Chicago prepares for climate change


Photo by Gravitywave, Flickr

The New York Times is reporting that the Windy City is gearing up for a hotter, wetter climate.

Climate scientists found that current trends will eventually lead Chicago toward weather that is more commonly found down south.  The city is responding by repaving using pereable pavement, changing up the trees being planted and considering installing air conditions in all of its public schools.

Read part of the Times‘ coverage below:

The Windy City is preparing for a heat wave — a permanent one.

Climate scientists have told city planners that based on current trends, Chicago will feel more like Baton Rouge than a Northern metropolis before the end of this century.

So, Chicago is getting ready for a wetter, steamier future. Public alleyways are being repaved with materials that are permeable to water. The white oak, the state tree of Illinois, has been banned from city planting lists, and swamp oaks and sweet gum trees from the South have been given new priority. Thermal radar is being used to map the city’s hottest spots, which are then targets for pavement removal and the addition of vegetation to roofs. And air-conditioners are being considered for all 750 public schools, which until now have been heated but rarely cooled.

“Cities adapt or they go away,” said Aaron N. Durnbaugh, deputy commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Environment. “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.”

Across America and in Congress, the very existence of climate change continues to be challenged — especially by conservatives. The skeptics are supported by constituents wary of science and concerned about the economic impacts of stronger regulation. Yet even as the debate rages on, city and state planners are beginning to prepare.

The precise consequences of the increase of man-made greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are hard to determine, but scientists are predicting significant sea level rise; more extreme weather events like storms, tornadoes and blizzards; and, of course, much more heat. New York City, which is doing its own adaptation planning, is worried about flooding from the rising ocean. The Navy has a task force on climate change that says it should be preparing to police the equivalent of an extra sea as the Arctic ice melts.

Some of these events will occur in the near-enough term that local governments are under pressure to act. Insurance companies are applying pressure in high-risk areas, essentially saying adapt or pay higher premiums — especially in urban and commercial areas.

The reinsurance giant Swiss Re, for example, has said that if the shore communities of four Gulf Coast states choose not to implement adaptation strategies, they could see annual climate-change related damages jump 65 percent a year to $23 billion by 2030.

“Society needs to reduce its vulnerability to climate risks, and as long as they remain manageable, they remain insurable, which is our interest as well,” said Mark D. Way, head of Swiss Re’s sustainable development for the Americas.

Melissa Stults, the climate director for ICLEI USA, an association of local governments, said that many of the administrations she was dealing with were following a strategy of “discreetly integrating preparedness into traditional planning efforts.”

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