Cleveland Climate Action Plan Updated

A growing consensus among experts indicates that the climate in northeast Ohio is changing. Temperature extremes are becoming pronounced, with more heat waves in the summer and a greater frequency of extreme rain storms. Without action these trends will likely continue, exposing already vulnerable populations to increased natural hazards. The City of Cleveland is helping its residents adapt to the changing climate by engaging in climate action planning. By producing a Climate Action Plan (CAP) the City is not only helping local stakeholders mitigate the effects of climate change, but also creating economic, environmental, and socially equitable benefits for all Clevelanders.

Climate Action Plan

Credit: City of Cleveland

In 2018 the City of Cleveland led a collaborative process of updating its already existing plan for climate action. Cleveland first produced a CAP in 2013, which has led to undeniable water and air quality improvements, increased usage of solar and wind energy, and the inception of innovative sustainability programs like a city-wide bike share system and municipal tree plan. The 2018 updates seek to build on the progress of the original CAP and increase attention in four areas: (1) social and racial equity, (2) green jobs, (3) resilience to the impacts of climate change, and (4) business leadership.

Ohio Sea Grant and Ohio State University Extension participated in efforts to update the 2018 CAP by serving on the Climate Action Advisory Committee (CAAC), along with representatives from local government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, businesses, technical experts, and concerned residents. In addition to producing the actual action plan, the CAAC helped organize and inform community workshops where more than 300 local residents were given the opportunity to voice their concerns and priorities for climate action in their respective communities.

The framework for the CAP is organized around five focus areas that constitute the main objectives, goals, and actions needed to help build climate resilience. The focus areas include: energy efficiency and green building; clean energy; sustainable transportation; clean water and vibrant green space; and more local food and less waste. Each focus area is investigated in detail in the CAP, as well as how it impacts the City’s carbon footprint.

For those interested in learning more about Cleveland’s CAP, you can access an online version here. More information on sustainability efforts in and around Cleveland can also be found at, or by visiting the webpage for the Cleveland Mayor’s Office of Sustainability. We all have a role to play in climate adaptation, and Cleveland’s CAP is a great roadmap for northeast Ohioans eager to get started.

Scott Hardy is an Extension educator for the Ohio Sea Grant College Program.

The content of this site is published by the site owner(s) and is not a statement of advice, opinion, or information pertaining to The Ohio State University. Neither text, nor links to other websites, is reviewed or endorsed by The Ohio State University.

Climate Change – What’s the Big Deal?

Find out more during the FREE June 7 Webinar
(Details/Registration below)

 “Few people would be making a big deal of climate change if the changes weren’t making big differences in land, air, water, infrastructure and economies — the ingredients of our daily lives. Climate science offers a wide lens on how ecosystems and social systems affect each other. The science and stories behind each impact present more questions we must now answer to support communities into the future.”

Source:  University of California – Davis

Here in Central Ohio climate change is often not the first thought on my mind. After all, we aren’t experiencing the most intense impacts – drought, hurricanes, flooding coastlines, massive fires – all destroying property and, worst yet, taking lives – are we?

While we may be spared some of the extremes, our changing climate in Ohio is already having a pronounced effect on farmers, the fishing industry and residents along Lake Erie and other waterways in the state, to name a few interest groups.  Here are a few selected impacts for Ohio from a 2016 EPA report:

  • In the last century, Ohio’s climate has warmed around 1.5 Degree Fahrenheit. This warming trend has accelerated in recent decades, with nighttime and winters showing the greater temperature.
  • Average annual precipitation in the Midwest increased by 5-10% over the last 50 years. This increase is projected to continue, particularly in the Eastern part of the region. As a result, the frequency of flooding is likely to increase in Ohio and surrounding states.
  • Heavy downpours are most likely to occur in the winter and spring, when soil is saturated or frozen, impacting agricultural runoff and water quality. Intense rainfall will also impact urban areas with combined sewer and storm water systems, potentially causing sewage overflow and water contamination.
  • Increased water temperatures in the Great Lakes will likely affect some coolwater fish species and will create favorable conditions for harmful algal blooms.
  • Forests will be threatened by drier conditions, fires, invasive insects and land use changes due to development patterns. As temperatures increase, some tree species are expected to shift their range to the north.

These are only some of the projected impacts Ohio will experience from our warming climate. Land Use Planners, zoning officials and local elected and appointed leaders are, in many locales, increasingly needing to be on the forefront of building resilient communities that will be able to adapt to projected changes in climate. A sampling of such initiatives currently underway in Ohio includes:

GreenCityBlueLake Institute at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History: In existence since 1992,  GCBL has been a leader in topics related to sustainable cities and climate change.

