What Michigan’s future could look like without action on climate change

Second edition of ‘In This Climate’ newsletter

View of a section of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore park and fog-obscured Lake Michigan beyond, Michigan, November 2013. (Photo by Interim Archives/Getty Images) (Interim Archives, Getty Images)

This article was first published in the “In This Climate” Newsletter, a periodical newsletter looking at the impact of climate change in Michigan.

“If climate change isn’t stopped soon, the impacts of the change will become much worse in Michigan.”

Welcome back to the In This Climate Newsletter! I’m Ken. I launched this newsletter to bring climate change to the neighborhood level. How is climate change impacting Michigan right now -- and how will it impact Michigan in the future? What can we do about it?

We’ll spend some time looking at the issues -- and we’ll seek out solutions. We’ll talk to the experts. We’ll educate ourselves along the way.

(If you missed the first newsletter -- 2 biggest climate impacts in Michigan right now -- click here to catch up!)

We’re continuing our series of newsletters with one of the top climate experts in the U.S. -- Dr. Jonathan Overpeck, Samuel A. Graham Dean and William B. Stapp Collegiate Professor of Environmental Education School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan.

🌡️ Heat of the moment

This time, we’re talking about the future. Climate change is happening now -- and much of it is already baked in for the coming decades. What will Michigan look like if climate change isn’t stopped -- and soon?

Here’s what Dr. Overpeck says about this:

If climate change isn’t stopped soon, the impacts of the change will become much worse in Michigan. Heatwaves and air pollution will become more deadly, and the likelihood of an increasing number of infectious diseases spreading in the state will also increase dramatically.

Continued rapid increases in precipitation amount and intensity will continue to elevate flood risk more and more in the winter and spring, as well as exacerbate the spread of toxic algae blooms in all of the Great Lakes, and many other water bodies as well.

At the same time, some new climate impacts will start to have serious impacts in Michigan. Continued increases in temperature will likely lead to more frequent, longer, and severe summer dry-spells and drought, which in turn will pose increasing threats to agriculture in the state, particularly for crops that can’t be easily irrigated.

Forests will also be increasingly threatened by drought impacts and wildfire, much as the forests of the US West are already experiencing. Both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems will experience hard-to-predict changes, and will likely deteriorate.

Winter recreation and outdoor sports will obviously be severely impacted by continued warming.

One other big factor concerns scientists thinking about the future of climate change in states like Michigan. If the amount of global warming is allowed to cross certain “tipping points”, it is possible that this will trigger additional warming that is irreversible on human timescales.

This, in turn, will make the climate change situation for the state even worse.

Do the Great Lakes provide protection to Michigan?

The northern location of the Great Lakes mean that the region won’t get the worse of heat waves and extreme temperatures that are already starting to hit more southerly parts of the United States.

Similarly, the wetter nature of the region is protecting it from the early onset of aridification, drought and severe wildfire impacts that is now plaguing the U.S. West. But, these protections are not absolute, and could be overwhelmed even in Michigan if climate change is allowed to continue unchecked.

For example, the time would come when southern Michigan routinely experiences dozens of high-humidity days above 100 degrees F each year.

And in the meantime, the presence of the Great Lakes will do nothing to slow the impacts of increasing rainfall amount and intensity, nor the spread of toxic algae blooms; indeed, it is possible that many of the Great Lake coasts could become choked with algae, just as we’re starting to see in Lake Erie (photo below) and along the Gulf Coast of Florida.

Algae from Lake Erie washes ashore at Maumee Bay State Park. (2014 Getty Images)

In our next newsletter: Three things Michigan can do to take on climate change -- and is it too late?

♨️ Hot reads

  • Executive actions: In the most ambitious U.S. effort to stave off the worst of climate change, President Joe Biden signed executive orders to transform the nation’s heavily fossil-fuel powered economy into a clean-burning one, pausing oil and gas leasing on federal land and targeting subsidies for those industries. The directives aim to conserve 30 percent of the country’s lands and waters in the next 10 years, double the nation’s offshore wind energy, and move to an all-electric federal vehicle fleet, among other changes. Biden’s sweeping plan is aimed at staving off the worst of global warming caused by burning fossil fuels. (More here)
  • Climate adaptation: An organization that promotes efforts to adapt the environment to cope with the effects of climate change is calling on governments and financers around the globe to include funding for adaptation projects in their COVID-19 recovery spending. (More here)
  • Shark population drop: Scientists have known for decades that individual shark species are declining, but a new study drawing on 57 global datasets underscores just how dramatically worldwide populations have collapsed in the past half century. Globally, the abundance of oceanic sharks and rays dropped more than 70% between 1970 and 2018, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature. (More here)
  • Cicadas are coming: A 17-year Brood X cicada will emerge in Michigan this spring -- here’s what you need to know.

🧊 Break the ice

Thanks for reading the In This Climate Newsletter! I appreciate it. If you have a topic you’d like me to cover or just want to say hello, feel free to email me!

We have plenty of other newsletters at Local 4, covering all types of topics. Sign up for others here. Talk soon! - Ken Haddad (Email | Twitter)

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About the Author:

Ken Haddad is the digital content manager for WDIV / ClickOnDetroit.com. He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter.