Confronting Climate Change

Reduce Greenhouse Gases (Mitigate)

Assuming we want the Earth’s climate to remain similar to what we’ve come to accept as typical, many people need to work much harder to slash the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses in the Earth’s atmosphere. These gases are most easily controlled at their sources (i.e. coal-fired power stations, methane seepage from landfills) or sinks (i.e. oceans, plants, algae, manmade reservoirs that accumulate and store compounds containing greenhouse gases).

Scientists around the world are working to develop carbon capture and sequestration technologies to help reduce the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. The State of Minnesota committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% between 2006 and 2050 (Next Generation Energy Act of 2007). Individual actions are also cumulative and necessary.

Calculate your carbon footprint and discover some ways to reduce it!

CoolClimate Calculator, developed by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, lets users compare their results to typical households in their region, and to households of similar size and income.

Handprinter measures your environmental footprint and offers suggestions for simple actions you can take to lower your impact on the planet.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Household Emissions Calculator provides information on how much money you might save by implementing energy-saving recommendations.

The Global Footprint Network’s calculator involves an avatar, which should intrigue young and old alike.

Zerofootprint Kids Calculator covers information related to food, travel, and recycling in a bright, clear, and interactive way.

Note: Online carbon footprint calculators are also available for businesses, architects and builders, and campuses in North America.

More Resources

Minnesota Sea Grant journal reprint! JR 546. Olabisi, L.S., P. B. Reich, K. A. Johnson, A. R. Kapuscinski, S. Suh and E. J. Wilson. 2009. Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions for Climate Stabilization: Framing Regional Options. Environ. Sci. Technol., 2009, 43 (6), pp 1696–1703.

wikiHow. How to Reduce Your Greenhouse Gas Emissions

U.S. Energy Information Administration


Anticipate Change (Adapt)

Although the predicted consequences of global climate change are ominous, change can create opportunities. In the Lake Superior region, adapting may take the form of capitalizing on higher wind speeds, longer growing seasons, and new technologies. Adaption means...

Coastal communities might need larger stormwater drains and sturdier breakwalls. Stormwater systems designed for the climate of 30 years ago might not withstand the intense rains and higher winds. The overload will lead to pipe/culvert blowouts, more erosion, flooding, increased potential for bridge and road washouts, and increased replacement and maintenance costs. Ironically, along with more flooding, communities can expect to battle more fires. The frequency of forest fires correlates closely to rising temperatures, precipitation patterns, and overall soil moisture.

The shipping industry might be able to operate year-round. An extended shipping season would offset the lighter loads ships will be carrying if water levels drop. As fiercer storms bombard coastal streams and shorelines, erosion will contribute more sediment to nearshore areas. The current price for dredging could seem like a bargain. Physical limits (like Lake Superior's bed of hard rock) will prevent dredging in some areas if water levels fall. New disposal strategies for dredge materials will be needed. New vessels could be designed with lower drafts, wider beams, and to include features such as cleaner emissions and ballast water treatment systems.

Recreation revenues from winter activities will likely decline. Natural resource managers predict changes in coldwater fisheries. Shipwrecks could deteriorate more rapidly in warmer water. More dredging around public accesses and private boat landings will be required. Public health professionals anticipate higher incidences of heat-related illnesses, and diseases associated with ticks and mosquitoes. Milder conditions during spring and fall could extend visitor traffic and reduce heating bills. Gardeners will enjoy a zone shift that will enable them to grow a wider variety of plants. Extended warm weather promises to lure boating and camping enthusiasts out more often and farther afield. However, park and rescue workers caution that people and their boats might be woefully unprepared and ill-suited for the conditions Lake Superior can throw at them, especially with the prospect of more intense storms and winds.

Lake Superior's fisheries could change. With a longer growing season, fish in the salmon family (and their prey) could become bigger and more abundant. Whitefish and trout will follow their optimum temperature into deeper offshore areas. The backbone of Lake Superior's commercial fisheries – whitefish – experience better reproductive success when their eggs are protected by winter ice, so diminishing ice cover is concerning. Invasive species are expected to take over larger portions of changing habitats. Because North Shore streams will flow more erratically and carry higher sediment loads, brook trout could struggle.

