Opinion | Michigan can, and should, be a leader in addressing climate change

Kate Madigan

Kate Madigan is director of Michigan Climate Action Network and the energy and climate specialist for Michigan Environmental Council.

Most everyone in Michigan saw the picture of our state completely swallowed in white during the polar vortex. The last week of January brought frigid wind-chill temperatures near 50 degrees below zero, a life-threatening event that put Michigan in a state of emergency for almost a week.

All over the country, we are seeing examples of extreme weather events like the polar vortex — from the tragic wildfire season in California to the devastating hurricanes in Puerto Rico and Florida. No one is immune from these events, but low-income communities are impacted the most, and the effects of climate change will continue to get worse until we take serious action.

A recent report from the world’s top climate scientists (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) found that to avoid the worst impacts we need to reduce our climate pollution by half in the next 12 years and get to zero emissions by mid-century. In short, we need to electrify everything from cars to buildings and move rapidly to clean electricity.

Building clean energy this fast is a huge undertaking, but it is doable if we act now. We have the technology to move off fossil fuels, like solar, wind, and energy efficiency, and these are now the cheapest forms of energy around. We know what policies are needed to make the biggest cuts in emissions, and some states are moving in this direction. Hundreds of cities and businesses are setting 100 percent clean energy goals, showing it is possible and that there’s a growing political will. Even our own utilities are pledging major cuts in emissions. And Michiganders elected politicians who are making climate a priority, like Governor Whitmer.

A week after the polar vortex, Governor Whitmer announced the creation of the first Office of Climate and Energy in Michigan and entered Michigan into the U.S. Climate Alliance. She then pledged to act on climate in her first State of the State address. These are very important first steps and having a governor that champions climate action is crucial.

However, there is much more to be done for the kind of rapid and just transition to clean energy we need, and to overcome the powerful special interests and the many elected officials who are standing in the way. The Michigan legislature just voted to overturn Governor Whitmer’s executive order that created the Office of Climate Change, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said Michigan lawmakers cannot make an impact on our climate. Denying that we can make a difference on climate is the new form of climate denial and it is not true.

Michigan has the 10th highest climate emissions  in the country, and the U.S. has the second highest climate emissions in the world. Every state, including Michigan, must do its part, and policies set in Lansing — like the renewable and energy efficiency standards — are already making a difference in reducing our climate emissions. Our lawmakers should be working on policies that promote energy efficient homes and businesses to help lower energy costs as well as furthering electric vehicle development in Michigan and establishing training programs for jobs in clean energy. We can and must do much more. For more detailed climate and energy policy recommendations for Michigan, see the environmental community’s 2019-2022 Environmental Roadmap.

Michiganders understand that climate change is a problem and want action. On February 21, 300 people from around the state will come together in Grand Rapids for the Michigan Climate Action Summit. Together we will work to move forward a climate agenda for our state that responds with the speed and ambition necessary. We know that Michigan is up to the challenge, and that investing in clean energy will reduce pollution, save lives, and create jobs. We can put our ingenuity and manufacturing know-how to work and make our state a leader in solving the climate crisis.

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Kevin Grand
Wed, 02/20/2019 - 6:53am

Tell me, Ms. Madigan; Exactly when HASN'T Michigan's climate changed?

Wasn't Michigan under a huge sheet of ice not that long ago (geologically speaking)?

How did THAT come about?

And why did THAT go away?

Bob Dunn
Wed, 02/20/2019 - 9:19am

Kevin, maybe we, the human species, too will all go away if we keep doing what we are doing. You must be willing to gamble on this. I believe too much is at stake to gamble by doing nothing.

Wed, 02/20/2019 - 10:34am

Exactly, Kevin. I was in Waterford Michigan in the 1970's. The story regularly on the news was that a new Ice Age was coming. The by the 1990's Michigan would be covered by a glacier again. These new Chicken Little's can't tell me I didn't hear that. They are incredibly gullible. How do they explain the land bridge that extended through Lake Huron from around Algonac to near Sarnia because the water levels were so low? Check out: https://www.speroforum.com/a/19533/Archaeologists-find-landbridge-under-... or search for Lake Huron land bridge.

