With the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, Congress has taken a big step forward today to meeting the U.S. emission reduction goals to address the climate crisis– a monumental move that could not come soon enough for the birds and people of the Great Lakes region.
Across the Great Lakes region, climate change is being felt with unusually hot days, unpredictable fluctuations in lake levels, more frequent and intense precipitation and increased flooding. These changes are already having dramatic impacts on our region’s wildlife and people who call it home. Once unprecedented natural disasters are becoming more commonplace. This past spring, severe rainfall prompted Michigan Gov. Whitmer to declare a State of Emergency after flooding damaged roads and bridges in northern parts of the state. Not long after, community leaders in East St. Louis, Illinois declared their own State of Emergency after dozens of families were displaced due to record-breaking rainfall.
Climate change is impacting our local farmers and agriculture sector. The fertile lands and waters of the Great Lakes region provide ideal conditions for corn, soybeans and hay crops, as well as 15 percent of the country’s dairy products. Between the production of crops and livestock, our region produces $14.5 billion in annual agriculture sales. An increase in pests and pathogens, delayed planting and more precipitation caused by climate change are expected to decrease yield for local crops.
Our birds and wildlife are also at risk. Flooding, rapid lake level fluctuation, and more frequent, intense storms, pose significant threats to beach-nesting birds like the federally endangered Great Lakes Piping Plovers and wetlands-nesting birds like Black Terns. North America has lost more than three billion birds over the past half-century, and two-thirds of North American bird species at risk of extinction due to climate change. Birds are telling us that the time to take climate action is now.
For more than a decade, Audubon Great Lakes and members across our region have been calling on legislators to invest in common-sense solutions to climate change to protect our region’s wildlife and communities. Today, Congress has made the most substantial investment to address climate change in history. Here is what this monumental bill will mean for Great Lakes birds and local communities:
- Billions of dollars to help restore high-quality habitat across our region: From Great Lakes coastal wetlands to inland marshes and streams, millions of birds depend on our region for shelter, rest, and food. Research has shown that in addition to pulling carbon pollution out of the atmosphere, protecting high-quality habitat like wetlands can protect birds as changing temperatures and unpredictable weather patterns disrupt bird migrations, mitigate water-quality impacts in both urban and rural areas, and make the region more resilient to climate change. That is why we have undertaken an ambitious plan to restore and protect 300,000 acres of the most important habitat for vulnerable birds and communities over the next decade. This landslide legislation will scale-up work like ours to protect Great Lakes birds and people.
Wetland restoration will make our communities more resilient to the impacts of climate change. Wetlands play a major role in maintaining our region’s water quality, serve as natural water purifiers to keep the water in inland lakes and streams clean, and can store a massive amount of water during heavy rains. One acre of wetland, only a foot deep, can store up to 1.5 million gallons of floodwater.
- Investment in environmental and climate justice to protect most vulnerable communities: The IRA will focus on local communities disproportionately affected by pollution and climate change. Too often Black and brown, Indigenous, and lower-income communities are on the frontline of the climate crisis. This legislation will prioritize investments in towns and cities across our region that bear the biggest burden.
At Audubon Great Lakes, we know the difference that habitat restoration can make to local communities. In the Calumet region in Illinois and Indiana, we are restoring wetland habitat and are seeing early signs of population stabilization, and even recovery in vulnerable birds like the Common Gallinule and Least Bittern. Moving forward, these restoration efforts will also benefit local communities that have been severely impacted by flooding. Restoring wetland habitat also improves water quality and supports a myriad of wildlife species that bring us closer to nature.
- Major investment in-smart agriculture, galvanizing the agriculture sector to lead the charge in our fight against climate change: Great Lakes farmers, ranchers, and foresters are ready to adopt practices that sequester carbon and reduce emissions if they are provided the tools and resources to make that goal a reality. This legislation will invest over $20 billion in climate-smart agriculture practices, and another $5 billion to support healthy and more resilient forests.
Some of the best places to naturally store carbon are also the best places for bird habitats. Scaling up conservation technical assistance on the ground will mitigate the impacts of drought and flood, improve soil health and long-term food security, create new job opportunities for rural economies, and restore wildlife habitat.
- Critical investments in domestic renewable energy production and manufacturing to speed up the generation and transmission of renewable energy across the Great Lakes region: Adopting responsibly sited renewable energy like wind, solar and geothermal is critical to reducing carbon pollution, stabilizing global temperatures, and preserving the places that birds need to survive.
Thanks to major advances in technology, renewable energy has become increasingly more affordable and obtainable for both businesses and individual homes. Innovations to reduce emissions through clean energy are already creating jobs across the Great Lakes region, while helping industries run more efficiently.
While this is certainly a moment for celebration, we know that our work isn’t done. It’s hard to overstate the significance of this historic climate legislation, however the bill is not perfect. It includes the opening up of additional fossil fuel leasing opportunities and needs further investments in environmental justice initiatives to fully protect vulnerable communities. Moving forward, Audubon Great Lakes will continue to work with policymakers and leaders across our region to achieve a cleaner, better future. Today we applaud this major step in reducing emissions and creating a cleaner future for us all.