Monday, February 20, 2017

The Climate Change indicator, water

As I write, the worst possible candidate to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just got installed. It is terrible because it is via the EPA we get our legal authority to address Climate Change on a scale that will matter. States can do much, but it’s the feds that create a level playing field. So, Pruitt’s political (not scientific) confirmation could be a serious problem for our life support system. #ScienceMatters

Climate Change is affected by our politics in the sense that politics can affect humanity’s collective response to this crisis. But, at the end of the day, it is climate indicators, climate feedback mechanisms in our environment, that will determine whether we are making progress or not.
Basically, climate change indicators are things like:

Please check these indicators soon, for we do not know how much longer they will exist on the EPA’s website.

Indicators are kinda like those tubes and monitors that are hooked up to you after you’ve had a life-threatening accident. If there are loud beeps from any one of those indicators, you are going to need a nurse Johnny-on-the-spot.

I want to make a point about the changes in our water, which constitutes many of the indicators above. The importance of our water goes far beyond our current state of dysfunctional politics.


Water, as you know, exists in three states on our planet: liquid, gas (vapor), or solid (ice). When it’s not present in any of these forms we have a drought, desert, or a lifeless space. #WaterIsLife
Here are some interesting data about water in our Northeast region, from GLISA a NOAA Risa team :
  • ·         “From 1973 to 2010, annual average ice coverage on the Great Lakes declined by 71%.”
  • ·         “The amount of precipitation falling in the heaviest 1% of storms increased by 37% in the Midwest and 71% in the Northeast from 1958 to 2012.”

So, let’s talk about the liquid form for a moment. That recent California dam crisis offers a teaching moment about a particular water infrastructure, but also all our infrastructures, because it talks about planning, about how infrastructure change must be tailored to the local predictions of Climate Change. Decisions for this dam should have been made years ago because now everyone is freaking about displacing 200,000 people and trying to figure out if the drought is over. No, the drought isn’t over and, no, the aquifers that will be needed for more droughts a-coming are not being replenished. But they could have been recharged if the dam had been redesigned properly. It’s not just that damn dam, it’s all our infrastructure.

Our infrastructures—dams, bridges, waste water systems, gas pipelines, electric grids, etc.—are old and they were designed for a world that wasn’t feeling the consequences of Climate Change. Our infrastructures here in the Northeast haven’t had to deal with the dramatic droughts of the West; instead, heavy precipitation (snow and rain) at a 71% increase since 1958 presents many problems with sewage overflows and damages due to increased flash flooding.

The article (below) is great for understanding some of the key issues about addressing Climate Changing because it gets to more of the particulars than merely updating old structures. Our infrastructures of the future have to be ready for the climate disruptions that are already different from the calmer climate when those structures were first designed. The public needs to be more aware of how our infrastructures—which are now key to our survival because there are so many of us who need food, waste removal, communication, and transportation. Oftentimes, when our infrastructures fail, they do so dramatically, because so many people are dependent on them.

What California’s Dam Crisis Says About the Changing Climate After five years of record-setting drought, much of California is being pummeled by an extremely wet winter. The disaster unfolding at Oroville, where precipitation is more than double the average, is the latest reminder that the United States needs a climate-smart upgrade of our water management systems. In the West, much of our water infrastructure is old. Oroville Dam, north of Sacramento, was completed in 1968, nearly a half a century ago. Other major components of our water system are generations older, and maintenance has not been a priority. The damage to Oroville Dam, where the primary spillway developed a giant gash and the emergency spillway threatened to erode, illustrates the hazard of relying on aging infrastructure to protect us from extreme weather. But age and upkeep are not the only problems. Our water system was designed and built in an old climate, one in which extremely warm years were less common and snowpack was more reliable. Here in the West, we use the same dams and reservoirs for both water storage and flood control, so during the wet season, reservoir managers continuously balance the dual pressures of storing as much water as possible for the dry summer and releasing sufficient water to create room for the next storm. (February 14, 2017) New York Times [more on Climate Change in our area]

Ice cover

A dramatic shift in Great Lakes ice cover due to Climate Change could have profound changes to lake levels, weather, snow, shipping, nuclear power cooling, fishing, and the entire ecosystem. There’s more on this story here.  Also, this is interesting:

Climate shifts affecting Great Lakes ice cover The mild winter across the Great Lakes is producing below average ice cover once again. As of Sunday, 13.5 percent of the Great Lakes is covered with ice according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That’s well below the historical median of about 30 percent for this week of the year, according to the Canadian Ice Service. (February 13, 2017) MPR News [more on Great Lakes and Climate Change in our area]


As of this writing, there is still official climate data from which the public and their government can work from. For example, check graphs and maps that show observed and modeled data for ROCHESTER, NY. This information comes from the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit, which “is a website designed to help people find and use tools, information, and subject matter expertise to build climate resilience. The Toolkit offers information from all across the U.S. federal government in one easy-to-use location.”

This information from our government may not always be there. Data and public information from our government is disappearing in a cloud of denial and an ideology that still thinks the only way business can survive is to treat our environment as their free and unrestricted sewer.

I am continually reminded of Dr. Sagan’s warning: “Anything else you're interested in is not going to happen if you can't breathe the air and drink the water. Don't sit this one out. Do something. You are by accident of fate alive at an absolutely critical moment in the history of our planet.”