Wed, 02/20/2019 - 1:14pm

Yep, ignorance is bliss.

Kevin Grand
Thu, 02/21/2019 - 7:21am

Yeah, I know, right.

Thinking that Earth's climate HASN'T changed one bit during it's very long history.

People like Freeman Dyson, Ivar Giaever (Nobel Prize recipient), Robert Laughlin (Nobel Prize recipient), Edward Teller, Frederick Seitz, Robert Jastrow and William Nierenberg are all obviously wrong on this issue.

Hmmmm, I vaguely recall something about science depending on reproducible results from a hypothesis.

Real science is NOT the consensus of a group of people.

And this was never an isolated problem. Remember when it was the consensus of "experts" that smoking was actually healthy for people?


If the same people pushing the "climate change" (or whatever moniker they slapped on it this week) panic button cannot tell us what will happen several days in advance, like the last winter snowstorm that DIDN'T materialize yesterday, why should the rest of their claims be given any credibility?

Barry Visel
Wed, 02/20/2019 - 10:03am

20 plus years ago a Michigan company, Energy Conversion Devices(ECD) proposed a very eloquent energy solution system. Solar (our only real energy source) was the central driver, but the energy was mostly used to extract hydrogen from water through electrolysis. Hydrogen then became the main fuel driving fuel cells for our homes, cars, lawn mowers, and virtually everything else that requires electricity. Imagine a home’s roofing shingles doubling as solar energy devices capable of driving electrolysis to extract enough hydrogen to heat and cool our homes and drive our cars. No grid. Pure water is the waste product (I think I’ve been reading a lot about water lately...we could purify our own).
What’s missing?...A “Manhattan-like” research effort (remember the A-bomb?) to make it happen. Until then we’re wasting time and money on low efficiency bandaid solutions. Maybe this should replace our goal of getting to Mars. (Maybe we should find out if ECD is still working on this).

Michigan Observer
Wed, 02/20/2019 - 4:10pm

A long time ago, I was a small investor in Energy Conversion Devices. It was a mistake. If their technology was capable of producing hydrogen at a lower cost than current energy sources, we would have long since heard about it. However, Mr. Visel is correct in believing that developing a non-polluting source of energy that is significantly cheaper than fossil fuels is, by far, the best way to deal with climate change.

Wed, 02/20/2019 - 10:16am

Hasn't the climate been changing since the earth formed? Isn't the climate dynamic, why should we believe that we can control that dynamics? Aren't every changing mathematic models [which can't predict the next El Nino] used to justify the claims that CO2 is the cause of climate change? Hasn't CO2 rise in past climate changes followed the temperature rise [CO2 levels follow the temperature up and fall [CO2 peaks after temperatures drop]? To much of the claims are made by politicians to the exclusion of scientific conversations. I wonder if Ms. Madigan can even explain how CO2 is changing the thermodynamics [radiation, conductions, convection] of global temperatures,
It seems that the global vortexes have been happening for longer than any of us have been here, similarly so have hurricanes, so how can we justify any drastic actions today based on what has been happening through out history?

It seems Ms. Madigan thinking cycle is based on the TV practice of all answers can/must be found within 30 minutes or one hour. The reality is that the climate changes may impact our life styles, but they are going to 'kill' earth. It is interesting that Ms. Madigan claims the Climate 'scientists' justify hear rationale, but many of the Nobel laureates disagree with Ms. Madigan's claims, they describe it will be nearer to 100 years before there will be data that could prove when humans' impact are significant to affect the dynamics of the climate.

Wed, 02/20/2019 - 12:10pm

Duane - based on your knowledge of the Earth's history, you are correct in the assertion that the Earth's climate has changed before. But it hasn't changed at the current rate humans are causing it to. There has long been proof (ie. facts) providing data linking fossil fuel emissions directly to the increasing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere by the specific isotopes associated with fossil fuels vs. other sources of CO2. Plain and simple, this is undeniable. Rather than attacking the author of the article and jumping to conclusions about her motives, time is better spent reading up on what climate scientists are actually reporting.

