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Turning on its head the adage that says people only talk about the weather, members of the Network for Evanston’s Future have partnered with the City of Evanston to develop a climate action plan. The plan will be presented to the public on May 4 in Evanston’s greenest building – the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation, 303 Dodge Ave.

Still in draft form, the plan contains benchmarks of the community’s carbon footprint – the amount of greenhouse gases released into the air from daily life in Evanston. It will also provide suggestions about how individuals, households, businesses and larger institutions can incorporate sustainable activities into their daily routines, said Carolyn Collopy, the City’s sustainability coordinator.

Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Inertia at the federal level in dealing with global climate change has spurred state and local action. In October 2006, Council authorized Mayor Lorraine Morton to sign the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, which pledged the community of Evanston will meet the Kyoto Protocol on Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2012.

The Kyoto Protocol target is for communities to reduce their emissions to a level that is 7 percent below their 1990 levels. Figuring retrospectively, Ms. Collopy estimates that the community must reduce the carbon footprint of the City of Evanston by 13 percent over the next four years. She compiled an energy inventory for the community of Evanston, showing the groups responsible for energy use: 57 percent is used for business, commercial and institutional purposes; 26 percent for residential; 14 percent for transportation. The City itself is responsible for only about 2 percent of the energy used by the community, she said.

These benchmarks – the levels of current energy use – “show how big a challenge we are facing,” said Eleanor Revelle, co-chair of the Forestry, Carbon Offsets and Water task force, one of the nine task forces that helped formulate the draft plan.

Green thinking entails an expanded notion of “energy use.” It is more than just a direct relationship, such as driving a car, turning on a light or using an appliance. The challenge is effectively a lifestyle change, said Elliott Zashin, co-chair of the project.

Evanstonians may decide not to use plastic shopping bags or one-use plastic water bottles or may choose to plant native species rather than grass in the yard – eliminating the need for fertilizing, watering and mowing. They will be also asked to consider the energy consumed in manufacturing or shipping a product, to think about consuming locally grown (minimally shipped), organic food, purchasing food items in bulk to eliminate packaging and walking or biking instead of driving.

“It’s a project that can transform the way Evanston looks, the way Evanston is, in about 20 years,” said Mr. Zashin.

Zerofootprint Evanston, an online environmental calculator customized for Evanston, will help businesses, institutions and households assess their environmental footprint, make commitments to reduce their emissions and energy use and take the necessary steps to achieve their goals, said Ms. Revelle.

“It is the tool that will help us assess where we are today [and] support us as we work to make changes to achieve that 13 percent reduction,” she added.

Cost Concerns

Cost is often a chilling factor in implementation. “‘How much will it cost? How can we pay for this without taxing everybody?’ are key questions,” said Ellen Galland, co-chair of the Renewable Energy Resources task force.

The task forces were essentially told to dream green. “We were asked to come up with ideas,” said Dick Peach, co-chair of the Waste Reduction and Recycling task force. He said his committee came up with “some easy examples as well as some major projects. For one thing, we would like to see every permit the City issues for a block party or a festival have a requirement to provide recycling containers. What does that cost – a line of type?” Other small, inexpensive first steps are turning off computers when they are not in use and replacing incandescent bulbs with CFLs, said Ms. Galland.

Ms. Galland also suggested comparing up-front costs with long-term benefits. “Even though we have to implement these changes in four years, some of them, such as incorporating sustainable elements into a building or addition, are long-term plans with long-term benefits,” she said. Mr. Peach added that his task force had “some recommendations that are million-dollar proposals that we can’t do right away. But why not put them on the table?”

Even though this past winter was long and severe, some people still have difficulty in believing we are experiencing a cataclysmic climate change. “We all have the difficulty of going about our day-to-day lives and realizing this is a threat, while seeing our current direction and actions seem such a drop in the bucket. …The world-wide food crisis is one thing that brings it home,” she added; “we pollute and they’re starving.”

Ms. Galland, Ms. Revelle and Mr. Peach are optimistic about the success of the climate action plan. “The citizens of Evanston have developed this plan; it’s not being imposed,” said Ms. Galland. Ms. Revelle added, “Evanston has an active and engaged citizenry that will make this plan work.” Mr. Peach agreed, “Even if the City does not proceed with this plan, we’ll keep it going. The citizens feel strongly about it. It won’t stop on May 4.”

Ms. Collopy says it may take until September to incorporate the suggestions of the draft plan and present the revised plan to City Council. “We hope the Council will endorse the plan as an overall idea,” Mr. Zashin said.

The draft climate action plan will be presented at 1:45 p.m. on May 4 at the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation, 303 Dodge Ave. After the presentation, the community is invited to discuss the findings and suggestions with members of the task forces.

Nine Task Forces

Nearly 60 persons have been working on the draft plan since November, when the Network for Evanston’s Future and the City of Evanston announced a partnership to find ways to reduce the carbon footprint of the community in alignment with the Kyoto Protocols on Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Community volunteers were invited to join one of nine task forces, each of which was co-chaired by a volunteer from the Network and a staff member from the City.

The nine task forces, whose results will be presented on May 4, are as follows: Transportation, Telecommunications and Access; Energy Efficiency and Buildings; Renewable Energy Resources; Waste Reduction and Recycling; Forestry, Prairie and Carbon Offsets; Food Production and Distribution; Policy and Research; Education and Engagement; and Communications and Public Relations.

A Local Carbon-Offset Plan

In addition to the major climate action plan sponsored by the City of Evanston and the Network for Evanston’s Future, there is an initiative for a local carbon-offset plan.

The carbon-offset program will operate through the Climate Action Fund of the Evanston Community Foundation. After determining the carbon footprint with the Zerofootprint Evanston calculator, a person whose footprint is too large may decide to donate to the fund, but others may donate as well. The fund will receive 99 percent of the contributions, with 1 percent going to ECF for administrative costs. The plan is that when there is $5,000 in the fund, local not-for-profits can apply for the funds, using them for sustainable initiatives – helping a low-income family make their home weather-proof, for example.

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...