Climate change brings risks, opportunity to ‘Pure Michigan’

Experts say intense rains, such as those that devastated the Western Upper Peninsula this summer, are becoming more common in Michigan as the climate changes. (Photo of Torch Lake courtesy of Michigan State Police Aerial Survey)

Consider this number: 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit.

That’s how much on average the earth’s surface has warmed since the late 1800s. And most of that warming has come within the past 35 years, which have continued to produce record-breaking temperatures.

Michigan is no exception. All 83 of its counties have grown warmer on average over the past three decades, according to a recent data analysis by the Associated Press. Much of the Lower Peninsula is about 2 degrees hotter.

“We have high confidence now that global temperatures are rising because of the emission of greenhouse gases, primarily from fossil fuel burning,” said Jonathan Overpeck, an interdisciplinary climate scientist and dean of the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan.

Climate scientists have known this for decades and suspected it for even longer. And the heating is already dramatically affecting people and wildlife around the globe.

What does it mean for Michigan?

Overpeck, who was one of 33 lead authors of a 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that won a Nobel Peace Prize, recently shared his thoughts with Bridge Magazine. He said climate threats of the parched Southwest even played into his decision last year to move from Arizona to take the dean position in water-rich Michigan.

The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Jonathan Overpeck is an interdisciplinary climate scientist and dean of the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan. (Photo courtesy of the University of Michigan)

Bridge: What are some of the biggest climate affects we’re seeing in Michigan?

Overpeck: We’re seeing dramatic warming. We’re seeing an increase in the amount of the most intense precipitation. We’re seeing an increase in Great Lakes water temperature that is increasing the risk of harmful algal blooms in the Lake Erie, but also the other basins as well. The intense rains also increase runoff into our lakes’ nutrient-rich water, which also boosts the risk of harmful algal blooms. So climate change is not just a thing for the future — it’s something that’s happening, and in our own state here. It puts at risk ‘Pure Michigan.’

Bridge: In the past, some folks have talked about various effects of climate change as the “new normal.” I’ve heard experts recently shun that term, saying risks are only accelerating.

Overpeck: That’s absolutely right. I hate that term. The normal is really an ever-changing normal. You’ve gone from a situation where climate was changing very slowly, to a situation where it’s changing very dramatically and quickly. It’s manifesting itself as increasing extremes — high temperatures and intense precipitation being the two that is most troubling for Michigan.

Bridge: As more and more heat-trapping carbon dioxide accumulates in the atmosphere, what would you say to those who worry humans have missed their chance to address the problem before it spirals out of control?

Overpeck: I’m definitely more optimistic than that. I feel like the longer we wait, the more costly the solutions will be. But at the same time, I think we can avoid the most costly impacts of climate change by moving quickly toward a more carbon-free energy economy.

Bridge: What’s the outlook for Michigan, compared to other states?

Overpeck: Other parts of the country are getting hit harder right now. The Southwest U.S. is running into serious water crises. The West is burning. The ocean coasts of the U.S. are flooding more. People will be looking for places to go that are better situated to handle a warmer climate. Michigan is one of those places, so this could drive more people to Michigan — as long as Michigan learns how to handle its climate challenges.

Bridge: So there could be a silver lining in this for Michigan?

Overpeck: This is an opportunity for Michigan, but at the same time, Michigan could quickly become a much less desirable place to move if we deny climate change and let the situation get out of control here.

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Frank Koob
Tue, 09/04/2018 - 9:20am

Michigan would become filled with the disadvantaged, who are the first to move if they can. This would be our chance to
serve the marginalized if we are up to it and can prepare for it.

Tue, 09/04/2018 - 9:36am

In 1911 it was between 94 and 100 degrees in Norhtern MI!!! The year of the fire that destroyed half of MI timber!!

Tue, 09/04/2018 - 1:13pm

Bridge publishing its agenda again on climate change, or is it global warming? Where I live, it was covered in one mile of ice 10,000 years ago. I'll take the warmer climate any day.

Tue, 09/04/2018 - 5:19pm

There is no empirical evidence of Man Made Climate Change. Period. All the models have been far from accurate. Wake up folks.

Wed, 09/05/2018 - 5:41am

ok...ok...I'm am awake. What did I miss? Oh, you are still denying that man has significantly changed the climate with its unbraided expansion and unethical means of development. Right....and why should I stay awake to hear a denial that is based on .....? The bible? Wow! Great source. Time to go back to sleep, reality is still slowing killing itself.

Thu, 09/06/2018 - 7:14am

You proof is a video that attacks "one article which is particularly dishonest and easy to discredit?" Not impressed, not convinced, and I sure do not wish to be awake in a world designed by greed and industry that ignores science.

James Crissman
Wed, 09/05/2018 - 8:35pm

I've been saying for a long time, we have water and temperatures moderated by the Great Lakes. Everybody will want what we have. Detroit has hit bottom and will repopulate with people displaced by unlivable heat, fires, and rising sea levels. We are the future, and we're not ready, and not doing anything to prevent environmental catastrophe. We need a price on carbon now, and Carbon Fee and Dividend, as proposed by Citizens' Climate Lobby, is the way to do it while growing the economy and adding jobs. Visit for more details than you could ever want.

Thu, 10/11/2018 - 9:10pm

Who is smart enuff to say that the climate now is the "right"temperature? Depending on where you live, or what your job is, it might be better to warmer or cooler.

How come the vikings were growing grapes in Greenland centuries ago? Not many SUV's spewing carbon in those days.

Fri, 12/21/2018 - 1:18am

Thank you for the thoughtful interview. It's a shame to see climate deniers piping in below it. The reality is that climate change is not coming; it is most definitely here, and this is just the tip of the (melting) iceberg. We need to transition to renewable energy (and fast) while cutting carbon emissions. And guess what? If we do this, that means jobs. The time is now. We have to act.

Fri, 06/14/2019 - 7:51am

It is not warmer in East Jordan, coldest summer I can recall, we are having alot of rain, but I thought global warming was going to make us hotter and dryer.
Global warming is a hoax to get socialism in through backdoor. The next thing is some kind of tax.
Global warming is not happening here,it is down right cold this summer.

Fri, 06/14/2019 - 8:04am

It started as global warming and when things were proven them wrong they change it to climate change.
The earths climate has been changing from the beginning till now why would it just stop changing.
Just think everything that the earth has went through from the beginning ,to think that man has ruined this earth is either ignorance or being arrogant.