Smart Columbus:  In 2016 Columbus competed against 77 cities throughout the U.S. to win the Smart City Challenge, providing over $40 million to achieve transportation and sustainability goals, including reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center of The Ohio State University: One of the top research programs on the contribution of cold climates to the global climate system, BPCRC’s mission is to “conduct multi-disciplinary research, offer enhanced educational opportunities, and provide outreach activities with the goal of promoting understanding of the ever-evolving Earth System”.

An upcoming webinar hosted by eXtension’s Community Planning and Zoning Community of Practice, a team of researchers, educators and community practitioners from throughout the U.S., will be held in early June to identify community and land use impacts of climate change.  This webinar is free and open to those who seek information on climate change and steps communities can take to mitigate impacts.  Please note that registration is required, and a link is provided in the description below:

 Webinar Opportunity:

Community and Land Use Impacts from Climate Change
Thursday, June 7 at 1 p.m. eastern time for 1 hour

Complete information is available at:

A panel of speakers from three different states (Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) will discuss how communities’ land use decisions can impact and respond to a changing climate. They will share examples from various communities and may touch on agriculture and food, infrastructure systems, the link with smart growth and sustainability, and environmental protection. In addition, each speaker will discuss how climate change is expected to affect their various states.

  • The first speaker is Thomas W. Blaine, an Environmental Economist with Ohio State University Extension. He has published numerous fact sheets and blog posts about climate change. He will lead off this webinar providing an overview of climate change and what it means for communities throughout the United States.
  • The second speaker is Jim Shortle, a Distinguished Professor of Agricultural and Environmental Economics and Director of the College of Agricultural Sciences Environment and Natural Resources Institute at Penn State. His talk will focus on water management and recreation and provide examples of what communities can do in these areas.
  • Our third and final speaker is Jim LaGro, a professor in the Department of Planning and Landscape Architecture at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. He will focus on climate change strategies used by communities that also focus on community livability and sustainability.

The webinar will wrap up with an opportunity for questions and answers.

Please register by June 4 at: “Seating” is limited.

1 AICP CM credit is available.

Myra Moss is an Associate Professor and Extension Educator, OSU Extension Community Development.

Global Warming is About More Than Carbon Dioxide Alone

In my recent blog post on Global Warming and Uncertainty, which you can read here, I explained that, although carbon dioxide (CO2) is the main driver behind human-induced global warming, feedbacks will ultimately determine how much the global temperature increases. If you are unfamiliar with the concept of feedback and how it relates to global warming, I suggest you read that earlier blog before continuing here.

Global Warming CO2 #3 2016-07-07Many climate models show that, although the effect of a doubling of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere from the pre-industrial level of 280 parts per million (ppm) to 560 ppm will cause a temperature increase of somewhere between 3.5 and 8.1 degrees F, only a portion of that (about 2-3 degrees F) can be directly attributed to CO2 itself. The extra temperature rise is due to how the models calculate feedback. Those who say that temperatures will rise by less than 2-3 degrees F are arguing that Earth’s climate engine has negative feedbacks built into it which will prevent the initial effects of CO2 warming from being amplified. At this point, it is very difficult for either side to “prove” whether the feedbacks will be positive, leading to more warming, or negative, leading to less warming. So we are left with hypotheses, or educated guesses. I have studied the literature carefully, and I personally believe that positive feedbacks will rule the roost, leading to an amplified warming. Let me give you some of my reasons.

The primary feedback from an initial warming caused by an increase in CO2 is increased evaporation from the oceans, which adds water vapor (H2O) to the atmosphere. But water vapor is a greenhouse gas, so this leads to more warming. The extent of this warming is unclear, primarily because water vapor gathers in the form of clouds, and clouds themselves have an ambiguous effect in terms of feedback. On the one hand, since their tops are white, clouds tend to reflect solar radiation back to space. This is a negative feedback, preventing warming of the atmosphere. On the other hand, clouds hold heat in near Earth’s surface, especially at night, leading to more warming – a positive feedback. Those who expect that the negative feedback from clouds will prevail are making a very large assumption, particularly since we already know that the presence of water vapor in the atmosphere leads to increased warming. So while I am not denying that an element of negative feedback exists, I am just not convinced that it will equal or exceed the other positive elements.

