Mich. senator on UN climate change report: ‘We don’t have time to sit and wait anymore’

By: - August 16, 2021 10:11 am

Climate strike at the Michigan Capitol, Sept. 20, 2019 | Laina G. Stebbins

As Michigan lawmakers and environmentalists are working to mitigate the effects of recent natural disasters fueled by climate change across the state, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report last week highlighting that global warming is posing more of an immediate existential threat than previously thought. 

The IPCC report highlighted that earth’s average temperature is set to rise by 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial times by 2030, concluding that preventing the temperature increase would be “exceedingly difficult, if not impossible” unless speedy and ambitious plans for greenhouse gas reductions were implemented. 

A 2-degree Celsius increase is also likely within the next 30 years if the uses of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are not reduced. 

The IPCC report emphasized the need for policy changes regarding land, transportation and energy sources as a 2-degree increase could trigger thawing permafrost, extreme weather, such as floods, wildfires, prolonged droughts, sea level rise, melting ice sheets, and loss of wildlife habitat — some of which the world and the state of Michigan has already begun to see. 

Democratic legislators from the Michigan Senate and House unveiled a $5 billion climate resilience and water infrastructure plan last week to help mitigate the effects of the recent Southeast Michigan flooding, while also helping restore the state’s faulty and outdated infrastructure. 

The legislation establishes a Climate Resilience Corps, a job training and apprenticeship program to focus on climate issues. The legislation would also establish a disaster relief navigator program to help those struggling obtain natural disaster assistance. And infrastructure would be designed to circumvent or reduce the impacts of flooding. 

Sponsor Sen. Rosemary Bayer (D-Beverly Hills) said lawmakers need to address the impacts of the recent flooding while recognizing “that this is a part of a systemic problem” that was highlighted in the IPCC report.  

“We don’t have time to sit and wait anymore,” Bayer said. “This is happening. It’s affected us already. … This is not something that [can be] pushed on to the next set of legislators. We do know what to do to make it better. We just have to buckle down and do it.”

Michigan GOP legislators also proposed their own $2.5 billion investment in water infrastructure in late June. 

The new bills come after Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order nearly a year ago establishing the Council on Climate Solutions. The council advises Gov. Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) on how to implement the Michigan Healthy Climate Plan, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and steer the state toward carbon neutrality. 

Flood damage in Detroit | Ken Coleman photo

The same executive order aimed to make Michigan carbon-neutral by 2050, 20 years after the IPCC said the average temperature would be 1.5 Celsius degrees higher. 

Derrell Slaughter, a member of Michigan’s Council on Climate Solutions and Michigan’s clean energy advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the IPCC report helped reinforce the work of both the NRDC and Council on Climate Solutions. 

“I think what the report did was really reaffirm the things that our organization [and] other organizations have known and been saying for years: that we need to move really fast in terms of decarbonizing our economy,” Slaughter said. “We only have so much time… There’s already effects that appear to be irreversible.”

Slaughter also said that as the state begins to implement more initiatives to fight climate change, it’s important to make sure that historically marginalized communities are being considered throughout the process. According to the IPCC report, the most vulnerable communities to climate change across the globe are the poor, underserved and people of color.     

Slaughter said that coordination between local, state and national leaders will also be imperative to ensuring transitions to renewable energy and initiatives tackling climate change are implemented effectively. 

“In order for us to [make] significant gains in addressing our carbon emissions, we’re going to have to coordinate,” Slaughter said. “There’s going to have to be a level of coordination that’s going to take place.”

In a recent study released by the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, only 35% of local health department officials surveyed across Michigan said that climate change is a priority for their department, even though 77% agreed climate change will impact their jurisdictions within the next 20 years.

The Sierra Club is one of three environmental organizations suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failing to ensure effective plans to clean up potentially life-threatening sulfur dioxide in parts of metro Detroit.

Sarah Tresedder is a federal climate and energy organizer for the Sierra Club’s Michigan Chapter, said the IPCC report detailed “the widespread and severe impacts of climate change” and reasserted the need to invest in and work with communities to combat climate change. 

“The climate alarm bells have been ringing for some time now,” Tresedder said. “This morning, the (IPCC) raised the alarm again. … We must invest in our communities to ensure that we are able to recover from, prepare for, and mitigate the impacts of current and future climate disasters.”


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Julia Forrest
Julia Forrest

Julia Forrest is a contributor to the Michigan Advance. She has been covering Michigan and national politics for two years at the Michigan Daily and OpenSecrets. She studies public policy at the University of Michigan.