Oak Park is moving quickly toward an aggressive and locally focused climate action plan. A draft of the plan — worked on by citizens, village staff and a village hired consultant — was unveiled last week. The final version of the proposal will go to the village board in late June.

The key targets reported last week are ambitious. Reduce emissions village-wide by 60% by 2030 and reach net-zero status by 2050. And that led to an important and complicated debate among village board members as the plan was previewed last week.

As the village spells out the steps necessary to reach those tough emission goals, actual life changes will need to be made by all or most Oak Parkers. What we drive. How we heat and cool our homes and public buildings. How are these changes paid for, enforced?

Two trustees, Susan Buchanan and Arti Walker-Peddakotla, were plain in saying that the days of cajoling people toward climate action are past.

“We are way past the point in the climate crisis that we can encourage people and hope they will do the right thing,” said Walker-Peddakotla. “They’ve had decades to do that.”

On a board that has made local climate action an absolute priority, that view was not universally held. Trustee Lucia Robinson said climate mandates were “punitive” and compliance needed to be encouraged not required.

This is a fundamental debate. And one that will be difficult to decide if Oak Park is effectively an island on a planet where sea levels are rising. There is absolutely not a doubt that as a nation and a world we have squandered the short time we have available to possibly turn this crisis around. And while we have small climate successes to crow about, fundamentally we are in deep trouble. Very possibly irreversible trouble.

We are ready to see Oak Park lead on climate. Finding a path on the mandate vs. encourage continuum will be a critical test of our leaders.

Join the discussion on social media!