Saturday, September 13, 2014

Climate Change from special interest to mainstream

 

PCM2It’s been an interesting week messaging the People’s Climate March (PCM) from Rochester, NY. The PCM occurring in New York City on September 21st will be the largest climate march in history. It’s a demonstration by over a thousand organizations and hundreds of thousands of ordinary folks and their children (not activists as mainstream media tends to characterize them). The march is but a single (though dramatic) event among many others going on in many other places: a Global Day of Action. Still, in Rochester, Climate Change is viewed by most people as a special issue. A special issue is something only a select group of people think is important, while the rest of us need not worry ourselves.

Of course, Climate Change is not a special interest, nor is it the concern of only a few. Every aspect of our environment, which is to say our life support system, and our entire social fabric will be challenged by this sudden shift in greenhouse gas concentrations (GHGs). Climate changes are already happening as the National Climate Assessment states, a report by 13 federal agencies that don’t have the luxury of avoiding this crisis. Climate studies that inform our leaders and agencies what’s happening, what to plan for, and what to do about Climate Change present the many practical solutions that must be occurring now. Again, Climate Change is not a special interest issue, and should not be treated as such.

In Rochester Climate Change is still seen by most as a minor annoyance or possibly a somewhat greater inconvenience. Those trying to communicate the necessity of adhering to the critical measures recommended by most official climate studies are thought to be overwrought and ‘passionate’ about this issue. Such ‘zealots’ are asked to restrain their enthusiasm for the proper venue. For example, on a local neighborhood social network, my announcement that a Rochester neighborhood association agreed that it was important to send locals to the PCM was received by one of the administrators of the popular program with distaste, suggesting if I wanted to mention ‘Climate Change’ I should create a special group for my special interest. Maybe go to a coffee shop and spill our hearts out. Climate Change, presumably, is more upsetting than house break-ins, robberies, and car thefts to the general public.

This isn’t simply a rambling rant of greeny woes. What is happening in our overloaded information age is that the gatekeepers of media--mainstream media editors and our social media administrators--are forcing us into silos where important stuff gets ignored and too often drivel rules. Owners of the mediums we now communicate through direct, and too often constrict, what we can transmit and what we can receive. Few issues highlight this alarming muzzling effect as Net Neutrality, where if we don’t act soon, only those with a lot of bucks will have the opportunity to communicate their message to most of the public. That happened with radio and TV and now the Internet is in jeopardy.

When Rochester region’s media were asked last Tuesday to attend a press conference, only one TV station showed up. Folks representing over 30 organizations, themselves representing over 100,000 Rochesterians, eloquently spoke in front of Rochester City Hall about the importance of getting local folks to the PCM. But, as usual, they ended up speaking largely to the converted. (You can Become the Media! by posting videos of the press conference all over the place.) Attending the PCM, an activity on the level that could force change in a timeframe that will actually matter, effectively got hushed up. Already, it is quite likely that the low-emission scenarios (where New York’s climate will be like Virginia’s) have passed us by as GHG accumulation rates break records. Today’s Florida climate is now more likely for New York even if we stop all anthropomorphic GHG emissions right now. This isn’t a special issue; it’s a practical emergency. If Neil Armstrong had reported from space to Huston that a vital component in the spaceship was failing and the moon mission was in trouble, Houston would have listened and acted.

Of course, not all efforts to get the 700,000 inhabitants of Monroe County energized about the People’s Climate March have been in vain. There are already two buses filled with local folks, a lot of car-pooling, train riders and other ways available to get to the march. There will be local actions for those who cannot go. Generous donations have been made so many can come. There has been some press. You can find out all about local efforts here http://peoplesclimate.org/westernny/. As I mentioned above, many local organizations have come together to speak as one on the urgency of Climate Change. This is good, the actions of a relative few; but it’s not enough. More folks live in Monroe County than the entire state of Vermont. We should be seeing a proportional response.

Sure, our region has many pressing issues. Yet despite the urgency it seems as though everything else but Climate Change comes first. But if not now, when? If not in Rochester, where? When will it be the appropriate time to lift Climate Change to the level of concern it deserves? When will climate change denial and not Climate Change messaging be appropriate? When will the citizenry demand of their leaders an accounting of their plans to address Climate change? When will it be ok to talk about climate change with your friends and family? When will our local media editors instruct their reporters to connect the dots on the local expression of Climate Change.? In other words, how should a message as grave as Climate Change be messaged to the greater local public--who do not want to hear about it, even though they must? Being nice and patient hasn’t worked.

