Sunday, July 26, 2015

Rochester officials are critical components of Climate Change solutions

We should take seriously the Pope’s message that local officials, mayors (and in our case, the county executive), play a crucial role in leading on Climate Change. Bold demonstrations by our local officials to lead on Climate Change adaptations—encouraging private citizens and business to adopt renewable energy, connecting the dots in the media between active transportation (walking and bicycling) and lowering greenhouse gas emissions, and pushing our Governor and President to do more to make the Paris Climate Treaty a success—would do much to convince the public that this clear and present danger needs to be addressed. Our local leaders should be speaking forthrightly to the press about how Rochester and Monroe County fit into the problems and solutions for Climate Change. Many around the world already get the Pope’s message:

At Vatican, Mayors Pledge Climate Change Fight VATICAN CITY — About 60 mayors from around the world gathered here on Tuesday and pledged to combat global warming and help the poor deal with its effects, at a conference swiftly organized by the Vatican barely a month after Pope Francis’ sweeping encyclical on the environment. The two-day conference, which also focused on fighting forms of modern slavery, was not the first time that the Vatican had organized a meeting on the issue. But it was the first time that it specifically invited local officials, hoping to mobilize grass-roots action and maintain pressure on world leaders for action ahead of a global summit meeting on climate change scheduled for December in Paris. In Tuesday’s declaration, the mayors pledged to urge world leaders to pass a “bold climate agreement that confines global warming to a limit safe for humanity, while protecting the poor and the vulnerable from ongoing climate change that gravely endangers their lives.” (July 21, 2015) New York Times 

Proactive leaders who explain to their constituents that the science behind Climate Change also pertains to our region would go far in squashing the denialist zeitgeist that pervades our region. On a water stop while biking along the canal the other day, I got talking into an old codger (like myself) about our many decades in the Rochester region. All was jolly talk until I mentioned “Climate Change.” He said, “Oh, Climate Change, that’s something Al Gore cooked up.” Then he walked off. Harrumph.

Al Gore did not cook up Climate Change any more than he invented the Internet. But no amount of facts and reasoning will stop Climate Change denialists from making discussions about the most important issue of our age almost impossible for ordinary folks. That’s tragic because the science is settled. 97% of the world’s scientists tell us we are in serious trouble on our climate and yet we here in Rochester are still uncomfortable about mentioning the obvious. They say, don't talk about religion or politics in a bar. Now, added to the list of things not to talk about when fueled by intoxicants is Climate Change.

But it’s not just unfashionable to talk about Climate Change while stopping along the canal. It’s unfashionable to connect the dots on Climate Change and the consequences when commenting on local online articles. In fact, even though I always site scientific references, my comments often get yanked by some nervous media online gatekeeper. It not fashionable to mention Climate Change in Rochester outside the confines of college classes, during family discussions, while at work or play, anywhere near the front pages of our media, on a public official’s website, or forgodsakes when attending an official comment forum on protecting our wildlife.

Also, it’s not fashionable in the Monroe County region to talk about Climate Change during our local elections—even though it is our mayors and our county executives who establish regulations and make sure they are enforced. Encouraging ordinary folks and business to make their homes and buildings more energy efficient, encouraging public transit, and promoting a green culture among all residents would have an enormous effect on everyone else’s attitudes.  Including the media, who would start to realize that suppressing the facts on Climate Change is no longer fashionable. Our media might even begin pressing all candidates for public office on how they would lead on Climate Change. 

If our local leaders would lead on Climate Change, instead of waiting to be led, it would be fashionable to talk about our future in a meaningful way, even in polite society. For, it doesn’t make any sense to talk about Rochester’s future unless adapting to a warmer planet is baked in. It doesn’t make any sense to talk about a more development if our underlying infrastructures are crumbling under the financial and environmental pressures of extreme weather.

It would be a sin (in the generic sense, as I’m still an atheist) not to include Climate Change in the Monroe County executive race now gearing up. A robust debate in this election on the specific measures needed to get our region up to snuff on addressing Climate Change would go far in generating a public discussion on what things we should prioritize: What role would the county play in protecting public health as heat waves and vector-driven diseases (like West Nile Virus and Lyme disease) increase? How will our region protect our water quality as more extreme rainfalls challenge our waste water systems? How would the Monroe County Executive motivate the public to pay attention to this crisis and gather volunteers in the struggle? What can our local officials do to level the playing field on creating and maintaining a flourishing green business approach in our region? And, most importantly, how will would the Monroe County Executive candidates pour on needed pressure for a successful Paris treaty?

Our local officials are a critical component in the worldwide crisis of Climate Change. Don’t let the race for Monroe County Executive go without a thorough debate on addressing Climate Change as what happened with last year’s mayoral race. Our community needs to get engaged this issue. 
Remember, just because folks in the Rochester region are still not comfortable talking about Climate Change it doesn’t mean Climate Change isn’t getting worse. It is getting worse and this means that we may reach a point where it is unsolvable. We will pay dearly for not acting. After all, Climate Change is about physics. 

Global warming’s record-breaking trend continues Forget talk of a slowdown in global warming. Scientists say the climate is heading smartly in the opposite direction, with 2014 proving to be a record-breaking year. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), one of the most respected sources of climate science, says that last year “the most essential indicators of Earth’s changing climate continued to reflect trends of a warming planet”. Some − including rising land and ocean temperatures, sea levels and greenhouse gases − reached record highs. The authoritative report by the NOAA’s Centre for Weather and Climate at the National Centres for Environmental Information (NCEI), published by the American Meterological Society, draws on contributions from 413 scientists in 58 countries to provide a detailed update on global climate indicators. “The variety of indicators shows us how our climate is changing, not just in temperature but from the depths of the oceans to the outer atmosphere,” says Thomas R. Karl, director of the NCEI. (July 22, 2015) Climate News Network 

Time passes.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

From the People’s Climate March to Paris

On the bus

Rochester sent two busloads and several hundred other folks to the historic People’s Climate March in New York City on September 21st.  When you wake up at two in the morning and crawl onto a bus with many other excited folks anticipating a day of cheering with 400,000 others demanding action from their leaders on Climate Change, you don’t really have any idea whether it will do any good. Should I just have stayed in bed? Will this particular march matter? Or more cynically, does anything an ordinary individual can do at this point in time (where business as usual is condemning us to at least a 2C world and no end in sight) make a difference on a scale and time frame that will matter? It is hard to see all this as you look sleepy-eyed into the dark, complicated future where salvation depends on unlikely noble actions of many people. Indeed, there is no historical equivalent to this manmade Climate Change crisis and certainly no precedent to guide us.

On the road to sustainability

At the UN Climate Summit 2014 in New York City two days after the march, many of world leaders pledged to take action to curb greenhouse gas emissions, thus setting the stage for the COP20 Climate Conference at Lima, Peru. That Lima conference was preceded by a historic US and China agreement that gave a shot of adrenalin to the possibility that the biggest polluters might start getting serious. Lima in turn set the stage for the November/December COP21 Paris Climate Conference, another step in a twenty year succession of promises, caveats, and haggling over what actually defines sustainability and what would constitute a fair deal. Lima was, like most of the other climate talks, a success only in the sense that it didn’t fail.

