Sunday, January 25, 2015

Climate Change occurring in Rochester too; we should act like it


CCActLikeSThis week President Obama delivered his State of the Union address, where he highlighted the importance of addressing Climate Change right now. His message was unambiguous. Climate Change poses an immediate threat and we should act in a way that is equal to the threat.

“2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record. Now, one year doesn’t make a trend, but this does: 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century. I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists; that we don’t have enough information to act. Well, I’m not a scientist, either. But you know what, I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and at NOAA, and at our major universities. And the best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we don’t act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration and conflict and hunger around the globe. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.” (President Obama, State of the Union 2015, January 20, 2015)

(Watch ABC’s short video version of the above transcript State of the Union 2015: Obama Wants Climate Change Addressed as Security Risk)

Rochester, NY (and every other community on Earth for that matter) should be addressing Climate Change on a level and speed that corresponds to the threat. As reported in this week’s local news, Rochester, NY is starting to put together a Climate Action Plan. It’s very milquetoast, but it’s a start.

Rochester to undertake citywide climate inventory The City of Rochester will hire a consultant to help it put together a Climate Action Plan — a step that an official says builds on other projects and programs helping to make Rochester a more sustainable and, therefore, more desirable city. "You want to be in a community that's somewhat progressive in sustainability areas. People like that," says Anne Spaulding, the city's energy and sustainability manager. "It's a place where people kind of like to live and like to be." The plan will essentially be a blueprint that will include goals, actions, and strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the city, she says. The city will accept proposals from interested consultants until January 30. (January 21, 2015 Rochester City Newspaper)

It seems to be the City’s goal to quietly address Climate Change using the ‘no regrets’ strategy, which is to say actions that can be justified economically, socially, and environmentally whether Climate Change is real or not. This is not leadership on an issue posing an immediate threat; this is hedging your bets politically.

Although the City is doing many things on the climate front, few know about these efforts. Number one on its to-do climate action list should be ‘community engagement’. That is not happening. Even in the City’s bicycle projects (bikeROCHESTER), a fantastic effort which constitutes one of the City’s strongest adaptation strategies (as 27% of greenhouse gas emission come from the transportation sector), ‘Climate Change’ or even ‘greenhouse gases’ are not mentioned.

You cannot lead by quietly setting an example that nobody knows about. You lead by continually educating the public so that they will understand the threat, by updating our various infrastructures so they will be resilient and robust enough to tolerate more frequent extreme weather, and by asking the public to become engaged in viewing and acting on all our local issues through the lens of Climate Change—election year after election year. 

Also this week, the City conducted a summit on downtown parking.

Parking summit leads to wider wish list A public meeting Wednesday night on parking downtown had very little to do with parking lots or garages. Instead, city planners and citizens at the city's parking summit focused much more on making downtown an easier and more attractive place to get around by foot, bike, public transit or some kind of shuttle service — not necessarily by car. No one in the crowd of a few dozen people suggested paving over more of downtown for new parking lots, but several people suggested ways to better manage the spots that the city already has. (January 21, 2015) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

But instead of a call for more parking (which the majority of Rochesterians would most likely prefer) the City got a surprise. Folks asked, why not increase active transportation (walking and bicycling)? Why not manage the parking lots we have better so we don’t have to pave over downtown completely? (A lot, really a lot, of downtown is already paved over.) Why not make public transportation better, develop parking apps to find unused parking spots, and make park-and-rides more desirable?

Paving over downtown with even more impermeable surfaces, which (while very friendly to resting cars) is not friendly to our environment. Paved surfaces suffocate our soil, make flooding worse, and create more stormwater surges that are more likely to carry more pollution to our streams, rivers, and lakes. Not to mention that more paved surfaces renders the urban heat island effect more intense.

Admittedly, not creating more parking lots in Rochester will be a hard sell. We love our cars and our cars love parking lots—free, convenient, and secure asphalt cribs of auto desire.

The trouble is that our life support system doesn’t like parking lots—any more than we’d like to have a plastic bag put over our head.

This all matters because it is at the point of transportation planning that Rochester must connect the dots between Climate Change and demonstrating its intention to act. By far most of our transportation tax dollars are gobbled up by bridge and road repair, so adapting our existing infrastructure to accommodate low or no GHG emissions when getting around town is relatively low-hanging fruit, financially. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by using alternatives to gas guzzlers as much as possible may be the most effective Climate Change strategy Rochester has in its toolbox. Fewer vehicles, less need for parking them. But when we have surveys and public discussions about our transportation future, we do not mention ‘Climate Change'. It is still unfashionable to connect the climate crisis with our Rochester lifestyle.

If we planned our local transportation strategies so that the public believed there was a shared effort in addressing this worldwide crisis, wouldn’t they be more likely to do their part? Someone who must use a car might be more likely to tolerate those who don’t—and share the freaking road.

Community engagement with Climate Change should include baking Climate Change into our transportation plans. More Rochesterians would move out of their comfort zones to make more sustainable transportation modes work if they believed they were a necessary part of the solution to Climate Change. This will take leadership.

Climate Change is happening. We here in Rochester should act like it.

Time passes.  

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Ominous signs of Climate Change


You’re looking at a very small crack at the bottom of a very large dam leaking water. It doesn’t look ominous, just a little dribble of water. But it feels ominous because it’s just the first sign that an incredibly large structure is eventually going to fail.

CCMGlassSThis is how I feel when I read Climate Change studies about our area, and they mention some of the changes already occurring. Annual temperature increases, increase in intensive precipitation events, bird population shifts, and streamflow changes don’t seem like much until you realize these events are unstoppable. (They are unstoppable in our life time; if we address Climate Change now we may be able to slow them down for future generations.)

An incredibly large biological structure that took billions of years to evolve is changing very quickly due to manmade global warming—although, to our untrained eyes these changes appear to be occurring very slowly.

When our local media helps us open our eyes, we can see the cracks. Quietly and with little fanfare, this recent article in Rochester City Newspaper, describing efforts to fortify Irondequoit Creek's banks, bakes Climate Change into the report. When recounting factors that contribute to the creek’s bank erosion, some ominous changes comes up:

“Shifts in precipitation patterns, brought on by climate change, also play a role in the erosion. Overall, the amount of precipitation that the Rochester area gets hasn't changed much, but more frequently it's coming in heavy bursts. And those downpours tend to be more intense than in the past. "On an observation basis, I think we've seen more what we call flashy storms, where the water rises very quickly within the creek, within the parks, more so than in the past," says Monroe County's Rinaldo.” (Water power  (1/14/2015) Rochester City Newspaper)

Articles like this that responsibly include the worldwide crisis of Climate Change demonstrate several important reasons why this sort of reporting should be the new normal in journalism. First, in order to fix problems like bank erosion in a warmer Rochester, we must factor in more frequent heavy rainfall, else fortifying the banks will fail. Second, public officials don’t have the luxury of denying Climate Change because the consequences of warming in our region will affect all efforts to make our way of living sustainable. Finally, the public will truly appreciate how Climate Change must now be weaved into all our plans for the future.

Without reporting continually on how Climate Change is (and will be) affecting our life support system, the public will not be able to compare political candidates, judge the accuracy of energy company claims, or appreciate the urgency of addressing this relentless warming process right now. Though Rochester, and every community around the world, is plagued with innumerable problems, these problems must be addressed while addressing Climate Change. Trying to save species whose ability to adapt have passed is (by definition) too late. Trying to solve public health, inequality, and other issues without factoring in Climate Change is delusional, which is to say impossible.

The tragedy is that the article above is rare. Dominating our local news is sports, then sports, then accidents, then happy news, and then maybe a handful of sentences about stuff we need to know. Our priorities have reversed: We now highlight the trivial and bury the serious.

Locally, the crucial period between the COP20 Lima climate talks last December and decision time coming up next December at COP21 Paris is ignored in the press. A remarkable transformation in humanity’s attitude towards energy use must occur during this timeframe. Instead, there is a hue and cry over gas prices (lowest in a long time but higher than anywhere else in the nation) which is an irresponsible and immoral response to the direct threat of using more fossil fuels on a rapidly warming planet.

