Saturday, July 04, 2015

A beacon of hope: Official Ban on Fracking in New York

New York State’s Fracking ban is a beacon of hope for other places being terrorized by fossil fuel giants in a time of Climate Change.

Fractivists say NY's ban is influencing moratorium decisions elsewhere New York Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens announced this week that he is leaving that position, just two days after he issued the final environmental impact statement banning hydrofracking in the state.  The final report on fracking is a signal for others to move on as well. Anti-fracking groups say they are using New York’s stance to help convince other states -- and even countries -- to also ban the gas drilling process. (July 2, 2015) Innovation Trail)

Getting the Fracking ban in New York was a long, hard struggle for thousands, a struggle that seemed hopeless against a worldwide juggernaut of fossil fuel drilling. Those who want to drill for more fossil fuels will never give up. No matter that 97% of climate scientists warn that fossil fuels must stay in the ground, or our world’s moral leaders, inspired by Pope Francis’s Encyclical, agree.

Fracking ban starts clock for lawsuits When Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration officially banned large-scale hydraulic fracturing Monday, it finally put an end to a seven-year review process that drew hundreds of thousands of public comments and sharply divided the general public. For now. The state Department of Environmental Conservation's action started a 120-day clock for fracking proponents to examine whether the ban has any legal holes; fracking opponents have lauded the ban. If a lawsuit isn't filed by Oct. 27, state law says the decision can no longer be challenged. For years, both boosters and opponents of shale-gas drilling have operated under the belief that the state's ultimate decision on fracking would end up in the courts. The next four months will prove whether the assumption becomes reality. (July 3, 2015) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle 

When we sense hopelessness about our species’ ability to address Climate Change, this madness for more greenhouse gases masquerading as economic boom is what they are talking about. The nattering narrative pandered by the press and our politicians, that only drilling for more fossil fuels can provide more jobs and more money, must end. The push for 100% renewable energy by 2030 must begin in earnest now if we want anything like sustainable development.

But banning Fracking is not enough.

New York should also ban Bomb Trains (moving volatile crude oil through our communities by a shaky rail system) and stopping the incredible gas storage expansion at Seneca Lake. With the specter of a Fracking jackboot removed from our necks, we should be accelerating our efforts to develop 100% renewable energy by 2030 (see before the zealots of an old technology strangle us with more fossil fuel energy options that have put our future in jeopardy.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Pope Francis’s Encyclical and avoiding hell on Earth

Before I wear out my welcome or lose you entirely while trying to make my point: Read the Encyclical (ENCYCLICAL LETTER, LAUDATO SI’OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME).

Throughout humanity’s existence, there have been many attempts to warn ourselves about damaging our environment, a place we have increasingly become aware of as our life support system. From the reverence by native peoples around the world for the place they called home, to the holy books of many faiths demanding that we care for our fellow creatures, to the writings by St. Francis Assisi, George Perkins Marsh, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Leopold Aldo, Rachel Carson, Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein, and Al Gore, (and many more, of course), we have had only limited success in getting through to ourselves that our actions on our environment matter.

George Perkins Marsh, one of the most important and effective environmentalists you have never heard of, wrote Man and Nature in 1864 (revised in 1872 as “The Earth as Modified by Human Action) while he was US ambassador to Italy. This very influential book (it provided the foundation of our US forestry system under Gifford Pinchot who served under President Theodore Roosevelt) received worldwide acclaim as a most thorough assessment of past agriculture and forestry abuses in the hope of preventing future devastation just as the US was diving headlong into the Second Industrial Revolution. Many listened, but most (fueled by the allure of more stuff) did not.   

The public, especially the public in the developed world, has continued to believe itself to be in a position of security, not compelled to act to prevent environmental excesses. At various points in history, the warning of environmentalists have been ignored and massive development went on regardless of environmental and health impacts. It seems (because massive numbers did not immediately drop dead) as if the alarms from environmentalists about overpopulation and sustainability were all overblown. Which is the not the case at all. Pollution, the loss of biodiversity that is resulting in the Sixth Great Extinction, and Climate Change are all catching up with us. Until now, the mere size of our world and our technical prowess have helped mask our ravishing of our environment. But with Climate Change we are hitting a wall that has no historical precedent. Like the myriad debris gathering from a great flood quickly forming a dam, the accumulated mistakes from our past development are building up an impossible barrier. 