It should seem obvious that sustainability means humanity thriving while trying to curb the excesses of development. But 190 countries jockeying for the best deal for themselves and doing as little as possible to make Paris a success makes it all problematic. Unlike the prisoner’s dilemma (the reasoning that seems to guide each country’s strategic positioning in each of the past climate talks), where there is at least one scenario where one prisoner is set free, for Climate Change, no country will walk away unscathed.

One of the goals of the COP21 Paris Treaty is to avoid another debacle like the UN climate conference in Copenhagen. This time around carbon emission pledges are being tracked very carefully. You can track those pledges here: Who has pledged what for 2015 UN climate pact? Yet there is still much to be ironed out. In the first place, comparison among country’s pledges (or INDCs) are impossible because most countries are using different metrics. Secondly, they are only pledges and may have little effect if they aren’t binding. Thirdly, most experts agree that even when all the pledges are added together they don’t add up to the agreed 2C goal. And finally, many scientists believe that the 2C goal is set too high and will result in catastrophic warming.  
Another critical aspect of the COP21 is the Green Climate Fund, which is an attempt to help the developing countries cope with the damages that the developed countries caused. As of July 10, 2015, 35 countries have announced: USD 10.2 billion—5.8 announced and signed, 4.4 announced but not signed (Status of Pledges and Contributions made to the Green Climate Fund, Green Climate Fund). Is this enough? Probably not even close.  

Kitchen table conversations on Climate Change

When asked by host Greg Dalton of Climate One (listen to this podcast (THE ROAD TO PARIS: CHRISTIANA FIGUERES AND WILLIAM REILLY (June 16, 2015)) what should Americans be talking about at kitchen table conversations on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres (Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)) said (paraphrasing):   …there’s GOT to be a kitchen table conversation…, … so the people begin to understand the impact of what we are doing…, … there is so much awareness of this issue outside of the US instead of inside…, … I talk to people around the world who already have Climate Change having direct impacts on their life…, …already they are witnessing the migration of trees, trees are ‘moving’ up the mountain because they no longer have the temperature…, … it’s about experiential pain…,   

The greatest tragedy in this worldwide crisis is that so many who are going to be affected are not engaged or understand the gravity of the Paris treaty. Within the United States, our politicians do not have conversations amongst themselves on Climate Change, and I am pretty sure our local media editors are not having a conversation about the crisis of our age either. Throughout history the greatest tragedies occur among those who didn’t even have a chance to talk about the most important events in their lives. Those hapless farm boys on both sides of the conflagration at the start of our Civil War, eager to get out of their chores and find some new adventures, had no idea that they would be mowed down by the hundreds of thousands and left to languish in their hot, dreary tents dying from diseases for which there was no cure, had had no say in the way people of one color treated people of another color, but paid the full measure of their devotion to a cause they didn’t understand regardless.  We in the developed world are not having a conversation about the inevitable events that will affect everyone, including future generations.

Putting the heat on the Paris treaty

This statement from “Top climate envoys confident Paris on course for success”: “… although scientists say it’s well short of what is required to avert disaster” -- isn’t just a caveat, it’s a disaster. The likelihood of a treaty that only mandates plans for taking climate actions, but not the actions themselves, is not really a sign of hope at this late date. The political 2C goal is too high; even a 2C world is too hot, and we aren’t going to be able to achieve 2C anyway under the accumulated pledges being made so far. The numbers aren’t adding up.

But countries (well, the developed countries anyway) are getting excited because they are likely to make some kind of agreement at Paris, which might be a platform from which to make better agreements down the road. Maybe. Maybe not.

This is leading towards a pathetic Paris Treaty and we must ask ourselves (even in the light of the past twenty years of failed climate agreements) whether this is OK. Should we accept the good (any agreement no matter how toothless) and thereby kill the chance for the perfect? Should we just hope 190 countries just sign something and hope for the best?  

Or should we heed climate scientists (over 97%) who say  we are on a trajectory that is leading us to dangerous tipping points and therefore nothing less than a treaty with a very aggressive approach that will actually keep temperatures down to a sustainable level will actually work in a world where physics (not politics) rule?

To be at a point in human existence where we must ask ourselves these incredible questions is one thing. To sit back and stay silent while our fate and the fate of all living things on this planet is being decided by what looks like a very watered down agreement is quite another. If we remain sleeping during this momentous trip to Paris without voicing our concerns, are we merely consumers of this planet or citizens of it?

Time passes.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Sorry Citizen’s Climate Lobby, we know GOP is bad on Climate Change

In response to Mark Reynolds, Executive Director of Citizen’s Climate Lobby: “Mark Reynolds: Everything you think you know about Republicans and climate change is wrong” (June 5, 2015 | Brighton-Pittsford Post)

I understand the desire to gain a political consensus on Climate Change in order to take action, but it’s delusional to think the Republic Party is remotely onboard. As we approach the historical COP21 Climate Conference in Paris this December, the US Republican Party is painting itself ever further into a corner on climate denial. Just this week, “Republican Governors Signal Their Intent to Thwart Obama’s Climate Rules,” which is to say five Republican governors are saying no to President Obama’s attempts to address Climate Change.

Climate Change, the mother of all problems, can be addressed in two basic ways--mitigation and adaptation—and the Republican Party (the GOP) fails miserably on both counts. It does nobody or any group attempting to address Climate Change any practical good to bury this political conundrum.

The GOP has so thwarted mitigation efforts (stopping or even slowing down US greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs)) that they have become notorious worldwide. President Obama’s milquetoast efforts (“US: 26-28% on 2005 levels by 2025”) at the Paris conference are a direct result of having to go around a GOP-led Congress. In fact it is considered a ‘fact’ worldwide that Obama’s hands are tied on making any systemic changes on lowering GHGs to a survivable level (2C) because everyone knows Congress will do everything in their power to stop anything the president signs at Paris. The message is clear: Unless Obama can go around the GOP-Congress, don’t even try for a sustainable environment. This is why greens chose to highlight the halt of the XL Keystone as a line in the sand with dirty fossil fuels—Obama doesn’t need Congressional approval to stop it.

On adaptation (or adjusting to the consequences of Climate Change), the GOP has been a major obstruction. The governors of Florida and Wisconsin have banned their staff from connecting the dots between Climate Change and local issues like rising water levels. Even in Rochester, there are already changes taking place because of Climate Change—a 71% increase in heavy rainfall events since 1958 (accompanied by more frequent discharge of untreated sewage into our waterways), more flooding, annual temperature increase of 0.6ºF per decade since 1970, bird population shifts, increase in lake effect snow, increase in plant frost damage, and much more—but little is being done by our authorities because it is so politically unpopular to do so. Rochester, like many communities around this country, is in Climate Silence, and this means we cannot tackle this issue on the local level. The GOP has made it impossible to talk about adapting to Climate Change by raising the bogeyman of tax increases, which effectively shuts off discussion in our current political environment. And so the other political parties, the media, and the public goes quiet on actually saving themselves.

