Bringing it Home
Human activity, primarily burning fossil fuels to produce electricity and drive our cars, is changing our climate. These activities emit gases, principally carbon dioxide (CO2), that blanket our planet and trap heat. Already, we are seeing signs of climate change throughout the Illinois and the Great Lakes region: average annual temperatures are increasing; severe rainstorms have become more frequent; winters are getting shorter; and the duration of lake ice cover is decreasing.
The Illinois migrating climate graphic depicted above was produced by the U.S. Global Change Research Program — a team of 13 agencies that include the Dept. of Agriculture, NASA, National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy. It shows Illinois summers are expected to feel progressively more like summers currently experienced in states south and west. Illinois is projected to get considerably warmer and have less summer precipitation.
The Path We're On
Our global community continues to set records for the "hottest month" and "hottest year", urgently calling for us to lower our greenhouse gas emissions. At this time, we're clearly on the "higher emissions" scenario as depicted by scientists in the graphic above.
The Union of Concerned Scientists has used this and other data to make projections for the Great Lakes region and the State of Illinois. Their summary report, Confronting Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region: Impacts on Illinois communities and ecosystems provides a good overview of what we can expect to see in the coming years. If current pollution trends continue, toward the end of the century Illinois will experience:
Far More Scorching Summers:
- Every summer in Illinois will be hotter than 1983 - the hottest summer during the historical baseline.
- Illinois temperatures will rise 7-13 degrees F in winter and 9-18 degrees F in summer. This dramatic warming is roughly the same as the warming since the last ice age.
- Chicago will experience more than 70 days per summer with highs over 90 degrees F and a month of days with highs over 100 degrees F.
- Chicago also will face at least two heat waves per summer like the one that killed hundreds in Chicago in 1995, and one heat wave every other summer like the even deadlier European heat wave of 2003.
- Air quality would deteriorate, as hotter weather causes more severe smog problems (assuming similar levels of tailpipe and smokestack emissions). This would have serious consequences for public health, including a greater incidence of asthma attacks and other respiratory conditions.
- Heavy rains will become more common throughout the year, leading to a greater incidence of flash flooding.
- Winters and springs, when the flood risk is already high, will become more than 25% wetter.
New Threats to Agriculture:
- Crops and livestock will face substantially more heat stress, decreasing crop yields and livestock productivity.
- Warmer winters and a growing season up to six weeks longer will enable pests like the corn earworm to expand their range.
- Crop production will be inhibited by changing rain patterns such as wetter springs (which delay planting and increase flood risk) and almost 15% less rain during the increasingly hot summers.