Tag: Climate Change

Court Charts Path Forward for Generational Commitment to Save Humanity and Earth from Rising Devastating Effects of Climate Change


FLOW’s organizing principle is the public trust doctrine.  What sounds like an exotic concept is quite simple.  This centuries-old principle of common law holds that there are some resources, like water and submerged lands, that by their nature cannot be privately owned.  Rather, these commons – including the Great Lakes — belongs to the public.  And governments, like the State of Michigan, have a responsibility to protect public uses of these resources.  We explicitly address public trust concerns on what we’re calling Public Trust Tuesday.

Between 2010 and 2016, several groups of young people filed lawsuits in different regions of the United States, claiming the states and federal government had failed to fulfil their higher duties under their authorized powers to do something about CO2 and greenhouse gases (GHGs) that have fired warming of the planet, extreme weather events—climate change—causing devastating harm to their lives, homes, families, waters, fishing, and communities.  

Federal and state governments stonewalled their efforts, claiming that they could not be compelled to take action because the children did not have a liberty or property interest protected by the Constitution, and that they had no right or interest – standing— to bring a lawsuit.[1]  At first, the government succeeded, and then one or two courts recognized that these children’s lives and interests were threatened, and that climate change was a clear danger if not the cause of serious injuries and damage, and opened the door for litigation. But none of these efforts resulted in a clear recognition that these children, or other people threatened or harmed by climate change induced extreme weather, had a constitutional interest in “liberty” or “property,” or an interest as beneficiaries of a public trust imposed on government to protect vital interests—like drinking water, property and home, and fishing, boating, or farming.


A Watershed Moment

Nothing much happened, that is, until Kelsey Cascadia Rose Juliana and other children, through their legal guardian, climate scientist James Hansen, filed suit in the federal court in Portland, Oregon in early 2015.[2] The child plaintiffs charged that the federal government had violated their constitutional and public trust rights – a generational right to non-impairment of their beneficial rights in water and use of water for essential needs based on the public trust doctrine.[3] The children charged that the government and EPA had failed to take sufficient action to stem the harm and dangers of climate change, that the window for action to prevent increasing catastrophe was short, and requested an order from the court to compel the government to develop and implement a comprehensive plan to reduce CO2 and effects of climate change.

Once more, the federal government, joined by intervening industry organizations, moved the court to toss the suit because there was no legal precedent for these claims, and even if they existed, the children lacked standing or any real interest to protect, and that the students were interfering with the exercise of political discretion left to the government. In sum, the government argued the claims even if real were not the students’ business or the stuff that courts should decide.

But this time, the federal government lost. The magistrate ruled that the children had stated facts, endangerment, and harms sufficient for the early phases of the suit to proceed.[4] But government and industry, now threatened by the suit, filed motions before the federal district judge assigned to the trial of the case. In an enlightened opinion in late 2016, Judge Aikens rejected government and industry contentions, adopted the magistrate’s earlier decision, and ruled that the children plaintiffs had the right to bring the suit. He also ruled that the children had properly stated the critical dangers of climate change, the deliberate indifference on the part of the government, and properly claimed a violation of “liberty” under the constitution and the government’s high duty under the public trust doctrine to protect the children’s present and future from threats of rising oceans and impairment of the nation’s waters.[5] 

Judge Aikens considered the threat to the children was real, had already caused serious damage, and posed imminent danger to them and humanity in the near future. Exercising what he considered the traditional role of the courts, because the judiciary can’t ignore a “wholesale failure” that unchecked would result in a “collapse” of humanity. Judge Aikens ordered the parties to prepare for a trial that would determine the basis of climate science, the children’s claims, and apply the law and Constitution.


Hurricanes Harvey and Maria

More recently, Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and Hurricane Harvey, and the raging fires in California, have jolted us into the realization that global warming and extreme and increasingly chronic effects have caused and are causing devastating and chronic harms and interference with communities, property, and water. To list a few, rising sea levels wreaking havoc in coastal cities, flooding, drought and heat and fires, endangered public health, shut off of public services and water systems, landslides and other damage to property and lives.

Closer to home, in the Great Lakes region, including Michigan, we’ve seen climate change effects exacerbate and foster algal blooms that have shut down Toledo’s drinking water for 400,000 people, and more in Monroe, Michigan. We’ve seen extreme rainfall events overwhelming stormwater controls and drains, resulting in sewage overflows and serious flooding.

In the last century, some courts still held fast to the idea that the air was the atmosphere, lakes and streams were surface waters, and the water beneath our feet—groundwater—was simply “out of sight, out of mind.” In the last 30 years, hydrogeological and weather scientists have made one thing clear: We live in a water cycle, the hydrosphere, where every arc of the water cycle is connected to the others. The arc of precipitation falls to the earth; the arc of runoff flows over the land surface to drains, gullies, and into creeks, streams, rivers, and lakes. The water percolates into the earth and forms aquifers—water sources—and groundwater, another arc, which then discharges through seeps, springs to form creeks, streams, rivers, and lakes. Then, these surface waters flow to the ocean. From the arc of evaporation—from the surfaces of vegetation and water bodies, transfers water into the atmosphere. In the atmosphere, water is diverted into the arc of the air or our hydrosphere, in the form of concentrated “rivers” and “lakes” of moisture and water. 

Climate change is not just an air pollution question, it is also a water question– hydrosphere—climate change directly affects the hydrology and movement of water in every arc of the water cycle, and interferes with and impairs water, land, homes, community, and people everywhere. The effect of climate change on water and earth and life dispel any doubt that we and everything else are inextricably connected by the flow and movement of every arc of the water cycle.

