Sunday, May 24, 2015

Running Bomb Trains through Rochester, NY


CCOil Train Slide Show 11 - 20.009SMothers Out Front and People of Albany United for Safe Energy (PAUSE) hosted an informative meeting Sunday (5/16/2015) on the dangers of Bomb Trains (railroad’s term not ours) that included a litany of explosive oil train derailments (9 since July of 2013) that have already caused much damage and some loss of life. One of the things we learned about the oil trains passing through Rochester is that we are going to need evacuation plans here and elsewhere. 

These trains detonate (they truly explode in a spectacular fire ball) because in order to get this thick crude oil into the trains the goo is pressurized with volatile gases. It doesn’t take much to set them off. When they do explode into massive fireballs that rise spectacularly into the sky, emergency crews’ attempts to rescue folks and decouple the cars to prevent even greater explosions is severely hampered by scorching heat and deadly fumes. And because our railroads are riddled with old rails and deteriorating bridges that are not equipped to hold these heavy loads, these Bomb Trains are more prone to derailments.

Actually, considering that travel loads of liquid fuels have increased dramatically, and that our roads, highways, rails, and bridges are getting worse, it’s only a matter of time before this transportation system breaks down altogether. No one wants to pay the cost for maintaining this old infrastructure and so it deteriorates. Exploding Bomb Trains are simply the most remarkably insane component of this continual descent into a hole of negligence caused by our addiction to a fossil fuels. We have a problem. 

Report: Rural bridges in NY among worst in U.S. A new report finds rural bridges in New York State are the 15th worst in the country. This comes from TRIP, a national transportation research group. (May 20, 2015) WHEC Rochester

This is all to say that these trains carrying Bakken crude from North Dakota through Buffalo and Rochester and Syracuse to Albany (where a great big fossil fuel hub is being created) are a clear and present danger to our communities. When these trains detonate, our communities are going to have to be able to evacuate immediately. Not only can these explosions keep burning through these unit trains (bomb trains all hitched together) where more and more of them explode, the toxic air from the explosions is too lethal to breathe.

Even if the proposed regulations for more robust train cars and more safety regulations were implemented, it probably won’t do much good because some past derailments already had these retrofits:

“Tougher tankers, though, are not a cure-all either. The tankers involved in Monday’s derailment in West Virginia were not DOT-111s but the more modern CPC-1232 model. The supposedly more robust tankers still ruptured and exploded.” onEarth

What are area plans to quickly remove a lot of folks (could be in the thousands) in our communities when these explosions occur? For, they are going to occur. You can bet your bottom dollar. Federal Rail Administration official Karl Alexy has noted publicly that “[a]t train speeds of 30 to 40 mph, you cannot build a tank car robust enough to withstand puncture in unit train derailments.” (“Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration”, September 30, 2014)

Local groups are challenging the logic of putting our citizens in danger by transporting these Bomb Trains through our communities.

Mothers talk about oil train dangers At least 24 oil trains have been involved in major fires or derailments over the past decade in the U.S. and Canada. It’s a topic of concern for the group Mothers Out Front. They met on Sunday in Brighton to discuss the issue of how oil is transported. In Monroe County, dozens of trains carrying crude oil pass through our communities. Recently, federal regulators set new guidelines for the railroad industry, but some environmental groups say the new rules don’t go far enough. (May 18, 2015)WHAM

But why isn’t everyone protesting these dangerous Bomb Trains? Who in their right mind would find this situation where these potentially explosive trains run through our towns and near our public schools acceptable? And, why aren’t we focusing on renewable energy instead of Bomb Trains after New York finally rid itself of Fracking in a time of Climate Change?

There are some craven arguments that the reason for these Bomb Trains is that environmentalists keep stopping pipelines, which are much safer. Please. Check here for a list of hundreds of oil spills this century, and, of course there was this one this week:

Wildlife, pristine beaches focus of 'aggressive' oil spill cleanup Oil pipeline company officials said Wednesday that as many as 105,000 gallons of crude oil may have spilled from a ruptured pipeline on the California coast. The 24-inch pipeline ruptured along the Santa Barbara coast, leaking the oil near Refugio State Beach, a protected state park, just before Memorial Day weekend marks the start of the summer tourist season. Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline based the estimate -- what it called a worst-case scenario -- on the typical flow rate of oil and the elevation of the pipeline, said Rick McMichael, the company's director of pipeline operations. (May 20, 2015) CNN

Learn more about this issue at PAUSE and take ACTION. Also, sign the petition to Get Exploding Oil Trains Off the Tracks:

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Bold Climate Change actions for Rochester, New York


CCResultsSI’ve been skimming through the 2015 Climate Action Plan (actually a comment draft) for Portland, Oregon. It’s very readable—full of photos and graphs and bullet points—easy to skim and get the gist: these folks are freaking serious about addressing Climate Change. It’s no wonder; Portland has been at this sort of thing for some time:

“In 1993, Portland was the first U.S. city to create a local action plan for cutting carbon. Portland’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) is a strategy to put Portland and Multnomah County on a path to achieve a 40 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050 (compared to 1990 levels). The plan builds upon a legacy of forward-thinking climate protection initiatives by the City of Portland and Multnomah County that have resulted in significant total and per person reductions in local carbon emissions.” The City of Portland, Oregon Climate Action Plan

Increasingly, those who have been keeping up with the worldwide Climate Change disaster are realizing that individual actions won’t matter much if they are not organized and guided from a top-down approach. Left to their own, individuals in the aggregate tend not to do the right thing unless it is profitable, convenient, or regulated. I know, this kind of thinking puts libertarians (a strain of selfishness writ large) into a tizzy. But there is so much historical evidence that the unfettered quenching of desires without limits is suicidal on a finite planet that it’s not even funny.

What Portland’s plan does is put their efforts in a historical context, so they can measure their progress. The 2015 plan is one among many. The plan works with state, federal, and worldwide efforts. The plan also demonstrates the need for communities to work together to combat Climate Change, so they are not working against each other—stepping on each other’s efforts.

At the local level, Portland focuses on many of the challenges Climate Change brings to a community:

“Understanding Portland’s Carbon Emissions | Climate Action through Equity |A More Prosperous, Healthy and Equitable Portland |Buildings and Energy |Urban Form and Transportation |Consumption and Solid Waste |Food and Agriculture | Urban Forest, Natural Systems and Carbon Sequestration | Climate Change Preparation |Community Engagement, Outreach and Education |Local Government Operations | Implementation |Climate Action Plan Development Process” 2015 Climate Action Plan Chapters

The most salient points that caught my eye are the need to engage the poor and minority groups who contribute less to the problem, suffer most of the consequences, and are least able to deal with them; the role that transportation and buildings have in spewing out most of the greenhouse gas emissions (which allows for very measureable solutions); the importance of providing more canopy cover and carbon sinks with urban forests; creating a job Mecca with new green technology; and how recycling and solid waste figure into the Climate Change equations. But most important of all is how all these elements of Climate Change fit together and provide a circle of concerns and solutions that connect everyone in the community. You cannot solve Climate Change alone, but you can if everyone is pitching in with you and working from the same plan.

Lovely Warren, Rochester, NY’s mayor, recently announced the finishing up of our Climate Change action plan. Our first. We praise Mayor Warren for planning for this worldwide crisis.

City eyes plan to curb climate change Rochester officials want a concrete plan for the city to have less of an impact on the planet's changing climate. Mayor Lovely Warren submitted legislation to City Council last week to tap a $100,000 state grant and $9,000 in city funds to hire architectural and engineering design firm Bergmann Associates develop a city-wide plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The finished climate action plan would set a target to reduce emissions in Rochester over time and lay out specific ways to meet that goal. (May 1, 2015) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

We encourage the mayor to be bold. Besides hiring firms to design and engineer adaptation strategies, we call on the mayor to engage the entire community in this effort to address Climate Change.

We ask the mayor to invite many other groups to the table, including local community leaders, faith leaders, active transportation groups, the media, university leaders, and environmental leaders—who, by the way, just brought in world renowned climate scientist Dr. Hansen to speak to our community during Earth Week 2015 about the certainty of science on the Climate Change crisis.

