Monday, July 18, 2016

A word about Brownfields cleanups in Rochester, NY

Whenever you hear businesses complain about the financial burdens of environmental regulations, think of Brownfields. Brownfields are abandoned sites, usually in urban locations, that are tainted by either real or perceived contamination, making them undesirable for private redevelopment efforts. Not to mention, Brownfields (like Love Canal) are public health scourges.

Brownfields aren’t an indispensable part of doing business; Brownfields happen when you aren’t conducting a business properly.

Ironically, the City of Rochester characterizes the cleanup of Brownfields as an opportunity, which is true I suppose if you view cleaning up urban areas unfit for human habitation as job creators. Even the EPA frames their Brownfields Program this way: “…creates many benefits for local communities”.

If you are able to glean the necessary funds to provide these jobs from the state or (even better) from the actual businesses that created these environmental disasters, then I’m sure there are jobs to be had. I get the part about making the best of a bad situation but I hope by describing the cleanup of Brownfields as opportunities we don’t put ourselves in the absurd position of encouraging Brownfields so folks can get jobs. (I know, as our present economics are practiced, this toxic waste circle-jerk would make sense, but in the real world dumping and leaving toxic waste behind never, ever makes sense.)

Cleaning up Brownfields “especially those in areas characterized by high poverty, unemployment or other indicators of community distress” is critical in preparing for Climate Change.

NEWS RELEASE - EPA AWARDS ROCHESTER $200,000 FOR ENVIRONMENTAL CLEANUP Mayor Lovely A. Warren announced today that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded the City of Rochester $200,000 in supplemental funding for the City’s Brownfields Cleanup Revolving Loan Fund. The funding will be used for cleanup and re-use efforts at contaminated manufacturing sites, especially those in areas characterized by high poverty, unemployment or other indicators of community distress.  “These funds will advance our efforts to help city neighborhoods that have suffered from neglect and disinvestment,” said Mayor Warren. “Cleaning up these contaminated properties in our most challenged neighborhoods is critical to our efforts to create more jobs, safer more vibrant neighborhoods and better educational opportunities in our schools. (July 13, 2016) City of Rochester, NY

Many of our Brownfields exist within poverty areas so when more extreme weather comes with Climate Change it is more likely that toxic leaching due to frequent, heavy flooding that will put more pressure on the public health in areas least prepared for these increased environmental hazards. Climate justice demands that Brownfields in poor areas get cleaned up immediately.  

I don’t know how many Brownfields there are in Rochester, Monroe County, or New York State—or the world for that matter. I don’t know how a Brownfield gets cleaned up in such a way that the contaminated area is entirely free to operate again as a healthy component of any ecosystem. I don’t know the best way to fund the cleanup of Brownfields so that the businesses who get the public money for cleaning up Brownfields use these funds or tax breaks for the intended purpose.

I do know that Brownfields are unacceptable no matter how they are characterized. And, I know that to prepare best so we can adapt to Climate Change, we need to get these damned places cleaned up.


Time passes. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Lyme disease, a Climate Change indicator in our region, is telling us to wake up

First, let’s get on the same page when we talk about Climate Change indicators. Here’s what our US government understands it to be: “…indicators of climate change can communicate key aspects of the changing environment, point out vulnerabilities, and inform decisions about policy, planning, and resource management.” Indicators, from GlobalChange.gov. 

This is what National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) thinks:

Many lines of scientific evidence show the Earth's climate is changing. This page presents the latest information from several independent measures of observed climate change that illustrate an overwhelmingly compelling story of a planet that is undergoing global warming. It is worth noting that increasing global temperature is only one element of observed global climate change. Precipitation patterns are also changing; storms and other extremes are changing as well. (Global Climate Change Indicators, NOAA)

Basically, climate change indicators are things like:



Sorry about all the hyperlinks but they lead somewhere. They lead to a plethora of indicators that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Climate Change is not only knocking at our door but threatening to break it down.

Buried in the EPA’s litany of indicators is Lyme Disease and I haven’t though too much about this particular indicator, as the local media doesn’t mention it much. (You can track local coverage of Lyme disease since 2000 here.)

So, it came as a surprise to come across this news report this week about the Lyme disease crisis in the Hudson Valley and how it’s at the forefront of a political fight.

Lyme disease drives campaign in Hudson Valley As campaigns for local offices intensify, candidates are running on fairly traditional campaign issues — job creation, economic growth and Second Amendment rights, to name just a few. But in the Hudson Valley, an unexpected issue has emerged.. In a race in the 41st Senate district in the Hudson Valley, candidates from both major parties have made Lyme disease a central part of their campaigns. The ailment, a result of tick bites, can produce a wide range of symptoms including fever, rash, facial paralysis, and arthritis. Dutchess and the surrounding counties have some of the highest levels of the disease in the nation. (July 5, 2016) Politicol

It’s a surprise to find that not too far from us in Rochester there is a major outbreak of Lyme disease but I guess many New Yorkers were already well aware of the problem:

More than 71,000 cases of Lyme disease have been reported in New York since 2000, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2014, the most recent year for which data is available, 3,736 new cases were reported in the state. The number of cases is rising in many counties, including those in Central New York. Onondaga County had just a handful of cases in the early 2000s, but nearly 200 from 2011 to 2014. (How many cases of Lyme disease where you live? Search our NY database by county, March 16, 2016 Syracuse.com)

This is how prevalent Lyme disease crisis is in the affected area and how at least one of our politicians understands the problem.