Time passes.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The warming poles of Climate Change

Feeling a compulsion to continually acknowledge the fact that human-caused Climate Change is happening? It’s understandable. Our last US election has resurrected the pathetic chimera of climate denial. It’s a tragedy. Our attention to the problem at hand, that our climate is warming quickly, has been hijacked.

Now we worry for our latest immigrants. For we are all are immigrants. I’m Famine Irish, myself, and only differ from those misaligned today by the trumped-up Travel Ban but for the vagaries of time. At a recent rally in Rochester against the so-called ban, I felt compelled to read before a gathering of hundreds the entire poem, "The New Colossus", whose lines "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” everyone knows.  

Now we worry for indigenous peoples whose temporary victory at the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), following fire-hosing of our fellow Americans in freezing weather, captured the nation’s and world’s attention. We worry for those who have worked all their lives to qualify for Medicare and Social Security. We worry for our youth whose understanding of science is in jeopardy. We worry for the common decency we expect towards our fellow citizens and allies around the world because all that now hangs on the irrational behavior of our so-called leader.

Bizarre money-drunk politics has reinvigorated hate, prejudice, xenophobia, and a great distain for environmental regulations, dragging along with it all this climate denial BS. Science had put a lid on this immoral and anti-science ideology years ago. But this scourge has reared its ugly head, fueled, in part, by fossil-fuel money.  

While this tempest steals our attention, both geological poles of our planet are undergoing extreme changes due to warming. It’s quite possible that celestial beings far away, even if they didn’t know anything about our precious blue orb, would probably notice our polar ice caps changing. “Hey look over there at that little planet in the Local Group, its polar caps are dwindling instead of increasing as we would expect from its present orbit. Something must be causing its greenhouse gasses to increase. Hmmmm.”   

First, the Artic, where we know Climate Change is the cause:

The Winter of Blazing Discontent Continues in the Arctic Weird. Strange. Extreme. Unprecedented. These are some of the words that describe what’s been happening in the Arctic over the past year as surge after surge of warm air have stalled, and at times reversed, sea ice pack growth. And the unfortunate string of superlatives is set to continue this week. Arctic sea ice is already sitting at a record low for this time of year and a powerful North Atlantic storm is expected to open the flood gates and send more warmth pouring into the region from the lower latitudes. By Thursday, it could reach up to 50°F above normal. In absolute temperature, that’s near the freezing point and could further spur a decline in sea ice. (February 6, 2017) Climate Central [more on Climate Change in our area]

Next, the big crack in an Antarctica ice shelf, which may not be caused by Climate Change, but it is still expected to greatly threaten the stability of the ice shelf, which “… could also significantly change the landscape of the Antarctic peninsula.”

A Crack in an Antarctic Ice Shelf Grew 17 Miles in the Last Two Months A rapidly advancing crack in Antarctica’s fourth-largest ice shelf has scientists concerned that it is getting close to a full break. The rift has accelerated this year in an area already vulnerable to warming temperatures. Since December, the crack has grown by the length of about five football fields each day. The crack in Larsen C now reaches over 100 miles in length, and some parts of it are as wide as two miles. The tip of the rift is currently only about 20 miles from reaching the other end of the ice shelf. Once the crack reaches all the way across the ice shelf, the break will create one of the largest icebergs ever recorded, according to Project Midas, a research team that has been monitoring the rift since 2014. Because of the amount of stress the crack is placing on the remaining 20 miles of the shelf, the team expects the break soon. (February 7, 2017) New York Times [more on Climate Change in our area]

Even some conservatives are concerned. They’ve marched out their own proposal for taking immediate climate action:

A Conservative Case for Climate Action CRAZY as it may sound, this is the perfect time to enact a sensible policy to address the dangerous threat of climate change. Before you call us nuts, hear us out. During his eight years in office, President Obama regularly warned of the very real dangers of global warming, but he did not sign any meaningful domestic legislation to address the problem, largely because he and Congress did not see eye to eye. Instead, Mr. Obama left us with a grab bag of regulations aimed at reducing carbon emissions, often established by executive order. In comes President Trump, who seems much less concerned about the risks of climate change, and more worried about how excessive regulation impedes economic growth and depresses living standards. As Democrats are learning the hard way, it is all too easy for a new administration to reverse the executive orders of its predecessors. (February 8, 2017) New York Times [more on Climate Change in our area]

(Actually, it DOESN’T sound CRAZY that some US conservatives are concerned about Climate Change and urge their party to address this crisis. It doesn’t sound crazy that intelligent people find the science behind Climate Change compelling. It DOES sound CRAZY to think environmental regulations should be rolled back and the free market (which, by the way, was instrumental in causing Climate Change) be allowed to take over. The political parties will disagree about how to address Climate Change, but both political parties should NOT disagree that Climate Change is happening because that is CRAZY! Also, as long as I’ve stolen your attention from this article’s main thesis: Those inclined to pin their hopes on "The Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends," for addressing Climate Change, because this is the most we are likely to get from a wrong-headed ideology, should remember that the free market system cannot fix Climate Change. Climate Change is deeply complex and will affect all aspects of our life support system, including our infrastructure, our individual health, our social stability, and our ability to adapt to the heat already built up in our climate system. While a carbon dividend will go far in slowing down human-cause greenhouse gas emissions, it is far short of a complete plan to address Climate Change. Our politics need to get their priorities straight.) #ScienceMatters

