Monday, January 22, 2018

Cleaning up old Brownfields should not just be a developer’s opportunity

In Rochester, NY’s Climate Action Plan (CAP), the importance of cleaning up old Brownfields* as we go further into Climate Change is discussed. One of the four ongoing Brownfields--South Genesee River Corridor BOA (former Vacuum Oil site) Project—needing clean-up is mentioned in the CAP as a Brownfield Opportunity Area (BOA).

New York State Brownfield Opportunity Areas (BOA). This Program is administered and managed through the New Yoneighborhood revitalization and brownfield redevelopment. The BOA program recognizes that brownfields, underutilized properties, and vacant sites can all have negative impacts on neighborhood vitality, property values and quality of life. The program provides a funding source to facilitate community and neighborhood-based planning, while creating strategies to improve overall conditions and opportunities for reinvestment and revitalization. (Page 10, CAP)
rk State Department of State (DOS). The program provides financial and technical assistance to complete area-wide strategies for

Incentivizing Brownfield cleanings is usually viewed as an opportunity, a chance to bring in developers with deep pockets and transform a region with a bleak future to one with a bright future. And, I suppose if you end up losing your legs because of a bad car accident, it can be viewed as an ‘opportunity’ for finally being able to take the time to write that great American novel you continually say you’ll get to. Of course, the use of ‘opportunity’ in this sense is so stretched as to sound absurd and craven.

But I get it: We create Brownfields with almost no effort, it’s finding the public will to get them cleaned up in our present economic system makes their disappearance extremely difficult.
Those neighborhoods who have long endured Brownfields might be forgiven if they find the word ‘opportunity’ unsettling as developers and governments try to find a way to pitch cleaning up a Brownfield in a positive light. Cleaning up a Brownfield smack dab in the center of Rochester near a major university, the Genesee River, and the Genesee Park can make developers almost giddy with the prospects.  

However, Brownfields should be cleaned up because they are contaminated land that is not good for nearby residents, the vitality of the neighborhood, the natural environment, and is not the way we should be thinking about land use under Climate Change. The PLEX neighborhood would like the abandoned Vacuum Oil site cleaned up for the health of it, not necessarily as an economic opportunity for others. They’ve been living with doubt and confusion about the repercussions for their children of growing up and living in the oldest Brownfield in Rochester. They don’t want their plight compounded by the lowest level of cleanup that would continue to leave them vulnerable or the highest level of cleanup that comes with strings so strongly attached to self-serving schemes that might quite likely drive current residents out of their homes.  

PLEX knows what they want. The highest level cleanup along with Safety, Neighborhood Stabilization, Corporate Accountability, Neighborhood Maintenance Teams, a P.L.E.X. Park, a Hardware store, a Supermarket, History of Place, Ongoing Community Engagement with all parties involved in the cleanup, a Nature Preserve, and a Raised Retaining Wall (which is protecting the area’s hundred-year flood plain [see Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement]). As you know, a hundred-year-old flood plain in a time of increasing floods in our region due to Climate Change ain’t what it used to be.

In an action email by Mother’s Out Front, the urgency to make public comment in support of PLEX is neatly encapsulated:

“Vacuum Oil Refinery, which operated in Rochester in the Plymouth-Exchange area (PLEX) from 1866-1935, left a toxic mess that has lingered in Rochester for decades. The clean-up proposals are on the table, and there is a comment period going on until January 30th. It is imperative that the city hear from as many residents as possible to ensure that this clean-up is done fully, safely, and responsibly, and that the PLEX community who has contended with this area for decades be able to benefit from the improvements to come.”

Find out more about this issue at PLEX’s website here that has lots of visuals and links to important background information. Then, when you are ready to make public comment, go here, where you can find a short list of “The most important community goals” and an easy-to-fill-out-comment form that will go to the City.

Most of all, let’s get this Brownfield cleaned up to the highest standards, just as you would want if your neighborhood contained an industrial waste land.

Time passes.

* Brownfields are abandoned sites, usually in urban locations, that are tainted by either real or perceived contamination, making them undesirable for private redevelopment efforts.

More local articles on this issue:

My previous essays on Brownfields and Climate Change

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Don’t sacrifice Romulus, NY for trash incineration

On Jan. 7, 2018, I attended the Trash Incinerator Forum in Romulus, NY. (A complete video of the forum is here.) The forum began with an introduction by Judith Enck, former head of the EPA Region 2, for the main speaker: Dr. Paul Connett, Professor Emeritus in Environmental Chemistry at St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY.

BTW: Judith Enck is a hero due to her outspoken criticism of the Pruitt EPA.

