From the Headlines

September 18, 2020

michigan sunset appearing red in forrest trees

Climate apocalypse vs. ‘stunning Michigan sunsets’: On Sunday the Los Angeles Times ran the headline “California’s Climate Apocalypse” to describe the millions of acres burned by wildfires all along the West Coast, which made the air in Portland, Oregon the worst on the planet. Meanwhile, the Detroit Free Press ran a short piece that failed to mention any of the human costs of the fires, seeming to engage in either schadenfreude or simple provincial obliviousness by remarking that smoke from previous fires had “made for some stunning Michigan sunsets”. Bridge handled the topic with more seriousness, addressing concerns over Michigan’s air quality–which seems to be unaffected by the smoke so far, although it did produce several days of hazy skies– and the potential for large fires and other impacts from climate change like flooding. The takeaway here is that Michigan may not experience the same sort of megafires as western states, but climate change is affecting us as well. (Oregon Live, Detroit Free Press, Bridge Michigan)

Migration nation: One way that it might impact Michigan is through climate migration with people leaving or being pushed out of the fire-ravaged areas of the West Coast and hurricane-wracked shores of the Southeast. However, the New York Times suggests it’s likely that poor and minority communities will have fewer resources available for relocation and may be left in places with higher climate vulnerability and declining public infrastructure. Where might those with the resources to do so move? The article mentions Michigan, Minnesota and Vermont. (ProPublica, New York Times

Lights on: Avalon Village–a neighborhood revitalization project in Highland Park–is moving forward with plans to install solar-powered street lights that will also enable a free public mesh Wi-Fi network. This comes roughly nine years after DTE Energy removed the city’s streetlights over $4 million in unpaid debts. Avalon Village is working with the renewable energy group Soulardarity and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), launching a crowdfunding campaign to raise $37,500 for the project. If the campaign is successful, MEDC will match this amount. (Model D)

A new mystery in Flint: Undark reports that new studies of biosolids or sewage sludge show that lead levels in Flint’s water spiked in 2011 when the city was still using Detroit water. This was years before the switch to Flint River water. And this spike seems to have been much more significant than the water crisis of 2014. It’s unclear what caused this spike, although it does correlate with a previously unexplained increase in children’s blood lead-levels during the same period. However, the article says that replacing lead service lines and other improvements to Flint’s water system will “ultimately reduce lead levels by between 72 percent and 84 percent of the pre-crisis levels.” (Undark)

Flint settlement: In other Flint news, opposition seems to be growing to the $600 million settlement for residents affected by the water crisis. Although this is the largest settlement in state history, it’s being shared by roughly 100,000 citizens. A summary of the proposed deal says that money will be set aside for children, with larger amounts for those that can show evidence of injury like elevated blood or bone lead levels. Some feel more needs to be set aside for adults who suffered from ailments like rashes and hair loss as a result of lead-tainted water, regardless of their ability to document such injuries. A legal expert says it’s likely that attorneys will get around $200 million of the settlement money. (MLive)

2020 won’t stop: Michigan may have its first human case of the mosquito-borne Eastern Equine Encephalitis or EEE in Barry County, north of Battle Creek. Lab tests to confirm this are underway, but so far 22 horses in ten counties have tested positive for EEE, which is fatal to humans in 33% of cases and can leave survivors with permanent disabilities. Last year Michigan had 10 EEE cases, about 25% of the national total. Health officials recommend wearing long sleeves and using insect repellent while outdoors. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development will be doing aerial spraying in Barry, Clare, Ionia, Isabella, Jackson, Kent, Mecosta, Montcalm, Newaygo and Oakland counties with the pyrethrin-based Merus 3.0 pesticide.Most people infected with the virus that causes EEE show no symptoms, according to the Oakland County Health Department. (Free Press)

Sacred ground: The historically high water levels on the Great Lakes have eroded shorelines and damaged infrastructure, but Bridge reports that they have also been disturbing indigenous burial grounds. Members of the LIttle Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians in the northwest Lower Peninsula have been collecting the remains of ancestors that have been found along the shore of Lake Michigan. The Odawa traditionally buried their dead near the water, making it likely that these bones belong to the tribe. Tribal officials are working to repatriate these remains and those from other sources, including the once-common practice of robbing graves for ‘Indian relics’. (Bridge)

Take em’ back: Some of us may have had a few more than usual during the COVID-19 lockdown. The state estimates residents stockpiled 800 million recyclable containers while bottle returns were on hold. Following the resumption of returns, both consumers and retailers reported long lines and overtaxed staff. Now, it seems things are normalizing with representatives for the soft drink and recycling industries saying that much of the backlog has been processed. While many residents likely decided to forgo their deposit money and instead put returnables into home recycling bins, more than 150 million containers were returned in the first two weeks recycling was reinstated. (Bridge)
Slow hurricanes: This week’s other major disaster, Hurricane Sally, underwent a period of rapid intensification in the Gulf of Mexico before coming ashore and then moving across Alabama and Florida at two miles per hour. Scientists believe that global heating has weakened atmospheric circulation and reduced hurricane speeds. A 2018 study showed that hurricanes had slowed down by an average of 10% since the mid 20th century. The result is storms like Hurricane Harvey in 2017, which had been downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it hit Houston, but caused massive damage on account of its slow speed and the roughly four feet of rain that it dropped over several days. (NY Times)

Brian Allnutt is a writer living in Detroit. He covers open space, environmental justice, food and gardening.