Saturday, April 12, 2014

Earth Day 2014: Government is critical on Climate Change, Part 9

CCHearThis is part 9 of a series of essays leading up to a major public discussion of Climate Change in Rochester NY on Earth day. On April 17, 2014 at 7PM, the Rochester Sierra Club will host a community discussion on Climate Change in our region with Mark Lowery, Climate Analyst, and manager of the state’s Climate Smart Communities program. The program is called 2014 Earth Day Forum “Climate Smart Communities:  Let’s Get With the Program." This “Earth Day” event (I know, April 22 is actually Earth Day) will be held at the First Unitarian Church, 220 Winton Road South, Rochester, NY. We hope to reach the entire public—community, faith, and business leaders, students, the unemployed, the employed, young and old, healthy and not so healthy, rich and poor, and folks busy with other stuff —and have an old-fashioned community talk about the world crisis called Climate Change. Join your neighbors in a town hall meeting free from activism, ideology, politics, and denial.

Your state, your government, isn’t just another group of folks trying to get your ear on stuff they want you to hear. The state, your state, is you. It’s ‘we the people’. If your government thinks Climate Change is real and something they must address, you should know how and why. Not because they have clout, which they do, but because they represent you.

Some think their government is not only powerless on addressing Climate Change but ineffective on the messaging. This article kind of gets at the heart of this:

Can Business Break Impasse on Climate Action? The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change urged immediate action on adapting to human-caused climate change in the second part of its fifth assessment report, released in March. But it may be that governments and the media are poorly equipped to deliver that dire message to the public. That was the consensus among experts speaking about the evolution of the public debate over climate change and clean energy at Bloomberg’s Future of Energy Summit in New York City. Andy Hoffman, director of the Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan, said that climate change and renewable energy are caught in a cultural schism in which both, regardless of the science, are seen as products of radical environmentalists and big government. “What we find is that when people start to discuss these issues, they’re questioning your motives and (trying) to find out whether you’re a member of their tribe,” he said. (April 9, 2014) Climate Central

Indeed, when it comes to messaging about Climate Change, there are many striving to be the messenger. As most now know, solving Climate Change is not merely a problem of physics—lowering the concentration of anthropogenic greenhouse gases in our atmosphere -- though it is certainly that. This issue has accumulated not only a lot of hot gas, but a lot of human baggage too. Climate Change is burdened with politics, economics, justice, liberty, and pretty much all that affects human behavior. Business, one of the most effective shapers of human behavior, is especially good at messaging products. However, businesses are not especially good at messaging complicated issues without incorporating those issues into something they are trying to sell. As for the media and whether or not they are ‘properly equipped’ to message Climate Change, they might be if they had a longer attention span.

Unlike other institutions, you cannot give up on government when they tell you something you don’t like. Of course you can move, but with Climate Change there are no governments that won’t be messaging and doing something about it. And here’s something else as stated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in their latest report: “Governments often play key roles as regulators, providers, or insurers of last resort” (Page 24, IPCC WGII AR5 Summary for Policymakers). Governments are the folks who make sure our vehicles have a surface to drive on. They write up the rules on how all the other institutions must interact with you and other businesses, and hopefully with our environment. They set guidelines on pollution of all types. If all the other insurers go belly up, they will have act as the insurers of last resort. Governments don’t have the luxury of avoiding things that affect your livelihood, your health, and your life.

Your government, however dysfunctional it may appear at any one time, is accountable to you. There’s no substitute for the kind of responsibilities like addressing Climate Change that those folks you put into office are required to do.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Earth Day 2014: Climate Change in Rochester NY is exceptional, Part 8

CCRochesterThis is part 8 of a series of essays leading up to a major public discussion of Climate Change in Rochester NY on Earth day. On April 17, 2014 at 7PM, the Rochester Sierra Club will host a community discussion on Climate Change in our region with Mark Lowery, Climate Analyst, and manager of the state’s Climate Smart Communities program. The program is called 2014 Earth Day Forum “Climate Smart Communities:  Let’s Get With the Program." This “Earth Day” event (I know, April 22 is actually Earth Day) will be held at the First Unitarian Church, 220 Winton Road South, Rochester, NY. We hope to reach the entire public—community, faith, and business leaders, students, the unemployed, the employed, young and old, healthy and not so healthy, rich and poor, and folks busy with other stuff —and have an old-fashioned community talk about the world crisis called Climate Change. Join your neighbors in a town hall meeting free from activism, ideology, politics, and denial.

Climate Change is occurring around the world and expressing itself right now in myriad forms. All major mainstream media, including a local report, are making much of the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group 2 report, Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Here’s a sampling of the news this week on the report’s release : Health Professionals Worldwide Demand Urgent Climate Action Following IPCC Report , Climate Impacts Are Going to Hit the Developing World Hardest, IPCC Says, U.N. Climate Panel Issues Dire Warning of Threat to Global Food Supply, Calls for Action & Adaption, Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability , Groundbreaking UN Report Warns Climate Change a Threat to Global Security and Mankind , New UN Report Is Cautious  On Making Climate Predictions , IPCC Says Climate Change is Here, World Needs to Adapt , Climate impacts 'overwhelming' - UN , IPCC Report: A changing climate creates pervasive risks but opportunities exist for effective responses , IPCC report: climate change felt 'on all continents and across the oceans'.

The level of concern, the observations of present indicators, and possible consequences of Climate Change should seem exceptional. (In a strict sense Climate Change exceptionalism is the idea that this issue is of an entirely different order than other issues, which given its potential to send all life towards dangerous tipping points, it probably is.) However, putting that big question aside for the moment, on a local level all our concerns are exceptional in the sense that Climate Change will affect specific areas differently. If you take the time to read some climate studies that pertain to our region, especially the ClimAID report, you find that with its fresh water, temperate climate, excellent soil, we will be one of those regions that may not get hit as hard with Climate Change as many others—at least for a while.

Folks in the South and West are experiencing severe flooding and droughts that, according to climate studies, will be long lasting. There is more than a good chance that this Rochester region will be a place many will want to come to grow food and get enough fresh clean water—as long as we don’t frack it up. We have excellent transportation infrastructures (which includes the canal that can move heavy equipment) and getting better as the City of Rochester ramps up alternative transportation (walking and bicycling).

This local exceptinalism means that one of the things to appreciate about how to adapt to Climate Change in our region is to adapt to more folks coming here, where our economy will grow. We must protect the environment we have and ready ourselves for many who will find our region a wonderful relief from wildfires, droughts, massive flooding, sea rise, and much more.

To learn more about how Climate Change will affect our region and what plans we must take to adapt, come to this public conversation on Climate Change in Rochester, NY on April 17th:

Sierra Club invites leaders to 'climate smart' program Your town board members, village board members or county legislators may be smart, but are they climate smart? The Sierra Club thinks they should be. The Rochester-area chapter of the nation's largest environmental group is devoting its annual environmental forum on April 17 to climate change — and more specifically, the state's Climate Smart Communities program. Under that program, municipalities pledge to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, increase energy efficiency and prepare for the effects of a changing climate. Ultimately, the program encourages municipalities to help their residents do the same. The Sierra Club already has sent invitations to every municipal leader it could identify in Monroe and Ontario counties and hopes to extend the offer to officials in other counties. "We're trying to get as many people who haven't signed up yet to at least listen," said Frank Regan, a former chairman of the Sierra Club's Rochester Regional Group who has an abiding interest in climate change. "I'm hoping to bring people in and talk about an issue that doesn't get talked about that much." (March 30, 2014) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Earth Day 2014: Communicating Climate Change to the public, Part 7

 

CC7BillionThis is part 7 of a series of essays leading up to a major public discussion of Climate Change in Rochester NY on Earth day. On April 17, 2014 at 7PM, the Rochester Sierra Club will host a community discussion on Climate Change in our region with Mark Lowery, Climate Analyst, and manager of the state’s Climate Smart Communities program. The program is called 2014 Earth Day Forum “Climate Smart Communities:  Let’s Get With the Program." This “Earth Day” event (I know, April 22 is actually Earth Day) will be held at the First Unitarian Church, 220 Winton Road South, Rochester, NY. We hope to reach the entire public—community, faith, and business leaders, students, the unemployed, the employed, young and old, healthy and not so healthy, rich and poor, and folks busy with other stuff —and have an old-fashioned community talk about the world crisis called Climate Change. Join your neighbors in a town hall meeting free from activism, ideology, politics, and denial.

It’s not uncommon for Americans to look to their wealthiest for the answers to their problems. After all it was J. P. Morgan who single-handedly helped ease the financial panic of 1907. Some of our wealthiest businessmen-turned-philanthropists have continually poured their time and resources into solving many of the world’s aliments. Today, some of those starting to get alarmed about Climate Change find a desire to pick the brains of those whose brains have served them well in the present economic system. “Innovation is the real driver of progress” (Bill Gates: The Rolling Stone Interview The richest man in the world explains how to save the planet, March 13, 2014), which is what you would expect from someone with a golden hammer seeing every dirty little problem as a nail. 

