Whitley Strieber has been warning about climate change since the publication of Superstorm in 1999. On Unknowncountry, we have been warning of a very dangerous tornado season this year, and 2011 has turned out to be the deadliest year for tornadoes since record keeping began.
On May 9, we warned that the conditions that caused the April tornado outbreak, the worst ever recorded, were still with us, and that more storms were to be expected. In May 22, Joplin, Missouri experienced the worst single tornado ever recorded, with at least 119 deaths and large parts of the city devastated.
Political inaction has resulted in poor planning for climate change, but not everywhere. For example, in Chicago, city planners are taking a hard look at everything from native plants to paving materials, in an attempt to preserve the city’s livability as temperatures rise. While few other American cities—and few cities around the world—are making changes that might extend their livability, Chicago has learned from experience. In 1995, it experienced one of the worst heat waves in American history, during which 750 people died.
Landscaping is one of the things that makes a big city livable, and rising temperatures mean that many native plants will not survive and new, more heat-tolerant varieties will need to be substituted for them. This is fairly easy when it comes to annuals, but trees are a bigger problem: The white oak, the state tree of Illinois, has been banned from city planting lists, and swamp oaks and sweet gum trees from the South have been given new priority. Thermal radar is being used to map the city’s hottest spots, which are then targeted for pavement removal and the addition of vegetation to roofs. Public alleyways are being repaved with materials that are permeable to water, so that they will survive a more tropical atmosphere. Much of Chicago’s adaptation work is about transforming paved spaces.
In the May 23rd edition of the New York Times, Leslie Kaufman quotes Janet L. Attarian, of Chicago’s Department of Transportation, as saying, "Cities are hard spaces that trap water and heat, and alleys and streets account for 25% of groundcover, and closer to 40% when parking lots are included." Air-conditioners may be installed in all 750 Chicago public schools, which until now have (of course) been heated but rarely cooled.
Kaufman quotes Aaron N. Durnbaugh, deputy commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Environment, as saying, "Cities adapt or they go away. Climate change is happening in both real and dramatic ways, but also in slow, pervasive ways. We can handle it, but we do need to acknowledge it. We are on a 50-year cycle, but we need to get going." In 1998, Whitley Strieber had never heard of climate change, but the Master of the Key burst into his hotel room in Toronto and told him all about it (The new, UNCENSORED edition of The Key, with a foreword that talks about how many of his statements later turned out to be true, is in bookstores NOW).