Yet despite efforts to do something about climate and water and to become more resilient to live as best we can with the coming changes and impacts from climate change, the federal government continued to drag its feet.  The federal government was forced and prodded by the federal courts to treat CO2 as a “pollutant” under the Clean Air Act, but our current President has thumbed his nose at climate change rules and denounced the Paris Climate agreement. It is not unreasonable to conclude there has been a deliberate indifference on the part of governments and industries to reduce the rising dangers and imminent threat to millions of people, water and the hydrosphere.


Constitutional Rights and the Public Trust in Water

In 2011, For Love of Water (FLOW) and the Council of Canadians (Canadians) filed a formal report and request with the International Joint Commission (IJC) to recognize the legal interest of citizens and the duties of both countries and state governments to protect water quality, flows, levels, and its protected uses that citizens rely on for their lives, sustenance, and livelihood based on the public trust doctrine. The public trust is a well-established ancient principle that protects navigable waters and the rights of fishing, navigation, drinking water, swimming, bathing, and sustenance. Because current laws and the governments’ ability to address increasing systemic threats to the Great Lakes and all tributary waters–like algal blooms, Asian Carp, rises and drops in water levels from extreme weather, toxic chemicals, and algal blooms from nutrients and climate– FLOW and the Canadians asked the IJC to recognize the public trust doctrine, and urge governments to fulfill their duties as trustees of these waters and public trust natural resources. After supplemental reports and considerations, the IJC issued a report in 2016 that recommended the public trust as a “backstop” to fill the gaps and limitations of existing laws and efforts.

At about the same time, Michael Blum at Northwest Law School in Portland and Mary Christina Woods at University of Oregon pioneered claims that the public trust doctrine should be applied to the atmosphere in order to force governments to drastically reduce CO2 and GHGs.[6] 

Even without extending the public trust doctrine to protect the atmosphere, FLOW argued that because the arcs of the water cycle formed a single hydrological system—hydrosphere– the traditional application of the public trust doctrine to navigable waters could be used as a basis to reduce CO2 and GHGs, because the effects on the hydrosphere had a direct effect on streams, lakes, and the oceans, and impaired if not destroyed fishing, drinking water, and other life-sustaining public trust uses.[7]  Judge Aikens followed similar reasoning in accepting the children’s public trust claim in the Juliana suit.[8]


Trump Administration Climate Change-Deniers Try to Torpedo the Children’s Trust Lawsuit

In a last-ditch effort to avoid a trial over the children’s climate change suit, newly appointed federal officials and their lawyers looked for a way to deep-six the Juliana lawsuit before federal district court Judge Aikens. Justice Department lawyers filed an unorthodox request with a federal court of appeals to take over control of Judge Aikens’ handling of the lawsuit, and peremptorily dismiss the case. But the Seattle federal appeals court slapped down the federal government’s bid, ruling that their attempted appeal was a “drastic remedy” on the claims brought by the children because the issues would “be better addressed through the ordinary course of litigation.”[9]

Commentators everywhere exclaimed that the appeals court ruling affirmed the federal district court that the children could proceed and signaled a landmark ruling on the science and causation of greenhouse gases and climate change. In a classic traditional role, the courts– our third branch of government—have stepped in to interpret what the law is to remedy the unjust deliberate indifference of government and climate deniers. Since Juliana and twenty-one other children filed their suit in 2015, the cities of New York and San Francisco filed suits against Chevron, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and Royal Dutch Shell to pay for the damage and infrastructure needed to combat climate caused by the sale and burning of fossil fuels. Like in the lawsuits against the tobacco industry, the fossil fuel industry has known fossil fuels have heated the climate beyond acceptable levels and endangered cities, water, and the planet. And like the tobacco industry, they’ve done what they can to foster denial and obstruction to the required shift to renewable energy and rapid reduction of CO2 and greenhouse gases.

Jim Olson, President and Founder

In a way, climate change denial by government and industry is reminiscent of the Scope’s trial, fictionalized by Spencer Tracy as Darrow and Frederick March as Bryant in the 1960s movie Inherit the Wind. But the passion of Bryant was based on a genuine belief in the deeper role the Genesis story in defining the human’s place in a world created by God. The coming climate change trials are not so much a denial of science or genuine passion of belief, but a corporate defense of a fossil-fuel grip on the economy, to protect a financial empire that is causing damage and a growing danger of the collapse of humanity with a shorter and shorter period to do anything about it.


Congratulations to lead attorney in Juliana v U.S., Julia Olson (no relation), and Professors Michael Blum (Northwest School of Law, Lewis and Clark, Portland) and Christina Woods (University of Oregon, Eugene), and so many others. Is there any question that the effects of intense storms on the people of Puerto Rico and Houston or the raging fires in California are attributable to climate change? The Children, their lawyers, scientists, and so many organizations and people are bringing justice to those injured by breach of government affirmative duties to protect water, atmosphere, life, and the public trust.  We are grateful. The public trust in water and our hydrosphere are the heart of our mission and work. www.flowforwater.org. Join us, read up on background articles, and share. The time for mitigating climate change effects is short.

[1] E.g. Alec L. v. Jackson, 853 F Supp. 2d 11 (D.D.C. 2012).

[2] Juliana et al. v. United States, 2016 WL 183903 (Magistrate., Ore. D. Ct., Order, Jan. 14, 2016).

