New climate study matches cities to their future selves

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Editors: This story could be packaged with the story slugged CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS.

Also, it can be used with the map that includes the city closest to you: CCMAP GRAND RAPIDS, CCMAP HOLLAND, CCMAP LANSING, CCMAP SAGINAW OR CCMAP TRAVERSE CITY.

And this image: CC GUM

LANSING — Perhaps the hostile climate of a University of Michigan and Ohio State University football game will never change.

But the actual climate of each team’s hometown will, according to a recent study in Nature Communications that matches a city’s 2080 climate to its modern equivalent. In fact, it predicts that Ann Arbor’s climate will warm to that of U-M’s arch rivals in present-day Columbus.

Meanwhile, the home of the Buckeyes will be warmer, too – more like Evansville, Indiana.

Football aside, such findings could help climate-minded cities prepare for climate change, even if the cities haven’t found the study yet.

Matt Fitzpatrick, an ecologist at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, and Robert Dunn, an ecology professor at North Carolina State University, predicted the 2080 climate of 540 cities in North America.

Then they found the best equivalent modern-day climate under two emissions scenarios. (If emissions continue with no reductions Ann Arbor’s climate will shift further south to near Vincennes, Indiana. Columbus will feel like Jonesboro, Arkansas.)

The researchers also created an interactive map to make concrete the effects of climate change to the 250 million people who live in those cities.

The study included 17 other Michigan cities. Under the high emissions scenario, Traverse City, Lansing and Holland will feel like Chester, Pennsylvania. Winters in Monroe in 2080 will resemble those in southern Missouri. Each city gets warmer and wetter.

With reduced emissions Traverse City, Lansing and Holland shift only to the Ohio coast of Lake Erie, while Monroe would head east all the way to New York City.

In some cities already committed to mitigating and adapting to climate change, officials think the study could be helpful, even if they haven’t yet read it.

“It makes it more relatable to people not involved in climate change,” said Alison Sutter, the sustainability manager for Grand Rapids.

Even if it helps create awareness among the public, many city officials already know what’s in store. They worry about transitions, not just how to deal with future conditions.

Sutter points to the special demands that the regular freeze-thaw cycle in Grand Rapids puts on its infrastructure. So, Grand Rapids officials could look to Chester, Pennsylvania—its high emissions climate match—to understand its future infrastructure needs, she said. But they wouldn’t necessarily learn how to transition from one to the other.

This hypothetical collaboration would rely on the generosity of officials in Chester, who would spend time and energy educating Grand Rapids but receive little in return, since Chester’s future climate does not resemble that of Grand Rapids.

Instead, Sutter would ask about impacts to human health.

Health impacts make people care about climate change, Sutter said. It’s one of the reasons she prioritizes addressing the ways low-income families more acutely experience the negative effects of a less forgiving climate.

During extreme weather events that could become more common with climate change, Grand Rapids knows it must locate relief stations nearer those who can’t afford transportation to the other side of town, Sutter said.

Sarah Galloway, the sustainability coordinator and arborist for Erie, Pennsylvania, has started to plan Erie’s urban forest with climate change in mind. She would consider calling up Millington, Tennessee—Erie’s 2080 match for high emissions—to learn from them.

“I think it would be valuable information,” she said.

Already Galloway plans to plant black gum trees, also called black tupelo, around the city.

They don’t naturally grow in Erie now, but the tree’s range extends to Tennessee and other southern states that now have the climate of Erie’s future, she said.

Galloway wonders if the bigger lift for Erie will be teaching behaviors like water conservation that haven’t been a concern for Erie residents thus far.

Increasing public understanding of climate change and its effects was part of the motivation for creating the map, Fitzpatrick said.

If it works as intended people will “go and look at their city and hopefully have a moment of reflection about the magnitude of changes we’re talking about.”

A lot of people are looking, even if reflection is difficult to measure.

At last count, more than 600 media outlets had carried the work and 500 million people had likely seen it.

“Twitter loves it,” Fitzpatrick said.

If city officials seem slower to come to it, he chalks that up to the slower pace policy makers take.

Erie and Grand Rapids already have an eye toward climate adaptation and officials could point to city policies informed by research similar to Fitzpatrick and Dunn’s.

The interactive map and the large number of cities sets their work apart, Fitzpatrick said.

If the size of the public reception is any indication, it’s made an impression, even if it hasn’t sparked any city policy in the month it’s been published.

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