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STATE AFFAIRS: Illinois should prepare now for climate change

STATE AFFAIRS: Illinois should prepare now for climate change
STATE AFFAIRS: Illinois should prepare now for climate change

“Nothing is normal anymore. Something is going on.” So says Ron Oldeen of Kewanee. Ron has been putting on high quality roofs and repairing old ones for half a century in the region between the Quad-Cities and Peoria.

Ron is a man of few words, and these came unsolicited recently. Ron had stopped by to check a minor roof issue on the 1890 building where in live. I was intrigued.

“We are noticing a lot of storms,” Ron added. “Last February we had six hail storms in the area—Peoria, Canton, Kewanee and elsewhere. Not a single hail storm hitting six places, but six different storms.”

Coincidentally, the Washington Post reported this past week on data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: 2017 was the costliest weather disaster year on record.

We think of increases in natural disasters like hurricanes and wildfires as hitting elsewhere than right here in our good ol’ Heartland, but then again, we sure have our tornadoes.

So, what does possible, even likely, climate change mean for Illinois?

A 2015 paper by academics with the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign (a one-time professional haunt of mine) looked specifically at the Prairie State (“Preparing for Climate Change in Illinois,” May 28, 2015).

They found that by mid-century our habitat will become much warmer and wetter, and subject to increasing severity of storm and rain events. Just what Ron Oldeen thinks he is already seeing.

Mid-century is not that far away. A 2018 high school graduate will only be 50 years old by 2050.

As the professors observe: “Warmer summer temperatures will increase the rate at which local air pollutants like hydrocarbons and nitrous oxides combine with summer sunlight to form ozone.”

All this is expected to contribute to more deaths from respiratory diseases. The authors also predict, as a result of our warming, reduced corn and bean production and more droughts and floods. Not a pretty picture.

For example, the authors point to possible crop yield declines statewide of as much as 34 percent by mid-century.

On the other hand, it is possible that Illinois will suffer relatively less from climate change than other states.

It is crass indeed to ponder winners and losers from climate change. Yet ever since the development of the home air conditioner decades ago made the South and Southwest bearable year-round, those regions have promoted their states as winners. They have drawn scores of millions of Midwesterners South to bask in their sunny climes.

I am definitely not a student of weather and climes; however, the maps I see of possible climate change impact in the U.S. show the South and Southwest becoming hot, hot, hotter, and parched for scarce water, which they are already fighting over.

I don’t wish anyone ill. But climate change, with all its negative consequences, may at the same time make our copious water supplies and warming temps in Illinois attractive enough to alter migration trends.

Regardless, Illinois should begin now to mitigate the effects of future (present?) climate change, which appears more and more likely to be occurring.

I am told (haven’t heard back as of deadline) that University of Illinois ag professors are investigating alternative crops to corn and beans, or to the modification of the latter crops to withstand more hot days, droughts and flooded fields.

In addition, we in Illinois should invest now to upgrade our often century-old municipal drainage systems. Twelve-inch or so rain events may overwhelm the old systems, causing big damage to homes.

And maybe we should think about a statewide building code that would require homes and other structures to be built to withstand more frequent and severe tornadoes.

Of course, all the world should be moving much more rapidly to alternatives to coal. Indeed, from my perch in a rural community, I can already turn both east and west in the evening and see the blinking red lights atop hundreds of wind farm towers.

Who knows, my friend Ron Oldeen may be smiling. He and those who follow him in the roofing business will likely have more business than they can handle.

JIM NOWLAN is a former Illinois legislator, agency director and aide to three governors. He also was lead author of "Illinois Politics: A Citizen's Guide" (University of Illinois Press, 2010). Nowlan can be reached at

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