[3] The public trust doctrine imposes a “solemn” duty on governments, as trustees, to protect certain waters—oceans or inland lakes and streams of the state, or their tributaries, from impairment or from interference with boating, fishing, swimming, bathing, drinking, navigation and other public uses of these waters. See Illinois Central R Rd. v Illinois, 146 U.S. 387 (1892); Joseph Sax, The Public Trust Doctrine in Natural Resources Law: Effective Judicial Intervention, 68 Mich L. Rev. 471 (1970); James Olson, All Aboard: Navigating a Course for Universal Adoption of the Public Trust Doctrine; 15 Vermont J. Env. L. 135 (2014); see generally, Flow for Love of Water, a Great Lakes law and policy center dedicated to the preservation of citizens public trust in water and nature. www.flowforwater.org.

[4] Juliana v U.S., supra, 2016 WL 183903.

[5] Juliana v. U.S., 217 F Supp. 3d 1224 (2016).

[6] See Mary Christina Woods, Nature’s Trust (Cambridge Univ. Press 2013).

[7] James Olson and Elizabeth Kirkwood, FLOW Report to International Joint Commission on “Draft International Joint Commission 10-Year Review on Protection of the Waters of the Great Lakes Basin,” (June 30, 2015).

[8] Juliana, supra, 217 F Supp. at 1275.

[9] United States v U.S. Dist. Court, 2018 U.S. App. Lexis 5770 (9th Cir., Mar. 7,  2018); “We’ll See You in Court: Kids Climate Moves Forward After Judge Denies Trump,” www.ecowatch.com/kids-climate-lasuit-trial-2544414443.html. Mar. 11, 2018.

NY Times features Public Trust Doctrine

A recent article on the New York Times Opinion Editorial Page  features the public trust doctrine as basis for citizens, including the children atmospheric trust cases, to bring court actions to order governments to take affirmative action to drastically reduce greenhouse gases and minimize climate change.  All water, air, and wildlife are legally viewed as public commons.  Water and other commons that are special, rare, unique or endangered are protected specifically by the public trust doctrine.  Certainly, the atmosphere, which is actually a hydrosphere connected to public trust water, at this time in history is rare, endangered, and tied directly to devastating harm to this and future generations, including our navigable public trust waters and their tributaries.  These court cases and similar efforts are growing evidence of a paradigm shift in this country to protecting our commons; they are public, necessary for health and life, and do not belong to any one private interest or sector.  The public trust duties require affirmative action in perpetuity to protect citizens rights to water an air under public trust principles.  Our federal and state governments have inherent and significant authority to fulfill these duties, and must do so now, without our children having to be surrogates for government and the rest of us.  There is no excuse to wait, by government or the fossil fuel industry; failure to take action and waiting and stalling, or patterns of interference in protecting water and air from climate change will impose liability on them.

Some Thoughts for the New Year: Common Home and Common Principles – Living and Working for the Common Good


Jim Olson FLOW Founder



By Jim Olson

President, FLOW For Love of Water, Traverse City

Attorney, Olson, Bzdok & Howard, P.C., Traverse City





When I look back over the past year, I can’t help but feel hope in the common goodness of people and communities.

I say this not without heart felt and serious concern about events in the world that point in the opposite direction – despair: increasing violence from guns, war, and sweeping droughts and floods, causing death and dislocation of millions of people and children, global warming and the push-back from unprecedented storms and extreme weather that compound drought, floods, landslides, which in turn destabilize countries like Syria fomenting conflict and conditions for ISIS. To paraphrase Circle of Blue senior journalist Keith Schneider, “The earth is angry and she’s fighting back.”

Closer to home, Detroit water shut-offs continue despite the devastating impact on the poor who can’t afford to pay a normal water bill, let alone the $100 a month or more claimed by the Detroit Water Board. State leaders finally stop denying the Flint water-crisis more than a year after residents demanded help, that its children and residents were exposed to high levels of lead from the city’s public water system. The problem is more endemic than Detroit or Flint, since both crises grew out of the unbridled power of Governor Snyder’s emergency manager law to usurp the power of city assets and revenues to pay debts regardless of the impacts to citizens. Flint’s emergency manager thought only of economic expediency in turning off water supplied from Detroit, and tapping into the filthy, polluted Flint River. Then there is the continual threat from the flow of oil in the aging, nearly 63-year old Line 5 pipeline under the Straits; the harm from a release or leak would be so catastrophic, the risk is unacceptable to everyone; yet the flow of oil continues without immediate temporary measures while state officials continue to study it as if it was an “issue,” and not the clear and imminent endangerment of the Great Lakes and the Straits of Mackinac – the fact is there is enough capacity within the pipeline system in the Great Lakes without Line 5 endangering the Straits.

So why the hope? Other events have happened this past year that point to a new way of understanding and, perhaps, solving many of the threats that we face in the world and our communities.

First, Pope Francis issued his encyclical on climate change and the environment, connecting the reality of our excessive consumptive materialism, global inequality, poverty, ecological and community devastation, and violence that follows. He carefully documented that our way of seeing and doing, our post-modern god of the law of free markets and legally justified greed, our fragmented attempts at dishing out money to help the poor are not working. He says this because we are living a material, market place illusion, and not in harmony with the reality that the earth is our “common home,” and that if we do not share its gifts and respect its inherent natural limits, earth’s water, weather, soil, and the biological diversity on which all life depends will continue to worsen to even greater extremes. He points to a new paradigm, a framework in which we work and live with the understanding that a body of water, whether ocean, Grand Traverse Bay, or Lake Chad, are a commons, part of the gift of earth as commons to all. If we do this, not only with water, but the ridge lines and forests, the beauty and land that are home to our relationships, our cities, the neighborhoods within our towns, the soils beneath our feet, the air we breathe, then we will begin to reshape our life around truth and the given limits of nature, and this will guide our living, our way of life, or economy, full and rich with newly directed creative and sustainable opportunities and entrepreneur ship.