What EPA chief Scott Pruitt promised — and what he’s done But Judith Enck, a New York-based regional EPA administrator under former President Barack Obama, said Pruitt’s rhetoric doesn’t match his record. “You can’t have clean air and you can’t have clean water if you’re going to roll back crucial environmental rules and not enforce the rules we have on the book,” said Enck, who recently returned from seeing hurricane damage in the Virgin Islands. “We’ll see the effects very soon.” (11/19/2017, Politico)

There was much in the forum that suggested that installing one of the largest waste incinerators in the USA in a small community between two of the largest of the Finger Lakes (Seneca and Cayuga) was a bad idea. This from the forum’s handout:

“It’s Bad for our Environment: A 260-foot smokestack would emit dangerous air pollutants including: dioxin, lead, mercury, particulates, acid gasses and nitrogen oxides which are a real problem for grape production. To make the same amount of energy, trash incinerations emit 2.5 times as much carbon dioxide than coal power plants. Carbon dioxide is a major cause of climate change. Burning garbage does not eliminate the need for landfills. Just like a wood stove or fire place produces ash after wood burning, burning garbage creates ash that needs to be landfilled. The fly ash is very toxic. Circular energy says they will use the ash to create new products—a bad idea that often does not work. Seneca County is already home to the Seneca Meadows Landfill. Garbage is not a renewable resource and burning garbage is not legally considered a renewable energy source in New York State. Instead, we need companies to invest in real, clear renewable energy projects such as solar, wind, geothermal, small scale hydro and fuel cells and energy efficiency. Clean energy projects create local jobs that do not pollute communities. Rather than burning garbage, we need Zero Waste policies that prioritize was reductions (plastic bag bans, polystyrene bans) recycling, and composting green waste and food waste. These are the strategies that will protect agriculture, tourism and our health. (from Seneca Lake Guardian’s handout “Keep the FLX Beautiful…”)”

As the former chair of the Rochester Sierra Club’s Zero Waste Committee, I’m glad that Dr. Connett took the time to explain critical alternatives to burning waste—Zero Waste. Many regions around the country and the world are gravitating towards eliminating waste altogether by not creating it. Cradle-to-cradle design, where industry takes responsibility for their products from conception to end-of-use, promises to do just that. We need to move towards Zero Waste. We are not going to have a sustainable existence if we encourage the delusion that we can continually buy stuff then throw it in a big hole or burn it.
Communities around the country, desperate for jobs and keen to preserving their healthy environment, are going to be lured into large industry proposals as our economy and the need to accommodate a growing population advances. Despite a push by the Trump administration there are going to be few communities considering large coal operations anymore because they just don’t pay. 
As we go further into Climate Change, communities are going to be asked to support good energy options (like wind and solar), and they’ll be asked to support bad options (like sacrificing their local environment to support landfills, pipelines, Fracking operations, and trash incinerators).  It is increasingly critical that we learn to tell the difference.

The inclination of local leaders concerned about their community’s welfare is to try to strike a balance between a healthy environment and jobs. But this historical attitude doesn’t make any sense as we go deeper into Climate Change. Climate Change, the crisis of our warming planet, is also about the accumulated effects of all our past environmental abuses. Climate Change has taught us that our environment is far more sensitive to pollution and temperature rises than we thought. Climate Change action plans, like Rochester’s Climate Action Plan, highlight the priorities communities must now adopt in order to responsibly address the challenges of energy use, land use, public health, and much more. The notion of a balance between nature and jobs is a historical stance—not science.
We need to go forward in adapting to Climate Change on a scale and time frame that will matter, and avoid backtracking into unsustainable practices (like landfilling and trash incineration) that seemed to get us by in an earlier age.

Check out these wise words by the great science communicator, David Suzuki:

Consumer society no longer serves our needs How did “throw-away”, “disposable” and “planned obsolescence” become part of product design and marketing? It was deliberate. Wars are effective at getting economies moving, and the Second World War pulled America out of the Great Depression. By 1945, the American economy was blazing as victory approached. But how can a war-based economy continue in peacetime? One way is to continue hostilities or their threat. The global costs of armaments and defence still dwarf spending for health care and education. Another way to transform a wartime economy to peacetime is consumption. Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, wrote in 1776, “Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production.” (January 11, 2018, By David Suzuki Foundation)

Time passes. 

Monday, January 08, 2018

Undermining the public good on Climate Change--online

It’s profoundly disturbing that a bad meme like climate denial still infects the minds of so many people.  The denialists’ objective is to sow doubt on the science of Climate Change and thwart a viable future for all of us. Much is being accomplished by many virtuous people around the world to alter our behavior, so that we can address Climate Change. But many of those efforts are being seriously undermined by the Trump administration and others using insidious online tactics that must be brought to light.

You might have missed this story in the New York Times or avoided it because articles about online search engines seem a little too wonky and ‘special interest’ for the general reader. (Wonderfully, Climate Change articles are now viewed by our mainstream media as quite fitting for general public consumption.) The climate denial aspects of the article below are plain enough, but how the deniers are gaming our internet via search engines might not captivate most readers.

How Climate Change Deniers Rise to the Top in Google Searches Groups that reject established climate science can use the search engine’s advertising business to their advantage, gaming the system to find a mass platform for false or misleading claims. Type the words “climate change” into Google and you could get an unexpected result: advertisements that call global warming a hoax. “Scientists blast climate alarm,” said one that appeared at the top of the search results page during a recent search, pointing to a website, DefyCCC, that asserted: “Nothing has been studied better and found more harmless than anthropogenic CO2 release.” Another ad proclaimed: “The Global Warming Hoax — Why the Science Isn’t Settled,” linking to a video containing unsupported assertions, including that there is no correlation between rising levels of greenhouse gases and higher global temperatures. (December 29, 2018) New York Times [more on Climate Change in our area]  

Back in the early 1990’s, before I started, I began a blog, Green Solitaire. My agenda, as the internet was blossoming, was to bring together as much of the increasingly available environmental information, resources, and studies as I could. The media, universities, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and even branches of government themselves were putting material online free for the public. To my mind, this was a giant leap forward in information/communication about our life support system, unparalleled in history. Suddenly, everyone had access to real-time and comprehensive data about the state of our environment., which I began in 1998, does more of this sort of thing than my first website, but views the now incalculable wealth of environmental information through the lens of one community—Rochester, NY.

