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Basement flooding in Chicago Austin community

Grace Esther, 46, works to clean her basement in Austin, which flooded during a storm 24 hours earlier, Monday, July 3, 2023. A new national climate change report more flooding will happen in the Midwest.

Ashlee Rezin

Midwestern corn and soybean crop threatened by climate change

This coverage is made possible through a partnership between WBEZ and Grist, a nonprofit, independent media organization dedicated to telling stories of climate solutions and a just future.

In the Midwest, the whiplash between wet and dry extremes will have profound consequences on the region’s cultural and economic role as a worldwide agricultural juggernaut, which produces over a third of the world’s corn and soybeans.

That’s according to the federal government’s National Climate Assessment out Tuesday. The massive, multimedia roundup catalogs the state of climate change across the country, by region and sector. The assessment found that excessive moisture and drought could cause corn yield to drop. It’s not just agriculture shifting, urban life is being increasingly complicated by the increasing frequency and intensity of rain and subsequent flooding, too.

The congressionally mandated report is the product of the U.S. Global Change and Research Group, with contributions from over 750 climate scientists and experts. Unlike previous iterations, this year’s assessment includes a podcast, an art exhibition, and a poem from U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón. The consensus is that without massively dialing back global greenhouse gas emissions and doubling down on adaptation efforts, the climate crisis – rising seas, soaring temperatures, increased flooding, and wildfires – here and abroad will get worse.

The report is designed to provide rigorous, fact-based evidence that cities and states can use.

“A water utility manager in Chicago can use this assessment to dig in and understand the extreme rainfall that’s coming so that they can design sewers that don’t overflow,” said Dr. Arati Prabhakar, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.”

Compared to the first half of the 20th century, the Midwest is a warmer and wetter place than it used to be. Precipitation is expected to increase throughout the region as temperatures climb, which will mean wetter springs and winters and summers with more variability. This past July was the hottest on record. So was the following August, September and now October. As the planet heats up, scientists agree that the risk of climate impacts could spiral as extreme events become more frequent and severe.

Following severe summer flooding this past summer in Chicago, the Federal Emergency Management disbursed more than more than $200 million in federal flood relief to affected Cook County residents. Costly state and federally declared disasters like these are on the rise. In the 1980s, the country experienced a $1 billion disaster about every four months. Now it’s closer to one every three weeks.

Despite the mounting urgency, the study reports that U.S. emissions have fallen since their peak in 2007 – and communities across the country are beginning to find ways to mitigate and adapt to climate change. The report finds that in the Midwest “people are responding in ways that offer hope for the future.”

“The private sector has invested $470 billion in clean energy and advanced manufacturing, EVs, batteries and clean energy projects, Which have created over 210,000 jobs.” said John Podesta, senior adviser to President Biden for clean energy innovation and implementation at a press conference.

In the Midwest, renewable energy production has shot up by more than 275% over the past decade. The report finds that the deployment of more renewable energy could mean millions of more jobs.

It’s not just clean energy ramping up. Since the release of the last climate assessment in 2018, efforts to adapt and mitigate climate change have increased by 32%, and 14%, respectively. Plans to roll out electrification, energy efficiency, climate smart agriculture and green infrastructure like urban canopies are taking off. According to the report, among all the states in the Midwest, Illinois is leading the pack.

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco covers climate change and the environment for WBEZ and Grist. Follow him on X at @__juanpab.