There is much to be done to get Rochester ready for adaptation to Climate Change and helping to be a part of this worldwide effort. If the public is brought into these climate action discussions, there is a far better chance that an informed and engaged public will support the mayor in most of her efforts to make Rochester climate-change-ready. There’s a far better chance that volunteers will volunteer (like they do for Clean Sweep) knowing their individual efforts are a part of a very big effort.

Getting Rochester’s public transportation and our entire transportation system fixed so it can accommodate more pedestrians, more bicyclists, and more folks on our buses, has a more likely chance to succeed if the public is made a partner in the climate solutions—instead of outsourcing efforts to a small group of experts. (How about selling off the tragedy that is our new transit center and using the proceeds for more bus shelters that are heated, lit, go to all points in the city and county without unnecessarily going downtown?)

Allowing vacant City buildings to be used by volunteers and provide them books, programs, and pamphlets to educate the public on Climate Change adaptation strategies would help the mayor inform a great number of folks who our local media has not reached. Many of the problems Rochester is facing can be not only alleviated, but actually healed, by choreographing much of our efforts towards poverty, jobs, public health, clean water, transportation upgrades, clean air, energy efficiency, and clean energy through the lens of Climate Change—much in the way that Portland has done.

The public must see the City of Rochester addressing Climate Change and that our community is an integral part of the solutions. On Climate Change, leadership is crucial. 

Time passes.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Shifting dynamics of individual actions on Climate Change


CCBeforeAfterSRecently, we (humanity) has just dallied past a crucial benchmark where the new normal for our atmosphere is 400ppm of C02. The last time CO2 levels reached this figure was 650,000 years ago.

“The 400 parts per million CO2 threshold was already passed at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Observatory in 2013. But this is the first time that the global average crossed the symbolic milestone.” from (New GLOBAL Record for CO2 Concentration 400ppm Red Line Crossed in March (May 7th, 2015, UN Climate Change Newsroom.)

I mention this benchmark because recently a reader complained of my condescending attitude in my essays towards humanity’s inaction on Climate Change. She encouraged me to offer hope and solutions, instead of complaining. I’ll admit I do find humanity’s attitude towards this unprecedented crisis baffling, oftentimes wondering if we are really the brainy species we continually claim to be as we continually warm a burning planet. As for hope, what would that be based on?

Bomb trains continue to explode and yet we keep searching for ways to make that fossil fuel infrastructure work. Public transportation, one of our most effective ways of moving folks with less GHG emissions, is getting worse, not better in Rochester. Pope Francis talks of the moral imperative of making the next climate talk work while US conservatives push back. We try to increase bicycling in Rochester but we must not say why that’s important other than it’s fun. (The answer is that it can dramatically lower GHG emissions.) We attempt to update our local parks, but don’t ‘balance’ all the interests with Climate Change, which will alter all the natural elements of the park. We’re still focused on biogas (a fossil fuel), instead of composting and replenishing our soil—seemingly far happier with manmade fertilizers that aggravate water pollution, create more harmful algae blooms, and warm the planet with nitric oxide. The Arctic is warming because of Climate Change far faster than climate scientists anticipated and all we want to do is drill for more fossil fuels. Humans. Ya gotta laugh.

I have offered solutions for individuals on addressing Climate Change for almost twenty years. In my essay (an exuberant piece I wrote after my return from the People’s Climate March in September), “After the People’s Climate March, a Rochester manifesto”, I offered about 20 specific activities individuals should be doing on a level and speed that will really help address Climate Change. Granted, these actions are not the usual stuff, as they are based on what I think might actually make a difference instead of what is politically correct. Politically correct actions on Climate Change are framed as special interests; the individual is encouraged to go off someplace and do their own thing and not bother the grownups.

But treating Climate Change as a special interest, where individuals do just what that they like, hasn’t worked. As a matter of fact, because individual actions haven’t worked, the idea of what an individual can do to address Climate Change is changing rapidly.

For all practical purposes, if our government (at all levels) and businesses are not addressing Climate Change, we are not addressing climate change. You cannot fix our transportation system, our air, our water, our land, our media, our infrastructures, our environmental laws, our wildlife, or anything pertaining to Climate Change on a scale and timeframe that will matter. It’s too late. It’s not too late to address Climate Change, it’s just too late to think you and your group can adapt to and mitigate this worldwide crisis without a wholesale change to all of the above with everyone onboard.

I’m not the only one saying individual actions on Climate Change must be transformative. Despite the continual dreary facts from our climate scientists and all the ink being spilled on this subject, we are getting no closer to a solution. Paris looms in December and most individuals in Rochester don’t even know of this conference much less the climate treaty’s significance—or the argument raging about the 2C limit.

Here’s Bill McKibben (writer, activist, and creator of speaking recently:

“So, environmentalists have spent, maybe wasted, a lot of time on individual action in the last few years. It's not that they're not important. My house is covered in solar panels and I drive an electric car and eat locally and all of that. But I try not to fool myself that it's changing the outcome here. This is a structural and systemic problem, and so its answer will be structural and systemic. That means that as an individual, the most important thing you can do is not be an individual. It means we need to join with each other in movements. That's why we set up things like, to give people easy on-ramps into becoming part of this fight because it is a fight.” (Bill McKibben on Earth Day and the Power of Protest April 10, 2015) Living On Earth)

The most important thing you can do is not be an individual?

This is to say we’ve come to a point where Climate Change cannot be solved by just changing your driving, eating, washing, shopping, and all the rest of your habits. It does not mean that what you do doesn’t matter. As a matter of fact everything thing you do matters—practically and morally. But to solve Climate Change at this late date our actions must be supercharged, super-connected, and science-based. However good you may feel about what you are doing to address Climate Change, if your actions are not part of a set of worldwide actions to bring down greenhouse gas emission on a massive scale, then your actions will have no more effect than waving away air pollution with a hand-fan.

Individuals must come together on Climate Change. As Ben Franklin said, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

Time passes.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Paris matters to Rochester


CCPARISS800 folks in Rochester, including many of our local leaders, attended the Sierra Club’s forum on ClimatParis matters to Rochester e Change with world-renowned climate scientist Dr. Hansen. This event, one of many during Rochester’s Earth Week 2015, gave a lot of press coverage to the absolute certainty of the dramatic warming that is occurring worldwide. Including: “Summers in particular will be scorching.”

James Hansen's Earth Eve message: Get busy Hansen, now in his mid-70s, has become one of the world's best-known scholars of global warming and a forceful advocate for action. He quit his NASA post two years ago so he could speak out more aggressively against government inaction. He proved a huge draw here. As many as 800 people packed a theater and two overflow rooms at Monroe Community College Tuesday night -- Earth Eve, if you will -- to hear Hansen speak. His message was, in part, very similar to his testimony in 1988, except his one-percent uncertainty is long gone. The global climate is being warmed by the accumulation of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that have been released into the atmosphere, Hansen said. Last year was the warmest year globally on record. This year will be hotter still, he promised. Summers in particular will be scorching. (April 22, 2015) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

On April 14th at the Mauna Loa Observatory, CO2 levels hit 404.67ppm. It’s been a million years since our planet has endured these levels. (Today ((Friday, May 1st) this level is at 400.06ppm of CO2, the highest level in 650,000 years. These levels fluctuate due to our planet’s seasonal ‘breathing’ CO2 in and out, but they are continually arching over 400ppm and getting higher each year.)) If we were truly prioritizing Climate Change, this number would be appearing every day in our local media headlines. Remember: 350ppm is safe, although actually it was 280ppm in the mid-1800’s and for the ten thousand years before that when our species flourished. So this crisis isn’t just about the heat; it’s also about the speed. If you aren’t watching anything else about the Climate Change issue, you might want to watch this part per million of carbon dioxide figure that is the true measure of our climate mitigation. If this figure does not come down soon, nothing else will really matter. It is in this way that Climate Change is the mother of all problems. 

