From the Great Lakes State to the City of Lakes

There are certain topics on climate change adaptation in which we have likely read about or seen a presentation on, water scarcity, agricultural impacts, and associated gender issues, but have not yet really ever felt the effects of. In the US we understand these impacts to some extent, but are more generally unexposed to the drastic situations that people of the developing world have become so accustomed to. Last night, at a welcome reception hosted by the Mayor of Copenhagen, global representatives attended the various reasons of why they are attending the conference. A Kenyan delegate I interacted with helped shed a new light on the reality of climate change on his country.

Kevin is a student at the University of Nairobi, and a local community organizer connecting his home village. He explained the drastic effects of water shortage and how it is affecting people in his community. Kevin recounted how the faucets at his school had been dried up for two years. People have become accustomed to actually scooping up water from muddy puddles. What is more, then people would even fight each other for this limited resource.

The discussion we shared about daily life was remarkably touching, and helped to localize the issue in a way I hadn’t truly felt it before. The struggles that his people have had to endure literally brought tears to my eyes while listening.

When asked what type of science or policy is needed to help assist the people of Kenya or those of the developing world to combating issues of water and sanitation, he indicated neither. “We just need rain collection buckets,” was the best reasonable solution he decided, and then added “well then of course, also the rain”.

It then became clear that the issues framing the UN Climate Conference has so many separate socio-cultural factors are involved, it began to make more sense that the world has such a difficult negotiation process in determining climate change solutions. It seems almost impossible for anyone in the global north to truly feel the effects of water shortage. Personally, I have never been in any situation that water doesn’t run out from the tap freely, or rain wasn’t something you could continually count on.. The land I come from and have always known is blessed with plentiful freshwater literally everywhere you look. We have over 10,000 freshwater lakes in Michigan, enough to categorize us as “The Great Lakes State”. In fact, through the Great Lakes Compact, an agreement between eight states and two Canadian provinces, we have taken additional steps to ensure this basin is protects that water cannot become a commodity.

There is no doubt that climate change will affect the Great Lakes. The Union of Concerned Scientists have already pointed out the threats of climate change, including decreasing lake levels and the threatening risks to biodiversity are evident through raised levels of invasive species. However, at when considering the larger context of the rest of the world’s concerns of risks of water shortage on account of increased CO2 content, my region could very well turn into a safe place for climate refugees. There is tremendous disparity between the equity of the habitats residing in the global north compared to the global south. Let us take into account the severity of issues in the developing world could having a major impact on us at home and thus, adjust our global plans for adaptation.

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