Gretchen Whitmer vows action on climate. Here’s how warming hurts Michigan.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, has promised to move aggressively on climate change and create an office dedicated to finding solutions.

Related: Michigan Republicans kill Gov. Whitmer’s environmental overhaul plan
Related: Gretchen Whitmer reshapes Michigan environmental watchdog agency
Related: Gov. Whitmer seeks speedy public record response, but not yet for her office

New Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is vowing to move aggressively on climate change, calling it a “a real threat to our environment, our economy, and the health and wellbeing of the people of our state.”

Sworn in last week, the Democrat vowed during last fall’s campaign to enter Michigan into the U.S. Climate Alliance, a group of 17 governors committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and create an office of climate change.

The vows come as independent scientific studies continue to conclude earth’s atmosphere and oceans are steadily warming because of human activity that emits carbon dioxide.

In October, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — comprised of the world’s top scientists — warned the planet will warm 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2040 or sooner unless global leaders pursue “unprecedented” changes.

Without dramatic decreases in greenhouse gas emissions, severe drought and coastal flooding could displace millions of people in low-lying areas, disrupt global food supplies and destabilize some governments, the report warned.

What’s it mean for Michigan, whose 83 counties have all grown hotter on average over the past three decades?

In November, the National Climate Assessment, a landmark federal government report, examined climate change’s effects by region. Here are six takeaways from the report about the Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin):

A blow to farming

“Projected changes in precipitation, coupled with rising extreme temperatures before mid-century, will reduce Midwest agricultural productivity to levels of the 1980s without major technological advances,” the report said.

That’s bad news for agribusiness, which includes 51,000 farms covering 10 million acres statewide. The Michigan food and agriculture industry employs nearly 1 million workers and contributes $101 billion to the economy, according to state estimates.

So far, warming has extended growing seasons and bolstered production of crops in some parts of the Midwest. But warming also will bring more rainfall that worsens soil erosion and improves breeding conditions for crop-damaging pests, the report warned.

Those trends are troublesome for growers of soybeans and corn, which are grown on 75 percent of the Midwest’s farmable land and are among Michigan’s top crop exports.

Michigan produced $1.1 billion in corn grain in 2016, and $983 million in soybeans.

Trees are in trouble

Climate change is threatening the Midwest’s 91 million acres of forests, which contribute $122 billion to the economy and are vital to everyone from hunters to tribes.

More frequent drought late in growing seasons is expected to kill younger trees, while warmer winters will reduce snowpack that insulates soil, leading to more frost that damages tree roots.

“Many tree species on which tribes depend for their culture and livelihoods—such as paper birch, northern white cedar, and quaking aspen—are highly vulnerable due to temperature increases,” the report said.

Forests cover more than half of Michigan lands, according to the U.S. Forest Service, and associated industries employ nearly 100,000 workers.

In 2016, 22 invasive plant species were identified in Michigan forests. Ash and beech trees have increasingly died off in recent years — largely due to a pest called the emerald ash borer and beech bark disease.

More species could go extinct

Development has already harmed species across the Midwest’s prairies, wetlands, forests and freshwater ecosystems. Warming temperatures and drought will “accelerate the rate of species declines and extinctions,” the report said.

The dire outlook extends to the Great Lakes, the world’s biggest freshwater ecosystem, which can expect rising temperatures, higher summer evaporation rates, more pollution from runoff and more harmful algal blooms.

The species loss would harm “flood control, water purification, and crop pollination, reducing the potential for society to successfully adapt to ongoing changes,” the report said.

Public health worries

Rising temperatures will worsen air quality, increase pollen, bring heavier rains and more threats from disease-carrying pests, the report warns.

Climate change could increase the prevalence of meteorological conditions that make pollutants like ozone dangerous. By 2050, researchers expect ozone concentrations to kill 220 to 500 Midwesterners each year.

“By mid-century, the region is projected to experience substantial, yet avoidable, loss of life, worsened health conditions, and economic impacts estimated in the billions of dollars as a result of these changes,” the report said.

“Improved basic health services and increased public health measures—including surveillance and monitoring—can prevent or reduce these impacts.”

In Michigan, rising temperatures could reverse decades of improvement. State reports show that monitoring sites in southeast Michigan – the most industrial area in the state –  have detected far less pollution since monitoring began in 1978.

Infrastructure threats

Heavier flooding and more heat will damage stormwater systems and other infrastructure — including roadways and bridges.

“The annual cost of adapting urban stormwater systems to more frequent and severe storms is projected to exceed $500 million for the Midwest by the end of the century,” the report said.

High heat stresses pavement, bridge expansion joints and railroad tracks.

“The EPA estimates that higher temperatures associated with unmitigated climate change would result in approximately $6 billion annually in added road maintenance costs and over $1 billion in impacts to rail transportation by 2090,” the report said.

That’s an area where Michigan is lagging. The state needs to find an extra $4 billion each year to keep roads, bridges, water and sewer systems from crumbling, according to a 2016 report from a commission assembled by Gov. Rick Snyder.

