Opinion | CARP would protect Evanston from climate change

“What inspires people to be involved in climate action?” 

Senior and climate activist Nathaniel Orlov-Mayer said that his motivation is “fear. I just feel like I have to do something.” 

Climate change has been an increasingly pressing issue for decades. Storms have grown larger, sea levels have risen and people are suffering the consequences. 

And despite Evanston’s shielded Midwestern location, climate change is still very present. For example, Evanston’s close proximity to Lake Michigan carries the risk of flooding and damage to lakefront property due to rising water levels. Additionally, climate change will bring more severe storms to Evanston. This can lead to serious widespread property damage if not addressed. 

This is an issue, because it could displace countless families and create a crisis in Evanston. Fifth Ward alderman Bobby Burns walks through the potential implications. 

“We have a pretty old housing stock in Evanston, with leaky homes that are not resilient enough to handle those extreme weather events,” Burns says. “So we need to go in and weatherize them and do some deep retrofitting of those homes to make sure they’re resilient enough not to be significantly damaged during extreme weather events.”

And severe storms aren’t the only results of climate change coming to Evanston. Climate change will also lead to drought-like conditions, the influx of invasive species, threats to water quality and much more. 

Think about the dangers that future generations could face if they can’t even trust their own water sources. Or if they experience constant storms that knock trees onto houses, wreck power lines and force businesses to close down. Overall, climate change can and will alter our way of life. 

How can the city combat the climate crisis? The best thing they can do is use renewable energy, be mindful of their pollution and create ways to prepare this city for the effects of climate change.

That is why, in 2018, the city government laid out the Climate Action and Resilience Plan (CARP). When the city did this, they emphasized that “shifting to renewable energy sources can result in cost-savings to residents and businesses.” They said it will “grow demand for renewable energy and stimulate job growth in related fields.” 

More specifically, some of CARP’s main objectives are for Evanston to run on 100 percent renewable energy by 2030 and for the city to be carbon neutral—meaning Evanston would emit zero net carbon emissions—by 2050. 

The issue is that, about 3.5 years after CARP’s approval by the city council, this plan is yet to be implemented. Despite the clear groundwork that was laid out for CARP, it has never been put in a position to actually be carried out. 

Burns offered an explanation for the city’s failures on CARP. 

“I think the main issue with CARP implementation is that city councils aren’t set up to do deep planning exercises because we meet so infrequently,” Burns says, “and I think right now city staff is strained because we only have one staff member that focuses on this work [CARP].”

Burns makes a good point. How can a part-time city council figure out the specifics of budgeting and allocating resources for a plan that has goals set decades into the future? It can’t. Not without either serious changes to the council’s structure or the outside hiring of people who know how to implement a plan like this.

It isn’t actually very complicated. If the city government legitimately wanted to get this done, it wouldn’t have taken three and a half years to begin the process of finding people who can put this plan into action. When discussing the future of Evanston constituents, there shouldn’t be any delay or procrastination. There should be action. There is a fine line between a person or group of people’s beliefs and their passion to act on those beliefs. The city hasn’t shown that passion. They haven’t even come close.

Orlov-Mayer envisions needed changes to the amount of staff that city has working to implement CARP. 

“I personally think it’s worth making a taskforce for hiring additional people in the Office of the Sustainability Coordinator,” Orlov-Mayer says. “It would be pretty pricey, but I think it’s very much worth it because we’re mitigating the climate crisis, which is the issue of our generation.”

It is indeed the issue of our generation. It’s our future. It’s our children and grandchildren’s future. And the best way to protect that future is to implement CARP. It’s to provide housing protection against extreme weather. To use renewable energy. To grow economic opportunities for the citizens of Evanston.

Looking forward, we can only hope that the city will finally take the steps necessary to get this done. Burns stated, “I think ultimately, the city will achieve what it sets out to achieve around CARP. … I just think it’s more of a question of when.”

But the “when” window is getting smaller and smaller. As Orlov-Mayer put it, “We have such a short timeframe to get our act together on [CARP,] and if we don’t, then there’s going to be a huge ripple effect throughout the future.”

The Evanston Climate Action and Resilience Plan represents hope and opportunity for the future. With the grim outlook of climate change, this is a start for future generations to work to mitigate the climate crisis. But it only works if city officials can set it in motion, which they have failed to do.

This means that we as citizens have to do our part. If you want to help out, write your alderperson or the mayor and demand action on CARP. Explain how the climate crisis will impact your future. Do your research. Learn about the basic actions you can take in your everyday life to reduce your pollution. Get involved with climate action organizations in Evanston that work to protect our future. 

“If we act on [the climate crisis], then we can be the generation that stopped it,” Orlov-Mayer concludes. “And if we don’t, then we’re going to be the generation that let it go.”