The Milwaukee-based journalist discusses his essential book about the environmental history of the Great Lakes. Info
Dan Egan, who has worked since 2003 as a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, published one of the era's defining works of environmental journalism in his 2017 book The Death And Life Of The Great Lakes. The Laurentian Great Lakes—Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario—collectively form one of the world's most bounteous and coveted supplies of freshwater. Tens of millions of Americans and Canadians depend on this resource for drinking water and their livelihoods, in industries from farming to shipping. But as massive as this ecosystem is, it is also incredibly fragile, and human beings have subjected it to quite a few risky experiments since Europeans arrived in the region. People have stocked it with non-native salmon for sport fishing, unwittingly introduced invasive sea lampreys, and used Lake Michigan's water to flush Chicago's shit down the Mississippi River (you're welcome, St. Louis!), to name just a few things. On top of all that, the fight over who gets to use the water for drinking, industry, and agriculture will rage on for generations to come.
This gives Egan a lot to unpack, as he chronicles two centuries in which industry and governments played rather fast and loose with this incredible resource and then, over the last 40 years or so, tried to turn things around with stricter environmental regulations and a U.S.-Canada pact that governs access to Great Lakes water. Egan's book lays out the astonishingly complex weave of environmental, political, and economic factors at work on the lakes, and places it in a scientific and historical context. Most importantly, Egan makes all this approachable and tells us why the lay reader should care—something that only someone who's put in years of research and writing can pull off. The Death And Life Of The Great Lakes was recently named the 2018-19 book for UW-Madison's community reading program Go Big Read. Those who miss Egan's visit to Room of One's Own can catch him at the Union Theater on October 18. —Scott Gordon