Monday, February 08, 2016

The COP21 Paris Climate summit remembered in Ithaca

For all of Homo sapiens’ braininess perhaps our short attention span will be remembered as our most defining characteristic. It’s not just that our minds often wander during boring speeches; collectively we tend to lose focus on really important stuff before that stuff has time enough to play out. The historic COP21 Paris Summit is barely two months old and is already fading from the public’s attention. It has certainly vanished from local media’s awareness. However, in Ithaca the other day, Climate Change came to the forefront when six panelists spoke about their experiences at the Paris summit to an overflow audience earnestly attentive to what these experts had to say. 

Panelists review Paris climate summit at Ithaca event Six panelists, including Cornell faculty members, who attended the 21st United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris last fall recalled the historic proceedings for a spirited audience that spilled into the hallway of the Tompkins County Public Library’s BorgWarner Room Feb. 3. The panel, “COP21: Reflections on the Historic Climate Agreement,” was co-sponsored by Cornell’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, local government agencies and community groups. Topics discussed ranged from methane emissions to agriculture to civil disobedience, but panelists agreed that the COP21 made history by producing a 195-nation commitment to combat climate change that, while not nearly strong enough, they said, was a remarkable achievement nonetheless. (February 4, 2016) Cornell Chronicle 

The article above and these short videos from two of the panelists-- Colleen Boland and Sandra Steingraber-- capture some of the tone and content of the event in Ithaca. I’m not going to go over all that they said, except to say Climate Change has not faded from their attention. Not in the least.

I sensed that if every community around the world responded to the Paris talks the way Ithaca did that evening, Climate Change would remain fixed in all our minds as a top priority. For as long as it takes for us to address this crisis. Even when our media does cover the Paris talks, they cannot reproduce the town-meeting effect that allows for give-and--take discussions between members of a community on issues crucial to their lives.

In fact, many of the advances in our communications technologies seem to detract from the town-meeting experience, reinforcing our inclination to silo our conversations, where like-minded people talk to each other and the rest get ignored. I suspect that even when we climate activists march in the streets to focus media and leadership attention on Climate Change, we tend to alienate the rest who view such actions as extreme.

What would a conversation with the rest look like in Monroe County? Let’s say we get 700 folks (~ .1% of our county’s population) into a town meeting setting at, say, one of our local university’s auditoriums. Let’s say we can bring in a representative demographic, and could invite some key panelists -- mayors, our governor, some local climate experts, faith leaders, business leaders, community leaders -- to speak for five minutes each on how their groups perceive Climate Change. Then, with a lot of folks with a lot of microphones running around so everyone in the audience could get heard, we’d have a long conversation about Climate Change in our region:

The governor might speak about how we must lead on Climate Change and what their office is doing about changing our energy options. Climate experts could point out some of the many consequences of Climate Change already happening, then consider what’s in store for us if we continue business as usual. Climate experts could give expert testimony on how many aspects of local ecosystems, our lakes, and our agriculture are already being affected. Our faith leaders could talk about the moral imperative of addressing Climate Change. Community leaders could express the concerns of people already disadvantaged—even without Climate Change bearing down on them. The business community could talk about their understanding of Climate Change and some of the solutions they’ve come up with themselves. Then the floor could be opened to the public. And someone would stand up and speak into a microphone:

“I cannot get a job because I cannot afford a vehicle that will take me to where the jobs are.” “Well,” a panelist might say, “We understand this problem and we are trying to update the public transportation system so that it goes to where folks have to go to keep a job.” “But my taxes are already too high.” “My taxes are so high I can hardly keep my mortgage payments going.” “There are programs to help homeowners get energy audits and get the upgrades you need with little cost.” “You talked about our drinking water being affected by more heavy rain causing more sewer overflows.” “We are working to get our waste water system more resilient so it can handle the increase.” “Won’t that cause my taxes to go up more?” “Your taxes might go up a little more or even down if the burden is shared equally.” “I hear the experts about all the changes coming with our weather and climate, but I got problems now with violence, with poor health.” “There will be opportunities for groups who can provide volunteers to grow more gardens for more local healthy food, help out in heat and flood emergencies, and much more.” “I’m a young person and I won’t be able to afford my college fees if I don’t get a good paying job immediately.” “There will be positions opening up to transition business models towards new services and products in a warming world.” “We have a great responsibility to look out and help those who cannot by themselves adapt to Climate Change.” and so on. People who have never talked about Climate Change in the same room would do just that and everyone would remember.  

One of the main conundrums of Climate Change is that the rest are actually a vast majority of the population, and they haven’t been part of the conversation. The rest are going to feel the worst Climate Change consequences sooner and to a far greater degree than those actually paying attention to this crisis because the rest didn’t understand the importance of planning.

The event in Ithaca reminded me that many folks actually understand the urgency of Climate Change (especially when too many of us are stuffed into a room designed for smaller audiences). But put in perspective, only a vanishingly small percent of our country’s population see the warming threat for what it is, as Paris summit fades away for the rest and something else catches their attention.

Time passes. 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Why Climate Action Plans (CAP) are so important for every community

An increasing number of US cities have adopted a Climate Action Plan (CAP). Just to name a few: Portland, Oregon; Chicago, Illinois; Boston, Massachusetts; and Minneapolis, Minnesota have adopted rigorous plans that define the threats Climate Change poses to their cities and how they plan to approach these issues.

