Issues of the Environment: IPCC Climate Report has dire warning with consequences to impact Huron River Watershed
About Daniel Brown, Watershed Planner
Daniel coordinates the Huron River Water Trail and projects to revitalize the river corridor, and he is leading HRWC’s efforts to address PFAS contamination throughout the watershed. Daniel has worked on climate change and environmental issues across North America, previously as Mass Audubon’s climate change program coordinator and as a climatologist based at the University of Michigan. He enjoys empowering conservation based on sound science and getting people to enjoy Michigan’s natural resources. He joined HRWC in 2018 and lives in the Horseshoe Creekshed.
- On February 27, 2022, The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) finalized the second part of the Sixth Assessment Report, "Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability," the Working Group II contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report. The report stressed that “the world faces unavoidable multiple climate hazards over the next two decades with global warming of 1.5°C (2.7°F). Even temporarily exceeding this warming level will result in additional severe impacts, some of which will be irreversible. Risks for society will increase, including to infrastructure and low-lying coastal settlements.” The report clearly states Climate Resilient Development is already challenging at current warming levels. It will become more limited if global warming exceeds 1.5°C (2.7°F). In some regions it will be impossible if global warming exceeds 2°C (3.6°F).
- “Healthy ecosystems are more resilient to climate change and provide life-critical services such as food and clean water”, said IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair Hans-Otto Pörtner. “By restoring degraded ecosystems and effectively and equitably conserving 30 to 50 percent of Earth’s land, freshwater and ocean habitats, society can benefit from nature’s capacity to absorb and store carbon, and we can accelerate progress towards sustainable development, but adequate finance and political support are essential.” (Source: *directly quoted* https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg2/resources/press/press-release/)
- The report stresses that concentrating the human population in environmentally sustainable cities is one key to being able to preserve enough land to add resilience against greenhouse gas emissions. To this end, The city of Ann Arbor has concentrated on increasing density in the city center and preserving land around the perimeter.
- Washtenaw County may be ahead of the game in land preservation when compared to other American cities of a similar size. There are a number of agencies, programs and individuals dedicated to protecting the natural and cultural resources around the county including, Ann Arbor Greenbelt, the Ann Arbor Natural Areas Preservation Program (NAP), and Washtenaw County Natural Areas Preservation Program (NAPP). Webster and Ann Arbor Twps. also have land preservation programs.
- Daniel Brown, Watershed Planner for the Huron River Watershed Council writes, “Two important findings in the report caught our attention: 1) Not enough attention is being given to land protection, and 2) many of the engineered efforts to adapt to climate change have actually made matters worse. Michigan is well-suited to be a leader in addressing those two key needs with infrastructure funding and because we have abundant, undeveloped but unprotected land."
David Fair: The climate crisis remains the dark cloud hovering above, and as we see with increasing frequency, it is raining its wrath upon us more and more. A new report says it's going to get much worse without swift and definitive action. I'm David Fair, and this is 89 one WEMU's Issues of the Environment. The International Panel on Climate Change has finalized the second part of the Sixth Assessment Report. It's called "Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability." A summary of its findings were released on February 27th. Our guest today certainly takes a broad view on climate issues, but also focuses on what is happening here in our community proactively and reactively. Daniel Brown is watershed planner for the Huron River Watershed Council. And, Daniel, thank you so much for making time for us today.
Daniel Brown: Yeah, thanks for having me, David.
David Fair: What I was provided, Daniel, was basically a bullet point highlight of the summary of the grander report. And what I read I found to be alarming. But without broader context, maybe I'm looking at it wrong. Did it alarm you?
Daniel Brown: Yeah, it is an alarming report. And these IPCC reports, you know, they really set the standard for summarizing and communicating really the consensus of climate science. So they end up forming the foundation for other national, regional, local reports and assessments and they end up getting incorporated into, you know, local plans and regional plans. So that it's so stark, but it's such a dire warning is really alarming, and it was really a call to action.
David Fair: It's interesting. You use that terminology "dire warning." The chairperson of the IPCC said the report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction. If we go on as we are and temperatures rise on average another 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, our ability to adapt would be severely compromised. If it warms another 3.6 degrees, some regions of our country and the world could become beyond help. What kind of timeline does that put us on? Are we looking at a decade, or are we looking at generations?
Daniel Brown: There's really no time to wait. The problem with climate change is that there's no hard deadline, there's no precipice, or a cliff that we fall over. You know, every ton of carbon that we emit into the atmosphere is going to worsen. Climate change is going to worsen warming, and it's going to worsen the impacts that we feel. What is also really important to note is that early action on climate change is even more important because the carbon that we emit today is going to, you know, keep warming the planet for decades or centuries to come. So, the effect of carbon emitted is cumulative. So, the sooner we can draw down carbon emissions, the sooner we can get ourselves off fossil fuels, the better it'll be for everybody.
David Fair: Well, we can already document the increased levels of drought, flooding, heat waves, and severe and damaging storms. I think last summer season alone, we had three 50-year storm events in the Huron River Watershed area. As a result, we can also document that these events are beginning to exceed plants and animals' tolerance thresholds. That's led to some mass mortalities in some tree species and in corals, to name a few. If our level of action gets no better than it is today, what are we to face in the next generation and beyond?
