Op-Ed: Chicagoland Can Lead on Climate, Here’s How

Solving climate change is the moral, business, policy, political and technological challenge of our time.

Fortunately, there are steps that are good for jobs and economic growth and good for our environment and public health. Chicago should be a leader in advancing solutions with innovative technologies.

Energy efficiency is the best, fastest and cheapest solution to climate change problems. Modern lighting technologies, HVAC systems, Energy Star appliances and improved pumps and motors all save money on utility bills and keep money in our local economy. Energy efficiency retrofit businesses are growing and creating jobs.

Illinois’ Energy Efficiency Performance Standards are leveraging billions of dollars of investments in HVAC and lighting upgrades and other efficiency strategies across sectors. The city’s Retrofit Chicago program is accelerating efficiency improvements for commercial, municipal and multi-family residential buildings. Full speed ahead!

Let’s keep cleaning up or shutting down old coal plants that emit huge carbon pollution and, instead, develop cleaner, renewable energy generation. Chicago’s old high-polluting Fisk and Crawford plants have shut down, and Chicago’s electricity supply procurement now requires “no coal.” Suburban municipalities should advance this shift away from coal and purchase more non-polluting renewable energy. That’s smart for our regional economy and our environment.

Chicago is a national and global wind energy hub. We’re home to 13 major wind power corporate headquarters, and last year we hosted the American Wind Energy Association’s annual convention and the Solar Power International trade show. Illinois is number 4 in the nation for wind power development and is home to many manufacturing companies that have retooled to make wind energy equipment.

Illinois’ legislators should update the state’s Renewable Energy Standard statute to address the effect of the new wave of municipal aggregations. This modernization will spur more wind power and solar energy development. Likewise, implementing Chicago’s SunShot plan can remove barriers to distributed solar development using building rooftops and seizing opportunities to convert underutilized industrial “brownfields” into productive solar “brightfields.” The result: less pollution, cleaner electricity, and more jobs—that’s a win-win-win.

Cleaner, more efficient cars save us money at the gas pump, reduce carbon pollution and cut oil imports. Federal clean car standards require a fleet-wide average of 35 mpg in 2016 and 54.5 mpg by 2025. Our government and business fleets should purchase more electric vehicles that pollute less and save on fuel prices. Transit agencies: Keep going with cleaner buses and trains. Ford, Chrysler and Mitsubishi: Let’s build the next generation of clean cars here in Illinois!

It’s time the Midwest catches up to Asia and Europe by developing modern higher-speed passenger train service. Let’s improve mobility, reduce pollution, create jobs and spur economic growth. There are 460 Midwest rail-equipment supply-chain businesses ready to connect 11 major metropolitan areas through the Chicago-hubbed Midwest high-speed rail network.

Environmental progress and economic growth can and should be achieved together. The Chicago region can be a global leader in advancing climate change solutions from The Loop to the North Shore. These accomplishments should give us all civic pride.


Howard A. Learner is the Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center.