A Fearful Glance at the Global Carbon Stores — Weekly CO2 Values Hit 404 Parts Per Million a Little Too Soon (Big jump in weekly CO2 averages during second week of April bring 2015 concentrations into the range of 404 parts per million a month earlier than expected. Image source: The Keeling Curve.) Over the past decade, annual rates of atmospheric CO2 increase have remained in a range of around 2.2 parts per million (ppm) each year. It’s a geologically blinding pace of increase driven by a human carbon emission on the order of around 11 billion tons each and every year. Primarily driven by fossil fuel burning, this massive dumping of carbon into the atmosphere is steadily filling up a number of the world’s key carbon stores. (April 14, 20150 RobertScribbler

Even those who have been responsible for predicting our weather (but dragging their feet for years on Climate Change) are finally getting it: Weathercasters See the Light on Climate Change (April 22, 2015) Pacific Standard

This brings us to Paris and why Rochester needs to pay attention. Paris, or the COP21 Paris Conference in December, may well be humanity’s last chance to bring our CO2 to sustainable levels.

But rarely, even during this Earth Day in Rochester, has the importance of Paris been mentioned in our media, by local environmental groups, or our government. Why? Why is this monumental tipping point for humanity being ignored at the local level—even though it will have major consequences for everything we will do and hope to do in the future? Why is it that only solutions—driving less, a carbon fee or tax, more solar power—are mentioned without mentioning the very worldwide political structure that will have to succeed if any of those solutions have a prayer of working?

For those paying attention to this historic Paris meeting, some say the 2C (or 3.6F) above preindustrial averages that is the target for Paris is too high and we’ll bake even if we achieve this goal by 2100. Some say 2C is too difficult, that it’ll wreck our economies. Also, many are saying that if Paris fails and we put too much faith in this conference, the whole structure of the world climate talks will fall apart. (This is top US climate negotiator Todd Stern’s concern.) Maybe Paris should switch its measuring metric to parts per million of CO2 (instead of degrees) and shoot for 350, as Dr. Hansen suggests. Who knows?

But without the world coming together soon to address Climate Change, there is little chance for any scheme to fix this worldwide crisis. No carbon fee, tax, or cap will work if the world doesn’t agree to it in a timeframe that will matter. No renewable energy scheme will work unless all governments change the economic structure so that renewable energy will achieve the levels necessary and fossil fuels drop away. No public consensus on Climate Change will be achieved if the public sees their leader’s waffling on Climate Change. The COP21 Paris talks should be in the news every day, including a worldwide dialogue about this critical conference by the media, our government, the public, environmental groups—and how about some attention to this during our political races? 

Climate change: Paris 'last chance' for action Scientists are calling on world leaders to sign up to an eight-point plan of action at landmark talks in Paris. The key element is the goal to limit global warming to below 2C by moving to zero carbon emissions by 2050. The UN meeting in December is "the last chance" to avert dangerous climate change, according to the Earth League. Scientific evidence shows this can be achieved, but only with bold action now, says an alliance of climate researchers from 17 institutions. (April 22, 2015) BBC News

Those who think Climate Change should only be addressed from the bottom up, or left to market-based solutions, are forgetting that many of the actions needed can only be provided by governments—including military involvement in the conflicts caused by the social instability that’s already baked into Climate Change. There are many other tasks—working with other countries, making laws, setting emission limits, and changing the economic playing field—that only governments can accomplish. So the COP21 Paris talks must not fail. For all the disparaging rhetoric about the Paris talks, there is no substitute for a successful treaty. The window of opportunity is closing.

Laurent Fabius: Our Climate Imperatives PARIS — Toward the end of this year, France will host the 21st United Nations climate conference. The aim? To reach a universal agreement that will limit the rise in average global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius, compared to the pre-industrial period, by the end of the century. There is real hope for success, but it is an enormous task. As the president of the conference, known as COP21, my role will be to facilitate an ambitious compromise between 195 states (196 parties when we include the European Union). In the negotiations, the differences among countries that are at distinct stages of development necessitate differences of approach. Yet strong common interests unite us. One example is the impact of climate change on our shared security. (April 24, 2015) New York Times

Even the 1.2 billion Catholics are stepping up the pressure for success in Paris, highlighting the moral imperative of addressing Climate Change. People shouldn’t let people perish from indifference.

Pope Francis forces the issue on climate change High-profile climate researchers, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and church officials will gather at the Vatican next week for a conference on climate change. It’s Pope Francis’s latest effort to raise the profile of the issue among churchgoers, and it’s sure to make some Catholics hot under the collar. Since taking the helm of the church in 2013, Pope Francis has stated repeatedly that Christians have a moral obligation to lower carbon emissions. He has spoken frankly about how global warming hits poor, marginalized communities hardest. And he’s announced his intentions to issue, as early as June, a teaching document known as an encyclical which is set to merge the science and theology of climate change. He’s done these things in spite of angry rhetoric from conservative-leaning Catholics. (April 24, 2015) Grist

However, our local Rochester media is mum on Paris and thus failing to inform our local public what humanity is actually accomplishing in this worldwide crisis. (This might explain why our public transportation system is falling apart and why we cannot even fund the proper maintenance of our existing transportation infrastructure—let alone prepare it for more extreme weather.) Our local media are not informing the public about progress on the road to Paris (the state of the Green Climate Fund, or tracking individual nations’ pledges (or INDCs)) which would enable the public to gage for themselves the impact and importance of Paris. Our media is not holding our public officials accountable for their local adaptation efforts. In other words, our local media mentions lowing greenhouse gases, mentions (finally) the crisis, reports on the growing fossil fuel infrastructure (increase of oil trains, gas storage at Seneca Lake) but doesn’t connect the dots on what part local efforts play in the worldwide efforts to adapt to and mitigate Climate Change.

Paris matters to Rochester because in order for our efforts to address Climate Change to matter, we must be part of a worldwide concerted effort—not a small, loose pack of groups who disagree on actions and cannot be held accountable.

Time passes.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Holding leaders accountable for Climate Change in Rochester, NY


CCHeatWavesSWhile Rochester’s winters since 1970 have been swinging from warm to cold, the temperatures are going up overall. Our summer temperatures are not so up-and-down; they are getting steadily hotter. And, although there are many consequences of Climate Change in our region (including more powerful flash flooding that can overwhelm our transportation and wastewater systems), on a personal level it is the prospect of more heat waves that our local leaders should prioritize. People will want answers when large numbers die, and (given human nature) we will hold our leaders accountable when their constituents die in droves because of a failure to plan properly. Over time, heat waves kill more people than any other weather event. In just a few days in 1995, over 700 folks in Chicago died from extreme heat. If the authorities had been on top of this issue, fewer would have perished.

In Eric Klinenberg’s book “Heat Wave; A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago”, it wasn’t simply the heat that killed so many people. It was a failure of political leaders to understand the issues facing those most vulnerable to heat waves. Especially the elderly, the poor, and isolated folk’s inability to connect to help through proactive systems that would check up and provide them with assistance. One of the special issues that often comes with heat waves is power outages—which happened in the Chicago disaster. What happens when you’re at death’s door and the AC shuts down? Who ya gonna call when you ain’t got a phone?

The City of Rochester has a “Pet Care in Hot Weather” page on their website with advice on how to protect your pet from prolonged heat. Rochester has a “Cool Down with Cool Sweep” program to help those without access to alternative remedies for overheating. The homeless (and others we tend to shun) may not be so lucky. Although the City of Rochester has an “Energy Management and Climate Action Status Report”, they have not yet come out with a comprehensive climate action plan and certainly not one that addresses public health during Climate Change.

As for Monroe County’s Public Health Department, their website doesn’t even mention Climate Change or heat waves.

Not addressing the looming issue of increased heat waves is just one of the ways our local leaders are failing to address Climate Change. Many cities in the US have comprehensive Climate Change action plans. But not Rochester--yet. We are still waiting: Rochester to undertake citywide climate inventory  (January 21, 2015) Rochester City Newspaper.