Which has been the strategy of the GOP on Climate Change: “Don’t like the solutions? Don’t admit there’s a problem...” The GOP says they hate tax increases and Big Government. We got it. But because of the nature of Climate Change, which will require a universal response by our governments to protect our public health, our infrastructures, and help communities recover from more extreme events, only our governments can truly address Climate Change. Because the GOP doesn’t like the solution, because the GOP cannot be captain of the ball game, their response is to take their football and go home, thereby condemning us all. The GOP has made the other party be the bearer of bad news, which allows them to carp at every solution unless it agrees with the GOP’s outdated ideology. Ironically, this has the effect of insuring that Big Government will get incredibly bigger. No other entity but our governments can make and enforce laws, set environmental regulations, implement taxes, or bring in the military if extreme disasters completely overwhelm our communities—as occurred with Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina. As the consequences of Climate Change become more dire, the ability of the private sector to handle it become more impossible.

If timid Republican office holders are quietly saying they believe in what 97% of the climate scientists are saying, that is not leadership. That is dropping the ball. If these Republicans who allegedly believe in Climate Change don’t stand up and remove the ugly head of climate denial from their party, their Grand Old Party will go the way of the Whigs. If your government leaders or candidates don’t believe in the science of climate, that humans are responsible for this crisis, they are unfit for office. Unfit in the way a surgeon who didn’t go to school is unfit to replace your heart with a new one.

We shouldn’t be prioritizing a carbon fee as the only solution to a problem that includes every aspect of our existence; we should be making sure that the COP21 Paris Conference doesn’t fail. Without a world structure to bind nations to economic and political policies that will actually be able to enforce clean energy options or anything else on a scale and timeframe that will matter, there will be no universal carbon fee. And while giving the proceeds from such a carbon fee to households would be popular, it is far more efficient for government to use that money to help us adapt to the consequences of Climate Change—like disaster relief which is already overtaxing our government. Trying to bridge the political divide on Climate Change by bitch-slapping Democrats about their supposed propensity to grab all revenue they can completely fails to address the needs brought on by the actual physical consequences of the oncoming calamity, a calamity already baked in to our future even if GHG emissions were zeroed out tomorrow.

The answer to this argument is not somewhere in the middle—but completely on one side or another. An argument about whether the earth is flat cannot be decided by compromising with flat-earthers. Climate Change at the core is a problem of biophysics.  No matter how much the GOP insists that any solution must contain no change in economic models or government interference, they are wrong. The GOP either loses its climate denial extremists or they continue being the force preventing the rest of us from adapting to Climate Change.

Last fall, we had an election for the mayor of Rochester that did not include any discussion about local leadership on Climate Change. We are now starting the race for Monroe County executive, and there threatens to be once again nary a word about the elephant in the room. The GOP has made Climate Change so political everyone tries to ignore the crisis of our age.

So sorry, but most folks who are beginning to realize their worst suspicions about the Republicans and Climate Change are not wrong. 

Saturday, July 04, 2015

A beacon of hope: Official Ban on Fracking in New York

New York State’s Fracking ban is a beacon of hope for other places being terrorized by fossil fuel giants in a time of Climate Change.

Fractivists say NY's ban is influencing moratorium decisions elsewhere New York Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens announced this week that he is leaving that position, just two days after he issued the final environmental impact statement banning hydrofracking in the state.  The final report on fracking is a signal for others to move on as well. Anti-fracking groups say they are using New York’s stance to help convince other states -- and even countries -- to also ban the gas drilling process. (July 2, 2015) Innovation Trail)

Getting the Fracking ban in New York was a long, hard struggle for thousands, a struggle that seemed hopeless against a worldwide juggernaut of fossil fuel drilling. Those who want to drill for more fossil fuels will never give up. No matter that 97% of climate scientists warn that fossil fuels must stay in the ground, or our world’s moral leaders, inspired by Pope Francis’s Encyclical, agree.

Fracking ban starts clock for lawsuits When Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration officially banned large-scale hydraulic fracturing Monday, it finally put an end to a seven-year review process that drew hundreds of thousands of public comments and sharply divided the general public. For now. The state Department of Environmental Conservation's action started a 120-day clock for fracking proponents to examine whether the ban has any legal holes; fracking opponents have lauded the ban. If a lawsuit isn't filed by Oct. 27, state law says the decision can no longer be challenged. For years, both boosters and opponents of shale-gas drilling have operated under the belief that the state's ultimate decision on fracking would end up in the courts. The next four months will prove whether the assumption becomes reality. (July 3, 2015) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle 

When we sense hopelessness about our species’ ability to address Climate Change, this madness for more greenhouse gases masquerading as economic boom is what they are talking about. The nattering narrative pandered by the press and our politicians, that only drilling for more fossil fuels can provide more jobs and more money, must end. The push for 100% renewable energy by 2030 must begin in earnest now if we want anything like sustainable development.

But banning Fracking is not enough.

New York should also ban Bomb Trains (moving volatile crude oil through our communities by a shaky rail system) and stopping the incredible gas storage expansion at Seneca Lake. With the specter of a Fracking jackboot removed from our necks, we should be accelerating our efforts to develop 100% renewable energy by 2030 (see before the zealots of an old technology strangle us with more fossil fuel energy options that have put our future in jeopardy.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Pope Francis’s Encyclical and avoiding hell on Earth

Before I wear out my welcome or lose you entirely while trying to make my point: Read the Encyclical (ENCYCLICAL LETTER, LAUDATO SI’OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME).

Throughout humanity’s existence, there have been many attempts to warn ourselves about damaging our environment, a place we have increasingly become aware of as our life support system. From the reverence by native peoples around the world for the place they called home, to the holy books of many faiths demanding that we care for our fellow creatures, to the writings by St. Francis Assisi, George Perkins Marsh, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Leopold Aldo, Rachel Carson, Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein, and Al Gore, (and many more, of course), we have had only limited success in getting through to ourselves that our actions on our environment matter.

George Perkins Marsh, one of the most important and effective environmentalists you have never heard of, wrote Man and Nature in 1864 (revised in 1872 as “The Earth as Modified by Human Action) while he was US ambassador to Italy. This very influential book (it provided the foundation of our US forestry system under Gifford Pinchot who served under President Theodore Roosevelt) received worldwide acclaim as a most thorough assessment of past agriculture and forestry abuses in the hope of preventing future devastation just as the US was diving headlong into the Second Industrial Revolution. Many listened, but most (fueled by the allure of more stuff) did not.   

