Jonah Malec-McKenna has been learning about climate change since he was three years old. He remembers his mom telling him about the trees in their neighborhood and how they were affected by pollution. He remembers her talking about the changes to the weather around him and the air he breathed.
Now that he’s 14 years old, Jonah takes what he’s learned and makes it part of his everyday life. He turns off the lights as soon as he leaves the room. He tries not to use too much water when he brushes his teeth or takes a shower. He helps plant trees in his community. Jonah will be 46 years old in 2050, and he hopes everyone else is thinking now about climate change as much as he is.
“It matters what people put out into the world,” he said. “Maybe they think it won’t affect them in their lifespan, but it will affect everyone else.”
Jonah’s lessons from a young age came from his mom, Suzanne Malec-McKenna, who was then the executive director of Chicago Wilderness. She also spent 17 years as commissioner of the Chicago Department of Environment and helped create the Chicago Climate Action Plan.
“It’s this region’s future. It’s not just the future for our children, it’s the future for our economy, our productivity, our public health,” said Suzanne. “We are already experiencing more extreme storms and temperatures. We know there are great solutions to some of these challenges, but it needs to be a bigger part of the conversation.”
Suzanne said building climate resilience into our region’s communities needs to be an integral part of planning for the future. “A resilient region is one that has some flexibility,” Suzanne said. ”It can hit the bumps in the road and keep going because it was prepared with strategies for the challenges ahead.”
And, she said, it can help make the Chicago region more economically viable in the long run. “If we aren’t spending money on cleanup from flooding or roads that are buckling, that can be used in other places.”
Even though there’s a lot of work to do, Suzanne said she’s optimistic. She teaches Jonah every day that each of the 8.5 million people in metropolitan Chicago has a role to play in creating our more resilient future.
Jonah says he wants to be part of finding solutions by working as a lawyer or an inventor. “People think ‘I’m just a small part of it,’" he said, "but it all connects to a bigger picture."