Graham Sustainability Institute

U-M Hosts National Climate Assessment Midwest Regional Town Hall

Monday, February 11, 2013

The University of Michigan hosted a Midwest regional town hall on Feb. 12 where findings of the recently released draft National Climate Assessment were presented and discussed. More than 100 people participated in the event, and many others watched it via a live webcast. (Click here to see presentation.)

The 1,100-page-plus report was written for the federal government by a team of more than 240 scientists, including several from the University of Michigan. It assesses the key impacts of climate change on every region of the country and analyzes its likely effects on human health, water, energy, transportation, agriculture, forest, ecosystems and biodiversity.

The draft report, released Jan. 11, states that climate change will lead to more frequent and more intense Midwest heat waves while degrading air and water quality and threatening public health. Intense rainstorms and floods will become more common in the region, and current problems in the Great Lakes—such as invasive species and "dead zones"—will be exacerbated.

The Feb. 12 meeting at U-M's Palmer Commons was sponsored by the U.S. Global Change Research Program and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is one of a series of town halls being held across the country. The U-M meeting will include presentations about the expected impacts of climate change on the Midwest and on U.S. agriculture and transportation; ongoing efforts to adapt to climate change; and the relationship between land use and climate change.

About 100 climate change experts and users of climate change information will attend, including participants from academia; local, state, tribal and federal governments; nonprofit organizations; and business and industry.

"This was a great opportunity to learn more about the National Climate Assessment, how to comment on the draft report, and ongoing research on climate change in this region. The assessment of impacts is a critical step in preparing for potential futures," said David Bidwell, program director for the Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments Center, a research fellow at U-M's Graham Sustainability Institute, and one of the event organizers.

The 2013 report is the third federal climate assessment since 2000 and the first to include a chapter on adapting to climate change. Rosina Bierbaum, a professor at the U-M School of Natural Resources and Environment and the School of Public Health, was a lead convening author of the adaptation chapter. Missy Stults, a research fellow with Bierbaum and a doctoral student at the A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, was a contributing author on the chapter.

"Climate change is already happening, and no matter how much we ultimately control the emission of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, we also need to plan for and manage the changes that are already underway, as well as those yet to come," said Bierbaum, presented an overview of the National Climate Assessment process at the Feb. 12 meeting.

Bierbaum and Marie O'Neill of the U-M School of Public Health serve on a 60-person advisory committee that oversaw development of the draft report. Other U-M contributors to the report: Donald Scavia, director of the Graham Sustainability Institute, was a lead convening author of the Midwest chapter and SNRE professor Daniel Brown was a lead convening author of the chapter on land use and land cover change.

"By the end of this century, parts of the Midwest could have a month or more of temperatures over 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Summers here will feel much more like present-day Arkansas," said Bierbaum, a former SNRE dean who serves on the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, a 21-member committee that advises President Obama.

In this country, most climate-change adaptation efforts have occurred at the local and regional levels. According to a recent survey of 298 U.S. local governments, 59 percent indicated that they are engaged in some form of climate-change adaptation planning, but few are yet implementing actions.

The draft climate assessment highlights Keene, N.H.; New York City; King County, Wash.; and Chicago as municipalities at the forefront of adaptation planning. Bierbaum also mentioned Cedar Falls, Iowa, which suffered from devastating river flooding in 2008. In response, the city enacted tougher zoning ordinances to expand restrictions on construction to the 500-year floodplain because city officials expect severe flood risks to continue in the future.

In Michigan, the cities of Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids have been proactive about climate-change preparations, Bierbaum said. When selecting trees to plant in the city, Ann Arbor urban foresters now look for species that will be able to tolerate hotter future temperatures. City officials may also consider the installation of larger-diameter stormwater drainage pipes that could better handle deluges of the future.

Bierbaum will discuss climate change adaptation Feb. 18 in Boston at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The draft climate assessment also includes a chapter about land use and land cover change. SNRE's Brown, one of two lead convening authors of the chapter, discussed the topic at the Feb. 12 town hall.

Decisions about land use and land cover can affect—both positively and negatively—how much our climate will change and what kind of vulnerabilities humans and natural systems will face as a result, according to the report. Adaptation options related to land use include varying the local mix of vegetation and concrete to reduce heat in cities, or elevating homes to reduce exposure to sea level rise or flooding.

Options for reducing the speed and amount of climate change include expanding forests to accelerate removal of carbon from the air, modifying the way cities are built and organized to reduce energy and motorized transportation demands, and altering agricultural management practices to increase carbon storage in soils.

"We hope that including this chapter in the assessment report will raise awareness of how decisions about land use and what we put on the land can increase or decrease the effects of climate change on people's well-being and livelihoods," Brown said.

U-M co-sponsors of the event were the Graham Sustainability Institute, the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise, and the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences. U-M President Emeritus James Duderstadt delivered welcoming remarks at the Feb. 12 town hall. Richard Rood, U-M professor of atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences, participated in an afternoon panel discussion.

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