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Climate change will be costly, especially for at-risk communities

damaged road and car
Vicky Ingram
Floods, like the ones that hit Northern Michigan this summer, will get worse under climate change. Lemos says that's likely to add stress to an already degraded infrastructure system.

On Black Friday, the federal government released its National Climate Assessment.

Compiled by 13 federal agencies, the landmark report spells out the consequences we’re already seeing — and that we’ll continue to see worsen over time — as a result of climate change. 

Maria Carmen Lemos is one of the authors of the Midwest chapter of this assessment. She’s also the associate dean of the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability and co-directs the Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments Center.

Climate change will have wide-reaching impacts on public health, the economy, agriculture, and more. The  damage caused by a changing climate, though, is projected to hit certain communities harder than others. Lemos says cities, rural and coastal communities, Native American and indigenous tribes, and the poor will be the most severely impacted.

“For example, extreme heat is really challenging the ability of many households — especially poor households — to respond to that impact. If you don’t have air conditioning, or you don’t have means of actually regulating your micro-climate inside your household, you are exposed. And that is something that is going to happen more and more, and it will disproportionately affect people with fewer resources,” she explained. 

Climate change is expected to have a major effect on infrastructure across the country, which could be of particular consequence here in Michigan. 

“We’re going to have more flooding, more storms, and that will push the infrastructure. Especially, for instance, in Michigan where the infrastructure in many places is aging, especially in legacy cities,” Lemos said.

Lemos says that climate change is a multi-scale problem and that everyone, from the individual to the government, has a role to play in mitigating its effects. As for how you can do your part, she recommends driving less, using less electricity in your household, and educating yourself on how individual action can help.

Listen to Stateside’s conversation with Maria Carmen Lemos to hear about how a handful of communities in the state are already preparing to deal with climate change, and what “no-regret actions” could be taken to offset some of those future costs.

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Isabella Isaacs-Thomas. 

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