JACK SPENCER: Climate change crowd gets one more splash

As summer came to an end, it was a bit surprising to see a story circulating in the mainstream news media blatantly declaring that Great Lakes water levels are low because of climate change.

Ten or 12 years ago, when the current low level period was starting, such “the lakes are out of whack” alarmist articles were prevalent, but even journalists learn a thing or two over time. In recent years most articles about Great Lakes water levels have been pretty darn responsible in that they’ve generally acknowledged a natural high and low lake level cycle. That’s why the sudden emergence of this throw-back article was disappointing.

Note: Readers who missed the article in question needn’t feel left out or in any way deprived. Other pursuits, such as following the Detroit Tigers or playing solitaire, would have been more scientifically instructive.

No doubt, someone within the movement that pedals “climate change” dogma earned a gold star for pulling off the propaganda coup. It seems likely that the catalyst for making the effort was the monthly low level “records” set this past December and January on Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, which geologically are one lake.

After reading stories under headlines such as: “record low lake levels,” few people bother to follow through to see what happens next. Propagandists love to exploit the general public’s short-term attention span. In reality, by February the lake levels were higher than the levels of 1964 and - due to a rainy spring and summer - have remained comfortably above low monthly marks ever since.

What should always be kept in mind is that the official Army Corps of Engineers “records” only go back to 1918. During those 95 years, there were three low periods; 1926 through the mid-1930s, 1963 through the mid-1970s, and the current low period, from 2000 to the present.

That means that, since the only recent “record” low months were December 2012 and January 2013, the water levels for every month since then have been higher than the levels recorded during one or both of the previous two low periods. So, obviously, current Great Lakes levels are either higher than they were at some point previously in the lives of anyone older than 50 years of age or at some point during the lives of their parents and grandparents.

If compared with all of the Great Lakes low level periods going back thousands of years, odds are that no “records” would have been set during the past three low level periods.

During our current low water level period, less monthly low level records were set than in the 1963 to mid- 1970s period. All of the original Army Corps of Engineer low level records were set in the 1926 to mid-1930s low level period because there were no previously recorded low level periods measured to which they could be compared.

Those who care to examine this topic closely will notice that the three low periods subject to the record-keeping done by the Army Corps of Engineers line up with the sedimentology findings of Todd Thompson, an expert on the water levels of Lake Michigan - Huron. Thompson’s findings didn’t go back a mere 100 years. His measurements went back several centuries. According to the observations Thompson made from studying layers of sediment along the lake shore, he noted an approximate 37-41 year high and low water level cycle.

At this point anyone who talks about Great Lakes water levels and leaves out the natural cycle angle is either being purposefully deceptive or is practicing willful ignorance.

In accordance with Thompson’s lake level cycle theory, we’ll have to wait another decade to see lake levels reach a point where high water becomes a problem — as it did in the late 1980s. Hopefully when that happens, someone will pull out all of the alarmist material and say: “OK, will you people finally admit you were just exploiting a natural phenomenon to advance your political agenda?”

Time provides a clearer view

Now let’s visit a different compartment of politics. In a normal political cycle, 2013 should have been a year when Gov. Rick Snyder and the Republicans moved to the right. The rule of thumb is simple: cater more to your base in the odd-numbered year and then move to the center in the election-year.

But that’s not what happened this year. Medicaid expansion and an effort to raise revenues for roads were the dominate issues. Neither of these are the kind of goals that conservatives wanted to see state government pursuing.

Last December, Snyder and his team were certainly aware that they wouldn’t be making the conservative wing of the Republican Party very happy in 2013. So, in purely political jargon, they “gave something” to the conservatives ahead of time – and what they gave them was the Right to Work law.

The tale has been told and retold about why Snyder and the Republicans moved quickly to pass Right to Work last December. Yes, the unions had basically asked for it by pushing for Proposal 2. Yes, the unions had more or less teed up Right to Work for Snyder and the Republicans to drive down the fairway.

Nevertheless, in 20-20 hindsight, the idea of giving the conservative base something to cheer about before disappointing it in 2013 probably provided an additional argument for the passage and enactment of Right to Work.

Jack Spencer is Capitol Affairs Specialist for Capitol Confidential, an online newsletter associated with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (MCPP). MCPP provides policy analysis. The political analysis represented in this column does not necessarily reflect the views of the Mackinac Center.