Solving Global Warming

Skilling & Wuebbles: Heading into the late innings on climate change

We’re numbers guys. Climate science is all about observations and data. They reveal the past and help us plan the future. In meteorology, observations and data are the backbone of forecasts and statistics are the vertebrae of narratives. We’re also fans of baseball, which offers us lots of opportunities to dig into numbers. In baseball, numbers can make goats and legends. In climate and weather, they show we’re in a whole new ballgame.

Our planet is on a record-shattering streak. Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide are now over 400 parts per million. This is the first time in more than 800,000 years that there has been this much carbon in the atmosphere. In pre-industrial times, carbon dioxide concentrations were around 280 ppm. That’s a jump of more than 43 percent, and atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide are likely to get much higher.

Carbon isn’t the only thing rising. Globally, June was the hottest month on record. It broke a temperature record set just a month earlier. The hot streak prompted Derek Arndt, climate monitoring chief at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to declare: “We are living in the steroid era of the climate system.”

A rainbow arcs over Minneapolis after a Home Run Derby rain delay in All?Star activities last month. (Brian Mark Peterson, McClatchy?Tribune) Between the 1980s and the 2000s, baseball saw the average season-leading total for home runs jump to almost 50 home runs from 36. Even casual observers knew something was up.

Congress and Major League Baseball took action. But when it comes to carbon dioxide, the stakes are far higher than peanuts and Cracker Jack. Earth’s atmosphere is a dynamic system affected by things we can and can’t see. Disturbances to this complex system, such as those caused by increased amounts of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide, can cause dramatic shifts in local weather patterns. Climate is the long-term statistics of weather but it is not weather itself. However, changes in climatic conditions have a real impact on the weather we experience.

For decades, data analyses and climate modeling indicated that increasing levels of carbon dioxide would change weather patterns in the Midwest. Some changes, like longer growing seasons, offer short-term benefits. Other impacts, like more intense heat waves, more downpours and more allergy-causing pollen, reveal that we have more to lose than gain from climate change.

Climate change is here. With the intense heat and drought of 2012, our state and region experienced one of its hottest, driest years on record. We experienced significant agricultural losses, and Lake Michigan and Mississippi River water levels fell to historic lows.

In recent years, the intensity of our rainfall has been impressive. Four of Chicago’s 10 wettest summers have occurred since 2001. This summer is already in sixth place and inches upward with every downpour.

When baseball got out of whack, congressional hearings led to modifications to America’s national pastime.

However, it has become apparent that Congress is not inclined to act on stemming the pollution that leads to the extreme weather-causing climate change that we’re experiencing.

Almost 40 percent of that pollution comes from power plants that spew large amounts of pollutants into the air. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued a draft rule that would require Illinois to cut carbon pollution by 33 percent by 2030. Now we need strong state leadership to cut carbon pollution by boosting renewable energy resources and cutting waste by increasing energy efficiency.

Several steps are already underway. From 2005 through 2011, Illinois cut its carbon pollution by 2 percent. In the next three years, it’s estimated that energy efficiency will cut enough electricity demand to power 450,000 Illinois homes for a year. And we’re growing our economy too. More than 60,000 Illinoisans work in energy-efficiency related jobs and more than 20,000 are employed in renewable energy fields.

Last month, Major League Baseball held its annual All-Star festivities in Minnesota and a spectacular image of rainbows was captured after a Home Run Derby rain delay. Climate change is not a game, but if it were, the box score would be clear. We need a rally.

Thanks to data, we know exactly what’s coming. Let’s not the take our eyes off the ball.


Tom Skilling, chief meteorologist at WGN-TV, is a member of the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association.

Donald J. Wuebbles is a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Milwaukee JS: ELPC Science Advisory Council Chair Donald Waller – What We Do To The Weather

By Donald M. Waller

“Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it.” The idea that anyone could affect the weather seemed ludicrous 20 years ago. It seems less comical now that we know that each of us does affect our weather, locally and globally, every day. We here in the Midwest produce some 5% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. So we should think twice about what we do to the weather and, increasingly, what the weather is doing to us.