Although Climate Change is going to warm our planet’s entire atmosphere, it’s going to affect each community differently. Increasingly, cities will experience some combination of water shortages, more flooding, more public health issues due to their particular geography, finances, populations, and infrastructures.  So every community should have their own CAP.  

A CAP isn’t just a sustainability plan that includes Climate Change; it’s a climate action plan that defines how sustainability must be viewed through the lens of Climate Change. For example, existing infrastructures—highways, water pipes—must not only be maintained, they must be made more resilient for the challenges coming.

A CAP is an official acknowledgement that our collective attempts at sustainability must be tailored to a quickly warming world, not simply carrying on in the previous world where the prevailing opinion was that humanity’s actions didn’t disrupt our environment (our life support system) much.

A CAP should identify sources of a community’s greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions, which makes it more likely we will find solutions for reducing a community’s carbon footprint.

A CAP should identify those members of the community who are most vulnerable to the local effects of Climate Change. For example, in a heat wave it is critical that there is a system in place to identify and inform isolated folks who need to get relief from the heat. 

A CAP can bring to the local public’s attention the specific ways this worldwide crisis affects them. This increases the likelihood that climate disruptions around the world will bring humanity together under a common threat, making solutions possible when we work together.

A CAP provides an opportunity for various elements in our society to make their voices heard, their vulnerabilities known, and their actions inclusive. For example, folks in a poor neighborhood should have representation in a CAP to facilitate actions by the larger community that will actually work for all on a level and time frame that will matter.

A CAP represents to the local media a way to measure the actions of our public officials against the plans in place to address Climate Change. A CAP would also alert the local media that connecting the dots between Climate Change and local climate disruptions are now a continual part of their job description.

A CAP closes the door on climate denial. For example, a CAP sends a message to the public that their leaders understand the science behind this worldwide crisis and are ready to act in the public’s interests. Climate denial then becomes the pariah message that it is, allowing peer pressure to stop it altogether.

A CAP connects one community to another with solutions that may be accelerated and fortified by sharing tactics and strategies. For example, solar power is understood as a wonderful energy option that will provide many jobs and significantly reduce GHG emissions. But many local codes and large utilities hamper efforts for this decentralized energy option. A CAP could level the playing field for renewable energy options and help clear away obstacles thrown down by those who want fossil-fueled business as usual.

A CAP sends a message to the public that many long-term projects to maintain and fortify their infrastructures for more extreme conditions will require their understanding, patience, and support for adequate adaptation.

A CAP sets the stage for the business community that makes environmental regulations and practices predictable. A CAP can also suggest to many new businesses the proper direction for new products that will help a community adapt.  

A CAP helps the public understand that many of their activities—what they buy, what they eat, and how they travel—are integrally related to our communal effort to address Climate Change. 

A CAP, however, is just a piece of paper with no legal authority.

But then so is the Declaration of Independence.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Rochester People’s Climate Coalition (RPCC) is addressing Climate Change in Rochester, NY

Something extraordinary is happening in Rochester, NY. As group of folks tried to get some media attention about sending two busloads of Rochesterians to the September 21, 2014 People’s Climate March in New York City, a rapidly growing umbrella organization formed to address Climate Change. 

The Rochester People’s Climate Coalition (RPCC) was formed in September 2014 to mobilize our community to attend the People’s Climate March in New York City.  Within a few weeks, 30+ member organizations joined the coalition, including businesses, churches, political offices, environmental groups, and other nonprofits.  The RPCC continues to grow, collaborate, and build political power.  For a full list of member organizations and information on how to join the coalition, see here.”

A year later, RPCC has grown to over 60 coalition organizations with a proud list of accomplishments:

  • ·         Candidate Forum 2015: While much of our local media ignored the connections that Climate Change has on our candidates for public office, the RPCC hosted a widely-attended forum that compelled our potential leaders to defend their positions on Climate Change.
  • ·         Rochester March for Global Climate Action: The RPCC joined a worldwide effort to support strong leadership at the COP21 Paris Climate Conference, which resulted in the Paris Agreement. To get a sense of the energy and passion behind this effort that got over 500 people in Rochester into their streets, check out the event’s Facebook page.  
  • ·      Twelve Days of Climate: While the Paris negotiations were going on, the RPCC conducted 12 days of local action programs to keep local attention on the historic Paris meeting.

Much more, of course, has happened in the background as the group of dedicated and effective RPCC leaders quickly built a coalition that seeks to accelerate and make more effective all local actions on Climate Change. Those efforts are being noticed:

"Rochester was a center of the industrial revolution, and now is becoming a leader in the 21st century drive for a clean energy future. Thanks to the Rochester Peoples Climate Coalition for being out in front!" - Bill McKibben, co-founder, [1]

Coming up this year are myriad events in the Rochester area for Earth Week in an effort to keep the focus on the energy coming out of Paris. While not a perfect deal, the Paris Agreement does provide a lasting formula for all nations of the world to address Climate Change. The RPCC is helping its member groups promote their Earth Day events to engage everyone in our region, so that addressing Climate Change can occur on a level and scale that will actually matter. To keep up on all that the RPCC is doing check their website and Facebook page.  
It matters that the RPCC exists and continues to grow. Just this week, Earth just got another wake-up call on Climate Change.

