The Canadian company Enbridge is moving forward with plans to build a $500 million oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac, which runs between Michigan's upper and lower peninsulas. The oil transportation company said it would go ahead with plans despite an ongoing lawsuit with Michigan, according to Kallanish Energy.
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"We see ourselves not as an owner of wild rice but a symbiotic partner and a parallel entity from the Creator," says Frank Bibeau, a lawyer from the Anishinaabe indigenous group in the U.S. and Canada.
Indigenous Approaches Written Into Law<p>"Conventional environmental laws are really about regulating how we use nature," says Mari Margil of CELDF. "The consequences of that have been so devastating that people in different parts of the world are saying we need to make a fundamental shift in our relationship with nature."</p><p>With the idea that indigenous peoples are the most reliable custodians of our planet now repeated by politicians and environmental NGOs alike, giving nature rights suggests a way their approaches might be adopted by broader society.</p><p>It was in this spirit that Ecuador became the first country to enshrine the rights of nature — personified as Pachamama, the Andean earth goddess — in its constitution, in 2008.</p><p><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/Bolivia">Bolivia</a> and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/Uganda" rel="noopener noreferrer">Uganda</a> have since enshrined the rights of nature in their constitutions, and <a href="https://celdf.org/2019/10/media-release-rights-of-nature-constitutional-amendment-introduced-in-swedens-parliament/" target="_blank">an amendment</a> was recently proposed for <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/Sweden" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sweden</a> to do the same.</p>
A Healthier Relationship With Nature?<p>Asserting that nature has intrinsic rights isn't just a legal tool to prosecute polluters. It also challenges the "ecosystem services" approach to environmental protection that costs up the economic value of clean air, water and biodiversity — and even the concept of conservation areas.</p><p>As a national park, land surrounding the Whanganui River in New Zealand was off limits to the Iwi Maori tribe who had hunted and fished there sustainably for generations. In 2017, the dispute was resolved by making the river a person in its own right, owned by neither the state nor the tribe.</p><p>Maori law professor Jacinta Ruru sees it as a major breakthrough that New Zealand law now reflects the relationship the country's indigenous people have with the environment — one that sees no division between what's good for people and the planet.</p><p>"My tribe — we'll talk about your veins in your arms as being like the riverways of the land," explains Ruru. "So you're seeing the health and wellbeing of who you are as a person, your health, your own happiness, as entirely connected with the health and wellbeing of the environment around us."</p>
Strategic Compromise<p>Ruru says it's too soon to judge the ecological impact of the Whanganui River's change of status. And it remains to be seen if the Rights of Manoomin will be any match for the interests invested in the pipeline.</p><p>In Ecuador's case, the new constitution has been used to block plantations and road-building that threatened forest, but it hasn't proved enough to transform an entire system geared toward economic development; cases brought by indigenous activists have ended in Pachamama's rights being trumped by those of <a href="https://static1.squarespace.com/static/55914fd1e4b01fb0b851a814/t/5748568c8259b5e5a34ae6bf/1464358541319/Kauffman++Martin+16+Testing+Ecuadors+RoN+Laws.pdf" target="_blank">businesses</a>.</p><p>Critics also <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2514848618763807" target="_blank">point out</a> that making rivers and forests honorary people owes less to any indigenous deification of nature than to the Western rights discourse.</p><p>"There is a strategic relationship between indigenous communities and the rights of nature," says Mihnea Tanasescu, a political scientist who authored a book on the subject in Ecuador, "but there is not necessarily an intrinsic philosophical affinity, because rights are a very Western legal category."</p>
Conversation-Changer<p>Last year, one such case made international headlines. Residents of Toledo, a city on the shores of heavily polluted Lake Erie in the U.S. state of Ohio, voted to give the lake rights. A local farm responded by filing a lawsuit claiming this violated the rights of <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/agribusiness" rel="noopener noreferrer">agribusinesses</a>. </p><p>Since the bill was more or less quashed by Ohio state legislature, activists are fighting to revive it from legal limbo. But if nothing else, their struggle has drawn attention to the priorities of a legal system that treats nature as property but corporations as legal persons.</p><p>"Often people just don't think about these invisible systems that govern our world," Maloney says. "So as a starting point — and a conversation- and discourse-changer — the rights of nature is very powerful."</p>
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Every fall, I take my environmental studies class camping at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on Lake Michigan. Some years the beach extends more than three meters to the water. This year, in many spots, there was no beach at all.