The public, especially the public in the developed world, has continued to believe itself to be in a position of security, not compelled to act to prevent environmental excesses. At various points in history, the warning of environmentalists have been ignored and massive development went on regardless of environmental and health impacts. It seems (because massive numbers did not immediately drop dead) as if the alarms from environmentalists about overpopulation and sustainability were all overblown. Which is the not the case at all. Pollution, the loss of biodiversity that is resulting in the Sixth Great Extinction, and Climate Change are all catching up with us. Until now, the mere size of our world and our technical prowess have helped mask our ravishing of our environment. But with Climate Change we are hitting a wall that has no historical precedent. Like the myriad debris gathering from a great flood quickly forming a dam, the accumulated mistakes from our past development are building up an impossible barrier. 

The most recent invocation for environmental attention is the widely anticipated Encyclical by Pope Francis. It is an extremely auspicious work, coming at a moment where there is still time enough to effectively communicate to the world the importance of a substantial agreement before the COP21 Paris Climate Conference in December. What makes the Encyclical so significant is not only the charisma of a religious leader of 4.3 billion people; it is a moral indictment of the collected environmental abuses of the past culminating in the present Climate Change crisis. It is perhaps the last chance to take stock of our moral Climate Change crisis and make a difference.

The Encyclical, while a religious text, is meant for the world. This is what Pope Francis says on paragraph #14 of the Encyclical:

“I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.” Encyclical

While worldwide media (not Rochester’s local media*, of course) have extensively quoted from the Encyclical (on the shortcomings of our economic system, the condition of the poor, and the part about “We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth…” (161, Encyclical)), this paragraph that describes the interrelatedness of all life and our machinations grabbed my attention:

‘It may well disturb us to learn of the extinction of mammals or birds, since they are more visible. But the good functioning of ecosystems also requires fungi, algae, worms, insects, reptiles and an innumerable variety of microorganisms. Some less numerous species, although generally unseen, nonetheless play a critical role in maintaining the equilibrium of a particular place. Human beings must intervene when a geosystem reaches a critical state. But nowadays, such intervention in nature has become more and more frequent. As a consequence, serious problems arise, leading to further interventions; human activity becomes ubiquitous, with all the risks which this entails. Often a vicious circle results, as human intervention to resolve a problem further aggravates the situation.” (Paragraph 34, Encyclical)

But, and I want to stress this again, the public and our leaders need to read this critical work in full—not just a few showcase quotes. It took me several days to read the Encyclical, not because it was so long (it’s only about 80 pages including the references) but because I found myself pouring over every paragraph—sometimes reading them several times to absorb their insight.

I, as an Atheist, can appreciate the Pope’s wisdom regarding individual actions to address Climate Change, even though I believe in a practical sense our individual actions need to be accompanied by systemic societal changes and in a time frame that will actually make a difference; otherwise, our little experiment with life on this planet will be over.

There is a nobility in the duty to care for creation through little daily actions, and it is wonderful how education can bring about real changes in lifestyle. Education in environmental responsibility can encourage ways of acting which directly and significantly affect the world around us, such as avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transport or car-pooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights, or any number of other practices. All of these reflect a generous and worthy creativity which brings out the best in human beings. (211, Encyclical)

However noble our everyday actions, at this point in time they will not be enough to mitigate Climate Change. Those kind of actions must come from our leaders. Still, if we change our ways, Pope Francis implores “… any place can turn from being a hell on earth into the setting for a dignified life.” (149, Encyclical)

Hell on earth doesn’t have to happen if we listen to the wise voices that focus our priorities on our life support system—and not try to bake in all our whims and desires into them before we act.
*Ok, there was a moment when folks in Rochester came together (albeit on the radio) and talked about the Pope’s Encyclical:

Connections: The Pope and Climate Issues We examine the meaning of Pope Francis' new encyclical on climate change. What does it mean for the Catholic Church? More broadly, what does it mean when an organized religion wades into climate issues? Our panel discusses that and more: (June 22, 2015) Connections 

There should be more platforms for local Climate Change discussions.  With Climate Change and the disproportionate suffering of those who did not cause this crisis, it will indeed be a very hot hell on earth.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Speak up for wildlife as they try to adapt to Climate Change

Several centuries too late, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) gets moving on establishing a baseline for freshwater mussels. Mussels are these incredible filter feeders that not only keep our waters clean, but provide a foundation for stream, river, and lake ecosystems in our region. And, according to the DEC “Almost all kinds of mussels and clams are sensitive to pollution and environmental stress.”1 Which is to say, mussels are not only excellent indicators of water quality but Climate Change too. Because, as you know, Climate Change can be very stressful.

So, why is our environmental authority just getting around to quantifying and measuring the impact of this critical wildlife species? Without a long-term baseline from which to compare then and now, we don’t know whether invasive species (like the incredibly damaging Zebra Mussels) are destroying our endemic mussels, whether the tons of industrial waste, pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer run-offs are affecting them, or whether our warming waters from Climate Change are going to send these little creatures to oblivion. It is likely that one reason the DEC has been late to mussel research is that much of DEC funding comes from fishing and hunting licenses. Those who harvest our wildlife tend care about critters as game, not in their role in keeping our ecosystems healthy.

We need to find a way to make sure that ‘we the people’ get more of a voice in deciding on the DEC’s role in managing wildlife in a time of warming (hence the importance of public comment on this plan ((see below, I’m getting to it)) by July 17th). Those who have specific interests in keeping specific species plentiful for their sport should not have undue influence with our state environmental authority, a louder voice than the accumulated interest of all of us on a fragile planet as we try to adapt to Climate Change. Advocates for birds get heard, but there are no advocates for freshwater mussels—or beavers for that matter. But that is another essay.

This essay is about Climate Change and wildlife. Sorry, I got a little side-tracked, but so did Wednesday’s Proposed State Wildlife Action Plan public meeting at the local DEC headquarters in Avon. It took us awhile to get through the mussels before we got down to the plan. This is the plan:

“The proposed State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) to protect rare and declining wildlife species is now available for public comment, state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens announced today. The deadline for comment is Friday, July 17.”

The SWAP is a comprehensive plan for the next ten years to protect wildlife from such common threats as “loss of habitat, pollution, invasive species, and climate change.”2
Issues like loss of habitat (a euphemism for massive destruction of lands and wetlands from development) pollution, and invasive species get little consideration from the DEC because these wildlife threats tend to be baked into our way of life. It would require a very heavy lift to get a majority of the public and the DEC focused on wildlife threats that are exceedingly difficult and inconvenient to solve without disrupting today’s economic growth. So it goes.

Vanishingly small is the attention the DEC gives the threat to our wildlife by Climate Change. Yet, on paper the SWAP gets the connection between wildlife and Climate Change.

