Chicago’s Climate Action Plan

As a member of the City of Boston’s newly-formed Community Advisory Committee on Climate Action (which could, unfortunately, come to be known as CACCA), my first assignment was to read the City of Chicago’s Climate Action Plan.  After reading the 60-page plan, I’m not sure whether Chicago is actually going to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, but I do know one thing:  They sure have the jump on Boston!

Take trees, for example.  Chicagoans have been planting trees since 1989.  At last count, they’ve planted over 500,000 of them.  In Boston, we launched our 100,000 tree planting program in 2007.  To date, we are not even close to being on track to plant 100,000 trees by 2020.  Furthermore, our tree inventory is in rapid decline, as I have noted elsewhere in this blog.

Admittedly, Chicago is a bigger city than Boston.   But Chicago has over 4 million square feet of green roof space, 15 million square feet of energy-retrofitted city buildings, and a 17-acre eco-industrial park.   The Chicago Conservation Corps recruits and trains hundreds of volunteers to lead environmental service projects.  And, as a charter member of the Chicago Climate Exchange, the Windy City has made a legally binding commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 6% by 2010.

Yet, despite all these efforts, the Chicago Climate Action Plan acknowledges that greenhouse gas emissions in Chicago are still rising!

What you don’t know might hurt you

How much do you really know about global warming?  Funny enough, very few people are actually keeping up with the science.  This is a problem, because the news from climate scientists is getting progressively worse.

Many people have a habit of avoiding critical news.  Take the passengers of the Titanic, for example.  From the moment of first impact with the iceberg to the time the ship sank there was an interval of several hours.  Plenty of time for passengers to get organized, make a plan as to how the lifeboats would be loaded, distribute life vests, and make contingency plans for those who would have to swim.  This didn’t happen, however.  Passengers were initially informed that the ship had hit an iceberg but that there was no cause for concern.  Most went back to bed.  When the lifeboats were launched, many passengers were afraid to get into them.  Some of the lifeboats launched half-empty.  Poor decision-making by passengers was the main reason that so few lives were saved.  Of the 2,223 passengers aboard, only 706 survived.  This number could have been much higher.  The ship carried lifeboats with room for 1,178 people.  Also, steps could have been taken to increase the survival chances of those who were swimming in the water, not all of whom died.

Last September, we received preliminary signs that we have hit the iceberg.   For the first time, in an area of the Arctic that has already warmed more than 7.2 degrees Farenheit, methane chimneys conveying bubbles of sub-sea methane directly to the surface were found by researchers off the Siberian continental shelf.

There is a lot of methane locked under the Arctic.  More than the total amount of carbon locked up in global coal reserves.  And methane is about 20 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.  The more permafrost and ice melts, the faster the methane will be released.  And the faster the methane is released, the more permafrost and ice will melt.  If we can’t reverse this, the planet will quickly become uninhabitable.

So, now is the time to get going, fellow Titanic passengers.  Let’s try to build more lifeboats before the ship sinks. One quick thing you can do right now is join the Minutemen and Minutewomen at securegreenfuture.org

Follow the link and do it now.  It’s free, for gosh sake.

Success Update

I was going to call this blog post “Status Update” because there’s been so much going on lately. Instead, I decided to call it “Success Update” because everything I have to report is upbeat (for a change!)

Here are the highlights:

The Hutan Project is my passion right now. I’m learning how to talk to people about it in a way that opens them up and gets them excited about the possibilities for making a difference in their own lives. Last week, for example, I met with a client to resolve a billing issue. There happened to be a computer with a large screen in the conference room, so at an opportune moment, I grabbed the keyboard and put the Hutan Project website on the screen. Well, guess what? The Executive Director and two staffers ended up sitting there with me until 7:30PM! It wasn’t all about saving the rain forest. It was also about what philanthropy meant to them, and about the causes they cared about.

As we talk about the Hutan Project, people become alive to the possibilities for supporting causes in their workplaces. At this non-profit, for example, they decided to allow donations through payroll deductions. At another organization, Exemplar Law Partners, they have agreed to contribute 20% of fees to the Hutan Project for any client referred by Tech Networks. Talk about synergy!

Green IT:

We are going to be giving our clients a green makeover! That’s right! No more computers losing sleep at night. They need to get their beauty rest by entering sleep mode at night. We’re going to command them to go to sleep. And if they don’t obey, our automated services manager is going to beat them into submission!

Also, I have been invited to serve on the advisory board of the Green IT Consortium. This is a great group of folks on Linked-In dedicated to sharing information on lowering IT energy use.

Trees:

It’s not just the Indonesian rain forest I’m worried about. Ground-level ozone is killing our street trees here in Boston. Have you noticed? Those trees with no leaves on the top, or with large branches completely devoid of leaves are not going to make it. Street trees are in big trouble even if the Asian Long-Horned beetle that has caused such tree devastation in Worcester does not make it to Boston.

I am doing something about it. Every morning, when I go jogging along the ocean to Castle Island, I find people in their cars idling their motors. I jog up to them and politely ask them to shut off their engines. At first, it was hard. But with the right kind of smile on my face, I’m getting huge results. I tell them about the Massachusetts 5-minute idling law, which prohibits unnecessary engine idling. Ground-level ozone is so dangerous to human health as well as to to vegetation, that New York City is considering a 1 minute idling law while the Sierra Club advises to avoid idling your car for 10 seconds!

After I ask people to shut off their motors, about 50% of them actually do it. I figure that these people are less likely to idle their motor next time. Who knows? I might be saving more trees by politely asking motorists to turn off their engines than I am by bicycling to work!

What’s your tipping point?

Do you remember the books you read in Junior High?  All Quiet on the Western Front, The Great Gatsby, The Diary of Anne Frank, A Separate Peace — They leave an indelible impression on you when you’re thirteen.  For example, I stopped reading All Quiet on the Western Front when the horses were killed in the second chapter, but my history teacher insisted in a written note to my parents that I had to finish it in order to appreciate the tragedy of war.

The Diary of Anne Frank is about a young Jewish girl striving to live a normal life under very abnormal circumstances. As I read the book, I  wondered:  What are those times in history when average person can no longer pursue his individual needs, but must sacrifice himself in order to protect the greater good?  How do people decide to take a stand?  What is the tipping point?

For example, let’s say you were living in Germany in the 30’s. In 1933, the first concentration camp was opened in Dachau.  In 1934, the Aryan laws were passed to thwart Jews in the professions.  In 1935, the infamous Nuremberg laws were passed, which stripped Jews of their German citizenship, and of their right to marry non-Jews.  Would you have taken a stand then?  Would you have left Germany?  Or would you have continued to pursue a normal life?

This is how the Holocaust arrived, we learned in school.  By bits and pieces.  So that by the time Kristallnacht arrived on November 9, 1938, it was somehow tolerable that 100 Jews were murdered, 20,000 German and Austrian Jews arrested and sent to camps, hundreds of synagogues burned, and the windows of Jewish shops all over Germany and Austria  were smashed.

What is your tipping point?  When would you decide that you must put aside the idea of personal happiness, devoting life instead to stopping a terrible juggernaut?