Wisconsin weather shows conspicuous trends toward warmer nights, warmer winters and more variable weather overall. We’ve just felt the coldest of recorded winters on the heels of several of the warmest. Intense storms are spawning an uptick in tornadoes and flash floods. We expect winter ice to disappear from Lake Mendota within the next 15 to 20 years. Ticks bearing disease and crop pests are moving north and into our state. Farmers worry about which crops to plant and if they will survive to harvest.

All this is chronicled in the recent National Climate Assessment Report, reflecting the work of hundreds of scientists and approved by an advisory committee that included NASA and the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Agriculture and Health and Human Services. But we hardly need the weatherman or another government report to know which way the wind is blowing. Altered weather is in our news and faces every day.

So what can we do? Because most greenhouse gases come from producing electricity and transportation, we need to reduce these sources. Even conservative economists support a carbon tax as the most economically efficient way to reduce emissions and the high future costs of global warming. Yet we continue to ignore their advice.

Read more. 

ABC7 Chicago: Illinois Officials Applaud New EPA Rule on Emissions

CHICAGO (WLS) –Illinois officials say the state is well-equipped to meet new power plant emissions goals. The Obama Administration unveiled a plan Monday to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 30 percent by the year 2030. It sets the first national limits on carbon dioxide and will further diminish the use of coal in electrical production.

The proposal sets off a complex process in which the 50 states will each determine how to meet customized targets set by the EPA and then submit those plans for approval.

“It is important that we take serious, comprehensive action to reduce carbon emissions,” said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, “so I look forward to reviewing the draft guidelines of the federal plan in detail and helping to develop a flexible and effective approach for Illinois.”

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Crain’s Chicago Business: The skinny on how Obama’s greenhouse rule affects Illinois

You’ve got questions. We’ve got answers on what’s in store in Illinois now that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released its long-awaited proposed rule for reducing carbon emissions from power plants.

Explain in brief what the Obama administration’s climate change rule is all about.

Frustrated by inaction by Congress, President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency is claiming the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulated carbon emissions by power plants. Today it issued a proposed rule, which calls on states to take the lead in reducing emissions from power generators within their borders and gives them flexibility in how to do it.

Are Illinois power plants a source of significant emissions?

Yes, indeed. Only five other states emitted more greenhouse gases from power plants than Illinois in 2012, according to EPA. And while the Obama administration is saying that the proposed rule requires a 30 percent reduction of carbon from the power sector by 2030 based on their emissions in 2005, the reductions don’t fall equally state by state. Illinois is being asked to cut its power-plant emissions by 33 percent from its 2012 emissions. Only two other Midwestern states, Wisconsin and Minnesota, are being asked to do more. Strangely, neighboring Indiana, which emits more greenhouse gases than far larger Illinois thanks to its heavy dependence on carbon-heavy coal, must cut its emissions by only 20 percent.

What’s the time frame for action?

EPA is on a tight time line. The proposed rule must be made final in a year. States have until 2016 to come up with their plans. That won’t stop Illinois from taking the issue on earlier, thanks mainly to the lobbying exertions of Chicago-based Exelon Corp., whose six nuclear plants in Illinois stand to benefit financially from quicker action. State legislative leaders have signaled that they will consider far-reaching legislation to comply with the regulations next spring.

Why is Illinois in such a rush to enact changes that are likely to raise its residents’ electric bills?

Exelon, which owns Commonwealth Edison Co., is one of the most influential companies in Illinois. It has claimed that three of its six nukes in Illinois are losing money, largely due to competition in western Illinois from close-by wind farms. The company sees compliance with EPA’s rule as a means to boost revenues at its in-state plants. It argues that compliance with the rule will be next to impossible for Illinois if even one of its nuclear plants close, since nukes are virtually carbon-free and account for nearly half of the electricity produced here.

