EDITORIAL: Dangerous climate change hits home

SHARE EDITORIAL: Dangerous climate change hits home

Rising flood waters are affecting businesses July 13, along Old Grand Avenue in Gurnee, Ill. (Paul Valade/Daily Herald via AP)

Destructive climate change has arrived in the Midwest.

Just three months after President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the 195-nation Paris climate agreement, a major new scientific report says the world — very much including the American Midwest —already is under assault by higher temperatures and bigger storms. Climate change is no longer the future. We are living, right now, contending with more and increasingly brutal climate events — floods, droughts, heat waves and hurricanes — mostly of our own man-made doing.

It is appalling, then, that the United States under Trump has retreated from the fight. It is indefensible that the Trump administration actively promotes deregulation, especially of the coal industry, that allows for more carbon dioxide, a primary cause of global warming. And it is embarrassing that our nation’s point man on global warming, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, rejects the whole notion of man-made climate change.


The draft report by scientists from 13 federal agencies says climate change has added significantly to the amount of rain and snow we get in the Midwest — if we had not noticed — and increased average temperatures here more than anywhere else in the United States.

The report, which has been endorsed by the National Academy of Sciences, says it is “extremely likely” humans have been the chief cause of the global warming since the middle of the last century.

“Many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are primarily responsible,” the authors write, dismissing the cherry-picked arguments of climate-change deniers. “There is no convincing alternative explanation.”

The draft report was leaked to the New York Times, which posted it online on Tuesday. Its title is the “U.S. Global Change Research Program Climate Science Special Report,” and it is part of the National Climate Assessment, which Congress has ordered to take place every four years.

Whether the Trump administration releases the report remains to be seen. This is not a crowd that’s big on facts. The Department of Agriculture has banned the terms “climate change,” “greenhouse gases” and “sequester carbon,” Pruitt is on his fossil-fuel tear, and Trump himself has called climate change an “expensive hoax.”

Yet the report strikes home in Chicago and Illinois, arriving as it does less than a month after Chicago’s sixth-wettest July in more than a century and flooding that set records along the Fox and Des Plaines rivers, although those events cannot be directly linked to climate change. Record-setting years for heat and precipitation, the report warns, will become “relatively common.”

Across the nation, average temperatures since the 1980s have risen faster than at any time in the past 1,700 years. Each of the last three years has been the warmest on record globally. The planet is steadily inching toward an average increase in global temperature of 2 degrees Celsius, the point that sets alarm bells ringing for scientists who warn of climate catastrophe.

Increasingly, given advances in science, it is possible to attribute specific weather events to climate change, making the price of inaction more clear. There is, for example, “relatively strong evidence” that climate change — caused by humans — was to blame for a record heat wave in Australia in 2003 and another in Europe.

Climate change is costly. Since 1980, according to the report, extreme weather events have cost $1.1 trillion in damages. As temperatures continue to increase, surface soil will be drier, oceans will be warmer and more acidic, sea levels will rise and large forest fires will be more common. There is evidence we can expect more tornadoes, a particular scourge in the Midwest.

Destructive climate change is here. It is man-made. It is dangerous. It is costly. It cannot easily be slowed, yet alone reversed. And the world must act more boldly.

Even as Trump, who thinks climate change is about whether he’ll catch a sunny day for golf at Mar-a-Lago, shrugs off the truth.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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