The other major feedbacks, similar to the case of clouds, involve changing color – this time of Earth’s surface itself. Since the initial effect of CO2 is warming, we are witnessing the retreat of glaciers, sea ice and snowpacks, particularly in the northern hemisphere. This leaves a darker surface, both at sea (dark blue) and on land (mostly green and brown). Replacement of white surface with dark water and land reduces the amount of solar radiation that reflects back into space, and causes a great deal more heat to be absorbed on Earth’s surface. I think it is hard to overstate the importance of this phenomenon, especially since it played such an important role at both ends of previous ice ages. As more snow piled up due to initial cooling caused by changes in Earth’s orbit, the colder Earth became, leading to ice ages. As snow receded near the end of the ice ages, more dark surface was exposed to the sun, allowing for an acceleration of the warming that led to the climate we have today.

So there you have it. If the doubling of CO2 itself without feedbacks is expected to increase global temperatures by about 2-3 degrees F from pre-industrial levels by 2100, it looks to me like we can expect an overall warming of greater than 3 degrees. Some climate models put that number at about 8.1 degrees F, a warming that would completely transform Earth in ways that can only be described as catastrophic. But then again, perhaps the positive feedbacks, even though they do rule the roost, will not lead to that much warming. In fact, up until now climate models have tended to over-predict the increase in global temperatures by about 30-40 percent, possibly because they do not sufficiently account for some negative feedback. Given all these factors, my best estimate for a doubling of CO2 by 2100 is about 4 degrees F. This will mean a climate warmer than any Earth has seen in the last 7 million years, a period far longer than humans have been around. At a minimum, the challenges our descendants will face from this will be enormous. But there is still time to take action to prevent a doubling of CO2 from occurring. That presents an enormous challenge to US.

Tom Blaine is an Associate Professor with OSU Extension, Community Development. Feel free to contact him to present a global warming update to your group.

Global Warming and Uncertainty

In a previous blog post, I wrote an update on global climate change. One of the things you may notice now is the title of the current piece is on global warming, as opposed to global climate change. It has become the trend in recent years to replace the former with the latter, but I am going against that trend for the moment to make a point, and hopefully to get the reader to understand why there is so much uncertainty on this topic.

Greenhouse Effect 2016-01-28It was in the middle of the 19th century when scientists first discovered in the laboratory that carbon dioxide physically blocks the movement of infrared energy (think: heat). Scientists also pointed out that industrialization leads to higher concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere. Within a hundred years (by the 1950s) scientists were getting very good at obtaining precise measures of atmospheric CO2 concentrations, and these measurements have been showing a constant increase every year since then. This is the evidence upon which the concern about global warming exists. If CO2 concentrations continue to increase due to our use of fossil fuels, this means that more heat gets trapped in the atmosphere, and therefore global temperatures rise (this is referred to as the greenhouse effect).

Now we get back to the difference between global warming and global climate change. If temperatures rise because of an increase in atmospheric CO2, that is not the end of the story. Earth’s atmosphere is full of “feedback mechanisms.” Feedback occurs when you have a change in a system that then causes something else to change. Imagine inside your home. You have a thermostat. In winter, you set the thermostat to “heat.” If the temperature in the house falls due to cold weather outside, the thermostat causes the heat to turn on, and the temperature rises. This is an example of “negative” feedback. “Positive” feedback occurs when a change in the system causes the initial change to be accented, so that the final status is more extreme than after the first round. Think about what happens when an electric guitarist starts playing very close to a speaker. The sound from the speaker adds to what initially goes through the amplifier, and so the volume skyrockets – ouch, it hurts my ears just thinking about it.

So the big question in global warming research is whether Earth’s climate system is dominated by positive or negative feedbacks. The effects of a doubling of CO2 concentrations alone may be in the neighborhood of 2-3 degrees F. But the real question is “then what?” That is one of the reasons why we have seen the shift from a discussion of global warming to global climate change.

Global Warming - Uncertainty clouds 2016-01-28One result of higher temperatures is more evaporation from the oceans, which puts more water vapor into the atmosphere. But water vapor is a greenhouse gas also. This feedback therefore would appear to be positive, and would lead to even more warming. But more water vapor means more clouds. And the effect of clouds on temperatures and climate is extremely complex. On the one hand, clouds tend to reflect sunlight high in the atmosphere, and therefore cause global cooling (a negative feedback). On the other hand, clouds trap heat in the lower atmosphere, especially at night (a positive feedback).

Scientists are now working to determine the kinds of climate change that are occurring or will soon occur as Earth’s temperatures increase due to higher concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere. Much of this work is related to the kinds of feedbacks that are present in Earth’s climate engine. I understand that certain feedbacks are positive while others are negative, but it is hard for me to believe that the net feedback can be anything but positive. That is, it seems to me that the ultimate effect of a doubling of CO2 will lead to an increase in Earth’s temperature of more than 3 degrees F. More on why that is the case in my next blog entry.