Which direction are lawmakers leaning in addressing the situation?

Every direction. Last week the Illinois House passed two resolutions dealing with the then-expected EPA regulations. One, sponsored by House Speaker Michael Madigan, effectively called on EPA and other state and federal agencies to do everything they could to promote retention of Exelon’s nukes. The other, introduced in January and tied to a state-by-state pro-coal effort by an organization tied to the Koch brothers, called on EPA to allow Illinois to take longer to comply with the rule and to meet less stringent standards if it desires in the interest of keeping coal-fired power plants open. “The House has passed two resolutions that point in two different directions that are hard to reconcile in a policy way,” says Howard Learner, executive direction of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, which has battled coal plants for years.

Continue Reading this Article.

EPA Carbon Pollution Standards Offer Clear Path Forward

Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center

CHICAGO – Howard A. Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, issued the following statement regarding the U.S. EPA’s proposed carbon pollution reduction standards issued on Monday:

“These carbon pollution reduction standards will drive technological innovation for a cleaner environment and protecting the public’s health.  Solving our climate change problems by cleaning up the energy sector is necessary to fulfill our moral obligation to our children and a better future,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

Learner continued:  “The United State Supreme Court held that the U.S. EPA has both legal authority and responsibility under the Clean Air Act to set standards to reduce carbon pollution to safe levels. Now, it’s time for the engineers and technical specialists to develop cost-effective solutions and unleash innovative new clean energy technologies that can both repower our economy and achieve better environmental protection.”

“The Midwest, alone, is responsible for about five percent of global greenhouse gas pollution and states like Illinois and Iowa are positioned to lead with wind power, solar energy and energy efficiency development solutions that spur economic growth while reducing carbon pollution. We commend the Obama Administration for advancing these carbon pollution reduction standards on a clear path forward,” said Learner.

Chicago Sun-Times Op-Ed: Chicago should lead the way in slowing global warming

ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner penned an op-ed published in today’s Chicago Sun-Times

Chicago should lead the way in slowing global warming


A recent Chicago Sun-Times’ editorial [“Global Warming Is Real. It’s Our Fault. Let’s Fix It” — August 21] explains that climate science is conclusive. We need to act now to make a difference. Solving climate change problems is the moral, business, policy, political and technological challenge of our times. Fortunately, there are steps forward that are good for jobs and economic growth and good for our environment and public health.

Chicago should be a leader in advancing smart solutions with innovative modern technologies.

First, energy efficiency is the best, fastest and cheapest solution to climate change problems. Modern lighting technologies and HVAC systems, Energy Star appliances that keep getting more efficient, and improved pumps and motors avoid pollution, save businesses and people money on utility bills, support retrofitting jobs and keep money in Chicago’s economy.

These efficiency opportunities are no-brainers. Why would anyone favor wasting energy and money?

Illinois’ Energy Efficiency Performance Standards leverages billions of dollars in new efficiency investments, and the City’s Retrofit Chicago program accelerates efficiency improvements in commercial, municipal and multifamily residential buildings. Full speed ahead with both “tried and true” energy efficiency programs and innovations that push the envelope.

Second, let’s shift from old coal plants that emit carbon pollution and, instead, develop more clean, renewable energy generation. The highly-polluting Fisk and Crawford coal plants have been shut down, and Chicago’s electricity supply procurement now requires “no coal.” That’s progress. Suburban municipalities should likewise shift away from coal to purchasing more renewable energy. That’s smart for our regional economy and environment.

Third, Chicago is a national and global wind energy hub. We’re home to 13 major wind energy corporate headquarters, just hosted the American Wind Energy Association’s convention and will soon host Solar Power International. Illinois is the nation’s No. 4 state for wind power development and is home to many manufacturing companies that have retooled to make wind energy equipment that’s powering more of the nation.