At present our local leaders (not to mention the US Congress) find it more convenient to ignore and deny Climate Change because the press isn’t pressing them and the public is not connecting the dots. This must change.

“Wherever you look there are huge risks. The awful thing is that people in authority and power deny that, when the evidence is overwhelming and they deny it because it’s easier to deny it – much easier to deny it’s a problem and say ‘we don’t care’.” David Attenborough (Demand for climate action grows as 2015 deadline approaches, 1/5/2015, tcktcktck)

But avoiding the ominous signs of Climate Change has consequences—as we are experiencing.

Time passes.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Update: Challenges that Rochester’s poor face with Climate Change


CCPoorUpdateSRochester, NY still faces ‘extreme poverty.’ Read ACT Rochester’s updated study “Benchmarking Rochester’s Poverty A 2015 Update and Deeper Analysis of Poverty in the City of Rochester.”

Most of the knee-jerk responses from local commenters blame government-sponsored programs to help the poor, high taxes, racism, the Recession, oppressive government, siphoning off the ‘poverty business’ with high wages for those at the top, policies that continue to drive businesses from NYS, more people relying on the government instead of working to earn their own way, dysfunction in Albany, incorrect poverty figures, minimum standard of living too high for someone who has never bothered to stay in school, teachers, lack of help from local colleges and universities, and politicians.

You can add more to this ‘blame list’ in the comment section of this article:

Report: Rochester tops 'extreme poverty' list This is not the kind of national list that Rochester-area residents hope to top. Rochester now has more people living at less than half the federal poverty level than any other similarly-sized city in the U.S., says a report released Thursday by the Rochester Area Community Foundation and its ACT Rochester initiative. For a family of four, that means getting by on less than $11,925 a year — conditions that the report described as "extreme poverty." (January 8, 2015) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

From my perspective, this tragedy goes on despite the incredible efforts by many people and organizations who give up much of their time and money to alleviate this misery.

Rather than trying to solve the extreme poverty crisis by blaming just about everyone and every institution, I submit that we ought to stand back and see the big picture. Climate Change. “This Changes Everything,” as Naomi Klein states in her game-changing book, means the consequences of Climate Change provide us with an opportunity to rectify historic economic injustices by properly addressing the mother of all problems.

A year ago, I examined what the poor face in Rochester, based on ACT Rochester’s last report. Here’s my article I wrote on December 14, 2013 “Challenges that Rochester’s poor face with Climate Change.”

Not much has changed; we are doing the same things, expecting different results.

By taking leadership on addressing Climate Change, Rochester could vastly improve the lot of the ‘extreme poor’. Climate Change is about planning and adapting to changes—as climate studies that include our region suggest. Providing jobs that would improve our energy efficiency, updating our transportation, water, waste, and telecommunications infrastructures, proving a more robust public health system, and a continual education program on how Climate Change will affect our region could provide a lot of jobs and a better standard of living for all. Nobody benefits if our life support system is in meltdown.

Rochester can turn its “extreme poverty” around by taking bold action on Climate Change. I have worked with a lot of groups in the Rochester area on environmental issues. Trust me, there would be a lot of brilliant, capable volunteers and all kinds of financial help for this massive change if we had strong local leadership on the worldwide crisis of Climate Change.

We should “plan for climate change migrants” because Climate Change won’t hit us so hard and as soon as other regions. With our plentitude of fresh water, great soil, and no Fracking, we’ll be a destination for many whose states and countries are going to get nailed sooner and harder than us.  We can get ready for this:

Experts warn governments to plan for climate change migrants * Rising seas, heatwaves may force millions from homes * Better planning needed to help those displaced Governments need to plan better for rising migration driven by climate change, experts said on Thursday, citing evidence that extreme weather and natural disasters force far more people from their homes than wars. Projections by leading climate scientists of rising sea levels, heatwaves, floods and droughts linked to global warming are likely to oblige millions of people to move out of harm's way, with some never able to return. The issue is politically sensitive at a time when economic austerity is straining the generosity of host governments and anti-immigrant sentiment is rising in many countries, especially in Europe. (1/8/2015) Reuters)

However, in Rochester, not only is climate change politically sensitive, it’s invisible. Because we have the luxury of being in Climate Change denial a little longer than those states burning up or countries slipping under the seas, we have yet to make Climate Change public at all. We need to change everything in Rochester. Read: “Rochester, NY: a portrait in climate denial.”  

BTW: Please ask our friends over at ACT Rochester to put ‘Environment’ back on their agenda, as in order to assess today’s health accurately for Rochester and plan for its future we need to know the state of our environment—especially Climate Change.

Time passes.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Rochester, NY: a portrait in climate denial


Climate change denial is a denial or dismissal of the scientific consensus on the extent of global warming, its significance, and its connection to human behavior, especially for commercial or ideological reasons.” Wikipedia

CCWakeUpSA major characteristic of Climate Change is that it is measurable. Unlike most other issues humanity faces, Climate Change is at the core an existential phenomenon that only responds to physical inputs—and that is quantifiable. If we continue business as usual by burning fossil fuels at our present rate, temperatures go up. Garbage in, garbage out. All our good intentions must end up lowering greenhouse gas (GHGs) levels in our atmosphere and adapting to the increased levels already baked into our present climate by past fossil fuel emissions—or our efforts will be ineffective. Keeping our eye on the ball, on our scientific data as it were, is critical to this issue. 

There are many websites where you can get near real-time data, scientific feedback, about how our planet’s climate is changing due to humanity’s energy use. NOAA is one:   

Climate Monitoring Welcome to Climate Monitoring at NOAA's National Climatic Data Center. Our mission is to monitor and assess the state of the Earth's climate in near real-time, providing decision-makers at all levels of the public and private sectors with data and information on climate trends and variability including perspectives on how the climate of today compares to the past. Use the menu on the left to navigate our available products. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) also helps us monitor our new reality—a reality fraught with many knowns and unknowns. But in the new Congress, funds for NASA’s research into Earth's changing climate could be threatened. This could seriously blind ourselves to many of the consequences of our behavior. These unknowns (how will our atmosphere respond to the heat stored in our oceans if suddenly released?) are not reasons for Climate Change doubt; they are reasons to dramatically increase our scientific research and monitoring. We need to know as much as possible about the consequences of Climate Change so we can plan properly.

As I mentioned, the Climate Change crisis is a direct result of how humanity gets energy for our present way of living. After the COP20 Lima climate talks, there is now a great push for renewable energy, like wind and solar power, that doesn’t emit GHGs into our atmosphere. For all the talk about addressing Climate Change from the bottom up—cities, states, businesses, environmental groups, individuals, and countries—there is now a way to track who is actually stepping up to the plate and making public pledges for emissions reductions, urban environment, energy efficiency, renewable energy, land use, low emissions development, use of carbon price, resilience, non-CO2 greenhouse gases, and carbon capture use and storage. 

PRESS RELEASE Climate Action Portal to Capture and Catalyze Climate Action in Support of 2015 Agreement Site Spotlights Rapidly Growing Momentum by Cities, Subnational Regions and Companies   Lima, 11 December 2014-- A way to increase the visibility of the wealth of climate action by cities, regions, companies and investors was launched today by the government of Peru. The portal aims to demonstrate the strategic action being taken by ‘non-state actors either individually or as part of cooperative initiatives. The on-line site, developed with the support of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), has been named the Nazca Climate Action Portal, after the vast ancient lines found in the landscape of Peru. These world-famous works of art depict among other things the agility of the hummingbird, the creativity of the monkey and the soaring ambition of the condor—all key qualities that are needed now and into the future for realizing short and long term climate action. (December 11, 2014) Untied Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC)

The portal, The Non-state Actor Zone for Climate Action (NAZCA), indicates that Portland Oregon is doing its part as are several other US cities and states. But not Rochester, NY. Many communities (317 Cities, 70 Subnational Regions, and 261 Companies) worldwide are proving they are willing to make commitments. But good intentions must add up to holding warming to 2C maximum. Rochester should be a part of the worldwide effort to address Climate Change. We aren’t even watching from the sidelines.