Second, amidst a world of conflicts, from Syria to the Ukraine, from our own cities, to Nigeria, Sudan, and Afghanistan, and in the aftermath of the mass murders from extreme terrorists in Parrs, the nations of the world cooperated: leaders of large and small, developed and developing, or undeveloped countries, recognized the responsibility to each other, agreed to something, the world temperature will not rise more 2 degrees, and maybe less. While it is not law yet, if taken implemented, it will help stave off global calamity greater than two world wars last century, by reducing the irreparable damage we face from climate change and global warming. There is hope in the agreement that we stop denying and see the mounting harm and set a goal that through hard-work and common sacrifice offers a way out of an unthinkable alternative for people everywhere.

Third, we witnessed the bridging of differences by our Supreme Court in precedent setting cases that demand human dignity for marriage between two people, human rights to housing and water for the poor without access, as wells as the genuine search for a common goal to address wasteful and harmful water rights in the middle of the historical California droughts.

Fourth, our political debate heating up even before the 2016 presidential election has pointed to something more than the old, increasingly polarized beliefs in market economy, through money at wars and problems, rather than considering the root of the problem might be the way we are looking at them. Regardless of my own or others’ political persuasion, there is a fresh voice in Bernie Sanders, laying out the case for a community based on sharing of wealth, taking care of neighbors, and our neighborhood, what Pope Francis calls our “common home,” and at the same time helping with services to the poor, respecting and honoring diversity, and encouraging new business innovation. We have been trapped in this country in a red and blue, right and left, straight-jacket of false ideology, rather than identifying those things that are essential to every one of us and providing for them as principle of our country—the common good.

Fifth, then Michael Moore comes out with his latest film Where to Invade Next? Good God, here we have the message that we here in the USA had the idea, come up with the ideas, of common good, yet go in the opposite direction of individualized competition based on a law of the jungle called free markets. Everything is about profit and money and bottom line. The world is not a corporation, it is a commons in which corporations organizations are simply a means, not an end.

Do we really have a choice? Our common home and communities are simultaneously local and global. It’s not just act locally, think globally, or act globally, think locally. It’s all of this and more. If we don’t act, for example, on climate change, or understand that climate change is not just an energy issue but about water and food, if we don’t move toward a renewable economy within a few years, small island countries will literally disappear, rainforests and biodiversity will disappear, coastal cities and other areas will increasingly flood and fail from even more extreme storm events or the day-to-day failure to change, adapt and embrace resilient cooperation—the common good. All one has to do is read through “4 Degrees Turn Down the Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts, and the Case for Resilience,” a report published by renown scientists and even sponsored by the more conservative World Bank. The picture is not pretty, and it would it is ignorant, even immoral, at this time in history not to act, even out of self-interest, for this common good.

So I end this year and start the next with hope. At FLOW, the Great Lakes and Water Policy Center, here in Traverse City, and other organizations throughout the region, we have chosen as a mission and goal to protect the waters of the Great Lakes basin as a commons with principles, known as the public trust doctrine, that require government as trustee and people as beneficiaries, to work together to respect and protect water and community that depend on it from impairment. Private control of public waters and other public commons has always been prohibited; this is because some things essential to all of us are common to all of us. If we don’t protect the commons, we undermine the air, water, community and neighborhoods where we live. To work and live toward the common good is to work for the commons and at the same time work for yourself, family and friends. To not work for the common good, is to continue the long, slow, or perhaps not so slow, disintegration that leads to destruction of the earth, water, air, community, people, and leads to a world violent and unsafe.

It is hopeful and reassuring to see positive events pointing toward this new way of seeing, understanding and doing – living and working for the protection and sustainability of our common home and the common good. They are one and the same. Here’s to another hopeful New Year.




Holiday Thoughts on the Paris Climate Change Agreement: A Christmas Gift of Hope and Reality

By Jim Olson, President

FLOW (For Love of Water)


We can be thankful that nations of the world have opened the door to the foyer to address climate change. Most encouraging is the senses of cooperation to protect this home we call earth.

The other end of the promise and hope of the Paris accord is the reality that the thick tail of climate change has been rampaging and will continue to do so, erasing soil, melting glaciers, flooding and erasing people, landscapes and communities from the face of the earth.

Keith Schneider, NY Times journalist and senior editor at Circle of Blue, once again, in his true to form visionary hard-core journalism, lays bare this reality in his article in the New York Times. The whipsawing swing of climate has, is, and will strike hard. In the midst of humanity’s hope, so the message is clear: We must face reality, start the change, start finding and living the new renewable life, move toward inevitable near fossil-fuel free economies and lives, and we must do so as fast as possible to shift to the inevitable renewable energy economy.

Many places and people need this, we owe it to them as co-citizens.  We owe it to ourselves and our children, and the unborn children to come.  Earth is our common home — as Pope Francis puts it in his encyclical on climate and sustainable environment and communities. And, in the middle of this change, there is another shift, one that is based in ancient and modern principles — the commons of this world — air, water, soil, species, life itself, and the liberty of humans, depend on understanding and respecting this commons.  To do this, we must view and manage these as held in trust, a public trust, one that brings us to an ethical and legally implemented framework that manages and passes on these commons by maintaining or restoring a sustainable integrity of air, water, soil, species, including we sapiens, for centuries to come.

