Monday, September 19, 2016

Where does Climate Change go in this year’s US presidential election?

Now that Bernie Sanders, who was the champion for addressing Climate Change, is out of the presidential race, where does this crisis go? (Bernie Sanders: Yes, Climate Change Is Still Our Biggest National Security Threat, 11/14/2015, Mother Jones) Does it get ignored because Clinton can’t or won’t use it to beat Trump over the head because neither Trump nor the media think it’s worth bringing up?

Does it get kicked down the road to another election because it still doesn’t have ‘legs’ in our electoral process? If so, that would put us into an even deeper existential plight.

Yes, existential plight.

However unfashionable using apocalyptic language with this crisis may appear, one cannot overstate the problem with Climate Change and our collective inertia. President Obama began his presidency with a very milquetoast policy on Climate Change and what evolved over his watch is a President far more engaged with this crisis: Obama on ‘Terrifying’ Threat of Climate Change (September 8, 2016, New York Times).  

We, humanity, the folks who caused Climate Change, haven’t been addressing Climate Change on a scale that will matter. Somehow we’ve fallen into the attitude that our political process is the sole measure of this crisis. This is nonsense on stilts as we can no more vote physics out of our existence than we can travel through time.

It’s eerie that much of our own inability to address Climate Change that is being addressed by our oceans. If it wasn’t for the oceans sucking up the heat of our Climate Change, we would have already cooked ourselves: “…the surface of the Earth would have warmed by a devastating 36C, rather than 1C, over the past century.” (See below.)  BTW: “Thirty-six degrees Celsius is equal to 96.8 degrees Fahrenheit.”1.

Soaring ocean temperature is 'greatest hidden challenge of our generation' IUCN report warns that ‘truly staggering’ rate of warming is changing the behaviour of marine species, reducing fishing zones and spreading disease The soaring temperature of the oceans is the “greatest hidden challenge of our generation” that is altering the make-up of marine species, shrinking fishing areas and starting to spread disease to humans, according to the most comprehensive analysis yet of ocean warming. The oceans have already sucked up an enormous amount of heat due to escalating greenhouse gas emissions, affecting marine species from microbes to whales, according to an International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) report involving the work of 80 scientists from a dozen countries. (September 15, 2016) The Guardian

But the oceans are not providing this convenient service for us up until we get our act together. There’s a terrible price being paid for this stored heat and profound ecosystem changes where the piper will have to be paid by our children.

There is going to be a terrible procrastination penalty for not obeying the laws of physics—where the trapped heat from our greenhouse gas emissions must be accounted for. Increasingly, climate models are proving how sensitive all life on Earth are to every little change in energy passing through our life support system.

There has been no hiatus, no free ride, no time out, and no carbon budget where we can delude ourselves into thinking that we have more time before we have to act. It has long since past when we should have reversed our greenhouse gas emissions. 

We cannot put Climate Change on the ballot box and vote away physics. Time is running out and installing a climate denier leader will put Climate Change (ironically) in the forefront of our existence. But not in a good way.

Time passes. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Anthropocene epoch began …

It is important to define when the Anthropocene epoch began so we can model how humanity has affected our life support system. Climate modelers need a more complete record of what is actually going on to make accurate predictions. Though it may not matter whether this represents a new geological epoch (a line in the dirt filled with plastics, nuclear fallout, or transistor radios), we need some kind of demarcation that signaled our arrival.

Scientists to launch global hunt for ‘line in the rock’ marking the ‘scary’ new man-made epoch Declaring we now live in the ‘Anthropocene’ would reflect the impact of artificial changes to the Earth's climate, chemistry, lifeforms and even the rocks of the future A worldwide hunt for a “line in the rock” that shows the beginning of a new geological epoch defined by humanity’s extraordinary impact on planet Earth is expected to get underway in the next few weeks. The idea that we are now living in the Anthropocene epoch has been gaining ground in recent years. The surge in global temperatures by an average of one degree Celsius in little over a century, the burning of vast amounts of fossil fuels, the extinction of many animal species, the widespread use of nitrogen fertilisers, the deluge of plastic rubbish and a number of other factors have all caused changes that will remain visible in rocks for millions of years. (August 18, 2016) Independent

What will matter is that we establish a realistic baseline from which to locate the point (or points) that our earth systems—the biosphere, the atmosphere, the hydro-sphere, and the energy system—veered wildly from their ‘natural’ (or non-human influenced) state to our present state. How much more disturbance can our environment (the particular ecological constraints we need to thrive) take before things get dicey? Have we already burst pass Earth’s carrying capacity?

