Cover image for On the brink : the Great Lakes in the 21st century
On the brink : the Great Lakes in the 21st century
Dempsey, Dave, 1957-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
East Lansing : Michigan State University Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
xi, 304 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 23 cm
Dreams of wealth and glory -- Failing the fish -- Protecting a new home -- Degradation -- Indignation -- Manipulating the lakes -- The comeback -- Losing the lakes? -- A future in peril -- Hope for home.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QH104.5.G7 D46 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



As one of the world's great natural treasures, the Great Lakes have also served in recent decades as an early warning system for many emerging environmental problems. In the early twenty-first century, as the Lakes face unprecedented challenges, we need to revisit both the wonder of the Lakes and the perils plaguing them, and to take action to protect this majestic ecosystem. 
     Dave Dempsey weaves the natural character and phenomena of the Great Lakes and stories of the schemes, calamities, and unusual human residents of the Basin with the history of their environmental exploitation and recovery. Contrasting the incomparable beauty and complexity of the Lakes, and the poetry, folklore, and citizen action they have inspired, with the disasters that short-sighted human folly has inflicted on the ecosystem, Dempsey makes this history both engaging and relevant to today's debates and decisions.
     Underlying the neglectful treatment of the Lakes are two irreconcilable and faulty human assumptions: that the Lakes are a system so big that human beings cannot do great harm to it, and that the Lakes are a resource that can be bent to the will of humankind. Dempsey finds evidence that, despite great changes in the laws governing the Lakes and public attitudes toward them in the last fifty years, government policy and institutions are still dominated by these dangerous attitudes.
     A central theme of On the Brink is that citizens, who have displayed an increasing sense of commitment to the Lakes and a growing sense of place, must challenge their leaders to reform Great Lakes institutions. While everything from large-scale water exports to global climate change looms in the future of the Lakes, single-purpose solutions do not suffice--no more than a Band- aid would on a gaping wound. Dempsey shows that it is necessary to create a governing system that reflects the realities of life "on the ground" in communities and that taps into the passion and determination of citizens to protect these treasures.

Author Notes

Dave Dempsey is Policy Director of the Michigan Environmental Council, a statewide environmental coalition.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Choice Review

With nearly 10,900 miles of total shoreline, depths up to 1,333 feet, 94,250 total square miles of surface area, and one-fifth of the world's fresh surface water, the Great Lakes are one of the world's natural wonders. Over the past 150 years, the system's fish stocks collapsed, its waters were diverted for industrial and residential uses, and connecting channels were clogged with waste. Bordering wetlands were filled, shorelines were sold for development, toxic waste was dumped into waterways, and invasions of exotic species displaced native flora and fauna. In response, public officials from thousands of municipalities, eight states and two provinces, and the US and Canadian federal governments have created a myriad of public policies. Yet many serious problems remain. Dempsey (Michigan State Univ.) traces the history of the Great Lakes over the past 150 years from the perspective of the individuals, organizations, and governments in the two countries that are involved with the exploitation and protection of the lakes. He argues that the lakes' long-term future depends on the adoption of a lasting "Great Lakes ethic" for this, the world's largest freshwater ecosystem. This book is an important resource for conservation professionals, public officials, academics, college students, and environmental advocates. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. Lower-level undergraduates and above; general readers. S. Hollenhorst University of Idaho

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introductionp. 1
Prologue: A Day at the Shorep. 9
Chapter 1 Dreams of Wealth and Gloryp. 23
Chapter 2 Failing the Fishp. 37
Chapter 3 Protecting a New Homep. 59
Chapter 4 Degradationp. 95
Chapter 5 Indignationp. 113
Chapter 6 Manipulating the Lakesp. 133
Chapter 7 The Comebackp. 161
Chapter 8 Losing the Lakes?p. 195
Chapter 9 A Future in Perilp. 227
Chapter 10 Hope for Homep. 259
Notesp. 277
Indexp. 301