This is part of a series of occasional articles about what climate change means for Evanston and what we are doing locally to make a difference.
April 22 is Earth Day, and here in Evanston it’s an occasion for renewing our commitment to working for a healthier, more sustainable community. For those of us on the city’s Environment Board, that work goes on year-round.
A volunteer group appointed by the mayor and confirmed by City Council, the board is charged with researching issues and developing recommendations to help meet Evanston’s environmental goals. Since 2018, board members have focused most of our efforts on following the road map laid out in the Climate Action and Resilience Plan, which was adopted by council in December of that year.
Progress on implementation was slow at first, with just one staff person charged with the task, and a chronically underfunded budget. So a year ago, as we considered the sobering conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report, we decided to challenge the mayor and City Council to declare a climate emergency and commit to a 2022 action agenda. In April, Council members responded with a unanimous “aye.”
Six months later, Sustainability and Resilience Coordinator Cara Pratt reported that while progress had been made on the year’s agenda, hard work lay ahead. Environment Board members continued our advocacy for increased funding, joined by Climate Action Evanston (then known as Citizens’ Greener Evanston), Evanston Sunrise and others, and late last year, the council budgeted for two new staffers to join Cara in the Sustainability Office. Council members also allocated $1 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds for a pilot program supporting energy-efficient housing retrofits in low- and moderate-income households.
It’s hard not to despair when faced with the magnitude of the climate challenge, which was outlined again in the IPCC synthesis report released on March 20. As U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said, countries must now do “everything everywhere all at once” to limit heat-trapping emissions.
The Environment Board hears regularly from other community members who urge the city to accelerate its response. ETHS student Frances Dapier wrote recently, for example, about promises made, but not yet achieved, and Abigail Buell argued that the city should be aiming for zero carbon, not just “carbon neutrality.” Board members share their sense of urgency, and this spring, we will once again urge City Council to commit to an aggressive action agenda for 2023, to include updating building performance standards, facilitating solar installations on municipal buildings and strengthening protections for our urban forest.
In coming months, Climate Watch will be sharing stories about what Evanstonians are doing in our homes, schools and workplaces to work for a healthy, clean-energy future. Civic engagement is one of the ways we can all help to amplify individual efforts, by joining together to support public policies and funding at the national, state and local level.
There are daily reminders of the importance of advocacy work as we begin to see offers of rebates and tax incentives for switching to more efficient electric appliances and vehicles, thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act. The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is helping with carbon-reducing projects like bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, and new workforce training and business opportunities are opening up as a result of Illinois’ Climate and Equitable Jobs Act.
All of these opportunities are the result of sustained engagement by many people and organizations, over many years.
One week after Earth Day, on Saturday, April 29, the Environment Board will co-host a communitywide Convening on Climate Action & Resilience, open to all, with a focus on moving toward energy-smart homes. The event will be from 10 a.m. to noon in the Civic Center’s Parasol Room. Watch for updates in city newsletters and by signing up for the Climate Action Evanston mailing list. If you’re looking for ways to get involved, or to deepen your involvement, we hope you will join us.
Wendy Pollock is co-chair of the Evanston Environment Board, which meets on the second Thursday of each month. Agendas are posted 48 hours in advance, and there is time for public comment at the start of each meeting.