Global warming: It affects the world, but Illinois?
How the Midwest figures into global warming report
By Marni Pyke
Daily Herald (IL)
Posted February 08, 2007
"So much for your global warming theory."
It's a refrain climate scientists such as Donald Wuebbles hear frequently when temperatures drop and snow creates havoc as it did during Tuesday's mini-blizzard.
But, he adds, "You can't take the fact it's really cold right now and say, 'there is no global warming,' which I've heard people say."
Wuebbles, a University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign atmospheric science professor, saw his stance reinforced by the recent release of a report from a panel of more than 600 international experts finding a definitive link between greenhouse gases and world climate change.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a creation of the United Nations and World Meteorological Association, concluded with a 90 percent degree of certainty that greenhouse gases, caused by burning fossil fuels, are increasing temperatures.
The evidence includes melting glaciers, shrinking ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica and rising sea levels.
But in the landlocked Midwest, thousands of miles from the Arctic, can global warming pose a problem?
Yes, say University of Illinois scientists, environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club, and Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is convening a panel of experts to advise him on the potential fallout.
"It's one of the most important issues our society's facing and will be facing. There's important ramifications for us and our country," said Wuebbles, who directs the U of I's School of Earth, Society, and Environment.
Closer to home
Midwest weather is already changing, according to a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists and The Ecological Society of America.
Shorter winters, warmer average temperatures, extreme heat waves and decreasing lake ice all suggest the Illinois climate is evolving, the study says.
If greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated, summers in Illinois could warm between 9 to 18 degrees by the end of the century, projects Wuebbles, who co-authored the study. Winter temps could rise by 7 to 13 degrees.
What this likely means is:
• Precipitation levels would stay steady, but there will be less rain in summer.
• Heavy downpours and subsequent flooding would be more frequent.
• Heat waves could increase.
"The average level of the Great Lakes are likely to decrease," Wuebbles said. "For Lake Michigan, it could be 1 to 2 meters, both because of temperatures going up and evaporation."
But one College of DuPage meteorologist isn't convinced.
"Long-term forecasts have a higher degree of uncertainty," said Paul Sirvatka, a professor at the Glen Ellyn college.
"For us in the Midwest, you'd be hard-pressed to convince me global climate change will impact anyone personally," he said.
"When you say, winters are getting shorter, well, what do you mean by that? Chicago had the earliest snowfall on record in October."
And Sirvatka cautioned laymen not to take unusual weather events and assume it's automatically related to global warming.
"People don't qualify it. They think, 'When I was a kid, we used to have lot a more snow.' Well, no. You have memories of being a child when it snowed a lot and that becomes your basis."
Nonetheless, Sirvatka encourages people to take steps to reduce the burning of fossil fuels.
"Look for computers that are more energy-efficient, look for televisions that don't drain energy, consider alternate fuels, consider buying a more energy-efficient car," he said.
"Be concerned enough to make personal changes and to encourage others to make those changes and they would be doing so in harmony with science."
This year is expected to be a watershed for legislation aimed at global warming on both the state and federal levels. It's about time, advocates say.
"We have to recognize that energy policy is climate policy and treat it as such," said Wuebbles, who is studying the impact of climate change on Chicago.
Last fall, Blagojevich created the Illinois Climate Change Advisory Group, a panel of experts that will recommend how to reduce greenhouse gases.
Ignoring the problem could result in serious and irreversible consequences, Blagojevich said. The group is expected to meet this month.
Recently, the advocacy group Environment Illinois reported that emissions of carbon dioxide grew by 17 percent between 1990 and 2002. And unless trends change, that number could leap by 12 percent between 2002 and 2025, they predict.
To reverse this, the organization recommends the General Assembly: support hybrid-electric cars; cap emissions from vehicles; tailor motorists' insurance premiums to reflect mileage, rewarding those who drive less; and adopt tough energy-efficiency standards.
"These are common-sense things we should already be doing," agency Director Rebecca Stanfield said.
Such policies were endorsed by a number of suburban legislators, including Democrat state Sen. Don Harmon, of Oak Park, state Reps. Democrat Lou Lang of Skokie, Republican Paul Froehlich of Schaumburg and Democrat Elaine Nekritz of Northbrook.
"The solutions are not partisan," Froehlich said.
Capping carbon dioxide emissions is being pushed by Congress' new Democratic majority along with increasing fuel economy standards.
While suburban Democrats in Congress are behind such measures with some caveats, Republican lawmakers had mixed reactions.
U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo, who represents much of McHenry County, opposes adopting stricter fuel economy levels. He argued that studies show reducing vehicle weight to get better gas mileage results in accidents.
"There are other ways to curb pollution," he said in an e-mail, citing ethanol and biodiesel as examples.
But Republican U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert of Hinsdale, a member of the House Science Committee, believes technology can make vehicles more efficient without compromising safety.
Biggert supports increasing fuel economy standards for cars and trucks from 25 miles per gallon to 33 mpg by 2015.
In terms of emissions, Rep. Peter Roskam of Wheaton said Congress should consider the issue. But he wanted assurances no manufacturing jobs would be lost as a result of any policy changes.