If we can shift to seeing our individual goals, dreams, needs as dependent on and fostered by the commons, we can solve these threats with incredible resilience, creativity, cooperation and entrepreneurship. But we must start this shift in paradigm to a comprehensive, unifying principle of commons and public trust now – in 2016– to guide our decisions, force the right decisions that if not made trespass on and impair the commons in violation of this trust, so that we truly solve these threats at the level of the problem. If we do this, the gift this Christmas may be the protection of liberty and dignity and survival that depend on this, a gift of reality that encourages us to change along the lines of both the hope and reality of climate change and our future.

Dark Snow is “Not Cool” – Peter Sinclair on Climate Change and Showstoppers

Peter Sinclair is tall and brawny, and while the climate change communications expert looks like he could scale a mountain or scramble a glacier (and soon he will), he doesn’t look like a baseball player on steroids. What looks like a baseball player on steroids, he says, is climate change. While a baseball player on steroids may have an overall improved performance, like more home runs, it’s not possible to connect the steroids to any single home run.   Climate change and global warming is the same way, says Sinclair, climate change causes cumulative losses, sometimes devastating to earth and humanity.  The overall trend is that climate change contributes to weather extremes, and it is happening at a more frequent pace. But just like the ball player, it’s not practical to attribute climate change to any one specific weather event or another. Today’s cool rains, for instance, cannot disprove global warming. All you have to do is ask an insurance company’s actuary or risk analysis department. The extreme events and frequencies are rising fast.

Sinclair, a native of Midland with a family background in environment and energy activism, visited Traverse City Monday to give a presentation on global climate change issues. At lunch with Sinclair and water attorney-cum-nonprofit-policy-advisor Jim Olson, the conversation kept returning to the notion that the media and grassroots communications need to step up and drive home the reality that climate change is here, global warming is now and it is serious.

Our climate baseball player has been dosing for some time, and even if we successfully cut carbon emissions, we’ll still be dealing with the repercussions of the past, and the consequences are dire. Like addiction, the consequences of actions can take decades to subside. The actions of our past have created climate conditions contributing to significant issues, like warming average lake temperatures, making our Great Lakes more invasive species-friendly, and more apt to bloom with toxic algae. We might not see the greenhouse gasses of yesteryear, or of today, but the rippling impacts manifest in our everyday struggles. Sinclair and Olson are both acutely aware of is the invisibility of their respective fields, and the importance of bringing issues like climate change and the hydrological cycle out of hiding and into focus. FLOW’s work connects the dots between serious systemic threats like climate change to the impacts on water and the hydrologic cycle and our daily lives, and helps us understand the commons through which we must holistically address these threats.

Sinclair’s video series aim to make those kinds of connections, and his “Climate Change Crock of the Week” YouTube segments became so popular with politicians, journalists, and scientists, that now Sinclair contracts with Yale Climate Connections on a new series, “This is Not Cool.” Sinclair’s foray into the climate change video world was kick-started into gear after he was among the first to train with Al Gore in Nashville about seven years ago, an effort that has expanded globally into what is now the Climate Reality Leader Corps. The difference is Sinclair’s knack for irony, smart editing, and droll scripts that debunk the climate denial myths and translating without trivializing the science and scientists that prove climate change is indisputable.

Presently Sinclair is working with the “Dark Snow” project, a mission to Greenland led by expert climate scientists and a pro media and communications team. For two weeks, the team will weather intense sun, extreme cold, and a constant, slippery battle to get their data. Describing his experience from last year’s Greenland excursion, Sinclair says “it’s like climbing the Sleeping Bear Dunes for four hours before you can even get your first measurement… and it’s ice.”

Despite the challenges of battling the elements, they will help show the climate scientists in action and are trying to raise funds to set up a live stream from their encampment. All the ice core and surface water samples will be analyzed to measure the on-the-ground effects of climate change on Greenland’s ice sheet. The team is specifically investigating how and why dark snow is accelerating the ice melt there. Why? With causes of climate change running amok under a cloak of invisibility, it’s important to be able to identify tangible “showstopper” issues, says Sinclair. By finding out the cause of dark snow, scientists can identify a “limiting factor” that can be prevented or mitigated in a meaningful way. Rather than trying to stop the whole juggernaut of climate change, finding a lynchpin to stop the wheels of climate change from turning is just as important for avoiding critical catastrophes, like hyper-accelerated ice melt in Greenland.

At FLOW, Olson is working on gaining traction for identifying the “limiting factor” of phosphorus loading that is feeding the growing harmful algal bloom problem in the Great Lakes. Of course, climate change effects on the Lakes accelerate and increase the magnitude of the algal bloom problem. Which is why solutions for preventing further global warming is critical, too. Identifying the “showstoppers” is a critical mission for the Dark Snow project and for FLOW’s work in the Great Lakes, but these projects aren’t happening in a vacuum. Both Sinclair and Olson are studying and working on the “nexus” intersection of water, energy, agriculture, and climate change issues. Of these, issues like carbon tax regimes and price parity of renewable energy are increasingly relevant to Great Lakes water levels and Greenland’s ice sheet albedo.

As Sinclair points out, “we still have a choice” in our future, and we should choose climate change solutions like greening our energy supply and optimizing energy demand efficiency. Making small choices on a collective scale isn’t as difficult as moving – or in Sinclair’s case, climbing – mountains, and with leaders like Sinclair and Olson, solving essential, trim tab issues like dark snow and algal blooms can deliver a real home run for our shared environment and our future.