As suggested by some billionaires, innovation certainly must be considered. New ideas in the form of creating products that don’t produce waste--finding environmentally friendly ways to sort, dismantle, and reuse materials--will undoubtedly be a part of our climate adaptation toolbox.  However, as with much of the conundrums of addressing Climate Change, we cannot engineer ourselves out of a problem that human ingenuity and a fantasy economic system put us in.

For example, to address past, present, and future waste on a level that will matter in the coming decades, the public will have to understand the issues related to Climate Change and be a major part of the solution. Changing our way of living, one that continually creates waste, can only be accomplished by billions of ordinary folks changing their behavior—quickly. The innumerable things we use every day to get around with, to eat with, to compute with, have all been forged from fuels that are heating up the planet. Smug billionaires with lots of time to recycle their past solutions to this new problem of Climate Change won’t put us on the road to a sustainable future.

Communicating with those seven billion folks who are desperately trying to better themselves is arguably the most difficult conundrum of Climate Change. Do you pander to the public’s inclination to avoid bad news by sugaring it with things they do like, profitable stock options, pets, and sports?  Or, do you tell it to them straight? How about this straight talk from the guy who invented the hockey stick (not that one), climate scientist Michael Mann:  

How Scientists Are Moving Climate Change Conversation Forward Last January, I wrote an op-ed for the New York Times—If You See Something, Say Something—about my feelings of duty as a climate scientist to engage with the public. I hoped it would help other scientists feel more comfortable speaking out to the public about the dangers of a world warmed by human emissions. Little did I know that exactly two months later, the largest scientific organization in the world and publisher of the leading academic journal Science would launch an initiative aimed at doing just that—move the conversation forward by telling Americans “What We Know.” It boils down to three main points—97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is here and now, that this means we risk abrupt and irreversible changes to the climate, and the sooner we act, the lower the costs and risks we face. (March 27, 2014) EcoWatch)

Why doesn’t the public want to hear about the crisis of our century? Is Climate Change too absurd, too awful, too boring, too slow, too fast, too existential, or too depressing? How about understanding the Climate Change crisis by asking yourself this question: What if the sole purpose of human life, all the billions of life forms before it, were but to give the Baby boomers a neat retirement plan? Après nous, le deluge!

For that is what it comes down to, if we, meaning all of us, don’t vote in the right folks who are planning for Climate Change, and keep them in office. If we don’t change our behavior towards our environment, if we don’t act to adapt and mitigate Climate Change on a massive scale quickly, the folks retiring now may be witnessing a world that is, despite its various annoyances and bad TV programs, as good as it gets. No collective afterlife in the sense that our endeavors, our aspirations for our children, will carry on. What if Washington’s, Susan B. Anthony’s, and Fredrick Douglas’s sacrifices boiled down to well-off folks driving gadget-filled vehicles completely mindless of the moral implication of their actions? 

Only the behavior of billions will solve Climate Change, not a few innovators, or even a few environmental groups, viewed in the media as a special interest. Somehow we must rise from our lethargy and get moving. Below is the kind of quick comprehensive action in our New York State region that can make a big difference.

Make comment on the “2014 New York State Energy Plan” by April 30, 2014. Climate Change is about planning. One of the most important things you can do is add your voice to create a good plan to address and mitigate Climate Change. The “2014 New York State Energy Plan” falls far from the mark by vague language, pretty pictures of solar panel and wind turbines, and no baselines for a real clean energy future. Are we merely setting the table for more fossil fuels with various gas line infrastructures? This is all explained by Agree New York, who will quickly take you through the process of learning about the energy plan, explaining the problems with the plan, and pointing you towards making your own comment to the plan.

“On January 7, 2014 the New York State Energy Planning Board released the long-awaited draft New York State Energy Plan. Unfortunately, the draft plan does not represent the sea-change in energy policy that New York needs to confront the challenges of global climate change, pollution, public health, or energy affordability. The draft plan sets some ambitious goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but lacks aggressive policies and interim commitments to move the state from fossil fuels and nuclear power to energy efficiency and renewables. It's time for you to let the energy planners know what you think about this proposed plan. Read the draft New York Energy Plan at energyplan.ny.gov. Public Comments are due by April 30, 2014. (Note, this deadline has been extended from March 31, thanks to the efforts of AGREE, Frack Action and 51 other organizations that are demanding a better public comment process.) Visit energyplan.ny.gov/Process/Comments.aspx to submit comments electronically.” from Agree New York.

Also, come to the forum explained above on April 17th. Consider asking your community leader to join you and ask that they take the Climate Smart Community pledge.  This is the way ordinary folks, communities, and an entire state can begin to move towards realistic solutions to Climate Change.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Earth Day 2014: Climate Change probable scenario, Part 6

 

CCDifferentThis is part 6 of a series of essays leading up to a major public discussion of Climate Change in Rochester NY on Earth day. On April 17, 2014 at 7PM, the Rochester Sierra Club will host a community discussion on Climate Change in our region with Mark Lowery, Climate Analyst, and manager of the state’s Climate Smart Communities program. The program is called 2014 Earth Day Forum “Climate Smart Communities:  Let’s Get With the Program." This “Earth Day” event (I know, April 22 is actually Earth Day) will be held at the First Unitarian Church, 220 Winton Road South, Rochester, NY. We hope to reach the entire public—community, faith, and business leaders, students, the unemployed, the employed, young and old, healthy and not so healthy, rich and poor, and folks busy with other stuff —and have an old-fashioned community talk about the world crisis called Climate Change. Join your neighbors in a town hall meeting free from activism, ideology, politics, and denial.

It’s good to hear about movements forward on addressing Climate Change locally. For example, in a recently released study, the Genesee Transportation Committee explores our transportation options in New York State—including “City of Rochester, Streets and Sidewalks” (Page 223)—as the consequences of Climate Change looms.

“Transportation sources such as cars, trucks, commercial aircraft, and railroads release greenhouse gases (GHG) that contribute to climate change. Climate change results principally from buildup of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. Climate change is altering the way people live, as the environment is becoming more variable and communities are forced to plan for the future like never before. More frequent flooding as a result of heavy precipitation events and more frequent heat waves are climate change impacts anticipated to be common to the Northeast Region. Greenhouse gas emissions from transportation sources is one of the largest contributors—in 2011, transportation represented 27% of total U.S. GHG emissions. Local governments are witnessing the physical and fiscal impacts of climate change. Precipitation intensity is projected to increase in many areas, resulting in flooding and other stormwater runoff problems. Fiscally, local governments are spending more on emergency response and retrofitting infrastructure. Long-term planning that accounts for climate change is needed to ensure that money spent today will reduce future risk.” (Page 1, Planning for Transportation and Climate Change: Model Ordinances, Incentives, and Other Resources (March 2014, Genesee Transportation Council)

But the critical question is whether the planning and implementation of these options to address Climate Change are happening fast enough and on a scale that will bring down greenhouse gas concentrations in our atmosphere. If not, it’s just making us feel good and probably keeping us from a sustainable environment. The above study that connects the dots with our transportation system and Climate Change did not make it to our local news, which is to say much of the effect of the study fails to get appreciated by the public.

This is what fails to get appreciated:

Scientists Sound Alarm on Climate Early in his career, a scientist named Mario J. Molina was pulled into seemingly obscure research about strange chemicals being spewed into the atmosphere. Within a year, he had helped discover a global environmental emergency, work that would ultimately win a Nobel Prize. Now, at 70, Dr. Molina is trying to awaken the public to an even bigger risk. He spearheaded a committee of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest general scientific society, which released a stark report Tuesday on global warming. The report warns that the effects of human emissions of heat-trapping gases are already being felt, that the ultimate consequences could be dire, and that the window to do something about it is closing. (March 18, 2014) New York Times

Climate Change is a catastrophe like no other in history. It is difficult to convey the magnitude of this slow-motion disaster in a way easily comprehended by the public. Some think we’ll (eventually) respond to Climate Change the way we did to World War II. That is, when we finally ‘get it’, good ole American ingenuity will kick in and we’ll kick butt.

Rather, Climate Change is unfolding more like another disaster— the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. [Read: “Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America”, by John M. Barry.]

In that preventable disaster, politics, engineering hubris, hope against evidence, and a media hell-bent on comforting people instead of warning them, created a perfect storm. “The flood caused over $400 million in damages and killed 246 people in seven states.” Great Mississippi Flood of 1927

Basically, the Mississippi River was flooding long before the Europeans came to America, but they wanted to farm the rich soil along it anyway. Engineers studied the situation and came up with a variety of options. For a set of complicated reasons, they choose the worst solution of all: a policy based solely on levies all along the great river. Other options, where the power of the river could be released instead of trying to contain it, were off the board. Then in the years before 1927, many heavy rainfall events and flood warnings were ignored until on April 15, 1927, when the heavens unleashed a biblical torrent of rain.