Climate Change & Severe Weather - Threats from long-term climatic changes which may be linked to global warming and other severe climatic/weather events that are outside of the natural range of variation, or potentially can wipe out a vulnerable species or habitat.
10.1. Habitat Shifting & Alteration - Changes in habitat composition and location.
10.2. Droughts - Periods in which rainfall falls below the normal range of variation.
10.3. Temperature Extremes - Periods in which temperatures exceed or go below the normal range of variation.
10.4. Storms & Flooding - Extreme precipitation and/or wind events. (Page 25, “Draft State Wildlife Action Plan for Public Comment”)

But in real life, the DEC rarely connects the dots. My impression is that the DEC only connects Climate Change and wildlife as they are related to mitigation (i.e., stopping greenhouse gas ((GHG)) emissions), not adaptation. The DEC heralds the ClimAID report, the New York State Climate Action Plan Interim Report, Climate Smart Communities program, and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) as their way of addressing Climate Change. These studies and programs concentrate on lowering greenhouse gases, which in turn reduces the consequences to wildlife as mentioned above. In other words, helping wildlife to adapt to Climate Change is like President Reagan’s way of helping the poor by trickling down the wealth of the rich. These are not going to address the specific issues wildlife have with adapting to Climate Change in any time frame or on a level that will matter.

We know from the ClimAID and Interim Report that wildlife will have to move in order to avoid the heat. But much of their ability to move requires getting across the barriers of our transportation system (highways and canals) and adapting ten times faster than the 10,000 years of a stable climate before pre-industrial times. Part of adapting is that the ecosystem of which wildlife is an integral part must also ‘move’ with the creatures. In order for a frog to leave a wetland, its wetland must ‘leave’ with it. Cold water fish (trout) need to be able to move upstream or dive for deeper water to exist. Without a stream free of obstructions (dams) or an increase in shade and water deep enough for them to cool off, these fish will not adapt. (Note: restocking fish every year is not adapting; it only creates the illusion of adapting -- like thinking you can stay within your budget even though your parents keep bailing you out.)

Our wildlife require the ecosystems they evolved with. Let me drill down a little deeper on this point: wildlife not are simply individual creatures who just happen to ‘like’ living in a certain place. Wildlife are the place. Without frogs and bugs and fish and birds and all those little creatures that breakdown life and recycle it, a wetland is just a watery ditch that collects cigarette butts. A ditch not a biological system. A plan to protect our wildlife must be a plan to protect our ecosystems. And that plan should be a part of our climate plans. The SWAP should spell out exactly what our environmental authority is doing to help wildlife adapt to Climate Change—and be held accountable for their actions. The specific actions mentioned by the SWAP in Planning and Administration Projects should be formulated with Climate Change in mind—not as an afterthought. Adaptation strategies like creating transportation corridors so wildlife can move across our highways; removing dams and changing culverts so aquatic life can move to cool off; and preventing development in or near wetlands, these all need to demonstrate that they are helping wildlife adapt. If not, these actions need to be readjusted to that end. And (always mentioned last even though it is critical) educating the public about wildlife’s role in our environment and what the general public can do to augment the state’s efforts.

Educating the public on wildlife and Climate Change could have the wonderful effect of getting the public to tolerate wildlife in their backyards. Because much of what constitutes New York State is private property, this change of attitude towards wildlife would go far in allowing our property to be passageways to adaptation and maybe homes for those creatures we evicted long ago. The City of Rochester’s Wildlife webpage explains how urbanites can learn to get along safely with those beings we should no longer be calling a nuisance.   

Consider making comment to the SWAP by Friday, July 17. First, read the draft SWAP, then if you need more information, contact Joe Racette at (518) 402-8933 or Comments should be sent to or mailed to Joe Racette, NYSDEC, 625 Broadway, 5th Floor, Albany, NY 12233. Really, Joe and the DEC want to hear from you. Because if the public doesn’t speak for our wildlife, only the special interest folks will get heard.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Climate Change and the Monroe County Executive race

Much of the present focus on Climate Change is on the COP21 Paris Conference and mitigation—keeping greenhouse gases below 2C (3.6F) above pre-industrial averages. Preparations for the COP21 are going slowly, as evidenced by the lack of real progress in Bonn recently. So we don’t really know if humanity will get its act together in time to make life sustainable as the window of opportunity quickly closes. 

But one of the aspects of the Climate Change crisis that environmental groups, local media, and local governments often ignore are the day-to-day preparations required to adapt to the consequences of Climate Change in our region. Because Climate Change has become so politicized, emotional, and fearful to our media, we often fail to appreciate the exceptional nature of this worldwide crisis locally. Of course, local government at every level always has a lot on its plate—poverty, crime, taxes, education, transportation, fires, social services, code enforcement, waste management, you-name-it. But the difference between the day-to-day responsibilities of local government and preparation for the consequences of Climate Change is like the difference between maintaining a busy household and keeping it all together during major (and increasingly intense) hurricanes—where complete failure is always possible.

Governments have a responsibility to protect their constituents from the vulnerabilities of clear and present dangers. They can and must be held accountable. The exceptional vulnerabilities from Climate Change are on a scale that requires the kind of government leadership that anticipates disasters before they become unmanageable. Some of these special vulnerabilities are spelled out in the NYSERDA funded “Responding to Climate Change in New York State” or ClimAID 2011 report.

The vulnerability of the people in New York State is largely determined by several key factors: behavioral norms that have been institutionalized through building codes, crop insurance, flood-management infrastructure, water systems, and a variety of other programs; socio-economic factors that affect access to technology, information, and institutions; geographic climate-sensitive health risks due to the proximity of natural resources, dependence on private wells for drinking water, and vulnerability to coastal surges or river flooding (Balbus and Malina, 2009); and biological sensitivity related to preexisting medical conditions, such as the sensitivity of people with chronic heart conditions to heat-related illness (Balbus and Malina, 2009). (Pages 52 & 53, ClimAID)

Other climate studies that pertain to our area (New York State Climate Action Plan Interim Report or National Climate Assessment, Northeast) validate the immediacy of local Climate Change preparation. They don’t prevaricate as to whether Climate Change is happening, whether it is human caused, or whether we can delay action. These studies are official certainties that should be expressed as mandates in our local government. Which is to say, our government should be held accountable for making our way of living robust and resilient as more extreme weather (floods, heat waves) and increased threats to the public health (West Nile Virus and Lyme disease) come upon us. Preparations cannot be put off. Our media should be monitoring our government’s climate actions continually.

However, at the Rochester level we are still responding to Climate Change as if we are waiting for someone or something to kick us into action. Citizens are waiting for their government to act and the government is waiting to be pushed, looking over its shoulder to see if anyone really cares about this issue, instead of providing the vision and guidance for the road ahead. The media is focused primarily on sports.

The race for Monroe County Executive is now underway.  

I sincerely hope we can have a public discussion on Climate Change during this critical race. Preparing the local public for the public health and infrastructural consequences of Climate Chang in our region should be a top priority of the Monroe County Executive position. Debates and discussions on this important election should not be completely hijacked by taxes and budgets. Ignoring Climate Change preparation, as it was completely ignored in the Rochester mayoral race, is immoral and impractical.  

