Monday, September 17, 2018

Do local media reporters get Climate Change training?

Presently, in the USA there are many occasions “… where contrarians and sceptics should be included within climate change and sustainability debates”(1) because an appalling amount of US Climate Change news stems from a federal government dominated by contrarians and sceptics. So, if your American media has a crib sheet for its reporters on their editorial policy towards Climate Change, it’s going to read differently than, say, the UK’s.

Exclusive: BBC issues internal guidance on how to report climate change The BBC, one of the world’s largest and most respected news organisations, has issued formal guidance to its journalists on how to report climate change. Carbon Brief has obtained the internal four-page “crib sheet” sent yesterday to BBC journalists via an email from Fran Unsworth, the BBC’s director of news and current affairs. The crib sheet includes the BBC’s “editorial policy” and “position” on climate change. All of the BBC’s editorial staff have also been invited to sign up for a one-hour “training course on reporting climate change”. Carbon Brief understands this is the first time that the BBC has issued formal reporting guidance to its staff on this topic. The move follows a ruling earlier this year by Ofcom, the UK’s broadcasting regulator, which found that BBC Radio 4’s flagship current-affairs programme Today had breached broadcasting rules by “not sufficiently challenging” Lord Lawson, the former Conservative chancellor. (September 7, 2018) Carbon Brief [more on Climate Change in our area]

Overall though, this is a good question to ask at this moment in time (in a quickly warming world): Is your media training its reporters on Climate Change reporting? If they are, what priority does your media give Climate Change? The BBC policy mentioned above is a good start and a quick guideline for mainstream media, but what about local media?

How much of local reporting on Climate Change is influenced by the political landscape? In other words, is mentioning Climate Change held back because it might offend a portion of their readership not comfortable (or hostile to) this worldwide warming?

Does local media receive feedback one way or the other on Climate Change—or, when they occasionally do a news story in Climate Change, is it an issue their readership doesn’t show any apparent interest in?

How often does a local media outlet (radio, TV, newsprint, podcast) do investigative reporting on Climate Change in their region? Do they understand the possible connection between the increase in heavy precipitation in our region, the increase of harmful algae outbreaks in our lakes, and diseases like Lyme disease and Climate Change in our region?

Does our local media feel compelled to report about Climate Change only when environmentalists, or widely published studies, or a national media mentions it against a backdrop of increased wildfires, flooding, extreme weather, or other outside references?

Although our local media feels compelled to report on many national and international events (especially sports), why haven’t they felt compelled to mention anything about the Global Climate Action Summit in California this week? It’s ironic that the most important get-together on addressing Climate Change on one side of our country is occurring at the same time a ‘monstrous’ extreme weather storm is thrashing the other side of our continent without even a suggestion by our local media that the one major event might be connected to the other. [See: Here’s How Climate Change Put Hurricane Florence On Steroids (September 13, 2018, BuzzFeed)] The Global Climate Action Summit should get attention in our local media, like it does in mainstream media:

Global Climate Action Summit puts stress on action This has been a big week for advocates who fight climate change. Business leaders, mayors, governors and activists from around the world rallied in San Francisco at the Global Climate Action Summit to advance their agenda in the face of a defiant White House. California Gov. Jerry Brown issued an order Monday announcing the goal to eliminate carbon emissions in the state within 27 years. He also just signed a bill into law, making the state's electricity completely emissions-free by 2045. Brown signed as the White House reportedly enacted another policy to stymie such efforts, this time by relaxing methane emission regulations. (September 14, 2018) CBS News [more on Climate Change in our area]

Wouldn’t it be interesting to see all American media, local and national, post a story about their media’s position on Climate Change and maybe a statement about their commitment to inform the public about this worldwide crisis?

In retrospect, if our future affords the opportunity, it will be interesting to see how today’s media coverage of Climate Change will be assessed a century from now. Will our great-grandchildren say our media did a good job, or just concede that there just wasn’t enough interest or exact enough science to make a strong, urgent, and continual case for action? I’m thinking they’ll be pissed.   

Time passes. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Rochester’s part in the Global Action Climate Summit

The Global Climate Action Summit starts on September 12th and runs through the 14th in San Francisco, California. It is a “is a gathering of mayors & local governments, business and civil society … ” “… to showcase climate action taking place around the world, and inspire deeper commitments from each other and from national governments.”(Global Climate Action Summit)

To raise awareness and enthusiasm for this summit, communities around the country and the world participated in many #RiseForClimate events. In Rochester, we just completed an amazing event, Rise For a Resilient Rochester, where ten area residents explained to an audience of over 100 how Climate Change was affecting their lives—now. Area leaders, including business, faith, and political leaders, also listened as the speakers told amazing personal stories. Evidence of living in a quickly warming world.  

At Saturday's session, held at Asbury First United Methodist Church, the true target audience sat right in front: Roughly 25 elected officials and candidates for office, and representatives of government agencies, colleges and business groups. The purpose of the meeting, and several thousand others like it that were held Saturday on every continent but Antarctica, was to urge the decision-makers at large institutions to act on climate change. (Local people talk about how climate change touched their lives, September 8, 2018 Democrat and Chronicle)

A high school student explained how his generation doesn’t have the luxury of avoiding the Climate Change crisis because it’s their future. A Rochester resident talked about how grateful she was to be able to access grants to improve the energy efficiency of her home. An advocate for disability rights described how extreme weather, including heatwaves, storms, and emergencies (which will come more often during Climate Change) were already making the lives of the disabled more difficult. A victim of Lyme disease related her struggle to deal with a debilitating disease that comes with tick bites that are becoming more frequent because our warmer winters make it possible for disease-carrying insects to survive longer. A community leader told the audience about his neighborhood’s struggle to get a major Brownfield cleaned up so the increased flooding that comes with Climate Change won’t further endanger his residents with toxic chemicals. A Rochester resident with relatives in Puerto Rico told of the harrowing scenes helping relatives in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. And more …

This all matters because Climate Change is already affecting our Rochester, New York region with annual temperatures increasing, an Increase in extreme precipitation events, reduced snowpack, earlier ice breakup, Spring beginning a week earlier than it did a few decades ago, bird population shifts, other wildlife affected by Climate Change, declining lake-ice cover, an increase in lake effect snowfall, invasive species thriving, increasing at-risk species in New York due to Climate Change, and impacts on Northeast agriculture.