“In the Hudson Valley, almost everyone knows someone suffering the effects of Lyme or TBDs,” said Senator Serino. “While the diseases might not be known to that extent in other communities, they’re certainly beginning to spread across the state and eyes are really starting to open to the severity of Tick-Borne Diseases. If we want to prevent that spread and help those who are suffering, combatting Lyme and TBDs needs to be a priority each and every year.” (April 1, 2016, SERINO RENEWS COMMITMENT TO BATTLE LYME DISEASE New York State Senate).

Here’s what concerns me greatly. We have a massive outbreak of a major Climate Change indicator going on now and our politicians and media don’t mention the connection with this outbreak with the crisis of our age. Our climate experts have continually linked Lyme disease as an indicator of Climate Change and study after study has clearly linked the increase of Lyme disease in the Northeast with Climate Change. Here’s a reference to that link in our most important climate study pertaining to our region.

"Climate change may have serious implications for diseases affecting wildlife and people. Vector species, such as mosquitoes, ticks, midges, and other biting insects, respond dramatically to small changes in climate, which in turn alters the occurrence of diseases they carry. For example, Lyme disease, erlichiosis, and other tick-borne diseases are spreading as temperatures increase, allowing ticks to move northward and increase in abundance. " (Page 185, Report 11-18 Response to Climate Change in New York State (ClimAID) funded by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (2011)

Along with the dramatic increase in heavy rains in our region since 1958 (I know, we’re experiencing a little drought here in Monroe County right now, but this is a discussion about climate not weather), we are experiencing many other indicators of Climate Change in our region like Lyme disease. But our politicians talk about every aspect of Lyme disease—the symptoms, the number of people affected, how this devastating disease can screw up your life, how to prevent tics when going outdoor, and much more—except the very real connection with Climate Change. So when our politicians and the media don’t connect the dots between Lyme disease and Climate Change it means the public gets very concerned. But the public doesn’t realize we are experiencing Climate Change; the public doesn’t realize that our public health is already seriously compromised by Climate Change.

This code of silence between the media and our politicians on Climate Change means the public continues to believe that Climate Change is some far-off disaster they don’t have to worry about. It means when we vote in November, the public will still think Climate Change is not a priority.
It means we are allowing ourselves to let these few short years we have before the window of opportunity to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of Climate Change to go by without a public engagement on a level and speed that will ultimately matter.


Time passes. 

Monday, July 04, 2016

Paris Agreement, Climate Change, and Rochester, NY--an update

This week St. Vincent and the Grenadines ratified the Paris Agreement which they and 176 other nations signed the climate accord last Earth Day. Only 19 nations have ratified Paris at this time, though by the end of this year, signings by China and the USA could get the job done. We have until April 22, 2017 “the date on which at least 55 Parties to the Convention accounting in total for at least an estimated 55 % of the total global greenhouse gas emissions have deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession with the Depositary.”(1.) (You can track Ratifications here: United Nations Treaty Collection.)

Already markets are seeing an uptick in renewable energy since Paris, but still the fossil fuel industry holds on tenaciously. Credit rating industries are using the Paris Agreement as a guide for future credit assessments, which bodes well for our future. Investors need to operate in a somewhat predictable world where they are assured that every country is doing its best to achieve a sustainable existence.

However, it’s not all peaches and cream for our future. Despite the evidence that the fossil fuel industry knew that the results of their own investigations indicated a causal and dramatic relationship between the use of fossil fuels and Climate Change, they threatened the organizations calling them on this—instead of shifting gears and helping the world out. Reason and science and good will towards all don’t seem to be enough to fix this problem.

In Rochester some ground has been gained on addressing Climate Change because of the near-completion of the City’s Climate Action Plan (CAP). (We’re hearing it could pass city council by end of the year.) In and of itself, the CAP can’t fix this worldwide crisis, but it could go far in getting local businesses and the public prepared for the consequences. But for this to happen, the Rochester’s CAP needs public attention so it will get the support a climate plan needs.  For this to happen, our local media needs to connect the dots: Sustainability => Climate Change => public => media => government climate plan => actions on a speed and scale that will matter.

However, our local media still seems oblivious to Climate Change. According to this week’s news, the only downside of low gasoline prices is the probable increase in holiday accidents—not how our region will contribute more greenhouse gases to our atmosphere. Perhaps our local media thinks that because the national media fails the public on Climate Change, it’s OK to fail us locally too.

Nothing is made of the increase of Zika Virus in New York and the relationship to Climate Change.

State Identifies 324 Cases Of The Zika Virus New York's Health Department says it has identified 324 cases of Zika, all associated with travel to areas where mosquitoes are known to transmit it. The department says Thursday it has found no cases so far from mosquito bites in the state. It has reported 22 pregnant women with laboratory evidence of possible Zika virus infection to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Infection may cause birth defects. (July 1, 2016) WXXI News 

This is odd because the mosquitoes that carry the Zika Virus will fare better during Climate Change in NYS and so will the Zika Virus. Read the NYT story: “In Zika Epidemic, a Warning on Climate Change” Our New York State Public Health Department, which is all over the Zika Virus outbreak, is sadly dropping the ball on informing the public of the Zika Virus/Climate Change relationship.
There is a little hope in the reporting of harmful Algae blooms (HABs), where local media are finally starting to connect the dots with the warmer waters of the Finger Lakes, HABs, and Climate Change.

