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Climate Change

By: Tanner Verstegen & Joe Nettesheim

The worldwide effects of climate change and global warming have endless effects of negative effects on the planet, some of which may not have been discovered. The climate of the overall planet does go through cycles of warming and cooling, as evidence by polar ice cores.  The cycles are generally a direct result of the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. However, the growth in recent years of carbon dioxide has been of the charts and has increased just about every year since 1900. The current carbon dioxide concentration is 399.4 parts per million, according the EPA. A level this high has not been recorded in any ice core data, which goes back tens of thousands of years. Solely the result of this data is a clear give away that the planet’s warming is due to human interactions with the atmosphere ever since the industrial revolution and post-colonialism.
Model projections and trend outlooks for climate change can be fairly daunting.  Outlooks from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Environmental Protective Agency (EPA) peg the Midwest for temperatures to rise 5 degrees on average by 2050 and increase the threat for droughts and Spring flooding. These projections are simply taken off of the concentration of past carbon dioxide and other substance with “global warming potential” (the ability to absorb incoming solar radiation and emit heat). The ability for the Midwest to develop methods of adaptation will be crucial in the coming years and as global warming will likely continue to be on the rise.
While certain areas of the globe are extremely prone to negative effects of climate change, the Midwest avoids some of the more “shorter term” issues.  Nations with expansive coastlines or islands face major issues in the coming years. As ice caps continue to melt away, the mean global sea level with be on the rise as well.  Beach erosion and complete engulfing of islands are completely on the docket. Since all of the lakes and rivers from towards the ocean, the Midwest and Great Lakes are fortunate to have expansive water reserve while maintaining their coastlines and land integrity.
With the preceding negative effects in mind, a response is certainly necessary.  A major method with noticeable results can stem from governmental regulations. For example, banning Freon on other aerosols that contributed to global warming has had a noticeable effect, according to the EPA.  Further regulations are also in place for the Midwest and other regions in America. Setting fuel efficiency regulations will certainly have a direct result to decreased carbon dioxide emissions. Renewable energy and other technological advancements will prove to be a major player moving forward. Furthermore, economic theories such as cap and trade will play a major role in the fight against global warming.
While the outlook is gloomy, climate change is manageable and the Midwest is relatively lucky to avoid some of the major effects, especially water level rise, of climate change. It will be up to the states in the Midwest to find methods of adaption and seek out their own vulnerabilities while in combat over the next several decades for the fight against a warming planet.
Mauna Loa CO2
The most pronounced figure in the climate change era is definitely chart of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  The measurements are taken in Hawaii, which is believed to be a neutral location to find average amounts on carbon dioxide planet-wide. The increase is of course felt in the Midwest.  An increase in carbon dioxide is believed to have a direct correlation to the warmth of the atmosphere. The more Carbon dioxide in the Midwest the warmer average temperatures the area will have to adjust to. The graph above from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration) shows a relentless exponential growth in the amount of this high global warming potential substance. The Midwest will need to find ways to adjust and deal with the higher degree of temperatures. For more information click here!
According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is forecasting a significantly warmer United States with the greatest degree of increase concentrated in the Midwest. Even if you manage to decrease carbon dioxide emissions, an increase of 3-5 degrees by 2050, and 5-7 degrees by 2090 will become prevalent in the Midwest. Even more substantial warming is possible if we continue the path of increasing emissions every year since 1950.  The inevitable warming means farmers, construction workers, contractors, hospitals and so on will need adapt. The Midwest is particularly vulnerable to climate change because they depend on agriculture seasonal watershed patterns. Direct link to climate forecast and discussion

Further examination from the EPA shows even more problems in the Midwest and around the continent.  With conservative projections, the seasonal average rainfall will become significantly altered.  The Midwest will see around a 10 percent decrease of rainfall in the summer while posting around a 20 percent increase in precipitation during the winter and spring months.  A better chance of droughts in the summer and floods in the Spring will become problematic. The resilience of the Midwest may be high, but without any modification to the current system. Maps taken from this EPA site
Government involvement toward the fight on climate change and energy efficiency has been on the rise in recent years. For example, in Wisconsin there is now a program called “Focus on energy” which is government funded and has programs in place to save energy. Any Wisconsin resident can have an old appliance picked up for free and receive a check for forty dollars through the program. The goal is to remove older inefficient appliances from kitchens and since new appliances are now regulated to be at high efficiency standards, this program has been a success. Other, similar programs exist in other Midwestern states.  Focus on energy page
The map above paints the United States of America, highlighting different sources of energy.  Engineering feats have made certain forms of alternative energy more economically feasible, and the map is nearly void of large capacity coal plants, which could arguably be the dirtiest form of energy.  An interesting observation of the Midwestern region includes the surplus of wind energy.  Noticeably absent in the Midwest is large capacity nuclear energy plants.  Harnessing renewable sources of energy may be the best option in reducing the amount of pollution our energy-demanding lifestyles present.  In addition to cleaner energy, alternative forms of energy provide jobs, a necessity in a time with an unemployment rate exceeding 6%.  Alternative Energy Information