Our ecological footprints have been profound. Our greenhouse gas emissions have already dangerously warmed the planet. Our desire to get around on well-paved roads has bifurcated almost every land ecosystem, making it difficult for plants and animals to live and adapt. (Smugly, we often call animals that don’t respect our highway boundaries ‘road kill’.) Our need for more and more food has hijacked much of our planet’s land surface for our purposes, regardless of the natural dynamics needed to make ecosystems work. 

Even our economics have become a major environmental driver in our earth systems because they influence widespread human behavior. As we respond to (man-made) market prices, this has a profound effect on how many forests we destroy, or the amount of ground we disturb, or how much water we reallocate. 

If we just assume that our present way of life is sustainable and base our climate models on this present period of time only, we are going to fool ourselves into thinking that it’s healthy for seven billion people (going on nine billion by 2050 and maybe twelve billion by the end of this century), desiring a higher standard of living (and all the environmental resources that comes with that), to be a proper baseline from which to plan our future. That would be a dangerous delusion.

Whether we discover the Anthropocene as a particular strata in the ground will not matter as much as our accepting that the fact that that human behavior at some point (probably many, many points) began to seriously disturb a natural evolution that began some 3 billion years ago here on Earth. Then we can adjust accordingly.

My guess is that Anthropocene began when humans forgot that the things we discovered about how the world works also pertained to ourselves.  

Monday, August 15, 2016

The false nuclear energy option

The public should be concerned about aging nuclear power plants that are ‘struggling’ financially and operating with safety issues. If our energy future must have nuclear power, that does not mean that we should keep aging, unsafe power plants going. These are two different issues.  
Ginna owner taking over additional Upstate nuclear plant Exelon, which owns the Ginna nuclear power plant, has agreed to buy the FitzPatrick plant in Oswego for $110 million. That means that Exelon will own all three of Upstate New York's nuclear power generators. And all three are struggling.  In recent years, each of the plants has been flagged by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission for non-critical mechanical or safety violations. Each has also been losing money, though the dual-reactor Nine Mile Point in Oswego has reportedly fared better than Ginna and FitzPatrick. (August 10, 2016) Rochester City Newspaper 

Proponents of the use of nuclear power to address Climate Change should distinguish aging nuclear power plants separate from next generation nuclear (which can reuse spent nuclear materials) and small nuclear power operations (which can be built for less money, pose less risk, and provide backup for renewable energy like wind and solar).

Four prominent scientists--James Hansen, Kerry Emanuel, Ken Caldeira and Tom Wigley--feel so strongly about the need for nuclear power to address Climate Change they wrote an essay on this in The Guardian last year.

Nuclear power paves the only viable path forward on climate change Nuclear power, particularly next-generation nuclear power with a closed fuel cycle (where spent fuel is reprocessed), is uniquely scalable, and environmentally advantageous. Over the past 50 years, nuclear power stations – by offsetting fossil fuel combustion – have avoided the emission of an estimated 60bn tonnes of carbon dioxide. Nuclear energy can power whole civilisations, and produce waste streams that are trivial compared to the waste produced by fossil fuel combustion. There are technical means to dispose of this small amount of waste safely. However, nuclear does pose unique safety and proliferation concerns that must be addressed with strong and binding international standards and safeguards. Most importantly for climate, nuclear produces no CO2 during power generation. (December 3, 2015 The Guardian)

But their plea does not address the problem of aging nuclear power plants.  Not to make the distinction between next generation nuclear power and old struggling power plants is to present a false energy option to the public.

The New York state Public Service Commission has recently adopted the Clean Energy Standard “that will boost renewable energy use while rescuing upstate nuclear power plants with a multi-billion-dollar subsidy.” (August 1, 2016 NY OKs energy plan with nuclear bailout, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle)

It would be helpful to the public and our ability to plan for the future if our media investigated how safe aging nuclear power plants are when these local nuclear power plants are struggling financially and continually having safety issues -- and keep that issue separate from next generation nuclear power. 

I suspect more folks would get behind the idea of including nuclear power in our energy choices if these old, aging nuclear power plants were closed down. Although these (local) old plants have provided power without any major incidents, and the folks keeping them going have been an important part of our community, the public needs to have a better picture of the safety concerns involved in keeping these nuclear plants operational. The statewide public comment meetings leading up to the decision on the Clean Energy Standard often included rooms full of local nuclear power employees pleading for their jobs. This was probably a great strategy for those employees keeping their jobs, but there were no discussions about the risks involved in keeping aging, struggling nuclear power plants running.