No, the example of the flood disaster is not a perfect model of the Climate Change disaster. But it offers some examples of human behavior in the face of a monumental environmental threat. Folks tend to want to live next to water and farm its rich soil; engineers tend to think they have the answer to an environment they don’t completely understand; politicians tend to push for policies that will get them more power regardless of their merit; and the media tends to pander to the public’s desire that, all evidence to the contrary, everything is OK. Except for a few sage souls, inevitably labeled alarmists, everyone tends to view mounting evidence in the form of near misses (floods nearing, but not exceeding the levee tops) as proof all along the way that our actions are the right ones. Lastly, the idea of living in harmony with a great dangerous environment, instead of forcing it to our will, seems never to have been considered.

Climate Change slams human behavior into new territory, so searching for answers in past disasters or triumphs may prove fruitless. There’s no comparable scenario where our species is warming up the planet by buring up the fossilized remains of all past species, heedless of its effect on ourselves and all present day species. Solving Climate Change is going to require that we exploit all our good attributes and bury our bad ones. Quickly.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Earth Day 2014: rethinking environmental focus, Part 5

 

CCNewLookThis is part 5 of a series of essays leading up to a major public discussion of Climate Change in Rochester NY on Earth day. On April 17, 2014 at 7PM, the Rochester Sierra Club will host a community discussion on Climate Change in our region with Mark Lowery, Climate Analyst, and manager of the state’s Climate Smart Communities program. The program is called 2014 Earth Day Forum “Climate Smart Communities:  Let’s Get With the Program." This “Earth Day” event (I know, April 22 is actually Earth Day) will be held at the First Unitarian Church, 220 Winton Road South, Rochester, NY. We hope to reach the entire public—community, faith, and business leaders, students, the unemployed, the employed, young and old, healthy and not so healthy, rich and poor, and folks busy with other stuff —and have an old-fashioned community talk about the world crisis called Climate Change. Join your neighbors in a town hall meeting free from activism, ideology, politics, and denial.

Many people over the eons have railed against what seemingly looked like obstructionist environmentalists thwarting their notion of progress. Environmentalists in the shape of landowners, ordinary citizens, educators, and folks from all walks of life have fought for forests, pitting themselves against the lumber industry. Others fought against damming rivers to save riverine ecologies from turning rivers and streams into conduits for waste. Thousands over the years have fought many forms of environmental disturbances to the dismay of those anxious to get ahead. However, not to be confused with Luddites, most environmentalists encouraged progress as long as it was viewed through the lens of sustainability. Over the years there began a growing concern among many diverse peoples that progress often meant a reckless disregard for environment. This galvanized environmentalists to fight in the courts, in the streets, and now on the Internet to salvage our birthright—a place where all life, not just our own, could go on.

How’s all that worked out? Well, our streams are suffering from decades of abuse, where there are few fish and the water is not drinkable. Our forests, riddled with roads and highways, have been ravaged of their diversity. More alarming, our species’ way of life is causing the Sixth Great Extinction, or Holocene extinction, an extinction event on par with five other major environmental collapses. This crisis is wonderfully articulated by Elizabeth Kolbert in her new book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History.

Environmentalists have tried to protect our environment by forming influential groups and acquiring powerful allies in government, education, and even business. But the human desire for a better life and an almost infinite resourcefulness to fulfill that desire has not only put most other species in jeopardy but ours too. With Climate Change, there are hints that our own existence (not entirely independent of the environmental services provided by all those other creatures going extinct) might go the way of the dodo also.

This Earth Day might be a good time for environmentalists to reflect on where things are headed. We might ask ourselves: Are local past successes and failures good enough guides for looming worldwide catastrophes? Are there benefits to pooling our resources and concerns providing a united front? Perhaps most importantly, is there a way for environmentalists to get into or around our present media to educate the public on the complicated character of Climate Change?

Without a competent media to objectively report and investigate Climate Change, the crisis of our age, our efforts will be crippled by an uninformed public. Just this week, the Bonn Climate Talks, battles between developing nations and developed nations, climate-protection pledges, all go unmentioned by our local press as the window of opportunity for addressing Climate Change closes. No articles about an all night talkathon by senators trying to change the dialogue about Climate Change in Congress. Nary a word about rolling back flood insurance reforms to appease those with increasingly costly coastal properties, which highlights a major conundrum with addressing Climate Change: When the going gets rough, our politicians opt for the quickest and easiest solution instead of a major overhaul of our flood insurance programs that reflects this new era of warming. With rising waters on our coastlines and more extreme weather coming with Climate Change, we need a way to lessen the threat of home damage and lessen the threat that we won’t be able to provide insurance at all. [See: Senate Vote to Roll Back Flood Insurance Reform Increases Climate Risk, Taxpayer Burdens] Without connecting the dots locally on the worldwide, human-caused crisis of Climate Change, our environmental efforts to address this issue are but a tepid tempest in a teapot. Without some way of getting the message to the people, environmentalists will continue to be unfairly characterized as the problem, not part of the solution.

With Climate Change looming, environmentalists (not to mention the rest of humanity) are entering new territory—even those who have, more or less, predicted that things wouldn’t go right if we mistreated our life support system. Perhaps, we thought that the accumulated actions of our separate groups would add up to a wholesale solution to our environmental problems. This has not worked. The Sixth Great Extinction, the collapse of the ocean ecology, and now Climate Change prove that past and present efforts are not enough to fix the problem. The problem: If nothing else, Climate Change has now defined the nature of all environmental issues because if we don’t make it through the dicey wormhole of Climate Change, all our other efforts will be moot.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Earth Day 2014: addressing Climate Change, Part 4, the big and small

This is part 4 of a series of essays leading up to a major public discussion of Climate Change in Rochester NY on Earth day. On April 17, 2014 at 7PM, the Rochester Sierra Club will host a community discussion on Climate Change in our region with Mark Lowery, Climate Analyst, and manager of the state’s Climate Smart Communities program. The program is called 2014 Earth Day Forum “Climate Smart Communities:  Let’s Get With the Program." This “Earth Day” event (I know, April 22 is actually Earth Day) will be held at the First Unitarian Church, 220 Winton Road South, Rochester, NY. We hope to reach the entire public—community, faith, and business leaders, students, the unemployed, the employed, young and old, healthy and not so healthy, rich and poor, and folks busy with other stuff —and have an old-fashioned community talk about the world crisis called Climate Change. Join your neighbors in a town hall meeting free from activism, ideology, politics, and denial.

When it comes to addressing Climate Change our politicians tend to only think in terms of what is politically feasible. Our economic leaders focus on the feasibility of solving Climate Change through the lens of an economic system almost blinded by loony budgets, crazy cost analysis, and theories that ignore our environment (unless there are lawsuits to be had involving pollution). Getting at the core of Climate Change is getting our greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations to a sustainable level—anything else, is well …, something else.

The window for doing only small things to address Climate Change has closed. Small things, like changing your light bulbs, driving a fuel efficient car, and weekly recycling, are important only if they result in enough change to quickly bring down GHG’s. Thinking that addressing Climate Change should only be accomplished after all the political and economic hurdles are leapt is an upside down view of reality. It is only by doing things that actually cool things down that we have a chance for our way of life to flourish. Those in Pompeii around the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD would have done well to heed the rumbling warnings of Nature rather than squabbling amongst themselves about politics and economics.

With the Arctic melting and our GHG’s rising at a rate ten times faster than the last ten thousand years, we must shift into a mode where our actions have a speedy planetary effect. Big actions are in order. The small stuff must be added to the big stuff. The Golden Rule for human behavior from now on might look something like this: Act in such a way so that when they are added to the accumulated actions of others it results in the quick and fair resolution to Climate Change.

