Reprint permission from the December 1, 2008 issue of Crain's Chicago Business.
Mayor Richard M. Daley, the greenest of America's mayors, bested his peers once again when he recently unveiled a "Climate Action Plan," the first of its kind in the nation, to cut Chicago's greenhouse gases to 75% of 1990 levels between now and 2020.
The challenge is daunting: If fossil-fuel use and carbon dioxide emissions aren't significantly curbed, summer heat indexes here could soar to as high as 105 degrees by the century's end, according to researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Texas Tech University. Deadly heat waves and catastrophic flooding could become routine.
Skeptics question how Mr. Daley's ambitious proposal will be implemented and funded, and how he will engineer the private sector's buy-in. They also wonder whether any city's actions, however well-intentioned, can help solve one of the most intractable problems the planet has ever faced.
Admittedly, the mayor's plan is a work in progress, but it declares war on global warming and is a commitment to sustainability unmatched by any other city, state or federal agency. By increasing reliance on renewable energy, reducing industrial pollution and waste, making buildings more energy-efficient and expanding transportation alternatives, Chicago will be wisely leveraging scant public resources to deliver outsized social and financial returns.
The private sector will need to be educated and engaged just as taxpayers will. The evidence is incontrovertible that superior environmental performance improves the profitability, and buoys the stock prices, of public companies. Company managers who ignore climate-driven risks, or fail to embrace climate-driven opportunities, will be held to account for their dereliction of duty.
Chicago's government can't put the mayor's comprehensive strategy into action on its own. The city will need its businesses to compete, connect and collaborate, its citizens to join forces, and state and local governments to cooperate. Nor, of course, can Chicago reverse global warming by itself. But by creating incentives and enforcing mandates, the city can lead the nation and the world by example.
Guided by principle and serious science, the mayor already has planted a half-million trees, replaced traffic lanes with green medians, converted Meigs Field into a 100-acre park and persuaded property owners to cover 4.5 million square feet of rooftops with carbon-sequestering vegetation. Those successes suggest how Mr. Daley's unprecedented authority, power and influence can help slash greenhouse gases.
His first official step in implementing his innovative Climate Action Plan will be to propose an ordinance that would update Chicago's energy code to require better insulation, heating and cooling systems in all buildings. We owe it to ourselves and our children to urge the City Council to act promptly and positively.
©2008 by Crain Communications Inc.