(Ok, back to my main point.) Since Trump has taken office, the poles of our political spectrum have deeply widened. A charge from the extreme wing on climate denial in our government suggests that the US and the rest of the nations were duped into signing the Paris Agreement. The facts behind this trumped-up conspiracy have been roundly refuted by folks who actually know what they are talking about. But, still, the specter of another Climategate which attempts to lie our country out of the Paris Agreement and sow more doubt into climate science is chilling.
  • ·         Climate Change, Science, NOAA Falsely Maligned by Tabloid Spin As a result of human activities, primarily the burning of fossil fuels, the planet is warming. Those who deny this fact have pointed to a supposed “pause” in warming to justify opposition to climate action. In 2015, a study led by NOAA’s Tom Karl was published in Science that flatly refuted the idea of a “pause.” It is one of many. But its high profile made it a target for attack. On Saturday, a feature in the UK’s Mail on Sunday by David Rose makes outrageous claims that were already disproven as the paper version hit stands, and that he has already had to in part correct. Rose, who has a history of inaccurate reporting, spins a scandal out of a letter by a former NOAA employee published on a climate change denial blog. The letter makes accusations of wrongdoing in the methodology and data archiving procedures used in the study. These accusations have already been shown to be faulty. Even if they were true, the implications have been blown out of proportion by Rose. Rebuttals were published in record time, as within minutes there was a tweet describing the story as “so wrong its hard to know where to start”:  (Climate Nexus)
  • ·         Factcheck: Mail on Sunday’s ‘astonishing evidence’ about global temperature rise This is a guest post by Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist and energy systems analyst at Berkeley Earth, an independent temperature analysis project. In an article in today’s Mail on Sunday, David Rose makes the extraordinary claim that “world leaders were duped into investing billions over manipulated global warming data”, accusing the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of manipulating the data to show more warming in a 2015 study by Tom Karl and coauthors. What he fails to mention is that the new NOAA results have been validated by independent data from satellites, buoys and Argo floats and that many other independent groups, including Berkeley Earth and the UK’s Met Office Hadley Centre, get effectively the same results. (February 5, 2017) Carbon Brief [more on Climate Change in our area]
  • ·         Contested NOAA paper had no influence on Paris climate deal Envoys from US, EU, Russia and South Africa reject claims that one piece of research in June 2015 shaped flagship UN climate pact Did a “landmark paper that exaggerated global warming” trick 195 governments into signing the Paris climate deal? That’s the bold claim in a Mail on Sunday article that, at time of writing, had been shared 36,000 times and boasted 1,600 comments. It’s a strong allegation, directed at a study from the reputable National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and one that was pounced upon by climate sceptic lawmakers in the US. “The Obama administration pushed their costly climate agenda at the expense of scientific integrity,” tweeted congressman Lamar Smith, a Republican who says climate science is bunkum. (February 6, 2017) Climate Home [more on Climate Change in our area]

While the US again ties itself up in climate denial, forever grubbing for ‘gotcha points’ in studies, articles, and discussion, the world worries.

These important words about understanding Climate Change by world renowned science communicator Dr. David Suzuki are worth noting. The US public and the media cannot just cherry-pick news and information about the complex issue of Climate Change. Climate Change, as much as possible, needs to be understood and communicated in the fullness of its impact and the exactness of its science.

Science is the most useful tool we have to adapt to climate change and avoid its worst outcomes. But it requires critical thinking and a big-picture perspective to ensure we consider all available evidence. With so many people scrolling through social media feeds for news rather than reading entire articles, facts and clarity can become elusive. It's up to us all -- media and consumers alike -- to dig deeper for the full story. (February 8, 2017, Understanding Climate Change Means Reading Beyond Headlines (Huffington Post)

Of course, physics always wins out. But will our attention have been turned away just long enough to relinquish any control we might have had over our destiny?

Time passes. 

Monday, February 06, 2017

The Trump Effect on Climate Change

Fears that Trump’s anti-environmental harangues would turn out to be reality once he got installed as President have come to pass. His spate of executive orders challenging known science and prudent care of our environment threatens to disrupt decades of national and international efforts to address Climate Change. A national frenzy, whether orchestrated purposely or not, is now in play in the form of the disturbing dazzle of the Donald’ antics, designed to steal away the public’s and the media’s attention. From this point on, one of the unknown unknowns (things we didn’t even know we didn’t know) confounding the planning for Climate Change is now unfolding, a tipping point of sorts that might be called the Trump Effect on Climate Change. The excrement has collided with the rotary oscillator: 