You might find inspiration by reading Spencer Reiss’s article in Wired Magazine, Climate Change Is Inevitable — It’s Time to Adapt. As Reiss suggests, necessity is the mother of invention.


Manage for Resilient Ecosystems

In the context of ecosystems, resilience is loosely defined as the ability of a suite of organisms and their environment to maintain natural functions when disturbed.

When University of Minnesota researcher Susan Galatowitsch and her colleagues* modeled climate projections for different regions of Minnesota, they determined that by 2070, the average annual precipitation and temperature would create conditions similar to those experienced about 500 km to the south-south-west (shown below).

The figures below are reprinted from Biological Conservation, 142, Galatowitsch, S., L. Frelich, and L. Phillips-Mao, Regional climate change adaptation strategies for biodiversity conservation in a midcontinental region of North America, 2012–2022, 2009, with permission from Elsevier.

Agassiz Lake Plain:
CLIMATE IMPACT – reduced wet prairies and meadows, reduced groundwater flow.
 
MANAGEMENT STRATEGY – prevent additional groundwater drainage or withdrawal near protected wetlands (esp. the region’s rare calcareous fens).
 
 
 
 
 
Boreal Peatlands:
CLIMATE IMPACT – lower water table, increase in peat fires, tree mortality from drought.
 
MANAGEMENT STRATEGY – prohibit drainage improvements near wetlands, control peat fires.
 
 
 
 
 
Central Lakes:
CLIMATE IMPACT – tree mortality leading to loss of boreal forests, more aquatic invasive vegetation.
 
MANAGEMENT STRATEGY – manage forests to reduce water stress, facilitate transition from forest to grassland (rather than invasive species), protect lakes from aquatic invasive species.
 
 
 
Hardwood Hills:
CLIMATE IMPACT – tree mortality from drought and pests, more aquatic invasive vegetation.
 
MANAGEMENT STRATEGY – manage forests to reduce water stress, facilitate transition from forest to grassland (rather than invasive species).
 
 
 
 
Mississippi Blufflands:
CLIMATE IMPACT – tree mortality from drought and pests, reduced groundwater to rare wetlands (calcareous fens).
 
MANAGEMENT STRATEGY – manage forests to reduce water stress, protect potential refuges and groundwater near fens.
 
 
 
 
 
Northern Superior Uplands:
CLIMATE IMPACT – tree mortality, increased deer damage to vegetation.
 
MANAGEMENT STRATEGY – minimize deer browsing in cedar and pine forests, protect potential refuges, facilitate transition from forest to grassland (rather than invasive species).
 
 
 
 
Southwestern Prairie:
CLIMATE IMPACT – invasive species invasions in small protected areas, loss of wet prairies, changes in wetland conditions.
 
MANAGEMENT STRATEGY – intensify invasive species removal, expand reserves, protect groundwater supplies from drainage improvements and withdrawals near protected wetlands.
 
 
 
Western Superior Uplands:
CLIMATE IMPACT – tree mortality from drought and pests, more aquatic invasive vegetation.
 
MANAGEMENT STRATEGY – manage forests to reduce water stress, facilitate transition to oak forests and grassland (rather than invasive species), intensify invasive species removal.
 
 
 

Many experts think that Minnesota’s ecosystems could persist despite the predicted climatic fluctuations and changes, if they can be relieved from other stressors, like habitat fragmentation and loss, invasive species, herbivores and pollution. Galatowitsch and her colleagues make a case for implementing natural resource management practices that focus on resilience and facilitating the inevitable geographical shift of ecosystems and species ranges. Suggested resilience actions include:

  • Provide habitat buffers for protected areas,
  • Work to retain environmental heterogeneity and biodiversity,
  • Identify and protect of likely climate refuges,
  • Manage forests for multi-species and multi-aged stands.

*Galatowitsch, S., L. Frelich, and L. Phillips-Mao. 2009. Regional climate change adaptation strategies for biodiversity conservation in a midcontinental region of North America. Biological Conservation 142: 2012–2022.


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