NASA, NOAA Analyses Reveal Record-Shattering Global Warm Temperatures in 2015 Earth’s 2015 surface temperatures were the warmest since modern record keeping began in 1880, according to independent analyses by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Globally-averaged temperatures in 2015 shattered the previous mark set in 2014 by 0.23 degrees Fahrenheit (0.13 Celsius). Only once before, in 1998, has the new record been greater than the old record by this much. The 2015 temperatures continue a long-term warming trend, according to analyses by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York (GISTEMP). NOAA scientists concur with the finding that 2015 was the warmest year on record based on separate, independent analyses of the data. Because weather station locations and measurements change over time, there is some uncertainty in the individual values in the GISTEMP index. Taking this into account, NASA analysis estimates 2015 was the warmest year with 94 percent certainty. (January 20, 2016) The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Monday, January 18, 2016

Why this Climate Change should be capitalized

In order to prevent confusion between past climate changes and this Climate Change, I humbly suggest that we capitalize this one. There’s something special about today’s Climate Change. It’s not like the other major climate changes, which have occurred throughout our planet’s history. So, for clarification, we should capitalize this manmade, unprecedented climate change event that has warmed the planet since about the mid 1800’s and continues to jeopardize our future.

We often capitalize events that stand out as extraordinary—The Great Depression, the Middle Ages, the McCarthy Era, etc.—where we differentiate the specific from the common, so this wouldn’t really violate grammatical protocol or precedence.

Of course we shouldn’t arbitrarily capitalize words willy-nilly according to our predilections or the whole idea of capitalization will lose its meaning. Reading old texts before the 1800’s can seem like a minefield of Attention-Getting words that no longer have the Impact they had on their Authors, making these old texts not only Difficult to read but oftentimes seeming to border on Hysteria.

However when Climate Change is not capitalized, it loses its special designation and becomes blurred in many people’s mind with events in the distant past. Granted, many deniers purposely confuse this Climate Change with the others, which have been occurring since Earth’s early bacteria generated an atmosphere.  

But this climate change is different, different in a moral and practical way that makes it critical that we don’t confuse it with past climate disruptions, which mostly occurred before humanity graced this planet. We caused this Climate Change. We need to take responsibility for it. And we need to understand it because we won’t discover solutions if we don’t accept the causes. Nor can we talk about sustainability unless we factor in all that Climate Change contains. We didn’t purposely set out to cause this climatic disruption. But the recent Paris Agreement, a worldwide acknowledgement of Climate Change’s importance, elevates this climate change crisis out of the ordinary. 

Climate Change, though it may not prove to be as devastating as the previous five extinction events (which were either a result of a changing climate or caused one) is fundamentally different than all the others. Humanity has arbitrarily carved up our present environment by our various infrastructures—water, transportation, telecommunications, etc.—that are now critical to the lives of seven billion people. These infrastructures will be greatly impacted by Climate Change (more heat and flooding), and in turn these infrastructure breakdowns are going to compromise both our ability and all other living beings’ ability to adapt to this sudden warming. For example, there are precious few studies about how our highway systems have limited both plants’ and animals’ need to keep moving in order for them to retain the environmental conditions that they evolved with. Our predilection to divide up our environment for our purposes instead of following nature’s lead is going to severely constrict our ability to adapt.   

Our pollution of the air, water, and soil with industrial waste (much of which is comprised of compounds never before introduced into our life support system) now exists on an order of magnitude that may jeopardize the health of our environment. Our ubiquitous damming and rerouting of waterways further restricts nature’s ability to adjust to the warming. And we’ve unleashed so many invasive species into our ecosystems that there’s no telling how any adaptation scenario will play out. In other words, humanity would most likely have a major catastrophe coming even if we weren’t also baking this extraordinary mix with our greenhouse gas emissions.

This complexity surrounding Climate Change also explains why it’s difficult to pin down exactly what this Climate Change is and why there are no simple solutions. Climate Change is not your great, great, great, grandmother’s climate change. Giving Climate Change special emphasis by capitalizing it will go far in keeping this phenomenon from becoming buried in the humdrum of things we should care about and escalate it to something we absolutely have to address. 

Time passes.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Spaceship Earth is much more sensitive than we thought

You’ve been traveling around in space for a while and during that time you’ve noticed that the coating on the spaceship’s exterior has been peeling off. Not much. A little here and a little there. On occasions, when your crew wasn’t busy with its mission and keeping the spaceship in working order, someone went outside the ship and touched up the coating. Business as usual. Then, a meteor shoots through your air system and you need to get back to Earth quickly. When you go outside to assess the damage from the meteor you realize that not only has the space fragment torn a hole in the ship but there are a lot of places missing the outside coating that you and your crew haven’t kept up with. At the same time you realize the spaceship will burn up upon reentry if the protective layer isn’t fixed immediately. Now, patching the coating takes top priority, even though there are a lot of other preparations just as critical that need to be made for a safe landing.

One of the great big problems with Climate Change is that Murphy’s Law kicks in with a vengeance. ‘What can go wrong, will go wrong, and at the worst possible moment’ should be on everyone’s mind as they think through what rapidly warming our climate means. However much we do to improve the lives of humanity, if we don’t prioritize taking care of our planet’s protective coating, we are not going to be able to safeguard ourselves from the worst of Climate Change. 

Of course, there have been a lot of climate changes in Earth’s history. But this anthropogenic Climate Change is entirely different. We have caused this sudden warming; we thrived on a cooler planet; we’ve built massive infrastructures that are vulnerable to sudden extreme weather; there are now seven billion of us who depend on a very shaky food-producing, life-giving environment; and normal weather events and climate patterns like El NiƱo get amplified causing far more damage than they could have in the past climate changes.

