Climate Change

Chicago Council's Global Warming Seminar Brings New Conservation Issue to Forefront

— Authored by Suzanne Canfield, The Garden Guild of Winnetka (a member club of The Chicago Council of the Garden Club of America)

Environmental scientists and leaders convened in Chicago on Monday, April 24, 2006 for the first GCA-sponsored public discourse on global warming. Organized by The Chicago Council of The Garden Club of America, the conference drew more than 300 GCA members and friends. It began with an afternoon panel discussion, followed by a reception and dinner, with keynote address from Ross Gelbspan, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and author of The Heat is On and Boiling Point.

“The U.S. is about 10 years behind the rest of the world in grasping the importance of reducing global use of coal and oil by 70 percent. The Chicago conference is important to promote awareness of the urgency and magnitude of this issue,” said Gelbspan. “Rewiring the world with clean energy will create millions of jobs -- and a much more equitable and sustainable planet.”

Scientists worry, added Gelbspan, that unless the level is reduced through a worldwide switch to non-carbon sources of energy, such as wind, solar, tidal and wavepower, geothermal and eventually non-polluting hydrogen fuel cells, the build-up of carbon in the atmosphere could trigger runaway changes in the climate. 

“The importance of understanding global warming and the immediacy of its impacts are imperative for every citizen to grasp,” said Judy Boggess, president of the GCA's Chicago Council and of The Lake Forest Garden Club. “It is in turn every citizen's responsibility to create awareness, and to demand a strong public energy initiative that will keep our planet safe for all time.” 

Providing an international perspective to those in attendance, Dr. Diana Liverman, director of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford began the afternoon seminar with a look at the science behind climate change as well as the political impact of global resource use. As chair of the Science Advisory Committee for the International Global Environmental Change and Food Security Programme, Liverman provided startling information about the effect of climate change on farming and global food supplies. Dr. Adele Simmons, Vice Chair of Chicago Metropolis 2020, senior advisor to the World Economic Forum, and President of the Global Philanthropy Partnership, then discussed her work with Midwestern businesses in addressing climate issues. 

Global warming is “a national and international crisis,” and the pace and magnitude is accelerating, said Dr. Paul R. Epstein, associate director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard Medical School. Epstein highlighted the connection between global warming and the increase in vector-borne diseases, such as West Nile virus and malaria, as well the rise in asthma and allergies. Human health is already being affected, according to Epstein, who noted that “the Chicago heat wave of 1995 was really one of the first major impacts of an extreme weather event in an American city, with hundreds of deaths.” Similarly, “the massive Mississippi River floods in 1993 affected 400,000 Milwaukeeans with the water-borne disease cryptosporidium and killed more than 100 people.” Even the migration route of birds, which may have been short-circuited by severe cold weather in Eastern Europe driving them westward, may have accelerated the east-to-west spread of Avian Influenza (Bird Flu). 

Because oceans comprise 70% of the earth's surface, Dr. Robert B. Gagosian, President and Director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution brought an important perspective to the panel. He revealed how the Gulf Stream plays a significant role in global climate change, and he provided sobering news of the ocean's rapid increase in acidification. Epstein concurred that “scientists vastly underestimated the biological impact of the heat accumulating in the ocean.” 

Having testified before Congress about global warming, Alden Meyer, Director of Strategy and Policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists and Director of its Washington office, spoke about environmental policy and politics. Drawing the afternoon session to a close, Dr. Simmons moderated a question-and-answer period; then Joey Feinstein told the audience about the Drive Neutral campaign, which allows individuals to neutralize their carbon dioxide emissions by funding third-party projects that reduce greenhouse gas output.

The Chicago Council comprises the Garden Club of Barrington, the Garden Club of Evanston, the Kenilworth Garden Club, the Lake Forest Garden Club, the Garden Guild of Winnetka, and the Winnetka Garden Club. Members of the Global Warming Seminar committee were Judy Boggess, Suzanne Booker-Canfield, Alicia Crawford, Cinder Dowling, Katheryn Elmer, Janice Funk, Mary Ann Grumman, Reed Hagee, Brooks Hartley-Leonard, Lorill Haynes, Elizabeth Lind, Debbie Ross, and Karen Stensrud.