersheds and their employees are in danger? Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request reveal that a Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration investigation found that a significant "large block failure" resulted from an undetected rock fracture. Mining experts have repeatedly warned that the Eagle ore body is filled with hard-to-map "smaller-scale discontinuities that could weaken the rock mass." Was the data correctly interpreted? Has the stability of Eagle Mine been dangerously overestimated from the beginning? Concerns about last year’s rock failure at Eagle Mine must be addressed before the company’s mining permit is amended.

Written public comment on the proposed permit amendment will be accepted until 5 p.m. on July 6, 2017. Send all comments to, including "Eagle East Permit Amendment" as the subject, or mail them to:

DEQ Eagle East Permit Amendment
Office of Oil, Gas, and Minerals
1504 West Washington Street
Marquette, MI 49855

Editor's Notes:

* The Mining Action Group (MAG), formerly Save the Wild U.P., is a volunteer grassroots effort defending the clean water and wild places of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula from the dangers of sulfide mining. MAG is a new semi-autonomous arm of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC).

** See Keweenaw Now's May 30, 2017, announcement of the public meeting: "MDEQ to hold public meeting on Eagle East Mining Permit Application Amendment June 8; public comments accepted until July 6."

*** See the Mining Action Group's May 25, 2017, article, "Eagle Mine Buries Underground Collapse," citing details of a 2016 underground collapse incident at Eagle Mine and grave concerns with the company’s lack of transparency. 

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Michigan Tech News: Saving Lives and Money: The Potential of Solar to Replace Coal

By Allison Mills*
Posted June 1, 2017, on Michigan Tech News
Reprinted with permission

Michigan Tech researcher Joshua Pearce, pictured here, says by transitioning to solar photovoltaics (PV) in the US, up to 51,999 American lives would be saved at $1.1 million invested per life. (Photo © Sarah Bird and courtesy Michigan Tech University)

HOUGHTON -- By swapping solar photovoltaics for coal, the US could prevent 51,999 premature deaths a year, potentially making as much as $2.5 million for each life saved.

In a new study published in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews (DOI: 10.1016/j.rser.2017.05.119), a team from Michigan Technological University calculated the cost of combusting coal in terms of human lives along with the potential benefits of switching to solar.

(Inset photo: Guest author Allison Mills.* Photo courtesy Michigan Tech University)

Health Impacts

Tens of thousands of Americans die prematurely each year from air pollution-related diseases associated with burning coal. By transitioning to solar photovoltaics (PV) in the US, up to 51,999 American lives would be saved at $1.1 million invested per life.

"Unlike other public health investments, you get more than lives saved," says Joshua Pearce, a professor of materials science and electrical engineering at Michigan Tech.** "In addition to saving lives, solar is producing electricity, which has economic value."

Using a sensitivity analysis on the value of electricity, which examines the different costs of electricity that varies by region throughout the country, saving a life by using solar power also showed potential to make money -- sometimes as much as several million dollars per life, says Pearce.

"Everybody wants to avoid wasting money. Just based off the pure value of electricity of the sensitivities we looked at, it's profitable to save American lives by eliminating coal with solar," he explains.

Pearce worked with energy policy doctoral student Emily Prehoda on the study, and their main goal was to better inform health policy. They gathered data from peer-reviewed journals and the Environmental Protection Agency to calculate US deaths per kilowatt hour per year for both coal and solar. Then they used current costs of solar installations from the Department of Energy and calculated the potential return on investment.

Michigan Tech energy policy doctoral student Emily Prehoda worked with Michigan Tech Professor Joshua Pearce on a new study calculating the cost of combusting coal in terms of human lives along with the potential benefits of switching to solar energy. (Photo courtesy Michigan Tech University)

Pearce and Prehoda also analyzed the geographic impact of coal-related deaths.

Certain geographic regions are harder hit by coal-related deaths from air pollution. (Map courtesy Michigan Tech)

"Here, we have solid numbers on how many people die from air pollution and what fraction of that is due to coal-powered plants in each state," Pearce said.

Power of Solar

To fully replace all the coal production in the US with solar PV, it would take 755 gigawatts -- a significant increase compared to the 22.7 gigawatts of solar installed in the US currently. The total cost of installing that much solar power totals $1.5 trillion, but that investment is figured into Pearce and Prehoda's calculations, and is a profitable investment.

As Pearce sums it up: "Solar has come down radically in cost, it's technically viable, and coupled with natural gas plants, other renewables and storage, we have ways to produce all the electricity we need without coal, period."

He says resisting the rise of solar energy is akin to if computer manufacturers kept using vacuum tube switches instead of upgrading to semiconductor transistors.

"My overall take away from this study," Pearce says, "is that if we're rational and we care about American lives -- or even just money -- then it's time to end coal in the US."

Next Steps

The World Health Organization reports that millions die each year from unhealthy environment. Air pollution is notably the largest contributor to non-communicable diseases like stroke, cancers, chronic respiratory illnesses and heart disease. Future work can expand this study globally.

"There's roughly seven million people who die globally from air pollution every year, so getting rid of coal could take a big chunk out of that number as well," Pearce says.

He adds that another goal of future research is to dig deeper into the life cycles of coal production, as this study only looked at air pollution-related deaths. Doing so will continue to illuminate the multiple positive impacts of solar power and its potential to do more than keep the lights on.


* Michigan Tech science writer Allison Mills studied geoscience as an undergrad at Northland College before getting a master's in environmental science and natural resource journalism at the University of Montana.

** Click here to learn more about Professor Joshua Pearce and his work.