Video: Jim Olson, Maude Barlow on Public Trust and the Commons at the Rochester, NY Sierra Club 15th Annual Forum

Click here to view the full video

FLOW President and Chair Jim Olson joins international water advocate Maude Barlow at the Rochester, NY Sierra Club’s 15th Annual Environmental Forum on March 25, 2013. To watch the video in full, click here.

The Water-Energy Nexus: FLOW at the MI Governor’s Energy Policy Listening Session

As part of Earth Day today, I had the opportunity to submit FLOW’s memorandum to the Michigan Public Service Commission at the Governor’s “listening session” on future energy policy in Michigan. At FLOW we believe that by looking at the entire hydrological cycle as a basis for addressing systemic threats like climate change–the single largest human induced diversion from the Great Lakes–water and energy policy and actions are inseparable. More importantly, if energy policy is elevated to an obligation to protect the integrity of water, something the commons and public trust in water may well require, then our energy policy can better promote jobs and economic stability and growth and protect water and the environment. FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood also spoke at the forum to address the need to connect water to climate change, energy, and wasteful or inefficient and inequitable water consumption practices related to energy and food production, and other consumptive uses. You can read FLOW’s memorandum on the Energy and Water Nexus, along with the rest of our reports, on our policy center page. The text of our comments are below:

Click here to read FLOW President Jim Olson’s comments as a PDF
Click here to read FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood’s comments as a PDF

Statement by James M. Olson, Chair, FLOW
A Water and Energy “Nexus” Policy For Michigan

The “energy listening” sessions ordered by Governor Snyder to help Michigan fashion an energy policy are welcomed. However, at a time of a climate change crisis fired by coal and other greenhouse gases with severe and worsening impacts and costs, including increasing extreme low water levels, there is a disconnect between energy and Michigan’s most valuable common treasure – water and the great lakes. No energy policy in Michigan should omit the protection of the integrity of our water – both quality and quantity- as one of if not its central core principles.

There is a rapidly increasing demand for water world wide and strong probability that global demand will outstrip supply in just 30 years. If anything drives the point home for a 21st century policy that centers on a “nexus” between water and energy, it is the staggering cost to life, property and communities from storms like those experienced in the northeastern United States this past year. Add to this the lowest water reported water levels in the Great Lakes, and devastating future climate change entails for all of us and our children in this century, and it becomes quite evident that water and energy are inseparable. It is imperative that water is declared the core of our energy policy. If we honor and respect the integrity of water and our Great Lakes, we will find and follow a sound energy policy.

Because of the need to address water and energy together (as a “nexus),” Michigan must move forward with a multi-disciplined framework that requires application of “integrated resource planning” principles for evaluating energy policy and options. The same should be true for water policy. This would require a goal and planning effort that seeks the least costly energy services and goods with a full evaluation of all costs to water, the ecosystem, and our communities. Without “full cost” and integrated resource planning, Michigan’s energy policy and use will lead the state into an impoverishing downward spiral — economically, environmentally, and culturally. “Pure Michigan” and a sound sustainable economy and jobs mean pure air and pure water both in quality and quantity.

Therefore, it is my opinion, and I urge the governor, his advisors and staff, and the legislature to consider and adopt an energy policy that conforms to the integrity of water, the gravity of climate change, and a dynamic open mindedness that applies full cost evaluation and integrated resource policy. If we fail to do this, Michigan will fall into decline while other parts of North America and the world begin to prosper.

Three points:

  1. Michigan sits in the middle of the most valuable water/ecosystem in the world. It is held in public trust so that it is protected from impairment and loss. The Great Lakes Compact and Water Quality Agreement of 2012 underscore this principle and enact a policy that these waters are held in trust and should not be diverted or loss by consumptive uses, and this requires a response to keep greenhouse gases in check.
  2. In one week, thermal electric power plants use (a net loss to great lakes) as much water as the Chicago Diversion. Energy costs are rising, water levels are falling, water is more essential than coal-fired or other fossil fueled power, including the extraction of equally water intensive fuels like fracturing deep shale for natural gas – deep shale fracturing will displace or remove approximately 21 million gallons in 21 days for just one gas well. Multiply this times the 1,000 wells we will see if this is not carefully considered and regulated, and it will result in a permanent loss of 21 billion gallons of water from fragile headwater areas.
  3. The only sound and secure goal for Michigan is to move quickly toward a renewable and efficient energy world. This will diversify, increase, and lower cost of energy supplies, reduce costly infrastructure, reduce toxic air and water impacts, and temper the effects of climate change, including our plummeting water levels. Equally important, it will set Michigan on a course to lead the nation and help the next generation create positive profitable investments, cheaper more appropriate power, new industries and jobs – batteries, solar, wind, and conservation. Michigan must enact a “greenhouse trust fund” for any so-called “bridge fuels” like natural gas so that the justification of such a water-intensive environmentally risky method of extraction will be assured by a conversion to a renewable energy economy.

Michigan and Michiganders are nothing without water. Any approach to energy without integrity of water as its core principle and without an immediate shift to renewable energy and efficiency will put Michigan in an economic and environmentally disastrous downward spiral. We owe to ourselves and children and grand children to put water and Community first. It is a matter of water and public trust. It is a matter of survival.

FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood’s Comments on the Water-Energy Nexus

My name is Liz Kirkwood and I’m the Executive Director of FLOW (“For Love Of Water”), which is a water policy and educational institute dedicated to understanding the threats and solutions to water in the Great Lakes by focusing on the nexus between water, energy, food, and climate change.

