In a year that has already brought both one of the mildest winters on
record to the Midwest while delivering a rash of devastating tornadoes
to portions of the Southwest, findings of a new report suggest the
number of people affected by extreme weather events will likely increase
if more is not done to curb climate change.
U.S. Sen. Dick
Durbin (D-Ill.) joined local environmental advocates, climate experts,
and officials from the state’s Emergency Management Agency in
Chicago Wednesday for the release of advocacy group Environment Illinois’ new report, “In
the Path of the Storm: Global Warming, Extreme Weather, and the
Impacts of Weather-Related Disasters in the United States."
In 2011, more than 11 million Illinois residents lived in counties that had been affected by a natural disaster, a 700 percent increase from 2006, according to the report, when the number of those residing in such areas was estimated at around 1.4 million.
Using Lake Shore Drive as a backdrop, Durbin cited 2011’s Groundhog Day blizzard, which left hundreds of motorists stranded on the road for hours as an example of the kind of weather that has come as a result of climate change, which he felt was caused by an increased rise in the Earth’s temperature.
“It’s obvious something’s happening here and we’re fools to ignore it,” Durbin said. “We need to step up to the reality, and the reality is this – the warming of our planet is changing our weather patterns – in many respects, for the worse.”
Durbin’s assertion that global warming was a cause for the severe weather-related incidents seen throughout various parts of the U.S. over the past decade goes further than the claims made by most climatologists, with most cautioning that there was not enough evidence at this point to definitively prove that a connection exists - a point the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has conveyed on its website:
It is important to understand that directly linking any one specific extreme event (e.g., a severe hurricane) to human-caused climate change is not possible. However, climate change may increase the probability of some ordinary weather events reaching extreme levels or of some extreme events becoming more extreme. For example, according to NOAA, it is probable that heat waves will become more likely and progressively more intense over the course of decades under current climate change scenarios.
Durbin lauded a new EPA rule that put limits on pollution from new power plants, saying the measure will reduce greenhouse gas
levels, which have trapped heat within the Earth’s atmosphere causing a
rise in the planet’s average temperature over the past 100 years.
“President Obama is on the right track,” Durbin said. “Increasing the fuel efficiency to the cars and trucks we drive means the same amount of miles and less fuel to burn – less pollution.”
Durbin said the impact of more weather-related disasters has very real costs in terms of lives lost and destruction caused, estimating the cost of damage from such incidents throughout the U.S. at around $55 billion in 2011.
“It has impact on our lives everyday, and it certainly has an impact on the government,” Durbin said. “These disasters cost more and more money because we live in a more expensive world – they disrupt economies, they disrupt agriculture, they cause serious injuries and serious problems.”
Illinois Emergency Management Agency Assistant Director Joseph Klinger said he could attest to such problems, as his agency continues to address the devastation left in the wake of the Feb. 29 tornado that ripped through the southern Illinois town of Harrisburg. This week, Gov. Pat Quinn announced some $13 million in recovery aid would be provided in response to the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency’s denial last month of the state’s request to receive federal disaster funds.
“FEMA’s reasoning is that the state and local resources are adequate enough to provide recovery,” Klinger said. “So what Gov. Quinn did was look at every possible opportunity to provide assistance to southern Illinois and came up with a great package – everybody came together and provided a really good financial assistance package that’s going to help those communities recover and get them back on their feet.”
While many have enjoyed this year’s unusually mild winter temperatures, Illinois corn farmer Keith Bolin said it remains to be seen what kind of an effect the unusual weather will have on crop yields. Since warmer temperatures in March brought an early start to the growing season, Bolin said he along with many of his colleagues were concerned weather patterns are becoming more and more difficult to predict.
“It seems like weather has gotten more extreme - 2005 was probably one of the worst droughts Illinois saw since 1988. And in 2008, we saw the Mississippi [River] flood,” Bolin said. “We have just seemed to have seen more extremes - either we get more rain or no rain.”
Here's more from Bolin:
Image: AP Photos/Seth Perlman