Wild Things Conference covers climate change in Chicago

by Alaina Boukedes

Speakers representing Illinois waterways and wildlife spoke to environmentalists at The Wild Things Conference about the dangers of climate change in the Chicago area. This conference, hosted by the UIC Forum, brought together enthusiasts and amateur nature lovers from across a wide area to discuss the past, present and future of the environment.

“It’s become a major political issue, especially as of recently,” said Molly Woloszyn of the Illinois State Water Survey and Illinois Indiana Sea Grant.

Woloszyn’s work focuses on the major lakes and how the environment can affect these bodies of water. Woloszyn explained that in the future, Chicago could see an increase in average temperatures by 4 degrees. These statistics come from the National Climate Assessment, which collects data about climate change in America and summarizes it. Woloszyn said that through a gradual increase in the overnight-low temperatures that Chicagoans might suffer if the city is struck by a heat wave, like the 1995 heatwave, that killed 739.

“If we don’t get that relief at night, especially people without air conditioning, the overnight low temperatures could really affect us,” said Woloszyn.

Increasing temperatures and rainfall will also affect the lake ice that freezes over in the winter. If the water levels are too high, the waterways surrounding Chicago could overflow and contaminate the city’s drinking water. Chicago uses a combined sewer system, which mixes both sewer and run-off water from the lake and transports it to treatment plants. When overflow happens, this contaminated water sinks into the soil and taints the lakes.

“When [water] goes over the ground it picks up pollutants, creating non-point pollution (caused by multiple pollution factors), which causes a lot of water quality issues,” said Woloszyn.

Using the unconventionally warm weekend as an example, Susan Ask of the Animalia Project spoke to the crowd about her work helping the local animals and environment against global warming. Ask works with engaging the community and speaking to people about climate change and how places like Chicago see the effects of a warming world.

“Climate change is real and it’s happening now,” said Ask, “Right here and everywhere else in the world.”

Ask emphasized that a majority of climate change originates from human production of greenhouse gases and the burning of fossil fuels. The city of Chicago is trying to alleviate its dependency on fossil fuels by expanding the CTA red line, providing more public transportation coverage.

“In the cities is where we need to act,” Ask said.

Chris Johnson, an active member of the Sierra Club, referenced the London congestion charge, which charges people to drive their cars during peak hours, as an easy way to promote public transportation over automobile use. Small changes like that are the best option for reversing the affects of climate change, Johnson said, “All change starts local.”

Photo at top: “What are you most excited to see or hear at #WildThings17?” (@WildThingsChi)