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August 2014


Floss Whalen | Pardon My Punditry

Wisconsin winter parking

The Oconomowoc City Council just abolished two months of winter.

Well, not really, but it has abolished two months of winter parking rules. A long-standing city ordinance bans parking on city streets overnight from Nov. 1 through April 1. The reason for the restriction is to allow city crews to plow snow, unhindered by parked cars. The new rule bans on-street parking from Dec. 1 through March 1. In the last five years there have been only five snowfalls requiring November and March snow-removal operations so it seems safe to ease restrictions. That doesn't mean the city will never again have to plow the streets in November or March, but it does mean that the risk is now small enough to tip the odds in favor of overnight street parking.

This can be regarded as a small but significant recognition by city government that global warming has arrived in Oconomowoc. Farmers, gardeners and avid "birders" have been aware of the changes for some time. Growing seasons have become longer. In parts of our country, robins are no longer harbingers of spring, because they remain all winter long. Although these first changes may seem like improvements, the results will not remain so benign. (Already there are island nations where "urban planning" consists of finding another country into which to move the entire population because much of the home country is already under water.) The American Security Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan national organization predicts that over the course of the 21st century Wisconsin's winter temperatures will rise by six to 11 degrees Fahrenheit. Summer temperatures will rise even more, by eight to 18 degrees. (For starters, think about the impact on Wisconsin's $7 billion tourist industry.)

Most of our national and state leaders are behind the curve when it comes to facing up to these challenges. Fortunately, urban officials, particularly in large cities like New York and Chicago, are much more urgently confronting the problems. Many smaller communities have also gotten the memo. Although there is much room for improvement in the Oconomowoc area, there is also much to commend. The city government, with strong impetus from the municipal utility, has practiced energy conservation and the promotion of sustainability in a variety of ways, winning grants and awards for its efforts. The school district has taught and demonstrated environmental principles ranging from solar lighting at the high school tennis courts to water scarcity awareness at the intermediate school levels. Many individual businesses have joined the "green crusade" and the Oconomowoc Area Chamber of Commerce has a special committee working to promote sustainability among member businesses. The selection by the Chamber of Commerce of a local environmental group, Greener Oconomowoc, as "Organization of the Year" was a timely choice.

We should never stop hassling state and national politicians about the seriousness of climate change. But we can't wait for them, either. We need to take initiatives ourselves, locally and personally. Think about that the next time you park your car on the street.

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