Health advisory issued for blue-green algae in Conesus Lake Conesus Lake has the dubious distinction of sporting the first confirmed outbreak of blue-green algae in the Rochester region this summer, prompting the Livingston County Department of Health to issue an advisory. Thirteen lakes now appear on the DEC's harmful algal bloom alert page. Among them is the Avon Marsh Dam Pond, also in Livingston County, where there is a suspicious but unconfirmed bloom of something nasty-looking. “Outbreaks of blue-green algae are become more and more common, with warming temperatures and other aspects of climate change partially to blame.” (June 24, 2016) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Last year Seneca Lake had its first official case of blue-green algae. Canandaigua Lake continues to be plagued by toxic algae. And the shallow Honeoye Lake usually has an on-going blue-green algae problem. Climate Change is changing our Finger Lakes and this needs to be on our list of present consequences of this crisis so we can plan properly. Read the EPA factsheet on blue-green algae and Climate Change: “Impacts of Climate Change on the Occurrence of Harmful Algal Blooms
One of the more pernicious cases of the media’s fossil-fuel amnesia involves the link between Climate Change and Bomb Trains. Whether you know it or not there has been a vast increase in the transporting of dangerously volatile crude oil since 2011 through our communities on railcars meant for corn syrup. To show your support locally for the need to reduce fossil fuels, consider attending this memorial rally: 4:15-6 p.m., Wednesday, July 6, 2016 at the Federal Building, 100 State Street, Rochester, NY.

Press Release:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                
CONTACT: Linda Pratt at (585) 729-2558 or lspeechgirl1@gmail.com


Mothers and Others Remember Train Victims, Warn of Danger
Rochester, NY —Wednesday, July 6, at 4:15 p.m., citizens decrying the continued passage of explosive Bakken crude oil trains through Monroe County will line the sidewalks in front of the Federal Building to name and mourn the 48 victims of the 2013 Bakken train oil derailment in  Lac Megantic, Quebec.  The Toronto Star recently stated that apart from war, the destruction from this event was unprecedented in Canadian history. 30 buildings, about half the downtown, were destroyed, and most of the remainder are too contaminated to allow to stand.

The memorial rally was called to draw attention to the tragic consequences of Bakken oil trains. 
There have been 11 explosive derailments since 2013, including the most recent one on June 3, 2016 in Mosier, Oregon.  The Fire Chief there has called shipping Bakken Crude by rail “insane.” 
Monroe County sees a daily average of over 200 Bakken oil tanker rail cars, “and each tank car of crude holds the energy equivalent of two million sticks of dynamite (WSJ, May 22, 2014: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303749904579577861760037536). The National Transportation Safety Board calls these unit trains of Bakken crude “an unacceptable public risk.” (http://www.foxnews.com/us/2014/02/27/rail-cars-used-to-ship-oil-called-unacceptable-public-risk.html).

“Lac Megantic has been the only accident in a populated area so far. In Monroe County, trains run through highly populated areas, past dozens of schools, and across sensitive waterways. Derailments have happened here before, but this kind of explosive derailment would be worse than anything we have seen, with fireballs larger than our downtown skyscrapers,” explains Linda Isaacson Fedele of the Rochester Mothers Out Front Bakken Research Team.
Mothers Out Front of Rochester and Monroe County researches the dangers of fracked Bakken crude, and has recently been presenting to local governments and school boards about the risk. The most effective prevention for all the risks involved would be to leave the oil in the ground. This memorial protest will call on congress for a national ban on transporting this oil by rail.

·         WHO: New York Mothers Out Front (“Mobilizing for a Livable Climate”) and supporters
·         WHAT: Lac Megantic Memorial/Action Rally
·         WHEN: 4:15-6 p.m., Wednesday, July 6, 2016
·         WHERE: The Federal Building, 100 State Street
More:

On the Oregon derailment:

On the 2013 Lac Megantic derailment:

About  Mothers Out Front: Mothers Out Front Is a group of mothers, grandmothers, and other caregivers coming together to make climate change an issue that our leaders can no longer ignore.




Monday, June 27, 2016

Your city can dramatically amplify your ability to address Climate Change

Climate Change has grown so ominous that individuals cannot have much of an impact on necessary solutions. (I know, this is environmental heresy.) However much a single person dedicates their lives to living sustainably, he or she cannot effect addressing this particular crisis unless a large percent of the population is also engaged. With seven billion people (9 billion by 2050) who need food, energy, transportation, and waste removal, a relative few are not going to change the environmental footprint of humanity’s effect on Climate Change on a level and speed that will matter. We have squandered too much time dragging our feet, too much time listening to folks offering to make the Climate Change crisis magically disappear with lies and denial.

But collectively in the form of cities around the world we can play an important role in what Michael Bloomberg describes as an alliance of cities.

Our new alliance unites 600m city dwellers in fight against climate change Cities are huge carbon emitters but are ideally placed to tackle climate change. When it comes to confronting climate change, the world’s cities are proving that there’s strength in unity. The historic climate agreement reached in Paris in December, which was approved by nearly all of the world’s nations, was made possible in part by the progress that cities have made by working together. Today, the two biggest coalitions of cities in the world – the EU-based Covenant of Mayors and the UN-backed Compact of Mayors – are forming an alliance to link more than 600 million city dwellers in the fight against climate change. (June 22, 2016) The Guardian

A city exists in much the way a single individual exists in our environment, though on a much larger scale. By the 2050 most of the world’s population are going to reside in our cities offering both great challenges and opportunities for dealing with Climate Change. Check out this incredible video (see below) of humanity’s move to cities over the millennia.

Watch 6,000 years of people moving to cities Humans have been building and living in cities for thousands of years. But only very recently — in the past few years — did the scales tip to more of us choosing to settle in cities than in rural areas. According to the United Nations, 54 percent of the world's population now lives in urban areas. That figure was 30 percent in 1950 and is expected to rise to 66 percent by 2050. In the video below, you can watch the stunning rise of human cities, from their humble origin in the Fertile Crescent in the year 3700 BC to the boom of the past century. (June 19, 2016) VOX

Each city around the world impacts our environment in similar ways—bringing in water, taking out waste, providing infrastructures, setting codes, and enforcing laws—acting more or less like huge living beings whose behavior towards our life support system matters a lot. The city you live in amplifies every impact you have on our environment. If your city is curbing its greenhouse gas emissions and recycling its waste so are you. In short, if your city is existing sustainably you are a part of that.

