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No Debate. Make Michigan Green Like Sweden

Posted to on Tuesday, November 20, 2012

INTRO: Has anyone forgotten the 100 degree temperatures this summer? Do we know what caused superstorm Sandy along the east coast?  Scientists don’t debate why anymore. They say climate change is caused by humans burning fossil fuels that release carbon into the atmosphere. As part 4 in our series on the National Strategic Narrative, Chris McCarus finds that climate change could bring both hardship and opportunity.

People of New Orleans and Mississippi understood climate change after hurricane Katrina. People in New York and New Jersey understood after hurricane Sandy. John Warbach is a professor at Michigan State University’s Land Policy Institute. He says most other people don’t understand.

“We still hear people who won’t accept the idea. It’s easier to say I will focus my thoughts and energy on something else. I heard a clerk at a store when I was buying a winter coat this weekend say climate change is all nature based. You know the science says that’s not the case.  But this is a person who could not enter the debate. It’s so huge. It’s so daunting that people just give up and say somebody will take care of this.”

Members of the U.S. military feel they are the only ones taking care of it.  They’re not questioning whether it’s real. John Warbach has been meeting with officers at the Naval Post Graduate School. Some want environmental sustainability taught in schools.  Warbach asks why spend money on states vulnerable to hurricanes, wildfires and mudslides?

“There’s often the rush to rebuild and put people in harm’s way again.”

And he says communities need built-in resilience to anticipate climate disruption. The industrial Midwest already has cooler temperatures and plenty of water. If only cities like Detroit and Youngstown can avoid more man made economic storms. John Warbach says:

“A lot of the worst possible scenarios for dealing with climate change are 20-30 years out or more.”

It costs a lot less to act now instead of waiting. That’s what Sir Nicolas Stern, a former chief economist at the World Bank said 6 years ago. Stern said global warming could shrink the economy by 20%. But taking action then would cost just 1% of gross domestic product. Professor John Warbach says it’s not too late.

“We have a pent up demand for a different life style for a lot of people. Demographics are changing. And then we have a lot of aging infrastructure. So the need to build and rebuild our society and its physical infrastructure, the built environment, is huge.”

Hemlock Semiconductor near Saginaw is huge. They are among the world’s five biggest makers of photovoltaic cells. Yet Sweden has a more successful model for companies and communities. An engineer from the town of Vaxjo came to the MSU Sustainability Conference in October to talk about bio mass energy.

“I think you should figure out about GDP in Michigan that local production of energy creates jobs in the region. They are also very difficult to move away. They are a part of the economy.”

Hans Gulliksson’s part of Sweden is covered by forest. It looks and feels like the U.P.  But they make better use of their trees. Whatever is not sold for lumber or paper generates power. The jobs increase and they can’t be exported.

“And everyone knows that this stays and the share of CO2 tax is growing all the time. So it’s more and more profitable not to use fossil fuels.”

The Obama Administration once talked about a carbon tax. Swedes have put one place. In the 1990’s, the mayor of Vaxjo, Sweden called for a fossil free city. 50% of their energy now comes from renewables. Hans Gulliksson says:

“Take the easy steps first. And there are always low hanging fruits. Involve politicians and help them understand this is long term thinking and you can’t fight about this. It’s good for everyone.”

That’s what the Swedes think. Here on election day, Proposal 3 would have made 25% of the state’s energy come from renewable sources by 2025. Michigan voters rejected it.

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