The most recent invocation for environmental attention is the widely anticipated Encyclical by Pope Francis. It is an extremely auspicious work, coming at a moment where there is still time enough to effectively communicate to the world the importance of a substantial agreement before the COP21 Paris Climate Conference in December. What makes the Encyclical so significant is not only the charisma of a religious leader of 4.3 billion people; it is a moral indictment of the collected environmental abuses of the past culminating in the present Climate Change crisis. It is perhaps the last chance to take stock of our moral Climate Change crisis and make a difference.

The Encyclical, while a religious text, is meant for the world. This is what Pope Francis says on paragraph #14 of the Encyclical:

“I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.” Encyclical

While worldwide media (not Rochester’s local media*, of course) have extensively quoted from the Encyclical (on the shortcomings of our economic system, the condition of the poor, and the part about “We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth…” (161, Encyclical)), this paragraph that describes the interrelatedness of all life and our machinations grabbed my attention:

‘It may well disturb us to learn of the extinction of mammals or birds, since they are more visible. But the good functioning of ecosystems also requires fungi, algae, worms, insects, reptiles and an innumerable variety of microorganisms. Some less numerous species, although generally unseen, nonetheless play a critical role in maintaining the equilibrium of a particular place. Human beings must intervene when a geosystem reaches a critical state. But nowadays, such intervention in nature has become more and more frequent. As a consequence, serious problems arise, leading to further interventions; human activity becomes ubiquitous, with all the risks which this entails. Often a vicious circle results, as human intervention to resolve a problem further aggravates the situation.” (Paragraph 34, Encyclical)

But, and I want to stress this again, the public and our leaders need to read this critical work in full—not just a few showcase quotes. It took me several days to read the Encyclical, not because it was so long (it’s only about 80 pages including the references) but because I found myself pouring over every paragraph—sometimes reading them several times to absorb their insight.

I, as an Atheist, can appreciate the Pope’s wisdom regarding individual actions to address Climate Change, even though I believe in a practical sense our individual actions need to be accompanied by systemic societal changes and in a time frame that will actually make a difference; otherwise, our little experiment with life on this planet will be over.

There is a nobility in the duty to care for creation through little daily actions, and it is wonderful how education can bring about real changes in lifestyle. Education in environmental responsibility can encourage ways of acting which directly and significantly affect the world around us, such as avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transport or car-pooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights, or any number of other practices. All of these reflect a generous and worthy creativity which brings out the best in human beings. (211, Encyclical)

However noble our everyday actions, at this point in time they will not be enough to mitigate Climate Change. Those kind of actions must come from our leaders. Still, if we change our ways, Pope Francis implores “… any place can turn from being a hell on earth into the setting for a dignified life.” (149, Encyclical)

Hell on earth doesn’t have to happen if we listen to the wise voices that focus our priorities on our life support system—and not try to bake in all our whims and desires into them before we act.
*Ok, there was a moment when folks in Rochester came together (albeit on the radio) and talked about the Pope’s Encyclical:

Connections: The Pope and Climate Issues We examine the meaning of Pope Francis' new encyclical on climate change. What does it mean for the Catholic Church? More broadly, what does it mean when an organized religion wades into climate issues? Our panel discusses that and more: (June 22, 2015) Connections 

There should be more platforms for local Climate Change discussions.  With Climate Change and the disproportionate suffering of those who did not cause this crisis, it will indeed be a very hot hell on earth.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Speak up for wildlife as they try to adapt to Climate Change

Several centuries too late, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) gets moving on establishing a baseline for freshwater mussels. Mussels are these incredible filter feeders that not only keep our waters clean, but provide a foundation for stream, river, and lake ecosystems in our region. And, according to the DEC “Almost all kinds of mussels and clams are sensitive to pollution and environmental stress.”1 Which is to say, mussels are not only excellent indicators of water quality but Climate Change too. Because, as you know, Climate Change can be very stressful.