And Whitmer’s chief promise in her campaign was to “fix the damn roads,” which could lead to higher taxes or user fees.

Community action

Communities can take action — through studies and planning — to understand how to serve those who are most vulnerable to climate change, including the poor and elderly, the report noted.

“Documented implementation of climate change planning and action in Midwest cities and rural communities remains low,”

Since 2011, 13 Michigan communities have adopted plans to dramatically reduce greenhouse emissions or increase their use of renewable energy, according to the Michigan Climate Action Network.

Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Traverse City and Meridian Township in Ingham County, for instance, plan to increase use of renewables to 100 percent within 20 years, while Detroit’s plan calls for dramatic increases in recycling, among other reforms.

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Lauren Sargent
Wed, 01/09/2019 - 9:05am

Michigan needs a Green New Deal. Start building the 21st Century renewable energy and green transportation infrastructure now. Renewable energy independence (wind, solar, biomass etc) for the UP. Microgrid/distributed power so communities are less vulnerable to storms and outages. Rebuild a train system. Fix the water systems and the roads. Shore up our extension services and support family farmers to restore localized sustainable agriculture. Rebuild the Michigan youth version of the Civilian Conservation Corp to plant trees and do other ecological restoration and climate mitigation work. Cover every surface parking lot with solar panels and electric vehicle charging stations. All car manufacturers are rolling out EVs by 2020. Mandate LEED certification and renewable energy standards for all new building (as California has done). Will this cost $? You bet. Will this employ 100s of thousands of Michiganders and create whole new industries? Yes. We will pay less in $ and suffering if we invest now. Not a minute to waste.

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 12:42pm

True. However, if you wanted that, Abdul El-Sayed was your guy. Whitmer is just another neoliberal corporate democrat beholden to her donors and special interests.

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 9:05am

How about making it personal instead of another government over bloated office. Everyone can save money (and reduce electrical consumption) by replacing all filament bulbs with LED bulbs. Same with using a small car instead of driving a giant behomath when traveling solo around town. Buy and install some insulation instead of making the next trip to the casino or to see any one of our woeful sports teams. So many ways to save a few bucks each day and at the same time reduce energy use.

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 9:51am

The market clearly isn't solving the issue (what a shock). We've had decades worth of warnings, and yet things are only getting worse. Material concerns of the poor and billions in fosail fuel propaganda have stymied meaningful action on an individual level, and corporate entities concerned solely with this quarter's growth have no profit motive to address the issue. Our zoning laws prevent dense, efficient housing. Our lack of mass transit necessitate cars. These are massive structural issues paramount to addressing climate chang that absolutely cannot be addressed at the individual level

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 4:47pm

Bones , the market doesn't tell people what they should or shouldn't do. Never has. That's the reason we have payday loans, casinos, Cripsy creme donuts and lottery tickets, and your legal pot just for starters! That's a big misconception both on the left and the right. The market is a better way of reacting to incentives to reach a solution to a problem or broad ideal than government mandates fed by crony capitalism, for example mandating Ethanol and your zoning example.

Fri, 01/11/2019 - 1:18pm

Crony capitalism is just capitalism, friend. Don't lie to yourself about it because just because it makes being a Libertarian tenable

Sat, 01/12/2019 - 9:56am

Far from it. This thinking that business is only done by passing laws forcing advantages to be given to politically connected shows the problem when someones believes the State is responsible for everything. Just guessing here you've spent your entire career there?

Renewable Guy
Fri, 01/11/2019 - 12:52pm

Electric cars are some of the larger cars now driving cleanly.

Terence Colligan
Wed, 01/09/2019 - 10:15am

Yes, the climate is changing. The precession of the equinoxes dictates this. A cyclical ice age is approaching and nothing can be done about this. Blaming human activity for this warming is a way for SOME people to become very wealthy and others to become tyrannical and clamp down on your freedom. Notice that most of the alarmist's operating words are "could", "may", "possibly", "might", "probably", "future". THE SKY IS FALLING, THE SKY IS FALLING! HIDE! I'm not falling for it, sorry.

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 11:07am

The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe it. 

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 12:14pm

To support his point, doesn’t “science” tell us that 5000+ years ago there was a significant climate change that caused the glacial ice sheet that reached as far south as Detroit area to recede. The byproduct of this event being the Great Lakes. In addition science tells us that the human population was less than 1 million at this time. Interesting that there was such a major climatic shift without our any significant help from human populations. Just think, the Great Lakes we all love and enjoy were brought to us via climate change......

Sun, 01/13/2019 - 12:24pm

Bingo...'we have a winner'.

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 12:18pm

You are right it's a political driven agenda that has no proof made up by liberal democrats

Perry Samson
Sun, 01/13/2019 - 11:55am

You are correct that natural oscillations in the Earth's orbit move us into and out of ice ages. But that happens on timescales of tens of thousands of years. So, yes, we are slowly moving towards a potential ice age maybe 20,000 years from now. However, unless someone rewrites the laws of physics the added greenhouse gases must warm the planet over the next 100+ years and the results will certainly be a warmer climate whether you "fall for it" or not.

