From the Headlines – August 9-13, 2021

Sound the alarm: Monday’s report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)–often referred to as the gold standard of climate assessments–shows that emissions produced by burning fossil fuels have locked in global heating for at least the next 30 years, leading UN Secretary-General António Guterres to call the report “a code red for humanity.” Here are some key points from the report:

  • Hot and getting hotter: Human activity has created warming of 1.1 degrees Celsius, or 2 degrees Fahrenheit, since the 19th century. Even with sharp reductions in emissions, global heating is likely to rise by 1.5 degrees Celsius, at which point scientists predict impacts like drought and flooding will increase significantly. And the report predicts significant sea-level rise is essentially locked in over the coming centuries and millennia. (NY Times, Yale Climate)
  • Climate change is accelerating: The IPCC report also found that the rate of sea-level rise has nearly doubled since 2006 and that each of the last four decades has been warmer than the last, helping produce increasingly intense heat waves. (NY Times)
  • Everyone is affected: Advances in climate science have allowed the IPCC report to connect extreme weather events–like the recent heatwave in the Northwest–with human-induced climate change and show that nearly every corner of the globe will be affected. But the degree of warming could make a huge difference. In North America, for example, 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming could increase the number of days where the temperature rises above 95 degrees Fahrenheit in some areas. But 4 degrees of warming could produce as many as 30 additional days above 95 degrees Fahrenheit across much of the country. (NYT, WaPo)
  • Serious action needed, now: Some of the worst impacts from global heating can still be prevented, but will require a rapid shift away from fossil fuels. “There’s no going back from some changes in the climate system,” said Ko Barrett, a senior adviser for climate at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, but sharp and immediate reductions in emissions, “could really make a difference in the climate future we have ahead of us.” Unfortunately, actions currently being taken under initiatives like the Paris Agreement still have the world on track for 3 degrees Celsius of warming by 2100. (NYT)

What does this mean for Michigan? Metro Detroit didn’t have to wait for too long after the release of the IPCC report to see what a rapidly warming climate might mean. On Wednesday night, powerful storms knocked out power to around 850,000 homes and businesses, flooding portions of I-75, I-696 and I-94 in an eerie reprise of June’s catastrophic flooding. Ben van der Pluijm, a geologist and professor of earth and environmental science at the University of Michigan, told Planet Detroit that increased rainfall and flooding are just one impact the region is likely to experience under the warming scenario laid out in the IPCC report. He said other regional impacts could include:

  • Higher temperatures in Detroit on account of extreme heat days and the heat island effect.
  • Health problems as a result of heat stress and worsening air quality.
  • More lake effect snow caused by warmer lakes, although winters will be shorter.
  • Longer growing seasons as the average temperature increases.

What can I do? Meeting the challenges posed by the climate crisis will require a combination of mitigating emissions from fossil fuels and adapting to the changes that are now guaranteed to happen. These changes are unlikely to happen through individual action. The International Energy Agency estimates that personal “behavior” changes will only produce 4 percent of the emissions reductions needed to achieve “net zero” emissions globally. Climate writer Emily Aitkin argues that what’s needed is collective action to pressure governments and businesses to reduce emissions from transportation, power generation and industry. Meteorologist and journalist Eric Holthaussays that the Green New Deal offers a roadmap for adapting to climate change and preventing its worst outcomes. He adds that President Biden and the current U.S. Congress offer the best chance to date of getting such legislation passed. “You were born at just the right moment to change everything,” Holthaus has said. There are a number of local groups working on climate change and other environmental threats, but those concerned about this issue might also start by contacting their elected officials. (Heated, The Phoenix, Earther, Planet Detroit)

Resilience: On Tuesday, Michigan Democratic legislators introduced a $5 billion infrastructure plan in response to the widespread flooding that hit metro Detroit in June. The Climate Resilience initiative looks to provide funding for flood relief, sewer and stormwater infrastructure–including backup pumps and power sources for flood-prone areas–upgrades to drinking water systems and other measures. “It’s not enough to help after climate change-caused flooding events; we need to act with urgency and acknowledge the reality that these extreme weather events are increasing in frequency.” said state Sen. Stephanie Chang. The lawmakers also want to create a Climate Resilience Corps, a training and apprenticeship program to work on climate-related problems. State Sen. Jeff Irwin has suggested lawmakers could issue bonds to fund these proposals. (Michigan Radio)

Public health: Detroit is slowly rebuilding its public health department after an extreme downsizing occurred following the Great Recession. In 2008, the department had 700 employees, but by 2014 there were only five. The department now has 270 on staff and has regained some functions that were privatized under the administration of Mayor David Bing. But the department was still poorly prepared to deal with COVID-19 pandemic that sickened one in ten Detroiters. City residents are currently less likely to be vaccinated against COVID than other Michiganders and deal with higher rates of HIV, asthma, obesity and other illnesses. “The pandemic really put the issue of health care disparities in everybody’s face,” said Vernice Davis Anthony, a former nurse for the department. (NPR)

Deadline extended: The Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund has extended its deadline for this year’s applications until Monday, August 16. The fund was created to help Black farmers in Detroit, Hamtramck and Highland Park purchase land for farming or to make infrastructure improvements. Apply here

Gross, but necessary: Michigan health officials are looking to use $12.5 million in federal stimulus funds to create a revolving loan fund that helps families repair or replace aging septic systems. Nearly 30 percent of Michiganders use home septic systems, which slowly release liquid sewage into the soil. This process is meant to strip out harmful bacteria and toxic substances, but if the systems fail, they can pollute lakes, streams and groundwater. But while this fund could help families pay for expensive upgrades, the state still lacks a sanitary code to regulate these systems. (Bridge)

Utility debt forgiveness: Last week, congresswoman Rashida Tlaib introduced a $40 billion dollar bill to offer forgivable loans to people who have fallen behind on utility bills during the pandemic. This would include money for those who have accumulated debt for water, electricity, gas or internet service. “I saw firsthand many of my neighbors who are front line workers, many of my neighbors who didn’t really have access to services that help get their children on the line so they can learn because of changes due to COVID,” Tlaib said. “More than 3,000 of my families (in my district) have been cut off from water access.” (Michigan Radio)

Collapse: Researchers have reported “an almost complete loss of stability over the last century” in a part of the Gulf Stream known as the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC). The Gulf Stream transports warm water from the Caribbean into the North Atlantic. A slowdown or collapse of this system could lead to colder temperatures in Europe and higher sea levels off eastern North America, among other potential impacts. “The signs of destabilization being visible already is something that I wouldn’t have expected and that I find scary,” said Niklas Boers, from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who performed the research. “It’s something you just can’t (allow to) happen.” Boers said that eliminating greenhouse gas emissions is the only way to head off a tipping point where the AMOC is irreparably damaged. (Guardian)

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