The politically heated debate regarding the Keystone Pipeline spans state and national borders.  A tough call between a large job-creating opportunity and environmental impacts becomes more complicated when the final results of the project are unknown.  What happens if there is a leak?  If we are going to be shipping the oil to the Gulf of Mexico one way or the other, is the proposed pipeline the most economically, and environmentally-friendly, approach?  Will gas prices actually raise as a result, as this opposition video states?  While rising gas prices sounds like a negative consequence, one potential positive outcome may be the decrease in the amount of driving.  Higher prices could help reduce demand, and may start a trend of reducing our dependence.   Article can be found here.
The United States of America has had vehicular fuel economy regulations since 1975, known as the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) regulations.  The standards are decided based on vehicle size.  CAFE regulations are monitored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Transportation (NHTST) and the fuel efficiency is measured by the Environmental Protection Agency. There are numerous positive results from these regulations, primarily reduced CO2 emissions.  However there is concern that smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles are linked to more traffic fatalities.  Despite these regulations, the United States has an average fuel economy of only 25 miles per gallon, as compared to higher economies of 45 mpg in the European Union and higher yet in Japan.  The graph above shows the compliance standards for future model years in the United States under the CAFE regulations.  More information on the Unites States’ regulations.
 
The United States is accountable for roughly 17.3% of the world’s carbon emissions. This percentage correlates to a 17.28 metric ton CO2 emission rate per capita.  The size of that number is enough to turn heads.  The Midwest generally falls right around the national average.  Michigan emitted half of what their neighbor to the south, Indiana, emitted per capita.  Indiana was in the top ten highest produces in the nation, a figure that can be attributed to their coal burning.  This coal burning is generally in areas with lower income and/or high rates of minority populations, representing socio-economic environmental justice issues.  For a .PDF file with CO2 emission data, click here.
Climate change may mean more than just rising sea levels and warmer winters.  There is increasing evidence that changing climate will influence bees, which are vital for the pollination of plants and are therefore vital in food production.  This is coming at a cost to tax payers.  The United States Department of Agriculture announced earlier this year that millions of dollars will go to Midwestern farmers and ranchers for the improvement of pastures which provide food for the nation’s bees.  By recent estimates, honeybees pollinate $15 billion worth of produce.  If the fears of honeybee colony collapses materialize, the potential loss in food production would be devastating.  More information on bees found here.
 
In a capitalist society, perhaps a market-based approach to the reduction of green house gas emissions is the answer.  Emissions Trading, popularly known as cap and trade, combines a government mandated maximum emissions limit, and allows for market influences for trading carbon credits.  In theory, the firms which reduce their emissions the greatest benefit economically, while also achieving a sustainable level of emissions, a benefit to the world.  While there does not exist a federal cap and trade system in place, it is up to the states to set limits.  The Midwest has seen proposals for a regional cap and trade system; however there has been little progress.  This market based approach may prove to be a fair solution, however many complicating factors exist, including an agreeable limit and issues with corruption and globalization.  Cap and Trade in the Midwest.
 
The Fisk plant of Chicago’s Pilsen Neighborhood generates electricity for one of America’s largest cities.  It is among 5 other plants owned by Midwest Generation, the group being sued for evading federal Clean Air Act regulations.  The plants are old and operating longer than they should have been.  The upgrades that the power plants have seen to keep them running have not included modern pollution controls power plants are subject to.  The Harvard School of Public Health estimates that 41 people die early every year as a result of the pollution of these plants.  This lawsuit shows the government showing initiative to punish those who are responsible for polluting.  For more information on the lawsuit, click here.
The Midwest is presumably safe from any coastal flooding that may result from increases in worldwide sea level increases.  We won’t feel the effects that island nations, or coastal regions such as the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia.  The region has a surplus of fresh water and does not face issues with water level rise.  Climate justice attempts to address issues like these. Arguments over refugees fleeing flooding nations erupt, since the United States emits the second highest amount of CO2 into the atmosphere, behind only China.  It may be easy for a Midwestern to deny climate change, since he or she may not be victim to any noticeable changes.  It is vital to remember that the air we pollute cannot be easily isolated.  Humanity as a whole will have to deal with the issues created by a select few countries, and it is time for those countries to take responsibility.  Climate change impact on water in the United States.

By: Tanner Verstegen & Joe Nettesheim