Engaging Change: Choosing for the Future

Change is coming to the Midwest.

In fact, its here. We are already in the midst of transformative changes to our economy, climate and the quality of life of our communities. And there is no way to prevent it from continuing to come at us fast.

For many, the experience has already been disruptive and the anticipation of further change brings a sense of understandable anxiety. The challenge before us is to figure out how to best address the challenges of a changing future.  

A set of reports that have come out this month on climate, energy and the economy illustrate two very different visions of change for our nation and the region, and the urgent need for us to choose the right pathway forward. They are contrasting visions, but the both clearly point out the need to move forward with quick deliberation as a community. We are in the driver's seat and will need to quickly choose which road we will go down to meet the threat of climate change and the transforming global economy of which we are a part.

Personally, I think the choice is pretty clear...

Exhilarating Economic Rebirth Through Clean Energy:

Two reports issued in early June show us a way out of the looming climate crisis AND also offer a roadmap for the Midwest to regain its industrial mantle in sustainable fashion.

First, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs released an exhaustive report on what is needed for the region in a new energy economy. It is a clarion call to elected officials in the middle of the country to lead the way towards a carbon cap and clean energy policy that will renew and reinvigorate our economy and create jobs.

And, as if answering the Council's challenge, the Midwest Governor's Association released recommendations for a regional carbon cap created by a consortium of industry, energy, and environmental interests on behalf of six governors and one Canadian premiere.

In both cases, diverse interests came together to protect both the economy and environment while working through some of the nation's toughest energy issues. In both cases, it was recognized that the way we have been doing things is not only unworkable from an environmental perspective; but from an economic perspective too. We have to change how we do business. That is the message coming not just from NGOs like NRDC, Fresh-Energy and Clean Wisconsin, but also from Exelon Energy, ConocoPhillips, Ford Motor Company, Caterpillar, the Governors of six states and a Canadian Premier. These are some seriously diverse voices!

Scary Climate Disaster:

The variety of voices has not quelled the anxiety of many in the region, particularly as it relates to concern over how households in the region will be affected.  Up until now, the anxiety has been focused on utility bills. Some in the Business-As-Usual crowd recklessly and irresponsibly  push the fiction that utility bills will skyrocket.  Their goal is to keep the region steeped in 19th century technologies and mentalities.  They wish us to sleep walk into a future that is tied to a past that can only marginalize our economy and expose us to a dangerous future...The dangers of that future are underscored by a report issued last week by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Last week, NOAA released the long-delayed US Climate Impacts report, sort of a domestic version of the historic IPCC report on climate change. The Midwest section of the new climate report is eye-opening.  It underscores the threats to the health, safety and economy of the heartland if we do not move quickly to confront climate change: more killing heat storms like the devastating 1995 heat wave in Chicago that killed over 700 people, more flooding coupled with more drought, more sewer overflows, more invasive diseases and pests, stress on agricultural animals and plants, dropping water levels in the Great Lakes to the harm on shipping and critical infrastructure.  

Thankfully, the truly diverse set of stakeholders assembled by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the Midwest Governors are unwilling to pay that price and have their eyes on what is clearly the better vision of change. It is a view informed by careful analysis, dialogue and a real commitment to practical policy and action that can move the region into a sustainable future.

They are making the case to the nation that the Midwest will not be the stumbling block that some expect (and hope) our region will be. We plan to retake the mantle of industrial powerhouse with a full embrace of the clean energy manufacturing that is already flocking to factories in Michigan and Ohio.

Change is inevitable.

And it is upon us.

And while it can be a wrenching experience, this is change we cannot avoid.  What the Council and Governors' reports make clear, however, is that we have significant opportunities to meet the challenge and make things better through intelligent, inventive responses that help usher in a cleaner, more vibrant, clean economy. In short, the change before us can be good. But only if we choose the right kind.