The Global Climate Action Summit, which so many communities rose up yesterday for, needs and is getting our attention:

·         Rise for Climate: thousands march across US to protest environment crisis Tens of thousands of people took part in marches and other events across the US on Saturday, calling for a swift transition to renewable energy in order to stave off the various perils of climate change. (September 8, 2018) The Guardian [more on Climate Change in our area]
·         Thousands march in Rise for Climate demonstration in San Francisco Thousands of climate justice advocates, community organizers and Bay Area residents took to the streets Saturday in a 2-mile march from Embarcadero Plaza to the Civic Center as part of a worldwide demonstration known as the Rise for Climate, Jobs and Justice. The march mirrored more than 800 demonstrations in roughly 90 countries around the world, with protesters demanding that political leaders shift away from using fossil fuels and make the transition to renewable energy. (September 8, 2018 [more on Climate Change in our area]
·         Around the World, a Rise for Climate The march was international, but the message was the same The Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice march was a reminder that, despite all our differences, people around the world want clean air, clean water, and a non-apocalyptic future for ourselves and our children. Here are just a few of the protests, gatherings, and art events that occurred at #RiseforClimate around the world. We'll keep adding more as they come in. (September 8, 2018) Sierra The national magazine of the Sierra Club [more on Climate Change in our area]

Business as usual—burning fossil fuels for energy, downplaying the climate crisis, and ignoring the plights of our first and hardest hit victims—must change. Otherwise, even Rochester won’t be able to contain all the climate refugees fleeing from the worst and most immediate consequences of Climate Change around the world.

Time passes. 

Monday, September 03, 2018

Climate Change and our media, an update

Mainstream media is doing much better on communicating the urgency of Climate Change, but local media coverage is still spotty. At the risk of sounding Trumpian (Fake News!) when criticizing the media, there’s reason to press the press on their role in this crisis. I’ve been pondering the role of mainstream media for some time now in a slew of essays, wondering why our mass media have been so hesitant to inform the public completely about this unprecedented crisis unfolding during our lifetime.

You’d think a quickly warming planet, not just any planet, but our planet, would garner more concern and action than it has. Even if we (miraculously) adhere to the Paris Accord, we are still going to reach over 3C by 2100. Our grandchildren will be fighting tooth and nail for their existence on a very hot world.   

Whatever one thinks of the media in these crazy political times, in the information age the public gets their sense of reality in the aggregate of information speeding around the world. That is to say, there are too many of us and too many things going on at any one time for anyone of us to trust our own limited perspective. We need to know the weather; sticking our heads out the window is no longer enough. We must have a sense of our economic health before we start spending our hard-earned money on major purchases—like a car, a house, or a college education. We need to know if there are health issues sweeping in from afar—heatwaves, infectious diseases, sewage overflows, you-name-it. 
We need to know the health of our life support system, our environment, for long term planning. We need to know a lot of more information than we can obtain from our own surroundings to live and thrive in our present world. We need a healthy, free press, uncluttered by ideology and anchored solidly in science. 

That a large portion of the public have closed their mind to the reality of Climate Change, refusing to attend to the few responsible media who are keeping us informed on this crisis, is more than sad. It’s suicidal.

But for the majority who understand the importance of science, it’s heartening to know that many of our mainstream media are catching up quickly on Climate Change, which seems simple at first but gets infinitely intricate as you contemplate the implications. Yes, manmade greenhouse gas emissions since the Industrial Revolution are warming up our planet. Yes, our planet has warmed up before. But not as quickly with so many of us, and with so much of our infrastructure being critical to our survival.

Climate Change is very complicated and gets more complicated as new information, new studies, and new consequences (extreme weather) come in each day. So, it’s very good that our mainstream media, the largest and most influential media, have come around.

As we go further into the Climate Change Bottleneck, where our past environmental abuses get cooked on a warming planet, ecosystem changes may be more than we can handle. Here’s an example of mainstream media doing their job in a time of a quickly warming planet, our freaking planet:

Climate change could render many of Earth’s ecosystems unrecognizable After the end of the last ice age — as sea levels rose, glaciers receded and global average temperatures soared as much as seven degrees Celsius — the Earth’s ecosystems were utterly transformed. Forests grew up out of what was once barren, ice-covered ground. Dark, cool stands of pine were replaced by thickets of hickory and oak. Woodlands gave way to scrub, and savanna turned to desert. The more temperatures increased in a particular landscape, the more dramatic the ecological shifts. It’s about to happen again, researchers are reporting Thursday in the journal Science. A sweeping survey of global fossil and temperature records from the past 20,000 years suggests that Earth’s terrestrial ecosystems are at risk of another, even faster transformation unless aggressive action is taken against climate change. (August 30, 2018) The Washington Post [more on Climate Change in our area]

At the local level, media coverage of Climate Change is lackluster, timid, milquetoast, unremarkable, and almost invisible. Continually, our local media avoids connecting the dots with the consequences of Climate Change in our region—more heatwaves, more harmful algae blooms, more heavy rains with sewer overflows, and much more. Here’s an example: This is code for Climate Change: “the cost of these increasingly common very heavy rains.” There will be more washed out infrastructures if the public doesn’t understand and support efforts to adapt to Climate Change and we need our media to communicate this. Heavy precipitation events since 1958 is the major expression of Climate Change in our Northeast region. Yet this (public) media doesn’t even mention Climate Change:

 When it rains, it pours on county roads and bridges Erie County is learning the cost of these increasingly common very heavy rains. The water has to go somewhere and if there isn't drainage, it might wash away a road or cause some other problem. Erie County has 290 bridges and 420 culverts. Those are either the large circular pipes carrying water under a road or a regular road bridge shorter than 20 feet. The county is expanding the size of its culverts, to let more water flow through and prevent roads from flooding - or worse. "A lot of these culverts that we're replacing, some of them were designed in the early 1900s, 1920-1930," said Public Works Commissioner Bill Geary, "so you can imagine what used to be just a little farm road that may now be a major thoroughfare or a feeder stream that is getting a lot of runoff from some new developments or things of that nature, and then the cycle of weather patterns we've been seeing the last five years or so." (August 22, 2018) WBFO Buffalo's NPR New Station [more on Climate Change in our area]

Local media outlets are where locals get a lot of their perspective on their environment. When locals get a survey call about what issues are most important to them, they don’t put Climate Change on their list at all because their local media doesn’t. Public officials have trouble getting the public to come learn about our climate vulnerabilities because local media doesn’t bother to inform. We missed the Rochester media recently at the City’s CLIMATE VULNERABILITY ASSESSMENT PUBLIC INPUT SESSION, where the public was informed about how Climate Change will impact our community. (If you missed this event and want to help shape local climate adaption you can still make comment on this project here.)

