Howard A. Learner

Earth Day 2019: The Time for Climate Solution Actions Is Now!

Earth Day 1970 sounded an alarm that launched the modern environmental movement. We’ve made tremendous progress for healthier air, safer water, and less toxic pollution in our communities

You can drive through Northwest Indiana with the windows rolled down without choking on so much smog, and the Great Lakes are mostly cleaner as industrial sewage and toxics are not being directly dumped into our lakes. But we still have a long way to go, and climate change issues today are worse, not better.

Climate change is the moral, economic, policy, political and technological challenge of our generation. The Midwest accounts for almost 25% of the nation’s CO2 pollution.  This greenhouse gas pollution is generated primarily by the heavy concentration of old, highly polluting coal plants, and the Midwest’s centrality to our nation’s transportation system. The Midwest is at the center of our nation’s greenhouse gas pollution problems, and we should be a fulcrum for solutions that make good economic and environmental sense.

Here’s how ELPC is stepping up to accelerate climate change solutions in the Midwest:

Engaging People with Messages that Work and Resonate with More Diverse Folks: ELPC has commissioned focus group research data this spring to better understand how swing voters talk and think about these issues. There’s overwhelming bipartisan and nonpartisan public support for Great Lakes protection and restoration. Research like this will help improve ELPC’s and our partners’ work to engage broader audiences and more diverse constituents to support climate change solutions.  Framing climate solutions and messages in the context of Great Lakes problems and solutions engages more people.

Using Scientists as Messengers:  As we all know, sometimes the messenger is as important as the message.  We’ve learned that Midwestern university scientists – more so than scientists from the coasts – are very trusted messengers.  ELPC’s Science Advisory Council and other scientist allies are especially trusted messengers.

We do the work to understand Climate Change in the Great Lakes-from Science to Solutions: Climate change threatens the Great Lakes where we live, work, and play. This year, ELPC commissioned 18 leading scientists from Midwestern and Canadian universities and research institutions to assess the impacts of climate change in the Great Lakes region. Their state-of-the-science report, An Assessment of the Impacts of Climate Changes on the Great Lakes, provides a comprehensive picture of the ways that climate change is harming not only the Great Lakes themselves but also public health, infrastructure, fisheries, wildlife, and our regional economy. The problems are substantial, distressing, and compelling, and there are some positive solutions and actions to take here. Download the full Great Lakes Climate Change report.

ELPC Is A Problem-Solver –Strategic Advocacy to Advance Policy Solutions: ELPC identifies solutions whenever we point to problems. That’s how we work, and that’s why ELPC is effective. That’s why ELPC legal and policy experts developed the accompanying Climate Change Impacts on the Great Lakes – Policy Solutions as an actionable roadmap for Midwest Governors, Canadian Premiers and the Great Lakes Congressional delegation to step up to counter the effects of climate change and protect our lakes. ELPC received tremendous policymaker interest and media attention and coverage. We convened 75 leading federal and state policymakers (including U.S. Representatives Bill Foster and Mike Quigley) with leading Great Lakes university scientists and researchers for the ELPC Great Lakes Science/Policy Confluence Conference on March 28-29, 2019 in Chicago. Many communities are already stepping up with innovative approaches to climate action as we face a collective challenge unlike any other. We look forward to continuing to work with leaders from across the Great Lakes region to advance smart solutions for climate actions. Download our Policy Solutions. 

The threats from climate change to the Great Lakes are serious and severe so it is all the more important for Great Lakes states to lead in reducing pollution. The time to act on climate change is now.

Solutions that mitigate climate change often achieve environmental and public health benefits:

  • Advancing renewable solar energy, battery storage, and wind power development creates jobs and spurs economic growth while avoiding carbon pollution.
  • Improving energy efficiency saves residential and business consumers money on their utility bills while creating new jobs in installation and retrofitting. It also keeps energy dollars in the Great Lakes region instead of sending those energy dollars to places where coal, natural gas, and uranium are extracted and mined.
  • Investing in clean electric vehicles, modern higher-speed rail, and better transit avoids carbon pollution while increasing mobility options, reducing air pollution, and creating transportation industry jobs of the future.
  • Achieving the airline industry’s goal of reducing its carbon emissions by 50% by 2050 will reduce air particulates and other pollutants that harm public health and the environment.

Solutions that recognize and adapt for climate change also reduce stress on the Great Lakes ecosystem:

  • Reducing agricultural runoff of phosphorus pollution from manure and excess fertilizer will, in turn, reduce harmful algae blooms that are exacerbated by climate change. That threatens safe drinking water, fisheries and outdoor recreation in western Lake Erie, Green Bay and other shallow bays.
  • Building green infrastructure, such as wetlands restoration and permeable pavement, helps to protect shorelines and clean water, as well as marinas, docks and shoreline neighborhoods from flooding.
  • Developing a more decentralized electricity system will make our communities more resilient in the face of potential natural disasters or extreme weather. High-voltage transmission lines and tall towers are vulnerable to ice, snow, and high winds during storms, and scientists predict extreme cold and heat waves to be exacerbated by climate change. Failures of large, central generating plants can cause outages for millions while more distributed renewable energy generation are less vulnerable and enable communities to respond nimbly to energy needs.
  • Restoring the proposed $475 million of annual federal funding for the successful Great Lakes Restoration Initiative will strengthen protection of fisheries, shorelines and wetlands, while helping to reduce nutrient pollution exacerbated by climate change.

This Earth Day, we need more advocates than ever fighting for our environment and to solve climate change problems.

Howard A. Learner,

Chief Executive Officer & Executive Director

Howard Learner is an experienced attorney serving as the President and Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. He is responsible for ELPC’s overall strategic leadership, policy direction, and financial platform.

MORE FROM Howard A. Learner