A Tale of Three Chicago Maps

In 1995, a heat wave killed 739 people in Chicago in just one week. No doubt the current heat wave is causing hundreds of deaths in Chicago once again, especially among the elderly, sick, and poor.

By 2100, forecasts show, Chicago could face 30 days a year when the temperature exceeds 100, compared to 3 days now. They’ll have 70 days a year when it’s over 90, compared to 12-15 now. Obviously, there are zillions of variables. But it’s definitely gonna be a whole lot hotter. A 2-degree rise in temperature, from 1900, is pretty much locked in; it’ll probably go higher. Lots of variables, but a good thing for responsible politicians (an oxymoron?) to anticipate.

Fortunately, Chicago has a very aggressive plan for dealing with climate change—a model for the rest of the country. They don’t anticipate any big water problems—not sitting next to Lake Michigan—but they are concerned about severe heat.

Two things Chicago is doing: planting more trees, and shifting to windpower for electricity. The book “Hot: Living Through the Next 50 Years on Earth,” by Mark Hertsgaard, tells about it.

One very simple idea came as a result of three maps:

  1. A heat map showed parts of the city where temperatures were higher than elsewhere. It revealed “heat islands” throughout the city.
  2. A second map charted tree foliage. Overlaying the maps showed that temperatures were higher in areas with fewer trees.
  3. Then they overlaid a third map, this one showing income levels. It showed that the hot, low-foliage areas were especially prevalent in low-income areas.

So, they are intentionally targeting those hotspots for tree-planting, including planting trees in vacant lots. In the future, this additional tree cover will bring down temperatures throughout the city…and contribute toward saving lives. A simple bit of intentionality. New York City is doing the same thing.

Chicago also wants to become America’s capital of wind power. Eight of the world’s leading manufacturers base their North American operations in Chicago. The Midwest is the Saudi Arabia of wind power. Huge wind turbines are difficult to transport—so why not build them near where they will be installed? That’s the idea.

Chicago is doing many other things to deal with climate change, and their example is spreading to other cities. Very interesting, and encouraging, to read about.

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