MSU collaborates with MDHHS on the Michigan Climate and Health Adaptation Program

The goal is to develop a host of rural community interventions to address the interaction between climate change, health and the built environment.

Storm sewer outflow | Photo by Brad Neumann, MSU Extension
Storm sewer outflow | Photo by Brad Neumann, MSU Extension

Climate scientists agree that the world’s climate is changing. Here in Michigan, the Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments (GLISA) highlights documented climate changes including:

  • Since 1900, annual average temperatures have increased by 2.0°F (1.1°C) in the U.S. Great Lakes region.
  • Since 1900, total annual precipitation has increased by 10.8 percent in the U.S. Great Lakes Region, and is expected to continue to increase, though projections of future precipitation vary.
  • The amount of precipitation falling in the heaviest one percent of storms increased by 37 percent in the Midwest and 71 percent in the Northeast from 1958 through 2012.
  • From 1973 to 2010, annual average ice coverage on the Great Lakes declined by 71 percent.

Such changes threaten natural systems and infrastructure, but climate change also threatens human health through various climate-health pathways. For example, increased temperature due to climate change, combined with a poorly-designed storm sewer outflow (see image), creates an exposure pathway such as heightened levels of bacteria at a popular swimming beach, which leads to a public health threat such as increased incidence of bacterial gastroenteritis.

Climate health pathways are traceable for many, if not all, climate change drivers. That’s why the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) is working with Michigan State University Extension and the MSU School of Planning, Design and Construction to develop a host of rural community interventions to address the interaction between climate change, health and the built environment. The work is a component of the MDHHS’s Michigan Climate and Health Adaptation Program (MICHAP), whose goal is to prepare for public health impacts of climate change (see Local government and climate change: key roles to mitigate threats to public health).

With grant funding from the Centers for Disease Control, MDHHS and MSU are working on a pilot project that builds upon previous climate adaptation work by municipalities and organizations in Marquette County. Through the project, the MICHAP team is building community capacity to implement interventions that will reduce the health impacts resulting from a changing climate.

The MICHAP team, guided by the Marquette County Climate Adaptation Task Force and the Marquette County Health Department, worked last year to collect input from a diverse set of Marquette County stakeholders through nearly 20 meetings. Climate-driven events in the area have impacted health and quality of life, particularly for vulnerable groups, such as the socially isolated, the elderly and those living in poverty. These events include flooding, water shortage, wildfires, extreme cold and other extreme weather events.

One unique aspect of the project is the development of built environment design and infrastructure solutions that address climate impacts on community health. The next public workshop for the MICHAP project is scheduled for March 26 from 4-6 p.m. at the Citizens Forum at Lakeview Arena in Marquette. Community members and local officials are invited to review draft physical designs and health interventions and provide feedback on applicability of the concepts in the community. With further feedback from community members and local officials, the MICHAP team will next be developing a Climate and Health Adaptation Guidebook to help advise implementation of the various climate-health interventions.

Individuals with questions about the project should contact Brad Neumann, AICP, Senior Extension Educator with MSU at or 906-475-5731.

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