Press Release

New Report From Leading Midwest University Scientists Warns of Dangers to Great Lakes and Regional Economy from Climate Change

New Report From Leading Midwest University Scientists Warns of Dangers to Great Lakes and Regional Economy from Climate Change. Report documents impacts on water quality, health, infrastructure, agriculture and tourism.



On the heels of global and national reports documenting the profound effects of climate change, more than a dozen leading scientists and experts from Midwestern U.S. and Canadian universities and research institutions released a comprehensive report highlighting the climate change impacts on the Great Lakes region.

This report provides an updated comprehensive picture and explanations of the ways that climate change is harming the lakes themselves, and what these changes mean for public health, infrastructure, fish and wildlife, and the regional economy.

The ambitious report, the first of its kind, was commissioned pro-bono by the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) in concert with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs (CCGA) to educate policymakers and the public about the significant changes affecting the Great Lakes, and the vital importance of taking actions now to protect our natural resources.

“Climate change is seriously jeopardizing the Great Lakes, where millions of people live, work and play,” said Howard Learner, President and Executive Director of ELPC. “The Trump Administration’s failure to recognize sound science and climate realities is unacceptable and dangerous. We need to act now to advance positive renewable energy development, clean transportation, and agricultural pollution reduction solutions to protect our lakes from severe consequences for public health, land use, and economies in our Great Lakes region.”

Roughly 34 million people rely on the Great Lakes for drinking water, jobs, recreation and more, including 8 percent of the U.S. population and 32 percent of Canada’s.

Don Wuebbles, the Harry E. Preble Professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of Illinois and former Assistant Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy under President Obama, oversaw the study and served as lead author.

“Over the last two centuries, the Great Lakes have been significantly impacted by human activity, and climate change is now adding more challenges and another layer of stress,” said Wuebbles “This report paints a stark picture of changes in store for the lakes as a result of our changing climate.”

The report highlights wide-ranging impacts, from weather changes to water quality, ecology to infrastructure, public health, land value and economic impact on industries as far-reaching as agriculture, tourism, and transportation and shipping.

Among the key findings:

  • Great Lakes states should prepare for the likelihood of more extreme weather events: more flooding early in the year; more heat waves and drought in hotter months; an overall decrease in snowfall and snow cover, but more lake-effect snowstorms of significant magnitude.
  • Drinking water from the lakes will be impacted. Warming trends have already increased bacteria levels in the lakes, and changes to the lakes’ ecosystems will increase the number and severity of algae blooms which leave water unsafe to drink. Both bacteria and algae blooms dramatically increase the costs of water treatment, and can make water unsafe for swimming.
  • Agriculture in the Great Lakes basin will see significant impacts. Changes in seasonal precipitation are already affecting farmers in Midwestern states, with planting delays caused by spring flooding and excessively wet soil. Delayed planting puts crops at greater risk during hotter and drier conditions later in the growing season. This increases the demand for irrigation to mitigate crop losses. Even with increased water management, it is projected that crop yields for both soybean and corn will decrease by 10%-30% by the end of the century.
  • Beaches, dunes and shorelines will be more vulnerable to coastal erosion as a result of changing weather patterns and the increased incidence of severe storm events.

The report provides examples of the human and economic impacts of extreme weather. It states that the 2012 Midwestern heat wave and drought caused more than $30 billion in economic damage, 123 direct deaths, and contributed to considerable long-term health impacts across most of the central and western U.S.

ELPC plans to share the report with state officials and state assemblies across the Great Lakes region, and urge them to adopt new policies to reduce greenhouse gases and other pollutants that damage the Great Lakes and contribute to global warming. Among the changes ELPC is seeking:

  • Advancing renewable solar, storage and wind energy development to create jobs and spur economic growth while avoiding carbon pollution.
  • Improving energy efficiency, which saves residential and business consumers money on their utility bills, creates new installation and retrofit jobs, and keeps energy dollars in the Great Lakes region instead of draining energy dollars to places where more coal, natural gas and uranium are mined.
  • Investing in accelerating clean electric vehicles and modern higher-speed rail and transit to avoid carbon pollution, position the region for the transportation industry jobs of the future, and achieve healthier cleaner air for all.
  • Reducing agricultural runoff of phosphorus pollution from manure and excess fertilizer, to reduce harmful algae blooms that are exacerbated by climate change and threaten drinking water, fisheries and outdoor recreation in western Lake Erie, Green Bay and other shallow bays.
  • Restoring the full proposed $475 million of annual federal funding for the successful Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which will help enable protection of fisheries, shorelines and wetlands, and reduction of nutrient pollution that causes harmful algae blooms, as well clean up toxic sediments and help avoid invasive species such as Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes.

“Without urgent action, climate change will have profound consequences for our communities, economy, and way of life in the Great Lakes region” said Michael Tiboris, Global Water Fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “But adopting clean energy policies and protecting water quality can mitigate these impacts, while creating new jobs and other benefits for state economies.”

Scientists and experts who contributed to the report include:

  • Donald Wuebbles, University of Illinois
  • Bradley Cardinale, University of Michigan
  • Keith Cherkauer, Purdue University
  • Robin Davidson-Arnott, University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada
  • Jessica Hellmann, University of Minnesota
  • Dana Infante, Michigan State University
  • Lucinda Johnson, University of Minnesota, Duluth
  • Rob de Loë, University of Waterloo, Ontario Canada
  • Brent Lofgren, NOAA GLERL
  • Aaron Packman, Northwestern University
  • Frank Seglenieks, Environment and Climate Change Canada
  • Ashish Sharma, University of Notre Dameand University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Brent Sohngen, The Ohio State University
  • Michael Tiboris, Chicago Council on Global Affairs
  • Dan Vimont, University of Wisconsin, Madison
  • Robyn Wilson, The Ohio State University
  • Ken Kunkel, North Carolina State University and NOAA CICS-NC
  • Andrew Ballinger, North Carolina State University and NOAA CICS-NC

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