Chicago city downtown

Image by Allen McGregor/Wikimedia Commons

Scientists across the globe have come to a very clear consensus that human-induced climate change is undeniably real. In the United States, the discourse between scientific bodies and governing bodies has been heated when it comes to the subject of global warming and climate change. In 2018, tensions rose as the use of specific terms referring to human-driven climate change were discouraged. Despite the pushback on the federal level, some individual US states have begun approving legislation to combat climate change and reduce their carbon footprint. While we’ve passed the tipping point for reversing the damage we’ve done to the Earth’s natural greenhouse cycle, there is still a chance we can minimize the extent of the harm by taking quick and drastic action. Such an intervention is exactly what Chicago has planned.

Cause and effect

One of the major sticking points in the climate debate surrounds the cyclical nature of Earth’s ambient temperature. Earth’s temperature rises and falls in waves and has been doing so for thousands of years. The difference between our current rising cycle and all others preceding it is twofold. First, the rate at which global temperatures have been rising has been much higher than at any other point in recorded history. That rapid increase in greenhouse gases and ambient temperature correspond to the Industrial Revolution. Before that point, industry existed on a much smaller scale and had a much smaller carbon footprint. After we learned that we could mechanize processes and speed things up by burning coal as a power source, the amount of carbon dioxide pumped into the air increased drastically. Carbon dioxide is one of the primary greenhouse gases, which are responsible for trapping heat from the sun’s radiation in Earth’s atmosphere and keeping the planet warm.

The second factor that climatologists look at when assessing whether or not humans have influenced the current trend of rising temperatures is how we stand in regards to historical data. The information we’ve collected from ice cores indicates that at no point in Earth’s history has a warming trend ever climbed this high. What’s more unsettling is that the recent spike in the Earth’s temperature shows no signs of slowing down. Unlike a thermostat where a simple change reverts things to a comfortable temperature, Earth’s climate is kept in a balance that runs on a significant delay. The hole in the ozone layer, for example, was caused by human chemical use. Once a ban was instated in 2005 to curb the use of the aerosols that caused the deterioration of our atmosphere, the hole began to heal. Almost 15 years later, the ozone layer still shows signs of damage, but it has stopped growing as such an alarming rate. Restoring the balance disrupted by careless use of fossil fuels is something we’ve passed the point of no return on. What we can do is minimize further damage and hope that the Earth can start to bounce back before too much harm is done.

A cleaner Chicago

Going rogue on a wild bid to save the planet, Chicago has announced a goal for all of its buildings to go completely renewable by 2035. For a city of 2.7 million people to change their habits in just 16 years is a monumental task, but the city’s mayor believes they can do it. The initiative is part of the Ready For 100 project, and Chicago is one of over 100 cities across the US to join in the movement. As part of the city’s Earth-saving project, they plan to change over 270,000 streetlights to LEDs, which are roughly twice as efficient as the current standard, HID bulbs. Chicago is also home to the last two coal plants located in a major metropolitan area. Another element of their plan is to close these plants down in favor of hydroelectric plants and biomass plants.

Looking past their target year, Chicago’s mayor has also stated that the city aims to have a fully-functional electric bus system in place by 2040. The board seeks to propose a formal plan for the Ready For 100 initiative by December 2020, but even now in its formative stages, the idea has received a fair amount of pushback. Advocacy groups raised concerns that the citywide initiative would leave out the marginalized communities most strongly affected by industrial pollution. The dissenting committees suggested that the board include more actionable points to incorporate the communities in question. The most significant potential setback for the project comes from its sheer size. Chicago is a major industrial city with very little space. Creating a sustainable environment out of it will be an incredible challenge, but the payoff of success would be immense.

States in solidarity

There are currently 107 cities that have agreed to the Ready For 100 initiative. Outside of that group, plenty of places have made plans to reduce their carbon footprint. Los Angeles is not part of the Ready For 100 team, but their sustainability plans frequently make national headlines. Countless unaffiliated cities across the country are combating poverty and increasing access to sustainable options by improving public transit, improving recycling programs, incorporating rentable bike and scooter programs, and building businesses with sustainable goals.

While meeting the goal of countrywide sustainability might be a few decades off, plenty of cities are taking independent strides toward a cleaner future. International guidelines for sustainable development emphasize tackling poverty and expanding renewable resources. Although the federal government might be lagging behind on advancement, it looks like we can count on our towns and counties to make the right choices. If you want to get more involved on a personal level, the UN has a set of guidelines for how you can take your own steps toward protecting our planet.