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What the Trump administration climate report says about the Midwest

photo of northern forest
Among the projected effects of climate change is that fewer trees in the Midwest will grow and “widespread tree mortality” is even possible as temperatures rise.

The federal government’s newly released climate change report outlines the devastating effects rising temperatures are expected to unleash on the United States in coming years. More wildfires out west and a shrinking economy are just two byproducts of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions forecast by scientists and a large group of agencies within President Donald Trump’s administration.

But more locally, the report also spells troubles for Minnesota and its surrounding states. Based on extensive research, the government predicts global warming to present threats to human health and infrastructure in the region, as well as to some of the state’s most important crops, animals and ecosystems.

While many of the findings are not a surprise to those who have studied global warming, the report, mandated by Congress and based on more than 1,000 previous studies, reinforces the findings of other scientists and governments worldwide and makes specific forecasts for regions of the U.S. sure to grab the attention of citizens and politicians.

Here are a few takeaways from the report’s findings about the Midwest:

1. The economic impact could be significant

The report says rising global temperatures do not bode well for the Midwest agriculture industry. There have been studies saying that a longer growing season could have some benefits for parts of the region — especially in a cold state like Minnesota. But from a wider perspective, the report says by 2050 climate change could slash productivity overall in the Midwest to “levels of the 1980s” without a leap forward in technology.

In fact, global warming is expected to create a smorgasbord of problems for Midwestern farmers. The report says temperatures are rising above optimum conditions for crops, and heat waves can even threaten their reproductive functions.

That could be an issue even in northern Minnesota, where the current average annual 5-day maximum temperature, a measure of heat extremes, reaches only about 88 degrees, according to the report. By the middle of the century, it’s expected to stretch between 93 and 95 degrees. Failure for reproduction for corn comes at 95 degrees, the report says.

“Increases in growing-season temperature in the Midwest are projected to be the largest contributing factor to declines in the productivity of U.S. agriculture,” the report says. “In particular, heat stress in maize during the reproductive period is projected by crop models to reduce yields in the second half of the 21st century.”

Hotter weather also is a boon for insect pests that harm agriculture. Beyond helping existing ones, a warmer climate is expected to bring new pests and the pathogens that cause diseases in crops to farther north, according to the report. More spring rainfall and humidity is expected, too, which can disrupt planting, increase soil erosion and amplify or increase fungus and disease outbreaks.

The government analysis says climate change also threatens Minnesota’s most cherished crop: wild rice. Extreme temperatures plus an increase in “climate-related” outbreaks of disease and pests will reduce production, the report says, and shift “favorable growing regions” north.

And while the predicted effects could be acute in rural areas of Minnesota where production of corn, soybeans and other crops powers the economy, a dented wallet will not be unique to farmers, the study predicts. Overall, climate change could cut the U.S. economy by as much as 10 percent, the government says.

2. Our ecosystems will change

The report also forecasts broad harm from climate change to our region’s wilderness and waterways. For instance, fewer trees in the Midwest will grow and “widespread tree mortality” is even possible as temperatures rise. Drought and warmer winters harm trees by harboring pests and reducing snowpack that insulates trees from frost damage, among other effects.

In Minnesota specifically, government scientists have for years said the range of Boreal forests that now populate the northern part of the state will shrink while species of trees more common in the southern portion of the state might creep north.

Warmer winters also could lead to extinction of cool and coldwater fish in some lakes across the Midwest, including the Cisco, which is also known as Tullibee or Lake Herring in Minnesota.

In the Great Lakes, winter ice is declining and water levels are “more likely than not” to drop. Warmer water temperatures are expected to reduce algae and zooplankton, that, according to the report, “form the basis of aquatic food webs.” This could lead to “cascading effects on the health and abundance of species across all levels of Great Lakes food webs,” the report says.

map of warming and ice loss on great lakes
In the Great Lakes, winter ice is declining and water temperatures are increasing.
Invasive species could also get a boost in the lakes. Sea lamprey, a parasitic fish, have a greater impact on other fish when they’re larger, and research has found they’re bigger in years when there are more days in which water temperatures in Lake Superior rise above 50 degrees, according to the government report.

In general, climate change is expected to aid invasive species and further stress native species such as monarch butterflies that have suffered from other problems like habitat loss due to development and agriculture.

All of this would have economic impacts of its own; the economic output of the forestry sector in the Midwest alone totals roughly $122 billion each year, according to the report.