In a time where many issues are competing for our limited attention, we need to prioritize. Climate Change, the mother of all problems, should long have been a mainstream issue, not in the embarrassingly discomfiting squalor of unseemliness it now resides. It should be at the top of our priority list if we wish to give our children a fighting chance.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Rochester, NY groups join efforts to get locals to People’s Climate March

 

CCHelpComingSMore than 20 organizations in the Rochester area are helping to boost awareness that getting local folks to the People’s Climate March is absolutely crucial. Business as usual is not acceptable anymore. Rochester’s efforts, the Western New York hub of the People’s Climate March, joined over twenty groups, businesses, organizations of faith, and labor organizations, to support getting Rochesterians to the ‘Largest Climate March in History.’ Already, Rochester People’s Climate Coalition gets big local press coverage:  

  • Connections: Climate Change “Coming up on September 21, the People’s Climate March takes place in New York City. The organizers describe the event as the largest single event on climate ever organized. The march is designed to get the attention of world leaders about the issue. Our guests today will tell us about the march and discuss the issue of climate change: Susan Spencer, Ph.D. candidate at RIT, Susan Smith, Dr. Abigail McHugh-Grifa”
  • Coalition recruits climate marchers  On September 21, hundreds of thousands of people will march through Manhattan to show leaders from around the world, particularly US politicians, that the American public supports and demands action on climate change. (September 3, 2014) Rochester City Newspaper

If you don’t get your butt to the People’s Climate March and back your leaders’ substantial actions on Climate Change, you can kiss it “Goodbye!” Look, for those who pour scorn on the Peoples Climate March as being some desperate symbolic measure by some frustrated liberals to change the world, let them be accountable for less than a great outpouring of humanity to demand that greenhouse gases be lowered, and done so fairly. If, after you have gotten out of your chair and out from behind your excuses, and joined with hundreds of thousands at the People’s Climate March in New York City, then you can carp with righteous self-importance about how you did your part.

To better understand the implications of how wimpy leadership on Climate Change threatens our ability to adapt to Climate Change, read this special investigative series “Water’s Edge” from Reuters (not exactly a bastion of liberal, bleeding-heart journalism). Despite the rage against the inconvenience of addressing Climate Change, against the climate science, the clogging affect of our ineffective politics, and the distraction of our loud but loony ideologies, the rising seas near our most populated regions are relentless. Let me repeat “relentless” (persistent, unyielding, unremitting, inexorable, insistent, harsh, unrelenting, ruthless, and uncompromising). We are going to have to understand the role of government and insurance and private property and a whole lot more in this world of warming.  This Reuters story proves we don’t get Climate Change yet: 

As the seas rise, a slow-motion disaster gnaws at America’s shores Part 1: A Reuters analysis finds that flooding is increasing along much of the nation’s coastline, forcing many communities into costly, controversial struggles with a relentless foe. WALLOPS ISLAND, Virginia – Missions flown from the NASA base here have documented some of the most dramatic evidence of a warming planet over the past 20 years: the melting of polar ice, a force contributing to a global rise in ocean levels. The Wallops Flight Facility’s relationship with rising seas doesn’t end there. Its billion-dollar space launch complex occupies a barrier island that's drowning under the impact of worsening storms and flooding. NASA's response? Rather than move out of harm’s way, officials have added more than $100 million in new structures over the past five years and spent $43 million more to fortify the shoreline with sand. Nearly a third of that new sand has since been washed away. (September 4, 2014) Reuters

Back six years ago, many, many folks in New York State thought Fracking was inevitable and Governor Patterson’s Fracking moratorium would quickly dissolve. But that did not happen. Folks from all over the state, including the heroic work of R-Cause in Rochester, blocked that Fracking nonsense—at least for the time-being. People getting together en masse can make big changes and the People’s Climate Change march ain’t nothing; check this out:

This is an invitation to change everything. In September, world leaders are coming to New York City for a UN summit on the climate crisis. UN Secretary­ General Ban Ki-­moon is urging governments to support an ambitious global agreement to dramatically reduce global warming pollution. With our future on the line and the whole world watching, we’ll take a stand to bend the course of history. We’ll take to the streets to demand the world we know is within our reach: a world with an economy that works for people and the planet; a world safe from the ravages of climate change; a world with good jobs, clean air and water, and healthy communities To change everything, we need everyone on board. Sunday, September 21 in New York City. Join us.” (People’s Climate March)

Join with the Rochester People’s Climate Coalition in our effort to get local folks to the march. Contact me [FrankRegan@RochesterEnvironment.com] to sign on.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

People’s Climate March: “You will have to answer to your children.”

