A 2022 Forecast: What to expect this year in Michigan’s climate news

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From floods to heatwaves and wildfires, 2021 was the year when the climate crisis seemed to hit Michigan and the rest of the U.S. in earnest. 2022 will likely mean more of the same, if not worse, with the added drama of a midterm election where one of the country’s two major political parties is actively trying to undermine democracy and limit the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon.

What follows is a list of some of the stories we will be paying attention to this year.

A democracy crisis: This year’s most important climate story may well be the outcome of 2022’s midterm elections and whether or not Democrats in the U.S. The House and Senate are able to pass voting rights legislation. So far, even with control of the legislative and executive branches, Democrats have failed to pass the Build Back Better legislation that contains significant funding for climate action. But any hope of acting on climate may be gone if Republicans succeed in undermining the Democratic process altogether by making it harder for people to vote or passing laws in state legislatures that allow these bodies to overturn election results. These schemes are an outgrowth of the plan developed by Donald Trump’s lawyers following last year’s election and come on top of structural flaws in the U.S. system that already make it difficult for a Democrat to win the presidency or for Democrats to control the Senate, even if they get tens of millions more votes. Yet, U.S. lawmakers have an incredibly short timeline to secure the system against minority rule and act on the climate crisis, with scientists saying that the world needs to cut emissions roughly in half from 2017 level by 2030 in order to stave off the worst effects of global heating. “(T)he planet is not going to pause its warming process while we sort our politics out,” said Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii. (NY Times, Vox, Nature)

More water to come: Flooding will likely continue to be one of the most important climate stories in Detroit and the Great Lakes in 2022. After last June’s widespread basement and freeway flooding in Detroit, it will be important to see what action if any officials take to address this problem. The Great Lakes Water Authority has pledged to complete a study on upgrading the region’s flood capacity, which could arrive later this year. It’s also notable that Great Lakes water levels continue to be significantly higher than historic averages. However, these are well below the levels that preceded widespread flooding and erosion in the spring of 2020. (Planet Detroit, Detroit News, Freep)

Source: US Army Corps of Engineers Detroit District Website

A warning on heat: Along with flooding, heat remains one of the greatest climate threats the Midwest faces, especially if a heat wave in a city like Detroit coincides with a power outage. “If you have a historical heatwave and a blackout, and it persists for as long as five days, you’re very likely going to see many more fatalities than we saw in New Orleans after Katrina,” Brian Stone Jr., a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of City and Regional Planning, told Planet Detroit. Although Great Lakes cities have avoided cataclysmic heat waves in recent years, this past year’s record high temperatures in places like Portland, Oregon and British Columbia show that the climate crisis is accelerating at a rate that has alarmed scientists. (Planet Detroit, Rolling Stone, CBC, WaPo)

Disrupted power: Michigan’s biggest electrical suppliers have not been doing a great job of supplying electricity lately and the climate crisis is making this worse. Climate change is producing increasingly powerful storms that take out trees and knock down power lines, which interrupted power to 2.4 million people earlier this year. And in December, high winds knocked out power for hundreds of thousands of DTE and Consumers customers. Whether climate change is producing more tornadoes or the wind storms known as derechos is currently an open question in the scientific community. But Jonathon Overpeck, a climate scientist at the University of Michigan, says there’s a clear link between tornadoes and climate change. Meanwhile, affordable energy advocates are calling to penalize utilities that fail to meet reliability goals and Ann Arbor has commissioned a feasibility study on the creation of a public utility. (MLive, NPR, Freep, NY Times)

See @detroitnews's post on Twitter.

Toxic legacy: The issue may have faded into the background on account of this year’s other environmental disasters, but Michigan’s legacy pollution hotspots continue to pose dangers, particularly with rising lake levels and flooding. A report from the Government Accountability Office found that 60% of the nation’s Superfund sites are threatened by the floods, hurricanes and wildfires that are being made worse by climate change. And events like the Revere Dock collapse(s)–which may have been precipitated in part by high water–threaten to dislodge the toxic sediments that plague the Great Lakes. (MI Radio, Freep, Great Lakes Now)

Fire watch: Michigan has a history of fire, like the blaze that burned over a million acres in the Thumb in 1881. This past summer, several less epic fires broke out in places like Isle Royale and Iosco County near Oscoda. Warming weather and periods of drought raise the possibility of more wildfires in the eastern U.S. And even if the state doesn’t see an increase in fire activity, the growing threat of megafires in the West could threaten air quality in places like Michigan. (Thumbwind, MLive, Detroit News, MI Radio)

Hot water: Exceptionally warm temperatures in the Great Lakes could have long-term consequences for the region, potentially leading to more toxic algal blooms and increasing the chances of lake effect snow. This is part of a pattern in the Great Lakes and beyond, where the climate crisis is causing northern lakes to warm especially quickly. The loss of ice cover on the lakes could lead to more evaporation and drive water levels down. Less ice could also allow the lakes to absorb more radiation, accelerating warming and making the environment more welcoming for invasive species and less hospitable to native fish. "It's not good that the Great Lakes are this warm," said Andrea VanderWoude, a scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory. (MI Radio, WaPo, Freep)


What questions do you have about the environment and climate change in Michigan? Please let us know by reaching out to me at nina@planetdetroit.org. NOTE: Please don't reply to this email, it will go into a digital netherworld.


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