Academic journal article Canada-United States Law Journal

Energy in the Great Lakes Region: Imagining a Shared Strategy

Academic journal article Canada-United States Law Journal

Energy in the Great Lakes Region: Imagining a Shared Strategy

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: This article will reflect upon what it might mean to devise an energy strategy for the Great Lakes region in light of our shared responsibility as stewards of a globally significant fresh water resource at a time of increasing water scarcity associated with climate change. The article argues that we must not let short-term economic fears drive our decision-making or risk adopting policies that will prove detrimental to the long-term futures of our children's children.

INTRODUCTION

The launch of the Council of the Great Lakes Region (CGLR) in April 2013 provides an opportunity to reflect upon what it might mean to imagine a shared strategy for energy policy in the North American Great Lakes Region. As highlighted at the launch conference, the region is defined by a great and shared resource - indeed, one of the greatest in the world. The Great Lakes, a "chain of five large freshwater lakes covering an area of 95,000 square miles," are the "largest lake group in the world" and contain approximately "18% of the world's surface fresh water stores." (1) Representing "84% of North America's fresh water supply," the Great Lakes "provide drinking water to over 40 million households" in Canada and the United States. (2) Given the importance of this critical resource to the region, indeed, to the world, it is vital that governance systems ensure that the quality and quantity of Great Lakes water is protected for both present and future generations. Sadly, as was evident during the CGLR launch panel discussion entitled "Water Governance in the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence Region," this is a time of concern for water in the region, with low water levels and other negative impacts being attributed in part to the challenges of climate change.

Global carbon emissions are clearly linked to energy policy, yet the impact of climate change on the Great Lakes is not exclusively caused by greenhouse gas (GNG) emissions originating from the Great Lakes region. (3) Climate change is a global problem that does not respect state or regional borders. Similarly, many energy choices involve the exploitation of natural resources, such as oil & gas, or uranium for nuclear power, that leave a large environmental footprint not contained within the borders of a single state or region. Yet "green" energy choices such as large-scale wind turbines, have been subject to critique for alleged impacts on local environmental health as well as protected species and migratory birds.

Formulating an energy strategy that embraces the essential need for sustainability in the region might seem easy if decision-making was guided purely by concerns with contributing to the avoidance of long-term significant environmental harms on a global scale. But sustainability thinking traditionally embraces a balancing of environment with economic and social concerns. Even while arguably, this balance would over the long-term align with global concerns, the process of devising an energy strategy must in reality confront economic and social challenges that create political pressures for short-term quick-fix solutions. Increasingly, scholars are highlighting that sustainability thinking must also confront the reality of climate change, with some proposing that the concept of resilience may be better suited to decision-making in the Anthropocene than sustainability. (4)

This article will reflect upon what it might mean to devise an energy strategy for the Great Lakes region in light of our shared responsibility as stewards of a globally significant fresh water resource at a time of increasing water scarcity associated with climate change. These reflections will touch upon another theme evident at the CGLR launch--the struggle that the region is facing in economic and employment terms as a consequence of the global economic downturn. The article will argue that we must not let short-term economic fears drive our decision-making or risk adopting policies that will prove detrimental to the long-term futures of our children's children. …

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