Here are some of my suggested guidelines on Big Actions to address Climate Change before the window of opportunity closes and we are condemned to environmental tipping points we cannot reverse:
  • Vote. Do not vote a climate denier, or someone without a strong climate policy, into office, regardless of their position on other issues.
  • Encourage all environmental groups, politicians, and countries to advocate for a top-down, worldwide, binding agreement on lowering GHG’s. [See: IPCC - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change]
  • Stop Fracking (a method of using undisclosed chemicals to drill a hole in the ground for more GHGs to send up into our atmosphere) and go 100% renewables. Living off the sun and wind is not insane; it’s a real choice: Read: Examining the feasibility of converting New York State’s all-purpose energy infrastructure to one using wind, water, and sunlight
  • Read and get others to read climate studies; stop listening to media that don’t report reality. Especially read ClimAid if you live in New York. Bumper-sticker talking points on Climate Change are not enough to understand the crisis of our age.
  • Encourage High Speed Rail and Active Transportation instead of throwing more public money at our present transportation infrastructure that’s too fossil-fuel intensive and costly to boot.
  • Get your community to sign up to Climate Smart Communities and come to the 2014 Earth Day Forum "Climate Smart Communities: Let’s Get With the Program", April 17, 2014 5:30pm: Environmental Fair; 7-9pm: Program at the First Unitarian Church, 220 Winton Road South, Rochester, NY. Talk about Climate Change; get engaged with the crisis of our age.
  • Become a citizen scientist to help monitor what’s happening to our environment and help provide more robust data for climate modeling.
  • Conduct more climate studies to fill in holes in our knowledge. Check out these amazing photos of the Finger Lakes with the smaller lakes completely frozen over by this year’s whacky weather. These lakes will be profoundly affected by Climate Change, but few studies exist. Each lake will react differently to Climate Change. There should be a dramatic push to undertake more climate studies on the Finger Lakes and surrounding region.
  • Refrain from nuclear power (which is too hot to for us to handle) and most geoengineering schemes—except planting trees. Plant as many trees as you like. Opportunity Available to Support Conservation Tree Planting in New York State (March 6, 2014) The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)
  • Get your government to get moving on infrastructure fixes and updates geared towards minimizing and addressing Climate Change.
  • Get meteorologists talking about Climate Change. If you think weather prediction is problematic, Climate prediction will be a doozy. It’ll be more than a parade that gets rained on if the projections are wrong. We’re going to have to plan our future based on climate predictions and free it up as much as possible from politics, economic jitters, and ideology, or else our predictions will be completely delusional.
  • Get wealthy Climate Change deniers out of American politics. Move to amend Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and gets some of ‘we the people’ back into it.
  • Stop the XL Keystone Pipeline “Stop the fuse to the largest carbon bomb on the planet.”
  • Morph social media into something useful. If environmentalists were to direct the energy that our youth pour into social media towards Climate Change, instead of inadvertently pushing corporate agendas, we would have a society tuned in to the most important crisis of our age. Corporations, the film industry, and the fashion industry, have learned how to leverage Youth Power and social media to make big bucks for themselves; why can’t scientists and environmentalists get our kids to focus on something important to Generation Like’s continued existence?  Just saying… Think of all this as you watch this insightful program “Generation Like”:  Generation Like | Frontline | PBS 
  • Get politics out of our Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) so that projections of future catastrophes include Climate Change predictions. When your property is destroyed by extreme weather due to Climate Change, you’re going to need a well-funded FEMA to help you pick up the pieces. Get your elected officials to fix this:
FEMA: Caught Between Climate Change and Congress The agency has needed Congress to approve extra disaster relief funds every year over roughly the past decade to handle mounting climate-related damage. Thanks to climate change, extreme weather disasters have hammered the United States with increasing frequency in recent years—from drought and wildfires to coastal storms and flooding. It is perhaps surprising, then, that the U.S. agency in charge of preparing for and responding to these disasters, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), doesn't account for climate change in most of its budget planning and resource allocation or in the National Flood Insurance Program it administers. (January 27, 2014) Inside Climate News

You get the picture. As long as you’re thinking about addressing Climate Change, think big.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Earth Day 2014: addressing Climate Change in time, Part 3, the window

 

CCWindowThis is part 3 of a series of essays leading up to a major public discussion of Climate Change in Rochester NY on Earth day. On April 17, 2014 at 7PM, the Rochester Sierra Club will host a community discussion on Climate Change in our region with Mark Lowery, Climate Analyst, and manager of the state’s Climate Smart Communities program. The program is called 2014 Earth Day Forum “Climate Smart Communities:  Let’s Get With the Program." This “Earth Day” event (I know, April 22 is actually Earth Day) will be held at the First Unitarian Church, 220 Winton Road South, Rochester, NY. We hope to reach the entire public—community, faith, and business leaders, students, the unemployed, the employed, young and old, healthy and not so healthy, rich and poor, and folks busy with other stuff —and have an old-fashioned community talk about the world crisis called Climate Change. Join your neighbors in a town hall meeting free from activism, ideology, politics, and denial.

Recently a radio program began a segment on Climate Change: “When most people think of Climate Change, they think of science ….” But to say that Climate Change is only a matter of science is like saying a murder trial where a gun is the murder weapon is merely a matter of ballistics. Climate Change, although proven by science and given to the laws of physics, is a problem of human behavior. That is, Climate Change is a problem of how people’s behavior affects the warming of the planet—hence, accelerated anthropomorphic Climate Change. Burn fossil fuels to get around, and the place heats up.

It’s critical to that we recognize our responsibility for addressing Climate Change, and not delude ourselves into believing that it’s an indifferent scientific phenomenon remorselessly unraveling while we try to get on with our lives. Climate Change has been happening since the 1850’s when it first began spiking concentrations of greenhouse gas (GHGs) from human industrialization (280ppm) to the present (399+ppm). This warming is affecting so many environmental issues that many experts believe we are quickly losing our window of opportunity to adequately address this problem:

'Window of Opportunity' to Curb Climate Change Quickly Closing: Report |UNEP says world likely to 'lock in' worst effects of climate change at current rate The likelihood of limiting the world's overall temperature to a 2-degree Celsius rise and avoiding the worst effects of climate change has become "ever more elusive" and will not be possible without immediate and drastic measures on a global scale, a new report by the United Nations Environmental Program warned Tuesday. If countries stick to their current strategies, or lack thereof, for reducing greenhouse gases, levels will still be eight to 12 billion tons greater than suggested levels in 2020, according to UNEP's Emissions Gap Report 2013, which incorporated 44 scientific groups across 17 countries and analyzed countries' current pledges for emission cuts. (November 5, 2013 Common Dreams)

The various excuses for why humanity has failed to address Climate Change—the inconvenience of it all, the fear of big government, and the huge expenses involved--are the very results that will become more likely the longer we wait. The chances we might have had to slowly modify our economy and everything else to a more sustainable trajectory are going to be hijacked by desperate and limited options (think geoengineering or the proliferation of nuclear power) that come with a closing window of opportunity.

One of the conclusions James Burke came to in Connections (TV series) was that humanity has always been at the mercy of the intriguing way human inventions haphazardly evolved. Until now. Today, instead of jumping on to latest new thing, we have the information and perspective to choose what inventions we will encourage and those that we should discourage.

Both geoengineering and the call for nuclear energy to solve Climate Change rest on the assumption that humanity won’t shift to a sustainable way of life in time and a false argument about science and nuclear power. Geoengineering ideas, like creating islands of algae three times the size of Texas to suck up carbon dioxide from our atmosphere, would in themselves be major disturbances to our delicately balanced environment.

Hi-tech fixes for climate change, fish tracking Growing marine algae to solve society’s food, energy and climate change problems and a revolutionary tool to track marine fish populations are two topics Cornell oceanographer Charles Greene will discuss during presentations at the Ocean Sciences Meeting, Feb. 23-28 at the Hawaii Convention Center, Honolulu. The first presentation is a tutorial talk about the challenges facing society due to man-made climate change and ocean acidification, both fed by the accumulation of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels. (February 20, 2014) Cornell Chronicle Online

And while we trust climate scientists to examine the repercussions of GHGs trapped in our atmosphere, that does not mean that a climate scientist is an overall environmental expert, or an expert on how nuclear power will be managed, engineered, placed, paid for, insured, or monitored by various political institutions and agencies whose track record is fraught with malfeasance and disasters. The argument that because environmentalists trust scientists in their particular area of expertise, does not mean scientists should replace a healthy moral concern about the oftentimes slipshod vagaries (pollution, the loss of biodiversity, and a whole lot more) of human development in a vast planetary environment that we but only partially understand.

Former climate scientist and hero of action on Climate Change, Dr. Hansen’s draft report is a critical read on our understanding of an important juncture on Climate Change solutions:

I also recommend that the public stop providing funds to antinuke environmental groups. Send a letter saying why you are withdrawing your support. Their position is based partly on fear of losing support from anti-nuke donors, and they are not likely to listen to anything other than financial pressure. If they are allowed to continue to spread misinformation about nuclear power, it is unlikely that we can stop expanded hydro-fracking, continued destructive coal mining, and irreversible climate change. (Page 14, Renewable Energy, Nuclear Power and Galileo: Do Scientists Have a Duty to Expose Popular Misconceptions? James E. Hansen

However, I must respectfully disagree on Hansen’s position on nuclear power. There are too many unknown unknowns about the workings of our planetary biology and information lost on our way to development for anyone to speak with complete authority on the proper workings of our planetary environment. The nuclear industry is rife with sloppy work and a great distain for public concerns about a technology we can barely keep under control. Environmentalists distrust geoengineering and nuclear power for good reasons.

What will happen, I suspect, as the people and their governments continue to prevaricate on addressing Climate Change is that it will fall on our public servants to do the best they can. As Climate Change is going to cause major local disruptions to our infrastructure (energy, transportation, telecommunications, water, and sewage), they will have be addressed and anticipated by those whose job it is to do so. Without widespread public support, where the media educates the public on why these measures need to be taken, Climate Change will remain in the fuzzy background of intellectual paralysis as the consequences of it will have to be dealt with in an ad hoc and ultimately ineffective way. One of those ineffectual ways will be to shift the burden onto the institutions who actually maintain our infrastructures—until the burden of Climate Change becomes too much.

