The Great Lakes Climate Crisis Fact Check
If there’s one thing the experts are certain of, it’s that global warming means the Great Lakes are going down.
1996: “The potential impacts of climate change are significant… The warmer air temperatures and higher rate of evaporation and evapotranspiration increases moisture loss, decreases runoff, and leads to a decline in lake levels.”
2000: “The warming effects of climate change pose more of a threat to the Great Lakes than commercial water exports, says Environment Minister David Anderson… Computerized climate models show lake levels could fall by one metre or more over the next 50 years.”
2007: “Global warming may drop Great Lakes water levels” “Water levels could take a big drop as the Earth gets hotter”
2009: “Big climate change headed Michigan’s way, study says. State could see warmer temps, lower lake levels”
2013: “Great Lakes Michigan and Huron set a new record low water level for the month of December, and in the coming weeks they could experience their lowest water levels ever. It’s becoming certain that, like the rest of the country, the Great Lakes are feeling the effects of climate change.”
2017: “Rising temperatures could lower water levels in the lakes, intensify harmful algal blooms and threaten fish and wildlife.”
Got the picture? Climate change means lower water levels in the Great Lakes. The scientists all agree, and the debate is over.
You know where this is going, don’t you? Of course you do. Water levels in the Great Lakes promptly shot up… and it got blamed on climate change too. As usual the scientists all agree, and the debate is over. Again.
It happens all the time. The term “climate change” gets stretched to mean anything and everything, and no matter what happens, the alarmists claim it’s exactly what their theory predicted. Though they never seem to predict it ahead of time. If the water turned purple, they’d say told you so.
They’d also say it was the end. Because no matter what happens, it’s always bad, even when it’s the opposite of what they predicted, and indeed warned about. As in this case: We were warned that declining water levels in the Great Lakes would be a disaster. Then they went up, and we were told it was a crisis.
So if you live near the Great Lakes, you better get used to constant crisis, because water levels go up and down, sometimes by quite a bit, and always have.
I know. I was there. When I was a kid we spent what felt like 43 hours a day in the blazing sun clearing reeds off the “new beach” near our cottage, and the next year the water levels went up, and we haven’t seen that beach since.
As a matter of fact we know perfectly well that changing water levels in the Great Lakes aren’t new, and they aren’t the result of climate change.
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Water level records for the Great Lakes go back to the 1860s, and are maintained by the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, which is part of the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.
Here are the records from 1860 up to the summer of 2019. The red line shows the average level over the past 100 years.
It’s pretty clear that lake levels go up and down. And also, even though water levels jumped over the past year, we’re still well within the range of historical variability.
In fairness to the scientific community, many Great Lakes experts have been cautious over the years about making predictions. For instance, in this 2012 National Geographic article, they discuss a scientific report that conspicuously did not say climate change would mean rising or falling lake levels.
“’lake levels are likely to continue to fluctuate, but still remain within a relatively narrow historical range – while lower levels are likely, the possibility of higher levels cannot be dismissed.’… ‘Low lake levels are not a new normal,’ one expert said. ‘We expect to see lake levels fluctuate as we have in the past.’”
By and large it’s not scientists, it’s non-scientist alarmists who claim to speak for the scientists, and indignantly shoosh non-scientist sceptics, who keep telling us what the current scientific consensus supposedly is. And indeed in this case it turns out the so-called expert who told CTV news that climate change is the cause of the recent jump in water levels isn’t a climate expert at all.
The CTV interviewed Blair Feltmate, a professor at the University of Waterloo and the head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation. According to his website, prior to joining the University of Waterloo, he was the Vice President of the Bank of Montreal, and prior to that he was Director of Sustainable Development at Ontario Power Generation Corp. He is also a partner in an investment management firm.
He sounds like a smart guy. But he’s not a hydrologist, or a meteorologist, so why is he being presented to the public as an expert on these things? And where’s the warning label about a conflict of interest?
You see, we’ve encountered the Intact Centre before in our video series. In our item on urban flooding, I told you about how the CBC ran a story saying that rainfall events that used to happen once every hundred years now happen once every six years. When Ottawa engineer Robert Muir challenged them on this, they checked with Environment Canada, who told them it was untrue, so the CBC retracted it.
Guess who gave them the wrong information about rainfall events? Blair Feltmate of the Intact Centre at the University of Waterloo.
As a matter of fact you’ll probably hear from Mr Feltmate pretty regularly. He boasts on his website that he appears in the media over a hundred times a year. And do you know why it’s called the Intact Centre? Because it’s funded by Intact Financial Corporation, the largest property insurance company in Canada.
In other words the people who sell flood insurance happen to be the people funding the studies telling you you’re going to need more flood insurance because of climate change. Just as the politicians funding the CBC have a vested interest in telling you you’re going to need more help from those politicians because of climate change.
Now again, to give credit where due, a big part of the Intact Centre’s message is that cities in Canada haven’t done a very good job controlling flood risks. That’s true and we stressed in our video on urban flooding. But the difference between us is, I’m not trying to get your attention by frightening you with phony alarmist claims about increasing rates of extreme weather or rising, falling or fluctuating Great Lakes water levels.
I’m trying to get a discussion going that’s focused on data and solid evidence. And when you do it that way, you quickly find it’s hard to be an alarmist, come low or high water.
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Thanks for watching.
For the Climate Discussion Nexus, I’m John Robson.