If you look hard enough, you can find information from the New York State Department of Health called “Keep Your Cool During Summer Heat”, which does connect the dots with Climate Change. And it mentions “Find out where to cool down - ask local officials about cooling centers in your area. If there are none, identify air-conditioned buildings where you can go (such as libraries, malls, supermarkets, or friends' homes).”

But this is not proactive. There is no social structure or government program to contact all those who do not otherwise have access to the help they need when they need it the most.

Addressing the public health problems that come with heat waves is far more complex than opening a fire hydrant or cracking the car window for your dog while you shop on a sweltering afternoon. Heat waves are baked into our region’s climate predictions and however awkward our government feels about Climate Change, they will be held accountable for not planning for public health issues like heat waves adequately.

Time passes.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Inviting Climate Change deniers to Earth Week in Rochester, NY


CCWelcomeDeniersSRochester holds out a great big hand for climate change deniers, community leaders responsible for our welfare, and those who haven’t a clue what all the noise about Climate Change is about. Earth Week in Rochester starts Friday 17th and runs until 27th with more Climate Change events than you can shake a stick at. (Ok, maybe you can shake a stick really a lot.) Highlighting the events is a two-day visit by world renowned climate scientist, activist, and author Dr. James Hansen.

Why would a world-renowned superstar of science want to come to little ol’ Rochester? He wants to talk to ya’ll about the worldwide crisis of Climate Change. He wants especially to talk to those who need to know the facts (for there is nobody more informed on the facts of Climate Change) and those who still don’t understand all the fuss.

Climate scientist James Hansen proving a big draw here When the local Sierra Club chapter first approached renowned climate scientist James Hansen about speaking to the group's annual forum in Rochester this Earth Week, he wasn't particularly enthused. While he often speaks publicly about the threat posed by global warming, Hansen told the Rochester group that appearances like the one they offered left him a bit cold. Talking to environmental groups, he said, was like "preaching to the choir," chapter chair Peter Debes recalled. Then Debes told Hansen that the Sierra Club chapter had already decided to broaden their outreach and invite people from outside the environmental movement to the forum. (April 16, 2015) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

If you’re not ‘in the choir”, as it were, if you’re still dead set on believing Climate Change is a hoax, if you’re on the fence, if you’re paralyzed with fear, or if you’re a community leader who thinks they’ve got too much on their plate already, come. Come to at least one of the Earth Week events and prove you’re in touch with the defining crisis of our age.

If you are still in climate denial mode, there is probably a good reason for that. Seriously disturbed people with lots of money and political clout have been messing with your mind. Check out this crucial documentary “Merchants of Doubt” that runs in Rochester until the 23rd. It’s about all those folks who’ve spent a lot of their time and money turning you into a climate denier—whether you know it or not. Free yourself from the puppet strings of those working against your own interests. Don’t miss this crucial film on Climate Change. Dr. Hansen is featured prominently in this film as a reality check against those trying to screw up our future. This is the most important film you’ll see this year because Climate Change is not just about science—it’s about how humanity will act towards this worldwide crisis.

So we invite those who don’t think Climate Change is a big deal and challenge them to listen to a world authority on this issue. We challenge you, as a person who considers themselves intelligent and world wise, to at least hear Climate Change out. If, after all you have heard and see during Earth Week, your position doesn’t change regarding this worldwide crisis, you’ll will have at least found out what you are against—instead of some high-paid shill telling you what to think.

Earth Week 2015 is here: Don’t just sit this one out.

Finally, a word about our local media on Climate Change over the years:

I commend Jeremy Moule and Rochester City Newspaper on this Dr. Hansen-coming-to-Rochester article as well as years of attending to the issue of Climate Change. No other media in the Rochester New York region has tried to connect the local dots between Climate Change and this worldwide crisis. There is a great hope that promoting Dr. Hansen’s visit to Rochester on Earth Day will accelerate media attention and public concern on this worldwide crisis--and finally get Rochester’s attention.

Victory over climate change  Former NASA scientist James Hansen has warned about global warming for decades. We still aren't listening. James Hansen sat in front of members of the US Senate and told them that the Earth is warming and that human-generated greenhouse gas emissions are to blame. Back in 1988. Hansen was director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies at the time and had been studying global warming and the greenhouse effect since the 1970's. Scientists had already identified and warned of the link between global warming and carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels. But Hansen delivered one of the first blunt, high-profile declarations. (April 15, 2015) Rochester City Newspaper

If a large percent of Rochester’s media doesn’t show up to Dr. Hansen’s talk at MCC, shame on them. This is a talk that needs to be heard by all 700,000 of us in Monroe County. The only way that can happen is if our media comes out in force and covers this historic talk—like they do sports, or shopping events.

Time passes.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Earth Week in Rochester is not just for environmentalists


CCCareSThe 10-days of Earth Week in Rochester, NY (highlighted by a two-day appearance of world renowned climate scientist and activist Dr. Hansen) is mostly for those who still don’t ‘get’ Climate Change. Environmentalists already know that our local community and the world at large is warming; that our way of life, our infrastructures, and our public health are in danger by not acting on Climate Change. It’s not too late to act, but it’s getting there. After a certain point, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men will be simply scurrying around trying to adapt to a warming that won’t stop. The threshold where we can actually stop that warming is coming to a point of singularity, a point where all the countries of the world will decide to keep greenhouse gases below 2C (or 3.6F) above preindustrial averages at the COP21 Paris Climate Treaty in December—or they won’t. If they don’t, the ride is going to get very rough.

Rochester’s environmentalists are making a fantastic attempt to wake up the rest of our community on Climate Change this critical year. These efforts will be a great big waste if only the converted show up—as is what usually happens on Earth Day. ROCHESTER NY EARTH WEEK 2015, from Friday, April 17, 2015 to Monday, April 27th, includes: Fast Forward Film Festival (check this out, it’s really neat); Pachamana’s Awakening the Dreamer-Changing the Dream Symposium; Climate Science 101, with Dr. Susan Spencer; Dr. Hansen speaks to our community on WXXI (PBS) Connections; “Science in Film Series: Future Weather” screening at the Little Theater (with a Q&A afterwards with Dr. Hansen); Dr. Hansen speaks at a featured talk at Sierra Club Forum at MCC; RISK–Rochester “Introducing Sustainability to Kids”; “Climate Activism 101”; "Mothers Out Front Drinks"; “Ask and Activist” panel discussion; an “Interfaith Celebration of our Planet: Renewing Our Commitment to the Earth and its Inhabitants through Prayer and Song’; “Talking With Kids About Climate Change”, and a Citizens’ Climate Lobby Open Meeting (which means, ya’ll are invited). Go here for all the details.

Demonstrate that you care about our environment and addressing Climate Change by getting a non-environmentalist to come to at least one of these events.

Filling these events with only a couple of hundred local environmentalists won’t fix a problem like Climate Change. Only when our community at large comes and engages this issue in force will we have a chance of addressing it. At its core, Climate Change is a real (physical) world issue, not one of ideology or faith. We’re not selling anything—it’s a crisis.

It is at the level of insurance costs that many who don’t believe in Climate Change will begin to finally feel its impact. For some, Climate Change is only an environmental issue and for them, environmental issues are not important, only the god almighty dollar matters. Some (actually a lot of folks and too many politicians) say that if we address Climate Change we will wreck our economy and so we should keep to business as usual--regardless. Ya gotta laugh at this craven absurdity. Mother Nature doesn’t give a hoot about our man-made economy, and when the glaciers melt the water will rise, and when the water rises, shoreline property owners will feel the pinch from their insurance companies. 

How Flood Insurance Could Drive Americans From Coasts As salty waters ride the fossil fueled escalator of sea level rise into American streets and homes, rising flood risks may force coastal neighborhoods — if not entire cities — to be abandoned in the decades ahead. “You can’t build a seawall along the entire Eastern Seaboard,” Jessica Grannis, a climate adaptation specialist at Georgetown Climate Center, said. The challenges of shoreline retreat loom large as the latest round of hiccupping reforms to the National Flood Insurance Program take effect this month. (April 7, 2015) Climate Central

Also, Climate Change is going to dramatically affect public health issues; preparing the public should be a top priority. Ignoring this issue and not preparing the public will produce doom and gloom. Not the other way around. For those who don’t like to think about Climate Change because it’s so gloomy, it is precisely because they don’t think about it and don’t press their leaders to take action that it will actually cause the doom and gloom.