Climate Chaos, Across the Map What is going on with the weather? With tornado outbreaks in the South, Christmas temperatures that sent trees into bloom in Central Park, drought in parts of Africa and historic floods drowning the old industrial cities of England, 2015 is closing with a string of weather anomalies all over the world. The year, expected to be the hottest on record, may be over at midnight Thursday, but the trouble will not be. Rain in the central United States has been so heavy that major floods are beginning along the Mississippi River and are likely to intensify in coming weeks. California may lurch from drought to flood by late winter. Most serious, millions of people could be threatened by a developing food shortage in southern Africa. (December 30, 2015) New York Times

We have unleashed a new climate paradigm upon our life support system that we barely understand. Two recent items in the news capture novel aspects of Climate Change besides the long list of things going wrong with our weather.

The first is an article by renowned climate scientist, Michael Mann, about how we went about choosing the wrong baseline for the Paris Agreement. In this article (below), Mann seriously challenges using the average between 1850 and 1900 as “an inappropriate baseline … for defining the “pre-industrial.”” Mann thinks a hundred years earlier is a more appropriate baseline from which to measure CO2 increases. An accurate baseline is important because anything else is delusional.

Michael Mann: How Close Are We to ‘Dangerous’ Planetary Warming? In the wake of the COP 21 UN climate summit in Paris, a number of important questions still remain unanswered. Take for example the commitment reached by the 197 participating nations to limit warming below the “dangerous” level of 2C relative to pre-industrial time (neglecting for the time being the aspirational goal of a substantially lower 1.5C limit acknowledged in recognition of the danger posed to low-lying island nations). The question immediately arises: How much time do we have until we reach the danger zone? How close are we to the 2C warming limit? It has been widely reported that 2015 will be the first year where temperatures climbed to 1C above the pre-industrial. That might make it seem like we’ve got quite a ways to go until we breach the 2C limit. But the claim is wrong. We exceeded 1C warming more than a decade ago. The problem is that here, and elsewhere, an inappropriate baseline has been invoked for defining the “pre-industrial.” The warming was measured relative to the average over the latter half of the 19th century (1850-1900). In other words, the base year implicitly used to define “pre-industrial” conditions is 1875, the mid-point of that interval. Yet the industrial revolution and the rise in atmospheric CO2 concentrations associated with it, began more than a century earlier. (December 24, 2015) EcoWatch

If we think we can continue to increase greenhouse gases because we have chosen the wrong baseline, no amount of human consensus can change the consequences. If you think you can drive to your grandmother’s house for Christmas from your sister’s house on a half tank of gas, but realize your sister’s house is not where you thought it was, then you’d better recalculate. You may run out of gas. Trying to establish the proper baseline for addressing Climate Change is going to be tricky because our climate models are getting better and we are continually learning more about how our climate responds to changes. So, thinking we can pick just any baseline and then assume we have an accurate window where we can keep plowing more greenhouse gases into our atmosphere is a very dangerous delusion indeed. We’d better get our science right—and then we should get our politicians and media to listen to our scientists.  

The other story is about how sensitive climate is to an increase in CO2.

Earth's climate more sensitive to CO2 than previously thought, study finds Ancient climates on Earth may have been more sensitive to carbon dioxide than was previously thought, according to new research from Binghamton University.  A team of Binghamton University researchers including geology PhD student Elliot A. Jagniecki and professors Tim Lowenstein, David Jenkins and Robert Demicco examined nahcolite crystals found in Colorado's Green River Formation, formed 50 million years old during a hothouse climate. They found that CO2 levels during this time may have been as low as 680 parts per million (ppm), nearly half the 1,125 ppm predicted by previous experiments. The new data suggests that past predictions significantly underestimate the impact of greenhouse warming and that Earth's climate may be more sensitive to increased carbon dioxide than was once thought, said Lowenstein. (November 16, 2015)

Climate Change has forced us to learn a lot more about how our planet responds to a sudden warming. Learning, for example, that Earth's climate is more sensitive to CO2 than previously thought after we have already warmed the planet considerably and not heeded decades of warnings means that we have to respond much quicker than we thought. This hammers home the question: Are we going to drive our efforts to address Climate Change by heeding scientific information? Or are we going to proceed regardless of the warnings and a continual indifference to new information?  If so, then we will only be able to chronicle our plight in hindsight because our chances to make the proper turns at the right times have passed us by.

What appears by many to be merely a dreary litany of disasters claimed to be Climate Change -related are actually indicators that our protective layer on Spaceship Earth is peeling away. And while these terrible events have been occurring, our greater understanding of Climate Change reveals that all along our planet has been much more sensitive to warming than we have anticipated.

It isn’t hopeless. But if our reactions to these indicators and new understandings of the problem continue to be chronic hopelessness and denial it may well get very miserable. 

Time passes.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Rochester, NY’s downtown future during Climate Change

The foundation of a thriving downtown Rochester encompasses more than a desirable housing market. Consider the case of Flint, Michigan where a bad official decision to save money on public water infrastructure has resulted in the lead poisoning of many children and a drinking water crisis.  When you cannot drink the water, breath the air, or if your built infrastructures (transportation, water, waste, telecommunications, and energy) are crumbing, even a cheap McMansion will be undesirable.