3. Human health and infrastructure are at risk

The government report says it won’t just be the economy and wildlife affected by global warming — rising temperatures will lead to deaths related to extreme heat and poor air quality.

maps of mortality in upper midwest due to ozone changes
An increase in “ground-level” ozone and particulate matter is expected to lead to “missed school days, hospitalization, and premature death.”
For example, an increase in “ground-level” ozone and particulate matter is expected to lead to “missed school days, hospitalization, and premature death.” Those pollutants are associated with some lung and heart diseases.

Without anything to mitigate poor air quality, which climate change is expected to produce with higher frequency, between 200 to 550 more people will die prematurely each year in the Midwest by 2050.

Midwest cities are also expected to have the largest increase in deaths related to extreme heat under some scenarios studied by the government, without action to offset climate change. At even more risk are vulnerable populations like the elderly in cities that are farther north and don’t typically have high temperatures.

Besides the heat, heavy rains are expected to overwhelm stormwater systems, flood property and infrastructure like roads in the Midwest more often due to climate change. Those types of storms are projected to increase with global warming, and can sometimes threaten lives.

There is another local twist to all this: The government report identifies Minnesota and the Twin Cities as two of the few places where it’s possible “the value of warmer winters outweighs the cost of hotter summers.” That’s because a little extra heat — and less extreme summer temperatures compared to other states —  could lead more people to migrate to the state and boost the economy, the report says. But it also says more research on this topic is needed, and notes the Midwest still faces some of the greatest risks from climate change.

Comments (28)

  1. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 11/27/2018 - 04:13 pm.

    Great article – thanks!

  2. Submitted by John OConnor on 11/27/2018 - 05:04 pm.

    I keep asking if we know of any other species that has knowingly and systematically destroy their environment. Haven’t heard of one yet.

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/27/2018 - 05:57 pm.

    Well done. I’ve sent the last paragraph to relatives in Colorado, where drought and higher temperatures are already big issues.

  4. Submitted by Mark Voorhees on 11/27/2018 - 08:42 pm.

    I recently attended a discussion on climate change in Minnesota. Our greatest change is our winter low temperatures are not so low anymore. And our cold period is becoming shorter. That is our climate change; we are losing our cold temperatures. Since 1970 our temperatures have increased 1.2 degrees per decade.
    Our summers have not become warmer but with the loss of cold winters its setting the stage for our summers to become warmer.

  5. Submitted by Mark Josephson on 11/28/2018 - 06:19 am.


  6. Submitted by Joe Smith on 11/28/2018 - 06:22 am.

    It is the same Government bureaucrats doing this report as the last 10 years worth of reports. This is no more a Trump Administration report as it was an Obama administration report. The biggest departure in this report, is doing a 100 year forecast. The 20 year forecasts, done in the 1990’s didn’t come true, so they went to 100 year forecasts.
    Please show me where the Government has been correct in predicting anything.

  7. Submitted by Howard Miller on 11/28/2018 - 11:52 am.

    one quibble. Trump says he does not “believe the report”

    On that basis, let’s call this a US government report,

    not a Trump Admin report. He literally denies it, heaven help us.

  8. Submitted by Jeff Michaels on 11/28/2018 - 03:03 pm.

    Joe Smith is right on the mark. I remember the 1970s well. New York Times, Newsweek, Time, Washington Post, Associated Press and other establishment media news outlet had numerous stories about the then coming “Ice Age,” which was to hit about 2000

    Steve Goddard has a wonderful website featuring many of the news stories containing quotes from the same types of scientists about their certainty of the coming “Ice Age.”

    Advocates of doom have always been around because of the gullibility of the folks who now believe in “global warming.”

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 11/28/2018 - 10:10 pm.

      Funny, I don’t see a single peer reviewed scientific publication listed, perhaps you forgot to include it? I assume you’d be okay with my listing the New York Times as a representative record of conservative ideological principle?

      • Submitted by Joe Smith on 11/29/2018 - 07:25 pm.

        283 papers written on global cooling from late 60’s to 1980.. U of California ecology professor Kenneth E. F. Watts claimed in 1970 that the earth would be 11 degrees colder in 2000. More recently, the United Nations Environment Programme stated in 2005 that by 2010 there would be 50 milllion climate refugees from rising oceans. I guess that is why they now call it climate change, cover all bases.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/30/2018 - 11:09 am.

          If you’re reciting the talking points from Kenneth Richard, his figure is 285 papers. Typo?

          In any event, his number is bunk. I know you’re not going to believe anything that contradicts what you already believe, but those readers interested in educating themselves on this topic can find a good discussion here:

          • Submitted by Joe Smith on 12/02/2018 - 10:17 am.

            RB, I’ve read both sides for the past 20 years and am convinced the climate changes with or without human involvement. For every article written claiming humans are the cause of “global warming”, there is a study to refute it.
            I find it interesting how many tru believers of human driven global warming are so adamant that past predictions (too many to count) that didn’t come true are somehow global warming deniers fabrication. Look at Al Gores Inconvenient Truth to see how many predictions did not come true. Read Lord Christopher Monckton.
            Finally, I’ve been fascinated with wind/sun energy from mid 80’s til now. Biggest problem is storage of energy and getting your system to have a reliable output, when you need it. Cost is unreasonably high for everything “green” also. Just bought $1,500 worth of new solar 6 volt batteries to run my energy needs for a Morton building.
            Solar/wind is no where near running our energy needs as a country. It is total fantasy, with today’s technology, that you could get off coal, gas and nuclear energy.
            So in closing, I have read both sides and am very comfortable talking this issue with anyone.

            • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 12/04/2018 - 09:39 am.

              “For every article written claiming humans are the cause of “global warming”, there is a study to refute it.”
              No, there isn’t.

              I don’t know how many studies claim that humans are the sole cause of global warming. As I understand the science, the issue is the dramatic aggravation and acceleration of the change.

              “Read Lord Christopher Monckton.” I have. His Lordship, who is not a member of the House of Lords, and who has called the University of St. Thomas a “half-assed Catholic bible college,” has no scientific credentials (in fact, he is also known for pushing utterly false pseudo-scientific claims about homosexuality). What I have read of his writings makes him come across as one of those British contrarians for the sake of being contrary (“Norman St. John Polevaulter”). He is not to be taken as a serious voice.

              “Finally, I’ve been fascinated with wind/sun energy from mid 80’s til now.” Interesting! Your comment lets me make a point I’ve made elsewhere: why are energy conservation and alternative forms of energy not conservative values for more people? You can leave aside the idea of warming, and feel free to dismiss the tree-huggers, but it strikes me that conserving fossil fuels, and reducing our reliance on them, are exemplars of conservative thrift. Create a mix of energy sources, including ones that can be exploited at little cost, because not squandering resources is a good thing. I think you have it right. I don’t see any one source of energy as a silver bullet panacea, but bringing solar and wind into the mix can only help.

  9. Submitted by Tom Karas on 11/28/2018 - 06:16 pm.

    Kind of gives me a warm fuzzy about my confidence in peer reviewed science. Predictions of 30 years ago concerning a new area of science have been coming true with remarkable regularity. The news sucks, but real science is a true wonder to behold. We ignore it at our own peril and that of our children.

  10. Submitted by John Clark on 11/28/2018 - 08:38 pm.

    If you look at what actually took place back in the 1970’s, you will find that, yes, some of the media did report that we were entering an “ice age”. However, a majority of the scientific studies at that time came to a totally different conclusion. A survey of peer reviewed scientific papers from 1965 to 1979 show that few papers predicted global cooling (7 in total). Significantly more papers (42 in total) predicted the Earth would warm as a consequence of CO2, which, obviously, is still the overwhelming scientific consensus today.

    FYI, here is a study by the American Meteorological Society that debunks the myths about the ice age and the 1970s.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/29/2018 - 09:00 am.

      You are overlooking the fact that the “debate” about global warming is a political one. Conservatives have to believe that it isn’t happening/not the bad/irreversible/a Chinese hoax. It is an article of faith, and not amount of empirical proof is going to convince them otherwise.

      The only support they have is that a couple of pop science publications 40 some years ago talked about the possibility of an ice age. Of course that’s just as meaningless as the talk in those days about ancient aliens building massive structures on Earth. Yet conservatives keep bringing it up, despite all refutations, because it’s all they have. It’s the only reason they have for disbelieving the clear scientific consensus. It will never stop.

      • Submitted by John Clark on 11/29/2018 - 11:25 am.

        Agree with you completely, RB, that political ideology is a very determining factor in why some hard core conservatives deny anthropogenic climate change. But on the positive side, opinion polls do show that more folks who lean conservative are waking up and recognizing that climate change is for real. Kind of hard not to these days, what with the record breaking weather related events happening, i.e., the ravaging fires out west, the increased number of mega rains here in Minnesota. And the list goes on and on.

        The best explanation I heard about this subject came from conservative meteorologist Paul Douglas, who said that you don’t have to be a “liberal” to understand that climate change is taking place, you just have to be “literate”.

  11. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 11/29/2018 - 11:13 am.

    While it may be confusing to some, 2 different things may happen as a result from the melting ice in the arctic.

    The first, and most obvious result, is that the climate, in general, becomes warmer.

    The second, and less obvious possibility is that the cold melt-water from the arctic, entering the Atlantic, slows down and perhaps even totally disrupts the AMOC (otherwise known as the Gulf current). This warm current is why palm trees can currently grow in SW Ireland which,with respect to latitude, is north of the border with Canada. If there is a serious disruption of that current there WILL be a cold swing in temperatures for those ares currently warm as a benefit of the current.

    ….“If the more extreme case happened with the shutdown of the circulation then yes it is the case that Britain could cool – and it could cool by quite a lot, maybe 5 degrees Celsius,” ….As the AMOC slows down, winter storms in the UK will become more prevalent, as will summer heatwaves across Europe. There will also be a rise in sea levels on the East Coast of the US, and an overall increase in sea temperatures will impact marine life in the Atlantic….

    So, yes Virginia, you can have both warmth and cold resulting from increasing CO2–that’s why it’s called CLIMATE CHANGE ! “The Day After Tomorrow” movie displayed an extreme version of the possibility with respect to the current shutdown.

    • Submitted by Mark Josephson on 11/29/2018 - 12:34 pm.

      Besides melting arctic ice across the planet, the thawing of permafrost will jumpstart metabolism of soil-borne microbial species generating enormous quantities of methane. Given the structural differences of methane vs carbon dioxide and their spectral absorption properties in the infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum, CH4 is 30 times more potent than CO2 as a heat trapping gas. Like Honeybadger, physics, chemistry, thermodynamics, and Mother Nature “don’t give a s*** what politicians like Trump think (“I don’t see it”) regarding climate change.

      One gallon of gasoline combustion generates 20 lbs of CO2. One ton of coal combustion generates nearly 3 tons of carbon dioxide. Multiply that across billions of gallons/tons of gas, diesel, coal, and other fuels like propane, natural gas consumed annually, and a lot of infrared-absorbing molecules get released into the atmosphere. Where do they go? Besides oceans, carbon fixation by photosynthesis plus other metabolic processes, and they stick around in the atmosphere.

      Perhaps the NSF should launch an initiative employing biochemistry, molecular biology, and plant physiology to create super-photosynthesizing trees. Imagine Minnesota birch and white pine 2-3 times the size of the California redwoods! Tourist attraction. Oh yeah, this last paragraph is a joke. I just don’t see it! ?

  12. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 12/03/2018 - 12:23 pm.

    You know these conversations are interesting in a different way. If we were talking about science projections etc. that medical science was or was not making would we have similar disagreement? Or perhaps on the future of the electronics industry, “Moore’s Law” been around since the 70’s, would the same folks be saying its a bunch of hooey? What about Geology, meteorology anthropology, etc.? It amazes me how many climate change experts there are that conclusively know by lazy boy situated personal observation, that, 100’s of 1000’s of scientists, and investigators using sophisticated equipment, similar/same technology as in medicine, power generation, weather prediction, etc. etc.are all just making it up. Are the doctors etc. making it up too? Suspect they all went to similar educational institutions? Are MRI’s, X-rays etc real or just made up stuff as well?

  13. Submitted by Mark Josephson on 12/05/2018 - 03:57 pm.

  14. Submitted by cory johnson on 12/06/2018 - 10:11 am.

    . The Carter Administration spent millions on a gloom and doom climate report. Everyone who questioned it was labeled anti science. And of course it was wrong. I guess it’s different this time.

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 12/06/2018 - 07:58 pm.

      Looks like you plagiarized this “The Carter Administration spent millions on a gloom and doom climate report” from an opinion piece “The Hill” from a right wing founder of the “Club For Growth” we know guys like him really don’t have an agenda! Was not able to find any solid reference to “Carter, millions, climate report” was able however to unearth “Early Climate Change Consensus at the National Academy: The Origins and Making of
      Changing Climate” 1963

  15. Submitted by Mark Josephson on 12/13/2018 - 03:25 pm.

    FYI: Arctic Report Card Documents ‘Cascading Effects’ Of Warming Ocean Temperatures

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