All this week, Michigan Radio's Environment Report will be focusing on climate change and how it's already affecting us in the state of Michigan, and what's expected to change in the future. It's a huge crisis we face now — and that generations to come will face — and it will affect every aspect of our lives, from what we eat, to how we travel, to how we live inside our homes.
To start, climate change describes what is happening to our planet as certain gasses in the atmosphere block heat from escaping. This is due to an increase in greenhouse gases: primarily carbon dioxide, but also methane and some others. Whenever we produce and burn a fossil fuel like coal, natural gas, gasoline, diesel, and propane, we increase the concentration of greenhouse gasses. Forests naturally capture carbon dioxide, but humans are prone to clearing the world's forests.
Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton joined Stateside to discuss the big picture for Michigan.
According to Samilton, we had a taste of what's to come in mid-July when we had three to four days of a nearly 100 degree heat index, which is a combination of heat plus humidity that feels incredibly oppressive. And it's dangerous, too.
"Imagine having that happen not just a handful of days a year, but up to 25 days a year," Samilton says. "The Union of Concerned Scientists says if we do nothing to curtail our emissions, that's in [Michigan's] future by mid-century. And 26 to 50 days of those extreme heat waves a year by late-century if we do nothing."
In Michigan, changes in climate are more than just warming temperatures. The state has seen an increase in heavy rain events, which has led to more flooding. Samilton says there's been a 14% increase in precipitation in the Great Lakes region since 1951. She says to expect that to continue and increase further.
"Weather is harder to predict than the temperature increases," Samilton said. "So, it could be back and forth. We could have years of really dry, hot summers in Michigan, with super wet springs. And we could have more lake effect snow in the winters, but as it continues to get warmer, we could have a lot more rain in the winter."
So what can we do? Samilton asked Richard Rood, who teaches climate change problem solving at the University of Michigan, that exact question. He tells his students to start running for local office.
Rood says local and city and state policies — and also regional, multi-state efforts — could really move the needle on energy efficiency, renewable energy, public transportation, and reforestation. And he says these local, state and regional efforts are especially crucial because the Trump administration is rolling back policies that address climate change.
Samilton says Michigan cities should also be working on emergency plans for situations that will be a result of climate change, such as dangerous temperatures and flooding.
The Environmental Law and Policy Center's Margrethe Kearney agrees with Rood about getting involved, particularly if your city doesn't have a climate change plan, or holding local officials responsible if the current plan is not meeting its goals.
"We can force the people who represent us in government and the companies who sell things to us, we can insist that they change the way they are responding to climate change, and that they take much more significant action," Kearney says. "And that, that bigger system change, I think, is where there can be a real impact on carbon emissions."
Michigan Radio and Stateside will be talking about environmental issues and how people are taking action on climate change all week. Follow along with us here.