In a changing world, where the past we knew is not an indication of our future prospects, one of the most dramatic changes Rochester and its downtown hub will experience is Climate Change. Our housing market, our job prospects, our public health, and everything else we hold dear will not thrive if our environment (our life support system) is collapsing. In the past we developed and advanced under the delusion that our environment would take care of itself despite our environmental interference.

Things have changed. Or rather, our recognition of our incredible negative effects on our environment has improved—culminating in our growing awareness of Climate Change. Our environment is a much more sensitive biological system that we previously thought. The Paris Agreement, agreed to by almost every nation in the world, should if nothing else remind everyone everywhere that sustaining a viable future must include an urgency to act at every level.

A year ago City Newspaper reported “Rochester to undertake citywide climate inventory” (January 21, 2015) and it looks like the city is finally getting around to it. How robustly the city embraces the community-wide Climate Action Plan (CAP) and other ‘green’ initiatives could determine whether we remain a desirable place to live regardless of downtown development. Rochester is and will be experiencing many changes due to the great warming but not as much as many other areas whose ability to get enough fresh water, maintain farm productivity, and protect themselves from extreme weather will fail long before these vital elements fail here. 

Rochester has been slowly addressing Climate Change, although we have yet to reach the degree of concern equal to the threat. And the public has not been engaged.

In other words, Rochester government is changing its energy profile, assuming I suppose that if they lead on energy efficiency, conservation, and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions the public will follow. But if the public doesn’t know that Rochester is leading, the message is lost. 

Rochester has increased their focus on active transportation (walking and bicycling), which not only increases the likelihood that more folks will want to live downtown, but also decreases our fossil-fuel transportation system’s effects on our health and greenhouse gas emissions. But we have not educated the public about the importance of active transportation in combating Climate Change, we see the same old conversations about different transportation modes while the elephant sits in the room ignored.

Rochester has talked about its commitment to addressing Climate Change. But it has not demonstrated its concern to the public in a consistent manner that engages the public or the local media. Climate denial and its devastating obstructionism is still rife in our community. This means we are still talking about solving our existing problems and orchestrating our future development as if Climate Change doesn’t exist. Other areas, including other cities in our country, do not have this problem because they’ve presented their communities with strong climate action plans.

Because of climate refugees, downtown Rochester will probably grow in numbers—one way or the other. The best way would be to ready ourselves by planning and educating the public to gain their support. The other way, business as usual, will be madness.

Ultimately, the most important attraction for a city will not be its snazzy architecture. It will be the likelihood of its prolonged sustainability, and its perception among the affluent that it will flourish.

Time passes. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Not even Rochester, NY sits on the sidelines after the Paris Agreement

While everyone is still trying to get their heads around the Paris Agreement, as it is now called, we should probably spend a moment on what we have achieved. Humanity has finally admitted that Climate Change must be addressed on a level that will actually matter. No more fooling around.

Then we should probably spend at least another moment on what the world agreed to:

What are the key elements? To keep global temperatures "well below" 2.0C (3.6F) above pre-industrial times and "endeavour to limit" them even more, to 1.5C To limit the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity to the same levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally, beginning at some point between 2050 and 2100 To review each country's contribution to cutting emissions every five years so they scale up to the challenge For rich countries to help poorer nations by providing "climate finance" to adapt to climate change and switch to renewable energy. (Global climate deal: In summary 12/12/2015, BBC News)

For a species disinclined to react to far-off threats, we agreed on a lot, although not enough to actually bring the temperatures down to a safe level or provide adequate funding for developed nations to thrive.  The Agreement has unleashed a lot of hope and despair and, of course, a lot of carping by those who still believe that all this climate concern is making much of nothing. (How wonderful for them.)

There is hope that the fossil fuel era will close and the renewable energy era will rise. There is hope that the Agreement will focus humanity’s attention on not only enduring this manmade warming phase with grace, but will actually allow us to emerge from it a better steward of our planet, with a healthier and more just society.

There is despair that we’ve started much too late to address this crisis and that our lesser angels will allow our short-term interests to override our long-term survival. That instead of being charitable towards others, we’ll devolve into a constant state of self-destructive meanness as we fight over the last scraps of the bounties we accumulated in the fossil fuel era.

Whether we thrive or perish is up to us, all of us. The Paris Agreement has demonstrated that none of us can watch Climate Change from the sidelines. Especially not the climate deniers, whose worldview is no longer acceptable. Climate denial is now on par with earlier hateful memes, like the belief that some people are inherently better than others.

Not even Rochester, NY can sit on the sidelines. We’ve misspent decades continually refusing to connect the dots to local consequences so we can adapt in a timely manner, or admit to ourselves that we have a moral mandate to help others because much of the existing warmth in the atmosphere is ours. Rochester and New York and the Northeast (and Europe, from whence the Industrial Revolution began) own those dangerous greenhouse gases that are already wreaking havoc.

