Chicago, a Leader in the US on Climate Change Adaptation

By Shaun Martin, WWF-US

Among US cities, it appears that Chicago is among the most advanced on introducing climate adaptive measures into their planning, according to this New York Times article. If current emissions trends continue, by 2070 Chicago could have a climate that resembles that of today’s southern states of Alabama and Louisiana, with 35 percent more precipitation in the winter and spring and 20 percent less in the summer and autumn.  Among potential impacts cited in the article include 1200 heat-related deaths per year, deterioration of infrastructure, flooding, and termite infestation. (Termites are currently not able to survive Chicago’s cold winters.)

The article outlines a number of interesting adaptation measures the city is taking to prepare for a warmer and wetter future. The one I find most interesting will make many conservationists squeamish – the decision to stop planting common tree species, like ash and Norway maple, in favor of trees found much further south, like swamp white oak and bald cypress.  In the adaptation training workshops we have conducted many participants have reacted negatively to the idea of proactively introducing species that will be resilient to a future climate, preferring traditional conservation measures that restore ecosystems to previous conditions. I suspect that in the future more of us will learn to accept the inevitable and begin following Chicago’s lead.