What’s needed? Illinois’ legislators should update the Renewable Energy Standard statute, which was based on ComEd’s power purchasing before the new wave of municipal aggregations. This modernization will spur more wind and solar energy development. Implementing Chicago’s SunShot plan can remove barriers to distributed solar on building rooftops while also seizing opportunities to convert underutilized industrial “brownfields” into productive solar “brightfields.” That’s a win-win-win: Less pollution, more economic growth and more jobs.

Fourth, cleaner, more efficient cars save us money at the gas pump, reduce carbon pollution and improve national security by cutting oil imports. Federal clean car standards require a fleetwide average of 35 mpg in 2016 and 54.5 mpg by 2025. Government and business fleets should purchase more electric, hybrid and natural gas vehicles that pollute less and save on fuel prices. Ford, Chrysler and Mitsubishi Motors: Let’s build the next generation of clean cars here in Illinois!

Fifth, the Midwest should catch up to Asia and Europe in developing modern, higher-speed passenger train service that will improve mobility, reduce pollution, create jobs and spur economic growth. That can transform the region’s transportation infrastructure. The Chicago-hubbed Midwest high-speed rail network connects 11 major metropolitan areas and more mid-sized cities in-between. There are 460 Midwest rail equipment supply-chain businesses.

What’s needed? Federal transportation investments to upgrade more rail crossings, tracks, bridges, signals and other infrastructure. It’s time to prioritize modernizing Union Station to make this regional rail hub a great gateway for Chicago visitors.

Let’s fix our global warming problems. Chicago should lead the way in advancing solutions that are good for our environmental future and economic growth together.


Howard A. Learner is executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, a Chicago-based environmental and economic development advocacy organization.

Why Chicago is a winner with president’s Climate Action Plan

 Crains 2013

July 2, 2013

Why Chicago is a winner with president’s Climate Action Plan
By Howard Learner

President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan is a turning point for global leadership on climate-change solutions. The president is stepping up with comprehensive executive actions to reduce carbon pollution and accelerate renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean-vehicle solutions. In the classic Chicago tradition of “what’s in it for us,” here’s why Chicago is a big winner.


• Mr. Obama’s plan aggressively advances renewable energy development to address climate change. Thirteen North American or global wind-power companies have their headquarters in Chicago. Illinois is fourth in the nation for wind-power development and is home to many manufacturing companies that make wind-energy equipment. That’s a winner.


• The president greenlighted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to move forward with Clean Air Act standards to reduce carbon pollution from new and existing coal plants that compete with Exelon Corp.’s nuclear plants. That’s good for public health and follows the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Massachusetts v. EPA decision. The clean-air standards also boost the competitive position of Chicago-based Exelon’s nuclear fleets. By contrast, the parent companies of almost all Illinois coal plants are based in California, Missouri and Texas, and about 75 percent of the coal they burn is from out of state.


• Energy efficiency is the best, fastest and cheapest solution to climate change. The president’s plan highlights the Better Buildings Challenge for commercial and industrial buildings to become at least 20 percent more energy-efficient by 2020 and expands this program to multifamily housing.


Chicago’s strong downtown and its location as the Midwest’s commercial center benefits from this focus. The city’s Retrofit Chicago program to reduce energy use in commercial, municipal and residential buildings can save businesses money on utility bills, reduce pollution and create jobs. Local energy-efficiency retrofit businesses are growing and offering more job opportunities.


• Plans to advance creative financing approaches for energy-efficiency retrofits will help Chicago’s mostly older housing stock. Mr. Obama announced a July meeting, convened by the Federal Housing Administration, bringing together the lending community and other key stakeholders to identify ways to factor energy efficiency into mortgage underwriting and the appraisal process for home sales and refinancings.


• Mr. Obama announced plans to partner with industry leaders and other key stakeholders to further increase fuel economy standards for heavy-duty trucks, buses and vans. Chicago is a transportation and trucking center. Reducing fuel consumption through more-efficient engines and other advanced equipment technologies and logistics can help untangle Chicago’s gridlock while saving on fuel costs and reducing carbon pollution.