Rochester had plans to release a climate action plan in September of 2013, as noted in its “Energy Management and Climate Action Status Report,” but nothing has come of this “…roadmap for City actions, projects and programs to achieve continued reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and energy use.” There are no public education components to inform the public, especially the poor, about the significance of Climate Change (even though the poor will get disproportionally nailed by more heat and more flooding). Though the City’s Office of Energy & Sustainability explains in its report how they are acting on climate protection, energy efficiency and conservation, reduction in fossil fuel emissions, and greenhouse gas management, they only mean all this within the context of municipal owned buildings and property. They’re hoping that their actions will be ‘leading by example.’ But because there is almost no media attention on this, they are not leading. They are talking to themselves.

There are no real educational or enforcement aspects to the active transportation (walking and bicycling) aspirations of our city. Although an extraordinary effort is being put into Rochester’s bicycling infrastructure (bikeROCHESTER) nowhere is “Climate Change’ mentioned. Not even greenhouse gases. Rochester’s strongest (transportation accounts for 27% of GHGs) climate action plan is buried under a desire to be a bike-friendly community. However, without continual education and enforcing the present traffic laws pertaining to vehicles and bikes, even this effort to increase active transportation in our region remains but a dangerous delusion.

At this point, many are probably thinking ‘don't sacrifice the good in search of the perfect.’ In other words, the city and county and many well-intentioned individuals are doing what they can. Don’t dismiss their efforts because their efforts are not perfect. The trouble with this logic is that the window for keeping global temperatures to a safe level is rapidly closing; just doing a little is not enough. Now, as 2014 rises in the ranks to be the hottest year in human history, little things cannot fix this problem unless they are part of accumulated, directed efforts on a speed and scale that will matter. The COP21 Paris climate treaty next December will attempt to bind every country’s efforts into something that will actually make a difference. Soon, very soon, global temperatures must level off at 2C, or better yet, concentrations of carbon dioxide must go back to 280ppm—where they were for the last 10,000 years. We are almost to a yearly average of 400ppm and steadily going up. Remember: The Last Time Atmospheric CO2 was at 400 parts per million Humans Didn’t Exist.

The dearth of news on Climate Change, the lack of city and county education programs, and the disinclination of our officials to connect the dots between local adaptation efforts and the consequences of Climate Change mean Rochester is in climate denial. You cannot ‘lead by example’ if nobody knows you’re leading.

Besides the physical aspect of Climate Change, where the mother of all problems will affect all aspects of our life, there are moral issues as well. Though not as measurable as scientific data, those who follow us (our kids) will likely pass through more than just the nine circles of hell if we do not act. Pope Francis, the leader of over a billion Catholics, is demonstrating what climate leadership means:

Pope Francis prepares to issue Vatican teachings on Climate Change to 1.2 Billion Catholics Pope Francis is set to make history by issuing the first-ever comprehensive Vatican teachings on climate change, which will urge 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide to take action. The document will be sent to the world’s 5,000 Catholic bishops and 400,000 priests who will distribute it to their parishioners. Given the sheer number of people who identify as Catholics worldwide, the pope’s clarion call to tackle climate change could reach far more people than even the largest environmental groups. "The document will take a position in favor of the scientific consensus that climate change is real ... and link the deforestation and destruction of the natural environment to the particular economic model of which Pope Francis has been a critic," says our guest, Austen Ivereigh, author of a new biography called "The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope." The pope also plans to address the United Nations General Assembly and convene a summit of the world’s main religions in hopes of bolstering next year’s crucial U.N. climate meeting in Paris. (January 1, 2014, Daily Kos)

The picture that Rochester is painting on Climate Change is a portrait of denial, of official irresponsibility to its constituents. If the government doesn’t demonstrate a willingness to inform and adapt to a warmer climate, how can it expect its citizens to pay attention—or support their efforts election cycle after election cycle? Rochester needs to wake up from the slumbers of climate denial and join the world community in our global efforts to reduce greenhouse gases—by leading.

Time passes.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Having banned Fracking, New York can be a leader in renewable energy and jobs

Maybe the greatest victory for the anti-fracking activists in New York State is switching the burden of proof from the victims to the producers. A hallmark of European environmental policy is to place the burden of proof on the industries producing suspect products—making industries prove their products will do no harm to the public or to the environment before these products are allowed on the markets.

The reverse has been true on this side of the Atlantic. Decades of environmental and public health abuses by polluting industries—cigarettes, leaded gas and paint, using hydrofluorocarbons (super greenhouse gases) as a refrigerant, etc.—have been allowed to continue business as usual until enough time, health and environmental damage, money, and research finally brought the polluters to court.

This statement by acting New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker could have profound implications not only on Fracking in New York State but also on how we address environmental concerns in our hemisphere:

"Until the science provides sufficient information to determine the level of risk to public health from HVHF [high-volume hydraulic fracturing] to all New Yorkers and whether the risks can be adequately managed, DOH recommends that HVHF should not proceed in NYS," Zucker wrote in a letter to Martens that accompanies the public health report. (The legacy of New York's fracking decision,12/24/ 2014 Rochester City Newspaper)

The burden of proof that Fracking in New York must not harm the public’s health is now the responsibility of the Fracking industry—which should have always been the case. In states like Pennsylvania, Fracking started without much research and since then it’s been the dickens for the public to prove that their health and water well problems have been due to nearby Fracking operations. When already ensconced, the Fracking industry looks on with disdain for those concerned about methane leaks and other concerns because once given approval by the state to begin their harmful practices, it is almost impossible bring them to task.   

This business-as-usual climate, where it’s harder to stop existing polluters than to switch to energy options that don’t pollute, must change quickly. Maybe New York State’s six-year Fracking experience can offer some practical insights to the necessary energy shift we must make if we are to keep global temperatures at 2C above preindustrial levels.  

The science of Climate Change couldn’t be clearer. The CLIMATE CHANGE 2014 Synthesis Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released in November makes it crystal clear that we have to quickly reduce fossil fuel use:

The unrestricted use of fossil fuels should be phased out by 2100 if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change, a UN-backed expert panel says. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says in a stark report that most of the world's electricity can - and must - be produced from low-carbon sources by 2050.  If not, the world faces "severe, pervasive and irreversible" damage. (Fossil fuels should be phased out by 2100 says IPCC, 11/02/2014, BBC News)

Banning Fracking in New York State presents a major opportunity to address Climate Change by dramatically increasing the potential for renewable energy. Now that we’ve dodged a major environmental challenge to our environment, our health, and our climate by NOT Fracking New York, we have opened the door wider for more wind and solar power. The economic obstacles presented by cheap natural gas is now reduced and gives the growing green energy industries the boost they need.

Better battery power for when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining, conserving energy, increasing energy efficiency, and updating our energy infrastructure with Cuomo’s New York Energy Highway program (fixing leaking gas pipes, supporting green energy, reducing bottlenecks affecting renewable energy, and advancing Smart Grid technologies) can now accelerate our state’s role in reducing greenhouse gases—and provide many jobs. We’ve lost six precious years fighting Fracking in New York. Now let’s focus on the provisions of the COP20 Lima climate talks and make major strides in New York for a successful COP21 Paris climate agreement. (BTW: Did I mention more jobs? More jobs than Fracking would have ever provided New Yorkers?)