(Submitted by Thomas W. Blaine, PhD, Associate Professor)

The Lake Erie Resource

Lake Erie Resource #1 2015-08-06

In most years there are more fish caught out of Lake Erie for human consumption than all of the other Great Lakes combined! (Photo: Ohio Sea Grant)

Lake Erie is arguably one of the most important lakes in the world. It’s the southernmost, shallowest, and warmest of all the Great Lakes, which makes it the most productive. While power generation is a major use of Lake Erie water, the most important may be that it serves as drinking water for 11 million people. It’s also an unmatched recreational resource for Ohioans as over 30 million people live within a day’s drive.

While fishing is king in the “Walleye Capital of the World,” people come from all over to enjoy boating, beaches, sailing, diving, birding and a variety of other outdoor activities. This amounts to around $11.5 billion and 117,000 jobs annually from the eight Ohio counties bordering Lake Erie. This is more than a quarter of the tourism revenue for the entire state.

In order to keep reaping the benefits of the resource, we need to keep taking care of the resource. With that in mind, Ohio Sea Grant has identified six critical issues that we’re working on to make sure we sustain a healthy Lake Erie.

  1. Sedimentation and dredging: When we get big rain events, we get a lot of dirt flowing into Lake Erie. Shipping lanes get full and need dredged, which comes at a big cost and can stir up toxins that have settled to the bottom.
  2. Phosphorus and nutrient loading: With the sediment comes the phosphorus and other nutrients. It can come from agriculture, urban runoff, combined sewer overflows, over fertilized lawns and a handful of other sources. It’s basically fertilizer for algae.
  3. Harmful algal blooms (HABs): When there’s too much phosphorus and the water gets warm in mid to late summer, we see major blooms of blue green algae, aka cyanobacteria, that can produce very powerful toxins. You shouldn’t swim in the blooms, and definitely don’t ingest it or let your pets drink it. If it gets in drinking water supplies it can be difficult to treat, which was the cause of Toledo’s issues last summer.
  4. Dead zones: As the algae and other living things die and break down at the bottom of the lake, vital oxygen gets used up. Sometimes this can cause pockets of no oxygen where fish and other aquatic life cannot survive.
  5. Aquatic Invasive Species: There are dozens of plants and animals that have been introduced to Lake Erie. They often out-compete our native species. This can cause irreparable damage to the ecosystem and cost millions of dollars to try to combat.
  6. Climate Change: We’ve seen more intense storms more frequently, and warmer temperatures more often. This can make the other issues even worse.
Lake Erie Resource #2 2015-08-06

Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island. (Photo: Ohio Sea Grant)

Despite all of these issues, Lake Erie is still Ohio’s greatest natural resource and a great place to visit no matter how you prefer to enjoy the water. So how can you help keep the critical issues in check?

  • Use phosphate-free lawn care products.
  • Regularly check your septic system. Damaged septic systems can contaminate nearby waters.
  • Reduce the amount of water you send to the water treatment plant. Install low-flow toilets and rain barrels.
  • Plant native plants along shorelines and ditches. These plants can filter out fertilizers and are essentially maintenance-free.

Check out for more information, or contact me if you have questions. Enjoy the rest of your summer, and I hope to see you up here on Lake Erie!

(Submitted by Tory Gabriel, Fisheries Outreach Coordinator, Ohio Sea Grant College Program)

NOAA Coastal Storms Program improves community resiliency in the Great Lakes

Orlando post 2015-06-18 combined

Photo credits: Top & Bottom – ODNR Coastal Management; Center – Ohio Sea Grant

In the fall of 2012, a large hurricane that began in the Caribbean Sea made landfall on the east coast of the U.S., causing ripples across the Northeast and Midwest for two days. What came to be called Superstorm Sandy in the Midwest generated an estimated $65 billion in damages in the U.S. alone and sent a shock wave through many working waterfront communities.

Marinas in the Great Lakes typically see 1-to-3 foot waves in their harbors. Superstorm Sandy brought towering waves of up to 20 feet and winds of up to 60 miles per hour. Many coastal communities across the Great Lakes were not prepared for this extreme weather and some took months to recover from the damages.

