Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Chicago Expects to Feel Like Baton Rouge

A funny thing happened on the way to a world changed by global warming. While the environmentalists who seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are just as convinced as ever about the seriousness of the problem, and the climate deniers are just as determined as ever to stop them, there's a third group that is quietly at work, mostly out of the spotlight, trying to adapt to the reality of climate change.

"Cities adapt or they go away. Climate change is happening in both real and dramatic ways, but also in slow, pervasive ways. We can handle it, but we do need to acknowledge it. We are on a 50-year cycle, but we need to get going."
-- Aaron N. Durnbaugh, deputy commissioner of Chicago's Department of Environment
That's from an article in The New York Times describing Chicago's attitude towards the need to adapt.

After the jump, what adaptation looks like.

For Chicago, adaptation looks a lot like Baton Rouge. Chicago expects a wetter, steamier future. Chicago is considering air conditioning its public schools for the first time. Chicago is repaving alleys with permeable pavers to reduce stormwater runoff. Chicago is switching to light-reflecting pavement and encouraging rooftop gardens. Chicago is planting trees, thousands of trees, to absorb carbon dioxide and rainwater and to provide cooling shade. The favored species are no longer white oak, the Illinois state tree, but trees more likely to be found in places like Baton Rouge.

For most of these proactive steps even the climate deniers are on board. They don't want their children sweating in school. They don't want their basements flooded in rainstorms (Chicago has already had two "100 year" storms in the last three years). They don't want the trees in their neighborhoods to die from climate-related causes. Climate deniers might not want to do anything to prevent global warming, but they are just like everyone else in wanting to do something to deal with climate change once it's happening.

Whereas Chicago, with its cold winters, probably would welcome slightly warmer weather, Dallas's summers are already too hot. Whereas Chicago, on the shore of Lake Michigan and expecting a wetter climate, won't ever lack for water, Dallas faces increasing droughts. It already takes decades for Texas to get reservoirs built and supplying water to thirsty cities. Climate change will only increase the need for and the competition for that water. Chicago expects to feel like Baton Rouge. What should Dallas be planning to feel like? Phoenix?

So, what's north Texas doing to adapt to climate change? There was one paragraph in that New York Times' article about Chicago that made me think instantly of Richardson.

"Chicago spends over $10 million a year planting roughly 2,200 trees. From 1991 to 2008, the city added so many that officials estimate tree cover increased to 17.6 percent from 11 percent. The goal is to exceed 23 percent this decade."

Richardson has its own tree planting program well underway -- Tree the Town. (And unless that's a typo in the New York Times' article, Richardson's program is a lot more economical than Chicago's.) Tree the Town has now been expanded into a 12-county program in north Texas called Tree North Texas. This is their vision:

"The Texas Trees Foundation has a vision for our community. It is a community comprised of beautiful, well maintained parks, shady tree-lined streets and boulevards, hiking, biking and nature trails, and other outdoor amenities which combine to form a living and working environment that enhances the economic value of its commercial areas and its neighborhoods, and nurtures the health, safety and quality of life of all its citizens; a community in which its citizens actively participate in building and sustaining its 'urban forest.' "

Tree North Texas is not a complete solution to global warming, but it's a step in the right direction. The promoters got people all across north Texas to buy into their vision -- all without ever using the words "global warming" or "climate change." Well done.

Next, America should get ready for seawall mania.

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