One of the most popular things I did on Green Solitaire was to help other environmental websites get noticed by the myriad online search engines. (What good is your information if no one can find it?) It was a lot of work trying to pool as much information about how search engines located and displayed information so that the public could find it. Back then, the internet needed a good Librarian. Those in our loosely knit group would tweak our websites so that our chances of being found were more likely. We’d figure out how to jump through the many hoops the old search engines used in order to get a high ranking.

It was an especially difficult challenge for environmental websites, as we weren’t selling anything. We were not interested in hiring companies to place us prominently on search engines and we were not going to pay for ‘hits.’ We weren’t advocating for a special interest cause, or trying to amuse a growing internet community in thrall to what this new medium could offer. Environmental information, especially before Climate Change, wasn’t an automatic attention grabber. But we tried a lot of things, including listing each other’s site on our sites.   

Then Google arrived in September of 1998. In quick order, environmental sites, any sites really, that continually put up new information and got linked with other sites got noticed. Whether they paid anyone or not. did well because when you searched for anything relating to Rochester and environmental issues, my site came up early in your search. Getting environmental resources to folks looking for them became a no brainer.  

Today, things are different. Social media has become what internet visitors attend to, while websites, especially environmental websites, are often stranded by their own inherent inactivity. In other words, social media is important in driving visitors to the websites where all the accumulated information resides. But social media postings are too ephemeral for studying an issue in depth.

So, it is with great dismay that we find that rather than trying to get important information to people, especially environmental information that has always had to struggle for attention, far too many bad players are trying to game the very system meant to bring us incredibly important information. The effort to control what information people get on the internet and how they get it seems as busy an industry as information gathering itself—making it less likely the public will be informed about our environment. Within the timeframe of the rise of the internet, our past environmental concerns have morphed into the mother of all problems under the planetary crisis of Climate Change.

But instead of having a thoughtful discussion in the US on the most important crisis in the world, we are still waging a war over the facts we already know. We could have used the time since Dr. James Hansen informed Congress of the urgency of Climate Change in 1988 to better purpose. Now, decades later, after little progress in addressing Climate Change, it’s more likely there will be a stiff penalty for the procrastination resulting from the corruption of our information systems, when we could have instead been making our information feeds more useful. Killing the messenger is another craven meme humanity is all too good at.

It’s in the public’s best interest to know as much as possible about Climate Change, as this warming phenomenon grows stronger every day. It will impact every aspect of our lives—everywhere you live on Earth. It’s not in the public’s best interest to have their minds poisoned with intentional misinformation from those whose agenda is immediate self-interest.    

Time passes. 

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Addressing Climate Change via land use issues

One of the great advantages of a community (like Rochester, NY) having a Climate Action Plan (CAP) is that addressing Climate Change is clearly spelled out for its specific region--what is happening, how it’s detailed, and recommended solutions. A CAP also offers the community and the media a precise, public strategy that, by virtue of its existence, holds our leaders accountable. If you know about a catastrophe and work out a plan to deal with it, then you’re morally compelled to act on your plan.

There’s a caveat, of course: If your government, say our federal government, is holding an irrational and irresponsible position on Climate Change, then no matter how specific, how detailed, how thoroughly and expertly a report (say, the National Climate Assessment ((NCA)) is, it will lie fallow unless you the public hold your government’s feet to the fire. (Even if the Trump Administration decides to ‘sit’ on the next NCA (this will be the fourth since the President Reagan era), the media and the public can still shout it from the rooftops.) Once you actually read the NCA, it’s more likely that you’ll be convinced of the science behind Climate Change and how it will affect our nation.  [Read my article Does Climate Change matter to you? (December 4, 2017) where I discuss the next NCA and how the Trump administration is actively ignoring it.]

Addressing Climate Change requires two critical strategies—mitigation and adaptation—that sometimes overlap but must be accomplished simultaneously. Humanity needs to bring down greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at the same time we must adapt to the GHGs we’ve already bloated into the climate system. [See my article I wrote in anticipation of the NYC People’s Climate March just before the Paris talks: Climate Change mitigation (People’s Climate March ==> Paris 2015) & adaptation: what’s the diff? (August 2014)

In the “Land Use” section of the CAP (pages 58 and 59), the City explains how our local government views both Climate Change mitigation and adaption: 


“To achieve the goal of reducing GHG emissions, transportation-related reductions can be achieved through coordinated land use policies. In addition, there are multiple co-benefits associated with land use planning, including improved environmental health, public health, and economic vibrancy.” (Page 58, CAP)


“In the context of adaptation, land use policy is critical to improving the community’s resiliency and ability to adapt to the effects of climate change.” (Page 58, CAP)

The core of the CAP on land use demonstrates how and why our government must lead efforts in this area. Governments can adopt land use policies, design regulations and zoning standards, adopt appropriate parking management and pricing policies, and help identify locations for best implementation.

