Farewell to Great Lakes United – what now for bi-national citizen leadership?

Great Lakes cormorants with deformed beaks like this one were used by members of Great Lakes United in the 1980s to lobby Congress for stricter pollution regulations.

The binational organization claims many longtime respected researchers and activists among its founders. It recently closed.

Jane Elder, a founding member of GLU when she led Great Lakes programs for the Sierra Club, reflects on the vacuum left by the loss of the binational coalition.

Deperate Alewives: Jane’s Extremely Brief GLWQA Comment Guide for Extremely Busy People

by Jane Elder

Ah, July in the Great Lakes region, kicking off with Canada Day/Fête du Canada, followed by a quick segue into Independence Day, and then a blur of festivals, picnics, barbecues, mosquitoes, raspberry and cherry season, county fairs, beaches and boats, lemonade, and maybe baseball on the radio. We squeeze a lot into these rare weeks of precious Midwestern summer, which is why carving out time to get substantive comments into the US-Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement negotiating team by July 9 seems even harder than a deadline in say, January. If you are feeling as busy as I am, maybe you’d appreciate a quick guide to saying something meaningful on binational.net before the parades (4th of July and otherwise) pass you by. So here is my extremely truncated guide to comments on the GLWQA. 1.

Desperate Alewives: A fresh approach to governance

By Jane Elder

I promised to talk about substance this time, but there’s so much substance on the table it is difficult to know where to start, but I’ll wade into the waters of governance. Governance is a clunky word – a noun constructed to carry the weight of how two nations will actually govern, or manage their commitments to protect the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Great Lakes. Let me gently suggest that the status quo is not working terribly well, and this invites opportunities to re-imagine cooperation across friendly borders on behalf of the lakes. Some of us remember what worked well through the IJC and the Agreement process prior to the 1987 changes in governance. While nostalgia for days past isn’t sufficient to build a new structure, there’s a fair amount of agreement on what we old timers miss.

Can you hear me now? Great Lakes webinar blues.

(Editor’s note: The frustration expressed in this column prompted Echo to create a series of forums for an interactive discussion of the Great Lakes Water Quality Initiative.)

By Jane Elder

I suppose in the electronic age that using the Internet to gather public input on major policies decision seems like a good idea. Webinar is one of those words that has emerged in the lexicon of the digital age, but my experience is most do not fulfill the expertise and critique functions of seminars nor do they take full advantage of the capacity of web-based communications to really engage public audiences. This week’s attempt to cover eight topics of significant import in the Great Lakes water quality agreement in six two-hour sessions over three days is evidence of how imperfect these technologies can be in promoting dialogue and meaningful input, even if the convener’s intent is good. I’m not a Luddite but I’m no technological whiz. My webinar journey looked something like this.

When bad things happen to good ecosystems: Lake lessons from the Gulf

By Jane Elder

Right now we’re watching a really bad petroleum-based horror story play out in the Gulf of Mexico. All things considered, this is a really good ecosystem, even though it has known some hard knocks, like being home to the world’s largest marine dead zone, thanks to all the chemical fertilizers and semi-treated sewage that our great heartland has flushed down the Mississippi River for decades. Where the zones aren’t dead, the Gulf and its coast have been one of our hemisphere’s most productive marine habitats. This foodweb with delectable species supports not just the fishing and restaurant trade, but pelicans, dolphins, sea turtles and countless other living creatures large and small. Where the water meets the land, nature has given us mangroves, islands, emerald beaches – all pretty splendid stuff, and remarkable habitat.

Time is short to OMG the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement

By Jane Elder

If, in casual conversation, I were to turn to you and say, “OK, you have a month to carefully identify, consider, and recommend all the major elements of a framework that two nations will use to protect the water quality of the largest freshwater ecosystem in the known galaxy and by the way, that framework should be designed to last a few decades or more” you would laugh at me out of incredulity, or ask if this was some wacky reality show to boost summer ratings, or you would tell me to come back in two years after I’d secured a grant to help fund you to do this well and ask you then. But, none of those responses will change the fact that the people of the United States and Canada (and any other gentle observers on the water planet) will have until June 21st to provide their ideas, concerns, strategies, O-M-Gs and whatever else constitutes “input” into the ongoing re-negotiation process between the U.S. and Canada. Then, the negotiating team will begin to re-write the binational framework to protect the waters of the Great Lakes ecosystem. The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement is the public declaration of the shared goals, objectives and strategies of two great democracies for safeguarding the vital capacity of one of the world’s most important ecosystems. So maybe, just maybe, we don’t need to rush this. I’m not saying it isn’t urgent that we bring this framework into the realities of 21st Century environmental threats and challenges – that, we desperately need to do, and rapidly.