Climate Change

New report reveals climate change causing more extreme heat in Illinois

Illinois, on average, had about a week more extreme heat because of climate change

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Climate change is having monumental impacts on Illinois residents, and it's making things like air conditioning an absolute necessity in the Land of Lincoln.

Some groups have even been created to help ensure that residents get access to climate-controlled spaces via green sources, addressing two issues at once.

"I felt lightning was striking three times, this has to be a gift from God," said Doris Martin.

The longtime Chicago Heights resident can't help but smile when she describes the electrification upgrade to her home.

"I’m saving about 50-75% of what I was paying for gas," said Martin, who received all new electric appliances, solar panels on her roof and a new electric utility box last year.

The project was made possible through Elevate, a nonprofit group based in Chicago, that works to ensure everyone has clean and affordable heat, cooling, power, and water in their homes and communities.

"This family’s utility bills are, every month, well under $100. That makes their home more affordable. It also makes them healthier," said Anne Evens, the CEO of Elevate. "They are less stressed, but their physical health has improved as well."

Extreme heat is an increasing cause for concern, as the planet gets hotter due to human-caused climate change.

A new report, compiled by scientists at World Weather Attribution, the Red Cross Crescent Climate Centre, and Climate Central, shows almost all of the world's population experienced, on average, 26 extreme heat days that wouldn't have happened without climate change.

"We’re going to keep stacking these days, year after year, on top of us as long as there’s carbon pollution going into the atmosphere," said Andrew Pershing, the Vice President of science, at Climate Central. "It’s really turning off that spigot, getting off of coal, oil and natural gas, and boosting renewables around the world."

Illinois, on average, had approximately an extra week of extreme heat compared to previous years.

"Some of the reason that number is low compared to Hawaii or Florida, where it was 50 days," said Pershing "is due to the fact that the Midwest is an area where in the summer, the warming trends haven’t been as strong as they are in other parts of the country."

Pershing said that the impacts may not feature eye-popping temperatures, but they are indeed warmer than normal and can have big impacts.

"Chicago was certainly affected," he said. "We have in our mind Phoenix. We think about 110 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s really hot, but 'really hot' is a local experience. Dangerous, in a place like Chicago, it’s going to start to be dangerous around high temperatures of 85."

Globally, the year 2023 was the hottest year on record. July 2023 was the hottest month ever recorded, and July 6, 2023 was the hottest day ever, according to the report.

It goes on to say, "one of the most consistent findings is that every heat wave happening today has been made
more likely, more intense, and longer-lasting due to humans burning fossil fuels."

Unlike sudden weather disasters, heat waves kill slowly and sometimes silently and can exacerbate pre-existing medical conditions. Those who are socially isolated, living near industrial sites and in historically disadvantaged communities are most at risk.

To mitigate the effects, Pershing says cities can plant trees and make buildings more reflective, to send energy back into space, rather than absorbing it.

"On the human side, helping connect people with resources, cooling centers, better forecasts, things like that that can help people be safe," he said.

Evens of Elevate hopes the report will bring to light the urgency of addressing extreme heat, and create more opportunities for collaboration.

"We really need to change our approach, and not wait for the emergency to happen to respond to it," she said. "The technology is there, the programs are there, we know what works."

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