The areas where land use comes into play in the CAP are: “Coordinated Land Use and Transportation Policies”; “Transit-oriented and Mixed-Use Development (TOD)”; “Redevelopment of brownfields and vacant or underutilized properties”; “Urban Agriculture”; “EcoDistricts”; and “Parks and Open Space Planning” (Pages 58 &59, CAP). Each area offers many opportunities for government to help shape actions that will make our region more likely to adapt to Climate Change and further reduce GHG emissions. 

Local groups and individuals can do much to amplify and accelerate the City’s efforts through neighborhood associations, environmental groups, and advocacy groups. Businesses, like the recent bike-share program and the recent rise of ridesharing apps, by their own successes and failures, also alter these land use components.

We cannot ignore the important role of government in addressing Climate Change, nor can we assume they’re going to do it without our constant vigilance. We must combine our own efforts and make sure our governments act on a scale and timeframe that will matter.  

Time passes. 

Monday, December 25, 2017

Is Climate Change an immediate threat?

Climate Change is an immediate threat in the sense that we are experiencing the consequences of Climate Change now and we must adapt to them. Our military has expressed many times the nature of Climate Change as a threat amplifier; so, I don’t know how the Trump and our military are going to reconcile the absurdity of climate denial as a federal policy. [See Climate Security is National Security from the  AMERICAN SECURITY PROJECT and learn the myriad ways our military understands how it will be impacted by Climate Change.]

Trump confused on climate’s security threat The new US national defence strategy appears to leave President Trump in two minds on the risk from climate’s security threat. Confused about climate’s security threat? Don’t worry – you’re not the only one. Donald Trump seems to be having great difficulty in knowing what to make of it too. He’s even explicitly contradicted a senior colleague – and himself. And he’s prompted suggestions from retired military officers that America’s armed forces will continue to prepare for the reality of climate change undeterred. The Trump administration has dropped climate change from a list of global threats in a new National Security Strategy the president has launched. Instead, President Trump’s NSS emphasises the need for the US to regain its economic competitiveness in the world, with his “America First” plan focussing on four themes surrounding economic security for the US. (December 19, 2017)Climate News Network [more on Climate Change in our area]

Meanwhile, many individuals, businesses, communities, states, and nations are trying desperately to address Climate Change knowing that the Trump administration is making adaptation and mitigation more difficult.

This latest step, where Trump couldn’t wait to address the world with his removal of Climate Change as a national security threat, seems especially sad, horrible, alarming, ideological, non-scientific, mean, delusional, dangerous, ignorant, vulnerable, wrong, hopeless, dismissive, arrogant, belligerent, spiteful, and uninformed.

Trump drops climate change from US national security strategy President outlined new approach in unprecedented White House speech Obama administration added climate to list of threats to US interests The Trump administration has dropped climate change from a list of global threats in a new national security strategy the president unveiled on Monday.  Instead, Trump’s NSS paper emphasised the need for the US to regain its economic competitiveness in the world. That stance represents a sharp change from the Obama administration’s NSS, which placed climate change as one of the main dangers facing the nation and made building international consensus on containing global warming a national security priority. (December 18, 2017) The Guardian [more on Climate Change in our area]

Trump’s decision takes our eye off the ball in many important ways—one of which is that although the Trump administration doesn’t perceive Climate Change as an immediate threat, our military and many nations and business around the world do.

In the wild ("Nature, red in tooth and claw"), fear is often expressed as aggression. If a mother bear feels threated by strangers near her cubs, she attacks. We are probably witnessing this phenomenon in North Korea’s nuclear belligerence, a great national terror that its leadership might be threatened.
Sowing confusion on critical matters like Climate Change and nuclear war isn’t a sound political strategy—it’s the lack of one.  And a dangerous one at that.

Time passes. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Human inertia on Climate Change may kill advantages of farming in a warming Northeast

Whatever advantages one might envision for farming in the Northeast as our region warms—ability to grow new crops, longer growing season, greenhouse gas effect on plants, and more rainfall—seem to be offset by the disadvantages.

The disadvantages are numerous: more spring flooding (soil erosion), more episodes of summer drought, more plant diseases, more crop pests, more volatility in frost/freeze events, and a whole lot more.   

A recently released study examines all these variables, trying to give farmers a heads up on what’s coming their way:

Unique challenges and opportunities for northeastern US crop production in a changing climate Climate change may both exacerbate the vulnerabilities and open up new opportunities for farming in the Northeastern USA. Among the opportunities are double-cropping and new crop options that may come with warmer temperatures and a longer frost-free period. However, prolonged periods of spring rains in recent years have delayed planting and offset the potentially beneficial longer frost-free period. Water management will be a serious challenge for Northeast farmers in the future, with projections for increased frequency of heavy rainfall events, as well as projections for more frequent summer water deficits than this historically humid region has experienced in the past. (Wolfe, D.W., DeGaetano, A.T., Peck, G.M. et al. Climatic Change (2017).

