By BREANNA GROW | WGLT.org
Real-feel estimates topped out at a sweltering 120 degrees Thursday; the day before, at 114 degrees. If you struggle to remember many days like that when you were a kid, your memory isn’t failing you, speakers at a climate change panel Thursday warned; it is getting hot in here.
Over 100 people gathered for the forum inside the sanctuary of the Normal First United Methodist Church. Meghan Hassett, Midwest campaign coordinator with the Union of Concerned Scientists, delivered the bad news first: Unless humans take drastic measures to reduce greenhouse gases, McLean County will see the average number of annual 100-degree heat index days jump from six to 67 by century’s end.
Hassett discussed the report and the implications of a hotter McLean County on WGLT’s Sound Ideas Wednesday.
She said while it is still possible to “preserve a recognizable future” for those growing up in a warmer world, “we’ve got a big to-do list.”
Hassett wasn’t referring to the whole of humanity; rather she and fellow speakers argued Illinoisans can and must work to enact change here at home.
Hassett said global emissions have a big influence on rising heat indexes. And while that means a much hotter — and more dangerous — world without climate action, it also means there are opportunities to protect ourselves from the worst-case scenario.
That’s why the Union of Concerned Scientists joined the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition backing the proposed Clean Energy Jobs Act, Hassett said. The legislation builds on the 2016 Future Energy Jobs Act, a plan to ensure renewable energy provides for 25% of Illinois’ power by 2025.
Amanda Pankau, energy campaign coordinator for the nonprofit Prairie Rivers Network, said FEJA has already produced results. While nationwide solar jobs declined last year, Illinois saw a 37% jump in solar jobs, she said.
But Illinois still leads the nation in carbon pollution from its electricity production and transportation sectors, Pankau said, leading the coalition to develop this latest proposal. Policy goals outlined in the Clean Energy Jobs Act include reaching 100% carbon-free power sector by 2030, and 100% renewable energy by 2050; increasing the use of mass transit and electric vehicles; and ensuring the renewable energy sector offers quality jobs to economically disadvantaged communities, including communities of color and those impacted by the decline of the fossil fuel industry.
Pankau said while CEJA has the co-sponsors needed to pass the Illinois Senate, the proposal hasn’t gained the necessary support to pass in the House. She noted Gov. JB Pritzker has committed to making Illinois’ power sector 100% renewable by 2050. “So we have a landscape where we should be able to get this bill through to the veto session that’s coming up,” she added.
In the meantime, Dr. William Rau, Illinois State University professor emeritus of industrial sociology, has his own to-do list for Bloomington-Normal.
Rau outlined a seven-point action plan that begins with developing a local response, recruiting volunteers to make phone calls and knock on doors to warn the estimated 6,000 Bloomington-Normal residents living without air-conditioning of the coming heat wave. Illinois People’s Action is already seeking volunteers to act as modern-day “Paul Reveres” to spread the word, he said.
The community also needs to take a hard look at whether its power system can hold up under sustained higher temperatures, he said. Rau also suggested elected officials consider adding splash pads and misters to keep vulnerable residents cool, plant more trees, replace turf with carbon-capturing prairie grasses, and “white-coat” dark, heat-absorbing surfaces like asphalt.
Cate York of the Citizens Utility Board offered an even smaller step toward reform: start with your electric bill.
“As part of FEJA, state regulations … required electric utilities to ramp up their energy efficiency programs. So that means that if you’re an Ameren customer, there are a number of different programs that a lot of folks are eligible for,” she said.
For example, those meeting certain income guidelines or living in multifamily housing qualify to receive free LED lightbulbs, enhanced powerstrips, water-saving showerheads and other products.
Ameren also offers lower rates on electricity used during non-peak hours for those enrolled in its Power-Smart Pricing program, she said. And any electric utility customer can take advantage of current 30-40% state rebates on the cost of installing solar panels at their home, York added.