Each of us can significantly increase our effect on our world environment by becoming an integral part of our city’s efforts in addressing Climate Change.

Hundreds of Cities Commit to Emissions Limits Cities today host more than half of the Earth’s human beings and account for about 70 percent of global energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Now, 228 cities around the world are taking the lead on climate action, setting greenhouse gas reduction goals or targets. Action in these cities, with a combined population of 439 million people, could ensure that countries meet their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), the national greenhouse gas reduction pledges embodied in the Paris Climate Agreement. At the UN’s annual climate conference in December 2015 in Paris, 195 countries adopted the world’s first universal, legally binding global climate deal. (June 9, 2016) Environmental News Service 

However, cities can and should do much more than provide mechanisms to bring down greenhouse gas emissions. Much of the way we adapt to Climate Change, which will require emergency personnel to address extreme weather catastrophes and making our infrastructures more resilient, can only be accomplished by our local governments.

But our city governments can only do so much to address Climate Change. They must have their citizens engaged to be effective. They need the public’s attention for support and feedback on any climate actions cities take. But how do cities communicate the urgency behind Climate Change locally and get the public onboard? Oddly enough, city governments seem to have just as much trouble reaching the public as other well-meaning organizations. Either a lot of money or attention-grabbing theatrics are needed to wake the media up. Which is to say, our media is of limited use in Communication because their priority is making money, not informing the public of important stuff. That’s why our media has so much sports and pets and other such pander-mongering stuff on their front page instead of important information. Essentially, the media, as it presently functions, does not participate in helping communities address Climate Change because they still see the health of our continual existence as an issue outside of their bailiwick. 

Yet, there are still many ways city governments can increase their effectiveness at communicating their critical role in addressing Climate Change to their citizens. Cites do get in the news, of course, with emergencies and press releases. They can do news spots—but often the media won’t show up unless there is something spectacularly exciting mixed in. They can create pamphlets and send out letters. That’s expensive so they don’t do a lot of that. They can go to public places like the public market or local zoos and hope people stop by their booth. Though, I suspect booths on Climate Change at public markets are not heavily attended.

A certain amount of gentle persuasion is needed to be get the media to pay attention to a city’s attempt to orchestrate Climate Change efforts. Public service announcements (“messages in the public interest disseminated by the media without charge”, Wikipedia) at prime-time media viewing would be helpful.

Also, there is a strategy the city of Rochester is already using to communicate with its citizens that could be increased dramatically: neighborhood associations (NAs). Much of how the City must address Climate Change can be messaged to the public via NA’s. Working with neighborhood associations are a major vehicle for the City to speak to all the city’s constituents. In my neighborhood association we meet with the police, City representatives, firemen, and businesses, and any group having a local impact. It doesn’t cost the City to have their officials meet regularity with neighborhood associations to explain what they are doing and listen for feedback. It’s kinda like extracurricular activities for them.

Neighborhood associations have the ability to reach most of the folks in their neighborhood by email lists, web sites, events, programs, and (if need be) going door-to-door campaigning. There are thirty-three neighborhoods in our City but not all of them have associations. The City could find ways to increase NAs with a variety of volunteer programs.

Just one more thing, in Rochester, NY, our county (Monroe County) has a bigger footprint than the City. (The reverse is the case with Portland, Oregon.) This means, for example, the City’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) must not only become the leader in addressing Climate Change for its continents, the City’s CAP must also be a stimulus for kicking our sluggish county into gear.

There’s no way around it, size matters when addressing Climate Change. The time when ad hock individual efforts can bring down our planet’s temperature are over. Humanity must act as a single entity to make a dramatic shift from business as usual. Cities are local institutions already in place that are responsible for our collective wellbeing. That makes cities crucial in our efforts to address Climate Change.

Time passes.

   

Monday, June 20, 2016

Remembrance of Climate Change possibilities

Nostalgia is the remembrance of what was once possible. But I don’t feel nostalgic about not addressing Climate Change earlier. I feel impatient. We have wasted valuable time prevaricating on Climate Change action. This crisis has gotten significantly worse. We are hurtling dangerously close to our inability to avoid the worse consequences of planetary warming and I suspect we will be held in contempt by those who come after us much like those who either ignored or in some way contributed to slavery. The Civil War could have been avoided had important warnings been heeded.

30 years ago scientists warned Congress on global warming. What they said sounds eerily familiar It was such a different time — and yet, the message was so similar. Thirty years ago, on June 10 and 11 of 1986, the U.S. Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works commenced two days of hearings, convened by Sen. John H. Chafee (R-R.I.), on the subject of “Ozone Depletion, the Greenhouse Effect, and Climate Change.” “This is not a matter of Chicken Little telling us the sky is falling,” Chafee said at the hearing. “The scientific evidence … is telling us we have a problem, a serious problem.” The hearings garnered considerable media coverage, including on the front page of The Washington Post (see below). (June 11, 2016) The Washington Post

For many places on Earth the time when carbon dioxide levels will drop below 400 parts per million (ppm) is gone. Considering that our species thrived for 10,000 years, up to the mid-1800’s with a very stable 280ppm climate, our present climate disruption is a case of jaw-dropping irresponsibility. The Antarctic is now experiencing this incredible benchmark: “Antarctic CO2 Hit 400 PPM For First Time in 4 Million Years” (6/15/2016 Climate Central). We could have prevented this.

The fossil fuel industry actively campaigned against acting on Climate Change when their own studies revealed the impact of the continued use their products on our climate. [See: “EXXON: The Road Not Taken” Imagine, as writer, activist, and creator of 350.org, often does if EXXON did the right thing way back then.