So, why is our environmental authority just getting around to quantifying and measuring the impact of this critical wildlife species? Without a long-term baseline from which to compare then and now, we don’t know whether invasive species (like the incredibly damaging Zebra Mussels) are destroying our endemic mussels, whether the tons of industrial waste, pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer run-offs are affecting them, or whether our warming waters from Climate Change are going to send these little creatures to oblivion. It is likely that one reason the DEC has been late to mussel research is that much of DEC funding comes from fishing and hunting licenses. Those who harvest our wildlife tend care about critters as game, not in their role in keeping our ecosystems healthy.

We need to find a way to make sure that ‘we the people’ get more of a voice in deciding on the DEC’s role in managing wildlife in a time of warming (hence the importance of public comment on this plan ((see below, I’m getting to it)) by July 17th). Those who have specific interests in keeping specific species plentiful for their sport should not have undue influence with our state environmental authority, a louder voice than the accumulated interest of all of us on a fragile planet as we try to adapt to Climate Change. Advocates for birds get heard, but there are no advocates for freshwater mussels—or beavers for that matter. But that is another essay.

This essay is about Climate Change and wildlife. Sorry, I got a little side-tracked, but so did Wednesday’s Proposed State Wildlife Action Plan public meeting at the local DEC headquarters in Avon. It took us awhile to get through the mussels before we got down to the plan. This is the plan:

“The proposed State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) to protect rare and declining wildlife species is now available for public comment, state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens announced today. The deadline for comment is Friday, July 17.”

The SWAP is a comprehensive plan for the next ten years to protect wildlife from such common threats as “loss of habitat, pollution, invasive species, and climate change.”2
Issues like loss of habitat (a euphemism for massive destruction of lands and wetlands from development) pollution, and invasive species get little consideration from the DEC because these wildlife threats tend to be baked into our way of life. It would require a very heavy lift to get a majority of the public and the DEC focused on wildlife threats that are exceedingly difficult and inconvenient to solve without disrupting today’s economic growth. So it goes.

Vanishingly small is the attention the DEC gives the threat to our wildlife by Climate Change. Yet, on paper the SWAP gets the connection between wildlife and Climate Change.

Climate Change & Severe Weather - Threats from long-term climatic changes which may be linked to global warming and other severe climatic/weather events that are outside of the natural range of variation, or potentially can wipe out a vulnerable species or habitat.
10.1. Habitat Shifting & Alteration - Changes in habitat composition and location.
10.2. Droughts - Periods in which rainfall falls below the normal range of variation.
10.3. Temperature Extremes - Periods in which temperatures exceed or go below the normal range of variation.
10.4. Storms & Flooding - Extreme precipitation and/or wind events. (Page 25, “Draft State Wildlife Action Plan for Public Comment”)

But in real life, the DEC rarely connects the dots. My impression is that the DEC only connects Climate Change and wildlife as they are related to mitigation (i.e., stopping greenhouse gas ((GHG)) emissions), not adaptation. The DEC heralds the ClimAID report, the New York State Climate Action Plan Interim Report, Climate Smart Communities program, and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) as their way of addressing Climate Change. These studies and programs concentrate on lowering greenhouse gases, which in turn reduces the consequences to wildlife as mentioned above. In other words, helping wildlife to adapt to Climate Change is like President Reagan’s way of helping the poor by trickling down the wealth of the rich. These are not going to address the specific issues wildlife have with adapting to Climate Change in any time frame or on a level that will matter.

We know from the ClimAID and Interim Report that wildlife will have to move in order to avoid the heat. But much of their ability to move requires getting across the barriers of our transportation system (highways and canals) and adapting ten times faster than the 10,000 years of a stable climate before pre-industrial times. Part of adapting is that the ecosystem of which wildlife is an integral part must also ‘move’ with the creatures. In order for a frog to leave a wetland, its wetland must ‘leave’ with it. Cold water fish (trout) need to be able to move upstream or dive for deeper water to exist. Without a stream free of obstructions (dams) or an increase in shade and water deep enough for them to cool off, these fish will not adapt. (Note: restocking fish every year is not adapting; it only creates the illusion of adapting -- like thinking you can stay within your budget even though your parents keep bailing you out.)