Sure, the battle to keep New York Frack-free is not over. Those pro-fracking people will never give up as long as there is a buck to be made from fossil fuels. But the COP20 Lima talks have gotten folks around the world considering an alternative to our addiction to fossil fuels:

The switch to renewable power is a battle we cannot afford to lose The Lima climate talks saw a shift towards action with renewable energy taking centre stage, says the head of the International Renewable Energy Agency Since the final gavel fell at the Lima climate talks earlier this month, discussions have centred on one question: what did the talks actually accomplish? After two weeks of intense negotiation, governments settled on a draft text that will hopefully lead to a successful global climate deal in Paris next December. While opinions vary regarding the success or failure of the outcome, there is another story emerging outside the negotiation room. This year’s conference represented a highly-significant shift in the positive momentum to act on climate change. While negotiators engaged in contentious debates, businesses, non-governmental organisations and local authorities stepped forward to present their own climate initiatives and committed to more action on the ground. In this shift, renewable energy took centre stage. (December 24, 2014 The Guardian)

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Fracking Ban in New York State important step towards COP21 Paris


CCCloseOneSThursday, December 17th 2014 will go down in history as the date that Governor Cuomo finally decided to ban Fracking in New York State. This matters because NY is the second and by far the largest US state to ban this dangerous, unhealthy, methane-leaking, extreme fossil-fuel extraction method in a place that actually has a lot of shale gas. That particular fossil fuel will now stay in our bedrock, not in our air. Ostensively, Fracking will be banned because of public health issues (“Citing Health Risks, Cuomo Bans Fracking in New York State, 12/17/2014 NYT) and while this is quite true, it doesn’t quite cover the gambit of concerns. Besides threatening our fresh water, our property rights, and our beautiful countryside, Fracking most likely leaks methane gas like a sieve. (Read local study: “Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations”) Great praise goes out to those who resisted this dirty energy option for New York State for six long years, including local leadership by R-Cause.

This ban is an important step towards the most important climate talks ever. Between now and December of next year, when the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris takes place to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate from all the nations of the world, many big changes must occur. New York State banning Fracking can be viewed as a major step to addressing Climate Change and protecting our own.  It would have been the height of absurdity and hypocrisy for the state of New York to pass Fracking while at the same time trying to save New York City from the consequences of rising seas and ever-stronger hurricanes.

With the milquetoast COP20 Lima talks and high-profile climate deniers worming their way to high office next year, the road to Paris 2015 is going to be long indeed. The Lima talks were hailed in mainstream media as a success because they didn’t outright fail. Mostly, this 20th Conference of Parties kicked the can down the very hot road to Paris (metaphorically the ‘can’ is our collective willingness to keep greenhouse gases (GHGs) 2C below preindustrial averages).

Some have lauded Lima because “The agreement removes the longstanding division of the world into developed and developing countries and paves way for a model of unity.” And while Lima did merge the responsibilities for curbing GHG’s for both rich and poor countries, this misses the point. The point is (again) keeping to 2C. It is necessary for the poor to help curb GHGs, but they cannot do that without a viable Green Climate Fund—and tragically there was no agreement to fund this adequately.

The final week of COP20 Lima was packed with demonstrations, a frantic two-day run into overtime, and a seething undercurrent of resentment against a binding agreement in Paris by the rich nations. Basically, the rich countries who caused Climate Change don’t want to be forced to undo it. But everyone knows, even a binding agreement is unenforceable—it’s a gentlemen’s agreement. What a binding agreement would do is create a top-down structure so that bottom-up grassroots solutions (granted the ones most likely to work) aggregate all local efforts to a level and time frame that will actually work without stepping on everyone else’s efforts. This matters because our window of opportunity to act so that our children’s future isn’t hosed is closing very quickly.

Climate change cannot be solved if it remains as an ‘us vs. them’ problem—the way we have historically characterized environmental issues. The fight between those who want a pristine nature and those who think we can have it all is over. At this point in time, there is no possibility for a pristine nature, we’ve broken it and now we own it. However, this does not mean unfettered growth and less restrictions—quite the opposite. We’ve already locked ourselves into a warmer world that will necessitate big government with lots of rules to maintain anything like a sustainable future. But we must stop the absurd battles with ourselves within our own life support system. We don’t have the time for more lengthy battles (like the six-year fight to end Fracking in New York State) that hijacked our attention from addressing Climate Change. (The tragedy of the Fracking battle in NYS is not that one side won and other side lost—it’s that we could have dramatically increased renewable energy during that time.)

In just one year, intense efforts need to be made to educate the public on what we are facing with Climate Change and the importance of their understanding all the ramifications. All those promises made after the People’s Climate March at the UN Climate Summit in New York City, and Lima—lowering GHGs, increasing renewable energy, putting climate change into school curricula, increasing transparency in countries’ s emissions targets, stopping deforestation, appreciating the pivotal role of women in addressing climate change, and more—must come to fruition. We used to have a lot of time to wrangle over who should do what or whether we should do anything at all, but now we don’t.

For those still advocating for the Soft Plan (non-binding agreements) to Climate Change solutions, they have a year to lend any credibility to this unlikely option. Let them prove their case with substantial results before the Paris talks or be forever quiet on that non-solution. (No one has ever stopped anyone, any company, or any country from voluntarily reducing GHGs and yet the trajectory is for more GHGs, not less.) Here are some things the Soft Planners could be doing before Paris if there is any merit to their arguments: no more subsidies for fossil fuel exploration, no drilling in the Arctic, create millions of jobs in renewable energy, stop the XL Keystone pipeline fiasco, update infrastructures to adapt and mitigate Climate Change (like FDR’s job programs without the dams). This isn’t idle rhetoric, the results have to add up to subtracting GHGs. Under 2C you win; over 2C we lose.

Addressing Climate Change demands (among other things) that all humanity morph more-or-less instantly into environmentalists. No more of this looney media construct where only some folks care about their life support system (environmentalists) vs. those who only care about progress. All of us. Individuals, countries, corporations, activists, must get on the same page. There are no winners in a world that’s too warm to live in. We must change and do so quickly.

If you live in the Rochester, NY region, consider advancing the prospects for a real deal in Paris 2015 by joining one of these groups:

  • Global Warming/Energy Committee Addressing climate change is Sierra Club’s number one priority. The scientific facts on the worldwide climate crisis are fully available. They say climate is changing very rapidly and is going to get worse. In fact climate change isn’t the only problem. The world is facing an array of interconnected environmental problems such as overpopulation and water and food shortages. What can we do to avoid a ‘hard crash’? Our GW/E Committee has developed a summary design on how to address necessary changes. We call it a ‘Three Legged Stool’ approach. Rochester Regional Group of the Sierra Club.
  • Citizen’s Climate Lobby.  Here’s what Dr. James Hansen, head of Goddard Institute for Space Studies, NASA say’s "Most impressive is the work of Citizens Climate Lobby, a relatively new, fast-growing, nonpartisan, nonprofit group with 60 chapters across the United States and Canada. If you want to join the fight to save the planet, to save creation for your grandchildren, there is no more effective step you could take than becoming an active member of this group." The contact information for the local Rochester group: We meet monthly, and people can contact us for more info on getting involved!
  • Cool Rochester--Save money, energy, the planet  Cool Rochester is a non-profit group composed of concerned citizens who are engaging the Rochester community in the fight against climate change. We believe dramatic reductions of carbon dioxide emissions are necessary to preserve and protect a functioning planet for this (and future) generations. Our goal is to reduce Rochester area carbon emissions one billion pounds in three years. To achieve this, we need to recruit 80,000 households and workplaces to participate in our program, to reduce their emissions by 25%. By unleashing the power of community we can save energy, save money and save the planet. Join Cool Rochester. [RENewsletter June 28, 09]
  • Gandhi Earth Keepers International  "is a grassroots, people powered environmental justice organization based on the teachings of sacred ecology and the principles of Gandhian styled nonviolence. Our events and programs include daily vigils, educational seminars and workshops, wildlife advocacy, outdoor meditation training for youth, book groups, blogging and other forms of new journalism, the promotion of climate justice, disaster relief preparation, community  activism, and even demonstrations of civil resistance. Every day, we vow to work for a justice that serves all living beings regardless of species, gender, age, race, nationality, religion, or social class. Founded on August 1, 2014 in Rochester, NY,  we are an income earning social benefit project designed to produce community based agency.  There are no fixed fees for our  products and we only accept donations for our programs and services. We trust that people will support this work through membership contributions, angel investment, grants, volunteer labor, and the gift economy."
  • Mothers Out Front | Mobilizing for a Livable Climate "We are mothers, grandmothers, and other caregivers who can no longer be silent and still about the very real danger that climate change poses to our children’s and grandchildren’s future. We have watched our leaders at every level fail to take action to address the growing climate crisis. We are mobilizing our energies and talents to build a movement that will be a force for change, beginning in our own communities and moving throughout the country and, eventually, the world. Our goal is to transition our society away from fossil fuels to clean energy. We do this out of our love for our children and grandchildren, and our commitment to protect their lives. Join us today by signing our Declaration of Protection for Our Children Against Climate Change."
  • The Climate Reality Project is a non-profit organization that was founded by Al Gore to promote climate change education and counter climate change denial campaigns worldwide.  They sponsor a number of different campaigns and offer training to individuals who want to become effective activists.  See for more details.
  • Rochester Climate Action Rochester Climate Action is run by a group of local mothers who are concerned about how climate change will affect their children’s futures.  These mothers are unpaid volunteers and are not affiliated with any “green” businesses.  For more information, including other action opportunities, visit  (The site is slowly coming along.  Though it’s still in development, we invite you to check out what we’ve posted so far).  We welcome your feedback on our work.  Please send comments, questions, suggestions, etc. to
  • The Pachamama Alliance seeks to empower indigenous people of the Amazon rainforest to preserve their lands and culture and, using insights gained from that work, educate and inspire individuals everywhere to bring forth a thriving, just and sustainable world.  Through their workshops and training programs they strive to engage people in transformational conversations and empower individuals to take action.  To learn more, visit, contact Sue Staropoli at, or check the events calendar on this site to find information about upcoming Pachamama events.
  • Citizens Climate Lobby "The purposes of Citizens Climate Lobby are to 1) create the political will for a stable climate and 2) to empower individuals to have breakthroughs in exercising their personal and political power.”