In the years ahead we won’t have much time to reflect on what could have been because we’ll be too busy scrambling to save critical infrastructures, vital ecosystems, and people. Lots and lots of people whose ability to feed themselves and escape the heat will be placed in jeopardy because of our inaction.

There’s this peculiar relationship we have with our own history. For instead of using history to learn from our mistakes, we often tend to see our past mistakes as inevitable. Wars, famine, accidents were meant to be. Perhaps tragedies seem more bearable if we view them as something far beyond our control.

But.

Nothing was meant to be. If the worst of Climate Change comes to be, it’s because we allowed it to happen.

This is where we are now:

“May was the 13th month in a row to break temperature records according to figures published this week that are the latest in 2016’s string of incredible climate records which scientists have described as a bombshell and an emergency.” Shattered records show climate change is an emergency today, scientists warn” (6/17/2016, The Guardian)


Time passes. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

To rally or not to rally on Climate Change

I have joined many rallies* on Climate Change, including the greatest yet, the People’s Climate March in NYC in 2014. I’ve experienced them all as warm and welcoming, but also extremely passionate displays of concern.  I have helped put together a number of these rallies. But over time I’ve come to question the usefulness of rallies on Climate Change as a worthwhile vehicle for engaging the public on this existential issue. The downside of making a lot of noise on divisive issues is that the silent majority tends to feel alienated from the rowdy-looking crowds, plus it encourages the media’s tendency to only frame important issues through adversity or public spectacles. Neither our economy nor our media seem capable of properly framing Climate Change so the public actually understands what’s coming at them.

Traditionally, rallies have been very effective vehicles for change. Women’s rights were greatly advanced by rallies. The abolitionist movement, LGBT rights, and many more social issues have been advanced by rallies when these issues would have otherwise languished in a moral limbo due to humanity’s tendency towards social inertia. 

Certainly those folks who march with us about the urgent need to address and mitigate Climate Change understand what we are attempting. They get energized to do more. But what about those people who are watching from the sidelines? Those people watching through their media? Or, those folks we have failed to reach through the media either from our own ineptitude or mass media indifference?

If we are alienating the majority with rallies, how do you engage all of humanity in the kind of change Climate Change will require? Like it or not, there are no humans on the sidelines of Climate Change. Even the superrich will run out of money trying to save themselves. We can certainly go after the bad players, like fossil fuel industry representatives who lied to us about what they knew about their industry’s effect on our climate, and who will to continue doing business as usual regardless. We can rally against those would-be politicians, like Donald Trump, who shift their positions on Climate Change to push their own agenda.

However, at the end of the day, it is all of our collective selves who must change in order to insure that all of our collective existences—even those in our would-be future—get a chance to survive. A few cannot do it and we cannot drag along those who work against us because their accumulated damages might well bring us all down. We have come to the point in our history where we have so challenged our life support system with pollution, the loss of biodiversity, and global warming that our own sustainability continually teeters on the brink of collapse.  We’ve destroyed the environment’s resiliency, its ability to absorb our mistakes. Like running a nuclear power plant, there’s no longer any room for error.

Solving this dilemma about messaging Climate Change for full effect is like recruiting absolutely everyone at a football game—both teams, all the people on the bleachers, the people running the concession stands, the plant and wildlife around the stadium and everyone and everything that would show up for the next football game. Another metaphor to capture this unparalleled crisis perhaps: It’s like talking to our own physical selves, the collection of billions of cells that make up who we are, and getting the host of these biological microorganisms, us, to make a decision. We don’t decide to go to a football game thinking our liver or some of our brain cells can stay home and watch it on TV. We are all sharing Climate Change: When Earth cooks we are all stew.

When we rally to get the public’s attention on Climate Change, eyes roll, TV‘s get shut off, attention wanders, and many get upset. When we rally, mainstream media gets bored and refuses to cover our events unless we bake in something exotic. But if we don’t rally, we encourage the absurd notion that physics has conveniently avoided this issue. Shutting up about Climate Change won’t make it go away; it will make it far worse because nobody will be ready.    

Of course, we will continue to rally because it has worked many, many times before. Sometimes rallying is a way to gather people’s attention beyond the ability of the media’s ability to frame it their way. In repressive regimes, taking to the streets reaches people where they are. Social media and the Internet have allowed climate activists to become their own media—to some degree anyways—and reach a wider audience. Most likely, we rally because we don’t know what else to do to immediately grab the public’s attention. It should have been enough for the world to recognize that the vast majority of climate scientists say we need to stop putting more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. But it isn’t working quickly enough.

For a while longer it is quite likely that the majority of humanity will continue to stand on the sidelines on Climate Change, rallies or no rallies. But increasingly all our lives will be uprooted by extreme weather events, social unrest, and public health issues that will overwhelm our health systems. Our governments, those institutions we’ve been criticizing for wasting our tax dollars, will rush in and try to save use. Those who have chosen not to engage themselves in the crisis of our age will desperately join those who have been warning them for decades to get moving. Except, as in slavery where millions of lives were squandered by inaction, billions of lives may be squandered because the chances to act in a way that would have mattered would have passed.

So, I guess until the day when temperatures start coming down precipitously, there will be rallies in the hope that they will produce different results. I know, change takes time. But time is what we ain’t got anymore.

Times passes.


* For the purposes of this essay I’m throwing marches, protests, demonstration, rallies, all under the rubric of ‘rallies’. 