I want to thank Michigan Public Service Commission Chairman John D. Quackenbush and Michigan Energy Office Director Steve Bakkal for the opportunity to speech and address overall question 1: What information do energy policy makers need to consider in order to make good energy decisions?

Michigan faces a watershed moment and opportunity to chart a new cleaner energy course that is good for jobs, good for the environment, good for energy affordability, and good for the water.

To chart this new course, we first must recognize that our energy choices profoundly affect our water and cause serious climate change impacts.

Water and energy are inextricably linked. Water is used and lost in energy-resource extraction, refining and processing, transportation, and electric-power generation. And yet, because water is such a cheap commodity, it is rarely calculated and balanced in our energy decisions. Let’s change this so that the water-energy nexus become an integral part of charting Michigan’s energy future plans.

By 2035, the amount of water consumed for current energy production is projected to double. During this same time, there will be increasing water scarcity from pollution, waste, drought and human-induced climate change and impacts.

Given the clear interrelationship between energy, food, and water, we can no longer “silo” these sectors; rather we must improve decision-making with greater integration and collaboration between water resource management and energy production.

This calls for a new vision that recognizes the nexus between water, energy, food, and climate change. To make this shift, we must view water in a different light where water becomes the starting point for everything we do. Without water the health of our people, economy and ecosystem are diminished.

The recent U.S. natural gas industry shale boom has reignited attention on the water-energy-climate change nexus. The big issue with hydraulic fracking is the water, both in terms of sheer quantity (e.g., 300 million gallons to frack 13 wells in Kalkaska County) and safe disposal of chemical-laden and often toxic waste water that will never return to our hydrologic cycle. Before Michigan embraces natural gas as a “bridge” fuel, we must conduct a generic analysis of cumulative impacts on water, environment, and health that properly weighs the unprecedented risks that fracking poses to our precious water resources.

Additionally, Michigan’s coal-fired power plants are the state’s largest single source of heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions, which are detrimentally contributing to climate change by increasing lake evaporation and causing our extreme low water levels in Lake Michigan-Huron.

In fact, we hit record low water levels in January of this year – 26 inches below average – according to data collected by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers since 1918. The water levels issue is at the heart of the Great Lakes’ and Michigan’s economy, energy and water needs, social fabric, quality of life, and environment. In March of this year, our Governor signed legislation providing $21 million in taxpayer emergency funds to dredge state harbors that are in danger of becoming impassable because of low water levels.

We cannot sit idle anymore; rather we must adapt our current fossil-fuel economy to one with low-carbon and low-water footprint. Water in effect must become the center of everything we do, such that shifting to renewables becomes the obvious energy choice and addresses the root causes of receding water levels so that we do not jeopardize our current and future way of life.

Michigan is already witnessing renewable energy sources like wind becoming more cost effective and affordable to our businesses and citizens than polluting traditional sources like coal and oil. Wind is at 4.5 cents/KWH as opposed to traditional blended energy sources at 7.6 cents/KWH. The benefits of renewable energy are clear: affordable, clean, stable rates, Michigan job generator, minimal water use, and protective of human health and the environment.

In addition, Michigan should promote energy efficiency and energy conservation in all sectors because it is the cheapest, cleanest, and most quickly deployed source of energy.

To chart this new course, Michigan must embrace its innovative manufacturing traditions and promote renewable energy sources to reduce pressure on water resources and limit adverse climate change impacts. We think Michigan can and should become a leader in renewable energy, and at a minimum compete with the neighboring states that currently generate 20%+ of renewable power with excellent reliability.

We urge the State of Michigan to think wisely about its future energy choices, pay for water consumed, and ensure that the long-term energy decisions are good for our water too. Once we chart this path, then we can proudly say we are living up to our motto: “Pure Michigan.”

Welcome to the New FLOW site

Welcome to FLOW – Flow for Love of Water. Beginning today, with the launch and christening of our new website, I will host and write a new species for the “blog” world. In the conversation to come, I hope we will all get to the heart of the beauty, threats, and solutions that just might save the precious Great Lakes and their tributary waters — the entire hydrologic cycle  — these gifts of nature and God, the Great Spirit.  Fortuitously, previous generations have not yet killed these Great Lakes off.  And its up to us and our  children to make sure this doesn’t happen.

The threats facing the Great Lakes and its tributary waters, communities, businesses, governments loom large. The difference of the threats today compared to 40, 30 or even 20 years ago is that they are systemic, large, beyond borders and watershed. All of the permit and regulatory systems, government investments in preservation and restoration, and conservation protection from that first Earth Day in 1970 to date, are being overwhelmed by harms documented by science that undermine this incredible effort and investment. Climate change, with its increased intensity and shifting patterns is attributable to human conduct and behavior, has undeniably contributed to the lowest recorded water levels in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron – a single system. Read our recent op-ed about Climate Change and Water Levels

Climate change is a diversion of water as much as any other, and the impacts to environment and economy are devastating, and will get much worse if we can not chart a new course for food, energy, and human use, transfers, diversions, waste of water. We’re finding out very fast that there is no “surplus” or “abundance” of water, not here or anywhere else. As a wise Michigan Supreme Court Justice once said in the late 1800s, “water is a wandering thing, of necessity a commons.” In other words, water has meaning in the watershed where it flows and supports the community, life, and endeavors that have evolved there.

