Photo courtesy the Waugoshance Lighthouse Preservation Society Photo courtesy the Waugoshance Lighthouse Preservation Society

Lighthouses on either side of the Straits of Mackinac face destruction. Biden’s climate plan could save many like them.

CARP LAKE, Mich.—For 170 years, a lighthouse has braved the most treacherous waters of northern Lake Michigan. 

Towering 63 feet into the sky, made of iron and steel, the Waugoshance Lighthouse stood steeped in history near the Straits of Mackinac for nearly two centuries. Then, it met its untimely demise: climate change. 

Waugoshance Lighthouse has been decommissioned more than 100 years ago, and remains a treasured part of Emmet County. Its mystique draws in history buffs, nautical fans, and ghost hunters to northern Michigan for years, to say nothing of it’s wild World War II history

But since 2019, the changing weather patterns linked to climate change have had devastating and rapid effects on its structure. 

Even the passionate Michiganders charged with preserving the structure have been unable to stay afloat and keep the lighthouse maintained. 

“Waugoshance has given me so many wonderful memories and lifelong friendships,” Chris West, who led the preservation society’s effort to save the lighthouse, said in public announcement. “Over the past [two] years we have been watching the record high water levels erode the base of the lighthouse at an alarming rate.”

Waugoshance’s fate is now to crumble into Lake Michigan, he said. 

Michigan Feels Global Warming, Too

What does climate change have to do with Michigan’s Great Lakes and the lighthouses that have guided people through them for centuries? As temperatures rise from global warming, winds and waves become more damaging, experts explain. 

This means things are only going to get worse for Michigan’s lighthouses if climate change is not addressed, as explained in a recent study published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

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“As temperatures increase overall, we will get higher winds and larger waves,” said Josef Ackerman, a professor of physical ecology and aquatic sciences with the Canadian university who led the study. “We can’t control the winds but maybe we could double down on our efforts to reduce inputs into the lakes to keep the ecosystems healthy. If so, the winds won’t have as bad an impact.”

The report adds to a growing body of scientific evidence that human activity is affecting the Great Lakes in unforeseen ways. Emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, are also believed to be warming the lakes and causing heavier storms. 

These things all impact Michigan’s Great Lakes. 

What’s Being Done to Address Extreme Weather 

Protecting Michigan’s lighthouses starts by raising awareness about climate change, and thinking of creative solutions until the world sees progress on protecting the environment. 

Two months into his presidency, Joe Biden has taken many steps to address the dramatically changing climate. The first big step was to rejoin the Paris Climate Accords, an international agreement on worldwide climate action. Because the global climate is interconnected and pollution from anywhere in the world can lead to the rising water levels in the Straits of Mackinac, the needed solution is global. Many countries come together in the agreement, but former President Donald Trump took America out of the conversation by leaving the accords. 

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Early in his first 100 days in office, Biden rejoined them as a first giant step back toward stopping the effects of climate change.  

But Biden’s plan to overcome climate change doesn’t stay at a global level; it hits Michiganders at home. He has plans to tackle pollution and carbon emissions by creating new jobs to support electric vehicles. Biden also wants to reach an end to America contributing to global warming by 2050, by offsetting the amount of dangerous carbon the US releases into the atmosphere. 

This kind of persistent leadership in climate action will come too late to save Waugoshance, but other Michigan lighthouses could benefit from dedicated efforts to combat climate change. 

The Future of Michigan Lighthouses 

On Round Island, the other side of the Straits of Mackinac from where Waugoshance is crumbling, is another iconic lighthouse. 

“That lighthouse is the epitome of a Michigan summer,” Matt McMullen, board chairman of the Round Island Lighthouse Preservation Society, told MLive. “When you’re standing next to it, you can see thousands of people going by you on the ferries, but you are alone. The world is moving all around you, but you are not.”

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But this lighthouse also faces the peril of climate change in these waters, so close to Waugoshance. 

The Round Island Lighthouse’’s preservation society is attempting to protect it with a barrier of large rocks from the spring thaw. 

This will hold the harsh winds and waves back for now, but preservation experts know a long term solution is needed: addressing the causes of extreme weather due to rising global temperatures. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.