You may want to reconsider your mode of transportation before you next step on a Michigan bus.
Last week, a report released by Greenpeace, a national, non-governmental organization that works to increase environmental awareness, found that the state of Michigan emits more global warming pollution from fossil fuel consumption than 167 out of the 184 countries studied.
Greenpeace’s report was based on a study conducted by the World Resources Institute between 1960 and 2005. The study found that Michigan alone emits more pollution than many countries, including Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany.
Kate Finneran, a Greenpeace field organizer from Ann Arbor, places some of the blame on Michigan’s excessive emissions from coal plants.
“We’ve got some really massive coal plants in the state,” she said, citing the Monroe Power Plant in Monroe, which has released 21 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution into the air since its establishment in the early 1970s.
According to a Greenpeace press release, the Monroe Power Plant is the largest source of carbon dioxide pollution in the state. But 40 percent of Michigan’s carbon dioxide emissions comes from electric power and 30 percent is produced by transportation.
These carbon emissions have contributed to the rise in local and global temperatures, Finneran said.
Over the last century, the average temperature in Ann Arbor has increased from 46.6 degrees to 47.7 degrees Fahrenheit.
While this may not seem like much, Finneran said the whole country is experiencing a similar rise in temperature, which is causing more natural disasters.
“We’ve been seeing these floods and fires have been happening every day across the country,” she said. “They’re becoming such a common thing in the news. (Climate change is) impacting here, but this is something happening nationally and globally.”
Catherine Badgley, assistant professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, said climate change is posing real environmental issues in Michigan.
The decreasing length of winter, moving ranges of fish and mammal species, disappearance of animal populations and earlier melting of ice on the Great Lakes are all effects of global warming, she said.
“From my perspective living on a farm, we have new disease organisms that have moved into the area just in the last decade,” Badgley said. “All of that is temperature-related. There certainly are impacts on nature and on creatures big and small.”
Badgley said there has been an increasing amount of data published in the last few years demonstrating the effects of climate change on ecosystems.
In a University study published last month, Philip Myers, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, found that many southern Michigan mammal species — like the white-footed mouse, southern flying squirrel and eastern chipmunk — are moving North in response to climate change.
Of the nine species studied during the last 30 years, five have declined in population size.
LSA junior Julie Earnest worked with Greenpeace last semester in San Francisco, Calif. She said it’s becoming apparent that the United States is emitting more than its fair share of carbon emissions.
“We’re still emitting more than everyone,” she said. “And I think that says a lot, not only about Michigan, but just the entire American mentality — that we can kind of take all we want, and it’s never going to affect us, but it obviously is.”
Though Michigan emits more carbon pollution than many countries in the world, so do other states.
The World Resources Institute’s report ranked Michigan as the state that produces the eighth largest cumulative greenhouse gas emission in the country.
But Badgley said Michigan’s ranking is not as grim as it looks.
“I’m fully behind the idea that we need to get a grip on our life styles and our policies both at the state level and country level to try to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions,” Badgley said. “But just in terms of understanding where Michigan sits in the context of the U.S., it’s not an unusually terrible profile.”
The report did not rank Michigan in the top 20 states with the highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita.
Badgley said the lower greenhouse gas emission per capita figure compared to other states is partly a reflection of the loss of industrial capacity in Michigan — something people usually view as an economic disaster.
“Ironically, it means that it’s something Michigan could strategically take advantage of and decide that, as it is trying to attract different industries, it can try to do so in a way that can maintain its comparatively low level (gas emissions) compared to other states in the Midwestern region,” she said.
“In a sense, (Michigan) is on a slightly more positive trajectory, and could use that to its advantage in terms of shaping incentive for how both citizens as well as businesses and industry are going to operate in the future,” Badgley added,
Despite the lower emission per capita, Finneran said the state should cut back on emissions by investing in renewable energy sources like wind and solar energy and not providing funding for coal technology projects.
She added that policy makers are interested in developing carbon capture sequestration, or clean coal technology, which would allegedly capture carbon emissions so they could be stored underground.
Though it sounds like a good idea, Finneran doesn’t believe it will work.
“It’s kind of the same thing that happened with nuclear power,” she said. “Forty years later we’re still spending so much taxpayer money trying to figure out what to do with this waste, and it’s going to be the same thing with carbon capture sequestration.”
Finneran said the public can join the effort to solve pollution problems by lobbying legislators to develop an emission regulation policy to be discussed with 190 nations at the climate crisis conference in Copenhagen, Denmark this December.
“We need to have extremely strong policy here in the U.S. before December so we can push our lawmakers in Michigan to try to get a really strong bill on the table,” she said.
Besides pushing for new legislation, Earnest said there’s plenty that students can do in their everyday lives to slow global warming.
“There’s a ton of little things that, when we think of them on an individual basis, it doesn’t seem like they will really have too much of an effect,” she said. “But all those little things (add up).”
Earnest said students should charge cell phones once every two to three days, unplug laptops when they have a full battery — only charging them when the battery is low — and unplug appliances when not in use.
“If every student at Michigan were to do one or all of those things,” she said, “then it would make a difference.”