A new report tracking the effects of climate change over the last five generations of Americans shows young people in Illinois and across the country have inherited a “hotter, more extreme” climate.
For its “Dangerous Inheritance” report, the Environment America Research and Policy Center examined changes in average temperatures, precipitation and sea-level rise over the course of five generations — from the Baby Boomers to Generation Z, defined as those born between 1995 to 2009. Researchers include climate projections for today’s Generation Alpha, or those born between 2010 and 2025.
Younger generations in Illinois and across the country are facing warmer temperatures plus more frequent and extreme storms than when the Baby Boomers were entering adulthood, according to the report.
Researchers based their findings on data from the National Climatic Data Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NOAA’s Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services.
In the 1970s, when the Baby Boomers came of age, the average temperature in Illinois was 51.1 degrees Fahrenheit. By the time Millennials entered adulthood in the 2000s, temperatures had increased 1.6 degrees, on average. In Illinois and across the country, “Millennials came of age during the hottest ten-year period in the last 100 years,” the report reads.
So far this decade, average Illinois temperatures are 1.2 degrees hotter than when Baby Boomers were young adults. At the national level, temperatures are 1.6 degrees warmer. When the Boomers entered adulthood, the national average temperature was 52 degrees, according to the report.
Meanwhile, big storms in Illinois produced 7 percent more precipitation in 2011 than they did in 1970, the report showed. For the contiguous United States, intense storms dropped 10 percent more precipitation in 2011 compared to 1948.
“We used to think global warming would happen someday, but someday is now,” said Environment Illinois campaign organizer Rachel Konowitz. “We’re are already seeing record heat and more extreme weather, and without bold action, the next generation will be left a dangerous inheritance.”
As for global sea level, it could rise between 1.9 feet to 3.6 feet by 2100, the report says. And rates of sea-level rise are projected to be faster for some areas of the U.S. coast.
“Sea-level rise and land subsidence put more than $1 trillion worth of U.S. coastal buildings at risk of flooding in the next century, and the National Flood Insurance Program predicts that the number of flood insurance policyholders will increase by 80 percent by 2100,” researchers write.
Increased temperatures, the report says, pose a threat to public health, water availability and agriculture. Rising temperatures over the past five decades are due mostly to pollution from the burning of fossil fuels.
If significant action is not taken to curb carbon pollution in America and elsewhere, the researchers project that U.S. temperatures could increase by another 5 degrees to 10 degrees by the end of the century, when today’s Alpha generation will be in retirement. Such an increase would “greatly magnify the risks we face,” the report says. If carbon emissions are aggressively reduced, future U.S. temperature increases could be limited to between 2 degrees and 5 degrees.
“To protect our children from the worst impacts of global warming, the United States must cut its overall emissions of global warming pollution by at least 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050, as part of global action to dramatically reduce carbon emissions,” the report reads.
At the federal level, the environmental advocacy group says finalizing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed Clean Power Plan would be a crucial step in reducing carbon emissions, among other recommendations. The proposal looks to slash carbon emissions from existing U.S. power plants to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
States are given flexibility under the EPA’s proposed regulations to meet carbon standards. By the year 2030, Illinois has an EPA target of reducing power-plant carbon emissions by 33 percent of the levels seen in 2012. The EPA is expected to issue finalized regulations for existing power plants in June 2015, and states would be required to turn in implementation plans by the following year.
Congressional Republicans, who now control both the U.S. House and Senate, mostly object to the Obama administration’s proposed carbon rules and want to block the Clean Power Plan. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in particular, is leading the fight against the new carbon limits.
Konowitz, with Environment Illinois, specifically called on U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) to stand against Republican-led attacks on the Clean Power Plan in his chamber.
“We need leaders like Senator Kirk to back dramatic cuts in pollution, starting with the Clean Power Plan, so that we don’t pass down a more dangerous climate to the next generation,” Konowitz stressed.