Pollution horror stories — and remarkable Great Lakes cleanup — are topic Sept. 13
“Burning Rivers” — an examination of the Great Lakes’ most notorious pollution hot spots and how environmental advances have largely extinguished those flames — is the topic for an award-winning author and limnologist who will visit UW-Green Bay in September.
John Hartig will speak at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 13, in the Christie Theatre on the lower level of the University Union on the campus located at 2420 Nicolet Drive, Green Bay. His public presentation is free and open to campus and community.
Hartig, currently the refuge manager for the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, is the author or co-author of more than 100 publications on the Great Lakes. His most recent book is Burning Rivers: Revival of Four Urban-Industrial Rivers that Caught on Fire.
The most recent and famous blaze involved Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River. In 1969, when an oil slick and floating debris ignited and burned railroad bridges, the river fire became national news and galvanized sentiment in favor of environmental protection. Hartig, in his book, points out that the lifeless Cuyahoga had caught fire on previous occasions and wasn’t the only sizeable Great Lakes tributary to have done so. He describes how the heavily industrialized Buffalo River (N.Y.) went up in 1968, the Rouge River (Mich.) in 1932 and 1969, and the Chicago River (Ill.) in 1888 and 1899.
For many years it was accepted practice to dump raw sewage and untreated industrial waste into rivers. Hartig’s book shares accounts that as late as the early 1900s, slaughterhouse waste was so thick in Chicago’s Bubbly Creek that neighborhood cats and chickens could walk across the stream atop the thick scum.
Hartig says that while many Americans regarded some degree of urban pollution as a tradeoff for prosperity and freedom (heavy industry helped win World War II, after all), the river fires, in particular, became local tipping points and citizens demanded an end to the worst environmental offenses. Improvements in water quality and the return of long-absent species in these tributaries are reminders today that nature heals itself, and that further improvement is possible.
Hartig holds a doctorate in limnology and has 30 years of experience in environmental science and natural resource management. He has received a number of awards for his work, including a 2010 Green Leaders Award from the Detroit Free Press, a 2005 White House Conference on Cooperative Conservation Award for Outstanding Leadership and Collaboration in the Great Lakes, and a scientific writing award for Burning Rivers from the 2011 Green Book Festival in San Francisco.
Hartig’s talk at UW-Green Bay is sponsored by the University’s undegraduate academic program in Natural and Applied Sciences, and the Environmental Science and Policy graduate program. Proceeds from the annual heirloom plant sale help fund visiting lectures and student science initiatives.
Questions about Hartig’s UW-Green Bay appearance can be directed to Prof. Dave Dolan, Natural and Applied Sciences, at DolanD@uwgb.edu, or (920) 465-2371.