Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Thursday, February 7, 2013

University will host National Climate Assessment town hall

U-M will host a Midwest regional town hall on Tuesday at which findings of the recently released draft National Climate Assessment will be presented.

At more than 1,100 pages, the report was written for the federal government by a team of more than 240 scientists, including several from the university, and was released Jan. 11. It assesses the key impacts of climate change on every region of the country and analyzes its likely effects on human health, water, energy, transportation, agriculture, forest, ecosystems and biodiversity.


• Download the draft National Climate Assessment report. Public comment on it will be accepted through April 12.

Read the associated technical input white papers.

Register to watch a live webstream of the National Climate Assessment regional town hall.

The draft states that climate change will lead to more frequent and more intense Midwest heat waves while degrading air and water quality and threatening public health. Intense rainstorms and floods will become more common in the region, and current problems in the Great Lakes — such as invasive species and "dead zones" — will be exacerbated.

The meeting Tuesday at Palmer Commons is sponsored by the U.S. Global Change Research Program and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is one of a series of town halls being held across the country. It will include presentations about the expected impacts of climate change on the Midwest and on U.S. agriculture and transportation; ongoing efforts to adapt to climate change; and the relationship between land use and climate change.

About 100 climate change experts and users of climate change information will attend, including participants from academia; local, state, tribal and federal governments; nonprofit organizations; and business and industry. Registration for the event is closed, but the general public can register to view it live online.

"This is a great opportunity to learn more about the National Climate Assessment, how to comment on the draft report, and ongoing research on climate change in this region. The assessment of impacts is a critical step in preparing for potential futures," said David Bidwell, program director for the Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments Center, a research fellow at the Graham Sustainability Institute, and one of the event organizers.

The 2013 report is the third federal climate assessment since 2000 and the first to include a chapter on adapting to climate change. Rosina Bierbaum, professor of natural resources and environment and environmental health sciences, was a lead convening author of the adaptation chapter. Missy Stults, a research fellow with Bierbaum and a doctoral student at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, was a contributing author on the chapter.

"Climate change is already happening, and no matter how much we ultimately control the emission of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, we also need to plan for and manage the changes that are already under way, as well as those yet to come," said Bierbaum, who will present an overview of the National Climate Assessment process at the Tuesday's meeting.

Bierbaum and Marie O'Neill, associate professor of environmental health sciences and epidemiology, serve on a 60-person advisory committee that oversaw development of the draft report. Donald Scavia, director of the Graham Sustainability Institute, was a lead convening author of the Midwest chapter, and Daniel Brown, professor of natural resources and environment, was a lead convening author of the chapter on land use and land cover change.

"By the end of this century, parts of the Midwest could have a month or more of temperatures over 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Summers here will feel much more like present-day Arkansas," said Bierbaum, who serves on the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, a 21-member committee that advises President Obama.

In this country, most climate-change adaptation efforts have occurred at the local and regional levels. According to a recent survey of 298 U.S. local governments, 59 percent indicated that they are engaged in some form of climate-change adaptation planning, but few are yet implementing actions.

In Michigan, the cities of Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids have been proactive about climate-change preparations, Bierbaum said. When selecting trees to plant in the city, Ann Arbor urban foresters now look for species that will be able to tolerate hotter future temperatures. City officials also may consider installing larger-diameter storm-water drainage pipes that could better handle deluges of the future.

The draft climate assessment also includes a chapter about land use and land cover change. Brown will discuss the topic at the town hall.

Decisions about land use and land cover can affect — both positively and negatively — how much our climate will change and what kind of vulnerabilities humans and natural systems will face as a result, according to the report. Adaptation options related to land use include varying the local mix of vegetation and concrete to reduce heat in cities, or elevating homes to reduce exposure to sea level rise or flooding.

Options for reducing the speed and amount of climate change include expanding forests to accelerate removal of carbon from the air, modifying the way cities are built and organized to reduce energy and motorized transportation demands, and altering agricultural management practices to increase carbon storage in soils.

"We hope that including this chapter in the assessment report will raise awareness of how decisions about land use and what we put on the land can increase or decrease the effects of climate change on people's well-being and livelihoods," Brown said.

U-M co-sponsors of the event are the Graham Sustainability Institute, the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise, and the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences. President Emeritus James Duderstadt will deliver welcoming remarks at the town hall. Richard Rood, professor of atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences, will participate in an afternoon panel discussion.