Looking to meet the challenges of Illinois’ changing climate

The science is clear; the world’s climate is changing. Illinois already has seen the effects on everything from agriculture productivity and food access to public health hazards and diminishing natural resources.

To meet these challenges and further its land-grant mission of serving the residents of Illinois, the University of Illinois Extension is expanding its climate initiative investments.

Over the past several years, a strategic review of how the extension could further address climate change has led to the creation of an extension climate change specialist role, continuing education for staff, climate workshops for agricultural professionals and, most recently, the establishment of the Illinois Extension Climate Stewards training program for the public, according to a news release from the extension.

Duane Friend, who serves as both the state climate change specialist and state master naturalist coordinator, has been with Illinois extension for more than 30 years.

His work has focused on educating and encouraging Illinoisans of all ages to be environmental stewards by sharing research-based practices on weather, soil, energy conservation and disaster preparedness. In 2022, his role shifted to focus even more specifically on climate change, according to the extension.

FILE - A man pours cold water onto his head to cool off on a sweltering hot day in the Mediterranean Sea in Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, July 16, 2023. In the past 30 days, nearly 5,000 heat and rainfall records have been broken or tied in the United States and more than 10,000 records set globally, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Since 2000, the U.S. is setting about twice as many heat records as cold. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)

Weather patterns have shifted significantly in the past century, and Illinois has dealt with both warmer temperatures and more precipitation, according to research from the Prairie Research Institute’s Illinois State Climatologist office.

Intense rainfalls have led to increased urban and rural flooding as well as more frequent summer drought stress and the potential for water shortages.

“While many may feel a sense of hopelessness with this global environmental issue, we only need to look back 50 to 60 years and realize how much we’ve improved air and water quality in many areas,” Friend said in the release. “It may seem daunting, but we have the opportunity to work with groups and communities to move this forward as well.”

Backed by the idea that small changes at the local level can have a big effect, the extension is piloting the new Illinois Extension Climate Stewards program to empower community members statewide with information and tools to understand and communicate about climate science, the extension said.

The course is led by Friend and C. Eliana Brown, an extension water quality and stormwater specialist. It will be offered through extension county offices several times a year.

After certification, climate stewards are encouraged to volunteer in activities ranging from community and participatory science, land and water stewardship, environmental justice and civic engagement, and education and interpretation activities, according to the release.

The course is being piloted and will open to the public in the summer. More information about the program is available at go.illinois.edu/ClimateStewards.

Those interested in taking the Illinois extension climate steward course should contact their local county extension office about training opportunities.

With the shift in growing seasons, agriculture and our food production systems are at risk. To meet this need, the extension is offering three climate-smart workshops across the state this spring to provide tools and discuss real-world farm scenarios.

These are presented in partnership with the Illinois State Water Survey, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Midwest Climate Hub, the National Integrated Drought Information System and the Midwest Regional Climate Center.

For information about Illinois Extension climate programs, email Duane Friend at friend@illinois.edu.