White House Study Warns of Severe Climate Change Effects in Illinois

"Direct effects will include increased heat stress, flooding, drought, and late spring freezes."

Tuesday, May 6, 2014  |  Updated 11:45 AM CDT
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Climate change could adversely affect Illinois and the Midwest with increased pollution, exposure to new diseases, life-threatening heat waves and flooding, a new White House report shows.

"Climate change will tend to amplify existing risks climate poses to people, ecosystems, and infrastructure," researchers said. "Direct effects will include increased heat stress, flooding, drought, and late spring freezes."

The third U.S. National Climate Assessment released Tuesday by the Obama Administration assessed climate change and its impacts to Americans and the economy across the country. It calls for urgent action to immediately combat the effects of climate change and notes that current efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas pollution may not be enough.

"In 2012, power plants and major industrial facilities in Illinois emitted more than 130 million metric tons of carbon pollution," the study notes. "That’s equal to the yearly pollution from more than 27 million cars."

The report predicts climate catastrophes across the United States that will begin to directly affect Americans in coming years, including "scorching temperatures, flooded cities, wildfires and changes in the crowing season."

The effects of climate change could be especially damaging in the Midwest, and the study suggests the region's natural resources are at the greatest risk.

“The Midwest’s agricultural lands, forests, Great Lakes, industrial activities, and cities are all vulnerable to climate variability and climate change," researchers said. "Climate change will tend to amplify existing risks climate poses to people, ecosystems, and infrastructure."

That could mean ecosystem disturbances, crop failures and extreme weather events. In urban areas like Chicago, residents could see an increase of atmospheric pollution, a highly variable water cycle, and frequent exposure to new pests and diseases, the study finds.

"In the next few decades," according to the study, "longer growing seasons and rising carbon dioxide levels will increase yields of some crops, though those benefits will be progressively offset by extreme weather events. Though adaptation options can reduce some of the detrimental effects, in the long term, the combined stresses associated with climate change are expected to decrease agricultural productivity."

The Midwest already has seen flooding, heat waves and tornadoes in recent years. In Illinois residents have seen 11 extreme weather disasters since 2009.

If nothing is done, the study warns it will continue and could get worse, with increased heat wave intensity and frequency, extreme rainfall and flooding, and exacerbated risks to the Great Lakes.

"Increased heat wave intensity and frequency, increased humidity, degraded air quality, and reduced water quality will increase public health risks."

The study notes Illinois and Chicago have taken steps to be prepared by investing in Clean Energy, improving energy efficiency and cutting carbon pollution.

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