A New Narrative For Climate Action In The Midwest

Posted: Updated:

In recently celebrating the 49th Earth Day, our collective response to climate change and its impacts is evolving in a region where such change is not often expected: in the heart of the Midwest.

Consider the results of a new survey in Indiana. Eight out of 10 Hoosiers believe climate change is happening in some form. Seventy-five percent of Hoosiers support efforts to address its impact. What’s more, 65 percent of Hoosiers said they think that climate change is happening more so than they did five years ago.

This is telling.

Yet, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising given an analysis of the geographic impact of climate change. Tapping data from the Climate Impact Lab, researchers at the Brookings Institution note that the impact of climate change will fall disproportionately on ‘red’ states and communities. And the Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment, produced by scientists from universities across Indiana, has compelling predictions of the changes here already and yet to come for agriculture, forests, water resources, and public health throughout the state. As a result, political gridlock on climate change may ultimately prove to be not so rigid after all.

Officials in Iowa have led a bipartisan embrace of wind energy and Saint Paul, Minnesota is divesting from fossil fuels. Responses like these are driven, in part, by the climate consequences already knocking on our door. In the same survey referenced earlier, 60 percent of Hoosiers report that they believe climate change is already starting to harm people in the U.S. and another 77 percent report that they expect climate change to negatively impact the Indiana economy.

Just in the last six months, the Midwest has experienced record-setting cold, snow and flooding. Shifting growing seasons, heavy rainfall and temperature variability are challenging farmers’ production and profitability. With this year’s floods causing $2 billion in damage to Iowa farmers alone, climate change landed a significant blow to the U.S. economy, which exported more than $116.2 billion in agricultural products in 2018.

The national climate assessment suggests projects these threats will continue,  showing declines of up to 25 percent in yields for commodity crops in the southern Midwest, including corn and soybeans. And by mid-century, maximum temperatures are projected to noticeably exceed optimal conditions for many crops, approaching temperatures that may cause reproductive failure in crops like corn.  The average temperature in Indiana has already risen 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1895.

Yet, these latest survey results suggest that the public has been paying attention. We see greater support for the action needed to prepare and adapt to the effects of climate change—not just in national polling, but also here in the Midwest.

At minimum, there’s an increasing consensus that regardless of political partisanship, there’s no escaping the need to prepare for the threats climate change poses to communities and our economy. On flooding and protecting agriculture, there’s widespread support among Indiana residents for action and preparation.

As we begin to agree more and more on the nature of the problem, we can focus on solutions. At the top of our agenda is an increased focus on resiliency—what can be done to reduce our vulnerabilities.

A resilience-driven narrative calls us to lean into Midwestern pragmatism to predict the short- and long-term impact of climate change and identify the best ways to respond. For our colleagues at Indiana University—and for countless others across Big Ten country—that means capturing data and resources about carbon reduction opportunities and climate resilience efforts in ways that are easy for community leaders to access and act on. It means building tools that will help local governments measure and prioritize a response to their most urgent climate risks. And it also means that we have an opportunity to be boots-on-the-ground partners to communities across our states.

The tide is changing, and while the Twitterverse ponders the future of the Green New Deal, the Midwest may be quietly leading a much larger shift in American attitudes and action around climate change.

Janet McCabe is assistant director of policy and implementation for the Indiana University Environmental Institute. Jim Shanahan is dean of the Indiana University Media School.

  • Perspectives

    • World Refugee Day Shines Light on Untapped Pool of Talented Workers

      From Fortune 500 companies to local small businesses, a similar theme rings true. In this strong economy where unemployment is low and growth is high, companies are competing for top talent. In Indianapolis - according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics - unemployment is just 2.8 percent, and investment and job growth are on the rise. This is great news for Indianapolis-area residents looking for work or opportunities to advance their careers, but for businesses and...


Company Name:
Confirm Email:
INside Edge
Morning Briefing
BigWigs & New Gigs
Life Sciences Indiana
Indiana Connections


  • Most Popular Stories

    • Lilly Exec Named BioCrossroads CEO

      After a national search, BioCrossroads has announced Patty Martin will become the life science initiative's next president and chief executive officer. Martin, who most recently served as chief operating officer for Lilly Diabetes, will begin her new role Monday. She will become just the third CEO in the organization's 17-year history, and succeeds David Johnson, who in December announced plans to step down from the role to serve as president and CEO of the...

    • (rendering courtesy of Jones Development Co.)

      New Business Park Planned for Whiteland

      Missouri-based Jones Development Co. has begun construction on a new business park in Johnson County. The 2.4 million-square-foot Whiteland Exchange will be located on 167 acres near I-65 in Whiteland.  Financial terms of the developer's investment in the project were not disclosed. The business park is slated to include modern industrial buildings for logistics, advanced manufacturing and related uses. Work is underway on the first two speculative buildings, which total nearly...

    • Holcomb will chair the 2019 conference, set for November 7 in Indianapolis.

      Janet Holcomb to Chair Conference For Women

      Indiana First Lady Janet Holcomb will serve as chair for this year's Indiana Conference for Women. Nearly 2,000 people are expected to attend the ninth annual conference, in Indianapolis in November. Holcomb's career includes a stint as vice president of her family's bolt and fastener manufacturing business, R&R Engineering. She has also led fundraising efforts for political campaigns as well as nonprofit organizations focusing in areas including animal welfare, arts and...

    • (file photo courtesy of Radial)

      Radial Opens Fulfillment Center in Brownsburg

      Pennsylvania-based Radial Inc. says its new fulfillment center in Brownsburg is now open. The e-commerce technology and operations company says the nearly 700,000-square-foot facility is the largest in its network and will have the capacity to house about 2,000 employees.

    • Franciscan Health Details Data Breach

      Mishawaka-based Franciscan Health is providing details of a data breach. The health system says an internal investigation found one of its employees accessed the protected health information of about 2,200 patients "without a business reason."  Franciscan says the vast majority of the affected medical records was limited to demographic information such as name, address, email address, date of birth, phone number, gender, race/ethnicity, the last four digits of...