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Communities use "green infrastructure" to adapt to climate change

Illustration courtesy of U.S. Global Change Research Program
From the report: These are just some of the indicators measured globally over many decades that show that Earth's climate is warming. White arrows indicate increasing trends and black arrows indicate decreasing trends.


Credit Illustration courtesy of U.S. Global Change Research Program
Illustration courtesy of U.S. Global Change Research Program
The map shows percentage increases in the amount of precipitation falling in very heavy events (defined as the heaviest 1% of all daily events) from 1958 to 2012 for each region of the continental United States.

Our climate is changing and people are working out ways to adapt.

A new report takes a look at how climate change is affecting weather in the U.S. and what people are doing to try to get ready for more changes in the future.

Mike Shriberg is the regional executive director of the Great Lakes office of the National Wildlife Federation, one of the groups that wrote the report.

The report draws from the Midwest portion of the National Climate Assessment. Shriberg says scientists are documenting a number of ways our region's weather patterns are changing.

"We're seeing things like an increase in storms as well as increased droughts. We have more precipitation overall but it's coming in bigger outbursts with longer gaps in between it," he says.

Climate versus weather

Weather is what we see out our window and climate is the average of the weather over a long period of time, usually at least a 30-year period.

"The weather outside one day has only a very slight correlation with the overall climate. Even the weather over the course of a season —so [for example] we had a very cold winter last winter here — the overall trends are toward warming," Shriberg says.

"You have to look at it, not just from a local perspective, but a regional and global perspective."

The NWF put this report together to help communities respond to the changes in our region. 

"We're an organization that is deeply concerned about wildlife of course, and there are things we can do that are actually helpful in preparing for increased storms, that are actually beneficial to wildlife as well."

Shriberg notes that various species are shifting north. But these species need habitat corridorsor tracts of land that connect habitats such as refuges, parks or rivers to one another. An example is the greenway along the Huron River.

"Now, having that green space not only helps these species, but it's helpful for us, it helps purify drinking water. It helps provide diverse habitats; it helps provide open spaces," Shriberg says.

"So, while the news on climate is bad, in terms of: we know there are changes and they're not generally positive, the things we can do to react to it can be positive — and that's the core message of this report."

Stormwater management

The report highlights cities and counties across the Midwest that are making changes to adapt to events like heavier storms.

Evan Pratt is the Water Resources Commissioner for Washtenaw County. The county has put in new criteria on how developers handle stormwater. They want more of the water to soak into the land, instead of running off into the street and adding to a flooding problem.

“We’re asking that the first inch be soaked into the ground," he says.

He says some developers are putting in rain gardens.

Credit Aaron Volkening / Flickr/user
An example of a bioswale constructed as part of a road's median.

“There are also techniques called bioswales that are more of a linear rain garden — it’s basically a ditch with some nice plants in it that’s kind of too flat for the water to move left or right. Basically, it’ll move down into the ground more so.”

He says other people have built porous parking lots that water can flow through, or they’ve put plants on their rooftops to catch some of the extra water.

Pratt says these are not new ideas. But it’s taken a while to get them to catch on.

“I think that the folks that started doing a trial basis of this 10-15 years ago started having results; outputs. The City of Southfield put in a porous parking lot about 10 or 12 years ago in a large area and people were skeptical, you know, 'I have to see this working' is what many of us think. 'I want to see something that works, that somebody else has done.' ”

He says as those early adopters have proven that this kind of green infrastructure works, more people are willing to try it.

Rebecca Williams is senior editor in the newsroom, where she edits stories and helps guide news coverage.
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