How might Milwaukee fare if the climate changes and parts of the country experience more intense weather? A new analysis by Policygenius, an independent insurance broker and online marketplace, found that the city could actually do pretty well. The Policygenius analysis, which evaluated urban cities across the country, ranked Milwaukee 6th on its list of best cities.
The city, Wisconsin’s economic engine, according to the analysis, made the list “thanks to its below-average number of days of extreme heat predicted for 2050 — just nine days versus the average of 44 days for the rest of the cities in this study.” Still, Milwuakee and much of the state is not immune and will continue to face rising humidity and heat. For the Badger State, climate change means higher temperatures, more precipitation in shorter days, and an increased risk of flooding.
A late 2020 report by UW-Madison and state health workers warned that the health impacts from climate change are already evident. More flooding could mean greater exposure to pollutants and disease, for example. Elevated temperatures could lead to more heatstroke and increase the risk of wildfires, which ultimately affect air quality.
Still, Policygenius found promising results in some of the more localized trends in Milwaukee. “While one would expect a Lake Michigan city to have a higher-than-average risk of flooding,” the analysis states, “this is not the case. By 2050, nearly 5% of Milwaukee’s properties will be in 100-year flood plains, an increase of just 0.35% from today. But air quality isn’t quite the breath of fresh air one would expect – just 58% of days in 2021 were rated as ‘good’ air quality, compared to the 63% average for cities in that index.”
With this in mind, the analysis found that Milwaukee appears to be better prepared for climate change than most cities. Although the city has some positive attributes, it also had a high vulnerability score in the analysis. “The city scores four times worse than the other cities on this top 10 list,” states the report, referring to Milwaukee’s vulnerability score for the analysis. It points to civil unrest following the killing of George Floyd and increased violence as possible factors. Still, the report notes that a low vulnerability score “can be an indication of how quickly residents would recover from a climate-related disaster.”
Earlier last month, Milwaukee’s City-County Task Force on Climate and Economic Equity presented a set of recommendations to the Milwaukee Common Council. The recommendations and work of the task force were also compiled into a powerpoint presentation that was presented to the council in March. The city faces multiple climate-related risks, including extreme storms, heat waves that cause urban heat islands, and other issues that extend beyond city limits.
In late summer 2021, violent storms bombarded the city, uprooting more than 600 trees. While some residents suffered property damage and blocked roads for days, others struggled to clear debris the city had overlooked. Conditions were even worse for the homeless Milwaueans, with residents of a tent community describing having to crawl out of the water and find temporary shelter. Residents affected by food insecurity, housing insecurity and other effects of poverty will also be more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change on society. From season to season, extreme or unusual weather conditions are becoming more and more common.
In mid-December 2021, temperatures of 61 degrees were measured in Milwaukee and 64 degrees in the capital Madison. These were some of the warmest temperatures on record for the two cities in December. Meanwhile, the National Guard warned of brewing storms that could bring 40-mph winds and tornadoes to southwest Wisconsin. Just a week earlier, at least 39 tornadoes erupted in the Midwest, killing at least 88 people and causing millions of dollars in damage. Recently, climate scientists from around the world have joined groups like Extinction Rebellion in acts of civil disobedience to urge governments to take urgent climate action.
By 2025, Milwaukee aims to get 25% of its energy from renewable sources. The City-County Climate Task Force also has a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030 and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. Green jobs are also a target for climate activists and elected officials looking to rejuvenate Milwaukee’s industrial sectors. According to 2018 statistics, about 31% of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions came from residential buildings, 22% from industrial sources, another 22% from commercial buildings, and 21% from transport.
The task force has recommended promoting green jobs. Other recommendations include entering into nonprofit agreements for publicly funded projects, helping employers meet climate-related goals, helping homeowners switch to renewable energy sources, and incorporating energy efficiency strategies into new home construction. Green jobs and climate resilience have been a talking point in the election campaign of recently elected Mayor Cavalier Johnson and his opponents, including Ald. Marina Dimitrievic.
The task force also aims to expand bus and suburban train routes, trams and to improve the efficiency of public transport. Protecting bike lanes and promoting the use of zero-emission transportation is also a recommendation, along with major changes to major Milwaukee streets such as 27th Street, Fond du Lac Avenue, Capitol Drive and 35th Street.
It also recommends promoting the use of electric vehicles and drafting a city ordinance mandating EV charging infrastructure in parking lots by 2023. Likewise, the number of multifamily residential buildings and the promotion of electric vehicle policies among utilities in Wisconsin is increasing.
The city is currently seeking a consulting firm to compile many of the task force’s findings into a final report. The report will be made available for public inspection and additional analysis will need to be performed. Meanwhile, Milwaukee must also seek funding to get the strategies off the ground.