Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Adaptation to a changing climate in Chicago

In my academic life, there is much discussion of adaptation to climate change, often in the terms of a moral imperative to protect the disadvantaged and poor and to consider assisted colonization (or assisted migration) for desirable plant and animal species which are unable to migrate to a new environment quickly enough to keep up with rapid climate change.

There is less awareness of the necessity of climate adaptation in society at large. We more often hear about global warming in a context of trying to slow it down (mitigation), with less attention paid to how we will cope with the inevitable changes already underway. Except for insurance companies, which seem to be paying close attention!

Yesterday the NYTimes reported on how Chicago is working to get ahead of the curve, taking predicted climate change into account in its urban planning. Fifty years from now, Chicago's seasons and climate may be much more like Alabama's! Having experienced frigid Chicago winters, I'm wondering what it would be like to have such long, dark nights without the cold and snow.

Some of Chicago's actions include:
  • new street tree plantings are species from more southern ecosystems, eliminating the native white oak in favor of sweet gum.
  • more street trees in business districts to help control run-off water and to cool the air.
  • light-colored permeable pavers in parking and bike lanes to control run-off, to channel water to street plantings, and to lower the temperature.
  • rubbery additives to pavement assist with expansion and contraction due to extremely hot and cold seasons.
  • investing in air conditioners for public schools.

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