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A Conversation on Climate Change with MSU Geographer Jeff Andresen

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Jeff Andresen

Jeff Andresen is a professor in MSU’s Department of Geography, Environment, and Spatial Sciences. And he is the state climatologist for Michigan. He studies climate change and its impact on our daily lives. Andresen talks about the difference between weather and climate. And he describes his role as state climatologist.

“One thing is unequivocal,” says Andresen. “That's the word that's used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); the world's getting warmer. Michigan and the Great Lakes are also getting warmer. And perhaps more significant is it's getting wetter here locally. That's a regional trend; there are regional differences around the world. But globally, temperatures have warmed up a little over one degree Celsius. So a couple degrees Fahrenheit over the last century or so. It's a rapid increase relative to what we know about the Earth's geologic history.

“The last decade is the warmest that we've seen over at least 100,000 years. The world is getting warmer. There are all sorts of other variables-related to that. The ice is melting. The sea levels are increasing, and all of these things are consistent with a warmer world. That's true here in the Upper Midwest and in the Great Lakes region too.”

Andresen says Michigan has gained about a two degrees Fahrenheit over the last 30 to 40 years.

“There've been some seasonal differences and there's been more warming in the cool season, especially during the winter season and that's warmed more than the summer. The other interesting thing is that our nighttime temperatures have warmed more quickly than our daytime temperatures. So, the difference between the two, the diurnal range it's called, is shrinking or decreasing with time. And that's something we see in other parts of the world. It’s the warmest we have been in basically our recorded history.”

He talks about the rise in extreme events we’re seeing.

“Unfortunately, the extreme events are projected to continue. Projections that were made 10 years ago and even longer than that are pretty consistent with what we've observed. We're on a warmer and wetter trajectory. And unfortunately, most of these projections call for an increase in extremes.”

Andresen talks about the latest climate assessment from the IPCC.

“The projections for the future are a little bit warmer than they have been in the past. And the language in the report is more deterministic and certainly more concerning. And there’s a link between human activity and the observed warming that's taken place here over the last century. Again, the word unequivocal is used. It's happening. And a significant portion and most of the warming is attributed to or associated with human activities, notably the greenhouse gas emissions. And something is going to have to be done, otherwise we risk major problems. The more the change, the more difficult the problems will be to deal with.”

Andresen discusses climate change’s impact on agriculture and the Great Lakes. He explains why some of the changes have been positive while others have been negative.

“We just need to look around us. There's been ample evidence around us of extremes and challenges and impacts. And this whole issue of a changing climate hasn't been at the forefront or at the top of people's lists of issues. We have many issues that challenge us as a society. But climate change, unfortunately, I think is getting higher up on the list. And we really can't afford to wait much longer. Something is going to have to be done and we have to come up with some plans and some action. They're a lot of good intentions, but we really need to act on some of them.

“The stakes are very, very high and time is as an important part of this. The good news and the glass-is-half-full view is that humans have been very good at coping and adapting with changes in the long-term throughout history. There's no question we can do it again. We have the right stuff to do this, but decisions have to be made and really have to be followed. That isn't so easy sometimes, but this issue is not going away. And as we've seen recently, it's actually becoming more visible. We have to think about those who come after us and come up with some strategies and solutions to change or to solve the problem.”

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