Sunday, December 14, 2014

January 1st deadline in NYS could inject new life into e-waste recycling


CCFriendlyReminderSOn January 1st 2015, it will become illegal in New York State for ordinary people to place old computers and TV’s into their trash or place them at the curb—a step in the 2010 NYS Electronic Equipment Recycling and Reuse Act that has been coming for five years. This has the potential to greatly increase the need for e-waste recycling. Suddenly, there will be a new playing field. Not recycling will no longer be a viable option. This will result in new and expanded opportunities for recycling businesses to make a profit and help protect our environment.

First, will the DEC’s friendly reminder actually work? Here’s what they say

“The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) today reminded New Yorkers that as of January 1, 2015, the NYS Electronic Equipment Recycling and Reuse Act prohibits certain types of electronic waste from being placed in the trash, or at the curbside for trash pickup.” DEC Urges New Yorkers to Recycle, Not Trash, Electronics (12/11/2014, The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) )

The DEC’s friendly message does not define what they mean by ‘prohibits’ in the sense that they make no mention of the repercussions of putting your old TV or Computer into the trash. But the law itself says,

“§ 71-2729. Enforcement of title 26 of article 27 of this chapter. 1. a. Any consumer, as defined in title twenty-six of article twenty- seven of this chapter, who violates any provision of, or fails to perform any duty imposed by, section 27-2611 of this chapter, shall be liable for a civil penalty not to exceed one hundred dollars for each violation.” ENVIROMENTAL CONSERVATION LAW ARTICLE 27 TITLE 26 | ELECTRONIC EQUIPMENT RECYCLING AND REUSE

(If I have it right ((and a good investigative media would be helpful here)) folks who march their old TV’s to the curb could get a $200 fine. This would be a game changer in people’s behavior with e-waste, assuming the law is enforced.)

The DEC mentions all the stuff you could and should do with your old e-waste, but a lot of folks won’t take the effort to dispose of their e-waster properly unless motivated by a penalty. What’s happening now is that when folks do put their old computers and TV’s in the trash, the local authorities pick that e-waste up and send it to a separate recycling center—so I’ve been told. The problem (even if this is actually happening) is that between the time the e-waste is set outside and the point when it is picked up, scavengers smash through the equipment, take the copper and other valuables, and leave the remains about our neighborhoods, remains that that are hardly recyclable anymore.
This all means that the January deadline won’t work if the law doesn’t work as it was intended. If those who still put their e-waste to the curb and the authorities don’t fine them as the law states, then it will be business as usual.

Our local media needs to investigate this issue and find out whether our local authorities are going to enforce this part of the law that kicks in this January.

If the law were to be enforced, if the media were to do its job by informing the public about this January deadline and investigating what the local authorities intend to do about it, we would see a greatly increased market for recycling e-waste. Once the public has felt the sting of a few fines, a new playing field would be established.

With a new playing field, it would be more convenient, and possibly even profitable, to take care of e-waste properly. However if the media doesn’t expose this deadline, and authorities don’t feel compelled to act, then the e-waste problem permeating our neighborhoods will continue apace.

Again, in order for this new playing field to happen, all 700,000 folks in Monroe County need to abide by the law. You can help this happen by making sure your media covers this story—making sure the message gets out and the authorities are monitored to see if they are enforcing compliance. Simply sharing this with your friends ain’t going to do the trick.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Rich countries try to sabotage climate talks--again


CCLimaCOP20SOne of my favorite hangouts during the COP20 Lima Climate Change Conference is tcktcktck’s page “Live: The UN climate talks in Lima”. It’s the next best thing to being there if you don’t have an official role, or you’re not part of a non-governmental organization (NGO) or a demonstration group. From Live, you can get continual updates of the COP20 in a variety of ways, including all forms of social media where you can join the innumerable discussions, from innumerable sources around the world. You get news and information and ‘stuff’ your mainstream media wouldn’t give you even if it was so inclined to attend one of the most historic meetings in human history.

First, tcktcktck, or “GCCA, the Global Call for Climate Action”,

“… represents an unprecedented network of more than 450 nonprofit organizations. Our shared goal is to harness the respective strengths of faith, development, science, environment, youth, labor, and other civil society organizations to achieve a world safe from runaway climate change. The GCCA works to connect and facilitate the efforts of organizations from across the globe; to communicate the urgency of climate change; and to mobilize the public in support of strong, equitable government action at the national and international levels. “About TCK

Second, if you haven’t already heard (and if you’re only listening to local Rochester NY media, your ignorance would be plausible), the COP20 is a critical pit stop along the continuum of climate talks to Paris 2015 (COP21) “to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world.”

The People’s Climate March in September started this latest climate action effort with massive demonstrations around the world, including many folks from your home town. Two days later, the UN Climate Summit in NYC changed the tone from business and governmental indifference to a euphoric inclination to make non-binding promises. In October, the Bonn Climate Change Conference tidied up some paper work for Lima. In November, China and the USA agreed make some non-binding promises about lowering GHGs, which made a lot of nations optimistic about Lima. Now, COP20 Lima. Then Paris. Paris 2015 is the Holy Grail: It will answer at least one profound question about humanity: Will the rich countries act on Climate Change to help the poor countries—and ultimately themselves?

Will the developed countries, who put most of the greenhouse gases that are warming up the planet and became rich by unfair, extreme fossil fuel extractions, help mitigate the effects of that and support undeveloped countries efforts to adapt? Note: It was unfair because the extraction of these fossil fuels that light up our world involved not only consuming our trees, drilling through our land and our waters, and mining our mines. It included ravishing the undeveloped countries’ trees, their oil and gas reserves, and their mines. We used up their share of the commons—their air and water—and now are thwarting their ability to develop without making Climate Change much, much worse.

Climate Change, manmade disruption of our worldwide climate due to the burning of fossil fuels, will ultimately affect everyone, even the rich, as this disaster is occurring on a planet with finite resources. The consequences of Climate Change will probably hit the poor first but not exclusively because weather extremes can be very disruptive to all infrastructures. If the rich counties do not come to the table at Lima with sufficient measures to mitigate and help developing nations adapt to Climate Change, the rich countries will be shooting themselves in the foot. We cannot insulate ourselves, our economy, our health, and our life support system from those of everyone else on the planet. Failure to think and act globally at Lima means disaster for everyone.