NY State Expects All Utilities to Prep for Climate Change In a major settlement that could have far-reaching implications nationwide, New York's largest utility is now responsible for preparing for a future of extreme weather, including the impacts of climate change. The state now expects all of the utilities it regulates to consider how sea level rise, extreme weather and other possible effects related to climate change will affect their operations and reliability as they make future construction plans and budgets. It's a model that experts say other states could use to address the ravages of climate change.  The expectations were set forth as part of a Feb. 20 settlement between the New York Public Service Commission (NYPSC) and Consolidated Edison, the New York City area’s largest electric utility, which approved ConEd’s new electricity, steam and natural gas rates for the next several years. (February 25, 2014) Climate Central

It would be far better if ‘we the people’ come to a consensus on Climate Change and worked out top-down, worldwide, binding agreements to address and mitigate Climate Change—rather than pretend it doesn’t exist and burden those charged with protecting us to do far more than they are currently equipped to do.

With or without their hands tied behind their backs, our public authorities will have to address Climate Change. It’s their job. I guess our assumption is that they’ll do so within the window of opportunity and not bother us with the gory details or the bill.  

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Earth Day 2014: Getting your head around Climate Change, Part 2, the problem

 

CCMotherThis is part 2 of a series of essays leading up to a major public discussion of Climate Change in Rochester NY on Earth day. On April 17, 2014 at 7PM, the Rochester Sierra Club will host a community discussion on Climate Change in our region with Mark Lowery, Climate Analyst, and manager of the state’s Climate Smart Communities program. The program is called 2014 Earth Day Forum “Climate Smart Communities: Let’s Get With the Program." This “Earth Day” event (I know, April 22 is actually Earth Day) will be held at the First Unitarian Church, 220 Winton Road South, Rochester, NY. We hope to reach the entire public—community, faith, and business leaders, students, the unemployed, the employed, young and old, healthy and not so healthy, rich and poor, and folks busy with other stuff —and have an old-fashioned community talk about the world crisis called Climate Change. Join your neighbors in a town hall meeting free from activism, ideology, politics, and denial.

However your favorite group may frame Climate Change, it is the mother of all problems. It is unlike any other problem humans and all life on this planet have endured thus far. It is a problem where one species (our own) is putting all life on Earth through a wormhole, a possible collapse where none but a few hardy bacteria might emerge on the other side. For some reason or another [20 Excuses US public uses to dismiss the urgency of Climate Change], most of us in our Rochester region don’t appreciate the urgency of Climate; we feel no alarm. I know, this January we almost froze our butts off here, but in Australia, Argentina, Austria, China, France, Spain and Switzerland—not so much. To get a sense of the big picture, check out this one-minute animation of “Amount of old ice in Arctic, 1987-2013”by NOAA.

Climate Change is not a problem where you can simply vote the solution into office, or send in the marines, rage against the fossil fuel companies, change your light bulbs, attend a rally, browbeat your representatives online, travel less, eat less, recycle more, increase your taxes, or have fewer kids—though certainly these would help tremendously. Your government already knows Climate Change is happening, and they know about it in exhaustive detail. They’ve got lots of solutions. But these solutions aren’t going to work unless you and the majority of humankind are on board. A few angry activists with signs and a lot of passion for their planet isn’t enough.

Here are some reasons why Climate Change is the mother of all problems and needs your attention—and why in order to understand what to do, you have to get your head around the kind of issue this is:

  • The US military is spread around the world ready to address major conflicts. Wars--big ones or a lot of small ones at the same time--begin over things like water shortages (caused in part by Climate Change). These wars could quickly overwhelm our financial resources rendering us incapable of addressing other issues like extreme floods of our own.
  • Unlike the threat of nuclear war, where a small mistake or misunderstanding between warring countries could end the world as we know it, Climate Change unfolds even if we do nothing, if we continue business as usual.
  • Climate Change is occurring as the accumulated abuse from our past environmental problems are catching up with us: The Sixth Great Extinction, the collapse of our ocean’s biota, ocean acidification, and toxic pollution of our air, water, and land.
  • Ad hoc solutions won’t work for a worldwide crisis dependant on bringing greenhouse gas (GHGs) concentration to a level we evolved and thrived on in the Holocene. Only top-down, worldwide binding agreements to bring down GHGs to a sustainable concentration level (many say 350ppm, as opposed to our present 398ppm) will truly address the problem. That will take unprecedented cooperation among nations still mostly concerned about short-term self-interests.
  • The warming that has occurred since the 1850’s is ten time faster than any point in the last 10,000 years. This means very few plants and animals can adapt to this warming quickly enough to survive.
  • There is no reason to believe that the present economic system that got us into this mess can carbon-tax or greenize-its-transportation out of this mess. For too many centuries, our economic models have treated our environment as an externality. This gap is too big to fill using our modern dysfunctional economic models.
  • There is no example we can point to where we have demonstrated that we can muster the will on a large enough scale to turn warming around. It would mean that all of us on this planet would have to change how we consume, what we consume, what we build, and how we get around.
  • There are a lot of unknown unknowns (including tipping points whose consequences we don’t understand) about how our planet’s environment works, plus centuries of information missing about when we began drastically changing it. So we are trying to plan for a problem we still don’t completely understand—and the deniers are no help.
  • There are innumerable legal issues and national boundaries limiting our ability to act comprehensively on an issue that is ignorant of arbitrary human borders.
  • While energy needs grow, and our population grows, there is little indication that folks will accept lower energy consumption despite the cause-and-effect relationship between energy use and Climate Change. Even if we find more efficient and cleaner energy, this may only enable more vehicles and gadgets that require more energy rather than an overall decrease in per-capita energy consumption. We might not be able to grow ourselves out of this problem, and that may cause many to lose interest.
  • Climate Change is not a problem that we can high-tech or engineer around because we have perhaps centuries of warming that will play out even if we stop more GHGs right now. Adaption means we will have to undergo a lot of extreme weather and do so in a way that doesn’t further exacerbate the condition of the poor, animals and plants—Climate Justice. Even if we invented something that would suck carbon dioxide right out of the air, we’d still have a major problem.
  • Most politicians will balk at difficult adaptation and mitigation strategies. Even if they succeeded, the public (without adequate information) will vote them out and install someone who’ll pander to their comfort level—as has happened recently in Japan, Canada, and Australia.
  • It is unlikely that endless growth, a tenant of our present economic system, can survive on a finite planet. As a matter of fact, FEMA is already reeling from trying to pay of Hurricane Sandy. Not only is our ability to prepare for Climate Change in our telecommunications, transportation, and water infrastructure in jeopardy, we might not be able to afford the insurance bill for Climate Change.
  • In the past, a relatively few environmentalist have helped address some of the localized symptoms—accumulated toxins, floods, loss of forests, lead poisoning, and much more—of environmental abuse. But with Climate Change, everyone will have to work on the fundamental causes of environmental problems. Only lowering GHGs will solve Climate Change—it cannot be reinterpreted or framed in any other way that will lead to an adequate solution.
  • Climate Change has a time limit. We have avoided taking worldwide comprehensive action and that has only made the warming accelerate. But past a certain point, say 6C increase since the 1850’s, we may reach an upper limit where no actions will work.
  • Climate Change makes our previous philosophical values questionable. What will Freedom, Justice, and Equality for all actually mean if surviving through the wormhole of Climate Change trumps everything we have come to cherish? We should be figuring out what values we have the potential to save and work on those and cut our losses with a lot of values that we thought we believed in. For example, many of our wildlife may not adapt quickly enough to save or put in a zoo because we won’t have the resources to put their environment back together again once it’s gone. We might have already gone past the point to save much wildlife—except as artifacts in a zoo.
  • There are no winners in Climate Change. Anyone or any corporation that thinks they will flourish as Climate Change moves our planetary environment towards collapse hasn’t thought through all the implications. Climate Change cannot be segmented; it is a continuum where breaking it apart (say, into something quantifiable like air quality or water quality) only blinds us from the big picture, since solving it will be ‘all of the above.’ The rich will still need clean air and water. Corporations will still need a healthy workforce. Food production will only benefit a little from more carbon and heat. After that, the insects and weeds take over.
  • Even if a large proportion of us work full-throttle on adapting to and mitigating Climate Change, a relatively few polluting nations can thwart the efforts of all.
  • Climate Change, unlike the world wars, will have to be waged decade after decade, perhaps century after century—if we can keep the major tipping points at bay.
  • Many of the rich and powerful who will fight the efforts of everyone else every step of the way—which may render the efforts of the rest null and void.

If we seize on solutions to Climate Change without seeing the big picture, we may fail altogether to address and mitigate Climate Change. Ad hoc solutions, ones that aren’t comprehensive enough or waste precious time and resources, may doom potentially workable strategies. On the other hand, ‘business as usual’ will inevitably speed up our arrival at the point of no return.