Video: Researcher warns of climate-driven public health impacts in TEDx talk. University of Michigan's Valerie Tran didn't mince words at a recent TEDx talk.  "Climate change is our generation's greatest threat to public health," she said bluntly in the talk given last month.  Tran, pursuing dual master's degrees at the university's Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning and School of Public Health, cites weather-driven changes to pollen and allergens, decreased water availability, increased natural disasters, extreme temperatures and changes in disease transmission as some of the most pressing issues. "Climate change is going to affect all of us. Everyone in here," she said to the room of 1,300. (April 9, 2015) The Daily Climate

Climate Change is about planning. Earth Day is about reminding ourselves that our environment, our life support system, matters. If just a handful of environmentalists come to Rochester’s Earth Week events, and the silent majority sit home and ignore this worldwide crisis, then our leaders will continue to talk the talk, and no one will hold them accountable for not preparing us.

Remember: Don’t just ask our leaders what they are doing to address Climate Change. Ask them what effect their efforts are having on actually solving this problem. Simply grabbing the low-hanging fruit of this problem from a great big economic tree just ain’t going to matter enough.

Time passes.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Rochester’s transportation system light-years away from Climate Change solutions


CCRoadsSThose infuriating potholes that jangle your mind and damage your vehicle aren’t the half of our transportation issues as we drive into Climate Change. First, we have an old system of roads and bridges that are in deep disrepair. According to TRIP, 9% of Rochester’s bridges are structurally deficient and 33% are functionally obsolete. CONDITIONS AND SAFETY OF NEW YORK’S ROADS AND BRIDGES (March 2015, TRIP a national transportation research group)

It’s absurd to have to explain to the public why our transportation system has to be properly maintained. And yet we do.

Transportation Group Says 1/3 Of Rochester Area Roads In Poor Or Mediocre Condition A transportation organization that pushes for more money for roads and bridges says that the Rochester area's infrastructure needs a lot of work. The group called "TRIP," consists of people involved in the highway and construction industry, related unions and other organizations. But its director of Research and Policy, Rocky Moretti, says they pull their data from information available from state and local governments. (March 15, 2015) WXXI News

It’s not only absurd that we have a massive transportation system that is not being maintained; we haven’t even begun to discuss the very expensive and unpopular adaptations required to keep this system functioning as Climate Change produces more extreme weather and heat. Just to get your heads around what Climate Change has already dumped (think flooding) on our roads, this map [See Figure 2.18: Observed Change in Very Heavy Precipitation] shows that the Northeast has experienced a 71% percent increase in the amount of precipitation falling in very heavy events from 1958 to 2012. In other words, this deluge is the change we have already observed. This also means that all our infrastructures—transportation, water, wastewater, telecommunications (think telephone poles)—are already being challenged by Climate Change.

According New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA)’s ClimAid report, this is what our region needs to do to get our transportation system prepared, that is, made ready for Climate Change that’s beyond mere routine maintenance.

“Examples of adaptation strategies for the Transportation sector described in Chapter 9 relate to coastal hazards, heat hazards, precipitation hazards, and winter storms including snow and ice. Strategies explored include raising the level of new critical infrastructure and essential service sites; including climate change adaptation knowledge when retrofitting older infrastructure; switching to more durable materials; changing land-use planning mechanisms; and creating increased resilience through flexible adaptation pathways in operations, management, and policy decisions.”(Page 11, Responding to Climate Change in New York State (ClimAID) [full report]

To be fair, our local transportation authorities know about this and what needs to be done.

The Impacts of Climate Change: Mitigation and Adaptation | Independent of mitigating climate change, adapting transportation facilities and programs to be more resistant and resilient is equally if not more important. Adaptation activities as they relate to transportation are clearly a public responsibility given that the vast majority of associated infrastructure and services are provided by government entities. Accordingly, evaluation of the vulnerability of critical infrastructure to impacts resulting from more severe and intense weather events, including storms and corresponding flooding, needs to be conducted so that the reconstruction and replacement of these facilities includes design features and operations and management capabilities that account for these impacts.” (Long Range Transportation Plan 2035, Genesee Transportation Council)

But what chance do we have to get our transportation system ready for more Climate Change when we cannot even agree on how to fund our existing system as it crumbles under our tires?

Because the public is not being educated on the links between our transportation system and Climate Change, imagine trying to talk to an unprepared public about pouring millions of more tax dollars into our transportation system for a crisis they don’t care about.

We are light-years from actually implementing what we know has to be done in order to adapt our transportation system for Climate Change. This gap between facts and necessary action highlights how far behind we are from actually addressing the mother of all problems.

Time passes.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Rochester’s answer for wildlife during Climate Change: a better zoo


CCZooSOne of the greatest challenges during Climate Change is not merely saving our wildlife, whose environment is changing far faster than they can adapt, but primarily saving their habitats. Humanity tends to view wildlife as labor saving devices, game for ‘harvesting’, pets, lab rats for testing products, food (of course), resources (leather), and increasing as creatures who share many of our best traits. But it is their role in our environment that ultimately matters most to our survival. In this way (and many others) Climate Change is challenging our survival.

When you search online for Wildlife at the EPA you get this:

Climate Impacts on Ecosystem: Climate is an important environmental influence on ecosystems. Climate changes and the impacts of climate change affect ecosystems in a variety of ways. For instance, warming could force species to migrate to higher latitudes or higher elevations where temperatures are more conducive to their survival. Similarly, as sea level rises, saltwater intrusion into a freshwater system may force some key species to relocate or die, thus removing predators or prey that were critical in the existing food chain. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

The Holocene environment, where humanity thrived, evolved in lock-step for hundreds of thousands of years with our endemic wildlife. A threat to them is a threat to our life support system because the balance of Nature doesn’t just include our food chain but the great chain of our being alive. More and more we are understanding how the activities of wildlife (watch “How Wolves Change Rivers”) affect something so seemingly unrelated as the ecology of a river. Because Climate Change will affect all our endemic wildlife, and because we need these species for a healthy environment, you’d think that our state and county would focus on the climate connection.

You don’t learn a lot about this oneness of our environment and wildlife in a zoo (not to mention Climate Change); so it’s interesting that Rochester (actually it’s a Monroe County facility) still focuses on a better zoo in a time of Climate Change.

Building a better zoo The Monroe County Parks Department is developing a new master plan -- a guide for development and growth -- for the Seneca Park Zoo. (March 13, 2015) Rochester City Newspaper

Our state’s environmental agency understands the critical link between our wildlife and Climate Change:

Commissioner's Policy - Climate Change and DEC Action Based on overwhelming scientific evidence, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation ("Department" or "DEC") recognizes that New York State's ("State") air and water quality, forests, fish and wildlife habitats, and people and communities, are at risk from climate change. In order to perform its core mission of conserving, improving, and protecting the State's natural resources and environment, DEC must incorporate climate change considerations into all aspects of its activities, including but not limited to decision-making, planning, permitting, remediation, rulemaking, grants administration, natural resource management, enforcement, land stewardship and facilities management, internal operations, contracting, procurement, and public outreach and education. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)

Yet, when you go to their wildlife page (Wildlife Health) there is nothing about Climate Change. (There is some stuff about your pet’s health. But, of course, your pet is not wild. Your dog is really neat and its health is important to you, but your dog is not part of any state-wide eco-region.) In the DEC’s latest WILDLIFE HEALTH PROGRAM STRATEGIC PLAN, Climate Change is only mentioned three times, and then only embedded in a laundry list of challenges for our wildlife—not a plan that is orchestrated around Climate Change as it must.