Saturday, June 06, 2015

The true cost of the Fracking brouhaha in Rochester and New York

Despite six long years battling this fossil fuel option that hijacked the public’s attention on energy during Climate Change, every bit of news about Fracking continually sends our local media into paroxysms of hope and despair. 
We are halfway to the COP21 Paris Climate Conference in December. Bonn, Germany is now hosting a two-week conference on curbing carbon emissions so that these greenhouse gases won’t make life unsustainable. Pledges from many nations at this point are still falling short of a 2C limit, which many experts believe is way too high. But one of the positive updates to Bonn is a letter sent by six major oil companies asking for a price on carbon. (Don’t get too sentimental about this request because the Big Six are corporations after all and so their altruism is limited to their bottom line.)

With significant recent developments—including India blaming Climate Change for the deaths of 2,330 people thus far in a terrible heat wave, and the soon to be release Papal encyclical demanding that Christians around the world care about this crisis–you’d think the world would be riveted by this historic attention to the worldwide crisis of our time. Many are.

But not Rochester. Even though Dr. James Hansen spoke to over 800 of us on Earth Day about how the 2C goal is too high and our carbon emissions must go below our present levels soon, this issue has been mostly forgotten. Our press isn’t covering the worldwide effort to address this worldwide crisis. Our representatives aren’t talking about it, even to themselves. Think about it. We are living in an incredible moment, where our future is going to be determined by our decisions (and remember, not doing anything about Climate Change is a decision). But unless you get your news outside Monroe County, you’re probably not engaged with what the world is doing about Climate Change locally.

Locally, we are still bemoaning the loss of Fracking. Despite six long years battling this fossil fuel option that hijacked the public’s attention on energy during Climate Change, every bit of news about Fracking continually sends our local media into paroxysms of hope and despair. The long awaited EPA report on Fracking (“EPA Releases Draft Assessment on the Potential Impacts to Drinking Water Resources from Hydraulic Fracturing Activities”) gets the press while Climate Change languishes. For our local media, a battle, however moot and self-generated, is far more enticing to the media than the complicated story of Climate Change.

Both sides draw ammunition from EPA fracking report Hydraulic fracturing can pollute groundwater numerous ways, federal environmental officials have concluded, but the controversial process to extract gas from shale is not causing "widespread systemic impacts on drinking water." The conclusion came with the release Thursday of a five-year national study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The analysis involved a "robust literature review," in the words of the EPA's Tom Burke, of dozens of scientific studies, technical papers and records from industry and activists submitted as part of the contentious and ongoing battle over the wisdom of tapping shale gas to meet the nation's energy needs. (June 4, 2015) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

The truth is that there are more than two sides to this media-created Fracking frenzy. There is the side that is working diligently towards 100% renewable energy by 2030. Check out, especially the section on New York. This isn’t nuts, Hawaii is considering 100% by 2040 and science backs up our New York State effort: “Examining the feasibility of converting New York State’s all-purpose energy infrastructure to one using wind, water, and sunlight”.

There is the side that thinks New York is already moving steadily towards cutting carbon emissions via the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

The Surprising Facts About the Clean Power Plan: Most States Are Already On Track to Meet 2020 Benchmarks for Reducing Carbon Emissions A new analysis released today by UCS shows that most states are already making progress toward cutting carbon emissions from power plants by shifting from coal-fired power to cleaner generation sources like renewable energy, energy efficiency, and natural gas. As a result of recent decisions and state laws that predate the proposed Clean Power Plan, 31 states have already made commitments that would put them more than halfway toward meeting the 2020 benchmarks set out by the EPA, and 14 of those states are already on track to meet or exceed them, including some unlikely suspects. States like Delaware, New York, and New Hampshire that are able to meet their benchmarks through collective action with the nine states that are part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI)—a multi-state effort to collectively cap carbon emissions from power plants. (June 3, 2015) Union of Concerned Scientists 

There is the side that thinks the EPA’s recent study was very limited and actually says Fracking pollutes drinking water. There is yet another side (our state) that doesn’t think the EPA study addressed many of the other reasons why New York said no to Fracking in the first place:

NY agency: EPA report won't affect state's ban on fracking Business groups are calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to lift New York's fracking ban after the Environmental Protection Agency reported the technology hasn't caused widespread harm to drinking water, but the Cuomo administration says the ban will stay. Department of Environmental Conservation spokesman Tom Mailey says the EPA review released Thursday focused on impacts to water related to high-volume hydraulic fracturing. But he said the state's review was much broader, evaluating impacts to air, water, public health, ecosystems, wildlife and communities. (June 5, 2015) WHEC Rochester

And there is the side that says that we are not addressing the true cost with any fossil fuels (including Fracking). The true cost of our energy is not the price you pay for this energy at the pump or your electric bill, which has been seriously bankrolled by your government to make it extremely addictive and deadly.

If we are to adapt to and mitigate Climate Change, we must adopt a more mature definition of costs than the one provided by a loony economic system that treats our life support system as an insignificant detail. 

Calls grow for full fossil fuel reckoning From the International Monetary Fund to doctors, voices calling out the fossil fuel industry over its health costs are becoming louder - and more numerous. But a lot depends on the definition of "cost." Six major European energy companies have called on policymakers to put global carbon pricing on the agenda at United Nations climate talks in Bonn this week. They describe this as the most effective way of encouraging greener investments. But as a growing movement shows, putting a price on fossil fuels could also provide a solution to the increasingly visible problem of their costs falling to taxpayers. (June 2, 2015) Deutsche Welle

The greatest cost of fossil fuels is the dangerous illusion that they are affordable and not responsible for this worldwide crisis of Climate Change. 

The True Cost of Fossil Fuels Fossil fuels reap profits in modern economies in part because the costs of their environmental and health damage are not included in their price. A new report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) finds that we're significantly underestimating society's subsidy for fossil fuel use worldwide. The report's co-author, IMF economist David Coady tells host Steve Curwood how they calculated fossil fuels subsidies worldwide annually cost taxpayers and consumers $5.3 trillion. (May 29, 2015) Living on Earth

The true cost of fossil fuels, including Fracking, is that it steals away our time, money, and attention as the window of opportunity to address Climate Change closes.

Time passes. 

Saturday, May 30, 2015

E-waste limbo in Rochester, NY

The Catholic Church scrapped the notion of Limbo a while ago, but NYS is still putting our e-waste laws into Limbo. So, here is a photo (see above) of a TV thrown to the curb near my house in Rochester—broken apart, probably for valuable metals. According to New York State law, as of January 1st, it has been illegal for homeowners to curb their old TV. They should get a fine for doing so. (See “New E-Waste Ban Prohibits You From Tossing That Old Computer to the Curb” or “New NY law requires electronic recycling” or “Electronics recycling law to go into effect January 1”, or” Don't throw away that flatscreen: Electronics recycling law to take effect Jan. 1”, or “No electronics in trash Jan. 1.”) You get the picture, this was big news back in January.  

