The City of Chicago is preparing for the absolute worst.
No, it’s not the financial crunch they’re worried about. While cities across the country are considering closing libraries, cutting services and even pleading for bankruptcy in order to avoid economic Armageddon, the Windy City is preparing for a global-warming-induced environmental apocalypse. The New York Times reports on the dire predictions and what Chicago plans to do about it:
If world carbon emissions continued apace, the scientists said, Chicago would have summers like the Deep South, with as many as 72 days over 90 degrees before the end of the century. For most of the 20th century, the city averaged fewer than 15 . . .
But what would that mean in real-life consequences? A private risk assessment firm was hired, and the resulting report read like an urban disaster film minus Godzilla.
The city could see heat-related deaths reaching 1,200 a year. The increasing occurrences of freezes and thaws (the root of potholes) would cause billions of dollars’ worth of deterioration to building facades, bridges and roads. Termites, never previously able to withstand Chicago’s winters, would start gorging on wooden frames.
What kind of steps is Chicago taking to avert disaster? Well, that all depends, as The New York Times reports:
“We put each of the priorities through a lens of political, economic and technical,” said Suzanne Malec-McKenna, the commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Environment. “What is it, if you will, that will pass the laugh test?”
Among the ideas rejected, Ms. Malec-McKenna said, were plans to immediately shut down local coal-powered energy plants — too much cost for too little payback.
Parsing the political doublespeak, Chicago is undertaking actions that it can afford, that it can pass through city council, and that are technically achievable. So, for example, eliminating coal energy plants won’t make the cut (there are 21 such plants in Illinois, two in Chicago alone). Instead, the city is changing the way it paves alleys (to help cope with additional rainwater); planting different kinds of trees (more suitable for hotter climates); considering air-conditioners for all of its schools; and using thermal radar to map the city’s hottest spots, “which are then targets for pavement removal and the addition of vegetation to roofs.”
What will all this cost? Will the scaled-back efforts help Chicago cope with the effects of the global warming it fears?
It’s hard to say, at least based on The New York Times‘ reporting. There’s nary a word about the overall budget (just a brief mention of what it costs to transform one alley and how much Chicago spends each year on trees). And there’s no critical examination of whether the city’s efforts will deliver results. Instead, the reader is treated to a series of broad predictions about the potential effects of global warming and some feel-good attaboys for Chicago’s progressive foresightedness.
Purely by accident, The New York Times’ writer stumbles on an important truth. Scientists have made varied predictions about the effects of global warming, and the proposed solutions are incredibly costly, to the point of being financially and technologically untenable. Likewise, on a national scale, policies like cap-and-trade and renewable energy standards would destroy millions of jobs and cost trillions in lost economic growth but have no noticeable impact on the earth’s temperature.