Monday, June 06, 2016

Rumblings of #NYRENEWS in New York’s Capitol

On Wednesday June 1st, folks from all over New York State came together in Albany to insist that our legislators get with the Climate Change program. While a couple of us were waiting to speak to our state senators on the fourth floor, hundreds of activists were thundering through the halls of the state capitol building demonstrating for the New York State Climate and Community Protection Act on the third floor. From our perspective, the rumblings below portended a profound escalation in the public’s resolve to get their representatives to vote for “Good jobs, frontline justice, and healthy communities through 100% clean renewable energy”. (NYRENEWS.org)  

At that moment (about 3PM) none of us knew whether the NYS Assembly would pass A10342, the purpose of which is “…is to enact the "New York State Climate and Community Protection Act" to address and mitigate the impacts of climate change in New York.” (1). So a few of us wandered over to the Assembly Chamber where members were filing in for the vote. Despite the continual clanging of an urgent-sounding bell throughout the humongous building to alert representatives that is was voting time, our representatives made their way leisurely to their seats. But our little group had to leave in order to catch our bus back to Rochester before we found out about the results of this historic vote. Only the next day did we find out:

New York Assembly Approves Climate Bill That Would Cut Emissions to Zero The bill, endorsed by a broad coalition, is also notable for its emphasis on environmental and economic justice, advocates say. This story was updated at 1:15 am ET on May 2, 2016, to reflect the state assembly's vote on the climate bill. The New York State Assembly approved the nation's most ambitious climate change bill Wednesday. The vote came hours after a broad coalition of environmental justice, climate activist, conservation and labor groups took to the State Capitol in Albany urging lawmakers to swiftly pass the bill before the legislative session ends on June 16. The legislation requires the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from major sources to zero by 2050. That would demand a near total decarbonization of its economy, and it would put New York among the world's leaders on forceful climate action. To achieve it, the bill gives the state until 2030 to get at least 50 percent of its electricity from clean energy. (June 1, 2016) Inside Climate News

Pretty heady stuff. I’ve attended many a Climate Change rally, and it’s not often that a decision gets made in our favor immediately after our demands are made. Instant gratification is not the usual fare when protesting against a fossil-fuel world and trying to herald in a renewable and sustainable existence. In fact, we are a long way from getting even this bill passed that would make NYS a leader in addressing Climate Change; first, a similar bill has to get though the more challenging state senate and even then, the governor would have to sign it.

Outside on the Capitol steps (from about noon to 2PM), six or seven hundred of us listened to many incredible speeches by activists. Some were local politicians pleading for a viable future for their constituents, and some were union leaders describing a future with clean energy jobs. Many speakers talked about the poorest getting hit first and worst by Climate Change. One speech acknowledged the newfound association of many communities not historically linked with climate activism (as they have had many more immediate threats to their existence) and communicated a dawning realization about the new warming world we have entered: Addressing Climate Change is now the political and economic vehicle, whatever ones feelings about our environment, for a viable future. Many groups who have felt helpless getting their concerns addressed are realizing the importance of this new avenue for change. Contained in the often chanted maxim during the day, “The People United Will Never Be Divided!” is something those still attempting to block change through deceit and denial should be aware of: A people united is a force more powerful than money.

Throughout the speeches on the steps, many of the speakers floated seamlessly between English and Spanish.  One speech was rendered entirely in Hispanic. By this time, I was feeling a little stupid for only knowing one language—and some say that one not all that well.   

At around 10AM, on our way through the concourse from our bus to the Capitol, we bumped into one of our local senators. After an amiable exchange, where we all greeted each other as Rochester-centric cheerleaders, we suddenly pushed back on the senator’s characterization that NYS is doing enough already on Climate Change. We should be pounding China not New York on Climate Change, the senator implored.

Ok, that was weird, as if a very cheerful party has just been made uncomfortable by an unpleasant outburst. We pushed back again because China, as we all know, is not in New York State. China is a place where no NYS senator would have any effect. The senator was squirming now and suddenly thought of an engagement he needed to get to—which by the way was in the other direction he was headed before he met up with us.

I’ve heard the China syndrome used in the context of Climate Change before, but not by one of my senators actually talking to me. The argument, as I understand it is that, the Chinese are putting the most carbon emissions into the atmosphere and the activists should go after them. New York, which stopped Fracking in its tracks, should be given a break by the activists. We have done enough. 
There are many talking points one could have used on the senator had he been willing to stick around and listen to them. First, New York State, which was a major player in the Second Industrial Revolution, is partly responsible for most of the greenhouse gases that have already caused Climate Change disasters around the world. This fact probably would have gotten the senator’s eyes rolling big time. Moral arguments were not in the script. However, more to the point of the bill we want the state senate to consider, New York State can and should be a leader in addressing Climate Change by providing good solid jobs around a renewable infrastructure, and blocking new fossil fuel infrastructure like Bomb Trains snaking through our NYS communities or filling empty salt caverns near the Finger Lakes full of gas (see WeAreSenecaLake).

And, as a matter of politics, it was President Obama’s willingness to demonstrate to China that the US was willing to lead and make significant moves towards renewable energy that helped bring China to the table in Paris. China and the US made the Paris Agreement happen. New York can and should lead on renewable energy now that we’ve chased the specter of Fracking away.

Though it is often the nature of the beast, our legislatures shouldn’t be looking over their shoulders to see how their colleagues are voting before making their decisions on the crisis of our age. The NYS Senate is unlikely to vote favorably on the New York State Climate and Community Protection Act, we get that. But our representatives should be looking straight at their constituents, the facts of climate science, and past disasters like Hurricane Sandy for guidance on how they should vote.

The bill passed on Wednesday in the NYS Assembly but where do we go from here?

The bill was first introduced to the state Assembly on May 23 by Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D). There is currently no equivalent bill in the state Senate, and with only eight days left in the legislative session, it’s unclear whether the bill will make it to Cuomo’s desk for a signature before the legislative session ends. (June 2, 2016 – Climate Progress)

I don’t know yet. But I do know Climate Change is not waiting for the voting bell, and the temperatures are rising quickly.


