Boy wading Lake Michigan

Michigan’s Fork-in-the-Road Climate Moment

March 21, 2022 |

This commentary first published in Crain’s Detroit Business, March 16, 2022

A day will come when Michigan and the entire United States must make sweeping and dramatic changes to combat global warming. We can say that with certainty because, as a vast body of climate science proves, we have no choice if we want our children and their children to enjoy this beautiful planet as we know it. 

The coming cataclysm was portrayed most recently in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, released February 28, 2022.  The report is 3,676 pages of science that builds a broad case against a failure of global climate leadership. The top level findings are generally things we have all heard a thousand times—coral reefs dying, forests burning, low ocean shoreline communities moving inland, crop productivity declining, and so much more. (I know, you want to turn away. So do I.)

But there is one important sentence from the IPCC report I ask you to take in, a plainly stated 17 words, no bold face, no exclamation point, found on page SPM-8: 

“The extent and magnitude of climate change impacts are larger than estimated in previous assessments (high confidence).”

This sentence is monumentally important to Michigan leaders this very week as two critical and contradictory climate change issues land almost simultaneously in the state’s policy realm. It’s a juxtaposition that poignantly encapsulates the climate choice facing our entire nation. One issue involves building a massive piece of oil infrastructure that would help warm the planet with billions of tons of CO2 during its proposed 99-year lifespan. The other involves finalizing a plan to eliminate the state’s contribution to atmospheric carbon within 28 years. 

It’s tempting to wonder if the universe had a reason for landing these two side by side in the middle of the greatest expanse of fresh water on the planet. After all, Michigan and the precious Great Lakes region has already warmed 30% more than the other regions of the Lower