It would be nice if our local media was engaged on our City’s efforts to address Climate Change so that all the public, not just a few, would get involved.

From my perspective gained over the last couple of decades, mainstream media is changing for the better on Climate Change but not quickly enough. Local media needs constant prodding by local environmentalists before they will use their medium to inform the public.

If the media had been doing their job on Climate Change, we would not have elected climate deniers into high and local public offices.  (And yeah it matters: “Climate change: local efforts won't be enough to undo Trump's inaction, study says”) 

The fossil fuel industry didn’t just hold back and misinform about their industries’ contributions to the rapid rise in greenhouse gas emissions, they did so in a vacuum of comprehensive Climate Change media coverage with science at the core.    

Time passes. 

Monday, August 27, 2018

Rochester, NY’s Climate Vulnerability Assessment Public Input Session just in time for the City’s #RiseForClimate event

On September 8th, four days before the start of the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, California, people from across the country and around the world will be calling for renewed commitments to climate action.  People are asking for real actions to replace hollow words. These events are being held under the rubric of #RisesForClimate.

Rochester’s #RiseForClimate event is called “Rise for a Resilient Rochester” and it will be held on Saturday, September 8 at 10 AM - 12 PM at the Gathering Space at Asbury First United Methodist Church 1050 East Ave, Rochester, NY 14607. Community leaders will listen as Rochester and regional residents share personal stories of Climate Change impacts and the solutions they’d like to see.

On Wednesday, August 29th 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM at City Hall Council Chambers, 30 Church Street, 3rd floor, Rochester, NY 14614 the City of Rochester will hold the Climate Vulnerability Assessment Public Input Session, which is the next step in the City’s Climate Action Plan.

“How Vulnerable Is Our City to Climate Change? Join us to learn about our City’s Climate Vulnerability Assessment, review draft findings, and share feedback on how climate change will affect our community. For the last several years, the City has worked to lessen the impacts of climate change by creating action plans aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As a next step towards becoming more resilient, the City is seeking to understand our vulnerability so that we can better prepare for adapting to climate change.” (Climate Vulnerability Assessment Public Input Session)

The Climate Vulnerability Assessment Public Input Session by the City comes just in time to give a backdrop and legitimacy to the Rise for a Resilient Rochester” event because Climate Change is about adapting to this crisis—even here in Rochester. What are our collective vulnerabilities. How are we going to address them?

We need to give the City feedback on how climate change will affect our community at the Vulnerability Assessment session and we need to be a part of the worldwide #RiseForClimate events by going to the Rise for a Resilient Rochester event here.

Climate Change is the defining issue of our time, however inconvenient that may seem to many. We need to demonstrate that we understand and care about solutions to this crisis. 

Time passes.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Climate Change, there will be limits

Interesting essay in the New York Times recently by Dr. Erle C. Ellis called Science Alone Won’t Save the Earth. People Have to Do That: “We need to start talking about what kind of planet we want to live on.”

“The Anthropocene is not the end of our world. It's just the beginning. Collectively, we have the potential to create a much better planet than the one we are creating now. So let’s start talking about the better future we want, and less about the future we don’t. It’s about articulating values, and about sharing, fairly, the only planet we have with one another and the rest of life on earth. The planet we make will reflect the people we are. (August 11, 2018, The New York Times)

This article received a lot of comments—some hopeful, some not, some very thoughtful, some not so much, and some comments seemed to me to be spot on.

However, in my opinion, we needed to have started talking about what kind of planet we want to live on—some time ago. We can and should have that conversation now, except that science has explained quite clearly that there are now limits to the kind of planet we can have.

We cannot have a planet that won’t be having stronger hurricanes, won’t be having more wildfires, and won’t be having more torrential downpours. Each day we drag our feet and fail to address Climate Change on a scale and time frame that will matter, our choices for the planet we want are fewer. And science suggests we don’t have all the time in the world to get ‘conversing’ about Climate Change.

Science may not be the final word on solutions (especially ones that involve human behavior), but science can help humanity understand the limits, the bottlenecks, the when and where we must cut our losses.

As we go further into the Climate Change Bottleneck, where our past environmental abuses get cooked on a warming planet, there will be limits. There will be limits on development, population, and consumption. There will be limits on how much heat humanity can adapt to, especially working outside. [See “In India, Summer Heat May Soon Be Literally Unbearable,” (July 17, 2018, The New York Times)] There will be limits on how much more pollution we can put into our land, air, and water because all these features of our planet can only support life, our life, if certain restraints are kept.  

Limits is not a word humanity suffers gladly, but it would be prudent for us to plan for Climate Change, so we don’t bump up against the kind of boundaries that are non-negotiable under any circumstances.  

Time passes.

Monday, August 06, 2018

Paralysis on Climate Change: It didn’t have to be—and it doesn’t have to be

Back in the day, addressing Climate Change on a scale and time frame that will matter was possible. We might have been able to keep carbon emission to a 1.5C above pre-industrial rates. Now? Not so much. What when wrong? Will our paralysis continue?