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 10:27am

Here's a plan that conservatives could run with:
It's a Carbon Fee and Dividend plan where fees are placed on carbon and then rebated equally back to American Families.
"A national, revenue-neutral carbon fee-and-dividend system (CF&D) would place a predictable, steadily rising price on carbon, with all fees collected minus administrative costs returned to households as a monthly energy dividend. In just 20 years, studies show, such a system could reduce carbon emissions to 50% of 1990 levels while adding 2.8 million jobs to the American economy". See :

A steady rising carbon fee would send strong market signals to all consumers to reduce their use of carbon and businesses would have incentive to innovate into that market. The Carbon Dividend is paid in equal shares to Americans, is it a tax if all revenues are rebated back to Americans? NO! It would be a large incentive to reduce carbon use. " Because not everyone uses the same amount of carbon, the majority of Americans (about 58 percent) are estimated to earn back as much or more than they pay in increased costs ."

Again visit :

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 4:26pm

Not a terrible idea, TR... on the face of it, except for the dividend part. We have three main entitlement programs, SS, Medicaid and Medicare, with big financial problems. Why not dedicate this funding for them? That's the problem with Leftists is they always want to revert to redistribution mode. (The three programs mentioned are already hugely re-distributive.)

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 4:43pm

The Social Security program has its own dedicated tax ( FICA ) and currently has a $2.9 Trillion surplus invested in US Treasuries. And it's wrong to call it an entitlement, it is a "earned benefit".

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 10:26pm

TR, SS "trust fund" is out of money in 10+/- years. We'll be hitting trillion dollar deficits every year in the next three years without any recession. It certainly is an entitlement or even a welfare benefit, as people over the last 40 years have taken out far more than they've put in under any measure - it's never been run on any actuarial basis. Why do you think it's so popular?

Sun, 01/13/2019 - 12:29pm

The solution is simple but not possible because of GOP denial: Extend the payroll tax to all wages paid to workers that are in excess of $400,000.
Over time, that would completely eliminate the cap on Social Security payroll taxes.
But that's a non-starter (the GOP won't even discuss it) because it would offend the GOP's prime group: the wealthy.

Linda Singer
Wed, 01/09/2019 - 11:43am

Not addressed here is tourism -- the winter recreation industry and those it employs. The effects of climate change will be felt nowhere more than ski resorts and "up north" communities that rely on a seasonal influx of snowmobiles.

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 12:23pm

Just another way for to screw the tax payers out of more money

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 2:28pm

Climate Facts
* CO2 in the air is up 40% since the 1880’s.
* There’s now more CO2 in the air over anytime in last 5 million years.
* It’s warming the Planet.
* The warming is accelerating.
* Sea-Levels are rising.
* Ice is disappearing at both poles.
* Storms are changing.
* Humans are responsible.
* Reducing emissions slows the rate of change.
* The changes will last for centuries.

Ed Haynor
Wed, 01/09/2019 - 2:57pm

Troutriver, thank you for your fact-based comments in response to this article. Unfortunately, you have detractors who don't believe in science. Of course, there's the real issue, since they can't possibly believe what they themselves say, since if you don't believe in science, you can't possibly believe in your own existence.

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 3:29pm

“I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address those problems. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy…and to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation—and we scientists don’t know how to do that.”
- Gus Speth

Sun, 01/13/2019 - 12:30pm

Yup - that's it in a nutshell.

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 2:44pm

What a farce.

Sun, 01/13/2019 - 9:19am

Until countries like China, India, and Russia make significant cuts in their emissions, what we do will continue to be a drop in the bucket.

Jeff Hart
Sat, 01/19/2019 - 6:16pm

Has anyone read any of this besides me? Everything reported has been the worst case scenario using twice the temperature change the U.N. worst case scenario predicted. They list 5 possible situations, but the no one mentioned that. The only one based on actual readings and known science was the one that said things will pretty much remain the same with a very slow increase in temperature, which is inline with the current U.N. predictions. However, the only thing the media, and lobbyists, have focused on is the impossible, unless the sun increased its output. Not to mention most of what the IPCC has predicted has fallen way short.

Jim Malewitz
Sun, 01/20/2019 - 10:18am

Hi, Jeff. Thanks for reading. If you'd like to read the National Climate Assessment's chapter on the Midwest for yourself, you can find it here. The document, produced by 13 federal agencies, is what most of this story is based upon.

Not sure where you're getting your information.

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 5:25am

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Charlie Weaver
Fri, 02/15/2019 - 7:16pm

We need to greatly diminish the tree cutting in Michigan authorized by the MDNR and the USDA Forest Service. Trees eat carbon. And using glysophate on Red Pine plantations isn't real good for the environment either.