Last week I had coffee with friend and Editor of Traverse Magazine, Jeff Smith, who out of his keen instinct and concern about the Great Lakes told me about the disappearance of the tiny shrimp diporeia that makes up a key link to the food chain and healthy fish populations in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Fish populations are already plummeting from invasive species, even without the Asian Carp, to the point where whitefish, trout and salmon are scrawny scales and bones.

There are lots of other systemic threats – nutrient run off, sewage overflows, nuclear waste shipments more toxic than the lakes could ever absorb, a disconnect between energy consumption and policy, including the fracking craze which to date is moving faster than the information needed to assure local watersheds and communities are not sacrificed, or that global climate change with even more evaporation may be exacerbated if not handled correctly.

So this brings me back to FLOW, why this webpage, and why this first page invites you to interact with us to explore and understand these many threats, and how to adapt, become resilient through foresight, and find solutions. Since that Saturday in May 2011, when a conference on “Threats and Solutions” for the Great Lakes was winding down on Northwestern Michigan College’s Traverse City campus, a new idea, one that would force us to look at threats to the planet and humanity, like those facing the Great Lakes, emerged: We need a new paradigm or framework that goes beyond, but compliments, protects like an umbrella the time and investment to protect our quality of life and better assure prosperity for all living creatures.

What we have discovered at FLOW is this: The systemic threats to the Great Lakes present a rare, although unprecedented, challenge to all of us. If we can understand these threats as a whole, that is holistically, through science, data, values, and new frameworks, we may find a unifying principle that integrates the science, policy, law and economics into a comprehensive way of thinking and making decisions that will assure solutions, adaptation, and resilience that protect and pass on the integrity of these Great Lakes and their people from one generation to the next, thereby also assuring our quality of life and prosperity and communities.

And what we have identified is this: The Great Lakes are part of a larger water cycle that is inseparable from the air, soil, and surface or groundwater by or through which it flows. The Great Lakes have been declared and protected by a public trust since 1892 when the U.S. Supreme Court declared these inland sees public, held by states in trust for citizens in perpetuity, so they cannot be alienated, abused, or materially impaired from one generation to the next. All eight Great Lakes and Canadian provinces recognize this right of public use for boating, swimming, fishing, recreation, commerce, and survival. So if we understand, learn about, and apply this public trust as a fundamental umbrella principle, no matter what specific choices and decisions are made for this or that special benefit or at this risk or that cost, are made, the framework of water as public, a commons, and public trust principles will give us a way to make decisions that point toward a generational integrity and protection of that which is part of and dear to us all.

Just this afternoon at the office we were half-joking about the new 3-D printer technology, where something can be manufactured or made from a printer, like the coffee cup in my hand. And it occurred to us, some things that just can’t be duplicated – not the diporeia shrimp or the larger commons that we know as the Great Lakes, smack in the heart of North America.

In the years ahead, we hope to be a small part of a new framework, way of seeing and solving the threats and problems we face, one that is based on time-tested principles like those in the bod of law known as “public trust.” We welcome your participation and hope you join us in whatever way you can.

Finally, I want to end this first post with a number of acknowledgements, too many to list  here, but we thank everyone of you who has supported and worked to bring FLOW to this threshold. Thank ou to our fine Board of Directors, some of our chief fans and advisors, Maude Barlow, Wenonah Hauter, Irena Salina and Steve Star – director and producer of the film “FLOW,” Sam Bosso of the film “Blue Gold,” Ted Curran, Denis Pierce, Mike Delp, Dave Dempsey, Carl Ganter, Keith Schneider, Hans Voss, Brian Beauchamp, Amy Kinney, Judy Cunningham and all of you at the Michigan Land Use Institute, Terry Swier and everyone at the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, the lawyers and staff at Olson, Bzdok & Howard, Bob Otwell, Herrington-Fitch Foundation, Park Foundation, Skip Pruss, Rich Vanderveen, Ross Biederman, Judy Bosma, Linda Sommerville (and so many other event volunteers), and my brother Eric Olson, our organizational and media leader who has wrestled this webpage into existence, Executive Director Liz Kirkwood, and Ursula Johnson, our past communications head, and now Allison Voglesong, a media and communications whiz who comes to us from Circle of Blue, and our web designer Pro Web Marketing, and Chelsea Bay Dennis and Aaron Dennis.

April 23 – Film: Chasing Ice and program to honor FLOW President Jim Olson

The Benzie Democrats are hosting this event to honor FLOW President Jim Olson and screen the film Chasing Ice, the story of one man’s mission to change the tide of history by gathering undeniable evidence of climate change.

Click here for event flyer
Click here for event information
Date: April 23
Time: 6 pm – 9 pm
Location: The Garden Theater in Frankfort (map)
Tickets: A $10 minimum donation is requested at the door

April 21 – Movie Premier: Do The Math – an “Earth Night” event sponsored by NMEAC, Climate Citizens Lobby, and FLOW

“Do the Math”, a documentary film focusing on the growing climate movement, will premiere in Traverse City and around the world on Sunday evening, April 21 at 7 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Grand Traverse at 6726 Center Road in Traverse City.

The film will be followed by a discussion on local efforts to address climate change.

The movie premiere is part of “Earth Night,” a 350.org organized evening of film and discussion held on the evening of Earth Day, in locations around the globe. To see the trailer, go to: 350.org/math. The Traverse City “Earth Night” events are sponsored by Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council, Citizens Climate Lobby, and FLOW (For Love of Water).

For more info. contact Mary Van Valin at 231-421-5243 or mgvv77@yahoo.com.