“Disposal Ban: Beginning January 1, 2015, consumers may no longer dispose of certain types of electronic equipment in landfills, waste-to-energy facilities, in the trash, or at curbside for trash pickup.” “Recycling Your Electronic Waste” New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

But here’s the problem—or problems--with actually fining those who put their TV’s out to the curb and thus reducing the problem of these toxic materials getting strewn around our neighborhoods.  Scrappers come before the weekly City picks up, smash the curbed TVs for valuable metals, and thus make these old electronics useless for recycling, instead ushering them on their toxic way to our landfills, wreaking bloody havoc.  I wrote about all this last December just before this latest part of the NYS E-waste law went into effect: “January 1st deadline in NYS could inject new life into e-waste recycling” Back then, I speculated that this law needed to close the enforcement-gap.  

And here we are in May and the law has no teeth, meaning the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation who made the law has no agents who would actually go around to each community and fine those who curb their TVs. It is left to communities to fine these folks. But the communities cannot do that because their codes do not include fining folks for it. The state needs to make it clear how a community like Rochester can do that.  I am still waiting for a DEC enforcement response as to how our City code can include fining those who curb their E-Waste. That was months ago. Limbo.

But, it’s even more complicated than that. The City decided years ago to go around and pick up TVs along with the weekly trash pickups (so they or their haulers wouldn’t get fined under an earlier phase of the E-Waste law) and take this e-waste to the recycling centers. However, because of this practice, it wouldn’t actually be illegal for homeowners to curb their old TVs because (and you got to love this) the homeowner cannot be fined for throwing out an old TV with the intention of landfilling it because it isn’t actually being landfilled. Some communities have services that do pick up e-waste regularly by independent recyclers (not Rochester) and so the law’s language was shaped for this option. So, technically you cannot get fined for curbing your old TV because it’s being recycled—even though the problem with scrappers trashing our neighborhoods and making recycling impossible is a reality as it always has been. Bingo! Limbo!

To compound this issue all the more is that our media and our authorities are very squeamish about the prospect of enforcing this part of the law (fining homeowners) as it is most likely that enforcing it would put an unfair burden on the poor who are more likely to curb their old E-waste because they perceive that proper disposal of E-waste may be too expensive.  When I exchanged emails with a reporter about this problem enforcing the e-waste law as it pertains with homeowners, he brought up this point. Which is to say that this probable burden on the poor means that the media does not want talk about this issue because it makes the press look like they are pointing fingers at the poor. I understand the argument and I sympathize. But here’s the problem with it. The state and all the communities in the state had five-long years to prepare for this aspect of the law. In that time, much could have been done to help recycling businesses educate the public and perhaps even offer incentives for home pickup and rewards for donating old electronics. The poor could be making money selling their old TVs to recyclers who would come and pick them up.  Trash is cash when the laws is enforced.

Instead, we still have an e-waste problem and this law is now in Limbo—a mythical place where ‘problems’ come to rest without a solution because the creators couldn’t figure out a convenient way for the laws to work. (Like the problem of what to do with deceased infants who are incapable of committing any sins but died before they could be baptized (freed from original sin) and thus couldn’t go to Heaven.)

There can and is much that can be done about removing our e-waste law from Limbo. The state should make it plain how the law can be fixed into every community’s codes. Folks should call 311 when they see this toxic e-waste put out to the curb—reminding the City they must have the power to act. Contact the media, the City, and especially the DEC, and tell them that you want this enforcement gap in the law closed in order to create a new playing field for recycling e-waste, thus reducing the threat to our health and our environment—and reduce the need to mine for more precious metals that could be retrieved from our waste. You can contact the NYS DEC about this e-waste enforcement gap by email or by phone (518) 402-8706 and let them know you really care about your neighborhood not getting polluted by e-waste.

If everyone just pretends we have an effective law, many folks will realize that it isn’t being enforced and go back to curbing their TV’s. Which is what I am observing.

For those who think this issue is very trivial compared with all our other problems, they should consider this:

“The amount of electronic products discarded globally has skyrocketed recently, with 20-50 million tonnes generated every year. If such a huge figure is hard to imagine, think of it like this - if the estimated amount of e-waste generated every year would be put into containers on a train it would go once around the world!” (The e-waste problem, GreenPeace)

* Full disclosure: I am the former chairperson of the Rochester Sierra Club’s Zero Waste Committee. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Running Bomb Trains through Rochester, NY


CCOil Train Slide Show 11 - 20.009SMothers Out Front and People of Albany United for Safe Energy (PAUSE) hosted an informative meeting Sunday (5/16/2015) on the dangers of Bomb Trains (railroad’s term not ours) that included a litany of explosive oil train derailments (9 since July of 2013) that have already caused much damage and some loss of life. One of the things we learned about the oil trains passing through Rochester is that we are going to need evacuation plans here and elsewhere. 

These trains detonate (they truly explode in a spectacular fire ball) because in order to get this thick crude oil into the trains the goo is pressurized with volatile gases. It doesn’t take much to set them off. When they do explode into massive fireballs that rise spectacularly into the sky, emergency crews’ attempts to rescue folks and decouple the cars to prevent even greater explosions is severely hampered by scorching heat and deadly fumes. And because our railroads are riddled with old rails and deteriorating bridges that are not equipped to hold these heavy loads, these Bomb Trains are more prone to derailments.

Actually, considering that travel loads of liquid fuels have increased dramatically, and that our roads, highways, rails, and bridges are getting worse, it’s only a matter of time before this transportation system breaks down altogether. No one wants to pay the cost for maintaining this old infrastructure and so it deteriorates. Exploding Bomb Trains are simply the most remarkably insane component of this continual descent into a hole of negligence caused by our addiction to a fossil fuels. We have a problem. 

Report: Rural bridges in NY among worst in U.S. A new report finds rural bridges in New York State are the 15th worst in the country. This comes from TRIP, a national transportation research group. (May 20, 2015) WHEC Rochester

This is all to say that these trains carrying Bakken crude from North Dakota through Buffalo and Rochester and Syracuse to Albany (where a great big fossil fuel hub is being created) are a clear and present danger to our communities. When these trains detonate, our communities are going to have to be able to evacuate immediately. Not only can these explosions keep burning through these unit trains (bomb trains all hitched together) where more and more of them explode, the toxic air from the explosions is too lethal to breathe.

Even if the proposed regulations for more robust train cars and more safety regulations were implemented, it probably won’t do much good because some past derailments already had these retrofits:

“Tougher tankers, though, are not a cure-all either. The tankers involved in Monday’s derailment in West Virginia were not DOT-111s but the more modern CPC-1232 model. The supposedly more robust tankers still ruptured and exploded.” onEarth

What are area plans to quickly remove a lot of folks (could be in the thousands) in our communities when these explosions occur? For, they are going to occur. You can bet your bottom dollar. Federal Rail Administration official Karl Alexy has noted publicly that “[a]t train speeds of 30 to 40 mph, you cannot build a tank car robust enough to withstand puncture in unit train derailments.” (“Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration”, September 30, 2014)

Local groups are challenging the logic of putting our citizens in danger by transporting these Bomb Trains through our communities.