Why U.S. lawmakers failed to act on climate change decades ago This coming week, The New York Times Magazine will devote an entire publication of the Sunday magazine to the issue of climate change. The single-themed edition called "Losing Earth," will look at scientific discoveries and decisions made on climate change from 1979 to 1989 through the story of a former NASA scientist. Nathaniel Rich, who authored the edition, joins Hari Sreenivasan for more. (July 29, 2018) PBS NewsHour [more on Climate Change in our area]

Though heartbreaking, Wednesday’s New York Times article “Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change” offers a ghoulish hope that a reflection on our past failures to address Climate Change might, as a drunkard bottomed out, redeem ourselves by changing course immediately. Instead of allowing our past dismal behavior towards our environment, our inclination to preoccupy ourselves in the present, and our inconsistency in the face of long-term problems to keep us paralyzed, we can change. Clearly, we haven’t yet:

“More carbon has been released into the atmosphere since the final day of the Noordwijk conference, Nov. 7, 1989, than in the entire history of civilization preceding it. In 1990, humankind burned more than 20 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. By 2017, the figure had risen to 32.5 billion metric tons, a record. Despite every action taken since the Charney report — the billions of dollars invested in research, the nonbinding treaties, the investments in renewable energy — the only number that counts, the total quantity of global greenhouse gas emitted per year, has continued its inexorable rise.” (Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change August 1, The New York Times)

We won’t have the world we could have had if we had acted sooner. But scientists tell us still that we shouldn’t abandon hope.

We will adapt to Climate Change because we must. Survival, unless overridden by our will, is hard-wired into our species (all species for that matter or there wouldn’t be any species). However horribly and relentlessly the flames from a wildfire come licking towards us, most of us will try to escape.      

I found “Losing Earth” one of the most profound articles on Climate Change I’ve ever read. It reveals how the political side of our nature might do us in completely if we don’t somehow get it under control. That is, we must somehow shape our collective will towards solutions for the long-term problem of Climate Change, so our survival is not thwarted anywhere along this existential plight.  

Some will blame many of the players who fought against doing something significant about Climate Change from 1979 to 1989. But there is a larger point to be made. Such condemnation will not do the rest of us much good as we race for answers. Blame is a matter best left to the courts. We are now near a baseline of 410ppm of CO2 that will continue to rise unless we change. (About 280ppm of CO2 was the baseline just before the Industrial Revolution and about 10,000 years before that.)
Humanity could have done better. We’ve been treating our environment, our life support system so badly for so long that taking it for granted is what we do—despite the centuries of warnings (pollution, killing off entire species, destroying land and water). We are disinclined to monitor the health of our environment regularly no matter what we do to it. 

As we go further into the Climate Change Bottleneck, where our past environmental abuses get cooked on a warming planet, there are solutions that will no longer be possible, consequences that are inevitable, and losses that will have to be cut. There are some coastline cities and regions we won’t be able to prevent from flooding. Some of the consequences will be environmental restrictions that will come down hard on those predisposed to fight all attempts to curb their behavior. There will be loss of species that, even if stored in a zoo, will not have an ecosystem to return to. A quickly warming planet choked with pollution offers far less than an environment robust and resilient from constant care.

As Earth’s air, land, and seas heat up more, our attempt to survive will trump our ideology. We will learn to live with limitations never thought possible.

“Losing Earth” reminds us that climate denial is not new, nor is it soon to be eradicated because it offers those whose worldview doesn’t mirror reality the fantasy of short-term benefits.

Sometime soon, maybe now, many will be asking for more time, a larger carbon budget perhaps in which to rid ourselves of unsustainable behaviors. But we may have squandered what we had, and ours will be a much hotter, more uncomfortable world, regardless of what we do.

Perhaps our best hope is a nurturing of our best inclinations, while being mindful of our worst.

Time passes. 

Monday, July 30, 2018

Counter Climate Change backfire effect with #RiseForClimate

A growing body of research over a range of issues shows that evidence that threatens someone’s worldview can actually backfire and strengthen people’s beliefs. (Dr. John Cook UQx DENIAL101x Worldview backfire effect)

As if it isn’t difficult enough already to communicate the urgency behind addressing Climate Change, our brains may be hard-wired to resist such information. Good grief.

According to Dr. Cook, we would be wise to understand what is driving climate denial and the importance of the world views of those we are trying to reach with climate science. We are trying to communicate with the large undecided majority; we are not trying to change the minds of hardened climate deniers (which just makes them double-down their denial, anyway). We need to explain two things: the science of Climate Change, and how that science can be distorted. And how, during these tumultuous times, do we get beyond the ‘fake news’ meme going on in the US and leverage the right of the public to be informed? Check out this short video:

UQx DENIAL101x Worldview backfire effect “John Cook explains the wordview backfire effect using examples from recent history and research. He also talks about ways in which we might combat this phenomenon when it comes to discussions of climate change.”

While I agree that we who communicate the urgency of addressing Climate Change should be mindful of the ‘backfire effect’, this human failing of sorts, we should not be ruled by it. You can only bend over backwards so far trying to convey the urgency of addressing Climate Change while still talking about Climate Change.

However valid studies might be on the psychological state of the backfire effect, when it comes to denying Climate Change, it is a luxury. It is a luxury for people in first world countries who have caused but are not noticing the consequences of Climate Change, to double-down on their denial because, for various reasons, it’s very convenient.

In the real world, the one we evolved within, we take action when there is immediate danger, or we perish. For example: If several people, waving their hands, shouting, and trembling with fear, told you that a hungry tiger had just entered your house, you would probably take evasive actions regardless of how remote you thought the chances of a man-eater coming into your house might be. You wouldn’t think you had the luxury of ignoring this message; you would at least check out the possibility, however improbable, that a tiger’s eyes are nearby and burning bright for you.

We should be mindful of the backfire effect, but it should not be paraded as another excuse to avoid addressing Climate Change on a scale and time frame that will matter.

Instead, we should counter the most dramatic form of Climate Change backfire, Trump’s attempt to pull out of the Paris Accord and the continual rollback of environmental regulations, by pressing on. Do that here on September 8th.

Time passes. 