Overall, environmentalists were hopeful for a successful Paris Agreement in the sense that the baseline for worldwide consensus on the validly of addressing Climate Change would hold, but not so hopeful that the Agreement in and of itself would save us. That, they know, is ahead of us. Bill McKibben, as usual, says it best:

Climate deal: the pistol has fired, so why aren’t we running? | Bill McKibben There can be no complacency after the Paris talks. Hitting even the 1.5C target will need drastic, rapid action With the climate talks in Paris now over, the world has set itself a serious goal: limit temperature rise to 1.5C. Or failing that, 2C. Hitting those targets is absolutely necessary: even the one-degree rise that we’ve already seen is wreaking havoc on everything from ice caps to ocean chemistry. But meeting it won’t be easy, given that we’re currently on track for between 4C and 5C. Our only hope is to decisively pick up the pace. In fact, pace is now the key word for climate. Not where we’re going, but how fast we’re going there. Pace – velocity, speed, rate, momentum, tempo. That’s what matters from here on in. We know where we’re going now; no one can doubt that the fossil fuel age has finally begun to wane, and that the sun is now shining on, well, solar. But the question, the only important question, is: how fast. (December 13, 2015) The Guardian

Time passes. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Rochester Democrat & Chronicle article on Climate Change breaks records

This Rochester Democrat & Chronicle (D&C) article is hands down the most important local article on why COP21 Paris matters to Rochester. This connecting-the-dots article between Climate Change and the local consequences is crucial for our public to understand why Climate Change needs to be communicated in such a way so that the pubic backs their leaders to strongly address Climate Change. We hope to see more continual coverage of how Climate Change is affecting our region so we here in Rochester can plan for and adapt as quickly and painlessly as possible to this worldwide crisis. 

Paris on the Genesee: Why it matters As the global climate summit known as COP21 begins its second full week, Paris seems a long way away. But what happens at the climate talks there does matter here. Western New York, like everywhere, is vulnerable to severe stress and disruption as our climate warms and the weather changes. The talks by officials from 195 countries are intended to minimize the scope of those disruptions, which have already begun. The goal of the COP21 talks is to agree on universal goals to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. (If you must know, the acronym signifies the 21st Conference of the Parties, meaning the countries that are parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The first COP was in  Berlin in 1995.) These gases, principally carbon dioxide but others as well, are warming the Earth's climate by trapping heat that would otherwise escape into space. The predominant source of man-made carbon dioxide is burning of fossil fuels — coal and natural gas in power plants, gasoline and diesel fuel in vehicles — plus the burning of wood and some manufacturing processes. (December 8, 2015) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

This article manages to communicate to a wide and diverse local public: that the COP21 Paris Climate Summit matters to Rochester, that Climate Change is changing our weather, that manmade greenhouse gas emissions from our transportation and energy sectors are the cause of this Climate Change, that we are already experiencing heavy rainfall (flash flooding) as reported in official climate studies, that Rochester is already “2.3 degrees higher than it was 150 years ago”, that the melting of the Arctic is making our winters too whacky to predict, that our growing season has changed, that some of our worst weeds may thrive and our best crops not fare so well, that our wildlife will be more stressed, that there are more blue-green algae blooms in our ponds and lakes, and that we must evolve towards better and cleaner energy options. All of which I have been reporting on for years, hoping our media, environmental groups, public officials, and our pubic would recognize the gravity and urgency of our situation and start planning for this new normal. We have frittered away a lot of precious time by not tackling this sooner.  

The local environmental community understands the significance of this D&C article on Climate Change as the numbers of ‘reaches’ on their social media have broken all records. On the Rochester People’s Climate Coalition Facebook page alone, almost 600 folks have viewed this article and the numbers go well over a 1,000 when more groups are included. Those numbers exploded to these highs in only two days—and trust me we never get those kinds of numbers on a single posting. (Cute puppy videos doing cute tricks get these numbers but we don’t.) Those waiting for mainstream media to connect the dots with the local consequences of Climate Change have been waiting a long time for this kind of article—and they want more. The public must be engaged on Climate Change and despite the rise of the Internet, whoever rules mainstream media gets to talk to all of the people.   

Today (12/11/2015) while waiting for the outcome of the Paris summit, two stories I came across highlight why articles like the D&C article are so important. Both are about our infrastructures—transportation and wastewater. The first is about the continual inadequate funding for local highways. Keeping our local transportation system infrastructure safe and sound not only means keeping up with the needs of the system but also preparing it for the extreme weather that comes with Climate Change—more heat and more flash flooding. The public needs to understand the problem so we can properly prepare. When our transportation system fails, you cannot get around or address emergencies. A crippled transportation system is not something you can fix at the last minute. Climate Change means planning. 

Ontario County highway crews push for fair infrastructure funding Upstate roads and bridges are in are in need of work — and the money to pay for it, highway crews and local state legislators say. Ontario County has more than 1,200 culverts, which carry water from a stream or open drain underneath a road. Over 46 percent of them require major work, said Bill Wright, commissioner of public works for the county. And it can be costly — a culvert replacement project this year on County Road 16 in the town of Canandaigua cost in the neighborhood of $1 million. (December 10, 2015) Brighton-Pittsford Post

The other story is out of Portland, Oregon, a city that has been preparing for Climate Change for over twenty years. This story highlights how just any kind of planning is not enough. The public must understand the nature of the beast, as it were, so their officials fund and plan adequately. Portland had planned for a one-in-twenty-five-year flood, thinking the public would never go for more dramatically expensive updates. But Portland just got a one-in-one-hundred-year flood.