But still, the study concludes that, despite the disadvantages, it may not be so bad:

“On the other hand, adaptation strategies that involve diversifying production systems to cope with climate uncertainty and building resilience to rainfall uncertainty by improving soil health, and improving IPM strategies to cope with new pest and weed dynamics could have an overall positive environmental impact.” (ibid)

True, farmers can do a lot to address this crisis, as described in the study. But. One of the disadvantages not mentioned in the study is the problem of human inertia on Climate Change. Too many in the public don’t openly support the science behind Climate Change, which means it’s less likely we’ll vote for leaders based on this crisis, less likely to prioritize renewable energy over fossil fuels (which will warm the planet more), and more likely we all will be overwhelmed by the disadvantages (consequences).

For example, the study recommends that farmers use less pesticides and herbicides for the health of our waters and soil. But farming, like any other business, is more likely to address their immediate problems producing food with the most efficient and least expensive options available. Pesticide and herbicide use are usually favored over the other methods of controlling crop pests because these risky chemical fixes are easier, cheaper, and quicker than conforming to sustainable methods that don’t degrade our soil and compromise our environment. Otherwise, organic farming would outweigh traditional farming in the marketplace, which it doesn’t.

Even if farmers take advantage of all the new technology being made available to them, they must try to keep back the floods released by a culture mostly indifferent to the urgency behind this crisis.

The take-home message from this new study for me is that farming in our region is increasingly going to find historical data and practices less useful. We’ll be farming on a warmer world. We all will be living in a warmer place. The study above (along with many others) should be a wake-up call that we in the Northeast are going to have to adapt quickly to the changes warming will bring.

Scientists can help predict what problem businesses, like farming, can expect with Climate Change and even present a variety of tools and methods to deal with the changes. But scientists still haven’t figured out how to change the political climate so that we’ll act on a scale and time frame that will matter.

Hardy as they are, farmers are unlikely to address the problems of food production in a warmer Northeast on their own; they’re going to need everyone’s support to lower the speed of temperature rise in order to keep us fed. Farming, as just about everything else in our world, must be viewed through the lens of Climate Change.

Times passes.

Previous articles of mine on food and Climate Change

Monday, December 11, 2017

Brownfields and Climate Change, what’s the connection?

Like Climate Change, Brownfields don’t tend to get noticed by the public until the big picture is understood, experts examine the evidence, and someone’s best interests (including their health) gets compromised. Often this processing of ours takes a long time, as both Climate Change and too many Brownfields have languished without adequate action. 

As Climate Change progresses in our Rochester region with more heavy rainfall in the spring, it is more likely that Brownfields that have not been cleaned up will leach dangerous chemicals into our soil, our neighborhoods, and our waters. [See: ‘Figure 2.18: Observed Change in Very Heavy Precipitation’ in the National Climate Assessment’s “Heavy Downpours Increasing”.]

Even the new* Environmental Protection Agency understands the urgency of getting Brownfields cleaned up as a Climate Change adaptation strategy.

Why Mitigation and Adaptation Matter for Brownfield Communities | Many members of vulnerable populations, including children, the elderly, low-income communities of color and tribal communities, live close to brownfields and other blighted properties (EPA, 2015b). Brownfield redevelopment presents opportunities to reduce blight and improve the quality of life for vulnerable populations while mitigating the impacts of climate change. While all populations will be affected by climate change, vulnerable populations will be disproportionately affected as climate change continues to increase the burden they already experience. A report by the Centers for Disease Control National Center for Health Statistics found that heat- and cold-related deaths in the United States are highest among non-Hispanic black populations and low-income populations making less than $42,400 annually. This study also found that heat-and cold-related deaths are significantly greater among elderly individuals in the United States. (Page 7, Climate Smart Brownfields Manual)

In Rochester, we are still trying to deal with past industrial pollution, but few people realize this environmental health problem is also a Climate Change problem.

STUDENTS, PARENTS STAGE PROTEST OVER CHEMICALS DETECTED NEAR ROCHESTER PREP ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- A steady downpour of rain did not dampen the passion behind the voices of dozens of students who gathered for a demonstration outside of Rochester Prep Tuesday.  They were protesting over recent reports that traces of trichloroethylene (TCE), a carcinogenic chemical solvent from a former industrial site, remain near St. Paul Street and Martin Street. (December 5, 2017) Spectrum News Rochester [more on Brownfields in our area]

You can find out more about Brownfields in our state and even check out the progress of local cleanups by going to the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Environmental Restoration Program.

We go into Climate Change with the environment we have. If our environment (our life support system) is not as healthy and resilient as possible, trying to address this worldwide warming crisis will profoundly affect our ability to adapt.

Time passes.

* The ‘new’ EPA is that federal environmental protection agency now under Pruitt. Strangely, the old EPA exists as a parallel online entity that has been kept alive. The new EPA says of the old EPA “This website is historical material reflecting the EPA website as it existed on January 19, 2017. This website is no longer updated and links to external websites and some internal pages may not work.” (When you think about it, things over at the EPA have gotten very weird—not in a good way.) 

Monday, December 04, 2017

Does Climate Change matter to you?

As climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe points out in this recent webinar by The Security and Sustainability Forum (SSF)*, most people don’t have a problem with the science behind Climate Change. That science is the same science we use every day in the products we use and way we understand the workings of our world.

Astonishingly, the reason most people don’t think global warming** matters to them is because they don’t think it will harm them personally. See: “Estimated % of adults who think global warming will harm them personally 2016“ graph from Yale Climate Opinion Maps – U.S. 2016.

But it does, and it will. Hayhoe says in the webinar “We care about a changing climate because it exacerbates the risks we already face today.”

One of the ways we know that Climate Change is already happening here in the USA is through the official National Climate Assessment (NCA). Since 1990, our country has been required by law to provide this information about our changing climate to the public every four years. (I know, the math doesn’t work out here, we’ve been tardy sometimes.)

We are now coming up on the fourth iteration of this report: Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4). Part I of the NCA4 (Climate Science Special Report) was recently released to the public. The Trump administration released this part to the media and the public, but presumably didn’t read it themselves. (Or, the Trump administration thinks just quietly letting the NCA process continue, while continually putting on a fireworks show at the White House, is the best strategy for tamping down public attention on this crisis that Trump doesn’t believe in.)   

Read NCA4 Vol. I

This quip by The Guardian admonishes the Trump administration for not acting on our nation’s own information about how Climate Change is affecting US, while at the same time noting that the world has access to this important document. The world must be dumbfounded by the spectacular divide that exists between our present federal government and 13 of the agencies it comprises.  

American leaders should read their official climate science report The United States Global Change Research Program report paints a bleak picture of the consequences of climate denial The United States Global Change Research Program recently released a report on the science of climate change and its causes. The report is available for anyone to read; it was prepared by top scientists, and it gives an overview of the most up to date science.  If you want to understand climate change and a single document that summarizes what we know, this is your chance. This report is complete, readily understandable, and accessible. It discusses what we know, how we know it, how confident we are, and how likely certain events are to happen if we continue on our business-as-usual path.  To summarize, our Earth has warmed nearly 2°F (1°C) since the beginning of the 20th century. Today’s Earth is the warmest it has ever been in the history of modern civilization. (November 27, 2017) The Guardian 

Comment on NCA4 Vol. II

The NCA4 Vol. II has not been released yet, but you can read and comment on the draft.

“NCA4 Vol. II is a technical, scientific assessment of climate change impacts, risks, and adaptation across the United States. The assessment uses a risk-based framework in placing a strong emphasis on regional information, while also evaluating climate change impacts, risks, and adaptation on 17 national-level topics. Case studies are used to provide additional context and showcase community success stories. Like all USGCRP assessments, NCA4 Vol. II does not evaluate policy or make policy recommendations.” Call for Public Comment on the Draft Fourth National Climate Assessment (Vol. II)

To read and comment on NCA4 Vol. II go here; on the left side-bar click on “create new account”, create a user name, your own password, accept the conditions for commenting on the draft, then you can gain access to the draft. You can make comments on each section of the draft (until January 8, 2018) online. Easy-peasy.

Please consider (as a group, or as an individual) reading the NCA4 Vol. II draft and commenting. Those of us who do understand that Climate Change “exacerbates the risks we already face today” need to bring that message home to everyone. That’s what volume two does: “… placing a strong emphasis on regional information”.

The journey to reach the public on the science behind this crisis has been long and tortuous. We have written, educated, demonstrated, and some have even been jailed in an attempt to instill in the public a sense of urgency. Time to act on a scale and time frame that will matter is running out.

Sadly, we are finding that science isn’t enough to compel the public to act.  We need to bring our knowledge and concerns of a changing climate to where the public lives. Reading and making comment on how your region is and will be affected by Climate Change in the NCA4 II is another important step towards communicating this crisis effectively.

The NCA is an incredibly detailed and expert series of documents by our government about Climate Change. Consider doing everything you can to demonstrate that this scientific legacy of ours reflects our country’s position on Climate Change. It really does matter to us. 

Time passes. 

* “The Security and Sustainability Forum (SSF) convenes global experts to address the impacts to society from climate and other disruptions to natural systems.  Our main products are free webinars on energy, food and water security, public health, urban resilience, economic vitality, infrastructure, governance and other impacts that must be solved in meeting climate security challenges.”

** Sometimes it looks as though I am using ‘Climate Change’ and ‘global warming’ interchangeably but hopefully I’m not. This from NOAA: “Global warming refers only to the Earth’s rising surface temperature, while climate change includes warming and the “side effects” of warming—like melting glaciers, heavier rainstorms, or more frequent drought. Said another way, global warming is one symptom of the much larger problem of human-caused climate change.” (NOAA

Monday, November 27, 2017

Media coverage of a warming world

One of the notions kicking around philosophy these days is whether the idea of the ‘extended mind’ has merit.