Monday, July 23, 2018

#RiseForClimate in Rochester, NY and everywhere else

The fact that Trump, his administration, and the GOP have copped a ‘tude’ on Climate Change (despite all sensibility, they still think it’s a hoax) doesn’t mean this crisis doesn’t have to be addressed, or that we the people will shut up about it. The moral failing and political irresponsibility of our federal government on Climate Change and our environment must be addressed as urgently and rigorously as possible. The window of opportunity to address this crisis on a scale and time frame that will matter is quickly closing.

Heatwaves, melting glaciers, sea level rise, wildlife changes, ecosystem collapses—in short, all the things you would expect from a quickly warming planet—including these consequences on the massive human population and their infrastructures—are happening.  So please, enough with the we’ve had climate changes before and we got through them or they make us stronger blah, blah, blah.

Disgusted with the lack of leadership at the highest levels of our government, we are coming together yet again to send a signal, a stronger one, that Climate Change is happening, and it needs to be addressed:

Rise For Climate SEPTEMBER 8, 2018 — JOIN A GLOBAL DAY OF ACTION Real climate leader­ship rises from the grass­roots up. Local action is leading the way — Be part of the movement that’s ending the era of fossil fuels and building 100% renewable energy for all. Find an event near you: FIND AN EVENT

Admittedly, grassroots efforts to address Climate Change are kind of desperate: First, because climate science itself hasn’t motivated enough effort, and because we really have to get serious about the science.

In that effort, check out this great video: Dr. John Cook - Responding to Alternative Facts in a Post-Truth World. Dr. Cook has been focusing on one of the major conundrums of our times: Communicating the climate science behind Climate Change effectively. The video contains some of the highlights of his website Skeptical Science, his books, and his online courses.

Secondly, efforts to inform people that our politics should be free of climate denial have failed. Check out this humongous list from National Geographic on “A Running List of How Trump Is Changing the Environment”. If you’re thinking that there isn’t a relationship between humanity’s ability to address environmental matters, including Climate Change, and our whacky politics, think again. Who we put in charge of our nations matters to our collective, long-term survival.

We are desperate. Science isn’t convincing enough people, nations are more focused on fending off attacks by Trump than motivating world efforts to solve this crisis, our media (which has finally ‘gotten it’ on Climate Change) is being ignored by the very people who should be paying attention, and the freaking heat is getting worse.  

2018 Global Heat So Far With the release of the monthly global temperature analysis from NOAA today, it is a good opportunity to compare temperatures so far this year to their historical levels. And as greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere, the heat goes on both globally and here in the U.S. Globally, the past four years have been the hottest four years on record, and 2018 so far is coming in as the 4th hottest. All-time record heat has peppered the Northern Hemisphere this summer. Here a few stats compiled by Weather Underground: Glasgow, Scotland had its hottest day on record, reaching 89°F on June 28. Montreal, Canada set a new all-time high, reaching 98°F on June 29. Ouargla, Algeria had the highest temperature on record in Africa, reaching 124°F on July 5. This is believed to be the hottest temperature reliably measured in Africa. Tianxiang, Taiwan had the hottest temperature on record in Taiwan, reaching 105°F on July 10. According to the WMO, 2018 has been the hottest La Niña year on record, with La Niña years today consistently warmer than El Niño years from 30 years ago. Consensus forecasts are trending toward a new El Niño before the end of the year, meaning 2018 will probably finish as one of the 10 hottest years on record globally. (July 18, 2018) Climate Central [more on Climate Change in our area]

Having been involved in many climate actions over the years myself, it does feel increasingly repetitive: doing the same thing and expecting different results. Yet, not entirely so. We are changing our actions as time goes on, as things become more dire and the science more certain. The rise of social media, the importance of telling our stories, the importance of meeting with our local leaders, the lessons learned from psychology, history, and getting the vote out (probably the most important thing we can do) are being gleaned for clues on how to get ourselves out of this climate mess we created. How does humanity talk to itself about something very urgent and very inconvenient without pissing ourselves off so much we won’t even listen? Again, VOTE, help get others to vote and use candidates environmental record to help choose wisely. {See: League of Conservation Voters Scorecard.]

Our politics have become so crazy that even the environmentalists themselves are downplaying the science because it turns off the people who have themselves turned off the message from science. Well, what are you going to do? (If you were a physician and your patient’s complaints turned out to be cancer, would you remove ‘cancer’ from your diagnosis?) We have an administration that isn’t compelled by science to do the right thing and is continually burying “Climate Change” to cover their interests. The public is getting tired of hearing about Climate Change. And the place continues to warm up.

It must be like the end of Reconstruction and the election of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, where even the Republicans and the people of the North were tired of trying to make elections fair, and so they deluded themselves that the South would keep their promises to treat the former slaves fairly and the North would pull federal troops out of the South. Of course, then the Jim Crow era began with a vengeance where open, public murder of a free people became common. Inaction doesn’t accomplish change.

Getting tired of fighting for people’s rights results in people losing rights. Getting tired of fighting to address Climate Change means it’s going to be more difficult to address this crisis, if at all. Getting tired of governmental interference and regulations is going to incur the very Big-Brother scenario those tired of this fear the most.       

Which is to say, living on a quickly warming planet with such an intelligent but ‘complicated’ species as ourselves is getting very weird. If we choose to ignore Climate Change, give up and go about our business, we are still committing this crazy suicide on a quickly warming planet. Climate Change doesn’t change because we change our minds; it changes when we change our collective behavior.

A note of hope: Those thinking that we’ll get sick and tired of making a fuss about this worldwide existential crisis, think again. We’re going to keep thinking of ways to press the case for addressing Climate Change because survival is hard-wired into our genes. And it would be nice to know that we have a fighting chance for a viable future.

In the Rochester region, many folks are working on plans for the #RiseForClimate event. Check out this from the Rochester People’s Climate Coalition (RPCC):

Save the Date: "Rise for Climate" on Sept. 8    As part of's global day of action on September 8, we invite you to Rise for Climate. People are rising up around the world on September 8th to demand real climate leadership from every level of government. Together, we’ll show that people everywhere are committed to a just transition away from fossil fuels to 100% renewable energy for all.  Here in Rochester, everyday people affected by climate change will share their stories with local decision-makers and advocate for the community wide solutions that we need.   Please join us! Mark your calendar for Saturday, September 8, roughly 10am-noon. Details will be forthcoming; our local event will be up on the Rise for Climate website soon.

