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Climate column: Meet Katya

From Katya Gordon

Two Harbors

I write this column seeking to do the legwork and gather information for one of the biggest problems of our time — climate change — and aid all readers who would like to know more about it, such as how it is affecting them and what they can do about it.

Three questions surely pop up for any astute reader. Firstly, what information do you have and where do you get it? Secondly, who are you to be my informant? And lastly, why should I care? 

So, like a good soccer player who streaks ahead with the ball before giving the opponent a chance to steal it, I’ll pre-empt those questions today.

There is a lot of information on the internet on everything, including climate change — too much for the average busy person to disseminate. Online research can be shoddy, but unquestionably, good research and reliable media sources are also available online. The process of finding reliable websites and making sense of it all is the process I am streamlining for readers.

As for the second question, I come not as an authority but as a neighbor. My family and I have been content residents of Two Harbors for seven years now. A firm believer in the democratic process, I know that our democracy depends on an educated and informed public. History has repeatedly shown that once we citizens understand the realities, eventually we will take the long view and do the right thing. History also shows that an uninformed or uninterested public can make very poor decisions. My hope is that on this issue, North Shore citizens will be informed about climate change through good information that I can find and share.

As for why you should care, that is a seemingly reasonable question to ask in a place where “global warming” conjures up images of actually swimming in our beautiful lake, or seeing tomatoes ripen before early fall. Indeed, why aren’t we pleased that global warming may ease some of our extremely cold winters?

There are so many reasons why we should all care, that I am instantly overwhelmed when trying to answer that question. However, one of my passions in life is to demonstrate that one need not be overwhelmed to the point of paralysis. So for today, I’ll stick to two examples.

The first has to do with extremes. Extreme weather events, we are told, are more frequent and more severe than average over the last 150 years of recorded weather history. “Expect the unexpected” is a headline on the Minnesota Sea Grant website, which operates at the University of Minnesota. Data shows that two or more inches of rain falling in a 24-hour period, which is considered an “extreme rain event,” has historically occurred once every two years. But from 1990-2010, Two Harbors experienced 18 of these “rain events,” and Duluth had 20 — about twice the historical norm. Extreme rain, as most people know, is not the type of rain that is conducive to good farming or clean water. Sewage overflows, pipes break, roads erode and basements flood. Hard rains take a toll on all our city budgets and personal pocketbooks. In the last ten years, in fact, homeowner insurance rates in Minnesota have skyrocketed even as coverage is shrinking. This is not just due to heavy rains, but also tornados, straight-line winds and hailstorms, all of which we can expect to continue.

The second reason to care is a current example of one city — a city in the Great Lakes region — having a big problem. For three days in early August, upwards of 500,000 residents of the city of Toledo, Ohio, had no drinking water. Why? Because of the prevalence of blue-green algae “blooms” on Lake Erie, which is a source of local drinking water. (These are the same algae blooms that were discovered along the south shore following the Duluth flood of 2012.) Where did the algae come from? Fertilizer run-off, sewage system failures and the fact that Lake Erie’s water is warming. As with so many problems associated with climate change, this one has many complicated factors. But climate change is playing a role, and will undoubtedly influence long-term solutions.

“[This] crisis is deeper than just one season,” said Gary Fahnenstiel, a research scientist at the University of Michigan Water Center.

We can easily guess who was hit worst by this problem — those who could not afford bottled water, those who had no second home or relatives and those with compromised immune systems. To care about climate change is to be concerned for the plight of the poor and vulnerable, for they are and will continue to be the ones whose lives are most disrupted by climate change.

Many of you know me and my family as “the sailors” — a slightly wacko family that, for some unfathomable reason, keeps leaving the safety of solid black earth, spacious bedrooms and a four-burner stove to explore life on the water in many places vastly inferior to our own beautiful shoreline and town. We are guilty as charged! Craziness notwithstanding, we return from every trip with insights that stand out sharply against the gentle curves of everyday living. Here’s the truth about our imperfect-but-generally-sweet existence here on the North Shore: in nautical terms, we know what we’re in for. The data is out there. We have a course set, we know the wave height, we feel the wind on our faces and we have a map that shows us where we are headed.

In order to head in a different direction, we need to change course. How that course can be changed will be the topic of future articles.

Katya Gordon and her husband, Mark, own Amicus Adventure Sailing in Knife River. They live in Two Harbors with their two daughters. Katya will be writing a regular column for the News-Chronicle about climate change, and this is the first installment.

LaReesa Sandretsky
LaReesa Sandretsky is a Two Harbors High School graduate and Duluth native who began working at the News-Chronicle in 2012 as a reporter. She took over as editor in 2014. She covers County Board, including the Lake County broadband project.
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