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10 Things Chicagoans Can Do Right Now To Combat Climate Change

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Suggestions for citizens climate change illustrations

Photo illustration by Paula Friedrich, Bill Healy, Manuel Martinez/WBEZ

Sometimes the problem of climate change can seem so big that individuals feel overwhelmed or powerless to make a difference. We asked some environmental experts for their advice on what people can do in their everyday lives to make a difference.

1. Make your home more energy efficient

A house with laid against plans for environmental friendly renovations

Photo illustration by Paula Friedrich, Manuel Martinez

“Local utilities, including ComEd and Peoples Gas, offer programs and incentives to provide low-cost or free upgrades. Chicago residents can reach out to their utility company for an energy assessment of their home or building to learn about opportunities to improve their property’s energy efficiency. Energy efficiency is a low-cost, high-impact strategy to address both the climate crisis as well as long-standing, intractable problems communities face every day, such as managing their energy costs or maintaining affordable housing.”

Antonia Ornelas/Elevate Energy

2. Plant a native garden

Instead of your typical plants, opt for plants, trees and shrubs that include “a diversity of regionally native species, like oak trees that support hundreds of species of insects, birds and mammals. These plants will have a better chance at survival in the face of climate change, and they can often absorb water and carbon better than others.”

Nance Klehm, Chicago area ecological systems designer

3. Drive less — use your feet more

A highway with an line through it, signifiying 'Stop Driving'

Photo illustration by Paula Friedrich, Bill Healy/WBEZ

“As of 2017, the transportation sector has become the largest producer of greenhouse gas pollution in the United States. People can make a difference in advancing climate change solutions by changing how we go from place to place. Walking more and biking more are healthier and avoid pollution. Let’s use the CTA, Metra, Pace, the city’s growing system of bikeways and walkways like the Pedway and Riverwalk.”

— Howard Learner, executive director/Environmental Law and Policy Center

4. Buy local and used

“Avoid the global economy. Buy at local farmers markets and local reuse outlets,” like Salvation Army, Good Will and Rebuilding Exchange.

Ken Dunn, founder/Resource Center

5. Cut down on meat and other animal products

The agricultural practices used to feed and raise livestock are energy intensive, pollute fresh water and emit methane, a potent greenhouse gas that traps heat, into the air.

Jen Walling, executive director/Illinois Environmental Council

6. Make your elected officials work for you

A hand writing 'Dear Representative'

Photo illustration by Paula Friedrich

Do you know your state and local elected officials? If not, it’s time to change that. Go to and click “Find My Elected Officials.” Individual action is important, but policy changes are required to enact changes at the scale necessary to combat climate change. At the city level, we need to pass the Ready for 100 resolution to bring Chicago to 100% clean energy by 2040, and at the state level, we need to enact the Clean Energy Jobs Act.

Jen Walling, executive director/Illinois Environmental Council

7. Go easy on the sewer system

“Disconnect the downspouts connected to your gutter if they flow onto the pavement or into the sewer. Instead, redirect them to a garden, lawn or rain barrel where they will be absorbed by the soil or can be used for watering later.”

Joyce Coffee, founder and president/Climate Resilience Consulting

8. Stop using herbicides and pesticides in your garden

“A lot of plants are resistant to things like Roundup these days and (those pesticides) are very bad for native insects like bees. The more native insects we can get around here the better it is for our quality of life in Chicago. You can often pull the weed just as easily as you can kill it. And if you know your plants and know it’s native or edible, you might even want to just let that weed grow.”

— Brendon Fox/Happy Bee Garden Service

9. Minimize household food waste

“You can do this by composting in your backyard or subscribing to a composting service; ignoring certain meaningless expiration dates on products; opting for high quality local foods whose higher price can motivate consumption; planning the week’s meals in advance so you don’t buy too much and freezing leftovers before they go bad.”

Don Wuebbles, professor of atmospheric sciences/University of Illinois

10. Stop buying so much stuff

Shopping bags split in half

Photo illustration by AP Photo, Paula Friedrich

“We too often buy things that could be shared or borrowed” from, say, a tool library or a neighbor. “Our economy has relied on increasing consumption and buying. We need less individual ownership of stuff.”

Jonathan Pereira, executive director/Plant Chicago

These recommendations were compiled by WBEZ reporter Monica Eng. You can follow her on Twitter at @monicaeng.

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

A previous version of this story misidentified the name of the nonprofit Jonathan Pereira works for. He works for Plant Chicago.

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