Instead of adopting a grand strategy to solve Climate Change, we might have to change who we are in order to solve this problem. We have no issues in the past to compare with the issue coming at us.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Earth Day 2014: Engaging the public on Climate Change, Part 1, the media

 

CCEarthDay2014On April 17, 2014 at 7PM, the Rochester Sierra Club will host a community discussion on Climate Change in our region with Mark Lowery, Climate Analyst, and manager of the state’s Climate Smart Communities program. This “Earth Day” event (I know, April 22 is actually Earth Day) will be held at the First Unitarian Church, 220 Winton Road South, Rochester, NY. We hope to reach the entire public—community, faith, and business leaders, students, the unemployed, the employed, young and old, healthy and not so healthy, rich and poor, and folks busy with other stuff —and have an old-fashioned community talk about the world crisis called Climate Change. Join your neighbor in a town hall meeting free from activism, ideology, politics, and denial.

Through a series of essays before this Earth Day event, I will spell out why it is so important for the public, not just a few activists, to be engaged in this discussion. This first essay concerns the failure of our media to adequately inform the public of this worldwide crisis, which feeds the illusion that Climate Change is only one among many special interest issues. Though a majority of Americans support climate and energy policies, this is not reflected in media coverage. See Study: 83 Percent Want Action on Global Warming, Even With 'Economic Costs' from US World and News Report (February 12, 2014): “A large majority of Americans say 'the U.S. should make an effort to reduce global warming,' even if it impinges the economy”.

A good example of poor media coverage on Climate Change is the failure by local media to put this present cold snap in the proper context of a world that is warming. Just last year, USA Today (a Gannett company, like the D&C) remarked that “Lake Ontario saw the most dramatic decrease with an 88% drop in ice coverage” … “since the 1970’s”. (Shrinking ice worries Great Lakes scientists) But this article only talks about the present massive ice cover, which is an anomaly as Climate Change continues to influence the Great Lakes: Freeze pushes Great Lakes ice cover toward '79 record  (February 14, 2014) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle). It is as if the previous five decades of shrinking ice cover never existed. Or, if the local media were to distinguish meteorology from climatology, they should see that the trajectory for Great Lakes ice cover is for less ice: 

Seasonal ice cover has decreased on the Great Lakes at a rate of 8 percent per decade over the past 35 years; models suggest this will lead to increased lake effect snow in the next couple of decades through greater moisture availability (Burnett et al., 2003). By mid-century, lake-effect snow will generally decrease as temperatures below freezing become less frequent (Kunkel et al., 2002). (Page 3, Report 11-18 Response to Climate Change in New York State (ClimAID)

The loss of ice cover (or snowpack and snow cover for that matter) will have profound effects on our local environment. Cincinnati’s local media (though, not our local media) doesn’t misrepresent Great Lakes ice cover and Climate Change: “Great Lakes become nearly covered with ice” (February 14, 2014) WKRC Cincinnati) There will be more water evaporation which will cause lower lake levels, no matter how many local battles there are to get the government to put lake levels at the most popular levels. This is information that the public needs to know to prepare properly for infrastructural changes that will cost of lot of money and need to be sustained through election year after election year.

My experience working to advance alternative transportation (walking and bicycling) and more recycling as local adaptation strategies for adapting to and mitigating Climate Change has been met with an indifferent public. Actions, such as waking and recycling, are understood in our region to be environmentally friendly, but not as part of a coordinated effort to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs). Climate Change is an issue that cannot be adequately addressed by a few activists with good intentions. The problem is too big; the vast majority of the public around the world needs to be engaged. Without a media that understands its critical responsibility to provide this public service, a service required in a warming world, the public will continue to think we can simply ‘green’ our way out of this issue with new technologies, fighting the big polluters, and donating to special causes. Only ‘all of the above’ and more will work.

I have observed that many climate studies, community plans on Climate Change, and even the efforts of environmental groups do include Climate Change communications. But rather than given top priority, communicating the pervasive threat of Climate Change and the need for public education is given almost no financial allotment, little staffing, and usually only targeted to special audiences. The need to raise public awareness about Climate Change exists as the weakest link in any climate plan because the media has not done their job. Local media seems far more interested in merging with larger and larger media corporations, which provides less news about unpopular issues like Climate Change.

So, this Earth Day, as our Arctic melts and so disrupts its climate system that it dips down and disrupts our climate patterns, come and talk about Climate Change. There will be a short presentation on Climate Change and how the state understands this to impact our region. Then, you and hundreds of your neighbors, the media, and community leaders can share concerns and ideas on this most important issue ever faced by humanity. Just like back in the day when we came together to face common threats.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Climate Change and our future challenged in the courts

 

CCIllegalSome of our greatest environmental victories have occurred in the courts. The enactment of the 1963 Clean Air Act in the United States has allowed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to sue carbon polluters. Sadly, that constitutes the EPA’s power in addressing Climate Change. There are many more court cases—including those that stopped lead going into our gasoline, stopped the destruction of endangered species, protected our water, and many other environmental victories. One gets taken to court and sued (maybe jailed) for dumping toxic chemicals into the public’s drinking water supply. We are a litigious society.

Environmental groups, now almost as thickly populated with lawyers as the corporations they battle, have become more than the watchdogs of our precious environment; they have become watchdogs with a considerable bite. (Read: Foes of Keystone XL Begin New Legal Battle Against State Department] Many companies understand the power of these groups to stovepipe environmental violations to the media and then to the courts, making polluters think twice about sloppy environmental practices that could ruin a year’s worth of profit. Increasingly, companies are becoming aware of their environmental responsibilities, so much so that they seek guidance of all sorts to make sure they do no harm. Someday we may even witness a universal standard like the ISO 14000 become the norm and require universal green certification for all business practices. The consequences of violating environmental laws can be so burdensome (ask BP about their legal struggles after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill) that most corporations will do quite a bit to avoid the legal consequences, including adopting the best environmental practices.

Let’s be clear: Corporations came to this environmental epiphany kicking and screaming though our legal system not because they suddenly appreciated that our environment is our life support system. (Check this quote from the business sector just this week: "But there needs to be a balance that allows manufacturers to thrive." as expressed in this article: “New smog limits could squeeze Chicago

However, the door swings both ways. Our laws, a system of rules and guidelines which are enforced at various levels of government, provide many a polluter a chance to win in the courts and gainsay our environment. That’s because our laws don’t necessarily tend towards the protection of our environment. Our laws, including some really bad ones (laws helped slavery endure for far too long), are neutral on our environment. If a community believes that it desperately needed a very polluting industry’s jobs, it’s quite likely that any environmental laws would be rendered toothless.

From this recent discussion, The Year Ahead in Environment and Energy, with top environmental reporters around the world chiming in, one sees continual battles in the courts on Climate Change ahead. For one point, although brought to its knees in the US, king coal isn’t remotely dead. Coal is abundant and the economic mainstay of many economies around the world. Coal for energy, the reporters say, will continue to thrive, regardless of the courts, regardless of the deadly affect burning this dirty fuel has on our planet. (For example, China, immune from our courts, imports 15% of its coal and that is more coal burnt for fuel than the rest of the world combined.)

Even what environmental laws we have may get complicated further if this new trade deal slips into existence and relinquishes our own sovereignty over our own laws:

Fast Tracking TPP Would Mean More Corporate Control of Our Democracy Do you care about having access to local and sustainably produced food or protecting your drinking water? Are you concerned about corporate influence distorting our elections? If you answered yes to either of these questions, you should be worried about legislation Senator Max Baucus and Rep. Dave Camp recently introduced that would grant the Obama administration fast-track authority. Those measures would allow the White House to quickly push the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and another trade deal with Europe through Congress with a simple up or down vote. Fast-track authority would give the Obama administration the unchecked power to promote future trade deals. Those pacts would allow corporations to challenge any democratically enacted federal, state or local laws and regulations that would limit their narrow financial interests. The TPP and the U.S.-EU Free Trade Agreement are really corporate power grabs disguised as trade agreements containing provisions that would undermine basic consumer rights, including issues related to our food, water and local sovereignty. (February 3, 2014) EcoWatch

Rather than any great strides towards adapting to Climate Change -- major infrastructure changes or policies for mitigation that greatly reduce greenhouse gases (GHG’s) emissions -- our court dockets will be filled with pro-polluters fighting tooth and nail in our courts to keep doing what they do. Lawyers will get rich. The media will have showy legal battles to showcase. GHG concentrations in our atmosphere will rise.

This sparring in the courts, the back and forth haggling between perceived economic forces and advocates for a healthy environment, seems quite consistent with the natural competitiveness of our own nature and Nature’s nature for that matter. Except that this legal tension in our courts over our environment is not sustainable for us. If we continue in this way, fighting every bad chemical unleashed into our environment and every smoke stack spewing out greenhouse gases, we’ll cook ourselves, even in our air-conditioned courtrooms.

There isn’t enough time to fight every environmental assault in the courts as we have done in the past. However lucrative for lawyers and successful for environmentalists, past a certain point, say 4C or 6C rise in Climate Change, fighting individual cases of environmental abuse in our courts won’t matter. The laws of physics trump our legal system. No lawyer or judge or cleverly-written law can stop a force six hurricane from pummeling your coastline. The laws of physics say if we don’t get our global temperatures down to a sustainable level (what is believed by many experts to be 350parts per million of carbon dioxide) then you lose—and you don’t get to come back and appeal the decision.

