Climate Change, what’s it mean for Michigan?

Climate Change, what’s it mean for Michigan?
Photo courtesy of Chasing Ice
Photo courtesy of Chasing Ice

Climate change is happening and there is little debate among scientists, in fact, 97% of scientific papers that take a position on climate change, believe it is caused by anthropogenic activities. For the past three decades, the surface of the Earth has been warmer than any other preceding decade since 1850. These increasing temperatures are a result of the greenhouse effect, which is strongly connected to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxides. These gases are primarily connected to the burning of fossil fuels, for transportation, energy and industry. the oceans have been another key indicator for climate change. Oceans have the capacity to store large amounts of energy, and has stored 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010. The acidification of oceans is connected to the increased uptake of carbon dioxide (CO2) since the industrial revolution; as the CO2 dissolves in the oceans, it reacts with the water to create carbonic acid, acidifying the ocean. In the face of strong evidence, and a consensus among scientists, many Americans still do not believe that climate change will affect them during their lifetime. This disbelief explains the inaction. By understanding the immediate and long-term impacts from climate change, regions will be able to develop plans that consider both environmental and economic issues.

The most common, sometimes tiresome refrain regarding climate change is the melting icecaps and glaciers at the North and South Poles. While this phenomenon is terrifying and demonstrative, it does little to inspire real action in many people. Human beings often need to feel the heat so to speak, before making even minor adjustments to our behaviors and habits. Here in Michigan, average temperatures have also been on the rise, and the rate of warming over the next 40 years, will likely be greater than the rate of warming over the last 100 years. This affects many parts of Michigan’s economy, and requires immediate action and planning to stop the acceleration of changes. While climate models vary, what we can expect to see is an alteration in precipitation and overall wetness in the region. This has dramatic effects on the growing season, species conservation and tourism; all major components of Michigan’s GDP.

Agriculture is well established in Michigan and requires precipitation and optimal temperatures. A National Climate Assessment evaluated different regions for various impacts from climate change. One part of the assessment is determining the impact of these climate changes. Based on the

Photo courtesy of the National Climate Report
Photo courtesy of the National Climate Report

graph to the left, as temperatures increase, crop productivity dramatically decreases. Climate change models also predict changes in precipitation with fewer, more dramatic rain events becoming the norm. An increase in temperature and a decrease in precipitation can increase evaporation, and put a stronger reliance on the Great Lakes for irrigation. Our proximity to the Great Lakes may prevent these conditions from being perceived as an immediate concern.

A recent report from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) assesses the vulnerability of species throughout Michigan to climate change; focusing on species of greatest conservation concern. This report found that 17% of all game species and 61% of terrestrial and aquatic species within this classification are vulnerable to climate change. Considering the results of this report within the context of the tourism and recreation industry’s contribution to Michigan GDP, it is important that we consider policy implications both in terms of the environmental and the economy. If our representatives decide to prioritize one over the other, then we face significant degradation of the other.

When presented with information on climate change, it is still impossible to make the argument that climate change will not directly affect you during your lifetime, unless you also refuse to accept that increased food costs will happen during your lifetime. (Just take the record breaking California drought for example; the state is redoing their water infrastructure because of this!) It also refuses to consider other indirect impacts. What we need to focus on, instead of discussing whether or not climate change is cause by humans, is to start discussing how we are going to plan for the inevitable, and this starts with framing the conversation in a functional and productive way that encourages conversation, and coming up with real solutions that address the problems.

Have thoughts about initiating productive dialogue? Share your ideas below!

Although I was born and raised in central Indiana, my heart has always been in the pinky region and I moved here as soon as I got the chance! My regular gig is at Inland Seas Education Association where I am the Education & Volunteer Coordinator. I teach Great Lakes science education aboard the schooner Inland Seas. I love all things Michigan, particularly the lake, beer and food but not always in that order. Drop me a line anytime to chat about science, the Great Lakes or anything else.