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[ EnvIROnMEnTAL ECOnOMICS ]

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Climate of Concern

In the not-so-distant future, scorching Texas-style summers could become the new norm for Illinoisans, say scientists. Even more dramatic effects could be found in coastal states like Florida, where some predict that one-third of the land mass might be swallowed up by the sea. All courtesy of climate change.

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espite the dire picture painted by scientists about climate change, residents of Illinois and other inland states often feel a false sense of security. “Here in Illinois, we tend to think climate change is much more of a problem for places like New Orleans, which will face higher sea levels and storm surges,” says Don Fullerton, professor of finance and an environmental economist. “But that’s just wrong.” Compared to coastal regions, climate change will unfold more slowly and subtly in Illinois over the next 10 to 20 years. Less dramatic, perhaps, but climate change will be no less disruptive to the Land of Lincoln. According to Fullerton and colleagues Julian Reif, assistant professor of finance, and Megan Konar, assistant professor of civil engineering, that disruption will have economic and societal consequences beyond the environmental toll. To make that point clear to policy makers, the trio recently coauthored an article for Illinois Issues. It illustrates what climate change could mean for Illinois.

“We need to think about planning for potential [climate] changes as insurance against potentially catastrophic risks. . . . It’s money well spent to insure ourselves against that risk.” Don Fullerton

COSTS OF CliMaTE CHaNGE  In Fullerton’s view, the problem is not so much what we know about climate change as what we don’t know.

“The problem is not just increases in temperature—the bigger problem is the uncertainty,” he says. “The average temperature could increase by 2, 4, or 6 degrees, we don’t

know which. And within any of those scenarios is a whole lot of variation.” Reif agrees that the variability is an issue. “The effects of climate change are likely to vary drastically from location to location. For example, scientists project that ozone levels will increase in Illinois, particularly around the Chicago area, but will decrease in the Southern states.” But while much remains murky, one thing is clear: fundamental changes to temperature and precipitation have already begun. These changes pave the way for more droughts, floods, and heat waves in the coming years. Scientists predict that Illinois will see more rainfall in the spring. This will lead to more severe flooding, which already causes $700 million in damages in Illinois every year. Future summers are expected to bring more droughts. Already, average air temperature has increased by about 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the beginning of the industrial age due to fossil fuel emissions—but it’s the peaks that worry Fullerton.

College of Business I University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Perspectives Summer 2016  

ON THE COVER: Our Alma Mater might not be able to “see” the future, but she does “reflect” the aspirations and dreams of our students, facul...

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