Time passes. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Using the past to guide us through Climate Change

Given the planetary impact of dangerously quick climate temperatures rising around the world due to human machinations, I suspect there are precious few examples in the past to guide us forward. We are in trouble in a way we never have been before. Civilizations have come and gone over the span of human existence but the entire species and all other species on the planet haven’t before been placed in jeopardy by humanity’s collective attitudes towards our life support system. (Of course, we are always under the threat of mass annihilation by nuclear proliferation but that crisis is not due to the behavior of everyone—just some bad players and some crazy national policies.) Furthermore, we will have to address all our major existential problems—nuclear proliferation, Climate Change, pollution, overpopulation, overconsumption, the loss of biodiversity and much more—at the same time. This is why Climate Change is the mother of all problems.

Toffler’s 1970 book Future Shock talked about modernization moving so quickly that it will be increasingly more difficult to use the past as a guide for the future. This is certainly true with Climate Change. Naturally, we have science as a guide as to what is going on. But science and climatologists’ rushing to fill our knowledge gaps about Climate Change won’t teach us how seven billion people will adjust to the “inconvenience” of a warming planet, where the catastrophic consequences are far more likely to impact those who didn’t cause this crisis than those who did. Also, fairness must be baked into addressing Climate Change, or else social unrest will compound this crisis by multitudes of factors.

We do have examples in history of visionaries who were able to get the measure of the critical issues of their times and arriving at insights that we, in their future, find enlightened and forever attitude altering. These special individuals knew then what we know now. Examples include Samuel Adams and the idea that a colony of a great power should and could break free when their unfair treatment becomes intolerable. Jefferson’s notion that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” (though he himself didn’t practiced what he preached.). Stanton’s and Anthony’s position that women must have the right to vote. Alexander Von Humboldt’s vision that science should develop and flourish beyond national boundaries and ideologies. And a lot more individuals throughout our history who saw ahead of their contemporaries about what people could become by turning the great ship of humanity towards those ends.  

One such visionary whose views might be instructive in our current Climate Change crisis is William Lloyd Garrison’s position on slavery in the United States.

Garrison, publisher of The Liberator, an (the) abolitionist newspaper started in 1831, compelled race equality into the US Constitution. In the 1830's most abolitionists, politicians, newspapers, and just about everyone North and South believed that slavery should and would end eventually. But for even moral heroes like Lincoln that meant holding to the Constitution, where slavery was legalized, and Colonization by sending freed slaves to another place (Liberia), and allowing time to take its course. Garrison changed everything as he upheld immediacy, no Colonization, and total equality. No if’s, and’s, or but’s.

What we think of as abolitionism today is the result of Garrison’s life work.

"It comes as a surprise to realize that of all the antebellum political conceptions about slavery that contended for supremacy--states' rights, three-fifths clause, Missouri Compromise, toleration but nonextension, popular sovereignty--it was Garrison's program of immediate emancipation through the repudiation of the proslavery constitutional compromises and a union dissolved and reconstructed that prevailed." (Page XV, All On Fire)

Emphatic on abolishing slavery, Garrison succeeded in convincing just enough groups and key individuals that anything less that immediate and total equality, regardless of the Constitution, was the only morally acceptable solution to slavery. Almost everyone but Fredrick Douglas thought Garrison was an intolerant ideologue bent on destroying the union.

Sure, most antebellum folks thought Garrison incapable of compromise and reason—though now we see that he was quite reasonable. So too will be those who hold to the proposition that Climate Change must be addressed now before it gets worse. There are innumerable solutions being entertained right now that attempt to address Climate Change but so far they are not equal to the task. Just buying an electric car, or creating a carbon tax, or shifting to organics, or other single actions won’t save the planet. Nothing but the immediate relief from manmade greenhouse gas emissions will save our life support system. There are no concessions to physics possible, no slow and gradual options for keeping fossil fuel energy use alive, and no transporting this problem to the future. We are nearing the danger zone on Climate Change, a point where natural and built environments break down from overheating and social unrest.    

Many now are realizing that Climate Change is an existential problem but are still holding that the solution must come gradually so as not to disrupt the 'harmony' of our fossil-fuel driven existence or threaten our present economy.

Garrison was able to see the clear and unambiguous nature of slavery. It was evil. That the numerous attempts to make chattel slavery a morally justified institution, thereby avoiding the obvious trajectory, were only making it more likely for all to end in a great conflagration. True, ending slavery with the Civil War and the Thirteenth Amendment did not end the brutality against folks with dark skin and yes, Reconstruction was a disaster; nevertheless, slave auctions and the selling of people in the US is no more.

Even more compelling than the moral arguments against slavery are the hard scientific realities behind Climate Change. Climate Change is the moral problem of our day. But it is not a moral problem in the way slavery was. Climate Change is beyond morality in the sense that while it is certainly a moral issue, it is our behavior, however motivated, that will matter. Though terrible and evil, slavery was not threatening the existence of every living being on this planet. Garrison’s goal was to prove to the public that slavery was evil and that humanity must change their attitudes immediately. Garrison struggled to change humanity by appealing to everyone’s sense of Christian morality. Garrison didn’t want to change Christianity to change everyone; he wanted everyone to actually practice Christianity.

