Who is responsible for Chicago’s Crazy Weather?

First, it’s freezing. Then, it’s 60 degrees and thundering. Now we are on to snow storm after snow storm. Chicago weather has been something else this year and as it turns out, it might be partly our fault.

The Department of Energy recently released the 2010 data for carbon dioxide emissions per state. For Illinois, the results were mixed. 2010 emissions were up just 1.9% from the previous year; however, remember that this was still in the midst of the Great Recession. While some states such as Florida (8.7%) and Texas (4.4%) were higher year over year, a more long-term perspective is needed to fully understand the numbers. When you look at emissions since 1990, Illinois is right in the middle (22nd highest).

But lets look closer what the middle means, since 1990 Illinois has increased consumption by 38.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, an increase of 20.3%.

This is equivalent to  turning on 11 coal power plants. I then checked the origin of this increase – was it simply more folks coming to Illinois and using less or were Illinoisans emitting more. As it turned out Illinois’s population did increase by 12%. However, overall CO2 emissions per capita did increase from 16.7 metric tons/yr to 18.0 metric tons/yr. This also happens to be approximately the national average in 2010.

So let’s think globally with this graph I put together using official Department of Energy data (click below for a better view):

Copyright Andrew Levin 2013
Copyright Andrew Levin 2013

The US is around the 20th highest polluter per capita – Illinois (if it were a country would be right around that mark). Now with the possible exception of Saudi Arabia, none of the countries above our level have anywhere near the population. Not just that, but we are well above the world average of just a few thousand tons per year! Most of humanity is far less energy in their lives. Obviously, its hard to view this variable in isolation: Illinois has lots of factories – Afghanistan…not so much. In the larger picture, development has traditionally led to large increases per capita as people start using televisions and cars (usually affordable when someone makes over $5k/year). In places like India (whose per capita emissions are just 1/10th of Illinois’s), they are still working on electrification -giving millions of people electricity for the first time ever!

So why does this matter? Carbon Dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases by humans have been proven to cause climate change. As some of the largest producers, we are most responsible for the problems we face in terms of extreme swings in weather. Thus, we are responsible for the absolutely crazy weather we have been seeing here in Chicago.

For ways to decrease your impact you can check out National Geographic’s suggestions. I especially liked their comment on cars – if you current car is good, don’t run out and get a hybrid (it still causes lots of emissions to create these cars). In addition, I personally buy renewable energy credits which promote growth of renewable energy sources of electricity through Champion Energy. If you enroll with the link, you will get a $25 credit (as would I). More big picture as former President Clinton suggested in his book, it’s time to see Illinois’ pension funds as a great opportunity to invest in lower our emissions. New innovative technologies are challenging but the upside potential is there – especially within funds that are willing to invest large amounts over the long-term.

Jobs, lower emissions, and a solution that could be emulated elsewhere if successful – Illinois can be part of the solution.


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