Warming will have some big effects on Michigan
By Jeff Kart
The Bay City Times
Published March 22, 2007
EAST LANSING - Scientists have a story to share about global warming, but they've got to tell it to the right people.
That's the message public, private and state government experts from the U.S. and Canada set out to convey at an two-day international climate change symposium last week at Michigan State University.
Those at the conference said uncertainty about the exact impacts of climate change is no reason for governments to ignore the consequences of burning fossil fuels and not plan for the future.
Experts said Michigan and the world are already seeing the impacts of global warming and decision-makers need to prepare themselves to deal with low water levels and shifting plant and animal habitats here.
Steven E. Chester, director of the state Department of Environmental Quality, called climate change "the single most important signature environmental issue" for residents and the next generation.
"The actions that we take over the course of the next few years is really going to determine the environment that we ultimately leave for them," Chester said.
The only questions about climate change are how fast it will occur, what the exact impacts will be and how Michigan and national leaders will respond, he said.
Chester said Michigan has taken some steps to lower its ranking as a Top Ten carbon emitter in the U.S. by cutting energy use in state buildings. The state also has joined a Midwest greenhouse gas inventory that will set carbon emission caps.
Chester said there's been a "lack of leadership" on addressing climate change in Washington, D.C., but nationwide mandatory greenhouse gas cuts are expected to come eventually.
Jeff Andresen, state climatologist, said average temperatures in Michigan have increased by 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1980, mostly during nighttime, winter and spring. Since 1970, the ice cover on the Great Lakes has also steadily declined, which increases evaporation.
Scudder Mackey, a physical scientist and geologist with the University of Windsor, in Canada, said Lakes Michigan and Huron, technically the same body of water, are at the beginning of a 160-year downward cycle, driven in part by climate change.
Mackey said there will be small fluctuations in water levels for the next 12-15 years, but then levels will drop substantially for the next 100 years, according to an analysis.
Corky Overmyer, sustainability manager for the city of Grand Rapids, said people need to take it upon themselves to protect the planet for future generations.
"What are you driving? How much power are you consuming? What are you buying? Where do you live?" are questions people need to ask themselves, he said. "It's up to us."
Helen Taylor, state director of The Nature Conservancy in Michigan, said climate change has turned land conservation on its head.
"It used to be if you bought it, it was protected forever," Taylor said. But now conservancies must look for resilient areas and try to figure out how to protect land in a changing world.
Susi Moser, a research scientist for the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, said researchers need to link climate change science to decision making.
She said many scientists have the false notion that if they publish their work in a scientific journal, their findings will get to the right people.
"From the beginning, we ought to talk to the people who actually might use the information," and communicate findings in plain English, said Moser, author of a recent book called "Creating a Climate for Change.''
Joel Scheraga, a national program director for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C., said government planners need to consider climate change when they make decisions.
For instance, scientists predict that the Great Lakes region will see more intense rain events in coming decades, but planners aren't accounting for this when they go about upgrading century-old combined sewer systems, Scherga said.
"If they don't account for climate change, their systems won't get them where they want to go," Scherga said.
The symposium's findings will be published in a report. More information is available online at climatechange.msu.edu.