Since the inauguration:
  • ·         EPA airbrushes climate webpage as Pruitt nears confirmation US federal environment agency has quietly removed a reference to UN climate cooperation from its website Scott Pruitt is on his way to approval as Donald Trump’s environment chief after Republican senators waved him through a committee vote on Thursday. The controversial choice, who as Oklahoma attorney general sued the Environmental Protection Agency he is about to lead, got through despite a Democrat boycott. He is expected to pass a full senate vote next week. Even before he takes up the position, mentions of climate cooperation have been scrubbed from the EPA website, in a clear signal of intent from the new US administration. (January 3, 2017) Climate Home
  • ·         Top download from any federal site right now is Park Service report on climate change The events of the past week have been worrying to advocates of government action on climate change, with the removal of climate priorities from the White House website, the order to freeze all Environmental Protection Agency contracts and the inauguration of a president who said he is “not a big believer” in the fact that humans have played a role in changing Earth's climate. But these events have also been very good for website traffic. According to data from, which tracks Web traffic on all .gov websites, several pages related to climate change have been extremely popular in the week since President Trump's inauguration. (January 27, 2017) The Washington Post [more on Climate Change and Environmental Education in our area]
  • ·         U.S. will change course on climate policy, says former EPA transition head The United States will switch course on climate change and pull out of a global pact to cut emissions, said Myron Ebell, who headed U.S. President Donald Trump's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) transition team until his inauguration. Ebell is the director of global warming and international environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a U.S. conservative think tank, and helped to guide the EPA's transition after Trump was elected in November until he was sworn in on Jan. 20. Trump, a climate skeptic, campaigned on a pledge to boost the U.S. oil and gas drilling and coal mining industries by reducing regulation. (January 30, 2017) Reuters [more on Climate Change in our area]
  • ·         Impact of EPA freeze on Holley vacant homes One of several executive orders President Trump signed earlier this week included a freeze on the Environmental Protection Agency. That meant all contracts and grants being issued were put on hold. Now we're learning that freeze has been lifted. But people living in Holley are worried about the impact on a push to occupy eight vacant homes. As Rachel Spotts reports, we’re talking about the site of the Diaz Chemical spill back in 2002. After the spill, many neighbors left their homes, in fear they had been contaminated. A few years later, the EPA bought the abandoned homes, and neighbors say it’s been a battle ever since. (January 27, 2017) WHEC Rochester [more on Environmental Health and Brownfields in our area]
  • ·         Trump Wants to Downplay Global Warming. Louisiana Won’t Let Him “Mother Nature is threatening to kick our people out.” On a recent morning in Baton Rouge, a thousand miles from where Senate Democrats were jousting with Donald Trump’s nominee to run the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about whether humans are warming the planet, the future of U.S. climate policy was being crafted in a small room in the east wing of the Louisiana Capitol. The state’s 7,700-mile shoreline is disappearing at the fastest rate in the country. Officials had gathered to consider a method of deciding which communities to save—and which to abandon to the Gulf of Mexico. Bren Haase, chief of planning for the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), was presenting his team’s updated Coastal Master Plan. Five years in the making and comprising 6,000 pages of text and appendices, the document details $50 billion in investments over five decades in ridges, barrier islands, and marsh creation. Tucked into the plan was a number whose significance surpasses all others: 14 feet, the height beyond which Haase’s agency has concluded homes couldn’t feasibly be elevated. (January 26, 2017) Bloomberg [more on Climate Change in our area]
  • ·         Official: Trump wants to slash EPA workforce, budget The former head of President Donald Trump's transition team at the Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday he expects the new administration to seek significant budget and staff cuts. Myron Ebell said in an interview with The Associated Press that Trump is likely to seek significant reductions to the agency's workforce — currently about 15,000 employees nationwide. Ebell, who left the transition team last week, declined to discuss specific numbers of EPA staff that could be targeted for pink slips. Asked what he would personally like to see, however, Ebell said slashing the agency's size by about half would be a good start. (January 27, 2017) AP [more on Environmental Health and Brownfields and Environmental Health in our area]
  • ·         Global Warning: 24 hours on the climate change frontline as Trump becomes president – as it happened With climate change deniers moving into the White House, the Guardian is spending 24 hours focusing climate change happening now. After reporting from Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the Americas, we’re now focusing on how warming temperatures will affect the Asia-Pacific region  Our partner, Univision News, is hosting a parallel event in Spanish today. Follow it here  The Tumblr community is joining us with personal posts about climate change. See them here We’re just a few hours from Donald Trump being inaugurated as the president of the United States, and we’re signing off from our 24-hour Global Warning live blog: a marathon effort from our Guardian offices in London, New York and Sydney, as well as our correspondents dotted around the globe. What we’ve seen, as we’ve travelled around the world, is that regardless of what climate deniers (yes, deniers) like Trump may say about the science, the stark reality is that it is happening now. (January 20, 2017) The Guardian [more on Climate Change in our area]

Though much data are factored into climate models, scientists would have been exceptionally imaginative to think of a scenario much worse than business as usual. In climate models, there are predicted ranges from where scientists characterize a world were humanity addresses Climate Change to a dismal scenario where humanity does not. In the best situation, we would change our behavior, experience some uncomfortable warming because of the inherent lag time of greenhouse gasses in our climate system, but eventually adapt and live sustainably. In the worst case scenario, business as usual, we’d find ourselves continuing to burn fossil fuels, trying to adapt to the warming, but eventually failing because the consequences of Climate Change would overwhelm us.

The Trump Effect is where there is a concerted effort to back-peddle on what little humanity has already achieved towards solving this complicated, existential threat. It’s an extreme-business-as-usual scenario at odds with science itself. The Trump Effect threatens to plow most of the fossil fuels in the ground up into the air—a scenario scientists have described as game over. The Trump Effect threatens to cause massive economic conflicts among nations as most nations favor renewable energy with new technology, while the most powerful nation insists on old, dirty technology. The Trump Effect increases the likelihood of massive social unrest as nations fight amongst each other for enough food to eat and potable water to drink. The Trump Effect is beyond business as usual because it is a spectacular ratcheting up of climate warming along with tying our hands from even attempting to adapt. It is an ultra-form of the Backfire Effect “When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger.”

