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Great Lakes Article:

Great Lakes deserve a break from pollution
By David Suzuki
Environmental News Network

I spent my youth in southern Ontario, where Lake Erie, the Thames River, and a huge swamp were my enchanted places for fishing, watching birds, and catching frogs. Those experiences helped shape who I am, which is why a recent report on climate change in the region is so distressing.

The report, prepared by the U.S.-based Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and my foundation, examines what will happen to the Great Lakes region if serious action is not taken and heat-trapping gases from burning fossil fuels continue to build up in the atmosphere, worsening global warming.

Already, on my trips to Toronto in the summer, I cannot get over the smog that blankets the city. According to the two-year UCS study, this smog is expected to intensify throughout the Great Lakes' many urban areas, where 80 percent of Ontarians live.

Warmer temperatures enhance the creation of smog, which exacerbates respiratory illnesses, like asthma and may even cause them. In Ontario alone, the health costs associated with this pollution exceed $1 billion each year.

Water levels in Ontario's many lakes are also expected to drop, and soil moisture in the region could decrease by as much as 30 percent this century. These changes would cause small streams to dry up and damage water quality.

They would also forever alter the region's wildlife and habitat. According to the report, trout populations could plummet, while the range of destructive alien species, such as carp and zebra mussels, would likely expand.

In other parts of the world, the effects of global warming will be much more deadly. A recent study by the Adaptation and Impacts Research Group with the University of Toronto has found that flooding in Bangladesh is expected to increase by up to 40 percent this century as global temperatures rise. Up to one-fifth of Bangladesh is already flooded each year, and climate change will make the problem much worse because sea levels are expected to rise and monsoons to become more intense.

In Ontario or Bangladesh, the cause of global warming is the same: excessive consumption of fossil fuels. Canada is a key culprit in this regard. We are one of the world's largest per-capita consumers of energy. The fact that we are a Northern country is no excuse, as many European nations with similar climates are far more energy efficient and generate much more of their electrical power through renewable resources like wind.

Ignoring or trying to merely adapt to global warming will only make it worse. Consider this: As temperatures rise, air conditioners will work harder and more often. This will require more electricity, which means more fossil fuels will be burned, adding to the burdens of air pollution and global warming. It's a vicious cycle.

That's why reducing the amount of fossil fuels we burn is so important. It's the most direct way to reduce air pollution and the build-up of heat-trapping gasses in our atmosphere.

We have the technical ability to make these reductions now. By making us more efficient and reducing the health problems associated with air pollution, such reductions will even save money. The City of Toronto, for example, has greatly reduced its greenhouse gas emissions from municipal operations and saved taxpayers' money in the process.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak in several southern Ontario cities, including my hometown of Leamington. Everywhere I went, people expressed grave concerns about the future of southern Ontario's environment. They want their children to have the same quality of life and the same opportunities that they had. We may still be able to give them those opportunities if we start taking action now.

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