Daniel Brown: Globally, it's really a dire picture, if we don't change our behavior. We are already seeing ecosystems pushed to adapt faster than they can possibly adapt. They simply cannot keep up with the pace of warming and the pace of the changes that they're facing. So we have to give them time to adapt. And if if we don't globally, we could see really dire consequences. We could see, you know, mass migration as some parts of the planet simply become unlivable. You know, one question climate scientists are often asked is, "Where do you think climate change is going to affect the planet the worst?" It tends to be in equatorial regions. It tends to be in countries that don't have a lot of capacity.They tend to be poor countries, and they tend to be really arid regions. So people will tell you the Middle East is really vulnerable, but also the southwestern United States and the Gulf of Mexico is also really vulnerable to changes in drought, increasing hurricane strength. And all of that could drive a strain on resources. It could drive water scarcity, limits on food supplies, could stress agriculture. All of that leads to this overall reduction in humans' ability to adapt to climate change and could lead to mass migration. That's a big fear throughout the IPCC reports. So, you look at the world today and the stresses that we're facing with refugee crises and energy demand and, you know, people fighting over limited resources, all of that could worsen if we don't change our behavior.
David Fair: Our Issues of the Environment conversation with Huron River Watershed Council Watershed Planner Daniel Brown continues on 89 one WEMU. Let's talk adaptability. We know our greenhouse gas emissions are dramatically impacting the climate. We know we're going to continue to use fossil fuels for the foreseeable future. We know we have to create energy systems that can better capture, store, and then distribute renewable energies. Are we on a timely enough path to avoid more catastrophic climate change?
Daniel Brown: So the outlook right now is not good. There are things that make me optimistic. The pace that we've seen technological improvements, particularly in wind and solar, offshore wind and solar output, really provides a lot of potential for us to draw down carbon emissions globally. But those options aren't being implemented nearly fast enough. So even if we hit a future following our current pledges and policies, not even really what's happening on the ground, but even if we followed a path that is in line with our current pledges and policies globally, that still puts us on a pretty catastrophic trajectory. So, we really need to draw down carbon emissions much faster than we even have them. And even if we do that, we're still going to need to give ecosystems and people time to adapt to the carbon that's already been emitted into the atmosphere, and it's going to keep warming the planet. It's going to keep driving change.
David Fair: So while we're dealing with that aspect of it, we have to consider things in totality. So, what role will land preservation, water quality preservation, and the manner in which we create and preserve urban development play in adapting to climate change?
Daniel Brown: Yeah, that's a really great question, and it's really central to this particular IPCC report. It was really a central theme throughout the report, and it's something that at the Huron River Watershed Council think about a lot. We're thinking about how to manage our watershed, how we can protect Michigan waters to the best of our ability. That central theme, that land protection, is just absolutely required. The report calls for about 30 to 50 percent of ecosystems globally to be protected. But what's important within that and thinking about, you know, our little part of the planet is that it's 30 or 50 percent of all of the ecosystems that are out there. So, you know, one way to really apply that on local scales, we think, we can look at the land that's developed or that it might be developed. For every parcel that is developed, we should be looking to protect a similar amount of land area somewhere nearby within that same ecosystem.
David Fair: And protecting what we have that is undeveloped to this point is equal to or perhaps even more important than reforesting some areas, right?
Daniel Brown: Yeah, that is absolutely critical. And, again, you know, applying that, you know, that global directive to our part of the country. So, one thing the report does it's really interesting is it also culls out really inappropriate or misguided natural protection. So, replanting a grassland with forests isn't necessarily a great idea. That can actually cause problems for biodiversity and can actually disrupt the ecosystem. So what that means is actually protecting undisturbed natural landscapes becomes even more central, even more critical, to addressing climate change. So, in the Huron River Watershed, for example, in Southeast Michigan, that really means protecting wetlands. It means protecting forests. It means protecting agricultural lands. Perhaps that will, in time, will revert to their natural grassland state. It's really protecting the ecosystems that we have nearby in their natural state. And that development pressure that we see, you know, around communities that are growing, around Ann Arbor, around, you know, the Detroit suburbs, it's even more critical to get ahead of that development pressure and protect ecosystems in those areas.
David Fair: Our time together is just about at an end. But I do want to ask one final question. We're at a point where in some rather large circles in this country, science has become an opinion instead of fact. Inside the walls of your research labs and offices and the other scientists you work with, have you and your colleagues determined any way to get back to a place where we as a society view science is factual-based truth in the court of public opinion?
Daniel Brown: Yeah, that's a big question. And it's challenging a lot of people. The scientists that I talked to tend to be pretty hopeful. You know, they believe in the scientific method, and they believe in people's ability to separate fact from fiction. As scientists and as people that use the science, we really have no choice but to just continue to follow the truth, to, you know, communicate that as effectively as possible, and to get that science into local plans and initiatives that really will improve people's lives, you know, around the world, but in southeast Michigan as well.
David Fair: Daniel, thank you so much for the time and perspective today.
Daniel Brown: Thank you so much, David.
David Fair: That is Daniel Brown. He is watershed planner for the Huron River Watershed Council and has been our guest on Issues of the Environment. This weekly feature is produced in partnership with the Office of the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner and is heard every Wednesday. I'm David Fair, and this he is 89 one WEMU FM and HD1 Ypsilanti.
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