Experts discuss climate change and effect on state

Many Michigan cities have warmest February on record

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published April 11, 2017

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METRO DETROIT — Lisa Wozniak, executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, recently compared the climate change debate to a frog that is sitting in a pot of water.

If you simmer the heat, she said, the frog won’t really notice. But if you start to boil the water, the frog becomes more acclimated to what is happening to it.

According to data accumulated by the National Weather Service, numerous Michigan cities had their warmest February temperatures on record, including Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Jackson, Lansing, Muskegon, Saginaw and Bay City.

In Ann Arbor for example, the city’s average temperature in February was 37.5 degrees — nearly 2 degrees higher than the old record from 1998.

“Climate change is happening,” Wozniak said. “We know from scientific clarification that we are in the midst of a warming cycle on this planet. I think the majority of people recognize it, but they may not know what to do about it.”

The Michigan League of Conservation Voters is a nonpartisan political voice that works to protect Michigan’s air, land and water — along with educating citizens, media and legislators on key issues regarding natural resources.

Oftentimes, she said, most citizens don’t know what politicians do when they walk the halls in Lansing or Washington, D.C. So the organization releases public scorecards that inform citizens how legislators vote on certain issues, such as those related to the environment. Those are released every two years, with a governor’s scorecard released every three years.

The league released its most recent scorecard Feb. 22, saying “big wins” were achieved in terms of bipartisan clean energy legislation designed to reduce pollution and carbon emissions, along with creating energy-related jobs for the future.

Kalamazoo was also listed among the aforementioned, though Brandon Hoving, observing program leader and meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Grand Rapids, clarified that no real data collection took place between 1990 and 1998. Thus, that particular report is unofficial.

“The actual reporting stations are at airports in those cities,” Hoving said. “Historical data from those cities is threaded into the long-term period of record, which includes data from volunteer observers and also automated stations at airports.”

Kate Madigan, director of Michigan Climate Action Network, said February’s temperature data is both expected and alarming — due to consistent data that has revealed 15 consecutive months of record-breaking temperatures.

“This means that since records began, these months have been warmer than any other February in recorded history — which is one of the ways we can observe that climate change is happening,” Madigan said.

It’s not just a local indicator either, she said. Springtime temperatures in early months are detrimental to people like farmers. Cherry crops have suffered historically due to unusual weather patterns, and it is happening more frequently.

Another impact has been more precipitation, which occurs when warmer air holds more moisture. Rainfall has increased 30 percent in Michigan since 1991, Madigan said, and it has led to more calamitous outcomes such as floods in large Michigan cities, more runoff into lakes, and exacerbating algae blooms in the Great Lakes.

That also poses more consistency in extreme weather, which can cause injuries or fatalities due to flooding, tornadoes, extreme droughts, etc.

Kindra Weid is the coalition coordinator for MI Air MI Health, and is also a registered nurse with a master’s degree in public health. She looks at climate change from a different perspective, as a health professional.

She said she became more passionate about the subject matter while working with patients who suffered from cardiovascular ailments. Individuals would be placed into intensive care, treated and then released back into the environment — an environment that makes them sick in the first place.

“I realized I was fighting a public battle,” Weid said. “A lot of the things are out of the scope of the individual to modify. It’s out of their control.”

She said the data is both expected and alarming, with patterns causing changes that don’t only affect human beings. Dog activity has been closely monitored in the past, especially in summer months, due to the possibility of fleas and ticks in the sweltering heat. Increasingly, there has been an uptick in Lyme disease. The EPA states that Lyme disease doubled between 1991 and 2014, with climate change being a factor.

Weid mentioned a 2016 study by the American Thoracic Society that looked at ozone levels and the amount of days that experienced elevated levels. Levels are better in the upper levels of the atmosphere, she noted, rather than being closer to the earth.

The study found that people with compromised health conditions were more affected during ozone “action days,” when levels are closer to the ground and lead to more emissions and a chemical reaction to sunlight.

In Macomb County alone, elevated ozone levels have contributed to 32 deaths and 68,000 days lost — or the amount of school and workdays lost to issues like asthma, cardiovascular and respiratory conditions, according to Weid.

It is also an economic issue.

This is a worldwide problem, Madigan said. In December 2015, representatives of 195 countries approved the Paris Agreement, dealing with greenhouse gases emissions mitigation, adaptation and finance starting in the year 2020.

“Renewable energy is cost-effective now,” she said. “It’s the fiscally responsible way to power our communities, our businesses and our world.”

Weid, who had a father and brother who worked for the Big Three automakers, understands Michigan’s reliance on automobiles. She also said dependence on public transportation can reduce CO2 emissions and improve air quality. The same goes for the coal industry, which she described as being on its way out.

As to whether climate change is an issue based around ignorance, lack of outreach or a failed trust in political officials, it depends on whom you ask.

“I wish I knew the answer to that,” Weid said. “I don’t know what the ticking point (is) for getting people into action. I feel alarmed, I think others feel alarmed into action as well.

“Unfortunately, some of it is political, but when we’re dealing with public health, it should be a nonpartisan issue. … It’s disheartening to see environmental regulations threatened, and I think that has the potential to have some setbacks. I think the evidence and the science is there, and enough people believe in them. Facts are facts, whether you believe them or not.”

Wozniak noted that Michigan, which is the second-most agriculturally diverse state behind California, environmentally has a lot to gain and a lot to lose. More than $18 billion in consumer spending goes toward recreation, with state and local revenue totaling about $1 billion.

She said Michiganders literally hold their hands up to show others where they live, in a land surrounded by water. With increased rhetoric met with scientific data, the battle is currently being waged.

“Citizens in Michigan believe that who they elect to Lansing or Washington, D.C., they will do the right things to protect the very essence of what is to be a Michigander,” Wozniak said. “That is protecting Great Lakes, having water that is safe to drink. This is an enormous opportunity.

“Everyone has that special place in their heart that defines Michigan for them. This is a wake-up call that we can no longer take for granted that our elected officials will do the right thing.”

For information on climate effects on health, visit www.cdc.gov/climateandhealth/effects/.

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