With nuclear energy there’s no room for error.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Monstrous Alligator Gar vs. Asian Carp Invasion!

“There was never a thought in our minds at all about any kind of control on Asian carp.”1

Our present media, ravished by the Internet and desperate for advertisement bucks, are forever seeking stories that will engage the public. Not necessarily in a good way. Too often, rather than taking the time to inform the public about important stuff, our media tends towards outrageous, titillating tidbits of gobbledygook.  

Tackling thorny issues like invasive species in a time of Climate Change is going to be a herculean challenge, virtually on the level of the twelve labors of Heracles himself. Ecosystems, such as the Great Lakes, are going to be transformed by warmer waters, less ice cover, and the more extreme weather that comes with a warming climate—not to mention a myriad of pollutants like toxic flame retardants, pharmaceuticals, plastic bits, human waste (from periodic sewer overflows), and pesticides. On top of all that, some invasive species may well survive better than our endemic species under these conditions.

Much speculation by scientists about the invasion of the Asian Carp (actually, there are three species of these critters) anticipates the arrival of this crazy, leaping fish. Will the Asian Carp totally decimate our Great Lakes ecosystem by gobbling up endemic fish, or will all the ink spilled about this invasion come to nothing? Most folks seem to be leaning towards the prudent notion that given what we know about the Asian Carp in other waters, it wouldn’t be a good idea to allow them into our precious Great Lakes system. But they are coming. Continual sightings and DNA droppings throughout the Great Lakes are heralding their arrival. And, there are insufficient funds and efforts for keeping them out.

Asian carp ‘fatigue’ threatens Great Lakes Boat captains call on Congress to renew efforts to address potential invasion Great Lakes charter boat captains are calling on Congress to refocus efforts on Asian carp, the exotic species with a voracious appetite that many fish biologists fear would wreak havoc on the region’s $7 billion fishery if they ever became established in it. Those fishing captains are one of the groups with the most to lose, because they are highly dependent on a diverse mix of fish species to make their businesses more attractive. That’s especially true in Lake Erie, where more fish are spawned than the rest of the Great Lakes combined. (August 3, 2016) The Toledo Blade

What to do? It seems hopeless, like it did in the 1980’s trying to keep the Zebra Mussels out of our local waters. Some have suggested that we just learn to love and eat the prolific Asian Carp. Most others don’t think that’s a good idea at all—given the potential disruption to the greatest freshwater system in the world.

Enter the media. Recently, the media has seized onto the unsubstantiated idea of a monstrous-looking endemic species, once brought back to a sizeable population, could put the Asian Carp in its place—the lively carp would meet its match.

Once-hated fish now sought to combat Asian carp Persecuted by anglers and deprived of places to spawn, the alligator gar — with a head that resembles an alligator and two rows of needlelike teeth — survived primarily in southern states in the tributaries of the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico after being declared extinct in several states farther north. To many, it was a freak, a “trash fish” that threatened sport fish, something to be exterminated. But the once-reviled predator is now being seen as a valuable fish in its own right, and as a potentially potent weapon against a more threatening intruder: the invasive Asian carp, which have swum almost unchecked toward the Great Lakes, with little more than an electric barrier to keep them at bay. Efforts are now under way to reintroduce the alligator gar from Illinois to Tennessee. (July 31, 2016 Detroit Free Press)

I know, the enemy of my enemy is my friend and all that, but is reestablishing the monstrous alligator gar the way to curb the Asian Carp? What if, instead, both become our enemy?

Anyway, according to the biologist actually part of the team trying to reestablish the gar, “There was never a thought in our minds at all about any kind of control on Asian carp.”1

Alligator Gar Not Effective Weapon Against Asian Carp, Says Biologist A spate of recent news articles have suggested that reintroducing a mammoth fish called the alligator gar into Illinois waterways may help protect Lake Michigan from the invasive Asian carp. But not everyone believes this to be true, including Dan Stephenson, a longtime biologist and chief of fisheries at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. That's the state agency that’s reintroducing the once-extinct alligator gar into Illinois’ waterways. “We’re just trying to bring back an extirpated species, a native fish that was here once and we’d like to have them back,” Stephenson said. “There was never a thought in our minds at all about any kind of control on Asian carp.” (August 3, 2016) Chicago Tonight WTTW 

The media, ya gotta laugh: Biologists trying to reintroduce monstrous alligator gar into the Great Lakes never thought they could handle the Asian Carp. Asian Carp would vastly outnumber the gars and the gars cannot even open their jaws wide enough to gobble up a humungous Asian Carp. But the media likes to publish stories about bringing back great big monster-bad fish to eat the hordes of a big invasive species—and save the day! Makes for good sales, I guess.  