 

CCSorrySLet me use a quote from Dr. James Hansen to motivate you to come to the People’s Climate March: “Why march? You will have to answer to your children. You understood the situation at a time when it was not too late. Instead of standing up for them, did you choose to sit at home?” (“The People’s March”, 8/29/2014 Dr. James E. Hansen,)

President Obama, after staring politics in the face, has blinked from a full engagement at the Paris 2015 Climate Treaty. He’s going for an end-run around Congress for a nonbinding treaty:

Obama Pursuing Climate Accord in Lieu of Treaty WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is working to forge a sweeping international climate change agreement to compel nations to cut their planet-warming fossil fuel emissions, but without ratification from Congress. In preparation for this agreement, to be signed at a United Nations summit meeting in 2015 in Paris, the negotiators are meeting with diplomats from other countries to broker a deal to commit some of the world’s largest economies to enact laws to reduce their carbon pollution. But under the Constitution, a president may enter into a legally binding treaty only if it is approved by a two-thirds majority of the Senate. (August 26, 2014) New York Times

This political maneuvering comes about the same time that the New York Times also mentions that it just got hold of a UN draft that says “new U.N. report warns climate change could become "irreversible" if greenhouse gas emissions go unchecked,” (U.N. Draft Report Lists Unchecked Emissions’ Risks , (8/ 26, 2014) New York Times). That’s a show stopper, stop anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions NOW! or...  

However, rather than finally grasping the reality of Climate Change, the media and our leaders view Congress’s intransigency as some sort of irreversible reality. Some godly decree. So the US Congress’s inability to understand Climate Change science means we’ve encountered an unmovable body and we must go around it? Really? Congress has decided Climate Change does not exist, therefore it does not exist?

Not really. Congress can change. The laws of physics cannot change—you put more greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, the place warms up. People can change Congress’s mind. When enough folks come out and demonstrate to their leaders and their media that they must wake up, alarm bells can go off. Even Congress (believe it or not) must eventually bow to the people’s will. Sooner, rather than later, would be nice if we hope to have time enough to plan.

Listen to this critical interview with Bill McKibben on why folks like you and I must not let leaders get away with some kind of go-around deal. “Your body is badly needed on the streets of New York City on September 21, 2014…”

As Obama Settles on Nonbinding Treaty, "Only a Big Movement" Can Take on Global Warming As international climate scientists warn runaway greenhouse gas emissions could cause "severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts," the Obama administration is abandoning attempts to have Congress agree to a legally binding international climate deal. The New York Times reports U.S. negotiators are crafting a proposal that would not require congressional approval and instead would seek pledges from countries to cut emissions on a voluntary basis. This comes as a new U.N. report warns climate change could become "irreversible" if greenhouse gas emissions go unchecked. If global warming is to be adequately contained, it says, at least three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground. We speak to 350.org founder Bill McKibben about why his hopes for taking on global warming lie not in President Obama’s approach, but rather in events like the upcoming People’s Climate March in New York City, which could mark the largest rally for climate action ever. "The Obama administration, which likes to poke fun at recalcitrant congressmen, hasn’t been willing to really endure much in the way of political pain itself in order to slow things down," McKibben says. "The rest of the world can see that. The only way we’ll change any of these equations here or elsewhere is by building a big movement — that’s why September 21 in New York is such an important day." (August 28, 2014) Democracy Now!

Without you at the march, Congress will seriously screw up your future, and you will have to answer to your children. If you cannot come by bus, if you cannot come by train, if you cannot come by car-pooling, if you cannot come at all donate, if you cannot donate please make a commitment to get someone else in your stead to do at least one of these things. If you live near Rochester, NY here’s how you can be among those who showed up: http://peoplesclimate.org/westernny/

Saturday, August 23, 2014

People’s Climate March in NYC matters to Rochester, NY

 

CCLeadersOfWorldSTwo buses and a train full of Rochester folks will be heading to New York City for the September 21st People’s Climate March. This demonstration, likely to be the largest ever on Climate Change, will be an expression of the public’s will to get their leaders to prepare responsibly for a warming world. Adapting to and mitigating Climate Change should be humanity’s top priority. But for far too long our media has treated Climate Change as a special interest, failing to adequately inform the public of the most important issue of our time. Our politics, which is supposed to hone in on the issues most important to the public, has been paralyzed by anti-science ideology on this worldwide crisis. Government agencies, which manage and update our various infrastructures, are preparing us for the wrong future. And the public feels helpless, trying to decide how to influence something as overwhelming as Climate Change. The People’s Climate March is the public event which will affect change on a level that will actually matter. This may be the last chance for mitigation to play a real part in solving this crisis. It’s 2014; at the present trajectory, we’re are not going to keep global temperatures at the world consensus, and more changing of light bulbs won’t do the trick.