We are one-week into the COP20; how’s that going? There are demonstrations by NGO’s to get our leaders to focus on Climate Justice, which drives the rich nations crazy. Developing countries demand zero emissions and help with adapting. Political posturing (of course) made comical with Australia’s absurd position that coal is good. (“Coal is the moral choice.” Good grief.) And another extreme weather event is barreling down on the Philippines—just as it did last year and the year before that. But most significantly, even though the USA and China made some great promises to reduce GHGs (mitigation), injecting a lot of hope into the talks, the USA is holding that all agreements should be non-binding. Yet, without legally binding commitments to reduce emissions, actually addressing Climate Change is not going to happen. Sticking to the irrational stance that legally binding rules could ruin hopes for success is like saying no one will join your army if you make them ‘sign up’ and make a commitment. It’s saying that if you want a successful army, you have to make it so when things get tough the recruits can just leave—no questions asked. Moreover, a non-binding agreement at Paris 2015 is not better than nothing any more than half an airplane is a viable transportation option.

Giving Climate Pact Legal Teeth Could Make It Toothless As negotiators gather in Peru for a critical round of climate talks, U.S. delegates are straining to explain what they calla “counterintuitive” reality: For next year’s global climate agreement to be effective, commitments made under it must not be legally binding. Such an outcome would disappoint many, including the European Union’s negotiating team, which says it will be pushing for binding commitments during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change talks in Lima this week and next. America’s negotiators are pushing for voluntary commitments. The success of the next climate agreement, which is due to be finalized during talks in Paris one year from now, may hinge on American negotiators winning in this latest spat in a long-simmering quarrel with their European counterparts. (December 3, 2014) Climate Central

The USA is seeking this half-assed policy because our Congress is mostly likely going to squelch any binding agreement made in Lima (or any agreements on Climate Change for that matter), so this is the best we can do. So goes the present political zeitgeist. However, non-binding agreements, bottom up mitigation efforts from individuals, business and local governments, won’t work on a time and scale that will keep global temperature from soaring to 4C above preindustrial levels. A 4C world may be more than even the rich can handle. Not to mention, Climate Change, no matter how many times it is called a liberal hoax, is a physical process that does not give a tinker’s damn about our political world.

This is an alleged political reality: “There is no chance, there is zero possibility that the U.S. congress will ratify a binding commitment,” Yale University professor Daniel Esty, who has appointments in the university’s environment and law schools, said.”(ibid) This, however, is an actual fact: When you trap the sun’s energy with greenhouse gases, your planet’s atmosphere warms up. There’s a difference.

President Obama and the American public need to stand up to Congress; not while away their time trying to get around this dysfunctional institution. Unlike slavery, we do not have one-and-a-half centuries to address this issue. We must demand a binding treaty at Paris 2015. Let Congress say “No!” to Climate Change, adaptation and mitigation, and Climate Justice. If they say “No!”, then we’ll shame them and keep saying “Yes!”

83% of US citizens have accepted Climate Change into their brains, but only 60% think it’s due to manmade causes. If we want our government to act responsibly at Lima, we need to make some serious dot connections. When you remove the ‘manmade’ part of Climate Change, you remove not only the unsavory guilt that you may be responsible for the planet’s atmosphere warming up, you also make it impossible to address the cause of this crisis.

The road to getting the world to understand and act on Climate Change has been a long journey, fraught with pitfalls along the way. One of those pitfalls, one of the quagmires, is that the public will start to understand the overwhelming evidence of Climate Change but get stuck on doing nothing because it is to them just a phenomenon that happens. Humanity, mostly those in the rich countries, has caused Climate Change: “There is simply no other mechanism that can explain the significantly altered climate path and the changes in the radiative forcing other than human causes.” (From Open Source Systems, Science, Solutions.)

We, who have reaped the bounties of a fossil-fuel-driven world, must support those who are suffering our injustices and stop playing dumb on this worldwide crisis. It’s in our best interest to act properly. Another week of COP20 to go. Will we do our part, or drag our feet again?

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Rochester, NY obsesses with holiday shopping while planet burns


CCOneDotSWhile local Rochester media sets the table for the holidays and lots of shopping, the Climate Change conference in Lima sets the table for Paris 2015. There is nothing on the looming conference in the Rochester media, even though the Lima talks are a crucial link to an important benchmark in human history coming up in about a year. Of course, we have blithely passed many warning signs—hitting 400ppm of C02 concentrations in our atmosphere, dramatic increases in frequent extreme weather around the world, and the rapid melting of the Arctic—but the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris is particularly noteworthy. Paris 2015 may well be the last chance humanity has to act as one on mitigating Climate Change.

The latest IPCC report indicates that Climate Change cannot be put off a moment longer. Mitigation, keeping our global temperature below a 2C rise since preindustrial times, is the top priority.

‘Mitigation’, in the context of climate change, is a human intervention to reduce the sources or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases (GHGs). One of the central messages from Working Groups I and II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is that the consequences of unchecked climate change for humans and natural ecosystems are already apparent and increasing. The most vulnerable systems are already experiencing adverse effects. Past emissions have already put the planet on a track for substantial further changes in climate, and while there are many uncertainties in factors such as the sensitivity of the climate system many scenarios lead to substantial climate impacts, including direct harms to human and ecological well‐being that exceed the ability of those systems to adapt fully. (Page, 3, IPCC Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Page, Working Group III, Mitigation of Climate Change, WG III Assessment Report 5, Final Draft)

This is the scientists’ way of waving their hands in the air, jumping up and down, and shouting, “If we fail to make binding agreement to keep global temperatures at or below 2C preindustrial levels soon, we may very well not have a sustainable life support system—EVER!” Some non-Rochester mainstream media that finally get it on Climate Change now recommend that we ditch the Paris talks altogether because it’s too milquetoast: “We're Kidding Ourselves on 2-Degree Global Warming Limit: Experts” (11/28/2014 NBC News). However, scrapping Paris 2015 because it's too feeble means we'll never know whether we can act on Climate Change at all.

From this moment on, just days before the COP 20 in Lima, leaders around the world are readying for real action on Climate Change in the COP 21 in Paris. The Lima talks will test our political will for real success in Paris. These are the stakes:

The stakes are tropospheric, and far clearer now than when Kyoto was negotiated. High tide floods are becoming common across the coastal U.S. Greenhouse gases are making seas hotter and more acidic. Climate change is clearly amping heat waves, which are fueling wildfires. Global temperatures have risen 1.5°F since the Industrial Revolution, pushing sea levels and storm surges up an average of 8 inches. Greenhouse gas levels are rising now faster than ever, largely because India, China and other developing countries, which were never obliged under Kyoto to take climate action, are burning fuels at hastening paces to catch up on living standards. In the West, climate pollution levels are largely plateauing or dropping slightly. That’s because of energy efficiency improvements and because, in a growing number of cases, wind and solar energy are becoming as cheap as fossil fuel alternatives. Some say fracking and natural gas are helping by displacing coal. Others say methane leaks and natural gas’s low prices, which can hold back renewable energy investments, are making the problem worse. Either way, the planet is on a dangerous pollution trajectory. (What’s At Stake in Lima Climate Talks  (November 27, 2014) Climate Central)

This all matters to the Rochester and the New York region—whether your local media is paying attention or not. The recent 2014 update to the “Responding to Climate Change in New York State (ClimAID)” report does not indicate that taking our eye off the ball, shopping or watching sports on TV during the holiday season (which has stretched from around October 1st to mid-January), has alleviated the consequences of Climate Change at all. As a matter of fact, the projections for more heatwaves, more sea level rise, more extreme weather, and more precipitation in New York State have incredibly gone up.

