Evanston activists convene to discuss the climate crisis and local action

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Daily file illustration by Catherine Buchaniec

Activists convened at an EPL panel to discuss the action Evanston must take to meet the climate and environmental goals set out in CARP and the Environmental Justice Resolution.

William Clark, Reporter

Local environmental leaders discussed climate action and environmental justice at “Climate Crisis: Here and Now,” a virtual Wednesday panel hosted by the Evanston Public Library.

On the panel, representatives from Citizens’ Greener Evanston, Go Evanston and the Evanston Township High School Sustainability Committee presented about non-profit efforts and legislation to address climate change at the local and state levels. Many focused on the Climate Action and Resilience Plan, a city initiative that calls for Evanston properties to secure 100 percent renewable energy by 2030 and also sets targets for the city to achieve carbon neutrality and zero waste by 2050.  

Others focused on the Environmental Justice Resolution, which City Council passed in September 2020 with the aim of ensuring “every resident experiences the same degree of access to environmental assets (and) protection from environmental hazards and health risks,” among other goals. 

While speakers said they were optimistic about both plans’ objectives, they stressed the need to ensure the city implements the outlines as planned.

“Implementation (of CARP) is really slow-going,” Rachel Rosner, president of CGE said. “Every decision made at the city level needs to be made through a CARP… lens.”

Rosner said communities should apply a climate-oriented mindset to building, zoning and food production. 

Globally, building and construction activities are responsible for 40 percent of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, according to a 2020 United Nations report. In many countries, including the United States, the report said, these emissions could be reduced by 80 percent to 100 percent if construction industries transitioned to using recycled materials and away from cement and concrete, which alone are responsible for 8 percent of global emissions due to their carbon-intensive production processes.

Multiple speakers said communities should maintain a climate-oriented mindset when it comes to food production and food waste.

Agriculture is responsible for 10 percent of American greenhouse gas emissions, with industrial farming techniques emitting much more greenhouse gases than local and sustainable farms. CGE’s food program, Edible Evanston, seeks to address this problem by promoting local food production at community gardens.

Bea Echeverria, leader of CGE project Beyond Waste Evanston, emphasized the need to reduce and eliminate Evanston’s food waste, another major CARP goal.

“80 percent of waste in Evanston ends up in landfills,” Echeverria said. “35 percent of our landfill is composed of food and yard waste, which could potentially be composted.”

Food waste emits the powerful greenhouse gas methane when sent to landfills instead of composted. If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter, behind the United States and China, according to the UN Environment Programme.

Echeverria said Evanston must pursue legislation and community action or it will not reach CARP’s goal of eliminating waste by 2050.

In addition to CARP implementation, speakers discussed September’s Environmental Justice Resolution.

“As with COVID-19, Black and brown people are most gravely impacted by… climate change, such as extreme heat, flooding and food insecurity,” Rosner said.

For now, Rosner said, the Environmental Justice Resolution is just that — a resolution. She said she is hoping City Council will pursue the resolution’s goals through ordinances and legislation in the future.

The event ended with presentations from Sarika Waikar and Mia Houseworth, ETHS seniors and co-founders of the ETHS Sustainability Committee.

They discussed initiatives to establish community solar power and gardening at ETHS, as well as the Youth Pledge, a document that activists plan to release in the coming months to pressure local officials to implement CARP and the Environmental Justice Resolution, establish universal composting and take other environmental actions. 

“Climate change is an issue affecting all of us,” Waikar said. “This movement is intergenerational.”

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Twitter: @willsclark01

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