Go Jump in a Lake
By Krystyn Tully
So, seven years ago, a team of staff and volunteers at Lake Ontario Waterkeeper set out to answer the question, "Is it safe to swim in Lake Ontario?" The first thing we discovered was that reliable facts and figures about beach water quality were hard to come by. So we started compiling our own.
For five years, we tracked which beaches were open and posted them on scraps of paper and clunky spreadsheets and generated an annual report for the Lake Ontario watershed. Each year we expanded our beach report to include more beaches in more parts of Southern Ontario and upstate New York.
It was interesting for us as researchers but it wasn’t very helpful to beach-goers. What we really needed was some tool that would tell you where the beaches are and which ones are safe for swimming right now.
Two years ago, we decided to make that tool. First, we built a Swim Guide engine so that every day we could phone or visit the websites of scores of beach monitoring agencies and enter the information into our custom-built database.
Seven years and thousands of hours after we first posed the question of Lake Ontario being safe to swim in, we could finally crunch the numbers and answer: “Yes, usually.”
Of course, answering that question was only step one. Our next challenge was figuring out how to give people easy-to-read beach quality information whenever they wanted it, wherever they wanted it.
That was no easy task. This summer, for example, we checked-in with about 70 different sources that monitor about 800 beaches every day. We recorded about 70,000 different points of data in the Swim Guide database. Then we converted that information into a format that meant something to potential beachgoers: here is where it is safe to swim, and this is how you get there.
The Swim Guide is a free mobile application for smartphones or you can visit the website at www.theswimguide.org. This free app helps people find the closest beaches, know at a glance which ones are safe for swimming and share their love of beaches with their friends.
This last part—sharing a love of beaches—is really important to us. We can’t restore and protect the world’s greatest beaches without you and your friends.
In the spirit of sharing, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper went and added all of the beaches on the Great Lakes to Swim Guide because we know that people who live near one Great Lake also love to visit parks and beaches in different watersheds.
We also invited other Waterkeeper organizations to join the Swim Guide team. Fraser Riverkeeper now tracks beaches in the Vancouver area. North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper tracks beaches in the Edmonton area. Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper does the same for beaches in the Miami area.
Swim Guide includes original descriptions and photographs of hundreds of beaches in Ontario, British Columbia, New York State, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Alberta and the Miami area. “In a few years, we hope there’s a Swim Guide in every major beach community in North America,” says Mark Mattson, who heads Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, as he shows off the app.
It shows you where the beaches closest to you are, gives you real-time status updates, and lets you compare your local beach to other beaches in Canada and the United States. “We made the Swim Guide because safe recreational water contact is one of the hallmarks of an environmentally strong community,” says Mattson. “Swimming is an important environmental, cultural and economic issue—that’s why every important environmental law in North America tries to protect beaches.”
The Swim Guide is fun and easy to use, but the need for clean beaches is no light matter to Lake Ontario Waterkeeper or to the nearly 200 other Waterkeeper organizations around the world. Clean beaches are not luxuries. They satisfy some very basic, fundamental needs in our communities. Beaches provide a free, accessible respite for people on hot days. They provide gathering places for families and friends. They are immensely valuable natural assets for local economies.
Beaches are also excellent indicators of how our democratic institutions are holding up. If you cannot safely swim in your area, chances are that someone is breaking the rules. Chances are that bad decisions were made in the past, meaning good decisions need to be made in the future.
In its simplest form, a beach is a strip of shoreline accessible to the general public that facilitates access to a body of water which every one of us has the right to use and enjoy. When pollution claims a beach, it makes it unavailable to you for safe enjoyment, and your beach is lost. Taken away.
The Swim Guide helps to win back those lost beaches by highlighting the ones with chronic pollution problems and comparing one region to another. The Swim Guide also helps to protect and celebrate the clean beaches, the ones waiting for you next summer.
Reprinted with permission from Waterkeeper Magazine. To read the winter issue of the Waterkeeper Magazine, click here.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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By Stuart Braun
"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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World's Richest One Percent Are Producing More Than Double the Carbon Emissions as the Bottom 50 Percent
A new report from Oxfam found that the wealthiest one percent of the world produced a carbon footprint that was more than double that of the bottom 50 percent of the world, The Guardian reported. The study examined 25 years of carbon dioxide emissions and wealth inequality from 1990 to 2015.
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