While the scientific community and those who place their faith in it are still struggling to convince naysayers of its existence, global climate change has already begun to wreak havoc on human settlements in various parts of the world. The effects have become undeniably apparent in coastal cities like Norfolk, Virginia, where rising sea levels threaten to destroy homes, and it has appears that the impacts of global climate change are only beginning. While areas across the world remain in denial, from Arizona homeowners’ associations mandating that residents keep their lawns green (with residents unwilling to comply painting their lawns green instead), to ambitious and ill-conceived attempts to channel drinking water through industrial wastelands from South China to North China, governments taking realistic and proactive attempts to be combat climate change and prepare for the impending and inevitable changes to their natural environments are unfortunately few and far between. The city of Chicago is one such example, of a city uniting its public, private and not-for-profit sectors to develop and implement sustainable solutions to the problems they will soon be facing, as outlined in this piece run last May in the New York Times.
The Chicago Climate Action Plan, first conceived and designed in 2006 under then-mayor Richard Daley, is carefully constructed, highly ambitious and sustainable. The plan includes new pavement designed to allow water to permeate rather than back up sewer systems to capture the predicted increase in rainfall, new streetscapes including wider sidewalks and new bicycle pathways to encourage residents to drive less and thereby reduce air pollutants and gasoline use, and new species of trees more suitable to the future weather conditions, described as being comparable to today’s climate in Alabama as soon as 2070.
The New York Times piece, authored by Leslie Kaufman, demonstrates a subtle bias in favor of Chicago’s plan; one I make no effort to conceal that I share. I am excited by the efforts of the plan and the potential it offers, both to the city of Chicago and to the rest of the world, who will undoubtedly be forced to follow suit eventually. Chicago is likely to function as a prototype for cities in the future to model climate change action plans after. While Chicago is not the only city in the world, or even the United States for that matter, to develop a climate change action plan, Chicago’s plan is of yet the most ambitious, comprehensive and sustainable, by far. The article’s scientific (perhaps “liberal”) leaning is congruent with the reputation of the New York Times, and while I share both scientific and liberal inclinations, the perspective, like all perspectives, has limitations. When one takes an issue like global climate change, which a sizable percentage of the population still believes is up for debate, and presents it as fact, one must recognize the likelihood of losing out on part of the potential readership. However, it is relatively safe to assume that regular readers of the New York Times already believe in global climate change, and the scientific evidence for global climate change is overwhelming. In my opinion, articles that do not address global climate change as scientific fact are irresponsible and are doing a disservice to their readers.
Kaufman’s piece also glosses over an important event in the city of Chicago and its potential effects: the election of Rahm Emanuel. The mayoral shift from Richard Daley to Rahm Emanuel, and the accompanying shift in mentality, seems under-addressed; the article states that “members of [his] administration have said he is committed to moving the goals of the plan forward, albeit with an added emphasis on ‘projects that accelerate jobs and economic development.’.” While Kaufman adds this as an aside, the ideological difference seems striking; while Daley’s plan took painstaking efforts to be feasible, the emphasis was on preparing the city for the future, while Emanuel’s message incorporates current concerns about the economy. While striking a balance between the plan’s goals and current economic conditions in the city seems reasonable and perhaps necessary, the plan was designed to address concerns about the city’s infrastructure and sustainability, and not to create jobs or to foster economic growth, and the goals of the plan should remain at the forefront. Fortunately, the plan’s goals have remained intact and Mayor Emanuel has stayed committed, telling two coal power plants they have to present a plan to the city to clean up pollution or risk being shut down within two years.
The piece raises many questions. The issue of global climate change is one not being addressed with the necessary levels of attention and seriousness. The impending effects, while strongly supported by a wealth of scientific evidence, are still a matter of speculation, and the repercussions of climate change trends are as of yet still not understood fully, even by those at the forefront of the scientific field. The changes to our natural environment will undoubtedly spur consequences unforeseen that we are not prepared for.
It is also undeniable that the sustainable development in Chicago and other places is still in an experimental phase; there are sure to be newly developed problems that will require attention and solutions as a result of some, if not all, of these changes. While the permeable pavement in Chicago presents a viable solution to sewer flooding problems, and, with underground tanks capturing rainwater to be used later, an innovative way new form of conservation, the pavement requires maintenance work, to prevent silt from settling into it and deteriorating its effectiveness, which will cost the city both money and time. There are sure to be issues of this nature with other phases of the development process as well, and Kaufman does not address this likelihood.
Regardless of the article’s limitations, I found it to be well-written, compelling and informative. Chicago’s ambition and dedication to preparation is inspiring, exciting and a role model for cities across the world.
What do you think? Is Chicago headed in the right direction, or are there more pressing and immediate matters to attend to? Plus, if Chicago’s going to be the new Alabama in terms of weather… What’s Alabama going to look like?