Friday, June 5, 2020

Newest national climate assessment has implications for MSU

May 14, 2014

The third National Climate Assessment, released by the Obama administration on May 6, found that climate change is affecting the U.S. 

Of course, that includes MSU.

Julie Winkler, an MSU professor in the department of geography, assisted in developing background documents for the midwest section of the assessment.

She said the changes that could affect MSU specifically include the rising temperatures, given that many campus buildings are not air conditioned, and the increased frequency of intense precipitation, which could potentially cause more flooding of the Red Cedar River.

Winkler also said that climate change's effect on agriculture and the economy could have indirect impacts on MSU.

The report was created by more than 300 experts, guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee and reviewed by the public, federal agencies and a panel of the National Academy of Sciences. It summarizes the current and future impacts of climate change on the United States.

The assessment discusses all aspects of climate change, including such topics as extreme weather, human health, infrastructure, ecosystems and biodiversity, water supply, and agriculture.

Bruno Basso, agroecosystem scientist and professor in MSU's department of Geological Sciences and at the Kellogg Biological Station, said the report is "striking, but not new, as the scientific community is already aware of what is happening and how all these changes will affect our daily life."

Basso shared Winkler's concerns about climate change's indirect effects. He said extreme variability in weather — excessive rains and longer periods of draughts — have substantial effects on agriculture.

"The university has always invested in targeting a pool of scientists to look at this problem," Basso said. "The way the university life works is that the priority is always to be green as much as possible with recycling and being environmentally friendly."

To achieve this, campus planner Stephen Troost said that all decisions made regarding campus organization are based on certain principles.

"That means trying to keep the campus compact, which means less energy required, trying to provide a variety of transportation alternatives so people can do things in different ways than being a single vehicle occupant, keeping it walkable, trying to promote non-motorized modalities," he said.

MSU's Campus Master Plan, a long-term guide to physical development on MSU's campus restricts the university's building opportunities to set portions of campus in compliance with a more sustainable development, leaving the south portions of campus untouched.

"My goal is to look long-term at where we put buildings, where we put roads — and we're really trying to embrace some of those smart-growth principles, which hopefully in the end result will require less expenditure of energy overall ... even though we're going to continue to grow and do the research that we need to do," Troost said.

Basso said there are issues with the power plant on campus being a source of greenhouse gases, but added there is a committee working toward implementing the latest technology to reduce emissions. The university pledged to reduce greenhouse gases by 30 percent from 2011 levels by July 1, but it's unclear if that goal will be met.

"I hope that one day there could be a carbon tax," Basso said. 

Carbon taxes have been utilized by other countries to reward groups who reduce emissions and sanction those who don't respect the climate conditions, according to Basso.

The National Climate Assessment predicts that temperatures will eventually increase two to three degrees. But according to Basso, what's changing is not just the temperature increase, it's the extreme variability. 

"We need to implement adaptation strategies to these changes," Basso said.

Basso said that while the problem is present, so are solutions.

"On a larger scale or community base, there could be more sensitivity and more policy that will reward people who respect the well-being of the earth," he said.

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