You’ve Experienced Climate Change:Find out How and Connect Your Experiences to the Rest of the World
Context: Climate change refers to the recorded increase of average global temperatures and dangerous weather events over the last century or so. More than 97% of climate scientists agree that climate change is caused by humans, largely from the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) to power our cars, provide electricity, and heat our homes. Most Americans agree that climate change is real, caused by humans, and poses a serious threat to local climates and ecosystems. Many people speculate about an oncoming “climate apocalypse.” However, apocalypses are generally thought to be sudden events that would impact the entire planet at once. For better or for worse, our Earth is far more complex than that. In fact, climate change is already causing disparate events around the globe, many of which have already impacted the lives of hundreds of millions of people.
There is a lot on the news these days, so you may have missed one such event that happened locally last week. In Midland County, Michigan, serious rain caused strong enough flooding to break 2 dams, which caused intense flooding throughout the county, displacing thousands of people. Extreme weather events, like flooding, occur more and more frequently as a result of climate change. This event was not apocalyptic, but it is one many thousands of like events that threaten our communities.
Detroit experienced the same rainstorm as Midland last week, but fortunately did not suffer such disastrous flooding. In fact, all Detroiters have experienced firsthand the threatening impact of climate change, and have likely heard about other dangerous events worldwide that were likely results of climate change.
Goals: Grade Level: High School
Finding expertise in climate change you didn’t know you already had
Connecting your experiences to the world outside of Detroit and Michigan
Understanding the human impacts of climate change and its extreme events
Supplies: Time: Ex. 1 hour
In addition to intense rain falls, climate change has been directly linked to other “natural” disasters such as hurricanes and other tropical storms, forest fires, extreme heat events, extreme cold events, sea level rise, and droughts. Fill out the chart below to indicate which of these events you’ve experienced firsthand or heard about occurring around Detroit, and which of these events you’ve heard about happening elsewhere on the news. In the chart, describe what you know or heard about the event. It is OK if you do not have a response for each box: many of these disasters have not happened near Detroit, and therefore you shouldn’t have a response in some of those boxes anyway! Possible responses are included below.
EventDetroitElsewhereIntense rain falls/Floods Hurricanes/tropical storms Forest Fires Extreme Heat Events Extreme Cold Events Sea Level Rise Droughts
What impact do you think intense rain falls/floods can have on people?
What impact do you think hurricanes/tropical storms can have on people?
What impact do you think forest fires can have on people?
What impact do you think extreme heat events can have on people?
What impact do you think extreme cold events can have on people?
What impact do you think sea level rise can have on people?
What impact do you think droughts can have on people?
EventDetroitElsewhereIntense rain falls/FloodsThere is often flooding in Detroit. In fact, this is one of the primary threats Detroit faces as a result of climate change. In particular, the Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood has flooded numerous times in recent years along the Detroit River waterfront. These floods have often proved costly. The Rouge River floods on occasion too. Just about every neighborhood in Detroit is at risk of flooding as a result of an ageing housing stock and sewer system. In general, Michigan’s location amongst the Great Lakes makes floods a significant threat throughout the state.Floods happen all over the world. Earlier this year, floods in Indonesia killed 66 people and displaced at least 60,000 others.Hurricanes/tropical stormsDetroit is not at risk of hurricanes or tropical storms!Hurricanes have intensified around the globe in recent years. Hurricane season starts on June 1 and experts expect a particularly intense one this year. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey’s (landfall in Texas and Louisiana) killed over 100 people and displaced over 30,000. In recent years, the impact of Hurricanes Irma, Maria, and Dorian (landfall in Puerto Rico) killed thousands and displaced tens of thousands more. The United States has been experiencing more intense hurricanes in unusual places of late, from the Carolinas to New Jersey/New York.Forest FiresDetroit is not at particular risk for forest fires. They can happen throughout Michigan’s forests, but are not particularly likely to occur.California has suffered from devastating forest fires for much of the last 2 decades, with 2018 being the most devastating forest fire year in California’s history, killing over 100 people and destroying over 22,000 buildings. Recent forest fires in Brazil’s Amazon Rainforest and much of Australia have had extremely devastating human and ecological impacts in 2019 and 2020.Extreme Heat EventsYou have almost certainly lived through an extreme heat event in Detroit. Last July, a heat wave across over ⅔ of the US had temperatures reaching over 110 degrees over a course of 3 days in Detroit. Heat waves are rampant across the globe these days. 2019 was the 2nd hottest year ever recorded, and 2010-2019 was the hottest decade ever recorded.Extreme Cold EventsThere was an extremely extreme cold event in January/February 2019 which killed at least one Detroiter. DPSCD was closed for an entire week as the wind chill reached as low -40 degrees fahrenheit. This event is called a Polar Vortex.Michigan and a few other states felt the Polar Vortex more than most others, but the vortex spanned west from Minnesota and Iowa all the way east to New York and Washington D.C. There were 22 recorded deaths.Sea Level RiseSea level rise is impacting flooding across the Great Lakes region as all of the Great Lakes have swelled up. This poses some level of a threat to Detroit’s most eastern parts and much of the state of Michigan.Sea level rise has nearly swallowed up whole Island Nations, including the Maldives, which is one of a few nations whose whole population is at severe risk. The city of Miami is at severe risk of essentially disappearing as a result of sea level rise, while much of Southern California and parts of New York City are at risk as well.DroughtsYou have almost certainly lived through a drought in Detroit/Michigan. Droughts in Michigan haven’t been especially disastrous in recent years, but they have caused some damage, particularly in rural communities.In California, drought has been a direct cause of severe forest fires. Recent droughts in Central America have displaced millions of people and have contributed greatly to an influx of migration/immigration to the United States.
The Impact of Floods: The most dangerous of floods can drown people. In addition, severe flooding can displace people by destroying homes and can cause a ton of property damage.
The Impact of Hurricanes: Hurricanes often cause severe flooding, meaning that all that is true of flooding’s impact is true of hurricane impact. In addition, the strong winds of hurricanes can cause destruction that can put human lives in immediate danger.
The Impact of Forest Fires: Forest fires can kill those caught in them, whether by burning or asphyxiation. In addition, the smoke can be extremely harmful for those with breathing and lung conditions, even from hundreds of miles away. Finally, the burning can put food supply in jeopardy and be extremely economically destructive to whole communities, and worse.
The Impact of Extreme Heat Events: Extreme heat events are particularly dangerous for the elderly and infants, particularly those without access to working air conditioning. Dehydration and heat shock can cause death. In communities like Detroit, it is immensely important to have access to safe locations for shelter from the heat. Transportation and community spaces are therefore extremely important.
The Impact of Extreme Cold Events: Like heat events, extreme cold events are particularly dangerous for the elderly and infants, particularly those without access to a working heating system. In addition, extreme cold can freeze pipes and leave people without drinking water, which is necessary for survival. In communities like Detroit, it is immensely important to have access to safe locations for shelter and warmth. Transportation and community spaces are therefore extremely important.
The Impact of Sea Level Rise: As sea levels rise, the coastal areas bordering the sea face more and more erosion, until eventually they could disappear entirely. This could kill millions if they don’t evacuate quickly enough, and has already displaced millions of people, forcing them to move to safer places away from protruding seas. The Maldives is one such nation in immediate danger. Many experts project that Miami, Florida will cease to exist during our lifetimes.
The Impact of Droughts: Droughts can be extremely destructive, particularly in communities where water is already scarce. Because of political controversy surrounding the distribution and accessibility of water, some people perceive Detroit as a place in particular risk if a severe flood were to occur. In addition, droughts interrupt growing seasons, sometimes causing intense food shortages in communities across the planet. Rural communities that depend on farming for economic survival are at particular risk from droughts.