3 biggest things Michigan can do to battle climate change

Third edition of ‘In This Climate’ newsletter

Solar energy
Solar energy

This article was first published in the “In This Climate” Newsletter, a periodical newsletter looking at the impact of climate change in Michigan. Sign up for it here, or by using the form at the bottom of the article below.


“It is not too late, but time is running out.” 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 our first two newsletters, on the biggest climate impacts right now and what the future could look like without action, catch up right here.

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.

🌡️ Better late than never?

It can be hard to fathom the change needed to take on climate change on a global scale. The truth is, we can only control so much. It takes a global team effort. And with us, it starts here in Michigan.

I asked Dr. Overpeck about the three biggest things we can do to take on climate change. Here’s what he said:

First and foremost, the state of Michigan needs to become a leader in transitioning the state to low-carbon energy, and eliminating all forms of greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 or earlier. The utilization of fossil fuels needs to be phased out as rapidly as possible, and replaced with renewable energy and widespread electrification of everything. In addition to helping to halt climate change, these goals would also reduce air pollution, the cost of energy, and the cost of transportation (“mobility”). Moreover, Michigan’s manufacturing economy would be enhanced and broadened if the state became a global leader in electric mobility and other clean tech solutions to climate change. Why? Because the entire globe is decarbonizing, and is thus a market for the electric mobility and other clean tech solutions that Michigan could produce. For Michigan, being a climate action leader translates into being an economic leader, as well as a jobs creator.

(Related: Whitmer sets goal to make Michigan carbon-neutral by 2050)

Second, even with aggressive global action, climate change will worsen before it is halted in the coming two to three decades. This means Michigan must also become expert in adapting to the continued climate changes that are unavoidable. For example, we must update our infrastructure (e.g., dams and storm-water systems) to reduce the risks posed by increasing amounts and intensity of rainfall. We must develop more advanced agricultural processes that both reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also allow agricultural operations to be more productive without exacerbating nutrient runoff and algae blooms. We must learn to anticipate and manage our rich terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems so that they thrive even as climate continues to change. If done well, the state’s climate adaptation successes will translate into enhanced resilience, as well as more well-paying jobs and market opportunities; again, it’s critical to realize that the entire world will be looking for the same types of climate adaptation solutions that Michigan could provide.

Third, everything Michigan does to solve the climate crisis should advance environmental justice. Disadvantaged communities, both urban and rural, need to benefit from the policies that Michigan puts into place to adapt to our changing climate, and to halt the changes we can’t adapt to. Priority needs to be place on eliminating the fossil fuel burning and other practices that are destroying our climate, and disproportionately burdening some communities, just as priority needs to be placed on making water, energy and mobility affordable for everyone.

If Michigan becomes a leader in ensuring that everyone in the state has access to well-paying jobs, clean air, clean water and an affordable life-style, Michigan will become a major go-to state for people and industries central to creating a sustainable and just economy that is free of climate change.

What can Michiganders do in their everyday lives to make a difference?

Above all else, Michiganders need to support, and elect, leaders who are committed to climate action, and each of the three major priorities described above. Individual actions are important, but without federal, state and local leaders who are committed to climate action, we will not succeed in what needs to be done.

At home and work, Michiganders should also each do whatever they can to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions. The internet has many sites that provide ideas how to act as individuals, families, communities and businesses, and we all have roles to play. But, in the end, success for Michigan depends on electing leaders – at all levels of government – who will make climate action a top priority.

Huge thank you to Dr. Overpeck for sharing his expert insights with us!


♨️ Hot reads

  • Dinosaur news: Plant-eating dinosaurs probably arrived in the Northern Hemisphere millions of years after their meat-eating cousins, a delay likely caused by climate change, a new study found. Read more here.
  • Speaking of climate adaptation: Texas is seeing its harshest winter weather in decades, resulting in millions of power outages and even deaths. “We’re going to have to plan for more of this kind of weather. People said this would never happen in Texas, and yet it has.” More here.
  • Coal mine costs: A judge says U.S officials downplayed climate change impacts and other environmental costs from the expansion of a massive coal mine near the Montana-Wyoming border, in a case that could test how far the Biden administration is willing to go to unwind its predecessors’ decisions. More on this here.
  • Podcast: “How to Save a Planet” has a great episode, “Party Like It’s 2035,” which looks at what would need to happen to reach 100% clean electricity in the U.S. (It’s a lot!)
  • Help the planet: Here are 13 everyday things you can do to help our planet!

🧊 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.