Time passes. 

Monday, July 09, 2018

Why US xenophobic isolationism is non-adaptive during Climate Change

There wasn’t enough oomph in the sound system at the Rochester ‘s Families Belong Together rally last week, so it was very difficult for my wife and me to hear the orators amidst the other city sounds at Washington Square Park. But we knew the big picture, the horrific intolerance of the Trump administration’s policies towards those desperately trying to find sanctuary from the violence, economic strife, and Climate Change compelling them to flee to our door. What we couldn’t hear well were the local stories of those trying to keep themselves and their families together while our country gives way to xenophobia.  

Rochester responds to Trump immigration moves Saturday's Washington Square Park rally was part of a national day of action organized by Families Belong Together (Familias Unidas, No Divididas), a group that began holding events and rallies around the country in early June. Some 750 protests took place, bringing out hundreds of thousands of protesters calling for the reunification of families separated at the southern border. Despite the day's heat, hundreds of Rochesterians turned out to hear speakers who included farmworkers, local immigrant-rights advocates, and members of religious organizations. (July 2, 2018 - Rochester City Newspaper)

Given that most of us are immigrants to this country (I descend from potato-famine Irish), the hypocrisy of Trump’s moves to separate families at our borders is hard to stomach. Trying to appease his political base by terrorizing those who help make our country work, who actually make the US the US, only puts everyone else, including our friends around the world, on edge. Many are probably wondering why the Statue of Liberty still stands. Would you leave your ‘No Pesticides’ signs on your lawn if you started to use pesticides?    

The heat at the rally was oppressive. As I write many days later, the heatwave is still going on. It is part of a worldwide, record-breaking string of heatwaves that all but the most indifferent see as another sign that our planet is quickly warming.  [See Red-hot planet: All-time heat records have been set all over the world during the past week, July 4th The Washington Post)

The connection between the heat at our local rally (which was but one around the country) and Trump’s hypocrisy is clear, for it is hard not to see the selfish hypocrisy that our present US attitude towards migration has now taken: We put most of the greenhouse gas emissions into our climate system, which  this system is presently responding to, but we refuse to stop the burning of fossil fuels for energy, refuse to help other nations adapt, and then refuse to let them into our country when climate change makes them desperate.

Migrants Are on the Rise Around the World, and Myths About Them Are Shaping Attitudes Immigration is reshaping societies around the globe. Barriers erected by wealthier nations have been unable to keep out those from the global South — typically poor, and often desperate — who come searching for work and a better life. While immigrants have often delivered economic benefits to the countries taking them in, they have also shaken the prevailing order and upended the politics of the industrialized world — where the native-born often exaggerate both their numbers and their needs. (June 20, 2018) The New York Times [more on Climate Change in our area]

Then, in the same article:

Global warming is driving migration | Rising average temperatures are already pushing people from their homes in many middle-income countries, according to research by Cristina Cattaneo and Giovanni Peri, increasing migration from rural areas to urban centers and across borders to other nations. As warming continues in the coming decades, it will probably push people from agricultural areas to urban areas and from the global South to the richer global North. (ibid)

Morally, this is despicable, and you don’t have to be a bleeding-heart liberal to understand it.
Practically, it’s insane. We are trying to shut the door on people whose building we have set afire—forgetting somehow that we live in the same building.

The present reign of xenophobic isolationism, trying to pull out of the Paris Agreement, refusing to help the Climate Fund, and slamming our doors shut to the victims of our self-induced conflagration, is not going to make America great or safe again. It’s going to cook us all in a boiling vat of hate.

Time passes. 

Monday, July 02, 2018

Carbon budgets are a dangerous delusion

As I suspected, a 2C safe warming is a dangerous delusion created by man-made agreements when it’s more likely that any more warming is unsustainable. Our planet’s environment is far too complicated and sensitive to think we can safely put any more greenhouse gases into it. We are not going to tinker our way out of Climate Change; we need a full-court press by all nations to address this crisis—and even our major climate studies are bursting with this truth.

Warming of 2C ‘substantially’ more harmful than 1.5C – draft UN report Latest version of major UN science report concludes the upper temperature goal of the Paris Agreement does not represent a climate safe zone A leaked draft of a major UN climate change report shows growing certainty that 2C, once shorthand for a ‘safe’ amount of planetary warming, would be a dangerous step for humanity. The authors make clear the difference between warming of 1.5C and 2C would be “substantial” and damaging to communities, economies and ecosystems across the world. In 2015, the Paris Agreement established twin goals to hold temperature rise from pre-industrial times “well below 2C” and strive for 1.5C. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has since been working to assess the difference between those targets, with a view to publishing a sweeping analysis of all available research in October this year. The report summary, which Climate Home News published on Wednesday, is a draft and subject to change. The IPCC said it would not comment on leaked reports. An earlier draft from January was also published by CHN. CHN has compared the January and June drafts. The new version builds a stronger case for governments to rapidly cut carbon pollution. It also strikes a marginally more optimistic tone on the attainability of the 1.5C target. (June 22, 2018) Climate Home News [more on Climate Change in our area]

I’m not a fan of using carbon budgets because they encourage the belief that we can burn any more fossil fuel, though I understand their power in negotiations and Climate Change communications. Carbon budgets seem to promise there’s still a while yet before we must get our act together, shift our economy around, and get on a sound, sustainable footing. This message may placate but also strips the ending the fossil fuel era of its urgency.

As scientists learn more about how sensitive our environment is to temperature changes, they keep noticing new phenomena. For example, Climate Change is turning the Arctic Sea into part of the Atlantic Ocean.

