If your city had an ambitious, nationally recognized program to address climate change, how many people would you hire to get it implemented? And what if that program had a clear timeline that called for carbon neutrality and zero waste by 2050 to stave off the projected dire results of climate change? How many people would you hire … three? Five?

How about one.

That’s the predicament Evanston has been in since it developed its Climate Action and Resilience Plan (CARP) in 2018. It’s a plan of which Evanston is justifiably proud. It makes us the first community in Illinois to develop a net-zero by 2050 goal, and calls for actions to prepare our community for the inevitable impacts of climate change. It has targets that touch on every aspect of our community, from building efficiency, urban canopy and green space, to renewable energy, zero waste and transportation.

And the CARP plan rightfully takes an equity-centered approach to achieve environmental justice for all of Evanston’s community members, with the goal of fair treatment and meaningful involvement when it comes to environmental decisions and policies. All of this requires broad and effective community engagement and the resources to effect such dramatic transformation in a city of nearly 80,000 people.

Unfortunately, there’s a discrepancy between these bold goals and reality. As
documented in a study on the history of climate action planning
in Evanston by Northwestern graduate Jack Jordan, when Evanston’s previous Sustainability Coordinator, Kumar Jensen, stepped into his role in 2017, he anticipated that the city would fund a role to replace his previous position as support to the Sustainability Director; in fact, the support position was cut, giving Jensen half the support that his predecessor had to run the city’s Office of Sustainability. While this may have saved costs, with climate change affecting so many different facets of the community, it meant an impossibly overburdened department.

As Jensen observes in the study, having one person in the position “means that that person is going to have to be in every single room, every single decision-making space and be able to have the knowledge, the technical capabilities, the time, and the sort of, relationship-savvy, to be able to move change on all those different fronts.” And that doesn’t include the Sustainability Coordinator’s time-consuming public-facing responsibilities. As a result, according to the study, public participation in CARP hasn’t extended beyond Evanston’s existing sustainability groups to galvanize the wider community in plan goals.

But there is reason for optimism. Budget season is now upon us, and Cara Pratt, Evanston’s current Sustainability Coordinator, has requested funding for two important full-time positions: one to focus on community outreach and environmental justice, the other to focus on resilient, energy efficient buildings. Both are critical to moving CARP forward.

And what of the community’s role? Citizens’ Greener Evanston, along with other local
volunteer environmental groups, will certainly continue to provide feet on the ground
where the city needs help. But volunteer groups can only advise and assist – they don’t
make decisions about budget. Funding for critical positions like this sits squarely on the shoulders of the city government.

We urge the city to fund these two positions and to make them full-time. Well-
intentioned half-measures, such as hiring a consultant, part-time employees, or interns
will not be enough. The terrible impacts of climate change are already a regular part of
our news, and we’re eager for Evanston to play its part in reducing these effects on our
community. If funds aren’t allocated to the two positions, however, Evanston’s climate
action plan, of which we’re all so proud, is likely to be, well … unsustainable.

Chuck Wasserburg
Citizens’ Greener Evanston

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  1. This is a great letter, and I hope that Evanston can start aggressively implementing an excellent plan. As Nelson Mandela said, “vision without action is just a dream, action without vision just passes the time, and vision with action can change the world.” Are we going to leave CARP in a binder, or bring transformative environmental and social justice to Evanston while we still have the time and resources to make proactive change? I am hoping the city gets serious and hires some excellent talent with a real mandate.

  2. Hear! Hear! I agree with Chuck’s excellent thesis. We must support these staff additions, because we can no longer make proclamations and plans while not funding action. If we don’t commit our funds, we might as well admit that we’re not serious about climate.