We know what a Chicago winter is supposed to be. Shivering commuters at frigid L platforms and bus stops. The Hawk gusting mercilessly through the Loop, blowing hats into the river. Ice formations on a frozen lake.
This year, though, Chicago’s winter has melted away faster than ice cream on 12th Street Beach in August. In February, we wore short sleeves and enjoyed record warm days, one after another. Our town hasn’t had a measurable snowfall since before Jan. 1, the first time that’s happened since record-keeping started 146 years ago.
For many of us, that’s been splendid.
But it’s also a sign of something ominous: climate change caused by human activity that is dramatically altering our environment in often dangerous ways. In February, more than 11,700 daily weather records were broken across the nation. Last year was the third straight year to set a global heat record. An international science team concluded global warming tripled the chances for February’s warmth.
Scientists warn against attributing a single weather event to climate change. Next winter could be snowy and bone-chilling. On average, though, our weather will get hotter, and our too-scarce mild Chicago days will be fewer. By the end of the century, we will have nine fewer of them each year, according to a study the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Princeton University released in January.
Climate change science also tells us we can expect stronger storms, longer droughts and bigger floods.
We can do much to avoid the worse effects of climate change, but unfortunately we can’t expect the Trump administration to take the lead. Quite the contrary. On Thursday, the new head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, threw cold water on any such notions when he declared carbon dioxide is not a primary contributor to global warming.
That directly contradicts global scientific consensus and even what the EPA says on its own website: “Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas that is contributing to recent climate change.”
By filling his administration with climate change deniers and enablers and proposing to gut the EPA, President Donald Trump has signaled a lack of interest in working to forestall the worst effects. It’s up to the rest of us — the people who want to protect America’s future — to insist we do all we can, including working with other nations, to reduce human-caused climate change while there is still time.
We may enjoy these milder winters, but they come at a price.
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