Updated climate models and methods have helped scientists refine their previous projections for higher average temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and sea level rise in New York State. Scientists also project an increase in the frequency of extreme events, such as heat waves, heavy downpours, and coastal flooding. (Page 2, 2014 Supplement - Updated Projections Summary Brochure)

One of the most fascinating things to me about Climate Change is the incongruity between the lack of information and action locally on Climate Change juxtaposed with the information available worldwide about this crisis. Despite the Internet and the unlimited resources—including worldwide news and climate studies--to find out about the most important crisis of our age, there are seemingly no efforts in local media to connect the dots between the local consequences of Climate Change and the plans to deal with it. It is as if we were in the 1850’s and nobody will talk about slavery.  

Actually, with Fredrick Douglas in town, back in the day, running the The North Star, from the basement of the Memorial AME Zion Church, Rochester was one of the hot beds for ending the evil system of slavery. 

What has happened to Rochester, NY? Why are we now one of the leading capitols of Climate Change denial? As a major industrial region in the US Northeast that help put most of the manmade greenhouse gases into the atmosphere that is now wreaking havoc on developing nations, why have we forsaken them? Why is preparing (shopping) for the interminable holiday seasons more important to Rochesterians than this worldwide crisis we are in part the cause of?

The crucial negotiations coming up in few days aimed at paving the way for real binding agreements in Paris 2015 is not even news in our region—news of an event that will transform our future. How can we be so blind to a crisis that (besides being a worldwide moral problem) is in fact a physical problem that will eventually make Rochester and every other place on this planet unlivable—if we do not act? We have major studies and plans to deal with Climate Change locally, and you probably haven’t even heard of them because our media doesn’t investigate them and our authorities are too timid to mention them. Our local indifference to this present crisis boggles the mind.

So, what’s really fascinating about Climate Change is that because Climate Change is not simply a moral problem, but a life-support kind of problem, there are grave consequences to not paying attention to this issue in a time frame and level that will matter. Shopping for the holiday will eventually fade from our priories as our infrastructures—public health, water, waste, telecommunications, and transportation--get overwhelmed.

You don’t have to be a part of this local conspiracy on climate silence. Speak out, write letters to local media editors, and get our media to focus on Lima and then Paris. Remind them that we in Rochester marched along with 400,000 at the People’s Climate March. Give a shit about Climate Change. Make your voice heard at Lima climate discussions!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Cuomo, he who said he would lead on Climate Change, isn’t


CCDisruptiveSMost of Governor Cuomo’s accomplishments on Climate Change preparations were in fact initiated by his predecessor, Governor David A. Paterson. Although it was Cuomo who stated after Hurricane Sandy that “We will lead on climate change |New York must press ahead with urgency to equip itself for the new age of extreme weather… ”, it was Patterson who began the moratorium on Fracking, developed our climate plan ‘New York State Climate Action Plan Interim Report,’ and kicked off our Climate Smart Communities (CSM) program. While most communities west of Syracuse have not signed into the voluntary CSM program (and those who have like Rochester barely admit it) it is an increasingly robust program that provides a lot of state help for local action to adapt to Climate Change.

Paterson’s climate initiatives have gone fallow under Cuomo. Instead of leading on Climate Change, Cuomo has failed to lead on energy and allowed the Fracking issue to fester. He has permitted the table in NYS to be set for fossil fuel infrastructures by snoozing as Albany becomes a major railroad hub for trafficking dangerous bomb trains and turning a blind eye as local folks fight back a Texas company from poisoning Seneca Lake lands with more fossil fuel storage. This fossil fuel mania is getting in Rochester’s face.

“About 350 New York state schools, including at least 63 in Monroe County, lie within a mile of railroad tracks used by trains carrying volatile crude oil, a coalition of environmental and other advocacy groups said Thursday.” (Oil and schools don't mix, enviro groups say 11/202014 Democrat and Chronicle)

Even our local media is finally recognizing the threat that construction of a gas storage facility on the shore of Seneca Lake presents to our region:

Opposition builds to gas storage facility on Seneca Lake shore As protests continue over construction of a gas storage facility on the shore of Seneca Lake, people across the entire Finger Lakes region opposed to the project are getting involved. As protests continue over construction of a gas storage facility on the shore of Seneca Lake, people across the entire Finger Lakes region opposed to the project are getting involved. “The Finger Lakes is all of us,” said Rosemary Hooper, a Naples resident who has joined others from Ontario County in participating in the campaign to stop the building of the gas storage facility on the shore of Seneca Lake in Schuyler County. Texas-based Crestwood Midstream's proposal is to use old abandoned salt caverns along the lake to store millions of barrels of liquid petroleum gas and billions of cubic feet of natural gas. Those opposed include organizations, individuals, businesses and municipalities. The Ontario County Board of Supervisors, Yates County Legislature, Seneca County Board of Supervisors and Geneva City Council are among those that have passed motions opposing the proposed storage facility. (11/19/2014 Gates-Chili Post)

He who should be leading on Climate Change has created a climate of delusion where business-as-usual flourishes and renewable energy languishes. Where it’s OK for our leaders and media to go mum on this worldwide warming crisis, even though over 400,000 of us insisted on action at People’s Climate March, (most of them New Yorkers). Where, despite all evidence that Fracking is a public health hazard, leaks methane gas like a sieve, and will certainly screw up our drinking water, the present governor cannot make up his mind. Where the recent snow storm buries Buffalo in a record-breaking snow storm and no dots between it and Climate Change were connected in our local media, not even in our public media: Buffalo Area Needs To Dig Out; Then Prepare For Possible Flooding (11/21/2014 WXXI) Other non-local news outlets were not so timid: Cold snap caused by climate change-weakened jet stream, scientists suggest and These Photos of Lake Effect Snow Are Crazy.

The weak-kneed Democrats in Congress are little better at leading on Climate Change. The absurdity this week that was the Keystone XL pipeline vote in the Senate would not have happened if President Obama had just squashed this game-over fossil fuel project years ago. [Demand that Obama veto it once and for all.] And while our two NYS senators didn’t cave in to this political nonsense, they didn’t lead. Our leaders have been cowed. To get a sense of just how lame this entire Senate vote was, you have to watch Rachel Maddow go at it: What On Earth Were They Thinking? Rachel Maddow On The Democratic Party. Our leaders are not leading on the most important crisis of our age.

Instead of our leaders taking the heat (suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and all that), as is part of their job description, and boldly informing the public about Climate Change and plans to deal with it, they pacify the pubic with reassurances that the climate for now is hunky-dory. Our climate is not even remotely hunky-dory.

Our scientists and the evidence of our own eyes that the growing seasons have lengthened are telling us that Climate Change didn’t go away back in the 1980’s. It’s gotten worse. No one, least of all our governor, wants to take charge. But Climate Change is physics, just like earthquakes. You can dither and downplay their devastating inevitability all you want, but come they will.

After 309 people died the in the 2009 L'Aquila earthquake, the public went berserk searching for those they thought had kept important information from them, resulting in catastrophe and no plans to avoid it. The denial machinery, political weakness, and the pressure to reassure the public is intense. After experiencing a few tremors in the region of Abruzzo, in central Italy:

“The meeting was called with intentions to reassure the public. The scientists correctly emphasised to De Bernardinis that the precise timing of major earthquakes could not be known. They were careful not to rule out the possibility of a major earthquake any time. Following their meeting De Bernardinis publicly stated: “The scientific community tells us there is no danger, because there is an ongoing discharge of energy. The situation looks favourable.” None of the scientists made an effort to correct Bernardinis’s imprecise statements. L'Aquila earthquake scientists freed but political lessons remain (11/21/2014, Dr. Lawrence Torcello, The Conversation)

With Climate Change, scientist have been clear to the point of mind-numbing simplicity:

IPCC Synthesis Report Highlights Science Strength A distillation of the major findings of the fifth assessment report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been published today (Sunday 2 November 2014). Known as The Synthesis Report, the document pulls together all the various strands of the different AR5 documents published by the IPCC over the last year or so. The launch was accompanied by a major press conference in Copenhagen. At the press conference, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for a global response to climate change: “We need everyone, even individual citizens, to take action,” he said. IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri told the press conference that “Business as usual is certainly not an option” and urged leaders to look at the science. (November 2, 2014)

Instead of being buried in obscurity, our appointed governor could be established as a leader on Climate Change. Governor David A. Paterson patiently and persistently established a firm ground in climate preparedness. Our present governor could be scorned forever as one of the many politicians who dithered and dallied despite overwhelming evidence in his state and beyond that there are more than enough reasons to prepare for Climate Change.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The real tragedy of the mid-term elections


CCMandateSMy take-home message from a talk by the Monroe County Sewer Authority (Pure Waters) (at a neighborhood association meeting) was that our sewer system is very healthy as long as you don’t believe in Climate Change. Our sewer system is the envy of many surrounding communities like Buffalo because of our Combined Sewer Overflow Abatement Program (CSOAP) program and the ‘tunnel system’. This is to say, when there have been heavy wet weather events, we tend not to discharge raw sewage into our rivers and lakes—as other communities do.

