“I believe that mayors should lead by example and not give a lot of speeches, because in government everybody gives a lot of speeches and nothing ever gets done,” said Mayor Daley, who gave the fourth in a series of speeches at a press conference Thursday.
Top city officials had gathered people outside the Shedd Aquarium to introduce a pragmatic, data-based “roadmap” for slashing Chicago’s greenhouse gas emissions over the next 12 years—a move that’s become imperative for local governments as the Bush administration has largely ignored the climate change crisis.
This being Chicago, though, they omitted fairly key details of their “climate action plan”—such as how exactly it’s going to be funded and implemented—while literally leading cheers for all the things Daley’s already done for the environment.
“Wow! Thank you, mayor!” Sadhu Johnston, the mayor’s top environmental aide, called out at one point from the podium. “Thank you for your leadership! And your inspiration!”
To anyone who cares about the future of the city—the health of its citizens, the preservation of its resources, the prospects of its economy—it should come as both an inspiration and, frankly, a relief that the mayor really is serious about this stuff. Under his direction the city’s been working for two years with businesses, scientists, community leaders, and environmental activists on strategies to cut emissions by a third of what they are now–while also saving people money and creating jobs. The biggest part of the plan, available online, is to help businesses and home owners improve the energy efficiency in their buildings; scientists estimate that 70 percent of Chicago’s greenhouse gas emissions come from energy consumption.
How that’s going to happen is still a little fuzzy. City officials explained to me after the event—when the cameras were no longer rolling—that they haven’t actually figured all of that out yet—for now they want to get the ideas out there and get people talking. Over the next couple of years the city hopes to serve as an information library, a place where people can go to find out where and how to, say, retrofit their building. This means an end to the traditional focus of cleaning up the environment by passing and enforcing laws; the pragmatic approach favored by Daley, and increasingly embraced around the world, emphasizes “cooperation” and “partnerships.”
And in Chicago, of course, it also emphasizes politics. To some degree, it has to; everybody in Chicago wants a piece of the action, even on climate change, so if anything’s going to get done deals have to be made. Still, some city officials privately expressed concern Thursday that their critical message could be drowned out by the rally cries for “THE nationally recognized leader… THE green mayor!” as one speaker put it. And many reporters were baffled about what they were supposed to come away with—one asked the mayor what he thought about the “theory” that climate change is just a hoax; after hearing Daley talk about the need for more recycling and better public transit, another near me simply muttered that the whole event was a bunch of bullshit, which is too bad, because its purpose definitely wasn’t. Here’s hoping the city finds ways to let the politics serve the policy.
“I really believe in this action plan,” Daley said. Then he allowed himself to revel in the moment.
“When I became mayor just a few years ago—ha!—no one had heard of climate change—ha ha!”
The whole crowd of a couple hundred people began giggling with him.
“The only thing they thought was, ‘Why is the mayor planting trees?’ I mean, I had editorials against me, so I always remind the fourth estate about that issue. ‘Why is the mayor wasting money and planting trees?’ It’s just amazing! At a press conference they would raise their hand and say, ‘Mr. Mayor, why are you wasting money and planting a tree?’ Of course I had to educate them about how important trees are to the environment. I said, ‘Your industry cuts them down. We plant them’—ha ha!”