A huge stretch of the Arctic Ocean is rapidly turning into the Atlantic. That’s not a good sign Scientists studying one of the fastest-warming regions of the global ocean say changes in this region are so sudden and vast that in effect, it will soon be another limb of the Atlantic Ocean, rather than a characteristically icy Arctic sea. The northern Barents Sea, to the north of Scandinavia and east of the remote archipelago of Svalbard, has warmed extremely rapidly — by 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit just since the year 2000 — standing out even in the fastest-warming part of the globe, the Arctic. “We call it the Arctic warming hot spot,” said Sigrid Lind, a researcher at the Institute of Marine Research in Tromso, Norway. Now Lind and her colleagues have shown, based on temperature and salinity measurements taken on summer research cruises, that this warming is being accompanied by a stark change of character, as the Atlantic is in effect taking over the region and converting it into a very different entity. (June 26, 2018) The Washington Post {more on Climate Change in our area]

These climate changes, many of which hit home when extreme weather fueled by warming waters occur, should remind us that even when we have a known terminal disease, how that disease actually unfolds is of the most immediate interest to us. It is the daily symptoms of cancer, for example, that concern a patient just as much as the fear of the possible outcome. Humanity knows Climate Change is something ominous threating our existence and some of us are already experiencing it more than others—for now. Because we’re talking physics, everyone eventually cooks in a heated pot.

Although Climate Change is a moral and existential issue, it’s the changes along the way that will throw our future into turmoil—unless we act quickly to adapt and mitigate this disaster.

Thinking we can still put greenhouse gases into our climate system seems absurd.

Time passes. 

Monday, June 25, 2018

Climate scientists are NOT to blame for Climate Change

Climate scientists should not blame themselves for not making the case for Climate Change clear enough to the public several decades ago. The public should blame themselves for not taking the trouble to listen intently enough about such a moral, scientific, and existential issue.

Listening to James Hansen on Climate Change, Thirty Years Ago and Now On June 23, 1988—a blisteringly hot day in Washington, D.C.—James Hansen told a Senate committee that “the greenhouse effect has been detected and is changing our climate now.” At the time, Hansen was the head of nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and though his testimony was certainly not the first official warning about the “greenhouse effect”—a report to President Lyndon Johnson, in 1965, predicted “measurable and perhaps marked changes in climate” in the decades to follow—it was the first to receive national news coverage. The Times ran the story at the top of the front page, with a graph showing a long-term rise in average global temperatures. (June 20, 2018) The New Yorker [more on Climate Change in our area]

Dr. Hansen is quoted in the above article:

A possible answer, which seems to be the one that Hansen himself, at least in part, subscribes to, is that scientists are to blame. Hansen is now seventy-seven and retired from nasa. He recently told the Associated Press that he regrets not being “able to make this story clear enough for the public.”

I think Dr. Hansen and many of the climate scientists at that time; the first (2000), second (2009), third (2014, and fourth National Climate Assessment (2017), the five Assessment Reports from the IPCC - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, were entirely clear. The writers, news stories, documentaries, and the efforts of many groups like the Sierra Club have made it abundantly clear early on that the science behind Climate Change was increasing robust and worthy of the public attention. But the public has not responded on a scale and time frame that is consistent with the science.

The public should get addressing Climate Change and taking the trouble to really listen to what climate scientists are saying. If you care to watch, here is a large collection of short videos by climate scientists bending over backwards to explain every aspect of the science behind Climate Change to the public. 

Is the answer to the public’s inertia on Climate Change for activists to reach across the political aisle and appease those who steadfastly refuse to admit what is obvious to most Americans and nations around the world? Is the answer to the rise in racism finding a middle ground? I think not.

Pushing the science does not seem to have moved the public forward towards solutions on a scale and time frame that will matter—but that doesn’t mean we should play down the role of science in an issue that is essentially science. We should work together for solutions, but we can’t have our cake and eat it too: we cannot address Climate Change and have endless growth, an economic system heedless of our environment, and hold ideological stances that don’t match the science of our climate crisis. The science behind Climate Change should be elevated to the position it deserves when addressing this issue—at the top. If it isn’t, then the other issues involved—politics, environmental and economic justice, and energy solutions -- will be moot.

Missed Dr. Hansen’s talk in Rochester, NY on April 21st in 2015 at Monroe County Community College? Watch the entire speech, with an introduction by Dr. Susan Spencer. Very high quality video.

Time passes.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Getting real about renewable energy

Governor Cuomo has some very ambitious green energy goals for New York State. This includes getting our state “Coal Free by 2020”:

Governor Cuomo Announces New U.S. Climate Alliance Initiatives to Mark One-Year Anniversary of President Trump's Decision to Withdraw from the Global Paris Climate Accord U.S. Climate Alliance Initiatives Draw on New York State's Leadership in Combatting Climate Change, Renewable Energy, Reforming the Energy Vision Initiative, and Nation's Largest Green Bank New Commitments Include Reducing 'Super Pollutants,' Expanding Clean Energy Financing, Storing Carbon in Landscapes, and Softening the Negative Impact of Federal Solar Tariffs U.S. Climate Alliance States Remain on Track to Meet Their Share of U.S. Paris Agreement Target for at Least 25% Emissions Reductions by 2025 (June 1, 2018 GOVERNOR ANDREW M. CUOMO)

But this ambition is low on specifics.

Also, New York State’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) #REV4NY is high on ambition and low on mapping just exactly what and where renewable projects can be located so that the goals are achievable. We cannot realistically evaluate the costs/benefits of any one project without a larger perspective on how it impacts our path to 100% renewables. This does not mean that we ignore negative impacts to local biomes or communities, but that negative impacts may in some cases be outweighed by larger needs (addressing Climate Change), or we may recognize that saying “no” to a particular project necessitates finding an alternative that can serve our 100% renewable goal as well.

Even the Assembly Bill A5105A, which “Requires the establishment of a one hundred per cent clean energy system by two thousand thirty”, which calls for climate action planning, still doesn’t specify a statewide analysis of energy needs and sources. This might be inferred from the text of the bill, but it could be interpreted in lots of other ways too.

The problem with many of the efforts of getting to 100% renewable is that many current proposals will never reach fruition. Barriers such as local opposition, going off budget, a drop in the renewable energy market, or failing an environmental impact statement can stop projects we were depending on to get us to 100%. Many solar and wind projects have failed when the public says ‘No!” Not to mention, one of the biggest NYS Off-Shore wind projects, Great Lakes Offshore Wind (GLOW) program in 2009, which died before it got very far.

