Environmental literacy: What should every Great Lakes citizen know?


What’s the minimum every responsible citizen of the Great Lakes region should know about their environment?

It’s a question we’ve been noodling recently in the Echo newsroom. The idea is to develop a list and use it as the basis for questions we’ll ask random people – sort of like the Jaywalking feature on the Tonight Show. We’ll video their answers – right, wrong, funny, creative – and conclude with a look at the answer.

We’re consulting some environmental educators and advocates on the kinds of things we might ask.

But we’re really interested in what the Echo community thinks. So how about it?  Just what should the literate Great Lakes citizen know about the environment?

Is it the nature of the threat posed by Asian carp? How much of the world’s fresh surface water do the Great Lakes contain? The names of the Great Lakes? What causes Lake Erie algae growth? The difference between tap and bottled water? What is a greenhouse gas?

Nominate questions in the comments below. And while we like to think we’re environmentally literate at Echo,  the answers would be helpful as well.


26 thoughts on “Environmental literacy: What should every Great Lakes citizen know?

  1. Eric Sharp has a great article on Global warming in todays Detroit Free press, Outdoor section, Alligator farms in Michigan.

  2. I would like to see you address the impact that global warming will have on the Great Lakes. It is very critical to educate the masses about climate change and how it might impact the Great lakes and what we can do to curb greenhouse gas production.

  3. which lake of world have maximum cyano bacterial growth?
    how many lakes in Pakistan?
    Is any lake of Pakistan has econmic importance

  4. All citizens should understand the basic processes of evolution and the role natural selection plays in all parts of the natural world, including our own behavior. Citizens should know that their own conservation behavior and perceptions of the world around them are influenced by our evolutionary history as a species.

    When this happens, individuals see how one’s way of thinking can influence the degree of risks they will accept. It will help us all to understand why we pay more attention to visible pollution than we do to pollutants that we do not see, even when those substances may pose a much greater risk to their own health. It will also help us to address many of the seemingly intractable ecological issues we are facing in the 21st Century.

    Finally, a solid understanding of evolution and natural selection will show citizens the elegantly simple yet powerfully predictive natural processes that influence all living organisms including those that make the Great Lakes their homes.

  5. I appreciate Doug’s comments about knowing who deal with the Great Lakes and land areas, and what they do and how different groups influence how these areas are protected. I think that someone who is environmentally literate would also understand how the folks who conduct this work are funded – that is, what does the general public pay for this protection versus the regulated entities and active resource users?

  6. For Great Lakes Fisherman, I beg to differ, I’ve been there and talked to the locals. They used to have pro bass tournaments, no more, IL. DNR admited this way back. All invasive species eat something. Asian carp are the most effecient filter feeders in the world. We need to assume they will be very bad,and act accordingly, don’t worry about it would be foolish. They’re an invasive species and should be treated as such, period!

  7. Name some rare plants and animals that live in your region of the Great Lakes. What are some of the reasons why plants/animals are rare? What can be done to protect them? What are the state and federal agencies charged with protecting them, and what are the laws they use in protection efforts?

  8. Pingback: “Environmental literacy: What should every Great Lakes citizen know?” « Beach Treasures and Treasure Beaches

  9. An environmentally literate person understands the environmental impact of their actions in relationship to the lake and surrounding community. She/he also understands the economic and societal impact of their actions. She/he thinks in terms of systems (non-linear), where every action has a reaction(s) – very big picture stuff.
    Systems thinking can be applied to teaching ecosystems and biodiversity of the lake and region, historical residential and commercial development on and near the lake, recreation uses of the lake, and so on. By teaching kids (and adults) to see the whole picture they can better develop skills and habits that will lead to a more sustainable in the future for the entire community (and world). This approach fosters taking ownership of your impact and decisions locally and globally.

  10. Illinois has a larger commercial fishery than all the other Great Lakes states combined.

    When you consider the harvesting of Asian Carp in the Illinois River for fertilizer, animal feed and exports of Asian Carp to Asian food markets, Illinois harvests more pounds of commercial fish than all the other Great Lakes states combined.

    Even more surprising, native fish populations in the Illinois River have not decreased since Asian Carp have populated the Illinois River which casts serious doubt that Asian Carp would affect the Great Lakes fishery.

  11. It’s difficult to find a short list of important concepts an evironmentally literate individual should know as they are so interconnected. One concept that is rarely discussed is the water cycle and unique chemical structure of water. We learn it in middle/high school and then don’t think about it much, yet it is integrally linked to water quality issues and their solutions.

  12. Is the amount of Great Lakes fresh water available to us finite?
    If yes, how long will it last at the current rate of consumption?
    What can one do to conserve it?

  13. We spend money cleaning the Great Lakes,but also continue permitted discharges and combined sewer overflows.

  14. What is a rip current? [A channel of water moving seaward, usually caused by wave action]
    What’s the best way to survive a rip current? [DON’T PANIC! determine where the current is flowing and swim parallel to the current to safety]
    What do the colored flags on the beach mean? [Generally Green=safe conditions, Yellow=caution, Red=danger]
    What is a seiche and why should I care? [A seiche is the flowing of water caused by barometric pressure or winds pushing water to one side of a lake and the rebound of that flow once the winds or pressure abate. You should know because they can cause dangerous fluctuations in water depth on calm days.]
    How fast will hypothermia kill me in 40’F water? [It will take almost an hour in ice cold water before you will die of hypothermia as long as you have floatation. During the first minute you should control your panic and get your breathing under control, then you will have ~10 minutes where you will lose the ability to help yourself; as your extremities become less able to function. LEARN 1:10:1 one minute to control your breathing, 10 minutes to help in your rescue and 1 hour before hypothermia sets in.]

