Before we could even store away the ghostly decorations of Halloween and wait for another fall, winter arrived early this year and brought with it the scary reality of snow hitting the Chicago area and sticking around long before we expected it. After the polar vortex we experienced at the beginning of the year, a prolonged season of frozen streets, nasty slush, and unwelcome ice is far from acceptable.
But bizarre weather patterns are often apart of the climate disruption we’re undergoing and extreme weather in the brutal winter of recent years should be no surprise. “In truth, we’re experiencing our second polar vortex in five years not in spite of global warming, but because of it,” Edward McClellend wrote in Chicago Magazine during the polar vortex earlier this year. “We may as well learn to enjoy the vortices, because they’re becoming regular occurrences. Go outside and throw some boiling water in the air, then watch it evaporate like a baseless claim.”
Not exactly my kind of fun. And extreme temperatures in winter is deadly. In January, when the blast of arctic air sent temperatures dropping well below zero degrees, Governor JB Pritzker said the weather “poses a serious threat” to Chicagoans. This life-threatening cold was enough to freeze the Chicago River.
Chicago winters have never been very pleasant. But what we’ve seen in recent years is not normal. This isn’t simply a short-term trend marking erratic weather and a few winter weather advisories. Global warming temperatures are steadily rising and pushing us into a present reality that’s more dangerous and a future that threatens to be worse. It’s not just a dramatic blast of polar winds or early November ice that forces a plane off the runway.
By causing fast warming temperatures, the Arctic, which warms twice as fast as the rest of the world, is releasing cold air. That’s because the jet stream is weakening as a result of climate change. As McClellend writes, that jet stream would typically trap “Arctic air at the top of the world.” Now, it’s coming for us instead.
And this impacts us in our homes as well. As we face more extreme temperatures, we have to spend more money to heat our homes, which places a massive financial burden on those spending the largest percentage of their income on heating bills. To make matters worse, as we use more electricity, more carbon has to be burned to generate this dirty power to meet the demand, which just exacerbates the root cause of the problem.
Decarbonizing the economy and moving to a renewable energy future is something we need to fight for now. We’re hoping to switch as many Illinois residents as possible to paying for Renewable Energy Credits instead of contributing to coal power, so we can put our money toward better options and support an industry we so desperately need to combat this issue.