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Global warming turns up the heat

Keith Bolin addresses a group of reporters Wednesday while Sen. Dick Durbin (left) and other speakers look on. The press conference was held in a park on East Lakeshore Drive, near where 1,500 motorists were stranded in last February’s record-breaking snowstorm.
Keith Bolin addresses a group of reporters Wednesday while Sen. Dick Durbin (left) and other speakers look on. The press conference was held in a park on East Lakeshore Drive, near where 1,500 motorists were stranded in last February’s record-breaking snowstorm.

CHICAGO/MANLIUS — A Bureau County farmer joined Sen. Dick Durbin Wednesday morning for the release of a new report on the impact of weather disasters on Illinois residents.

Keith Bolin of Manlius and Durbin were on hand for the release of a new Environment Illinois report, “In the Path of the Storm: Global Warming, Extreme Weather, and the Impacts of Weather-Related Disasters in the United States.” The report examines county-level weather-related disaster declaration data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for 2006 through 2011 to determine how many Illinoisans live in counties hit by recent weather disasters. Environment Illinois is a statewide environmental advocacy group.

The report found 97 percent of Illinoisans live in counties affected by federally declared weather-related disasters since 2006. The report highlighted two weather-related disasters that took place in Illinois last year: The spring flooding of the Mississippi River which killed seven people and caused up to $9 billion in damages; and the Groundhog Day blizzard, which killed 36 people in the Midwest and inflicted $1.8 billion in damages.

“Millions of Illinoisans have lived through extreme weather causing extremely big problems for Illinois’s economy and our public safety,” said Max Muller, Environment Illinois’s program director. “Given that global warming will likely fuel even more extreme weather, we need to cut dangerous carbon pollution now.”

“We ought to face the reality of greenhouse gas emissions and create energy and environmental policies to reduce their destructive impact,” Durbin said. “We need to invest in renewable energy and pollution controls to help slow the effects of climate change and protect our public health. It is critical that we leave our children and grandchildren with a sustainable planet and a promising, bright future.”

The county-level data can be viewed through an interactive map available on Environment Illinois’s website at The map shows numerous disasters in the country’s midsection, including Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska, and significant impact in the northeast.

In Illinois, Bureau County has had two weather-related disasters since 2006, the severe storms on Oct. 3, 2008, and the blizzard on March 17, 2011.

Nationally, federally declared weather-related disasters have affected counties housing 242 million people since 2006, or nearly four out of five Americans. The number of disasters inflicting more than $1 billion in damage set an all-time record last year, with total damages from those disasters costing at least $55 billion.

According to the report, the extreme weather is only going to continue. The trend toward extreme precipitation will continue in a warming world, even though higher temperatures and drier summers will likely also increase the risk of drought.

In addition, scientists project that the heat waves and unusually hot seasons will likely become more common, and that hurricanes are expected to become even more intense and bring greater amounts of rainfall.

Wednesday’s speakers urged Illinois residents to do everything possible to battle climate change, including supporting federal legislation to reduce carbon emissions from vehicles and new power plants.

“I held a hearing last year to examine whether or not the federal government is prepared to handle the growing number of severe weather events. The answer was no,” Durbin said. “Yet the economic impact of severe weather events is only projected to grow in future years as their frequency continues to rise.”

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Keith Bolin of Manlius also spoke at Wednesday’s press conference.

“There’s simply no substitute for good soil and a stable climate for growing crops,” Bolin said. “That puts farmers at the front lines of global warming — it’s a grave threat to rural livelihoods and quality of life. That’s why I support EPA policies to cut global warming pollution from automobiles and power plants.”

Bolin said he has been involved with Environment Illinois for several years.

“They are good people, real idealistic kids,” he said. “It’s a joy to be around people who aren’t just naysayers.”

Bolin said the group called him and asked if he supported this report, and he was happy to take part in the press conference.

Bolin said he prefers the term climate change to global warming, but whatever it’s called, it’s a very hot topic.

“Some people say it’s all left wingers and liberals,” he said. “But this doesn’t need to be partisan at all.”

Bolin said efforts to supplement fossil fuels with renewables such as ethanol, biodiesel and wind energy have already been good for rural America.

“Without them, corn would be $2.50, and we’d be figuring out how many jobs off the farm we needed to pay the bills,” he said.

Bolin also talked about the wind turbine at Bureau Valley High School, which he said was non-polluting, creating some work, and generating $40,000 to $80,000 profit per year, which goes into the school’s general revenue fund.

Bolin said there is no doubt the weather is changing and becoming more extremes. When it rains, it rains harder than usual, and then there are dry periods.

“It might be cyclical, but it isn’t just cyclical,” he said. “You don’t have to be a scientist to realize fossil fuel has an impact.”

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