Wed, 02/20/2019 - 6:58pm


Please take the time to listen to what he has to say; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXxHfb66ZgM

This is includes Temperature and CO2 from long history [charts seem to indicate temperature leads CO2 concentrations and in other cases CO2 leads]; https://medium.com/@ghornerhb/heres-a-better-graph-of-co2-and-temperatur...

Since you claim it undeniable, please describe the mechanism that 400 or 500 ppm of CO2 controls the temperature within a fluctuation of 0.5 degrees? How does the CO2 molecule prevent energy transfer from the rest of the molecules in the atmosphere, how does it alter the thermodynamics of the atmosphere?

My question how do we know what is the cause when people who are skeptical of the CO2 are being belittled, 'bullied', ostracized, and in other ways discouraged or denied to participate in the scientific debate? There are Economics and Peace Nobel laureates you swear that man/CO2 is the cause, but should they carry more weight on the issue that Nobel Laureates in sciences?

Wed, 02/20/2019 - 12:57pm

Show us the quotes that support your assertion about Nobel prize winners, I could not verify what you said.

Wed, 02/20/2019 - 7:03pm

If I can show you that there are Nobel laureates in the sciences who question the cause of global warming, will you begin questioning the science of global warming or are you unwilling to be skeptical about what the media promotes? see Reply to Mark's question.

Thu, 02/21/2019 - 12:40pm

I hope our earth has food, water and breathable air for those of you that have not spent the last 20 years researching and trying to save our earth. Keep denying it people. Your children and grandchildren will have to clean up our mess and it might be too late.
It is much easier to deny climate change than help work on a solution.

Thu, 02/21/2019 - 11:17pm

It isn't denying climate change, because the climate is dynamic and always changing. The issue is about cause, is it natural or is because of the mathematical models being use to predict the impact of climate change and the cause of climate change. Have you forgotten Al Gore who won the Nobel PEACE prize for his claims about it being man made [his movie 'Inconvenient Truth' and all the predictions for climate change that did not happen]? A media headline is easy and travels fast, but seldom if ever do they get followed up on and shown to right or wrong.
A former employer of mine set goals [paying bonus for such success] to reduce energy use [reducing it by the tons of fossil fuel equivalents each year for years] or creating products and services that help home owners and businesses to reduce their energy consumptions.
What you should do is pause and consider that the media may not be as knowledgeable as you want, and that private companies employ technically educated capable people that make the systems more efficient and effective each year so the employers and their products will be sustainable.
Have you ever considered what if you are wrong and what the cost to society will be, what the cost to individuals will be? Experience shows that when you fail to consider the unintended consequence you will experience those consequences and the price will be greater than you could have imagined.

Sat, 02/23/2019 - 4:26pm

This world of ours has been changing since the beginning of time. Swamps in the southwest that safe deserts now etc. Al Gore had us all frightened the world was going to end and he had scientists to supposedly back it up. Solar in Michigan ? The sun hardly shines at all in winter. Another ploy to tax us more and charge twice as much for power which happened last year because of all the windmills we have to pay for. I for one will take my chances. Wouldn't believe anything that comes out of a politicians mouth. They are all bought and paid for.

Sun, 02/24/2019 - 2:07pm

In 2016, Germany, which is much smaller than the United States, and with a climate very similar to what we have in Michigan, produced four times as much solar energy as did the entire United States. Where there is a will, there is a way.

Wed, 02/20/2019 - 10:37am

I was in Waterford Michigan in the 1970's. The story regularly on the news was that a new Ice Age was coming. The by the 1990's Michigan would be covered by a glacier again. These new Chicken Little's can't tell me I didn't hear that. They are incredibly gullible. How do they explain the land bridge that extended through Lake Huron from around Algonac to near Sarnia because the water levels were so low? Check out: https://www.speroforum.com/a/19533/Archaeologists-find-landbridge-under-... or search for Lake Huron land bridge.