One of the problems with focusing on a better zoo in Rochester (or anywhere for that matter) are zoo priorities:

“The Zoo focuses on species of plants and animals native to New York State that are threatened or endangered in their natural ranges. A variety of local organizations and colleges have partnered with the Zoo to study threats and work on recovery and restoration plans for these species. We also work with national organizations to raise conservation awareness through education programs and field studies in places like Madagascar and Canada” Seneca Park Zoo/Priorities

This would be an excellent set of priorities if Climate Change wasn’t occurring. But it is. A zoo tends to focus on entertaining the public, saving individuals of rare species, not the ecologies that keep both the species and ourselves alive. A zoo tends not to focus on Climate Change, though I’m sure it considers it as part of the mix.

We should be asking ourselves some important questions about wildlife before continuing business as usual. First, why do we need zoos in the first place? They are a medieval entertainment frivolity that constantly needs to justify itself in the modern world. When you take wildlife, those creatures who helped define their/our environment, and stick them in a zoo, they become mere living artifacts. What is a polar bear without the Arctic? Why are we trying to save instances of species that will never be able to return to their environment because Climate Change is changing that environment, maybe forever?

Surely a nature program would be at least as educational as observing animals caged in prisons, totally out of their element? At least a nature program can connect the dots between wildlife and their environment and Climate Change in situ. Why don’t we put our efforts into saving the Arctic (which is disappearing very quickly) and many other environments around the world that are in extreme danger?  Why can’t field conservation work be done via the DEC supported by tax dollars allocated for adapting to and mitigating Climate Change instead of the DEC getting funded by folks paying for licenses to ‘harvest’ and fish our wildlife? (‘Harvest’ is a wonderful euphemism for killing things dead with a bullet. Imagine if the media adopted this word when talking about terrorism and war.)

We are at a crucial point in saving wildlife, as Climate Change is already changing our wildlife’s environment. The answer is not a better zoo. The answer is to address wildlife issues under a comprehensive plan to address Climate Change. Should our tax dollars go to medieval forms of hospice or for actually helping those creatures who defined our environment so that they can continue to do so?

Saving our wildlife does not and should not have to be orchestrated from our zoos. Our efforts should be directed from our state and federal environmental agencies who should be giving top priority to protecting our wildlife/ecologies in a time of warming. But this vital connection is still getting buried by our present desire for wildlife as entertainment. Our tax dollars would be better spent protecting our environment so we don’t feel compelled to place our wildlife in sanctuaries, where there is no place for them to go when they get out.

Time passes.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Can Rochester journalism dare speak the name ‘Climate Change’?


CCNameSThe question is NOT why The Guardian (one of the largest media in the world) is putting Climate Change front and center; It’s why aren’t all the other media doing so also? The media industry is bemoaning the loss of journalism as a career, but the reason journalism is tanking is that most journalism has devolved into a lapdog for businesses, sports, politicians, and pet owners, instead of ferreting out the most important news the public needs to know: Climate Change.

Climate change: why the Guardian is putting threat to Earth front and centre As global warming argument moves on to politics and business, Alan Rusbridger explains the thinking behind our major series on the climate crisis Journalism tends to be a rear-view mirror. We prefer to deal with what has happened, not what lies ahead. We favour what is exceptional and in full view over what is ordinary and hidden. Famously, as a tribe, we are more interested in the man who bites a dog than the other way round. But even when a dog does plant its teeth in a man, there is at least something new to report, even if it is not very remarkable or important. There may be other extraordinary and significant things happening – but they may be occurring too slowly or invisibly for the impatient tick-tock of the newsroom or to snatch the attention of a harassed reader on the way to work. (March 6, 2015) The Guardian

The tick-tock of Climate Change is moving relentless on even in Rochester. But you would be hard- pressed to discover what that means here. What does Climate Change portend here, how do we adapt to it, and how do we act on a scale and speed that will matter? What are the changes already observed here, what are the changes coming locally, what are we doing about it, what can we do about it, how does this mother of all problems influence our politics, our infrastructure, wildlife, poverty, and public health?  Like Florida, where there’s a ban on officials mentioning this powerful word, other communities like Rochester are OK with dealing with the symptoms of this warming (as they must) but not its causes. Because our media has been unable or unwilling to tackle Climate Change, this term, like many other terms, has taken on mythical powers that get in the way of solutions:

What Voldemort and Climate Change Have in Common At Hogwarts and in Florida, respectively, the threatening phenomena must not be named. For Oscar Wilde and his fellow aesthetes of Victorian England, there was the love that dare not speak its name. For the wary wizards and witches of Harry Potter’s world, there was he-who-must-not-be-named. And for Florida bureaucrats, there is the phenomenon that cannot be named, in spite of the fact many of them are attempting to prepare for its inevitable effects on the low-lying land. An in-depth report by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, published Sunday in the Miami Herald, reports officials in the state’s Department of Environmental Protection “have been ordered not to use the term ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’ in any communications, e-mails, or reports.” (March 10, 2015) Pacific Standard

You’ll have to go somewhere other than Rochester’s media to find about Climate Change because our media dares not say the name of Climate Change. (Warning: blatant self-serving mention coming!) You can go to my site,, which has connected the dots on this issue since 1998. You can take a free online course, like I am, “Changing Weather and Climate in the Great Lakes Region” by University of Wisconsin–Madison on Coursera. Not only do you get the facts and data about our region’s weather and climate, you get a great opportunity to converse with folks all over the world on how this issue is being experienced and addressed in their neck of the woods. You can read Climate Change briefs so you can get the basics about this worldwide crisis--check out the National Academics’ “Climate Change: Evidence, Impacts, and Choices.” You can read all these Climate Change studies and go to all these media around the world, but alas you will be stymied if you want to get informed about it from your local media.

Climate Change should come home to Rochester so we can address it in situ. Local journalists should actually be our ‘watch dogs, search through mounds of data, identify problems in our community, and hold our public officials accountable’.

Introducing our new NYDatabases website This weekend we're launching a new website called, a collaboration among journalists at Gannett news outlets across New York state and our news bureau in Albany. It's an expansion of the work we started in Rochester more than five years ago, a website called RocDocs, which housed searchable collections of information related to local events. This new site will help us expand those efforts statewide, and help our team of watchdog reporters work together to bring you enhanced coverage of statewide issues. As journalists, we work with mountains of data to help us spot trends, identify problems in our community and to hold public officials accountable. We've been publishing these sorts of data sets to enable readers to dive deeper into subjects of interest. (March 13, 2015) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

They aren’t. Rare is the day a public official gets asked by local media what they are doing to combat Climate Change. I doubt our politicians, even within their own parties, will say the word amongst themselves. No one is pressing them to do so. Never does our media connect the dots between local efforts to address Climate Change and worldwide efforts. In fact, go to the database mentioned above [] and type in “Climate Change” or even “Climate”. Nothing. This new database dares not mention the name.

There is no excuse for the dearth of Climate Change news locally. These folks from the Yale project on Climate Change Communication focus entirely on closing the gap between climate science and informing the public. If you don’t have time to check out the whole site or watch this informative video, here’s the very short version: “The Big Five facts of Climate Change: It’s real, it’s us, it’s bad, scientists agree, and there’s hope.” (From Anthony Leiserowitz on the public's perception of climate change - MIT Climate CoLab conference)

Getting back to The Guardian, let’s get a sense of the level of change in journalism that needs to happen.

Find a new way to tell the story' - how the Guardian launched its climate change campaign Climate change is the biggest story journalism has never successfully told. The Guardian’s editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger, has decided to change that. This podcast series follows Rusbridger and his team as they set out to find a new narrative on the greatest threat to humanity Climate change is the biggest threat to humanity. Yet journalism has struggled for two decades to tell a story that doesn’t leave the public feeling disheartened and disengaged. This podcast series lets you behind the scenes as the Guardian’s editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger, and team set out to find a new narrative. Recording as we go, you’ll hear what works, as well as our mistakes. Is there a new way to make the world care? (March 12, 2015) The Guardian

Journalism will thrive and flourish just fine once it gets relevant and starts focusing on the greatest threat to humanity. There are other mediums to express our enthusiasm over non-critical issues. But for local journalism to survive, it needs to speak the name of our greatest issue: Climate Change.