Our media needs to evolve into an information system that will help us get through Climate Change, the mother of all problems (which will include dealing with invasive species). 

Time passes. 

Monday, August 01, 2016

Modeling Climate Change

For those who still think climate science and the scientific likelihoods for Climate Change are the stuff of dreams, they should focus for a while on climate modeling. Climate modeling (“quantitative methods to simulate the interactions of the important drivers of climate, including atmosphere, oceans, land surface and ice” Wikipedia) is anchored deeply in the laws of physics, math, and all the accumulated data on weather and climate from around the world. Predicting climate has come a long way as the software and hardware of computing have advanced quickly, making it possible for climate scientists to assert, with a high degree of certainty, that global warming is upon us and Climate Change is a grave threat.

Here’s a more rigorous argument from climate modelers:

 “In the face of criticism of climate science, it is important to note that the physical science behind climate models and energy is based on physical laws known for several hundred years and is not new or subject to question. If the world did not work this way, cars would not run, airplanes would not fly, and everyday motions that we observe (baseball pitches, gravity) would not happen. As we demonstrate later, these underlying scientific principles are not cutting-edge science. The principles are not open to question or debate, any more than the law of gravity can be debated.” (Page 39, 2016) Demystifying Climate Models, A Users Guide to Earth System Models)

Scientists can factor in the energy from the sun and follow it through many of our planet’s systems, including ocean currents, our atmosphere, and even model energy as it passes through plant and animal life. Unlike economics (where, if you run out of money you just make more), there are strict energy conservation laws to which climate models have to adhere. If you follow the sun’s energy through one of the many systems in a climate model and the numbers don’t add up, you have to find the missing or additional energy.

With the new climate models, scientists can even factor in many of humanity’s influences on our climate—beyond the production of greenhouse gas emissions -- which our way of life releases.

“Changing water availability affects industry and also affects agriculture. Agricultural land (pasture and cropland) has very different surface properties than natural vegetation, which can result in significant differences in evapotranspiration, affecting precipitation, and albedo, affecting surface temperature. Changes in precipitation and temperature in turn feedback on crops: requiring changes to crop types or additional irrigation water if available. All of these feedbacks can be predicted and modeled, with varying degrees of fidelity.”(Page 130, ibid) 

The take home message is that the more climate scientists learn about global warming (a subset of Climate Change) and gather information for climate models, the more certain they are that we are heading for disaster.

Climate models are accurately predicting ocean and global warming A new study from my colleagues and I vindicates climate models, which are accurately predicting the rate of ocean heat accumulation For those of us who are concerned about global warming, two of the most critical questions we ask are, “how fast is the Earth warming?” and “how much will it warm in the future?”. The first question can be answered in a number of ways. For instance, we can actually measure the rate of energy increase in the Earth’s system (primarily through measuring changing ocean temperatures). Alternatively, we can measure changes in the net inflow of heat at the top of the atmosphere using satellites. We can also measure the rate of sea-level rise to get an estimate of the warming rate. (July 27, 2016) The Guardian

Someday perhaps we may be able to factor in many other features of modern life that are affected by and effect climate, like how our cities take in and release energy.

There are limits to climate modeling. If we don’t include all the data we need to know in order to understand how our climate works (like monitoring clouds’ effect on climate), our models will be limited. Already, climate modelers are learning that their knowledge about clouds and climate is severely limited:

“Perhaps most chillingly, the study reveals how inadequate our present observing systems still are when it comes to certain fundamental climate questions—such as whether the world is getting more or less cloudy, Stevens adds. “This work reminds us that if we really want to understand our changing climate … we need to do a much, much better job of watching clouds.”” (Cloud patterns are shifting skyward and poleward, adding to global warming; July 11, 2016, Science Magazine)

More importantly, there are a lot of unknown unknowns (things we don’t even know we don’t know) that come with something so incredibly complicated as our climate. For example, a climate model won’t ever be able to tell us how our climate will respond to the human peculiarity called climate denial—a refusal to accept science and reason. If we react to every indication that energy is being trapped in our climate system with hostility and distain towards climate modeling, we will be stumbling about blindly on a very warm world.

Time passes.

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 

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

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

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: The National Transportation Safety Board calls these unit trains of Bakken crude “an unacceptable public risk.” (

“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

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, 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.


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’.