The president’s program advances his core principal that “there is no contradiction between a sound environment and strong economic growth.” The Climate Action Plan is a landmark move forward for common-sense climate change solutions that are good for our environment, good for our economy and really good for Chicago.

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Howard Learner Talks Climate Change Policy on WBEZ’s Worldview

Monday afternoon, ELPC’s Howard Learner joined Jerome McDonnell on WBEZ’s Worldview to talk about President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.

“This a turning point for presidential leadership, US leadership, and global leadership on climate change action,” Learner told McDonnell.

Listen to the interview.

Op-ed in Des Moines Register: It’s Time for Iowa to Lead on Climate Change

Iowa View: It’s time for Iowa to lead on climate change


Iowa seems to have become a state of extremes.

Last year, record early warmth prompted fruit blossoming in March and corn planting in early April, only to be severely challenged by late freezes and widespread drought. This year, a cold start to the planting season, followed by the wettest spring on record, has delayed planting and produced widespread soil erosion from extreme rainfall.

Last year along the Mississippi River, low water brought barge traffic to a standstill. This year, barges were halted when locks near St. Louis were overwhelmed by rising waters. In recent weeks, both central and eastern Iowa have had major flooding, which might have rivaled previous records if these patterns had persisted one more day.

While a recent arrival to our state might wonder if extreme weather is the norm and a longtime Iowan might question whether a new normal has arrived, all of us are likely asking, “What’s going to happen next?”

Unfortunately, climate science cannot tell us for sure what the next season or year will bring. It can, however, help us understand which way our future weather is trending. Using a mixture of modeling, historic records and field studies, climate scientists investigate how changes to atmospheric processes can affect long-term trends in our state.

These tools, along with years of extensive study, have shown us that heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide and methane and black carbon resulting from combustion of fossil fuels are relentlessly shifting our future toward more extreme events.

Though weather events and climate change are not always related, we know that the last few decades have brought shifts in weather patterns. What we once considered 500-year floods are now occurring much more frequently than expected. Extreme high temperatures are now, by conservative estimates, twice as likely to occur as extreme lows.

Iowa has experienced, first-hand, billion dollar losses due to extreme precipitation and drought. Unfortunately, these events are becoming much more commonplace. While some of these shifts have been caused by natural variations within the Earth’s climate system, we know that human activity is now a leading driver in creating more disruptive weather and climate.

Fortunately, Iowa is in a strong position to be a leader in reducing climate change losses and growing a more sustainable economy.

As one of the nation’s largest producers of wind power, we should ask our federal leaders to establish stronger policies promoting renewable energy. As a center of innovation, we can continue to develop effective flood control approaches that protect our communities, reduce runoff and improve water quality. Finally, as one of the largest agriculture-based economies in our country, we can push the envelope on developing drought-resistant crops and more sustainable land-management practices that protect our soil as well as the health of our waterways.

Though Iowa’s extremes have brought very real and sometimes painful losses to many communities and farms around our state, our suffering need not have been in vain. No matter what tomorrow’s weather brings, our state can become a model of sustainability and energy efficiency so that “as Iowa goes, so goes the nation.”

GREGORY CARMICHAEL is a professor of chemical and biochemical engineering and co-director of the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research at the University of Iowa. EUGENE TAKLE is director of the climate science program and a professor of atmospheric science and agricultural meteorology at Iowa State University.

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Question 1: What Role Should Scientists Play in the Climate Change Policy Debate?

After a campaign that barely saw a mention of climate change – and even had debate moderator Candy Crowley apologizing for NOT asking about climate change – President Obama ended the so-called “climate silence” as soon as he was sworn in for his second term. In fact, the President made addressing climate change a key part of both his inaugural address and of his State of the Union. Continue reading

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