Why Portland's drainage system failed to stop this week's flooding PORTLAND, Ore. - Parts of Portland looked more like a lake this week after the city saw near record rainfall. On Monday, Portland's third wettest day ever, the Pearl District flooded as manholes overflowed. The brown water they spewed was around 90 percent storm runoff and 10 percent sewage, according to the city's Bureau of Environmental Services (BES). Similar scenes played out throughout the city this week as creeks and drains overflowed and people had to take sometimes desperate measures to avoid being stranded and stay out of the muck. So how did it happen in a city with a massive and expensive drainage system? (12/9/2015, KATU)

I believe that if our media continually reported on local consequences of Climate Change in the way the D&C did this week, public attitudes would change. When attitudes change, the public will begin voting differently. The public will vote for leaders who understand all the implications of a warming climate quickly and address it properly.

Once the public understands what has been set in motion with Climate Change, that a great giant has been awakened by our deeds and that this giant is now stirring, they will understand the urgency and level of threat this crisis poses. 

Now we know our media knows the nature of the problem. Could this recognition of our new climate normal will become the new norm for local reporting? For all our sakes, let us hope so.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Best media coverage of Rochester’s Global Climate March was Indymedia Rochester, NY

Getting adequate media coverage on Climate Change in Rochester, NY has been a long struggle. While not openly denying Climate Change, most local media fail to connect the dots between the local consequences of this worldwide crisis. This leads the public to think that Climate Change is not a local issue that needs public support for planning and a citizenry not engaged in the crisis of our age.

What may happen if mainstream media continues to bury this crisis as a separate silo of concern?  For one, these former leaders of the public communication networks may become null and void. The public will go elsewhere to find out about their reality of a warming world and leave the media that only panders to their prurient interests far behind.

This is what great news coverage of last Sunday’s downtown march, complete with police escort, looks like:

Rochester Rallys for Climate Justice Over 400 people attended the Rochester March for Global Climate Action on Sunday November 30 2015. The event coincided with  United Nations Climate Summit beginning that day in Paris, France.  President Obama and 140 other world leaders are attending the summit.  A large march in Paris had to be cancelled due to the recent armed terror attacks on November 13. But people turned out in solidarity in over 2200 cities around the world including Rochester. The event was organized by the Rochester People's Climate Coalition, formed in 2014. (December 2, 2015) INDY Media Rochester

Two events during the proceedings stand out in my mind: The City of Rochester’s Commissioner of Environmental Services spoke eloquently about how Rochester absolutely has to address Climate Change. Climate deniers have the luxury of carping about the inconvenience of Climate Change, but governmental officials do not. It’s the job of our public officials to protect us from clear and present dangers. This talk before the march gives great credibility to the importance that Climate Change plays in our present lives.

The other event was when the Rochester police, who helped guide our march, allowed 400 of us to take over one of the bridges downtown for a few minutes so we could take photos.
Granted there was some minimal coverage of the march by other media:

And there was valuable pre-march coverage that explained why we were marching, which went far in getting 400+ folks to the march.

I know, if our march was a sports event these numbers would look pathetic. But for local public concern about Climate Change, getting 400 folks out into the streets just after Thanksgiving on a cold day is amazing.

The problem with the coverage was its lack of prominence in our mainstream media. Our march not only didn’t appear above the fold in our major newsprint media, it didn’t appear anywhere. (Don’t you miss the old days in Rochester when we had competing print media?) Most of the TV stations didn’t show up, none of the radio stations, and our public media was not there. Which meant we marched alone—all four hundreds of us with no onlookers cheering us on to a successful Paris.
So, instead of engaging with the rest of the 700,000 folks in Monroe County, we were left in large measure to selfies, which by the way we did very well. Check out this incredible interaction on the event’s Facebook page.  

If mainstream media continues to ignore Climate Change, other media venues will pick up this crucial role. One of the more fascinating ways to reach the public has been social media, especially one social media that connects all Rochesterians in all our neighborhoods. is a wonderful way for neighbors to message neighbors about pending crimes, yard sales, finding specialized contractors, and even discussing local stuff. Later, after I posted the press release for our local march, an explosion of actual interactions on Climate Change took place amongst ordinary local folks. For a moment, lost cats and yard sales gave way to a local focus and discussion within a media that includes all neighbors who are concerned with all sorts of stuff. Although we discovered (in over 100 exchanges) that there is still deep cynicism about Climate Change locally we found many opportunities for enlightenment. We need to break through our silos and discuss Climate Change in all venues where local folks lives are concerned.  

They say (I know, Yogi said it best), it ain’t over until it’s over, and Paris still has many days to go. In Rochester you can stay focused locally on the Paris Climate Summit by checking out the rest of the 12 Days of Climate:

“Following our November 29th kick-off celebration at Rochester’s March for Global Climate Action, RPCC’s Twelve Days of Climate will span the length of the 21st UN Conference on Climate Change.  Twelve Days of Climate is a series of opportunities for Rochesterians to join the fight against climate change.  Each day highlights a distinct approach to solving the climate crisis, and actions you can take.  See the calendar here” (from Rochester People’s Climate Coalition)

Indymedia’s* coverage of the march was the best because they stayed with us. They videoed the speakers’ speeches and allowed the public to express their hopes and concerns as our warming planet gets warmer. When most of those media outlets who are supposed to be informing the public about important stuff were out shopping (or whatever they do on a ‘non-news day’), at least one media stayed with us for the long haul, the long dramatic struggle to get the rest of the public to pay attention to this worldwide crisis.

What has to jump out at you on the COP21 Climate Summit in Paris proceedings is the great silence from our local media at this historic moment. At the end of the COP21, we will be living on a different planet: one where its brainy inhabitants will curb their irresponsible energy use, or one will we will have given up on our collective ability to solve big problems—threatening the future for all. But still, despite all that has passed on Climate Change, our local media either doesn’t know how or is unwilling to report on something that will have profound impacts on every aspect of our lives—even in Rochester.