Time passes.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Rochester’s pets and our past, present, and future


CCNotFineSIf we thought like our pet dogs and cats, moment to moment, we’d be forgiven if we thought this winter snow will never melt. Our sidewalks will be forever clogged, our roofs will continually sag, and those darn ice dams would be a permanent fixture of our homes. But we know the days will get warmer, the snow will melt, and more than likely Earth Day (April 22nd) will be snow free. While we pine away for the prospects of a warm, green Earth Day in Rochester, we can find at least a few minutes to ponder our past, present, and future.

I know, this is taking on a lot for a short essay. So, I’ll just cover a few highlights. We are born, we live, and then we die. But that doesn’t really cover it. We live in the past, present, and future--in our minds. But actually, just like our pets, we only ‘live’ in the present. If anything goes wrong in the present, our past and future vanish. That’s why we invented planning. We use past knowledge to help us plan now for the future.

Our pets don’t plan (although they will merrily salivate at the prospect of food). If our world were to end tomorrow, our pets wouldn’t care today. They’d just continue to stare out the window at the cold and ice. We would care, though. One of our most basic assumptions that we all entertain, no matter what our beliefs, is that life here on Earth will go on after we die. Everything we do will carry on in a sense through our children, our books, our good works, etc. This assumption about our past, present and future makes our lives meaningful.

Climate Change may interrupt all this. If, as 97% of climate scientists warn, we don’t stop greenhouse gas emissions from increasing now and plan to adapt for the changes already coming in the future (because we didn’t deal with this in the past), all this mental time traveling will be over.

In our present, we are banning Fracking in New York State. Many of those who helped stop that bad energy option are now planning for better energy options that won’t warm up the planet. These folks are asking the question: Can those who assembled to stop something bad come together to start something good? Also in our present, bomb trains continue to detonate because too many of us are living only in the present. Note: In China’s present, they are trying to come to terms with having planned for their future using past development: “Chai Jing's review: Under the Dome – Investigating China’s Smog.”

In the future, the COP21 Paris Climate treaty will attempt to “achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world” (Wikipedia). Much from our past stands in the way of a happy treaty outcome in December. The accumulated attempts to force our past into our future (see “Merchants of Doubt” coming to a screen near you) and a whole lot of business as usual thinking will assure a bleak future indeed.

In Rochester’s immediate future (April 21), we’ll have Dr. Hansen, world-renowned climate scientist and activist, come and explain some of this: “Climate, Energy, and Intergenerational Justice.”

Our pets, wonderful creatures we designed (bred) to love us, will continue to ‘love’ us regardless of how we act in the present towards our future—even though they will share our destiny. Our children, those wonderful creatures who will be as capable of thinking in the past, present, and future as ourselves, may not be so understanding.

Time passes.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Feed and care instructions for Rochester’s new blue tote


CCToteSThe City of Rochester, NY is running a Single Stream Recycling Pilot Program, and the first of the new totes have been delivered to the participants. First, before it even crosses your mind, don’t feed your new blue tote a TV. Doing so will result in your new blue tote getting seriously ill and you getting an unpleasant fine of $100. You might have not even been thinking of cramming your old TV or computer into your new tote because it’s now illegal to even leave your e-waste at the curb in New York State—let alone making your new tote sick with it. But your tote can and should be fed a lot of things, which will make it grow and get strong.

Basically, totes like recyclables. It likes them clean and empty. Like feeding your tote an old TV, your totes does not like rotting, festering ‘ingredients’ lingering inside your recyclables because these will make your tote feel wretched too.

Your new tote, although very hardy, needs some TLC to live a long healthy life. Below, I have tried to answer some of what might be your most pressing questions about your new totes. Complete disclosure: I am not an authority on totes (or recycling) but I was chair of the Rochester Sierra Club’s Zero Waste committee for a couple of years; the City sent us participants a flyer on the program, and the City has provided much of this information here:

If you don’t feel like surfing over to the City’s Single Stream Recycling site, or you don’t have an Internet connection at the moment (which would be odd, since you wouldn’t be able to read this article either), I will try and anticipate some of your questions regarding the new program:

  • What does your new tote like to eat? Ans: paper, boxes, cardboard, plastic, glass, and metal. Metal like metal pots and pans, pie tins, licenses, plates, aluminum, tin, steel, or aerosol cans. Not metal like cars, trucks, or tractors.
  • What doesn’t your tote like to eat (besides TVs, cars, etc. that I’ve already mentioned)? Ans: garbage, Styrofoam (even if numbered), electronics, ceramics, dishes or glassware, food waste, plastic bags, hazardous waste, light bulbs, window glass or mirrors, electrical cords, hoses or ropes, syringes/sharps, and yard waste. (I might add here that a little common sense in feeding your tote would go a long way in keeping it healthy.)
  • Yipes! What do I do with all this stuff that that will make my new totes sick? Ans: Most of this stuff, especially hazardous waste, should be taken to the county’s eco-park. Many recyclables can be taken to recyclers who make a profit from your waste and thereby keeping a market for this stuff thriving, instead of tearing up our land for more stuff like electronics. Yard waste should be composted or put out at the curb in the City on your scheduled leaf-pick-up day in the fall. Food waste should be composted, which is to say, returned to Mother Earth from whence it came. Start composting. Or, just throw it all in the garbage, which is to say landfill it, where this rotting resource that could be enriching our soil will instead release methane (CH4) a greenhouse gas many more times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2) into atmosphere our making Climate Change worse. (Are you feeling the guilt?)
  • How were the test participants selected and why weren’t you chosen? Ans: The City says: “You and your neighbors are among Rochester’s top recyclers…” (mentioned in the flyer you did or did not receive). This sounds almost too charitable to be true, so the real answer might have to do with your tax returns. (Are you feeling the paranoia?)
  • Where in the City are the test participants located? Ans: There is a secret route and may be decoded in a couple of ways. One, obviously just follow the trucks that pick up the blue totes. Two, find the secret document floating around the Internet that has the route on it. Three, ask the City to reveal the route.
  • Does this single stream system mean I don’t need to take reusable stuff to reuse centers, just feed them to my tote? Ans: Absolutely not! Clothes, books, magazines, eyeglasses, furniture, working gadgets, and many, many other reusable items should always be reused. Many charitable organizations and business thrive and help others to thrive by finding homes for used stuff that still has a life. A single stream recycling program is not a substitute for reuse.
  • How will you know if your tote is growing and getting stronger? Ans: The City of Rochester’s test program will expand to include more participants, until it covers the whole city. Then your garbage container will shrink because you won’t have much waste anymore and the world will return to being a sustainable thriving environment instead of one headed to the waste bin of history because of too much freaking waste. (Are you feeling the soap box lecture coming?)
  • What’s the big deal about the City’s single stream pilot program? Ans: No sorting required.
  • Do I have ulterior motives for writing this article? Ans: Yes. I’m hoping to get everyone to understand the link between recycling and Climate Change. (Ah ha, you knew it!) “Stop Trashing Our Climate” is a report that connects the dots between your waste getting landfilled making Climate Change worse. It’s not a long report.
  • What is Climate Change? Ans: It’s not pretty. See below:

1. "Climate change" means a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods (Climate Change, Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC))

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Political leaders, including Rochester’s, must lead on Climate Change


CCWeDidItSUltimately, it is our political leaders and their parties who decide if and how we will address Climate Change. Much can and is being done to adapt to and mitigate this worldwide crisis from the bottom-up—individuals, faith organizations, educational institutions, and businesses—but their efforts are doomed to ad hoc, insufficient, and contradictory solutions if our leaders are not leading the way. A worldwide crisis requires a worldwide top-down framework. President Obama is just now starting to lead. His leadership will encourage billions to act. And just recently, New York State Assembly Speaker Heastie “created a working group to review NYS’s response to Climate Change.”

