Climate change and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois
U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

In early January, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, caused alarm in environmental circles when, as reported by Nick Juliano, he indicated that climate change isn’t caused by industrial greenhouse gases.

As a member of the House of Representatives, Kirk was one of only eight Republicans who voted in favor of the 2009 climate bill written by Democratic representatives Henry Waxman, D-California, and Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts. By 2010 he renounced his vote and initiated a successful campaign for the U.S. Senate. While supportive of clean-energy efforts, Kirk became a critic of the Barack Obama administration’s climate regulations.

Howard A. Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC), indicated that his advocacy group plans to work with Illinois scientists and business leaders to brief Sen. Kirk on the most recent compelling scientific data about the realities of climate change.

Following the expressions of concern, Kirk’s spokesman, Daneille Varallo, issued the following comment in an email to Juliano:

Senator Kirk believes that climate change is a long-term problem that deserves a long-term fix — and doesn’t support a politically motivated amendment intended to undermine the Keystone Pipeline and the jobs it would create in the U.S. and Illinois.”

As the ELPC staff suggested, we sought the most compelling evidence on climate change. University of Illinois Professor Donald Wuebbels asserted in a phone conversation with us with that climate change is real, it is happening now, it is a result of human activity, and its pace is accelerating rapidly. He suggested we read the Third National Climate Assessment released in May 2014. It provides the scientific information to prepare for climate change, which will create economic opportunities and necessitate managing the risks to reduce impacts and costs over time. It can be found at

Wuebbles, an endowed professor of atmospheric sciences, has written more than 400 peer-reviewed scientific articles, most of which relate to atmospheric chemistry and climate change issues. He recently co-wrote a major assessment of the understanding of potential impacts of climate change on the United States. He shares in a 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the International Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

While Kirk’s subsequent comments are more reasonable, concern remains about how Congress will address the need to control carbon emissions, since some Republican leaders have expressed displeasure with the policies advanced by President Obama to address climate change.

In political struggles, reality is often obscured. Climate scientists have spent years generating data that supports the existence of climate change. The studies anticipate a continuously deteriorating future, which others, especially fossil fuel interests, have chosen to challenge.

Unlike visible forms of air and water pollution, climate change is not discernible by our senses. So far, it has occurred as a slow, steady process that is accelerating. The political debate is moving beyond whether it is occurring or not on to how to best control it. The National Assessment provides the scientific basis for corrective action. As dwellers in a highly complex society, we are dependent on expert opinion.

The science is clear; politics will continue to be contentious.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail

From the Jan. 21-27, 2015, issue

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