Our wildlife require the ecosystems they evolved with. Let me drill down a little deeper on this point: wildlife not are simply individual creatures who just happen to ‘like’ living in a certain place. Wildlife are the place. Without frogs and bugs and fish and birds and all those little creatures that breakdown life and recycle it, a wetland is just a watery ditch that collects cigarette butts. A ditch not a biological system. A plan to protect our wildlife must be a plan to protect our ecosystems. And that plan should be a part of our climate plans. The SWAP should spell out exactly what our environmental authority is doing to help wildlife adapt to Climate Change—and be held accountable for their actions. The specific actions mentioned by the SWAP in Planning and Administration Projects should be formulated with Climate Change in mind—not as an afterthought. Adaptation strategies like creating transportation corridors so wildlife can move across our highways; removing dams and changing culverts so aquatic life can move to cool off; and preventing development in or near wetlands, these all need to demonstrate that they are helping wildlife adapt. If not, these actions need to be readjusted to that end. And (always mentioned last even though it is critical) educating the public about wildlife’s role in our environment and what the general public can do to augment the state’s efforts.

Educating the public on wildlife and Climate Change could have the wonderful effect of getting the public to tolerate wildlife in their backyards. Because much of what constitutes New York State is private property, this change of attitude towards wildlife would go far in allowing our property to be passageways to adaptation and maybe homes for those creatures we evicted long ago. The City of Rochester’s Wildlife webpage explains how urbanites can learn to get along safely with those beings we should no longer be calling a nuisance.   

Consider making comment to the SWAP by Friday, July 17. First, read the draft SWAP, then if you need more information, contact Joe Racette at (518) 402-8933 or Comments should be sent to or mailed to Joe Racette, NYSDEC, 625 Broadway, 5th Floor, Albany, NY 12233. Really, Joe and the DEC want to hear from you. Because if the public doesn’t speak for our wildlife, only the special interest folks will get heard.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Climate Change and the Monroe County Executive race

Much of the present focus on Climate Change is on the COP21 Paris Conference and mitigation—keeping greenhouse gases below 2C (3.6F) above pre-industrial averages. Preparations for the COP21 are going slowly, as evidenced by the lack of real progress in Bonn recently. So we don’t really know if humanity will get its act together in time to make life sustainable as the window of opportunity quickly closes. 

But one of the aspects of the Climate Change crisis that environmental groups, local media, and local governments often ignore are the day-to-day preparations required to adapt to the consequences of Climate Change in our region. Because Climate Change has become so politicized, emotional, and fearful to our media, we often fail to appreciate the exceptional nature of this worldwide crisis locally. Of course, local government at every level always has a lot on its plate—poverty, crime, taxes, education, transportation, fires, social services, code enforcement, waste management, you-name-it. But the difference between the day-to-day responsibilities of local government and preparation for the consequences of Climate Change is like the difference between maintaining a busy household and keeping it all together during major (and increasingly intense) hurricanes—where complete failure is always possible.

Governments have a responsibility to protect their constituents from the vulnerabilities of clear and present dangers. They can and must be held accountable. The exceptional vulnerabilities from Climate Change are on a scale that requires the kind of government leadership that anticipates disasters before they become unmanageable. Some of these special vulnerabilities are spelled out in the NYSERDA funded “Responding to Climate Change in New York State” or ClimAID 2011 report.

The vulnerability of the people in New York State is largely determined by several key factors: behavioral norms that have been institutionalized through building codes, crop insurance, flood-management infrastructure, water systems, and a variety of other programs; socio-economic factors that affect access to technology, information, and institutions; geographic climate-sensitive health risks due to the proximity of natural resources, dependence on private wells for drinking water, and vulnerability to coastal surges or river flooding (Balbus and Malina, 2009); and biological sensitivity related to preexisting medical conditions, such as the sensitivity of people with chronic heart conditions to heat-related illness (Balbus and Malina, 2009). (Pages 52 & 53, ClimAID)

Other climate studies that pertain to our area (New York State Climate Action Plan Interim Report or National Climate Assessment, Northeast) validate the immediacy of local Climate Change preparation. They don’t prevaricate as to whether Climate Change is happening, whether it is human caused, or whether we can delay action. These studies are official certainties that should be expressed as mandates in our local government. Which is to say, our government should be held accountable for making our way of living robust and resilient as more extreme weather (floods, heat waves) and increased threats to the public health (West Nile Virus and Lyme disease) come upon us. Preparations cannot be put off. Our media should be monitoring our government’s climate actions continually.

