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Chicago Commended for Action on Climate Change

By Marsha Shields

Chicago’s handling of crime and education may, to some, leave much to be desired, but city officials are doing a good job on one front, according to University of Michigan professor and scientist Don Scavia.

At an speech held at the Field Museum on Oct. 7, Scavia commended Chicago’s proactive approach in addressing climate change in the Great Lakes region. In front of a crowd of more than 100 people, Scavia applauded The Chicago Climate Action Plan for its leadership role in responding to and helping to curb climate change.

“Your action plan is a model for many other cities around the country,” he said, adding that the University of Michigan recently launched a climate change adaptation center, based in part on Chicago’s model.

Scavia said people in the Great Lakes region tend to see climate change as something happening far away, “where the polar bears live or on the Gulf Coast,” not in their own backyard.

But that is far from the case, Scavia explained. Chicago and other Great Lakes cities have already seen and will continue to experience hotter temperatures, more intense storms, shifting of prevalent species and various structural damage and other effects of changing climate.

Yaiyr Astudillo-Scalia, a Chicago resident and science major at Northeastern Illinois University, believes people need to be made aware of climate change and the most effective ways of responding to it.  “Education is crucial,” she said.

Among other evidence, Scavia presented a study by the National Arbor Day Foundation showing that the last frost is getting earlier and earlier in the spring and the first day of fall is getting later and later. The growing season has extended and agricultural yields have increased in the last 100 years due to this warming, he said. Climate change in the Great Lakes region has meant water temperatures increasing at twice the rate of air temperatures.

“By the end of the 21st century, Illinois is going to feel like Texas and Michigan is going to feel like Arkansas,” he said.

There were a number of skeptics at the Field Museum talk, who stepped to the microphone to question the validity of the models and research regarding climate change.

But even if not all residents are believers, city leaders have demonstrated with the Climate Action Plan that they believe climate change is caused by human activities and needs to be taken seriously. The plan includes city agencies working with hospitals and community organizations to establish an emergency response plan for key populations most at risk during warm seasons. The plan also involves research to identify innovative ways to eliminate “hot spots” in the city’s infrastructure vulnerable to deterioration caused by increased floods, storms and higher temperatures.

Meanwhile, Astudillo-Scaila said residents should be more assertive about preparing for and demanding political action around climate change.  “We should not view politicians as supermen and superwomen by waiting for them to create solutions while we become victims in need of rescue,” she said.   “Communities should get together and create solutions to this problem.”

Lance Grande, senior vice president at the Field Museum, noted that especially with the degree of public skepticism, continued scientific exploration around climate change is crucial.   “As humans we wait until there is a huge crisis and then we agree with science,” Grande said. “You can only lobby on an issue like climate change, if you have the science to back it up.”

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