Biggest Impacts<p>My research looks at the ways that Canada and the U.S., along with the bilateral <a href="https://press.ucalgary.ca/books/9781773851075/" target="_blank">International Joint Commission</a>, have tried to understand and control water in the Great-Lakes St. Lawrence River Basin for well more than a century.</p><p>Both countries have made large diversions in and out of the Great Lakes, such as the <a href="https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-past-and-future-of-the-chicago-sanitary-and-ship_b_59934c9be4b0eef7ad2c01c0" target="_blank">Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal</a>, as well as numerous smaller diversions and canals.</p><p>In the 1950s, dams along the <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Negotiating-River-Creation-Lawrence-History/dp/0774826444" target="_blank">St. Lawrence</a> transformed this gigantic river into a hydropower pool and navigation channel and, controversially, <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07011784.2018.1475263" target="_blank">to help regulate water levels in Lake Ontario</a>. Control works in the St. Marys River partially regulate Lake Superior. Niagara Falls is <a href="https://slate.com/technology/2019/05/niagara-falls-june-1969-dewatering.html" target="_blank">treated like a tap</a> to generate both hydropower and beauty. Then there is the 100-plus years of perpetually <a href="https://greatlakesdredging.net/publications/1996-case-study-solec-paper-changing-land-use/" target="_blank">dredging channels and harbours</a> for navigation.</p><img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjAwOTk5MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNzQwOTM3OX0.fHxLdz0fSy5nCcSWafhUpT_FSoUdXq-fhzQOWSYGkZg/img.jpg?width=980" id="a438c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="22d3ef2bce99f5fe15738d4f818f06ad" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Lake Michigan's high water levels consumed beaches at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in 2019. Daniel Macfarlane / Author provided
Natural Supply<p>However, natural forces — rain, snow, ice cover, temperature, evaporation — are the biggest determinant of water levels in the Great Lakes.</p><p>As long as humans have kept records, <a href="https://www.lre.usace.army.mil/Missions/Great-Lakes-Information/Great-Lakes-Information.aspx#ICG_ETH_22302" target="_blank">Great Lakes water levels have oscillated</a>. Depending on which of the Great Lakes one considers, the maximum range of water level fluctuations has been about one to two meters in the past 150 years. For example, very high water occurred in the early 1950s, early 1970s, mid-1980s and mid-1990s.</p><p>Now, pushed by a changing climate, the swings in levels that used to take several decades are occurring in half a decade. Instead of a gradual rise and fall, the lakes are going from extreme to extreme.</p><img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjAwOTYxNS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwMjg4MjkyMH0.ltxtHegFQONvIaLD9xOAd6TIlpaj3kJ_UpX0P3L_L6I/img.jpg?width=980" id="3bda2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d73bba3419f1a5c413438750e72fb4cf" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
High water levels inundate a waterfront home on the St. Lawrence River in May 2017.