However, at the Rochester level we are still responding to Climate Change as if we are waiting for someone or something to kick us into action. Citizens are waiting for their government to act and the government is waiting to be pushed, looking over its shoulder to see if anyone really cares about this issue, instead of providing the vision and guidance for the road ahead. The media is focused primarily on sports.

The race for Monroe County Executive is now underway.  

I sincerely hope we can have a public discussion on Climate Change during this critical race. Preparing the local public for the public health and infrastructural consequences of Climate Chang in our region should be a top priority of the Monroe County Executive position. Debates and discussions on this important election should not be completely hijacked by taxes and budgets. Ignoring Climate Change preparation, as it was completely ignored in the Rochester mayoral race, is immoral and impractical.  

Saturday, June 06, 2015

The true cost of the Fracking brouhaha in Rochester and New York

Despite six long years battling this fossil fuel option that hijacked the public’s attention on energy during Climate Change, every bit of news about Fracking continually sends our local media into paroxysms of hope and despair. 
We are halfway to the COP21 Paris Climate Conference in December. Bonn, Germany is now hosting a two-week conference on curbing carbon emissions so that these greenhouse gases won’t make life unsustainable. Pledges from many nations at this point are still falling short of a 2C limit, which many experts believe is way too high. But one of the positive updates to Bonn is a letter sent by six major oil companies asking for a price on carbon. (Don’t get too sentimental about this request because the Big Six are corporations after all and so their altruism is limited to their bottom line.)

With significant recent developments—including India blaming Climate Change for the deaths of 2,330 people thus far in a terrible heat wave, and the soon to be release Papal encyclical demanding that Christians around the world care about this crisis–you’d think the world would be riveted by this historic attention to the worldwide crisis of our time. Many are.

But not Rochester. Even though Dr. James Hansen spoke to over 800 of us on Earth Day about how the 2C goal is too high and our carbon emissions must go below our present levels soon, this issue has been mostly forgotten. Our press isn’t covering the worldwide effort to address this worldwide crisis. Our representatives aren’t talking about it, even to themselves. Think about it. We are living in an incredible moment, where our future is going to be determined by our decisions (and remember, not doing anything about Climate Change is a decision). But unless you get your news outside Monroe County, you’re probably not engaged with what the world is doing about Climate Change locally.

Locally, we are still bemoaning the loss of Fracking. Despite six long years battling this fossil fuel option that hijacked the public’s attention on energy during Climate Change, every bit of news about Fracking continually sends our local media into paroxysms of hope and despair. The long awaited EPA report on Fracking (“EPA Releases Draft Assessment on the Potential Impacts to Drinking Water Resources from Hydraulic Fracturing Activities”) gets the press while Climate Change languishes. For our local media, a battle, however moot and self-generated, is far more enticing to the media than the complicated story of Climate Change.

Both sides draw ammunition from EPA fracking report Hydraulic fracturing can pollute groundwater numerous ways, federal environmental officials have concluded, but the controversial process to extract gas from shale is not causing "widespread systemic impacts on drinking water." The conclusion came with the release Thursday of a five-year national study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The analysis involved a "robust literature review," in the words of the EPA's Tom Burke, of dozens of scientific studies, technical papers and records from industry and activists submitted as part of the contentious and ongoing battle over the wisdom of tapping shale gas to meet the nation's energy needs. (June 4, 2015) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

The truth is that there are more than two sides to this media-created Fracking frenzy. There is the side that is working diligently towards 100% renewable energy by 2030. Check out, especially the section on New York. This isn’t nuts, Hawaii is considering 100% by 2040 and science backs up our New York State effort: “Examining the feasibility of converting New York State’s all-purpose energy infrastructure to one using wind, water, and sunlight”.