Mothers talk about oil train dangers At least 24 oil trains have been involved in major fires or derailments over the past decade in the U.S. and Canada. It’s a topic of concern for the group Mothers Out Front. They met on Sunday in Brighton to discuss the issue of how oil is transported. In Monroe County, dozens of trains carrying crude oil pass through our communities. Recently, federal regulators set new guidelines for the railroad industry, but some environmental groups say the new rules don’t go far enough. (May 18, 2015)WHAM

But why isn’t everyone protesting these dangerous Bomb Trains? Who in their right mind would find this situation where these potentially explosive trains run through our towns and near our public schools acceptable? And, why aren’t we focusing on renewable energy instead of Bomb Trains after New York finally rid itself of Fracking in a time of Climate Change?

There are some craven arguments that the reason for these Bomb Trains is that environmentalists keep stopping pipelines, which are much safer. Please. Check here for a list of hundreds of oil spills this century, and, of course there was this one this week:

Wildlife, pristine beaches focus of 'aggressive' oil spill cleanup Oil pipeline company officials said Wednesday that as many as 105,000 gallons of crude oil may have spilled from a ruptured pipeline on the California coast. The 24-inch pipeline ruptured along the Santa Barbara coast, leaking the oil near Refugio State Beach, a protected state park, just before Memorial Day weekend marks the start of the summer tourist season. Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline based the estimate -- what it called a worst-case scenario -- on the typical flow rate of oil and the elevation of the pipeline, said Rick McMichael, the company's director of pipeline operations. (May 20, 2015) CNN

Learn more about this issue at PAUSE and take ACTION. Also, sign the petition to Get Exploding Oil Trains Off the Tracks:

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Bold Climate Change actions for Rochester, New York


CCResultsSI’ve been skimming through the 2015 Climate Action Plan (actually a comment draft) for Portland, Oregon. It’s very readable—full of photos and graphs and bullet points—easy to skim and get the gist: these folks are freaking serious about addressing Climate Change. It’s no wonder; Portland has been at this sort of thing for some time:

“In 1993, Portland was the first U.S. city to create a local action plan for cutting carbon. Portland’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) is a strategy to put Portland and Multnomah County on a path to achieve a 40 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050 (compared to 1990 levels). The plan builds upon a legacy of forward-thinking climate protection initiatives by the City of Portland and Multnomah County that have resulted in significant total and per person reductions in local carbon emissions.” The City of Portland, Oregon Climate Action Plan

Increasingly, those who have been keeping up with the worldwide Climate Change disaster are realizing that individual actions won’t matter much if they are not organized and guided from a top-down approach. Left to their own, individuals in the aggregate tend not to do the right thing unless it is profitable, convenient, or regulated. I know, this kind of thinking puts libertarians (a strain of selfishness writ large) into a tizzy. But there is so much historical evidence that the unfettered quenching of desires without limits is suicidal on a finite planet that it’s not even funny.

What Portland’s plan does is put their efforts in a historical context, so they can measure their progress. The 2015 plan is one among many. The plan works with state, federal, and worldwide efforts. The plan also demonstrates the need for communities to work together to combat Climate Change, so they are not working against each other—stepping on each other’s efforts.

At the local level, Portland focuses on many of the challenges Climate Change brings to a community:

“Understanding Portland’s Carbon Emissions | Climate Action through Equity |A More Prosperous, Healthy and Equitable Portland |Buildings and Energy |Urban Form and Transportation |Consumption and Solid Waste |Food and Agriculture | Urban Forest, Natural Systems and Carbon Sequestration | Climate Change Preparation |Community Engagement, Outreach and Education |Local Government Operations | Implementation |Climate Action Plan Development Process” 2015 Climate Action Plan Chapters

The most salient points that caught my eye are the need to engage the poor and minority groups who contribute less to the problem, suffer most of the consequences, and are least able to deal with them; the role that transportation and buildings have in spewing out most of the greenhouse gas emissions (which allows for very measureable solutions); the importance of providing more canopy cover and carbon sinks with urban forests; creating a job Mecca with new green technology; and how recycling and solid waste figure into the Climate Change equations. But most important of all is how all these elements of Climate Change fit together and provide a circle of concerns and solutions that connect everyone in the community. You cannot solve Climate Change alone, but you can if everyone is pitching in with you and working from the same plan.

Lovely Warren, Rochester, NY’s mayor, recently announced the finishing up of our Climate Change action plan. Our first. We praise Mayor Warren for planning for this worldwide crisis.

City eyes plan to curb climate change Rochester officials want a concrete plan for the city to have less of an impact on the planet's changing climate. Mayor Lovely Warren submitted legislation to City Council last week to tap a $100,000 state grant and $9,000 in city funds to hire architectural and engineering design firm Bergmann Associates develop a city-wide plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The finished climate action plan would set a target to reduce emissions in Rochester over time and lay out specific ways to meet that goal. (May 1, 2015) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

We encourage the mayor to be bold. Besides hiring firms to design and engineer adaptation strategies, we call on the mayor to engage the entire community in this effort to address Climate Change.

We ask the mayor to invite many other groups to the table, including local community leaders, faith leaders, active transportation groups, the media, university leaders, and environmental leaders—who, by the way, just brought in world renowned climate scientist Dr. Hansen to speak to our community during Earth Week 2015 about the certainty of science on the Climate Change crisis.

There is much to be done to get Rochester ready for adaptation to Climate Change and helping to be a part of this worldwide effort. If the public is brought into these climate action discussions, there is a far better chance that an informed and engaged public will support the mayor in most of her efforts to make Rochester climate-change-ready. There’s a far better chance that volunteers will volunteer (like they do for Clean Sweep) knowing their individual efforts are a part of a very big effort.

Getting Rochester’s public transportation and our entire transportation system fixed so it can accommodate more pedestrians, more bicyclists, and more folks on our buses, has a more likely chance to succeed if the public is made a partner in the climate solutions—instead of outsourcing efforts to a small group of experts. (How about selling off the tragedy that is our new transit center and using the proceeds for more bus shelters that are heated, lit, go to all points in the city and county without unnecessarily going downtown?)

Allowing vacant City buildings to be used by volunteers and provide them books, programs, and pamphlets to educate the public on Climate Change adaptation strategies would help the mayor inform a great number of folks who our local media has not reached. Many of the problems Rochester is facing can be not only alleviated, but actually healed, by choreographing much of our efforts towards poverty, jobs, public health, clean water, transportation upgrades, clean air, energy efficiency, and clean energy through the lens of Climate Change—much in the way that Portland has done.

The public must see the City of Rochester addressing Climate Change and that our community is an integral part of the solutions. On Climate Change, leadership is crucial. 

Time passes.