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Reducing climate change could boost business

Farmer Jimmy Ayers walks through his stunted corn field July 13 Rochester Central Illinois.  |   Seth Perlman~AP

Farmer Jimmy Ayers walks through his stunted corn field on July 13 in Rochester, in Central Illinois. | Seth Perlman~AP

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Updated: August 26, 2012 6:21AM

Whatever politicians may or may not say, the research overwhelmingly demonstrates that human influence has exponentially sped up the changes in climate we’re experiencing across our nation and the globe.

One event does not serve as solid evidence. But many events do. The change is about extremes: More rain when we don’t need it, less rain when we do. Extreme heat or cold. Floods. And as the Chicago Sun-Times mentioned in Tuesday’s editorial, “Climate Change Goes AWOL”— melting rail infrastructure.

But even the weather, while a popular thing to discuss, is not the issue. The issue is the impact. As the Sun-Times rightly pointed out, drought and heat are destroying this year’s crops. And on and on.

Politics aside, the encouraging news is that individuals and businesses are taking actions to address the effects of climate change and reduce the potential impacts to come.

What’s a person to do? A lot!

The bottom line for climate change is also the economic bottom line. Taking action that can reduce climate change and prepare for those changes already under way is not only expedient, but it’s good for our economy.

We hear mostly about clean and renewable energy and the economics of investing in new technologies. That’s important.

We hear about reducing greenhouse gases by reducing carbon emissions from automobiles and other vehicles. Also important.

But what about the everyday, common actions that are good for residents and business owners, good for government infrastructure and that just so happen to make our region a better place to live?

We can make real investments in our communities, save money and create jobs.

Creative technologies are being born, right here in our region, that create manufacturing jobs, bring more businesses to the region and bring down unit cost price to combat the notion that “green actions are too expensive.”

Let’s not call it green. Let’s just call it smart.

Let’s just talk economics for a moment:

Helping residents and businesses reduce energy costs through weatherization and energy efficiency work is good for their monthly budgets. Using new technologies in paving, where water is able to move through asphalt and concrete and is lighter in color, reduces the stress on our overcharged sewers and maintenance costs for the roads and sidewalks. It’s money saved for taxpayers and it’s jobs created in building roads.

One well-planted tree can do the cooling work of several room-sized air conditioners, serve as storm water capture and filter pollutants. People grow trees. People plant and care for trees. Again, good for the economy, reducing burden on our infrastructure and putting people to work. And guess what? Each of these examples just so happens to reduce the impacts of climate change. So the climate change discussion needs to be reframed as a discussion about the economy.

It’s not about waiting to see who goes first on making solid regulatory commitments. Who will go first? China, India, the U.S? Nobody is blinking and nobody wins.

Those who win are those who build an economy that combats climate change. Energy legislation may help, but holding our breath waiting for it is just plain dumb. People need jobs; businesses need investment; our manufacturing base needs to grow, and our communities need improvements.

We can have all that and environmental benefits — if we just change the discussion.

Suzanne Malec-McKenna, senior counsel for Jasculca Terman and Associates, is former commissioner of the environment for the City of Chicago.

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