Assembly Speaker Heastie Creates Group To Review NYS Response To Climate Change The speaker of the New York state Assembly has created a working group to review the state's response to climate change. Speaker Carl Heastie announced the formation of the panel on Thursday. It will consist of 10 lawmakers charged with examining possible ways to reduce greenhouse emissions as well as measures that could help the state prepare for future extreme weather. (February 20, 2015) WXXI News

That’s leadership, taking charge of finding out whether our state’s current response to Climate Change is adequate. I submit that our state’s efforts are woefully lacking in many areas and I hope the findings of the working group will reflect that. Our state’s environmental agency (The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) established in 1970, understands its mission as:

"To conserve, improve and protect New York's natural resources and environment and to prevent, abate and control water, land and air pollution, in order to enhance the health, safety and welfare of the people of the state and their overall economic and social well-being." (About DEC)

But the DEC’s mission, which was written about the time greenhouse gases (GHGs) began to seriously affect our climate, should be updated. The DEC, which was far too interested in regulating Fracking and now regulating oil trains, should change their mission to focus entirely on protecting our life support system. Instead of making fossil fuel use safer, they should discourage it. Instead of making wildlife more plentiful for harvesting, the DEC should be planning and educating the public on how to help our wildlife and native plants adjust to a climate that is warming far faster than our endemic species’ ability to adapt. The DEC’s Climate Smart Communities voluntary program to address Climate Change should be mandatory and more robust. The DEC should orchestrate all their public information sessions through the lens of Climate Change. And, most notably the DEC should not be worrying their pretty little heads about our ‘overall economic well-being,’ as that’s why we created economists. The DEC should keep our life support system sustainable; which is the only way to ensure economic health in the future anyway.

These kind of holistic changes can only be changed at the top—our political leaders.

I’m not tilting at windmills here. Rather than a dreamy idealistic hunger for change, many political leaders are coming to terms with the core problem of this issue—it’s physics stupid. Taking time out from going at each other’s jugular, some of UK’s political leaders have agreed to agree that Climate Change is happening and it must be addressed.

Cameron, Clegg, and Miliband Sign Joint Climate Pledge | David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband have signed a joint pledge to tackle climate change, which they say will protect the UK’s national security and economic prosperity. The agreement of the three party leaders is highly unusual and comes amid a general election campaign that is becoming increasingly bitter. The prime minister, deputy prime minister and leader of the opposition have all clashed over green issues, but the joint declaration states: “Climate change is one of the most serious threats facing the world today. It is not just a threat to the environment, but also to our national and global security, to poverty eradication and economic prosperity.” February 17, 2015) Climate Central

Can you imagine our US political leaders walking boldly across the aisle, shaking hands, then speaking jointly to the media, “My worthy opponent and me agree that Climate Change is happening and it is doing so as a result of mankind’s GHG emissions.” It’s not a dream. It must happen. It must happen at all levels of government. It must start happening in the Rochester region too.

Rochester’s efforts under the state’s Five Cities Energy Plans include:

“•Create a Solarize Rochester program to encourage installation of solar panels by private residents and companies in city neighborhoods and streamline the approval process they must go through. •Support development of a large solar-energy project on 10 acres in the Emerson Street area. Like a similar project now being considered by Monroe County, the solar farm would be built and owned by a private company, with the city purchasing the power at a favorable rate. •Advance energy-efficiency efforts in city-owned buildings and encourage private owners to do the same. An example cited in the plan is the installation of energy-efficient lighting in six city-owned parking garages, which saves $400,000 a year. •Do more to encourage walking, bicycling and transit use. This includes installing more facilities such as bicycle lanes, which the plan foresees going from the present 30 lane-miles to nearly 80 in the coming years. The city also would support bike- and car-sharing programs. •Install efficient LED bulbs in the city’s 28,000 street lights. •Seek expansion of energy districts and microgrids, and explore use of the historic downtown heating district to also generate electricity.” Rochester energy plan pushes community-wide efficiency (2/17/2015, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle)

Wonderful though they are, these measures are not enough. Rochester must lead on Climate Change. The Rochester energy plan also says this: “These include reduced operating costs, a healthier, safer and more livable community, natural resource conservation and restoration, and mitigating and adapting to climate change.” (Rochester/Five Cities Energy Plan) It’s hard to be a leader on mitigating and adapting to Climate Change if you don’t mention it in public—so the public is clear that you mean you’re willing to lead on Climate Change.

Rochester Competes For State Funding For Energy Projects Governor Cuomo has announced funding for a new energy competition that will award up to $20 million for innovative energy projects in five upstate cities including Rochester.  Cuomo talked about the plan in his State of the State message.  It's part of a $35 million, five-year program spearheaded by the New York Power Authority. Under the plan, a state-funded energy manager position will be created for each city: Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo, Albany and Yonkers. Officials say this "five cities energy plan" could save some of New York's largest municipalities up to $400 million annually in energy costs. (February 17, 2015) WXXI News

Also, the slow progress deciding on Ontario Lake water levels highlights the political difficulty of adapting to Climate Change locally. Clearly, allowing the lake’s level to be restored to a healthier ecosystem level where wetlands flourish is more adaptive to more frequent extreme weather. But a relatively small number of folks reject this because it potentially harms their shoreline property. The answer is not to allow the entire lake ecosystem to fail because of the few, but to help compensate the few who might feel the sting of the majority’s need for a sustainable environment. Climate Change is going to require some very inconvenient and tough decisions; but not to make these decisions will be catastrophic. Our political leaders need to get out in front of this very divisive component of Climate Change adaptation in our region, which many are not.

Lake-level plan lacks top-level endorsements Lake Ontario may be nearly frozen over, but fevers still run high along the shoreline as folks continue to debate the merit of changing the way the lake's water levels are regulated. Many of New York's top elected leaders, however, are playing it cool. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the state's two United States Senators and U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter have yet to take a position on the matter. Of the four other members of Congress whose districts touch the Lake Ontario shoreline or St. Lawrence River bank, one is opposed, one in favor and two are skeptical and want more study. Not exactly a tidal wave of support. (February 19, 2015) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

The increase in extreme cold that we are experiencing right now in Rochester and oil bombs exploding all around us recently are results of using ‘all of the above’ to solve our energy needs in a time of Climate Change. (“All of the above” is code for “I cannot make up my mind.”) However, the colder it gets, the more fossil fuel we use, so the more the fossil fuel industry drills, produces, and ships, which causes more bomb trains and refinery explosions, causing the planet, especially the Arctic, to warm more, which means more of the extreme cold gets pushed our way from the Arctic, so the colder it gets…

Wind farms and solar panels don’t blow up. We should be dramatically increasing renewable energy instead of having to get used to more violent fossil fuel explosions.

As Extreme Cold Engulfs Eastern U.S., Fossil Fuel Mishaps Leave Disaster Areas on Fire As extreme cold temperatures blast the eastern third of the United States, the fossil fuel industry has seen a series of disasters in less than a week. On Wednesday, an explosion at an ExxonMobil refinery south of Los Angeles rocked the surrounding area with the equivalent of a 1.4-magnitude earthquake. The blast in California happened as oil tank cars from a derailed train remained on fire Wednesday in West Virginia, two days after the accident. The derailment forced the evacuation of two towns and destroyed a house. The derailment in West Virginia happened just two days after another oil train derailment in Ontario, Canada, which also left rail cars burning for days. We are joined by Stephen Kretzmann, executive director of Oil Change International. "Climate policy and energy policy are not usually discussed together in this country," Kretzmann says. "Climate change means that we need to transition away from fossil fuels, sooner rather than later." (February 19, 2015) Democracy Now!

Our political leaders and their party platforms need to adapt to this crisis. Quietly working behind closed doors to reduce GHGs and hoping that their constituents will magically connect the dots with Climate Change is not leadership. Speaking publically about a clean energy future but not including ‘Climate Change’ panders to the denial zeitgeist. (Everyone, as Bill Nye, the Science Guy implores the media, needs to “just say the word ‘Climate Change’ now and then”.) This kind of hope and pray political approach to address Climate Change has installed powerful climate change deniers into office which allows them to thwart and reverse what little we have done. The political hush job on “Climate Change” means the public continues to languish in limbo, where nothing is asked of them to address this crisis. There is an incredible opportunity for political leaders to regain the public’s trust by leading on Climate instead of dodging it.

Time passes.