Understanding how the Earth is changing, and how that change affects people, has advanced substantially thanks to investments by the federal government, according to a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report.
Tom Dietz, Michigan State University professor of sociology and environmental science and policy, joined other experts to review work on climate by federal agencies over the last 25 years. The review examined efforts to develop Earth-observing systems, improve Earth-system modeling capabilities, and advance understanding of carbon cycle processes. The work was done as part of the U.S. Global Change Research Program.
“It was very useful to look across a quarter century of research investments,” Dietz said. “We could see how the program both continued to make basic contributions, especially in building databases that are essential to understanding our changing planet. We could also see the pipeline that led from fundamental research to providing useful information to decision makers coping with real-world problems.”
Going forward, the program should continue to build its knowledge base for informing decision makers and the public about rising global challenges, the report recommends.
“The program is also a nice example of how federal agencies, each with its own mandates from Congress, can coordinate activities to better and more efficiently serve the public interest,” Dietz said. “This is a federal program that is giving taxpayers many benefits for every dollar spent.”
The report identifies important contributions and achievements of the program since it was established in 1990. One of the first priorities for the program was to address the need for a global observational system. Twenty-five years later, there is now a large and growing portfolio of global measurements from space, guided by the USGRCP’s Integrated Observations Interagency Working Group, which coordinates observation capabilities and research within member agencies.
Dietz said that while the report doesn’t focus on Michigan, the research program has been beneficial to Michigan. MSU co-hosts with the University of Michigan, the Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessment Center.
GLISA has worked with Michigan cherry growers to help them cope with the changing patterns of spring frosts; with the Michigan Department of Health to help cities plan for extreme heat events of the sort that killed more than 500 people in Chicago in 1995; with marina owners who have to cope with fluctuating lake levels; with the Menomonee of northern Michigan in managing their natural resources and with many other groups around the state who are adapting to climate change and variable.
Dietz is a member of MSU’s Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability and the university’s Environmental Science and Policy Program.