The "extended mind" is an idea in the field of philosophy of mind, often called extended cognition, which holds that the reach of the mind need not end at the boundaries of skin and skull. Tools, instrument and other environmental props can under certain conditions also count as proper parts of our minds. Closely related topics often conjoined with the idea of "extended mind" are situated cognition, distributed cognition, and embodied cognition. (The Extended Mind, Wikipedia)

This idea is worthy of our consideration in the same sense that our infrastructures—water lines, gas pipes, energy, transportation, telecommunications—are now critically important because we as a species cannot survive without these extensions of our collective existence. Sure, some us can survive for long periods without water piped into our homes, homes that are heated via gas lines or solar panels. Some can live for long periods without access to a vehicle, a Smartphone, or even a proper toilet. But not seven billion of us. As we push our numbers towards nine billion by 2050, most of us will live in cities, and our infrastructures must be made resilient and robust for the challenges ahead. Increasingly, we need our infrastructure like our bodies need our arteries and veins.

Our media--how we get information about our communities, states, and the world—are now wrapped up in who we are as a species. Homo sapiens cannot survive as we began--hunter-gatherers who communicated quite effectively within their own clan and immediate surroundings (sure, individuals can survive for brief periods of time without communicating with other humans and not knowing what is going on in the outside world; it’s called solitary confinement).

At this point within the Climate Change wormhole, we need to know what is going on all the time, the weather, political and legal changes, whether the financial market is healthy or ready for a crash. 

If we are to improve the likelihood of our survival as a species, we continually need news from around the world. We need to know if a nuclear war is imminent, whether extreme weather has or will knock out our ability to receive critical goods, or whether major social unrest somewhere is going to spill over national boundaries and affect any one of the essentials that keep our way of life going. Say, food.

Questioning media’s agenda

In a warming world our existence is bound up with everyone on the planet, not just our particular community. This position flies in the face of local media’s parochial agenda. We are now on a quickly warming world. It doesn’t make sense to pretend any place on Earth will not be dramatically affected by this planetary phenomenon. If a major area of food production somewhere in the world becomes unstable because of a change in climate, suddenly millions may be on the move for food. Our grocery shelves may be short some important staples—wheat, rice, maize or soybean. This would not just be a major humanitarian problem, it would also be a social-unrest problem or a condition (long-term drought, continual wildfires) heralding environmental collapse.

Somehow, we must have a species-wide media network that gives us (meaning everyone, everywhere on this planet) important, science-based information that we can use to plan properly. Our species, as any species, has always needed accurate feedback from our environment, but we now need massive, accurate media that isn’t polluted like our environment. Bee Colony Collapse is thought to be a lethal collective condition where something has gone wrong in each bee’s information system making it unlikely that they would return to their hives. Bees need hives, hives need bees.

Weaponized media

We have a serious media problem with accusations of ‘fake media’, social media that produces zillions of communication silos (or echo chambers), local media trying to stay alive in a freewheeling digital world, and buyups by billionaires bent on pushing their own agenda. These problems are further exacerbated by bad players weaponizing our media, that is, invading our media (especially social media) using our own predilections against our own interests. [See “Putin’s Revenge,” Frontline.) These problems must be seen in the context of our need to transmit critical environmental feedback as our once stable climate suddenly shifts wildly to adjust to more greenhouse gases.

Currently, if you want this critical information you can get it from sources all over the world. But if you wish to avoid it, listen to news that isn’t actually news, or listen to no news at all, you can do that. This means we now have to consider media not just from a lifestyle perspective; we need to have an information system so we can function as a whole in a warming world.

Because Climate Change is an existential situation, like nuclear war where our collective end is possible, there are no winners. Climate deniers can prevent or slow down the rest of us trying to adapt and mitigate Climate Change. But they cannot change the facts or the physical threats that come with quickly boiling a planet. When the waters rise, we must all tread water as best we can.

Politics has so muddied our media that the scientific feedback we all need is being profoundly challenged. We know the Trump administration is quietly scrubbing environmental information and Climate Change facts from our federal websites. Blinding us. But how much, where, in what way? In these dire times when an ideology is purposely scouring the scientific truth from the media and the public, we have an obligation to those who come after us to keep the truth alive. Some are taking on that job, searching the media and focusing on what our federal government is doing to cloak the truth. 

Website Monitoring |EDGI is monitoring changes to tens of thousands of federal environmental agency web pages because the effects of proposed changes to federal environmental governance under the current administration could be sweeping and long-lasting. Our work here involves documenting and analyzing data that disappears from public view, and also monitoring and analyzing how data, information, and their presentation may change, sometimes in subtle but significant ways. (Environmental Data and Government Initiative)

What do we do? How do we keep one of our most precious freedoms, freedom of the press, clear-eyed on the prize when our innate need for information is being hijacked? Just as our information systems are being dramatically extended, giving our brains an unparalleled sense of reality our ancestors couldn’t have even dreamed of, we are paralyzed by many of our ancient urges that have also been greatly amplified and extended to every aspect of our lives.

