Don’t ignore the links to climate change


In response to the threat posed by eastern equine encephalitis (EEE), the state is conducting an aerial spraying campaign using a chemical that the manufacturer describes as harmful to aquatic life (due to runoff) and “highly toxic to bees” that come into contact with blooming crops and weeds that have been sprayed. This campaign is meant to make outdoors safe again for humans until the first hard freeze.

Hopefully we all know by now that pollinators – and the animals and plants that depend upon them – are in serious trouble in most places around the world. In the context of EEE, though, there is something else that we should be more focused on: climate change.

According to researchers at the NOAA-funded Great Lakes Integrated Sciences + Assessment center, which is a joint research partnership between University of Michigan and Michigan State University, the warming that we’ve experienced in the Great Lakes region over more than half a century has resulted in a longer frost-free season; the frost-free season in 2017 was 16 days longer than in 1951. Given the continued trend in warming that we’re going to experience due to baked-in climate change and the continuation of business as usual in terms of greenhouse gases, we’re likely to see a continued extension of the frost-free season.

EEE is not a new disease; it was identified in the 1800s and regularly impacts small numbers of people (and animals) in warmer states. Here in Michigan, we’re naturally protected for part of the year by cold weather. We’re losing our natural defense against the mosquito that carries this disease due to climate change. The current median hard freeze date for the parts of Michigan that are currently affected by EEE is between October 21 and 31. A warming world may see that date range pushed into November within our lifetimes.

Berrien Springs schools (along with most, if not all, other districts) missed a great opportunity at the end of the last school year to teach students about how climate change is impacting their lives by explaining the link between extreme weather events and school cancellations. With the MDHHS advising against outdoors activities at dusk (which, if heeded, would impact high school football schedules), now is the time for schools to draw the connection between climate change and the daily lives of our students.

Climate change is here. It’s affecting us. We need action.

Justin Bowen

Commerce Township, Mich.