Now, our governmental environment and scientific agencies will be offering less stability instead of more; less cooperation between nations on Climate Change instead of more; more volatility in the world market, instead of less; less faith in our already mediocre media (as Trump has declared war on the media), instead of more, and less guidance by science, instead of more. 

Trump’s anti-environmental enactments already have US scientists trying to defend their own jobs and years of painstaking, peer-reviewed facts. Things have reached such fevered pitch that scientist are now going to march on Washington, DC on Earth Day.

The March for Science is Set to Happen on Earth Day Scientists officially have a date where they’ll be taking to the streets. The March for Science has been scheduled for Saturday, April 22 in Washington, D.C. A growing constellation of marches are also scheduled for that day in cities across the U.S. What began as a Reddit conversation has grown into a movement of scientists and science lovers standing up for evidenced-based policy making and inclusivity in the science community.   The date of the march isn’t just an average Saturday. April 22 is Earth Day, first celebrated in 1970. The original Earth Day is seen by many as a turning point in the environmental movement. The year itself also marks a major turning point for the U.S. government and environmental policy. In 1970, Richard Nixon signed the Environmental Protection Agency into existence and it began operating that December. (February 1, 2017) Climate Central 

Many people may think a march by scientists is bad idea. Scientists in the thousands, carrying signs, shouting and chanting? Really? Really. We must remember that this anti-science, climate denial thing, is happening within the US, not the rest of the world. If we who know better don’t stand up for science, we demonstrate to the world that all of us here in the United States find anti-science a viable intellectual option. It ain’t. What is happening in the United States, being bullied by climate deniers, needs to get out to the world. We need to demonstrate that the rest of us (most of us) haven’t given up our principles and respect for science just because it pisses off those whose view of reality is clouded by ideology. BTW: Scientists are NOT the ones politicizing this. Scientists would rather do their wonky lab-and-field jobs—which is now critical to our collective survival.

We can speculate about how the Trump Effect came about. We can try to imagine how to convince people who are just thrilled that Trump has thrown a monkey wrench into science and politics as usual:

How to bridge the political divide with better moral arguments “In this divisive and polarized era how do you bridge the political divide between left and right? How do you persuade the people on the other side to see things your way? New research by sociologist Robb Willer and psychologist Matthew Feinberg suggests that the answer is in learning how to cross something they call the empathy gap.” (November 4, 2016, You Are Not So Smart Podcast)

And while this psychological-aisle-crossing may be helpful for understanding the communication problem going on with Climate Change, it’s unlikely to effect a necessary shift in attitudes. Ultimately, if both sides of the Climate Change issue don’t accept mainstream, 97% peer-reviewed, climate science, then it’s a pointless exercise. There’s no giving ground on science, even if we wanted to.

The Trump Effect is now in play and we will have to deal with it, ready or not.

Time passes. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Why Rochester, NY should release its Climate Action plan soon

Climate action plans (CAPs) are critical for addressing Climate Change locally and demonstrating to the public that their government has their priorities straight. Last year at this time, I wrote: “Why Climate Action Plans (CAP) are so important for every community” and in October I wrote this: “Connecting the dots between Rochester’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) and our disadvantaged communities”. Both articles give a robust argument for the release of the City’s CAP.

Mayor Warren has already spoken publically and forcefully about the role of government in addressing Climate Change:

"Cities must take a leading role in confronting climate change regardless of federal policy," Warren said. "I have no doubt this is what our citizens expect of us and will allow us to lead by example on this critical issue." (from, City aims to fight climate change, November 21, 2016, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle)

However, the City may decide to integrate the CAP rollout within rollout of the Comprehensive Master Plan  (technically, it is part of the Comprehensive Plan, but here I’m referring to its rollout to the public). Such a strategic embedding is not a good idea at this time. If this is done, and the CAP is not highlighted in the media separately, it conceals the compelling concerns our government has about Climate Change in our region. It demonstrates to the public and the media that Climate Change isn’t all that important.

Mayor Warren has taken a leadership role in defending Rochester’s status as a 'Sanctuary City' against the federal government’s new xenophobic attitude towards immigrants, and I hope she also maintains a similar degree of leadership regarding Climate Change. 

For a long time, a great complacency towards our environment has become entrenched in the US. The first Earth Day in 1970 came about because we had allowed our environment to descend to such a deplorable state that 20 million people rushed to the streets to protest. It resulted in the formation of a federal agency, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to preserve and protect our environment. Now, the EPA is under a massive attack by the new administration, hoping to severely reduce the size and effectiveness of our nation’s leading environmental agency.

Official: Trump wants to slash EPA workforce, budget The former head of President Donald Trump's transition team at the Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday he expects the new administration to seek significant budget and staff cuts. Myron Ebell said in an interview with The Associated Press that Trump is likely to seek significant reductions to the agency's workforce — currently about 15,000 employees nationwide. Ebell, who left the transition team last week, declined to discuss specific numbers of EPA staff that could be targeted for pink slips. Asked what he would personally like to see, however, Ebell said slashing the agency's size by about half would be a good start. (January 27, 2017, AP

Over the years, the EPA came to understand that our gravest environmental threat would come as a quick warming of our planet, Climate Change. All our myriad environmental issues—pollution, loss of biodiversity, water quality, etc.—would be intimately entwined within a human-caused increase in greenhouse gasses. Much of the legal force in our country to address Climate Change came from the EPA. Now, the EPA is being gutted and science itself is being attacked. The American public, which includes scientists, educators, government employees, and ordinary citizens, finds itself in the absurd position of having to defend science. We cannot be complacent about science and our life support system anymore.   