We are going to have to find another way to shift to a sustainable existence rather than daily skirmishes in our courts. They are but distractions along the road to perdition, not where life will flourish.

It is interesting to me that our best and our brightest environmental reporters seem far more interested in the legality of environmental practices than their effect on their own survival system. Were this not so, and environmental reporters truly appreciated the predicament Climate Change puts us in, they might not be so inclined to focus solely on the judgments of our courts on environmental issues, and more disposed to heed the continual warnings of a way of life that is not sustainable.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Climate Change, the second phase

 

CCPhaseIn his State of the Union Address last week, President Obama stated that ‘…the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact.” Yet many folks in our country are not convinced that the debate is over. Some of those still spewing uncertainty on an issue long settled by world climate scientists are powerful folks with serious political clout. They don’t intend to give an inch on what is for them an ideological issue and is for us actual reality.

Unlike the other issues hijacked by rich and powerful merchants of doubt—the dangers of cigarette (including second-hand) smoking to one’s health, acid rain, ozone layer thinning, and DDT (Read “Merchants of Doubt”)--Climate Change threatens to quickly overwhelm our ability to sustain our environment, which despite having been rendered an externality by economists, is our life support system.

While most agree that efforts to address Climate Change must include a political strategy to work around and through obstructionists, many environmental groups think the President has gone too far in appeasing the fossil fuel corporations. Obama’s “all of the above” energy policy, which translates into a “have your cake and eat it too” policy by increasing both renewable energy and fossil fuels, is pure folly:

Jekyll And Hyde: The Two Sides Of Obama’s Energy Strategy In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Obama once again tried to reconcile the split personality of his energy policy. On the one hand, the President clearly stated his Dr. Jekyll commitment to cutting carbon pollution and fighting climate change. But not before he pushed his Mr. Hyde expansion of domestic fossil fuel production, starting early in the speech, where he touted this success: “More oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world –- the first time that’s happened in nearly twenty years.” (January 28, 2014) Think Progress/Climate Progress

Obama’s action on reducing greenhouse gases (GHGs), which may or may not be accurately portrayed by his boast that “the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth”, is nevertheless a leap forward from his predecessors. [You can fact check the President’s carbon claims here, but that still won’t cover carbon emissions from CAFOs, Fracking, and existing natural gas pipeline leaks.] Especially heartening is the possibility that he may be able to “…continue that progress with a smarter tax policy that stops giving $4 billion a year to fossil fuel industries that don’t need it, so that we can invest more in fuels of the future that do.” Hurrah! Even though it has long reached advanced adulthood, the fossil fuel industry is still suckling on our shriveling tax base.

The President said nothing about whether he would stop the XL Keystone Pipeline through the US. A decision to approve piping this dirty fossil fuel through our country and into our local gas tanks alone would negate most what of he’s accomplished so far. But even if Obama stops the pipeline dead in its tracks, he will ‘own’ the Climate Change issue only until 2016. Then it will be another American president’s problem.

The first phase in understanding Climate Change has come through the collected work of scientists, intrepid reporters and editors, environmentalists, writers, teachers, business leaders, bloggers and heroic political leaders who have brought us to this point, a point where Climate Change is understood to be a world crisis. No small feat that. Wherever you stand on this issue, no one who calls themselves educated can at this phase be unaware of the science behind Climate Change and the level of gravity it implies.

Climate Change, the second phase: Beyond Obama the possible election of a leader heedless of Climate Change and willing to cut back what meager efforts have been accomplished thus far is likely the next dramatic phase in what portends to be a long slog towards a planetary solution to this problem. Already in Japan, Australia, and Canada, previous measures to tax carbon and move towards producing less greenhouse gases have been thrown back. Just this week a less than robust European Union (the leaders in addressing Climate Change) effort has caved into economic and political realities:

New EU climate plans not good enough, say the experts The European Union's new proposals are simply inadequate for a climate pioneer like Europe, say the experts. Many suspect that big business is getting preferential treatment. For years Europe has been seen as a world leader on climate issues, but economic constraints are now hitting environmental policy. That was the subtext of José Manuel Barroso's presentation on Wednesday (23.01.2014) as the head of the EU Commission outlined proposals for new climate goals for the bloc. For Arthur Neslen, a European energy policy expert and journalist with the EU affairs website EurActiv, the proposals are disappointing, but understandable. "It's politically safe to propose the minimum, most painless, climate protection solution for industry now," Neslen said. "But, ultimately, we are just storing up problems for down the road." (January 23, 2014) DW

Here’s the question for this next phase of Climate Change: How in this world are we going to sustain our commitment to those who come after us if we undercut what little gains we’ve made every time there’s an election? It’s taken us several decades since we began to think seriously about this issue to get where we are—and that’s still a place where manmade GHGs are steadily accumulating and extreme weather events are increasing.

What is it that will keep us focused on bringing down GHGs year after year, decade after decade, election cycle after election cycle, until it’s sustainable—and keep it there? What is there inside us that we can muster to become the kind of species we need to be to do that? Whatever that is, we’d better figure it out soon.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Frigid winter masks Climate Change in Rochester

 

CCReportsProbably the last thing worrying most folks in Rochester is Climate Change. This winter has been dangerously cold and threatens to worsen. But the big picture, which is hard to see in our region unless you’re an expert on climate and our environment, is that our region is warming up, just like the rest of the world. As a matter of fact:

Long-term global warming trend sustained in 2013NASA scientists say 2013 tied with 2009 and 2006 for the seventh warmest year since 1880, continuing a long-term trend of rising global temperatures. With the exception of 1998, the 10 warmest years in the 134-year record have all occurred since 2000, with 2010 and 2005 ranking as the warmest years on record. NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York, which analyzes global surface temperatures on an ongoing basis, released an updated report Tuesday on temperatures around the globe in 2013. The comparison shows how Earth continues to experience temperatures warmer than those measured several decades ago. (January 21, 2014) NASA Global Climate Change

So, while we’re braving this really cold winter, let’s see what the experts are saying about Climate Change affecting our region NOW. From the over 50 climate studies I’ve sifted through, Climate Change in our region expresses itself in myriad ways. What jumps out at me from the information are not dramatic droughts, floods, or heat waves—as is happening in Australia right now. What jumps out at me from the data below is the breath of changes going on below our public’s ability to perceive them. Without the aid of climate and environmental experts and a responsible media, we are blind to this world crisis.

What’s most chilling of all is that none of these presently observed indicators of Climate Change for our region is decreasing; nor are we doing anything on the level that would make them do so:

Annual temperatures increase: “Annual temperatures have been rising throughout the state since the start of the 20th century. State average temperatures have increased by approximately 0.6ºF per decade since 1970, with winter warming exceeding 1.1ºF per decade.” (Page 16, Report 11-18 Response to Climate Change in New York State (ClimAID) funded by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (2011))

Increase in intensive precipitation events: “Intense precipitation events (heavy downpours) have increased in recent decades.” (Page 16, Report 11-18 Response to Climate Change in New York State (ClimAID) funded by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (2011))

Bird population shifts: “Analysis of four decades of Christmas Bird Count observations reveal that birds seen in North America during the first weeks of winter have moved dramatically northward—toward colder latitudes—over the past four decades.” (Page 3, Birds and Climate Change Ecological Disruption in Motion, Audubon, February 2009)

Annual temperatures, reduced snowpack, earlier ice break up, and more: “Northeast: Since 1970, the annual average temperature in the Northeast has increased by 2°F, with winter temperatures rising twice this much.4 Warming has resulted in many other climate-related changes, including: More frequent days with temperatures above 90°F; A longer growing season; Increased heavy precipitation; Less winter precipitation falling as snow and more as rain; Reduced snowpack; Earlier breakup of winter ice on lakes and rivers; Earlier spring snowmelt resulting in earlier peak river flows; Rising sea surface temperatures and sea level” (Page 107, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States | The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP)  2009)

Increase in lake effect snowfall: “There is also evidence of an increase in lake-effect snowfall along and near the southern and eastern shores of the Great Lakes since 1950.” (Page 38, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States | The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP)  2009)

Increase plant frost damage: “A seemingly paradoxical impact of warming is that it appears to be increasing the risk of plant frost damage. Mild winters and warm, early springs, which are beginning to occur more frequently as climate warms, induce premature plant development and blooming, resulting in exposure of vulnerable young plants and plant tissues to subsequent late-season frosts.” (Page 73-74, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States | The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP)  2009)

Plant growth and decomposition affected: “Ecosystem processes, such as those that control growth and decomposition, have been affected by climate change.” (Page 79, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States | The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP)  2009)

Species shifting locations: “Large-scale shifts have occurred in the ranges of species and the timing of the seasons and animal migration, and are very likely to continue.” (Page 80, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States | The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP)  2009)

