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Profiles in Catholicism

Meeting of North American Mayors on Climate Change in Chicago

A Commentary by Father John T Pawlikowski, OSM, PhD

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I participated in a session hosted by the Chicago Council of Global Affairs during this conference on climate change.  The conference has brought some 51 mayors and their staffs to Chicago atthe invitation of Mayor Rahm Emmanuel of Chicago to develop a flexible mayoral covenant on climate change within North America.  The sessionin which I was a participant was led by the mayors of Chicago, Vancouver, Montreal, Washington and a modest size city of 150,000 in Mexico. NYTIMES writer Thomas Friedman chaired this session. Allow me now to share some of the important points that arose from the discussion.

1)  Cities are assuming increasingly important roles in our global society. Global cities are where "the rubber meets the road" with regard to climate change issues.  It should be noted that the Chicago Council on Global Affairs has taken a lead in highlighting the increasingly central role of major cities on issues such as climate change by hosting an annual Global Cities Conference each Spring.

2) Control over land use is rapidly developing as a major issue.  It presents profound political challenges because governmental control of land use runs into many obstacles with developers.  Yet some control is vital ifthe climate change challenge is to be met head-on.
3) There are significant shifts in population, especially among younger people.  Most global cities are experiencing a significant immigration of young professionals and some (e.g. Vancouver) are witnessing an influx of wealthy people from Asia trying to escape the brutal climate conditions in China and India.  How to integrate these new residents in North American cities in the face of economic disparity and land use control is becoming an increasingly difficult challenge. It seems that future residential development will need to assume a vertical rather than an horizontal orientation.
4)  Transportation needs in the global cities are emerging as central issues.  Montreal and Washington, fox example, have metro systems now in mid-life with need for major overhauls.  Bus transportation is becoming increasingly unpopular among the younger residents of globalcities,  There will need to be a greater emphasis on use of bicycles and on walking.  There has been a significant increase in biking commuters.Basic supply facilities will need to be included in residential developments to decrease transportation needs.
5) We need to move rapidly to the use of electric cars.  Vancouver nowrequires new housing developments to install charging facilities for electric cars as a requirement for a building permit.

6)  Education on how to live in global cities in an era of climate change needs to become a central component of our educational systems at the primary and secondary levels.  Here I should note that CardinalBlaise Cupich's Committee on integrating Pope Francis' LAUDATO SI into the Archdiocese of Chicago is giving priority to such educational programming. This raises the question of how religious institutions can contribute to the major reorientation in the style of human living in ournew global cities.
7)  The current Republican/Democratic divide on climate change duein particular to the irresponsible views in the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency may more easily overcome at themayoral level.  An example is the Miami area where the mayor of Miami (Republican) and Miami Beach (Progressive Democrat) are both strong advocates of the need to address the challenge of climatechange.
8)  The commitments to work for a constructive response to climate change on the part of U.S. mayors gives hope to the rest of the world that the American people remain committed to the vision embodied inthe Paris Accords.