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New Extension initiatives empower Illinois to meet the challenges of changing climate

hands holding soil with a plant with a graphic overlay of icons of recycling, renewable energy, CO2

URBANA, Ill. — The science is clear; the world’s climate is changing. Illinois has already seen the impacts 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, University of Illinois Extension is expanding its climate initiative investments.

“Climate change is an issue that affects everything and everyone, from food production to the health of our communities,” says Shibu Kar, Extension assistant dean of natural resources, environment, and energy. “Through our connections with university researchers, Illinois Extension is in a unique position to help residents navigate and mitigate the effects of climate change now and in the future.”

Over the past several years, a strategic review of how 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.

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. Friend’s 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.

“Many University of Illinois researchers are studying climate change,” says Friend. “Extension’s mission, as it has always been, is to take this research and turn it into local programming that will benefit the citizens of Illinois.”

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 says. “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 impact, 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 course is led by Friend and C. Eliana Brown, an Extension water quality and stormwater specialist, and 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.

The inception of the program is possible due in part to a gift from Mrs. Jean Bollero Lawyer of Heyworth, toward the purchase of the curriculum from University of California, Davis.

The course is currently being piloted and will open to the public in the summer of 2024. More information about the program is available at 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, 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 USDA Midwest Climate Hub, the National Integrated Drought Information System, and the Midwest Regional Climate Center.

For more information about Illinois Extension climate programs, contact Duane Friend at

Explore additional Illinois climate change resources and programs:

About Extension

Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities. Illinois Extension is part of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.