ILLINOIS -- The debate over climate change has gone from a back burner issue a decade ago to a major topic in this year's presidential race.
It's part four of our eight-part series on issues of the 2016 election.
The next President and Congress will be responsible for carrying out agreements made at last year's Paris summit. Depending on who wins, the U.S. may or may not live up to its commitments. Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) said at a rally he would make reducing the effects of climate change a top priority.
"We have a moral responsibility to make sure the planet we leave for all of our kids and grandchildren is habitable and healthy,” Sanders said.
University of Illinois-Springfield biology professor Jim Bonacum said more politicians are understanding the seriousness of the issue.
"People are responding much more to the urgency of this,” Bonacum said.
He said people can’t ignore the problem any longer.
"If the average global temperature goes beyond an increase of 2 degrees Celsius, that may be the tipping point,” Bonacum said. “If that happens, we're expecting truly catastrophic changes."
15 of the top 16 warmest years have occurred since 2000. 2015 was the warmest year on record. Bonacum said it’s only going to get warmer.
"Even if right now we completely stop using any and all fossil fuels, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has still not worked its way up to its full heat producing ability,” he said.
Despite evidence produced by the scientific community, candidates including Donald Trump deny any human involvement.
"So Obama's talking all about this with the global warming,” Trump said in a rally. “A lot of it is a hoax. It's a hoax, it's a money-making industry."
Bonacum said denying man’s involvement in adding excess carbon to the atmosphere is reckless.
"There are people out there that are either flat out wrong about this or they're not really telling the truth,” he said.
He said the next election could determine if humans can stop it.
"We're driving down hill at a brick wall. We're going to hit the brick wall for sure whether we like it or not. The question is are we going to step on the breaks or not,” Bonacum said.
Earlier this month, Republican candidates were asked by a group of Florida mayors to talk about climate change. The only Republican candidates admitting climate change is a man-made problem are Governors John Kasich and Jeb Bush. Both Democrats Secretary Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders acknowledge man’s effects.
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