Combined Sewer Overflow Abatement Program (CSOAP) events have all but been eliminated with the phasing in of the deep rock tunnel system unique to Monroe County. This tunnel system allowed the integration of approximately 25 smaller sewage treatment plants into the Monroe County system. The lab monitors the improvement in the surrounding environment and the positive impact of this program. CSOAP and Wet Weather Events

The operative phrase here is ‘where there have been,’ meaning our system can and has dealt with most current and historical heavy rainfall events successfully (there are a few, and increasingly more, overflows each year). The continuing issues with basement sewer backups and water pooling in our streets after heavy rains has more to do with the 100-year-old sewer pipe system or blockages in any one of our 80,000 catch basins, than advances made in the 1970’s for combined sewer overflow problems. Combined sewer overflow systems which proliferate around the Great Lakes basin take away both sewage and storm water. They work fine until more frequent heavy rainfalls overwhelm the systems, at which point raw sewage gets sent (mostly) untreated into our rivers and streams.

The problem is that Pure Waters also mentioned that according to their rain gauges we have received significantly more rainfall than what historical data would predict. This is code for Climate Change, as this is precisely what climate studies like ClimAID suggest: “Climate hazards of particular relevance as detailed by the Ecosystems sector are … increased frequency of heavy rainfall events …” (Pg. 9 Report 11-18 Response to Climate Change in New York State (ClimAID))

To be clear, Monroe County (and Rochester) ‘has greatly reduced’ overflow events:

These discharge events are referred to as combined sewer overflows. As would be expected, this sewage contains pathogens (disease-causing agents), excess nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous), metals, and large debris that can harm aquatic organisms as well as curtail recreational use of waterways. In New York State, more than 60 municipalities have sewage systems that generate combined sewer overflows, and most are located in major cities (NYSDEC, 2008). The City of Rochester has greatly reduced these events; the cities of Buffalo and Syracuse are in the process of implementing mitigation plans. (Pg. 94 (ClimAID))

But when asked (by me) about the rainfall patterns coming with Climate Change for our region, Pure Waters was mum. This leads me to infer that our region is satisfied with measures to deal with current and historical rainfalls events, but we are simply not connecting the dots with Climate Change. Which is to ask, are we properly preparing and planning for the consequences of Climate Change in our region? We don’t know because despite the attention Climate Change has received nationwide and worldwide, neither the City of Rochester nor the County of Monroe mentions Climate Change much.

For whatever reason--politics, other concerns, not-being-grilled-by-the-media, whatever—our leaders are not leading on Climate Change. Climate Change is about planning. If you’re just relying on historical data to plan for the future, you’re delusional. Just focusing on the present viability of Monroe County’s sewer system, especially in the presence of data indicating a worrying trend, is like watching someone peeing into the water at the other end of the pool where you’re swimming and thinking it won’t matter to you.

The results of the mid-term elections suggest that it is more likely that those politicians already squirming on Climate Change will be more squirmy, and less likely to talk about, address, or inform the public about any measures they are taking to adapt to and mitigate Climate Change. This is significant because Monroe County’s sewer system is but one of many systems connected to the Great Lakes basin. If any number of communities around the largest fresh water system in the world are continually dumping raw sewage into our waters, this is going to matter to all of us. Top down planning, leaders around the Great Lakes talking to each other and preparing, is crucial.

Listen to this archived version of a local program on the likely effects of recent elections on Climate Change. Three local experts examine the possible repercussions of our efforts to adapt to and mitigate Climate Change after the recent dismal election turnout.  Have we shot ourselves in the foot, as it were? Have we crippled our ability to adapt to Climate Change locally and possibly hampered our efforts to lead on Climate Change at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris because it’s now easier for our leaders to plead ignorance? 

Connections: Recent Elections and Climate Change What do the election results mean for those who had hoped for more aggressive public policy relating to climate change? To say the least, advocates are disappointed. What's next? We discuss with our panel: Lawrence Torcello, RIT Ethics professor, Dr. Susan Spencer, solar scientist Abigail McHugh-Grifa of The Rochester People's Climate Coalition.

Already, we are seeing signs that the science of Climate Change is being ignored by our local leaders, who are responsible to plan for the consequences of Climate Change. For example, why hasn’t New York State upheld the Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act? Are we swimming in raw sewage? (BTW: Monroe County is reporting diligently and you can find that information here: Sewage Discharge Reports. However, we here on the shores of Lake Ontario are downstream from all the other Great Lakes.)

WHAT'S IN THE WATER? STATE AGENCY'S FAILURE TO FOLLOW SEWAGE POLLUTION LAW PROVOKES QUESTIONS Each year the aging sewer infrastructure in New York’s cities, towns and villages dumps billions of gallons of raw sewage mixed with dirty stormwater into local waterways. These overflows close beaches, kill fish and wildlife, and sicken scores of people each year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “No one swims in their toilet,” said Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo. “We don’t want to swim in waterways that are contaminated.” In an attempt to provide immediate notification to New York residents about this public health threat, two years ago Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act into law. (October 30, 2014) City and State

Why are we even considering liquid gas (an explosive, greenhouse emitting fossil fuel) storage on the shores of Seneca Lake and setting the table for Fracking? For a great encapsulation of this dynamic folly check this out from Food and Water Watch’s. Wenonah Hauter:

Standing by Those Who Stand in the Way of Fracking Infrastructure It all began taking shape back in March of 2013, when Sandra Steingraber – the noted biologist, author, educator and advisor of Americans Against Fracking – and 11 other courageous individuals were arrested for blockading the entrance to a natural gas compressor station on the banks of Seneca Lake, in the environmentally sensitive Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. These so-called “Seneca Lake 12” were simply doing what countless other Americans have done over generations when they knew their health and safety were threatened, when their elected leaders weren’t there to help, and when they had no other choice: they stood up for their neighbors, their families and themselves, and were hauled off to jail. Sandra spent 10 days behind bars after defiantly refusing to pay a fine. (November 10, 2014) Food and Water Watch

Also, watch, listen, and read this amazing coverage (you have to go here because the local media isn’t covering this) of the human blockade of the gates of a methane gas storage facility near Seneca Lake, one of New York’s Finger Lakes, a water source, a tourist attraction, an ecosystem, and a whole lot of other resources, all put in jeopardy by another volatile fossil fuel: 10 Arrested as Human Blockade Continues Protesting Methane Gas Storage Facility. Consider signing a petition or donating to help this cause to reject Inergy Midstream‘s (now Crestwood) proposal to store Liquefied Petroleum Gas and expand natural gas storage at facilities on the shore of Seneca Lake in Reading, NY. More at Gas Free Seneca. Even folks in the Rochester area should care about the health of our Finger Lakes.

The real tragedy of the mid-term elections, and climate denial in general, is that the burden of proof is still put on the science and on the expensive, inconvenient things that have to be done to plan properly for Climate Change. Instead of us all being grownup and facing the challenge of our generation, we are hiding behind the skirts of denial, demanding that our leaders make this problem go away—instead of dealing with it forthrightly.