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How MSU experts address climate change through dialogue, education

March 21, 2019
A student reads about a Climate stick during the Global Climate Strike Walkout on March 15, 2019 at the Hannah Administration Building.
A student reads about a Climate stick during the Global Climate Strike Walkout on March 15, 2019 at the Hannah Administration Building. —
Photo by Sylvia Jarrus | The State News

On March 15, students from schools and universities worldwide — including Michigan State — participated in the Global Climate Strike, demanding leaders to do more to limit the effects of climate change.

As a part of an initiative to educate the public on this issue, several MSU professors came together and formed the Climate Outreach Team in April 2011. Lately, as the news surrounding climate change takes the national spotlight, the team continues to grow and foster dialogue within the MSU community. 

“Our group ... is trying to find ways for communication and education of people about climate and how climate impacts people and ultimately, to try and make a more resilient system or make a system that is less vulnerable to the impacts of climate variability and change,” geography professor Jeff Andresen, who is also a weather and agriculture expert, said. 

Coming from a variety of scientific fields, the educators that make up the team became especially interested in issues across Michigan, particularly with field crop production. The team includes representatives from several departments on campus, as well as each of the institutes within MSU Extension — Agriculture and Agribusiness, Greening Michigan, Children and Youth and Health and Nutrition.

The goals of the team align well with the mission and values of MSU Extension: They hope to improve the lives of Michiganders by providing their expertise and evidence-based information to the broader public. 

Along with working on the team, Andresen is a climatologist for Michigan and the co-director of MSU’s “Enviroweather” system, which provides weather-based information on pests, plant production and natural resource management across the state.

Land-use problems make up a significant portion of what many on the team are concerned about. In recent years, Andresen worked on a project in the East African region studying the effects of land-use change in relation to climate change. 

“With some climate simulation — climate models which try to mimic the real thing — you can show that the climate actually does change as a result of the landscape change, not even thinking about greenhouse gases,” Andresen said.

Instead of just informing the community, the team also aims to hear concerns and opinions on the issue. There is not a consensus among those impacted by climate change in Michigan in terms of what problems they face and what they should be doing to fix it, according to Wayne Beyea, a faculty member and senior specialist within the MSU School of Planning, Design and Construction.

“Sometimes we come at it from the issue-based approach — (asking), ‘What are your concerns?’ and then have an opportunity to have a discussion,” Beyea said. Beyea’s work with the team focuses on land-use policy and infrastructure. 

Much of the Climate Outreach Team’s work focuses on local governments. Along with looking into land-use decisions, they explore economic development decisions in relation to climate change, infrastructure decisions and how communities plan for them. The impact of how humans change the land can have severe consequences, MSU Senior Extension Educator Brad Neumann said.  

“Climate mitigation and adaptation are key in those areas,” Neumann, who also specializes in local government climate adaptation and mitigation and zoning issues, said.

As a multi-disciplinary group, the team doesn’t receive direct funding. It is largely dependent on programs that already exist; however, the team has received grants from the Great Lakes Integrated Science and Assessment Center.

Beyea said the team has made strides in its work, and Andresen said they’re continuing to work toward their goal of tackling what they see as one of the biggest problems affecting the world.

“There is overwhelming evidence of human impact on climate and if there are no changes, it’s likely to get worse,” Andresen said. “It’s not responsible for people to ruin or alter the environment for those generations which haven’t come yet. And that’s a reason to speak up — we have to speak up.”

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