  15. All great responses in the previous comments, to which some Bozo was giving thumbs down. No doubt a corporate naysayer who views the Great Lakes as something to be despoiled for profit.

  16. Pingback: Environmental literacy: What should every Great Lakes citizen know? « Environmental News Bits

  17. You may be familiar with the Great Lakes Literacy Essential Principles and Fundamental Concepts, developed in 2010 as a collaborative effort of the National Science Foundation, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, Great Lakes Sea Grant Network, and the Great Lakes Center for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence – see http://www.greatlakesliteracy.net.

    The basics – Great Lakes literacy is an understanding of the Great Lakes’ influences on you and your influence on the Great Lakes.

    Going beyond the basics, there are 8 Great Lakes literacy principles that represent the baseline for what all Great Lakes residents should know: 1) the Great Lakes, bodies of fresh water with many features, are connected to each other and to the world ocean (you’d be surprised how many don’t know this), 2) natural forces formed the Great Lakes, and the lakes continue to shape the features of their watershed, 3) the Great Lakes influence local and regional weather and climate (think lake effect snow, or Michigan’s fruit belt along the Lake Michigan coast), 4)water makes the Earth habitable, and fresh water sustains life on land (most don’t realize we’re surrounded by some 20% of all the surface fresh water on the planet), 5) the Great Lakes support a broad diversity of life and ecosystems, 6) the Great Lakes and humans in their watersheds are inextricably interconnected, 7) much remains to be learned about the Great Lakes, and 8) the Great Lakes are socially, economically, and environmentally significant to the region, the nation, and the planet.

  18. An environmentally literate Great Lakes citizen should know which state, provincial, and federal agencies (DNRs, DEQs, Environment Canada, Coast Guard, EPA, etc.) deal with the Great Lakes, and what those agencies do.
    An environmentally literate Great Lakes citizen should know how political and special interest pressures can threaten the Great Lakes (Chicago River issue, the current push for more energy production, new mines, etc.)
    An environmentally literate Great Lakes citizen should be aware that the Great Lakes is not a closed ecosystem (airborne pollutants, aquatic invaders, etc.)
    An environmentally literate Great Lakes citizen should be aware of how global climate change may affect, and has affected, the Great Lakes.
    An environmentally literate Great Lakes citizen should be aware of what environmental/conservation groups are doing to help protect the Great Lakes.
    An environmentally literate Great Lakes citizen should be aware of how land use issues affect water quality in the Great Lakes.
    An environmentally literate Great Lakes citizen should be aware of the impacts of introduced non-native fish (for sport or commercial fishing) on the Great Lakes ecosystem.
    Just a few thoughts…

  19. As a father of three with 8 grand kids, I want to do all we can to keep these God given lakes even cleaner & better than they have been for us – for all of them. We have so many wonderful family memories involving the Great Lakes, that I know my children will & already are sharing with their children!

  20. How about: how do the Great Lakes impact us? What is the source of our water here in the Great Lakes? Why does the water tastes the way it does here in the Great Lakes region? What types of ecosystems do we have here? What are some of the cool characteristics that plants and animals have acquired in order to survive here? (I’d bet that you could ask a million questions about that and get every kid and grownup kid interested and engaged with a series of questions along those lines.) How do the prevailing winds affect the lakes (with sandy beaches on one side, and rocky beaches on the other)? How do the lakes affect our climate (lake moderated coasts, inland areas, lake effect snows, etc)? How did zebra mussels, gobies, and sea lamprey get here and what are their impacts on our waters? What is the state tree and what is its significance to Michigan? What is the state flower and what is its significance? Which tribes call Michigan home and how many Federally recognized tribes are in Michigan? Name one (actual not perceived) Federally recognized tribal treaty right. Where does the name “Michigan” come from?

  21. Q: How do harmful Aquatic Invasive Species like Zebra/Quagga Mussels and Eurasian Watermilfoil get introduced and spread around the Great Lakes?

    A: Hitchhike rides with humans. Large ships/Ballast water. Aquaculture/Plant nursery/Exotic pet trade. Spread to inland waters via smaller recreational boats.

    People spread AIS, therefore it is possible to prevent their continued spread with education, awareness and prevention steps.


  22. I think a good place to start is with the Great Lakes Literacy Principles: http://greatlakesliteracy.net/. These are based on the national Ocean Literacy Principles and were modified for our unique lakes. Clicking on each principle will give you more detailed sub-principles. Without an understanding of these basic ideas, one cannot speak intelligently on current issues such as Asian carp and algal blooms.

  23. The minimum: Which lakes are safe to swim in and also from which one is it safe to eat the fish? Erie is questionable, but all the others are generally safe to swim/eat fish as far as I know.

  24. What is Zooplankton?
    What is Ichthyoplankton?
    How does a healthy population of Zooplankton/or lack of, affect algae blooms?

    How important is it to protect the beginnings of the ecosystem?

    Asian Carp affect all plankton including Ichthyoplankton (larval fish)
    No greater threat to our lakes (besides us)

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