News stories on climate change often talk about rising ocean levels and climbing temperatures in the Southern Hemisphere.
At the fourth annual Climate Leadership Summit this past Thursday at Goshen College, Indiana researchers, political leaders and environmentalists also highlighted not only how climate change will affect Hoosiers, but what can be and is being done in response.
“Indiana is finally waking up to the climate crisis,” said Jim Poyser, executive director of Earth Charter Indiana, which organizes the summit.
Scientists are now armed with data showing potential impact on the state. The Indiana Climate Impacts Assessment (indianaclimate.org) led by Purdue University started releasing reports in March 2018 based on data collected from more than 100 experts.
In his presentation Thursday, Jeffrey Dukes, Purdue professor of forestry and natural resources/biological sciences, said, “There is overwhelming scientific agreement that our climate is changing and human activities are driving those changes. We can observe climate change happening and it’s happening right now.”
Dukes said Indiana will warm and lose its best weather days in the coming decades. By the 2050s, Indiana is likely to lose 21 mild days a year and gain 43 hot/extreme days compared to historical averages.
Spring rains and flooding could become more intense said Dukes.
Alan Hamlet, associate professor at the University of Notre Dame in engineering and earth sciences, studied 31 climate model simulations to look at the impact of greenhouse gases on Indiana.
“The implication here is we are not going to have any trouble seeing this and there is huge change,” he said.
Hoosiers could see average temperatures rise 15 degrees Fahrenheit, affecting even our ability to be outside for recreation or gardening in the summer. Indiana’s winters may be more like mid-Atlantic states are now or even east Texas by the 2080s, he said.
Hamlet and others highlighted how the flooding of February 2018 may be more commonplace and current systems designed to handle flooding may be inadequate. Hamlet said Hoosiers are front and center when it comes to climate change impacts on rivers and temperatures.
“So many people think we’re not vulnerable in the Midwest,” he told me over lunch. “The temperature impacts in Indiana are really frightening.”
More than 200 people ate a vegan lunch at the summit, but some of the sessions included more than 400 people. A number of them were students from Goshen College and Goshen High School.
“Our youth are here and they’re here today to make sure we stay on track,” said Goshen Mayor Jeremy Stutsman.
Those youth believe that climate change is happening and will affect them. A number of young people exhorted the group to act in response to rising temperatures.
“I encourage each of you to make good choices that will give hope to my future, and the future of your children and grandchildren, so we can have a cleaner world and better environment for our planet,” said 7-year-old Poppy Dee Kendall to the gathering at lunch.
Stutsman told the group that those in leadership positions need to keep trying to educate the public about climate change.
“Due to the political nature of this discussion people are allowing their beliefs to override the wealth of information and facts sitting right in front of us,” Stutsman said. “We don’t need to change beliefs. We need to change the discussion to one of value.
State Sen. Blake Doriot, R-Goshen, who attended part of the summit, is among those who are unsure about the scientific evidence that humans are causing climate change.
“Is there climate change happening? I agree. Are we the cause of it? Not sure,” he said. “I’m here to learn.”
Amidst the dire statistics and a keynote speech from professor and writer David Orr on the country’s failing democracy, a number of people pointed to how cities and communities are taking action. A number of speakers praised Goshen and its efforts, which include adding solar panels, establishing a new Department of Environmental Resilience, and an effort to double its tree canopy by 2045.
The word “resilience” is being used frequently by those working at responding to climate change. Indiana University’s Environmental Resilience Institute, which launched in fall 2017, is working to offer tools to communities. In November, its leaders hope to unveil the Hoosier Resilience Index showing data for cities and towns as a basis for changing decisions and preparation for what could come from climate change.
Marshall V. King is a freelance writer and photographer who has worked in Elkhart County as a journalist for more than 20 years. You can read his Food For Thought each Monday and his Dining a la King column each Friday.