With Climate Change, humanity must change their behavior so that our actions render our environment sustainable. If appealing to humanity’s sense of morality will do the trick, then we should do that. But it alone probably won’t on a scale and time that will matter. If morality had that power, it would have already worked. It’s not working; world temperatures and concentrations of greenhouse gases are going up, not down. Climate Change isn’t just morally wrong, it will be the end of us if we don’t become another kind of being—a non-selfish being willing to share the planet with others. Dramatic actions along with a keen sense of moral outrage will probably have to occur before the kind of change needed will happen. Actions like Break Free From Fossil Fuels are an indication, like abolitionism, that some are willing to stand up against the social inertial that is plummeting us into an unsustainable future.  

The value of learning about Garrison and other visionaries is that there are past examples of how someone understood the core problem of their age and became the vehicle of change. Garrison understood that the only solution to ending slavery was changing the public’s attitudes about slavery. Not ballot box morality (continually electing pro-slavery politicians to avert war sure didn’t work), not making concession with the other side, not continuing business as usual, and not thinking some states could have slavery and some could not; none of these provided the solution. Was Garrison right about slavery? Yes, and the Thirteenth Amendment proved him right.

Garrison can help teach us to understand the core problem of our age: that our environment must above all be healthy or no one survives. No human contrivance can work quickly enough to solve this problem of Climate Change for it is we who must change.

The difference between those who would continue slavery in the yesteryears and those in our day who procrastinate on Climate Change is that the former would burn in Hell and the latter will burn right here on Earth, along with everyone else.

Time passes.






Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Rochester, NY’s Climate Action Plan survey

Consider completing Rochester, NY’s Climate Change Action Plan survey. This plan will affect how our local government addresses Climate Change. Your input into this process is vital.
Critical to addressing Climate Change are our local community governments because they set the rules, enforce the rules, maintain our infrastructures, educate the public on issues vital to our way of life, and prepare the public for clear and present dangers. The City has been working on shoring up its own clean energy and transportation in the first phase of addressing Climate Change and now it’s moving to the second phase: Our community’s role.

Many local groups have been a part of the process to complete the second phase where much is being planned to address the local consequences of Climate Change and engage the public on this issue. Climate Change is affecting our lives now and it will increasingly affect our children’s lives.
Please take a moment and fill out this survey on the Climate Action Plan which will demonstrate to the City that you want this worldwide crisis addressed here in Rochester too.

CLIMATE ACTION PLAN "We want to hear from you!  Take our community-wide Climate Action Plan survey. What is a Climate Action Plan? Climate Action Plans (CAP) are comprehensive roadmaps that outline the community-wide efforts that will be taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. CAPs build upon the information gathered by greenhouse gas inventories and generally focus on those activities that can achieve the relatively greatest emission reductions in the most cost-effective manner.  CAPs typically focus on quantifying existing and projected community-wide greenhouse gas emissions; establishing greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets; identifying and analyzing future greenhouse gas emissions; identifying specific measures that will achieve the emissions targets; and establishing a mechanism to monitor the plan's progress. ”City of Rochester, NY

The urgency and importance of helping Rochester by filling out this survey can be expressed more emphatically by appreciating the backdrop from which the request is made: It’s getting hotter.
If the Paris Agreement is going to work, it had better do so quickly. Earth's thermostat is still going up dramatically. It is in this way that Climate Change is quite simple to understand; when we overheat we’re going to cook. What we have done thus far to bring temperatures down has not worked. Just doing something is not enough. Just getting a little more environmentally friendly doesn’t cut it anymore. What we do must actually fix the problem.

Far From Turning a Corner, Global CO2 Emissions Still Accelerating The latest greenhouse gas inventory from NOAA shows CO2 and methane 'going completely in the wrong direction.' The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is not just rising, it's accelerating, and another potent greenhouse gas, methane showed a big spike last year, according to the latest annual greenhouse gas index released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. CO2 emissions totaled between 35 and 40 billion tons in 2015, according to several agencies. Some of that is absorbed by forests and oceans, but those natural systems are being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of new CO2. As a result, the inventory shows, the average global concentration increased to 399 parts per million in 2015, a record jump of almost 3 ppm from the year before. (May 19, 2016) Inside Climate News

Though many may still view Climate Change as political, trust me, whatever your political persuasion, frequent extreme weather events will ruin your day, your economy, and your future.  

It’s important to give the City of Rochester feedback about what their citizens expect from their government on Climate Change. Of course, filling out this five-minute survey is only one way to get engaged on Climate Change. There are many other things you can do also, including using active transportation (walking and bicycling) for short distances, adopting a carbon fee, protesting against more fossil fuel infrastructures, driving an eco-efficient vehicle, or fixing those heating leaks in your house. But in order to act on a scale and speed that will actually matter we’re going to have to think and act on a global scale. We must join and help accelerate our local government’s efforts to bring together all our efforts to address this issue.

Without your input governments are put in a hard place. Although Climate Change includes all the issues a government is under an obligation to their constituents for, many, if not most folks still don’t perceive Climate Change as a threat that their governments, and their tax dollars, should be putting on top of their priority list. That means the government doesn’t get your support or tax dollars to plan and adapt to the assaults on our way of life that Climate Change presents. Government are the only institutions that can protect it citizens from Climate Change. Governments are the only institutions that must protect their citizens from Climate Change.

Indians demand government action after temperatures hit 51C Hospitals struggle to cope as patient numbers soar and cold water in short supply after hottest day (May 20, 2016 The Guardian)

The private sector can do a lot of specific measures, like building gas efficient or electric cars, but the private sector cannot do what a government does. Here’s a hundred things that your government does: WHAT DOES OUR GOVERNMENT DO? Think about them as Climate Change bears down on us, not on what climate deniers think about the realities that contradict their world view.

Be neat if we could get thousands of Rochesterians to sign this five-minute survey and learn about our city’s Climate Action Plan.  Please thinks of filling out the survey and then sending it on to your contact lists and so on until everyone gets a chance to pipe in.   


Time passes.