There is the side that thinks New York is already moving steadily towards cutting carbon emissions via the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

The Surprising Facts About the Clean Power Plan: Most States Are Already On Track to Meet 2020 Benchmarks for Reducing Carbon Emissions A new analysis released today by UCS shows that most states are already making progress toward cutting carbon emissions from power plants by shifting from coal-fired power to cleaner generation sources like renewable energy, energy efficiency, and natural gas. As a result of recent decisions and state laws that predate the proposed Clean Power Plan, 31 states have already made commitments that would put them more than halfway toward meeting the 2020 benchmarks set out by the EPA, and 14 of those states are already on track to meet or exceed them, including some unlikely suspects. States like Delaware, New York, and New Hampshire that are able to meet their benchmarks through collective action with the nine states that are part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI)—a multi-state effort to collectively cap carbon emissions from power plants. (June 3, 2015) Union of Concerned Scientists 

There is the side that thinks the EPA’s recent study was very limited and actually says Fracking pollutes drinking water. There is yet another side (our state) that doesn’t think the EPA study addressed many of the other reasons why New York said no to Fracking in the first place:

NY agency: EPA report won't affect state's ban on fracking Business groups are calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to lift New York's fracking ban after the Environmental Protection Agency reported the technology hasn't caused widespread harm to drinking water, but the Cuomo administration says the ban will stay. Department of Environmental Conservation spokesman Tom Mailey says the EPA review released Thursday focused on impacts to water related to high-volume hydraulic fracturing. But he said the state's review was much broader, evaluating impacts to air, water, public health, ecosystems, wildlife and communities. (June 5, 2015) WHEC Rochester

And there is the side that says that we are not addressing the true cost with any fossil fuels (including Fracking). The true cost of our energy is not the price you pay for this energy at the pump or your electric bill, which has been seriously bankrolled by your government to make it extremely addictive and deadly.

If we are to adapt to and mitigate Climate Change, we must adopt a more mature definition of costs than the one provided by a loony economic system that treats our life support system as an insignificant detail. 

Calls grow for full fossil fuel reckoning From the International Monetary Fund to doctors, voices calling out the fossil fuel industry over its health costs are becoming louder - and more numerous. But a lot depends on the definition of "cost." Six major European energy companies have called on policymakers to put global carbon pricing on the agenda at United Nations climate talks in Bonn this week. They describe this as the most effective way of encouraging greener investments. But as a growing movement shows, putting a price on fossil fuels could also provide a solution to the increasingly visible problem of their costs falling to taxpayers. (June 2, 2015) Deutsche Welle

The greatest cost of fossil fuels is the dangerous illusion that they are affordable and not responsible for this worldwide crisis of Climate Change. 

The True Cost of Fossil Fuels Fossil fuels reap profits in modern economies in part because the costs of their environmental and health damage are not included in their price. A new report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) finds that we're significantly underestimating society's subsidy for fossil fuel use worldwide. The report's co-author, IMF economist David Coady tells host Steve Curwood how they calculated fossil fuels subsidies worldwide annually cost taxpayers and consumers $5.3 trillion. (May 29, 2015) Living on Earth

The true cost of fossil fuels, including Fracking, is that it steals away our time, money, and attention as the window of opportunity to address Climate Change closes.

Time passes. 

Saturday, May 30, 2015

E-waste limbo in Rochester, NY

The Catholic Church scrapped the notion of Limbo a while ago, but NYS is still putting our e-waste laws into Limbo. So, here is a photo (see above) of a TV thrown to the curb near my house in Rochester—broken apart, probably for valuable metals. According to New York State law, as of January 1st, it has been illegal for homeowners to curb their old TV. They should get a fine for doing so. (See “New E-Waste Ban Prohibits You From Tossing That Old Computer to the Curb” or “New NY law requires electronic recycling” or “Electronics recycling law to go into effect January 1”, or” Don't throw away that flatscreen: Electronics recycling law to take effect Jan. 1”, or “No electronics in trash Jan. 1.”) You get the picture, this was big news back in January.  

