Climate Change In Illinois Is Massively Affecting Low-Income Communities

As the weather grows increasingly unpredictable, climate change calamities, such as floods and heat waves, become more common in Illinois. These natural disasters pose challenges for low-income communities.

“The precipitations are getting worse, the temperatures are getting worse, and droughts are a lot more common,” said Dr. Ashish Sharma, the Climate and Urban Sustainability Lead at the Discovery Partners Institute at the University of Illinois.

The 2021 Illinois Climate Change Assessment reports a major increase in precipitation over the last century. The amount varies by region, but 2-inch rainfall days have increased by 40% over the century. Days are becoming wetter and floods are becoming more frequent.

A study by the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) found that 87% of flood claims in Chicago from 2007 to 2016 came from low-income communities and households of color. Poor infrastructure and lack of access to resources are a few reasons why low-income communities experience critical flooding damage.

Since the 1960s, heat waves have increased regularity. The Illinois Climate Change Assessment reports a 1 to 2-degree Fahrenheit growth over the last 120 years.

“If we look at it from a health lens, we are seeing a lot of disparity in low-income people, especially related to heat waves and heat-related illnesses, deaths, and poor air quality. And that’s impacting a lot of communities, low-income and environmentally injustice communities,” said Sharma.

The 1995 Heat Wave showcases historical climate change devastation in Illinois.

From July 12-15, 1995. extreme temperatures led to 739 deaths in Chicago. The elderly and low-income households were the most affected. In 1999, only four years later, a similar event resulted in 114 deaths. These catastrophes forced changes in governmental handling of high temperatures, but heat waves continue to disrupt Chicago, especially its low-income communities.

“If you look after the year 2000, every year has been one of the extreme heat years in comparison to the whole decade. Specifically the Chicago region in Illinois, over the last 15, 20 years, if you look at heat waves, not just in 1995, in the year 2023, it was a really strong heat wave. I believe in 2016, it was across the US but I think actually in Illinois there was a significant [heat],” said Sharma.

The Inflation Reduction Act, energy efficiency programs, and the Chicago Climate Action Plan are a few national and local ways governments are working to combat climate change.

“There are a lot of efforts going on across the board to really make sure that everyone individually and collectively looks at ways in which we can address climate change impacts. And Illinois I believe is leading by example, said Sharma.

*quotes edited for clarity*