Moving Back<p>Water needs breathing space. We need to move out of the way, rather than try to move water out of our way.</p><p>Humans have removed, impaired or destroyed many of the lakes' natural buffers, which accommodate fluctuating water. We've eradicated shoreline wetlands and beaches and covered them with concrete.</p><p>If a property along the Great Lakes is getting wet now, it will almost certainly be wetter in the future. While there is some scientific uncertainty about exactly what climate change will do to water levels, the extreme highs and lows will get worse. Volatility is the new normal.</p><p>Like climate change, when it comes to addressing Great Lakes levels, the biggest hurdles aren't scientific — they are political, economic and social.</p><p><a href="https://www.tvo.org/video/great-lakes-great-problems" target="_blank">Any new infrastructure</a> along Great Lakes shorelines must be flexible, adaptable and resilient.</p><p>But we must also realize that the answer isn't more infrastructure. Infrastructure is too often the cause of our environmental issues.</p><p>We need to remove structures entirely and avoid building anything near the water's edge. This will have the added benefit of making more of the Great Lakes accessible to everyone. Since governments zoned vulnerable areas for construction, government funding should be provided.</p><p>We should use the opportunity to <a href="https://www.watershedcouncil.org/benefits-of-wetlands.html" target="_blank">restore natural shorelines and wetlands</a>. These provide many benefits for both water quality and water quantity. In terms of the latter, they can serve as water retention areas, while wetland plants provide erosion control.</p><p>This is all going to be very hard for many people to hear — there will be major resistance. But not moving is going to cost more in the long run. We think we can control water levels, but we need to think differently.</p><p><em>Reposting with permission from our media associate <a href="https://theconversation.com/great-lakes-flooding-the-warning-signs-that-homes-must-be-moved-122697" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Conversation</a>.</em></p>
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By Anne Schechinger
Over the Fourth of July holiday, many of us love to beat the heat in a favorite lake, pond or river. But this year, vacationers from coast to coast will have to look out for a potentially record-breaking number of algae blooms.
By Valerie Vande Panne
In February, the voters of Toledo, Ohio, passed a ballot initiative that gives Lake Erie and those who rely on the lake's ecosystem a bill of rights. The idea is to protect and preserve the ecosystem so that the life that depends on it — humans included — can have access to safe, fresh drinking water.
By Martin LaMonica
From its arrival decades ago, plastic has transformed modern life. But in 2018, the alarm over the plastic pollution crisis sounded louder than ever. On Earth Day, the United Nations issued its first State of Plastics report, calling for more recycling and better ways to manufacture and manage the material in its many forms.
At The Conversation, we took a broad view of plastic, working with scholars to explain not only the environmental and health effects but also its cultural contribution and the industries that handle plastic goods—and waste.
A controversial plan to dig a tunnel under the Great Lakes in order to replace aging oil and natural gas pipelines was given the final go-ahead Wednesday, Crain's Detroit reported.
By Corey Mintz
There's nothing in the fridge at Akiwenzie's Fish & More processing facility. The 918-square-foot building, adjacent to Natasha and Andrew Akiwenzie's house on the shores of Georgian Bay, Ontario, sits empty and dark. Out-front, gill nets lie on the ground, unused for months.
Michigan's outgoing Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation on Wednesday that creates a new government authority to oversee a proposed oil tunnel in the Straits of Mackinac to effectively allow Canadian oil to keep flowing through the Great Lakes.
The controversial tunnel will encase a replacement segment for Enbridge Energy's aging Line 5 pipelines that run along the bottom of the Straits, a narrow waterway that connects Lakes Huron and Michigan.
By Douglas Bessette
A deal involving an aging oil pipeline in Michigan reflects the complex decisions communities across the country need to make to balance the needs for energy and safety with efforts to deal with climate change.
Gov. Rick Snyder and Enbridge, a Canadian company, have reached an agreement over a leak-prone pipeline that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac, the four-mile-long waterway that divides Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.
Two environmental groups have filed suit against the U.S. Coast Guard in a Detroit federal district court, arguing that their plan to respond in the case of a Great Lakes pipeline oil spill is inadequate, The Detroit News reported on Aug. 22.
The suit is part of a larger push to shut down Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline that runs under the Straits of Mackinac between Lakes Huron and Michigan and comes as indigenous activists have set up camps protesting the line that could damage 400 miles of shoreline in a spill.