The public needs to feel confident that their local government is on the ball in a time when our federal government is scrubbing environmental information from its agencies. The State of New York, as well as its cities, now needs to take the lead. 

Consider sending your personal note and/or one from your organization to: Anne Spaulding, Director of the Office of Energy and Sustainability: requesting that the City’s CAP be unveiled soon and separately from the Comprehensive Master Plan (Earth Day 2017 is a great and timely opportunity for it). This would be just a year from the first public announcement that the Rochester CAP was in the works and moving to a final drafting stage. Watch this video of the press conference in City Hall last year that includes the City’s announcement of Climate Action Plan.

In a time when many of the lights are going out on governmental climate change information critical to the public and media, Rochester needs to step up to the plate. It is long past time to be shying away from Climate Change.


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Is Climate Change really an existential issue?

Oftentimes, writers, reporters, educators, and scientists refer to Climate Change as an existential problem. Here’s what they mean by that:

“In reality, the Earth is heating up, a point long beyond serious scientific dispute, but one becoming more evident as the records keep falling. Temperatures are heading toward levels that many experts believe will pose a profound threat to both the natural world and to human civilization.” (Earth Sets a Temperature Record for the Third Straight Year (January 18, 2017) New York Times 

Climate Change communicators usually don’t like to characterize the warming crisis as apocalyptic because it tends to overwhelm and paralyze their audience. And while this position may have some psychological validity to it, it doesn’t excuse climate denial. Facing the existential aspect of Climate Change by a large swath of humanity is critical because until it is framed correctly as “a profound threat to the natural world and to human civilization”, we won’t understand the urgency to address it.
Granted, trying to make the existential argument has the ‘crying wolf’ component. One would be hard pressed to find a time in human history when some faction or other didn’t think the world was going to end in their lifetime. In my own lifetime, there have been several doomsday prognostications (which obviously did not end in a complete disaster) including the Cuban Missile Crisis.  

But, as in the fable, it’s quite possible that however often the boy cries wolf, a wolf can still show up. (Note: ‘wolf’ here is a metaphor for BAD! but real wolves are not bad, they are vital components of our ecosystems.) In order for the public to sort out fable from reality, we need more expert scientists and their wonderful instruments. Their instruments are telling us that our atmosphere and oceans are warming. That our seas are rising. That increasingly extreme weather is occurring because of Climate Change.

Part of the existential nature of Climate Change and integral to properly understand the urgency is tipping points (or ‘thresholds’).  

Climate modeling is a critical tool for climate scientists and these computer models are able to factor in much of the climate data scientists are gathering, including economic models in order to anticipate how humanity will respond to various financial scenarios.  However, climate models are no panacea. They cannot predict a climate denier voted into the highest office in the most powerful nation along with a like-minded cabinet.

The more scientists learn about our ecosystems and climate the more they can predict some of the possible tipping points. But not what the results will be.

“The possible existence of thresholds implies that there may be limits to how predictable future changes to ecosystems will be and that we may be able only to identify thresholds where significant change will occur, but not what those changes will be.” (Schimel, David. Climate and Ecosystems (Princeton Primers in Climate, p. 159. Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.)

This kind of doubt about the consequences of Climate Change is only a positive thing to climate deniers. For the rest of us, Climate Change is an existential problem because things can get out of hand very quickly.  

Time passes. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Planning for Earth Day 2017 in Rochester, NY

In one fashion or another I’ve been promoting Earth Day events for almost twenty years in Rochester. In that time, local environmentalist have tried to capture the public’s attention on the one day of the year held sacrosanct for environmental concerns. Even our media, always looking for news opportunities, turns their attention towards our life support system on Earth Day.

Some of the environmental issues we highlighted to capture the public’s attention were:

·          “Biotechnology: An Organic Farmer’s Perspective” Keynote speech by Mary-Howell Martens
·         “The cost of sprawl to the environment, the economy, and people of the region” Keynote Speaker: Rochester Mayor William A. Johnson, Jr.
·         “From Crisis To Opportunity” A Forum on National, State, & Local Environmental Issues Keynote Speakers: Elizabeth Thorndike, David Higby, Jack Bradigan Spula
·         “Protecting and Policing New York’s Environment” Keynote Speaker: Peter Lehner, JD Chief of the Environmental Protection Bureau of the NY Attorney General’s Office
·         “Hemlock/Canadice: the Future of Our ‘Little’ Lakes” Keynote Speakers: Andy Beers and Jim Howe
·         “Transportation Alternatives for Rochester A Vision for the Future” Keynote Speakers: Richard Perrin, David Keefe and John Thomas.
·         “Local and Sustainable Food – Local Food Choices” Keynote Speakers: Michael Warren Thomas, Elizabeth Henderson, and Peter McDonald
·         “Transitioning to Sustainable Communities” Keynote Speaker: Tina Clarke from the Sustainability Institute
·         “Sustainable Production, Rochester’s Cutting Edge” Keynote Speakers Dr. Nabil Nasr, RIT’s Assistant Provost and Director of the Golisano Institute for Sustainability; Catherine Reeves, the Director of Sustainable Operations at Xerox Corporation
·         “Our Water’s Fragile Future: Hydrofracking, Climate Change, & Privatization” Keynote Speaker: Jim Olson, a Michigan environmental attorney
·         “Protecting Our Great Lakes Forever” Keynote Speaker: author Maude Barlow
·         “Climate Smart Communities: Let’s Get With the Program” Keynote Speaker: Mark Lowery, Climate Policy Analyst, Office of Climate Change, New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation
·         “Climate, Energy, and Intergenerational Justice”: Keynote Speaker: Dr. James Hansen
·         “Agriculture and Climate Change: Formulating Sustainable Choices”

We covered many specific environmental concerns back in the day. But even within this short span of time, the themes have gravitated quickly towards Climate Change. In other words, we used to have a lot of separate environmental problems but now we have one. Climate Change is becoming a singularity at which many environmental issues, including public health and climate justice, are now swirling because it is an existential threat.  