Time passes. 

* “… a non-commercial, democratic collective of Rochester area independent media makers and media outlets, and serves as the local organizing unit of the global Indymedia network.”

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Why are we demanding that Climate Change messengers make the math work for renewable energy scalability?

Is it the job of environmentalists, renewable energy companies, and scientists to prove that renewable energy is scalable (able to replace the amount of energy we desire) now? It appears as though it is when Climate Change discussions focus on whether renewable energy is ready to fully substitute for the current energy of choice.  

Environmentalist find themselves in the absurd position of having to prove -- to the public, to the media, and (even more absurdly) to economists -- that existing renewable energy options and costs can compete with fossil fuels in order to replace our dependence on fossil fuels. Many environmental groups, in their heroic attempts to appear optimistic and hopeful about a situation that  becomes more dire each day, have in effect promised that humanity can shift quickly to clean, renewable energy options (yes, I’ve been doing this myself). But is it appropriate or even useful to place responsibility for proving this extraordinary claim on the folks explaining the threats of Climate Change, instead of on the very individuals and institutions whose job it is to make our energy options doable and sustainable.

In fact, those pushing for rise of renewable energy and the fall of fossil fuels are doing a superb job at making the case that renewable energy is scalable, fair, and they are even advocating policies to help workers with the transition from bad energy to good. But the conversation about addressing Climate Change continues to be hijacked by scalability and costs and jobs, which are always couched as “gotcha” issues. This allows the public the dangerous delusion that there is an option when there isn’t (suggesting that we can do something else if renewables aren’t scalable). Continuing to burn fossil fuels will perilously warm our planet, period. There’s no either or.

If surviving is a top priority, there is no choice between the renewable energy camp and the fossil fuel camp. It’s like saying humanity has two choices: We can play Russian roulette with one bullet in the chamber or none. If you wish to continue to live, leaving bullets in the gun’s chamber will eventually lead to your demise. (Ok, it’s technically a choice but only for insanely suicidal people.)

Isn’t it enough to make the case that renewable energy won’t warm the planet beyond dangerous limits, whereas continuing our addiction on fossil fuels will? Climate deniers get quite smug about demonstrating to environmentalists, the public, and the media that renewable energy just isn’t up to snuff on providing for our energy needs. They have more facts to back up their position than you can shake a stick at.  

But think about this: Shouldn’t it be the job of our economists and politicians to either show how our present economic system is capable of enabling renewables to provide for our energy needs, or else show us an alternative economic system that is? Isn’t it the job of the economists, the engineers, the politicians to make renewable energy work on a scale that will matter?

Think about this too: What if environmentalists and renewable energy companies fail to make the case that renewable energy as it exists right now is scalable, is able meet our present and future energy demands? If environmentalists and renewable energy companies cannot provide all the energy we want to do whatever we want, despite the proof that manmade Climate Change will bring our life support system to a screaming halt, does that mean we should continue business as usual and destroy human civilization?

Much of the heavy lifting at the COP21 Paris Climate Summit will be shaping a worldwide structure for an energy option that won’t threaten our existence. The net effect of those opposing renewable energy will be a few more years of profitability and then a quick collapse as the economics of stranded assets and biophysics overcome our ability to adapt.

Historically we have treated environmentalist as the complainers along the way to our development of a super species. Because we have put the burden of proof of environmental damage on the victims, we’ve created the absurd stance that only a relatively small group of people need our environment.   
Environmentalists cannot save the world, while the rest go out and shop. We’re too few. All we can really do is ask that the rest of humanity focus on the priority of a life support system that supports us all. If we don’t quickly change the Climate Change discussion so that humanity accepts responsibility for this worldwide crisis, we will perish.

Make renewable energy work!

That is why we ask that thousands come to the streets this weekend to show our support for an ambitious deal at the COP21 Paris Summit that will avert the worst impacts of climate change.  In Rochester, come…

Updated Press Release:

Local Organizations Unite to Launch The

“Rochester March for Global Climate Action”


During the 21st United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris,

Rochesterians will join forces to urge global action against

growing climate problems.


Sunday, November 29, 2015- A coalition of concerned nonprofit organizations, churches, and businesses will march through downtown, to coincide with rallies, marches and other actions world-wide. The march is geared to urge leaders at the 21st United Nations Conference on Climate Change to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world.


Supporters are scheduled to meet at The Episcopal Church of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene (Two Saints), 17 Fitzhugh St S, Rochester, NY 14614 at 1 p.m. Bishop Prince Singh, Imam Mohammed Shafiq, Norman Jones, Commissioner of Environmental Services, and Mary Lupien of Mothers Out Front, will speak briefly before the march starts. Organizers will lead the march to several locations in downtown Rochester relevant to climate change. By around 2 p.m. the marchers will return to Two Saints for more fellowship and music by the Mt. Hope World Singers and the Dady Brothers. Information will be available on ways to remain involved and on upcoming programs.


WHO: Rochesterians concerned about climate change

WHAT: March for Global Climate Action

WHEN: Sunday, November 29, 2015 at 1 p.m.

WHERE: The Episcopal Church of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene, 17 Fitzhugh St.

WHY: To urge action from leaders at the 21st United Nations Conference on Climate Change and to raise awareness throughout the Rochester community.