College of LAS « Illinois


Global Warming Could Transform Illinois Climate

By the end of the 21st century, global warming will make Illinois feel like Texas in the summer, and it will cause spring flooding, summer droughts, and lower crop yields, LAS researchers have predicted.

But despite the huge risks, few Americans even know what causes global warming, according to other LAS research.

"We're conducting the largest experiment in human history," says Donald Wuebbles, head of Atmospheric Sciences.

Temperatures in the state could rise between 9 and 18 degrees Fahrenheit in summer and between 7 and 13 in winter, and severe storms will be more frequent, according to a two-year study of global warming's impact on the Great Lakes region. The study was conducted by 13 prominent scientists in the region, including Wuebbles, Scott Robinson, former head of animal biology, and Michelle Wander, an associate professor of natural resources and environmental sciences.

The study had good news and bad news for farmers. The warming climate will probably lengthen the growing season, but it could also cut soil moisture by 20 percent, causing erosion and lower yields, the researchers predicted.

Higher carbon dioxide levels, which cause global warming, can harm crops all by themselves, according to another LAS study. Plant biologist Evan Delucia and his colleagues grew a field of soybeans in an atmosphere that predicted in 2050. Yields rose 15 percent, but insects consumed twice as much foliage as they did in soybeans grown in today's atmosphere.

Despite the dramatic climate changes in store, most people still don't know what causes them, according to a recent international public-opinion study by LAS sociologist Steven Brechin. Only 15 percent of Americans surveyed correctly identified the burning of fossil fuels as the primary culprit in global warming—fewer than in Cuba (17 percent), Mexico (26 percent), and most developed nations. "We humans are equally ignorant about the causes of global climatic change," Brechin says. "Citizens of poor countries have a pretty good excuse, but what is ours?"

October 2003