This year’s Earth Day is special because our environment needs as much attention by the public as it did on the first Earth Day in 1970, where millions took to the streets.

“On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment. Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values.” (The History of Earth Day, Earth Day Network)

Now, a couple of groups in Rochester are making plans for Earth Day 2017. The Rochester Sierra Club is inviting the “man who was elected as the first African American President of the Sierra Club, Aaron Mair.” (December eco-logue). At the Rochester People’s Climate Coalition, we are working on a large parade downtown. Inclusiveness, joining together, and accepting everyone from every walk of life are key to any kind of solution that will matter.

In every way possible, we have tried over the years to engage the public and get them to demonstrate their concern for their life support system. As Climate Change becomes more of a threat to our existence, so are the efforts of environmental activists, even as a great cancer of climate denial metastasizes throughout our land.

Just after this Earth Day, the People’s Climate Mobilization begins in Washington, DC. 
“New year, new resolve. Time to mark your calendars for April 29th, 2017. That’s the date of the People’s Climate Mobilization, a major march in Washington, D.C., when we will come together with hundreds of thousands of people to reject Trump’s attack on our communities and climate, and push forward with our vision of a clean energy economy that works for all. Sign up to be part of it here, and connect with others near you who will be taking action in the run-up to April. We believe that in this moment of division, turmoil, and fear, it's important to put forward an alternative vision that inspires and connects. If we don't put forward our own vision -- of an economy built on justice and powered by clean, renewable energy -- then we let fossil-fuel-soaked nationalism, xenophobia, and hatred win. We need to show that more people still believe in our shared vision for the future than in Donald Trump's. That's where you come in: The only way this mobilization will work is if it’s driven from the bottom up by people like you. That's why we want to get you involved with the People's Climate Mobilization starting today -- whether you've helped organize a dozen marches before, or if you're a first-time participant.” (People’s Climate Movement)

Don’t sit this one out.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Climate Change educational centers

While we wait for the Trump administration to come to life

While we wait to see what the Trump administration is actually going to do or undo about addressing Climate Change, we can speculate about something other than gearing up for a lot of environmental fights. Of course, it’s prudent for environmental groups and states to protect our environment and not allow any backsliding on environmental protections we’ve already achieved. Our environment is our life support system, not a special interest; so those who ‘get it’ aren’t likely to let go of hope.

Along with preparations for traditional environmental strategies, environmental groups should be trying to figure out what went wrong in the last elections such that climate denial is now in vogue. We assumed that the public understands Climate Change—instead, they just thought other issues were more important, which is absurd. If the public knew that Climate Change is an existential threat that has to be adapted to, the US Presidential elections wouldn’t have even been close. I know, many people do not believe that Climate Change is a threat to our future, but this is an opinion based on many assumptions about past climate changes, past human endeavors, and probably a healthy dose of the will not to believe. (One can think of the ‘will not to believe’ in the context of Germany under Hitler where too many Germans chose not to believe what they were hearing about what came to be known as the Holocaust.) 

My thesis that everyone must know Climate Change

My thesis about our failure at the polls last November is that environmentalists, scientists, bloggers, and our media failed to communicate to the entire public that Climate Change is unavoidable, that it must be addressed whether we like it or not. I don’t mean to say heroic efforts were not made by many parties to present evidence of this crisis, but that we failed to reach enough. I believe that if the entire public really understood the evidence supporting Climate Change and the threat to our life support system that this crisis presents, they would not have allowed Climate Change to simmer on the backburners during our last election. Many civilizations— Mississippian culture, Ancestral Puebloans, and early Easter Island, just to name a few—failed in conditions of changing climate and/or environmental failure. Of course, these civilizations didn’t know they were wrecking their environment or failing to notice ominous changes. There is no such lack of information and evidence for Climate Change today.

(You could say that there are many instances where people know cigarette smoking will kill them, yet they do it anyways. I would argue that they don’t know it. They think they know it, but convince themselves that it won’t be them that gets nailed. Just look at their 95-year old grandfather who’s been smoking all his life. Or, there are folks whose doctor has told them they are going to die of smoking but continue regardless. These folks know that their number is up and figure it won’t make any difference now if they keep smoking. But, for my argument, civilizations don’t think like that. Civilizations don’t say that our way of life is killing us and continue business as usual anyways. Not knowingly. I believe humanity, everyone, hasn’t been presented with the full picture of how environments work and how they fail. They may know other climate changes, but they don’t know Climate Change.) 