“Disposal Ban: Beginning January 1, 2015, consumers may no longer dispose of certain types of electronic equipment in landfills, waste-to-energy facilities, in the trash, or at curbside for trash pickup.” “Recycling Your Electronic Waste” New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

But here’s the problem—or problems--with actually fining those who put their TV’s out to the curb and thus reducing the problem of these toxic materials getting strewn around our neighborhoods.  Scrappers come before the weekly City picks up, smash the curbed TVs for valuable metals, and thus make these old electronics useless for recycling, instead ushering them on their toxic way to our landfills, wreaking bloody havoc.  I wrote about all this last December just before this latest part of the NYS E-waste law went into effect: “January 1st deadline in NYS could inject new life into e-waste recycling” Back then, I speculated that this law needed to close the enforcement-gap.  

And here we are in May and the law has no teeth, meaning the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation who made the law has no agents who would actually go around to each community and fine those who curb their TVs. It is left to communities to fine these folks. But the communities cannot do that because their codes do not include fining folks for it. The state needs to make it clear how a community like Rochester can do that.  I am still waiting for a DEC enforcement response as to how our City code can include fining those who curb their E-Waste. That was months ago. Limbo.

But, it’s even more complicated than that. The City decided years ago to go around and pick up TVs along with the weekly trash pickups (so they or their haulers wouldn’t get fined under an earlier phase of the E-Waste law) and take this e-waste to the recycling centers. However, because of this practice, it wouldn’t actually be illegal for homeowners to curb their old TVs because (and you got to love this) the homeowner cannot be fined for throwing out an old TV with the intention of landfilling it because it isn’t actually being landfilled. Some communities have services that do pick up e-waste regularly by independent recyclers (not Rochester) and so the law’s language was shaped for this option. So, technically you cannot get fined for curbing your old TV because it’s being recycled—even though the problem with scrappers trashing our neighborhoods and making recycling impossible is a reality as it always has been. Bingo! Limbo!

To compound this issue all the more is that our media and our authorities are very squeamish about the prospect of enforcing this part of the law (fining homeowners) as it is most likely that enforcing it would put an unfair burden on the poor who are more likely to curb their old E-waste because they perceive that proper disposal of E-waste may be too expensive.  When I exchanged emails with a reporter about this problem enforcing the e-waste law as it pertains with homeowners, he brought up this point. Which is to say that this probable burden on the poor means that the media does not want talk about this issue because it makes the press look like they are pointing fingers at the poor. I understand the argument and I sympathize. But here’s the problem with it. The state and all the communities in the state had five-long years to prepare for this aspect of the law. In that time, much could have been done to help recycling businesses educate the public and perhaps even offer incentives for home pickup and rewards for donating old electronics. The poor could be making money selling their old TVs to recyclers who would come and pick them up.  Trash is cash when the laws is enforced.

Instead, we still have an e-waste problem and this law is now in Limbo—a mythical place where ‘problems’ come to rest without a solution because the creators couldn’t figure out a convenient way for the laws to work. (Like the problem of what to do with deceased infants who are incapable of committing any sins but died before they could be baptized (freed from original sin) and thus couldn’t go to Heaven.)

There can and is much that can be done about removing our e-waste law from Limbo. The state should make it plain how the law can be fixed into every community’s codes. Folks should call 311 when they see this toxic e-waste put out to the curb—reminding the City they must have the power to act. Contact the media, the City, and especially the DEC, and tell them that you want this enforcement gap in the law closed in order to create a new playing field for recycling e-waste, thus reducing the threat to our health and our environment—and reduce the need to mine for more precious metals that could be retrieved from our waste. You can contact the NYS DEC about this e-waste enforcement gap by email or by phone (518) 402-8706 and let them know you really care about your neighborhood not getting polluted by e-waste.

If everyone just pretends we have an effective law, many folks will realize that it isn’t being enforced and go back to curbing their TV’s. Which is what I am observing.

For those who think this issue is very trivial compared with all our other problems, they should consider this:

“The amount of electronic products discarded globally has skyrocketed recently, with 20-50 million tonnes generated every year. If such a huge figure is hard to imagine, think of it like this - if the estimated amount of e-waste generated every year would be put into containers on a train it would go once around the world!” (The e-waste problem, GreenPeace)

* Full disclosure: I am the former chairperson of the Rochester Sierra Club’s Zero Waste Committee. 

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.