The experiences of Superstorm Sandy combined with projections of more frequent and severe storms in the future led Ohio Sea Grant to pursue and obtain a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coastal Storms Grant in the fall of 2014. The grant project is titled Development of a Coastal Storms Preparation, Adaptation, and Response Tool for Great Lakes Marinas. This project aims to understand the needs, drivers and barriers to preparing for extreme weather hazards and to develop tools that will help marina owners now and in the future. The project is jointly led by Sarah Orlando and Joe Lucente of Ohio Sea Grant Extension with Dr. Eric Toman of the School of Environment and Natural Resources.

A total of ten small grant projects have been funded to make Great Lakes coastal communities safer and more resilient. Learn more about the projects including work on dangerous currents, stormwater impacts, shoreline mapping and hazard mitigation at the NOAA Great Lakes Coastal Storms Program Page.

(Submitted by Sarah Orlando, Program Manager, Ohio Clean Marinas Program, Ohio Sea Grant)

Global Climate Change – Update 2015

The topic of man-made global climate change has remained the most widely discussed environmental subject in recent years. I have been writing and teaching about this topic for my entire 20+ years at Ohio State University Extension. I have seen how it polarizes people along a number of lines, including along political lines. That is one of the reasons it continues to hold so much interest for so many people.

My job as an environmental economist though is to sift through the theory and the data. When we take these things together, we might not be able to prove or disprove a hypothesis beyond any doubt – that is beyond the scope of science. But what we can and should do is to try to draw the most reasonable conclusions we can from all the evidence. Essentially that is what scientific method is all about.

Earth’s temperature has always fluctuated. Depending on the time frame considered (millions of years, thousands of years, centuries, etc), the causes of climate change vary. Over the longest term, continental drift (where the continents are positioned on the globe) makes the biggest difference in temperatures. When tropical ocean currents are blocked from getting near the poles, as in the world we occupy today, the earth is cold and snowy, with glaciers, icebergs and permafrost. For most of earth’s history the “ice house” earth we occupy has not been the case. But it has been the case for the entire time in which we (humans) have been around. Our genus (homo) most likely got its start around 7 to 8 million years ago

Milankovitch Cycles - 2015-03-12

Image credit:

Over periods of tens of thousands of years the dominant driver of climate has been a series of somewhat regular variations in earth’s orbit around the sun called Milankovitch cycles. These cycles brought on the ice ages. Twenty thousand years ago, northern Ohio lay under a mountain of ice more than a thousand feet thick. You can still see evidence of this today at the glacial grooves on Kelley’s Island. Obviously there has been a lot of global warming over the past 20 thousand years to melt all that ice. And this warming was in fact also brought about by the Milankovitch cycle.

Scientists have observed that the warmest period since the last ice age was about 5,000 years ago. They dub this peak the Holocene Maximum, denoting the warmest point in our current geological epoch. Since then global temperatures began to slowly decline, presumably leading earth eventually into a new ice age to occur some time in the future – perhaps within the next few thousand years. There have been some fluctuations around the cooling trend since the Holocene Maximum. Some of these deviations may have occurred as a result of increased solar output, along with changes in ocean currents.

Over the past 150 years however, the post Holocene Maximum cooling trend has not only abated, it has reversed. In fact the rate of global warming has accelerated considerably in the past thirty years, and is currently at .15 C degrees per decade (about ¼ degree F). The most likely cause of this trend is the increased concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere that has primarily resulted from the production and use of coal, oil and natural gas, aka “fossil fuels.” Deforestation and the burning of wood have also contributed. Prior to the industrial revolution, atmospheric CO2 concentration was very stable at about 280 parts per million (PPM). It has grown steadily ever since, to a current level of 400 PPM, the highest it has been for any period in which humans have been present on earth. CO2 causes the earth’s temperature to rise by trapping escaping heat in the atmosphere (the greenhouse effect).

Given world population growth, current technology and our reliance on fossil fuels, I do not believe that humans will be able to prevent CO2 concentrations from rising to 450 PPM by mid-century (2050). I think this will lead to an overall warming of about 2 degrees F, and will have enormous ramifications for the entire planet, especially agriculture and lands adjacent to oceans and seas. I think that at a minimum, since we have so far been unable to find appropriate substitutes for the energy sources that cause global warming, we should be investing heavily into finding ways to allow us to cope with the consequences of living on an earth that is significantly warmer than any humans have ever experienced.

If you are interested in learning more about this topic or scheduling a program in your area, please contact me at I currently have two slide shows ready to present. A review of earth’s climate history over the past 542 million years (the Phanerozoic Eon) is the focus of “Global Climate Change: Update 2015.” A more “local” approach is taken in “Climate Change: Outlook for Ohio to 2050.”

(Submitted by Thomas W. Blaine, Associate Professor, OSU Extension)