Challenge your media:

Consider challenging your local media to communicate accurately about the world we now live in, a quickly warming world. For example, consider suggesting these guidelines for our local media. Our local media should:

  •       Consider the most immediate climate adaptation issues our region needs to address:

o   Harmful Algae blooms (HABs) are increasing in our region’s Finger Lakes and other small bodies of water, probably because of more nutrients and phosphorous mixing in warmer waters.
o   Extreme weather in the form of flooding, causing more sewage to be released from sewer overflows and water damage to shoreline property owners  
o   Extreme weather in for form of Lake effect snow that is affected by a melting Arctic and shifting jet streams. Also, snow is likely to shift to rain as time goes by. [see: Lake Effect Snow Season is Shifting and Contracting 11/15/2017 Climate Central)
  •          Consider the condition of our infrastructures and what needs to be done to make them resilient to extreme weather and heat:

o   Gas leaks causing more methane to leak into our atmosphere.
o   Water pipes, roads and bridges.
o   Updating waste-water treatment plants so they aren’t connected to storm runoffs and overflow during floods.
  •          Consider conveying a sense of urgency. Although many of the Climate Change indicators in our region don’t seem urgent (wildlife trying to adapt by moving), the time to avert major consequences is most likely long before disasters occur.
  •          Consider communicating what people in this region can do about Climate Change and where they can find that information:

o   The City’s Climate Action Plan is a quick summary of threats coming to our region and offers ways the community can join their government in helpful adaptation actions.
o   There are many groups in our region who are finding ways to help our region adapt. Groups like Reconnect Rochester, who are not traditional environmental groups, but are trying to reduce greenhouse gases by changing our transportation options. This is no small concern. [See: (Transportation is the Biggest Source of U.S. Emissions 11/21/2017 Climate Central)
  •          Consider characterizing our local weather in a more helpful big-picture way that puts every day’s weather in a warming world context. Too often our local media compares recent snow storms or flooding with past anomalies or recent trends, when longer trends indicate Climate Change. Too often local media expounds on a wonderful day of weather and doesn’t give its readers a glimpse that across the world, heat is causing wildfires, droughts, and extreme weather. Weather reports, when they are extreme or out of the ordinary, should include Climate Change projections to convey to the public that our weather has indeed changed.
  •          Consider the relationship between Climate Change indicators and adaptation with local news stories. For example, news on Water Quality, Transportation, Invasive Species, Energy, public health issues like West Nile Virus and Lyme disease), Wildlife (fauna), Plants (flora), Air Quality, Brownfields, Wetlands, and Recycling often demonstrate how close or distant we are from making our region sustainable in a warmer world.
  •          Consider connecting local news about the rising cost of home insurance as indicators of whether we can recover financially from damages due to more extreme weather.
  •          Consider communicating news about the environment as events in our life support system. No longer can we survive if we see our environment as something separate from our existence—an externality.
  •          Consider taking on the challenge of addressing Climate Change by continually exposing our collective will not be believe the science behind this existential threat as our greatest hurdle. When the media doesn’t report about Climate Change, the public is more apt to see related events as anomalies and react with ad hoc solutions, which do not address the basic problem and continues to waste precious time.
  •          Consider, in our Great Lakes region, reporting continually on the health of this incredible natural resource, the largest freshwater system in the world. Pollution, invasive species, plastic (bits, containers, and fibers) contamination, water temperatures, and lake levels are all indicators of how healthy this ecosystem will be going into Climate Change.  
  •          Consider having an environmental section as many major media around the world have.
  •          Consider freeing Climate Change from politics and reporting on it regardless of its political divisiveness.
  •          Consider holding our leaders accountable for adapting to Climate Change, as our media has finally gotten around to on their personal behavior.

For a glimpse of local responsible journalism on Climate Change, check out this this honest report on Climate Change from our friends just across Lake Ontario. No holds barred, no political squeamishness, and no disseminating. Just the truth. Not a big report screaming out from the headlines, but important local news nonetheless. Imagine if our local media reported like this continually about our plight. Climate change warning: We're on course for mass extinction event  (November 14, 2017) Toronto City News[more on Climate Change in our area] 

A responsibility to keep abreast of the truth

Some world-class media—New York Times, The Guardian, and Deutsche Welle—have made great strides in learning how to cover the difficult and unpopular Climate Change crisis. But too many media still wait for protesting environmentalists or a new climate study before they’ll connect the dots. Our media needs to be proactive, looking at the indicators of Climate Change and finding out how phenomena like more heavy precipitation are affecting local environments. Our media should be constantly monitoring the concentration of greenhouse gases and keep the public informed of what this benchmark means. (As I write, the daily average of carbon dioxide is 406.05 ppm.) Our media should be reporting that the fastest warming place on the planet is occurring at the North Pole, which is affecting our weather and climate. Our media needs to see in the climate crisis an immediacy, which they’ve always given to the weather, because the consequences of Climate Change are raining down on us far quicker than scientists ever thought it would happen.

We probably won’t stop the Arctic from melting no matter what we do. At best, we may be able to slow down some of the consequences of warming up the planet if we change to renewable energy quickly. But we must and will (despite ourselves) adapt to what’s coming at us. (It’s not complicated, we are programed by evolution to avoid ((fear)) death.) We need an information system that is willing to project out the logical consequences of baking more heat into our climate system and share that regularly with the public, so we aren’t overwhelmed and are able to act on a scale and time frame that will matter.

As we ask our media to continually cover Climate Change more often, we too should make a commitment to keep abreast of the truth about our life support system. We have a responsibility to make our information system work for us. Since life began on this planet, some three-and-a-half billion years ago, those creatures whose information system stopped reflecting their changing environment went extinct.

Time passes.