The Midwest Region includes Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Ohio.
At a glance: carbon dioxide emissions, air quality, agricultural impacts, invasive species
The Midwest is called “The Corn Belt” and “The Steel Belt” for good reason: agriculture and manufacturing dominate the region’s economy. Approximately 70% of the land in this region is dedicated to agricultural activities. Corn and soy are the dominant crops by far, used for human and wildlife consumption and in biofuel production. As a region, the Midwest emits 25% of the United States’ carbon dioxide—equivalent to a whopping 5% of the entire world’s carbon dioxide—an immensely disproportionate amount when compared to the region’s population. This high regional emissions rate can be attributed to the area’s dependency on carbon-intensive coal for generation of electricity as well as, to a lesser extent, emissions from extensive agricultural production and methane release from livestock.
At first glance, it might seem that crops would benefit from the longer growing seasons and increased carbon dioxide levels that accompany greenhouse gas accumulation in the atmosphere. However, studies show that corn yields will likely decrease due to a shorter development window. Even if plants are projected to increase yields due to higher carbon dioxide levels, such as soy, a net negative result is predicted due to more frequent extreme weather events including unpredictable freeze damage and heat waves. Plants better suited for new climates will need to be researched, cultivated, and adjusted.
These issues are not restricted to plants; people in the Midwest are also negatively affected by heat waves, which exacerbate already existing air quality issues in urban areas. Over 20 million people in the region live with air quality that does not meet national standards. Particulate matter, pollen, and ozone all contribute to make breathing difficult, and are only expected to increase with increasing temperatures, humidity, and industrial emissions.
The Great Lakes are a major feature of the Midwest, supporting recreational and commercial fisheries activities. The health of this aquatic ecosystem is at great risk from both fertilizer runoff and invasive species. The Midwest has been colonized by over 180 invasive water species including zebra mussels, Asian carp, and sea lamprey. These invasives entered the Great Lakes via fishing and shipping industries, and fishermen must now clean their boats when traveling between bodies of water to prevent the further spread of invasives in this already fragile system.