There is already overwhelming evidence from our most credible sources that Climate Change is happening and that this crisis is a threat to our future. There are innumerable ways to get this information free. So there is no lack of expert climate information readily available. But here’s the rub: Somehow those who know Climate Change need to communicate this information to everyone on a scale and time frame that will matter. Pandering to people’s comfort zone is pointless; it encourages the wrong-headed notion that Climate Change can be addressed without challenging our way of life. If we could conduct a massive Spock-like mind-meld, I think we could go far in gaining a world-wide consensus on the urgency behind addressing Climate Change. We’d make the incorporeal jump between minds and bodies, clear of self-interests, beliefs, assumptions, politics and get to the heart of the matter.

Short of that, there may be a way to bake the reality of Climate Change into our present social and political zeitgeist so that it’s more comfortable for the majority of the public to accept it than deny it.

Climate Change Central

My thoughts strayed in this direction as I remembered the Climate Change Central project in Rochester back in 2008-09. So, for the record, I’m anchoring my idea on the great effort of two local women who spent their own money to set up a meeting place on Park Avenue to educate the public on Climate Change. They showed films, created a small library of books and pamphlets by local groups addressing Climate Change. They invited passersby to come in and just talk about Climate Change. It was a wonderful showcase for communicating with people about this crisis. Eventually, these women ran out of funds and the project vanished.

But this project could be resurrected in many ways and set on a much larger stage.

The vision:

I’d like to see brick-and-mortar institutions focused on Climate Change education in Rochester, and in every community. But first, I’d like to shoot for the stars with my vision of what could be: A climate institution where there would be a curator and staff of experts. There would be similar institutions in each community. Using our best communication tools, there would be displays explaining what climate change is and how this Climate Change is different. Each community would have Climate Change brought home through photo galleries, films, and artistic works that demonstrate how each community was contributing to Climate Change and how each community would be affected. For example, Climate Change in Rochester won’t look the same as Climate Change in Alaska (which is warming faster and more dramatically).

This climate institution would have books. It would have examples of climate models, with scientists describing how such systems worked. More public knowledge about climate modeling would convince many more people how rigorous predicting our future climate has become. Check this out:

Demystifying Climate Models By  Andrew Gettelman, National Center for Atmospheric Research Richard B. Rood, Climate and Space Sciences, University of Michigan Springer 2016 Download PDF from Springer Open Access "Uncertainty is not a weakness. Understanding uncertainty is a strength, and a key part of using any model, including climate models."

There would be interactive displays where various scenarios were modeled so the public could see the local advantages of taking action and the disadvantages of not doing so. It could be a sliding scale that would demonstrate various scenarios—like a scenario where we started building up our various infrastructures, like our sewer systems and highways, and then see what happens when there is more flooding—as predicted by climate studies. Activists and environmentalists would be able to set up booths explaining how climate justice for challenged communities are a vital component of addressing Climate Change. Projects would demonstrate likely outcomes in the future of where we took proper action and where we didn’t. There would definitely be an Internet station with online portals that would help visitors navigate and interpret the great wealth of data and information on this crisis.

My special climate educational dream project:

In the center of each institution would be a gigantic hologram, a 3-D image of Earth projected into a space where the public could walk around it and climb via a spiral staircase to perhaps several stories. This Earth hologram wouldn’t just be an image; it would be a computerized composition that visualized data from past and present monitoring data. It would be the ultimate pedagogical tool for Climate Change. The public would be able to see Earth breathe and react to the slightest biological and physical forces. The public would see various scenarios tested on this hologram and see what climate scientists see when they run possible situations in their models. Seeing Climate Change in this way would give the public, at every level of education and background, the feedback they need in order to grasp this extremely complex crisis.  

The Climate Museum

While many will see this idea as unlikely, wildly expensive, and completely improbable, something like it is actually is happening in New York City.

“We are launching a climate museum in New York City to serve as a hub for climate engagement and leadership in a challenging world. The Paris Agreement of 2015 holds great promise for the transition to a clean energy economy and culture. Despite the range of efforts across society to make this transition real, the threats of denialism and obstruction are more potent than ever. We must rise to this challenge together. To do so, we need something new: a public space where we can gather to learn about climate change, face our fears, share solutions, and commit to change. The Climate Museum will be this place: a cultural and educational institution dedicated to climate issues and solutions.” The Climate Museum  

The Climate Change imperative

This idea of a public space to learn about Climate Change must work. Traditional environmental actions—marching*, publishing newsletters, protesting, fighting in the courts, and even joining environmental groups--don’t get our entire public engaged. It gets lots of folks engaged, but obviously not enough. In fact, these activities may be distancing ourselves from the very public we are trying to reach. The NYC museum project must be scalable, in order for millions of people in all walks of life. Nobody doesn’t like museums, as millions already visit them each year.

A smaller vision involves relatively inexpensive public spaces where volunteers would explain Climate Change and connect with the public—as was the case with Climate Change Central.  After rent for a room, utilities, and insurance are accounted for, in-kind services, donations, and volunteers could make this project doable. Given the imperative of getting the public up-to-date on Climate Change, the cost would be minimal. Discovering the god particle, the Higgs Boson particle, cost billions and billions of dollars. Though a very interesting particle, it won’t save humanity. Just saying…

Time passes.

* I don’t mean to undermine the importance of marching, rallying, and demonstrating in any way—as I have been a part of the largest environmental marches in and around the Northeast for many years. For the purposes of this essay, I want to highlight in the importance of reaching folks who wouldn’t even think of marching in the streets to save their environment, which I suspect is a lot of people. Those are the people we need to reach.