We Need to Clean This Up

In Conversation with Samuel Pegg

During our time in Thunder Bay, we met up with Samuel Pegg of Infosuperior, an environmental non-profit based at Lakehead University. Samuel had reached out to us prior to the run when he heard about the microplastics research we were planning. As we spent a rest day navigating the biggest city on the lake, he met up with us to talk more about microplastics issues as well as the work he does with Infosuperior. What follows is our edited conversation from that day.

So how long have you lived up by the lake, and what brought you here?

I myself have been here actually about five years – I used to live in Arizona of all places. Which is about as far away from water as you can get. But that’s one thing I missed, I missed the connection to the lake, I missed kayaking, I missed being somewhere that was green. And not unnaturally green. And that’s why I moved back here to Lakehead [University]. We have a program here for water resource science, and I enjoy doing that. I wanted to be back and looking at our precious water resources.

And now you live in Thunder Bay, the biggest city on the lake.

For myself, I’m used to Arizona, I’m used to Phoenix where cities are six million. Thunder Bay is 110,000. For me it’s a small town. I know the lake itself is so spread out and the communities are so spread out widely, but in a way that’s why Infosuperior is working to connect some of these communities to work together on some of these issues. I’m sure you all have seen that on your run so far, as to how big the lake actually is and how far some of these communities are from one another. They’re eight hour drives, let alone running.

So since moving back here five years ago, you’ve been at Lakehead. Can you tell us more about the studies and work you’ve been a part of with Infosuperior?

I started at the college here doing environmental technology. I’ve spent some time there involved with the organization, which works with areas of concern kind of like superfund sites in the US. There are actually areas of concern around the Great Lakes, and I got involved with that as a public advisory committee member. So Infosuperior is kind of developing out of this idea, which is basically historic contamination. [Instead of] ‘we need to clean up this, once we clean it up its done’, it’s more to try to bring together people who are interested in Lake Superior and the stories, connecting it to policy, education, research, and the social aspects that go together with environmental cleanup. Trying to connect people around the lake, and treasure and share the lake, preserve it.

Have there been challenges with this work at Infosuperior?

Yeah, there are always challenges no matter what. For the most part people are excited and interested for it. Our office is in a weird position, in the sense where we represent the public interest and serve the public advisory committee, but we also have the challenge in that we are also funded by the government. So we have to play the role of making sure the public has their voice while kind of having the government message of ‘cleaning up’; so we do get caught sometimes in between. Making sure there is a great public voice, and then the government is [also] able to have their message, and that’s how I see our organization, making sure everyone gets a voice, gets a message, and trying to foster that communication. Because I think communication is the most important thing. And that’s kind of why we have Infosuperior, to foster that communication on the issues that are challenging. Someone somewhere else may have a solution or at least discuss possible solutions.

What are you most concerned about, in terms of the future of the lake?

One of the biggest challenges we’ll face is climate change, and its different avenues and aspects too. Not just warming temperatures, but we’ll be facing rising water levels and increased precipitation, which will require us to build more infrastructure because we have all kinds of decaying and decrepit infrastructure. So that’s an aspect of climate change that’s not really talked about, but I think these connected issues are gonna be the problem, or what’s gonna be the challenge for people to work on. And I think it’s gonna be a big challenge. I think there’s the capacity, and I think people are going to work towards it, but you have to make sure people don’t get burned out. I think people are up for it but it’s that transition between being up for it, and where we need to go. And how much pressure we actually put on it. Once our backs are up to the wall humans can do great things.

Right now Thunder Bay is working on a climate adaptation strategy, and putting in a plan for it. What the timeline is it’s hard to say. Because the more pressure we feel and the more connected we feel to it as an issue, the more likely we are to work on it. If we don’t see it, well it’s not that big of a problem, then we don’t continue to work on it. But if we see the impacts of it, like how Duluth had significant flooding a few years ago… storm water management plans are becoming easier to connect to when people say, wait a minute, we should do something about that. That’s why I think work like this is great because it’s getting people to connect to the issues they need to, and actually being able to work on them. And it’s hard to do with these climate change issues because often times you don’t see the direct impact of climate change, because it happens on a global scale.

So what does climate change look like regionally to you?

You can say climate change will be rising sea levels, but if you tell someone your dock will be underwater in five years, then they can make an easier connection because then it becomes local, it becomes personal to them rather than something that’s a global issue. Most people are like, I don’t care what happens halfway around the world, but once you connect it to them and their dock they start to care a little more. And I think that’ll be the biggest challenge and the biggest connection and the way to go forward, is connecting it to the local as well as the global.

To end on a lighter note, what’s your favorite part about living up by the lake?

The summers. I love it. The midnight sun, it stays light, you can go out at nine or ten o’clock at night. I’ve got a little kayak and I just throw it into the lake and do a little paddling. It’s great to be out at ten in the evening, enjoying the lake. Winters not so much, but the summers are perfect.