A panel featuring WGN meteorologist Tom Skilling and physicist-turned-congressman Bill Foster told a supportive audience Saturday at North Central College that deniers of human-caused climate change are the equivalent of the people who caused thousands of deaths by denying the science on cigarettes decades ago.
Foster, a Naperville Democrat, helped organize the panel as President Donald Trump weighs a decision to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
The agreement set a new global standard for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The United States and China agreed to goals for 2025 to put the world on track to avoid a 3.6-degree-Fahrenheit increase in the global average temperature. Most climate scientists agree that increase would create environmental changes that would last for several lifetimes.
Skilling said changes already made by the Trump administration are "shocking and horrifying." They come as a result, he said, of people creating federal policy who have no background in climate science, much like the vast majority of the deniers of climate change he encounters.
"The information is out there," Skilling said. "Go to a credible source."
Skilling compared the doubts about climate change to the doubts from decades prior about cigarettes being bad for you.
"With climate change, they are taking uncertainty in the models and posing this as the fact that scientists don't understand how the atmosphere is working," Skilling said. "The average person says, 'You can't tell me tomorrow what the weather is going to do. How can you tell me what's going to happen in the next century or decades ahead?' Well, you can't tell a cigarette smoker if or when they are going to get cancer. But you know it's a dangerous endeavor. And we are seeing consequences already of the weather gone wild."
Skilling said the most recent example of climate change is the rampant flooding throughout the Midwest. Increased pockets of violent storms and tornadoes are also key indicators of warming causing increasing amounts of trapped moisture.
He also showed time-lapse videos of melting glaciers around the world.
"People say that the climate has always changed," Skilling said. "The changes happening now are happening at a rate 10 times faster than anything in the past."
Foster built off Skilling's cigarette analogy to explain why Congress has not fully embraced human responsibility for climate change.
"With cigarette smoking, it took decades for our government to respond because there was more on one side of the debate," Foster said. "That generates fake science and money to bribe politicians into not taking action. As a result, tens of thousands of people died needlessly."
He said people need to tell members of Congress from both sides of the aisle that it is not OK to ignore science.
Mary Gade, a former head of the Midwest region of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said pulling out of the Paris agreement will cause clean-energy jobs to go to other countries. France already is the leading producer of wind turbines, China the leader in solar panels. At risk are 85,000 Illinois jobs tied to clean energy, she said.
Trump is expected to make an announcement on the Paris agreement within the next week.