Streamflow changes: “Historical data for rivers in the Northeast show changes in the amount and timing of flows. Over the last 100 years, average annual streamflow increased at 22 of 27 sites on rivers in New England (Hodgkins and Dudley 2005). In addition, peak flows came earlier. Streamflow data from 11 rural rivers show that high spring flow (as measured by the date on which half of the water discharged from January through May has passed the gage) is occurring 1 to 2 weeks earlier now than in the 1930s (Hodgkins et al. 2003). Average March flows have increased and average May flows have decreased, lowering the May peak and making flows more uniform during the snowmelt season. These changes are consistent with the impact of reductions in the snowpack and warmer late winter temperatures. Hartley and Dingman (1993) reached similar conclusions. They found that maximum river flows in watersheds across the region occurred approximately 5.4 days earlier for each 1.8 °F (1 °C) increase in average annual temperatures. Peak river flows on most of the streams analyzed also increased over the past 75 years. “(Page 11, Changing Climate, Changing Forests: The Impacts of Climate Change on Forests of the Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada, U.S. Forest Service, July 2012)

Amphibians responding to Climate Change: “All amphibians in the Northeast require moist habitats, and so all are potentially sensitive to the changes in temperature and precipitation associated with climate change. One study suggests that amphibians are already responding, with some species calling 10 to 13 days earlier than they were at the beginning of the 20th century (Gibbs and Breisch 2001).” (Page 31, Changing Climate, Changing Forests: The Impacts of Climate Change on Forests of the Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada, U.S. Forest Service, July 2012)

Invasive species thriving: “The northerly spread and ultimate range of the adelgid will likely be controlled by the severity, duration, and timing of minimum winter temperatures. Currently, the adelgid is restricted to areas where minimum winter temperatures stay above -20 °F (-29 °C). In a study of 36 sites across the Northeast, adelgid mortality was positively correlated with latitude and minimum temperatures recorded per site. Its cold hardiness also depends on time of year; the insects lose their ability to tolerate cold as the winter progresses (Skinner et al. 2003). Thus not only the severity but the timing of cold events is critical. If warming occurs as predicted, milder winters may remove the current limits to the adelgid’s range, and increased survival and fecundity may result in larger populations.” (Page 21, Changing Climate, Changing Forests: The Impacts of Climate Change on Forests of the Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada, U.S. Forest Service, July 2012)

Wildlife affected by Climate Change: “Wildlife in northeastern forests is already being affected by climate change. 147 Species dependent on mountaintops and their predominantly coniferous habitats will be particularly at risk, due to limited opportunity to move upward in elevation.” (Page 32, Wildlife in a Warming World Confronting the Climate Crisis |  (National Wildlife Federation 2013)

Declining Lake-Ice cover: “Declining Lake-Ice Cover: Climate change has already driven a huge decrease in winter ice cover throughout the Great Lakes from the period of 1973 to 2010.128 Ice cover across the Great Lakes has declined by an average of 71 percent. Lake St. Clair ice cover has declined the least at 37 percent, while Lake Ontario has declined the most at 88 percent. Declining ice cover could benefit the shipping industry, but would leave coastal wetlands and shorelines more vulnerable to erosion.” (Page 29, Wildlife in a Warming World Confronting the Climate Crisis |  (National Wildlife Federation 2013).

Increase in heat-related illnesses: “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have identified a number of health effects associated with climate change, including an increase in heat-related illnesses and deaths from more frequent heat waves, a rise in asthma and other respiratory illnesses due to increased air pollution, higher rates of food- and water-related diseases, and an increase in the direct and indirect impacts of extreme weather events, like hurricanes.” (Page 6, Climate Change 101: Understanding and Responding to Global Climate Change published by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.  January 2011)

Increase in incidents of ground-level ozone: “Research has shown that ground-level ozone formation is affected by weather and climate. Many studies have focused on the relationship between temperature and ozone concentrations (Wolff and Lioy, 1978; Atwater, 1984; Kuntasal and Chang, 1987; Wackter and Bayly, 1988; Wakim, 1989). For example, the large increase in ozone concentrations at ground level in 1988 in the United States and in parts of southern Canada can be attributed, in part, to meteorological conditions; 1988 was the third-hottest summer in the past 100 years. In general, the aforementioned studies suggest a nonlinear relationship between temperature and ozone concentrations at ground level: Below temperatures of 22-26C (70-80F), there is no relationship between ozone concentrations and temperature; above 32C (90F), there is a strong positive relationship.” ( The Regional Impacts of Climate Change 8.3.9.2. Air Quality and Ground-Level Ozone, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Livestock affected more by heat stress: “Heat stress already causes an estimated $2.4 billion in annual losses to U.S. livestock industries. Within the Northeast, despite the region’s historically moderate summers, losses have been estimated at $50.8 million per year for Pennsylvania, $24.9 million for New York, and $5.4 million for Vermont—the vast majority of which occurred in the dairy industry.9 Rising summer heat threatens to increase these losses.(Page 69, Confronting Climate Change in the U.S. Northeast from Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment (2007))

Timing of seasons is off: “Timing of seasons: The blooming of certain flowers and the budding of leaves on trees are welcome harbingers of spring and important indicators of climate change. The firstbloom dates for lilacs, for example, have shifted four days earlier since the 1960s, and even greater shifts of six to eight days have been observed for grape vines and apple trees.” (Page 11, Confronting Climate Change in the U.S. Northeast from Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment (2007))   

Northeast extreme weather increasing: “Although rarer than nor’easters, the Northeast is also occasionally affected by tropical storms and hurricanes that form in the Atlantic during the summer and fall. There is growing evidence that the intensity of tropical storms and hurricanes has already been increasing;75,76,77 debate continues over a definitive link between global warming and increased hurricane frequency.78,79,80,81,82 It is clear that observed ocean warming—a key condition for the formation and strengthening of hurricanes—cannot be explained by natural cycles alone. Recent studies suggest that increased hurricane intensity, as exemplified by the rising number of category 4 and 5 hurricanes, is driven at least in part by global warming.” (Page 31, Confronting Climate Change in the U.S. Northeast from Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment (2007))

More extreme weather driving up liability claims: “CORPORATE LIABILITY: Legal developments related to climate change are driving up liability claims for many insurers in the United States. These cases range from recovering costs of relocating communities away from land inundated by rising seas12 to restitution for damages from extreme events intensified by greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.13 search: observe, current, present, have been, appears to be start with climate (Page 10, CLIMATE RISK DISCLOSURE BY INSURERS: Evaluating Insurer Responses to the NAIC Climate Disclosure Survey |  A Ceres Report, September 2011

NYS coastal sea level rising: “Climate change also has impacts on marine resources and coastal regions. Currently, sea levels are rising an average of 0.86 to 1.5 inches per decade, as measured by tide gauges, with an average of 1.2 inches per decade since 1900. Before the Industrial Revolution, the rate of increase had been approximately 0.34 to 0.43 inches per decade, mostly as a result of land subsidence (NYCPCC 2010). For the Long Island and New York City shorelines, models predict a rise of 7-12 inches by 2050 and 19-29 inches by 2080.” (Page 10, EPA Region 2 Climate Adaptation Plan Region 2 Climate Change Workgroup USEPA Region 2 New York, NY 9/18/2013)

Climate Change causing plants to shift: “In an analysis of 866 peer-reviewed papers exploring the ecological consequences of climate change, nearly 60 percent of the 1598 species studied exhibited shifts in their distributions and/or phenologies over the 20-and 140-year time frame. Analyses of field based phenological responses have reported shifts as great as 5.1 days per decade, with an average of 2.3 days per decade across all species.” (Page 9, The Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture, Land Resources, Water Resources, and Biodiversity | U.S. Climate Change Science Program Synthesis and Assessment Product 4.3 May 2008 USDA Office of the Chief Economist United States Department of Agriculture)

Forest pests increasing: “Climate plays a major role in driving, or at least influencing, infestations of these important forest insect species in the United States (e.g., Holsten et al. 1999; Logan et al. 2003a; Car­roll et al. 2004; Tran et al. in press), and these recent large outbreaks are likely influenced by observed increases in temperature.” (Page 82, The Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture, Land Resources, Water Resources, and Biodiversity | U.S. Climate Change Science Program Synthesis and Assessment Product 4.3 May 2008 USDA Office of the Chief Economist United States Department of Agriculture)

BTW: What are the temperature and precipitation projections for Monroe County?  Hint: might want to enjoy this cold snap while you can.  

New USGS Website Has Climate Projections for Your County What does the future of climate look like where you live? For the first time, maps and summaries of temperature and precipitation projections for the 21st century are accessible at a county-by-county level, thanks to a website developed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in collaboration with the College of Earth, Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University. The maps and summaries are based on a NASA dataset that covers the contiguous U.S. on an 800-meter grid. NASA created the dataset by downscaling 33 climate models used in the 5th Climate Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 5th Assessment Report (IPCC AR5). (December 13, 2014) The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP)