Climate change and planning: Where should local officials begin?

Local planning and zoning officials can access many sources of reliable information when deciding how to address climate change.

Climate change is happening: that’s the conclusion of a vast majority of climate scientists.  The potential influences on local communities are numerous. For example, research predicts an increased number of extreme weather events; in Michigan, that largely means floods and droughts.  Changes to historical precipitation patterns have big implications for storm water management and drinking water availability. It is difficult to predict exactly what the effect of climate change will be in specific communities, but there is little doubt that all parts of Michigan will be affected in some way.

Planning and zoning for an uncertain future is nothing new. Master plans are based on trends and data, as well as on predictions about how those changes might affect our communities.  But how do planning and zoning officials get started? What is their role in this issue? Where do they look for information and data relevant to Michigan?

There is a bewildering array of climate change information available, some of it reliable and some not. Below are some web sites and documents that are good starting points for local planning and zoning officials in Michigan.

Michigan Climate Coalition
This group’s web site summarizes climate change-related efforts of governmental agencies, universities, non-governmental organizations and businesses; an excellent source of current information and upcoming events.

DEQ – Climate Change
Includes links to state-level climate change policy efforts in Michigan and other mid-western states; also a link to the Michigan Climate Action Plan, recommendations to the Governor developed by the Michigan Climate Change Action Council in 2009.

Great Lakes Climate
This site offers an excellent overview of climate change variability and change in our region; developed by the Great lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments program.

Frequently asked questions about climate change
This Michigan State University Extension bulletin provides a brief, informative overview of what climate change is and why it is an important issue. Other bulletins in the series address greenhouse gas basics and field crop agriculture and climate change.

Policy Guide on Planning and Climate Change
American Planning Association. Although a bit long (and dry), this document includes descriptions of a broad range of recommended policy actions to deal with climate change.

Local government and environmental leadership: views of Michigan’s local leaders
This 2010 survey showed that local government leaders are divided in their opinions about the seriousness of global warming, breaking mostly along party lines. Despite those differences, two-thirds believe that local government has a responsibility to help reduce global warming.

Climate Ready Great Lakes Training Modules
A series of three modules to help communities in the Great Lakes Region adapt to climate change – what you are adapting to, how and why.

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