Climate Change Is Already Hurting Illinois. We Need to Act.

Climate change is hurting us here and now in Illinois. Our state has the best chance in a generation to take ambitious action on climate change, but the window is closing. We need to act now to pass equitable climate legislation.

Credit: Jay Babin

Illinois has an opportunity to pass comprehensive, equitable clean energy legislation this summer.

Policy experts, legislators, and the media have already talked a lot about how it will help make our state more equitable, create and protect jobs, and hold utilities accountable.

We must also act on climate change, as Governor Pritzker said, in a way that will “match the gravity of this moment."

Well-meaning people sometimes tell me stopping climate change will “help our grandkids,” as if a hotter climate won’t cause problems until some far-off time in the future.

It’s true that we all have a moral responsibility to leave the world a little better than we found it (they taught us that in Boy Scouts), but climate change is not just a problem for the “future.”

Climate change is here, now.

The planet is already about 1° C hotter than it was when Abraham Lincoln was President, and the ten hottest years in recorded history have all happened since 2005.  Scientists say we have to limit warming to 1.5° C to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. A world that’s 4° C hotter, as one climate scientist put it, is “incompatible with an organized global community, is likely to be beyond ‘adaptation’, [and] is devastating to the majority of ecosystems”.

We’re seeing the brutal effects of climate change across the country now: scorching heat and raging fires across the West; record-breaking rainfall in New York that flooded streets and subways; seawater invading high-rise basements in Miami.

This is not just a problem for people living on the coasts. Climate change is hurting us here and now in Illinois. The Midwest is heating up faster than the rest of the country, and it will only get worse if we keep burning fossil fuels.

Illinois’ hotter climate is bringing destructive and dangerous weather. It’s happening right now. This May brought record rainfall in Chicago, and flash floods across the state. In June, Metro East shattered temperature records, and northern Illinois was hit with record-breaking heat and the worst drought in more than 30 years, threatening farmers.


We’re getting worse flooding and storms. Our state is being hit with more extreme rainfall as our climate gets hotter. In 2019, record floods hit Illinois and neighboring states, killing three people and inflicting more than $6.2 billion in damage. Communities along the Mississippi River got the worst of it.

Storms, worsened by climate change, are eroding Chicago’s lakeshore and filling our basements with sewage. Climate change has pushed Lake Michigan’s levels into “uncharted territory,” and Chicago broke rainfall records in 2018, 2019, and 2020.


A severe storm washes over emergency barricades on Lake Michigan in Chicago
Credit: Fred Faulkner

We’re getting hotter summers and more droughts. The hottest summer ever recorded in Chicago was in 2020. In 2012, a drought and heat wave that a top NASA scientist said was “almost certainly” due to climate change cost Illinois farmers more than $3.5 billion.


Cornfield in drought near Canton, Illinois
Credit: Judd McCullum

The impacts of climate change don’t fall equally on everyone. People of color and people with low incomes are impacted the most. They are disproportionately harmed by extreme heat. Black and Latino people are disproportionately harmed by air pollution (which climate change makes even worse).

If emissions continue to grow as they have been, Illinois will experience a heat wave like the record-breaking 1995 Chicago heat wave every year.

We can still avoid that if we cut emissions quickly, starting now. But keeping things the way they are isn’t on the table anymore. One way or another, our future will look very different from today: either we’ll be running our society on clean energy, or we’ll be enduring wave after wave of disasters.

Illinois faces a choice right now between those two futures. Governor Pritzker and dozens of legislators are backing a nation-leading climate bill that would achieve a carbon-free power sector by 2045.

But fossil fuel companies and their allies are up to their usual tricks: they have tried to remove climate provisions from the bill altogether, to exempt some of the state’s largest polluters from climate protections, and to allow carbon-spewing fossil fuel power plants to run unrestricted for decades. They’ve put forward proposals that pretend to address climate change but actually do almost nothing. These are the same tactics we’ve seen from Exxon Mobil and the tobacco companies before them.

We can protect our state and our way of life, or we can protect the fossil fuel industry. We can’t do both. Legislators will have to decide which they want to do.

The impacts of a hotter planet are here, now – and they’re getting worse. We do not have the luxury of waiting to act. Burying our heads in the sand will not protect us. Comforting, empty words will not protect us. The only thing that will protect us is to stop burning fossil fuels as quickly as we can.

Illinois has our best chance in my lifetime to take ambitious action on climate change, but the window is closing. Tell your state representative and senator: we have to act now.

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