Chicago & Climate Change

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Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner famously said, “You know what they say about Chicago, if you don’t like the weather, wait fifteen minutes.”

While residents can relate to Kiner’s claim about Windy City weather, the undeniable effects of climate change on Chicago are trending in a consistently unfavorable direction.

Climate change refers to long-term shifts in weather patterns and temperatures. Although these shifts may be natural, human activity is the main cause for climate change, primarily through the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas), which produce heat trapping gasses and account for over 75% greenhouse gas emissions and approximately 90% of all carbon dioxide emissions.

In 2023 alone, the earth’s average land and ocean surface temperature reached the highest global temperature among all climate recorded years (1850-2023) by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Adverse effects of climate include: hotter temperatures, severe storms, flooding, increased droughts, rising oceans, and the loss of animal species. Humans are potentially subjected to the loss of food, increased poverty, and health risks.

In Chicago, my hometown, the five factors that control climate change are the sun, weather systems, urban areas, topography, and Lake Michigan (interestingly enough, built on a swamp).

Previously, Chicago was actually viewed as one of the better locations to avoid the effects of climate change. However, a 2022 study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests that Chicago, and the Great Lakes Region (eight U.S. states & Ontario, Canada), could be subjected to increased flooding due the earth’s rapidly changing climate. Additionally, released climate change projections about Chicago, detailing increased risks of heat, precipitation and drought.

Total precipitation for the Great Lakes region has increased by 17% between 1951 and 2017. Furthermore, rainfall records were broken in Illinois three years in a row (2018 through 2020). Floods are occurring more frequently, with ice cover forming later and melting sooner in the Chicago area. Over the next several decades, Illinois will have more hot days as well,  which may harm public health in urban areas and harvests in rural areas. 

As a countermeasure, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) has developed a Climate Action Plan (CAP) with the goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. 

Oak Park, a suburb located 15 minutes west of downtown Chicago, recently adopted Climate Ready Oak Park. The plan is designed to promote sustainability and environmental resilience, while decreasing community greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2030 and achieving net zero emissions by 2050. 

Across the state, people can take several proactive steps to ameliorate climate change concerns. Illinoisans can save energy at home, use solar power, drive vehicles less and opt for walking, biking and public transportation, recycle, eat more vegetables and less meat/animal products, throw away less food, and reach out to their elected officials about climate change.

Considering the forecast for Illinois’ climate change is far from idyllic, sustained efforts via personal and statewide awareness and accountability are essential.