The Climate Change entrepreneurs seem to dismiss the 1960's "scientific" claims that the population would outgrow the food supply and there would be mass starvation in the 1990's. That didn't happen either. The sky isn't falling.

Bill Latka
Wed, 02/20/2019 - 11:57am

Anyone that carps that "the climate has always changed" as a defense for taking action on climate change is missing a key factor. Yes, the climate has always changed - but those natural changes have all taken place over EONS (to put a finer point on it - over tens of thousands of years). Look at any chart of historical Earth temperatures and you'll see that there is something unnatural about what's happened in the last 150 years. The concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere has skyrocketed. We have burned millions of years of locked up sunlight (in the form of coal and oil - fossil fuels) in the span of 150 years! Just imagine that. We have changed the climate of the Earth by burning this carbon store so quickly! All this extra carbon is trapping heat and warming the planet, melting the glaciers, changing the weather, etc.

Yes, the climate has always changed. Please try and wrap your mind around what is different this time. We must stem the flow of carbon from fossil fuel into our atmosphere. I challenge you to read and try to understand the science of all this. Start here: https://climate.nasa.gov/

Thu, 02/21/2019 - 10:08am

The article you linked in the "Effect' section to doesn't describe or explain the mechanism that CO2 is causing the climate to change, it simply says it is a significant contributor to global warming. What I am trying to learn is how does 400 ppm of CO2 blanket the thermodynamics of earth's atmosphere. Does the 400ppm create a blanket over the earth that controls the radiation of energy from earth and the other elements of in the atmosphere? Does the 400ppm disrupt the contact of oxygen, nitrogen, water molecules preventing the transfer of energy between the molecules? Does the 400ppm of CO2 prevent the movement of the molecules in the atmosphere and movement of energy throughout the atmosphere? Does the 400ppm of CO2 molecules absorb and retain sufficient energy to prevent the previous disruption of energy? What is the scientific based mechanism of the 400 ppm of CO2 that is causing the earth's atmosphere temperature rise?

The next question is how did, in the long past, did earth's atmosphere cool when CO2 levels were so high?

Have you or others asked what are the unintended consequence of being wrong about the CO2 impact on climate and what could the cost to society, because climate change will not 'kill' the earth, it would only contribute to society adapting.

Wed, 02/20/2019 - 12:05pm

If we want to talk about the environment, let’s talk about soil health. Good rich soil sequesters carbon anyway. It also keeps our water clean and our food more nutrient dense. Healthy soil. Get some. No more tilling. No more chemicals.

Wed, 02/20/2019 - 12:47pm

I read that IPCC report. Everyone is focusing on the worst case scenario, which has been proven to be impossible. It assumes twice the heat increase even the U.N.'s worst scenario predicts in 50 years. The ONLY climate model proven to be even close to being accurate is from Russia, yet everyone ignore it. You should know this. You should also know the polar vortex is a natural phenomenon, the intensity an scope of the California of the wildfires was directly a result of environmentalists making policy in California and Cat 5 hurricanes have happened for thousands of years. Claiming to be a climate specialist, you know nothing that has happened is unprecedented. You also know historically, global average temperatures and emissions have nothing to do with each other. Waiting to see if global cooling, from the previous two years, continues.

Wed, 02/20/2019 - 1:49pm

Wow, from reading the entire Road Map, seems you have nicely replicated the Green New Deal with all its unrelated progressive dreams without calling for banning airplanes or cows. How much will this all cost ?

Sally Erikson
Thu, 02/21/2019 - 8:30pm

There is no end to plans that call for electrification, decarbonization, preservation and sequestration. Like most, this plan is about as actionable as the Bible. It's wide ranging nature and lack of specifics make it more an ideological document or politial platform than a working plan. They can create as many new agencies as they want at the State level. I don't see the point unless the State is funding the work to make all State operations net zero emissions. Talk, talk, talk.