Higher temperatures in West Michigan reflect impact of climate change


GVL / Annabelle Robinson

Chloe Schram, Staff Writer

The first weeks of the new year have ranked the highest January temperatures in West Michigan on record, with Grand Rapids at fifth warmest of each city. 

These warm temperatures have also led to a lack of snowfall in January, which is typically the snowiest month of the year. This has prompted further discussion about the impacts of climate change. 

Assistant Professor of Integrative, Environmental and Global Studies Rebecca Williams said she’s concerned about climate change and global warming as a whole. Williams said it’s not any singular warm winter that worries her, but the progressive changes in weather patterns that have been occurring over the years.

Williams is from Florida, so her experience speaking and working with people in Michigan has helped her understand the progressing effects of global warming on the state. 

“What worries me is all of the Michigan natives who have been telling me how much the weather has changed over their lifetime – such as warmer winters, less snow accumulation, less ice formation on the lakes and so on,” Williams said.

According to NASA, global temperatures in 2022 were 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit above the average for NASA’s baseline period. NASA stated the past nine years have been the warmest years since 1880 when modern record-keeping began. Part of the reason for this trend is because of human activities that continue to pump large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

“We have passed the time of debate over whether or not climate change is driven by humans,” Williams said. “It’s here and we are experiencing it, and this warm winter is a symptom of a larger problem.” 

The effects of climate change are seen in various ways. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson stated the warming climate is evident with intensified forest fires, stronger hurricanes, sea levels rising and other changes. 

“If we choose not to act and continue to be mired in the polarization and fact-denial that we are seeing in the U.S. and throughout the world, I fear that change will be forced on us in the near future in some very ugly ways,” Williams said.

However, Williams said if there are steps taken to prevent the negative effects, Michigan could be a model for the rest of the country.

“If we decide to act, I see Michigan as well positioned to be a leader in green energy and green jobs,” Williams said. “Think about the potential to revitalize cities like Detroit to be a model of climate adaptation with green manufacturing and innovative green infrastructure including energy, transportation, parks, sustainable urban agriculture and energy-efficient, or neutral, housing.”

According to the United Nations (U.N.), emissions in 2020 were 14.6 tons of CO2 equivalent per person. To maintain a livable climate, people will need to work to drop emissions to two or two and a half tons per person by the year 2030.

The U.N. has reported that there are many different ways people can help limit climate change. One idea is to look at new transportation methods favoring walking, biking or taking public transportation. Additionally, they suggest lowering the consumption of meat products and eating more vegetables in order to reduce emissions.

Reducing, reusing and recycling can help reduce waste and lower one’s carbon footprint. Another way suggestion is to switch bulbs to LED lighting and energy-efficient electric appliances.

There is still time to act, but we have to embrace change rather than fear it,” Williams said.