The overall lack of planning leaves a strong impression that even the champions of these efforts are not really taking them seriously.  We’re like a college freshman who embarks on a degree program, but one in which the course requirements have not been spelled out, and grades are withheld until some years in the future.  The student has no idea if a particular course will satisfy the requirements of the major, and no idea if the work performed in the course is good enough for a passing grade. They also don’t know if some other course(s) that fit into their schedule better might satisfy the program requirements just as well.  And we are far from the point where the degree program undergoes constant re-evaluation to make sure it still satisfies current and projected conditions in the world.

As we go further into the Climate Change Bottleneck, where our past environmental abuses get cooked on a warming planet, the economic and fairness advantages of renewable energy will be amplified and further compelled by the urgency of this energy transition. Which is to say, the consequences of heating our planet are going to compel us to focus on renewable energy-whether it’s convenient or not. And, Dr. Hansen warns us that although many people are thinking we can still use fossil fuels but be rescued  from the consequences through carbon capture, we haven’t really thought that through either.

As Bill McKibben reminded us in his now famous article in Rolling Stone Global Warming's Terrifying New Math, the figures must add up. Dirty energy must go down and renewable energy must go up. When a community says no to a renewable project they must see it in the context of Climate Change. If renewable energy doesn’t add up to 100%, then we’re either deluding ourselves that we’re solving this problem, or we’ve somehow decided we won’t use as much or more energy than we do. Which doesn’t seem likely.

Time passes. 

Monday, June 04, 2018

Earth’s climate system doesn’t care about renewable energy, only fossil fuels

It won’t do humanity much good to increase renewable energy to address Climate Change and still back large fossil fuel projects. [See McKibben’s recent article in The Guardian “Stop swooning over Justin Trudeau. The man is a disaster for the planet”.  Our planet (any planet, really) only cares (responds) to how much greenhouse gases are in our climate system (our atmosphere and waters) to determine how much to heat up its surface. It’s physics. [See: “How Global Warming Works”.]

Earth couldn’t care less about how much renewable energy we generate because renewable energy doesn’t trap the infrared light energy produced when the visible light energy from the sun bounces off the surface of our planet. It’s we who should care about renewable energy because we should like our planet to be habitable for quite a while longer.

This is important to remember amidst all the articles on the rapid increase in renewable energy around the world and renewables’ dramatic drop in costs. At the end of the day, however much renewable energy we produce, if we haven’t stopped and even lowered our greenhouse gas emissions, we will fry—even if we have a planet full of wind turbines and solar panels buzzing away fulfilling all our wants and needs.

It’s important that environmentalist have heralded how renewable energy is lowering costs for households and providing jobs—even compensating for those whose fossil fuel jobs have been displaced by the renewable energy industry.

But we shouldn’t be focusing exclusively on the economics of renewable energy and dropping the moral and global warming aspects of this issue just because it upsets those bound and determined to end the Climate Change discussion. We cannot communicate around the people who don’t like ‘Climate Change’ to solve Climate Change.  

It’s immoral for developed nations to have become rich by the use of fossil fuels and not help the developing nations achieve growth with our renewable energy technology and support. If they grow like we grew, we’ll all perish.

If our growth in the past two hundred years due to the use of fossil fuel is going to end all civilizations, it’s immoral (and certifiably crazy) to continue down this path. 

Climate Change Judge's Homework: Was Industrialization Worth It? Attorneys for the cities of Oakland and San Francisco and Chevron Corp.have homework from Judge William Alsup: prepare 10-page legal analyses on whether a century of American dependence on fossil fuels was worth the global warming it caused. It’s due in a week. The filings will follow almost three-hours of proceedings on Thursday in a San Francisco federal court, where the cities and the world’s biggest oil companies sparred over lawsuits seeking payment for infrastructure to protect against rising sea levels. Alsup, who’s weighing a dismissal bid by defendants including Chevron and four other companies, focused many of his questions on the “broader sweep of history,” and the crucial role oil played in America’s successes in both world wars and its subsequent economic boom. (May 24, 2018)Bloomberg [more on Energy and Climate Change in our area]

Also, it's unrealistic to expect a bright future if we warm the planet beyond our capability to live on it.

Climate Change and Rapidly Intensifying Hurricanes Atlantic hurricane season starts June 1, and last year’s season was devastating for the U.S. Damage from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria cost the U.S. $267 billion. All three hurricanes went through a rapid intensification (RI) cycle, meaning the strongest winds within the storm increased by at least 30 knots (about 35 mph) in 24 hours. Harvey jumped from a Category 2 to a Category 4 just before its first landfall. Maria’s intensification was more dramatic, going from a Category 1 to a Category 5. This type of intensification is common in major hurricanes, as 79 percent of major tropical cyclones globally go through at least one cycle of rapid intensification. We consulted with Phil Klotzbach of the Colorado State Tropical Meteorology Project to examine the historic number of Atlantic named storms that have undergone rapid intensification and to acknowledge limitations in detection. As a result, we are using two starting points for this week’s analysis. The first is 1950, a few years after reconnaissance aircraft analyses began. The second is 1980, a year after regular satellite analyses were available. These data show the active period of the 1950s and 1960s, then a lull, followed by a bigger spike, with the influence of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) driving the lower values in the 1970s and 1980s. In a further analysis, one study earlier this year found an increase in rapid intensification from 1986-2015 tied to warming water east of the Caribbean Sea. While the study suggests the AMO is the primary influence, there has also been a net ocean warming on top of that cycle. (May 30, 2018) Climate Central [more on Climate Change in our area]

We must make sure that our push for renewable energy doesn’t get lost in a fruitless attempt to convince the public that its only about lowering their energy bills. Climate Change is an environmental problem that has festered through a long history of human environmental abuse topped off by a dramatic rise in the use of fossil fuels that has seriously warmed our planet since the mid-eighteen hundreds.

Increasing the use of renewable energy must occur if we desire to maintain the lifestyle we’ve become accustomed to. If we think we can continue to do so while using fossil fuels, that is the only thing Earth will respond to. But not in a good way for us.    

Time passes.