There will be hundreds of thousands of ordinary people, including over 750+ myriad groups, marching through the streets of Manhattan on a Sunday afternoon demanding that our leaders (including President Obama) make responsible choices at the UN Climate Change Summit in NYC, so that this time we can reach a worldwide binding treaty in Paris in 2015 on reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions —and doing so equitably. These climate talks have failed over twenty times, but if they fail again in Paris, we will lose our last chance to bring GHG down emissions before worldwide catastrophic disruption to our life support system. Not to mention a world warming up ten times faster than the Holocene will be pretty darn inconvenient, eventually impossible to adapt to.

Historically, only when people go to the streets in large numbers do their leaders begrudgingly shift their attention from everyday politics, the interests of the few and powerful, and begin the hard work of democracy. Gay rights, women’s rights, living wages, racial equality, and many more critical issues only made progress after being kickstarted by ordinary folks like you taking it to the streets. Climate Change is the mother of all critical issues: no future, no critical issues.

Like many places this year , Rochester NY has enjoyed a moderate summer because of the two giant cool spots in an otherwise very warm July. This kind of local weather anomaly tends to distract the public from the global warming trends. Yet, instead of frequent heatwaves this year, our region has been nailed with extreme flooding that has put a lot of raw sewage into our Great Lakes waters and jeopardized local crops. Frequent heavy flooding is one of the predictions of climate studies for our region. But the local press doesn’t mention that.

Because Climate Change doesn’t lend itself to short, pithy sound bites, only continual reporting by local media can lift the shroud of indifference that covers Rochester, and too many more communities. This indifference means the public begins to believe that addressing and mitigating Climate Change can be put off. It cannot. Climate Change is not about scaremongering, it’s about planning so the worst doesn’t happen. For one example, right now the Genesee Transportation Council (GTC) is planning for our local transportation infrastructure updates (fixing roads, bridges, and accommodating active transportation) covering the period of 2015 through 2040.They want your input. But even though we’ll be well into the consequences of Climate Change in our region by that time (more frequent extreme flooding, heat waves that wreak havoc on pavement not designed for that, and the cause of 27% of our GHGs) nary a mention of all that. This means the GTC will probably have to scrap the new plans right after they make them and redo them for a warmer Rochester.

Also, local media reports on fights over lake levels without bringing in Climate Change, which will ultimately determine the lake levels anyway. Though our region is experiencing more dangerous algae outbreaks in our lakes, more cases of Lyme disease and West Nile Virus, more ash borers killing our ash trees, more sewage entering the Great Lakes because of flooding, a longer growing season, and more whacky weather, all of which are connected to Climate Change, our local media does not connect this to Climate Change—nor our local governmental agencies for that matter. Consideration of any clean energy policy by the state that will keep more GHGs out of our atmosphere has been hijacked by the Fracking (more freaking fossil fuels) issue. It’s gonna be hard to keep pace with swatting every fly if someone doesn’t shut the door.

To shut that door, as it were, to mitigate Climate Change, to wake up our media, our leaders, and our neighbors, we call on the public to come to the People’s Climate March in New York City on September, 21st. If you cannot come, we call on you to donate so more can come. We also call on the public to: create or join a local PCM event, write letters to the editors of your media about this march, get involved, comment on articles in local media that don’t connect the dots, press community leaders to inform the public and to base community planning on Climate Change, to read some of the many climate studies for expert information, and (quite frankly) to give a shit about Climate Change.

Damn the excuses and full speed ahead to the People’s Climate March and then to Paris 2015. You can find out how to get to the People’s Climate March from Rochester, NY by going here: http://peoplesclimate.org/westernny/.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Addressing the Big Lie that there are alternatives to the Paris Climate Conference 2015

 

CCSolutionSIt is rubbish to suggest that there is any real alternative to the Paris Climate Conference 2015 in actually bringing down manmade greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). In the first place if there was an alternative to a worldwide binding agreement to keep world temperatures to 2°C and do so in a way that would be fair and equitable to both developed nations and developing nations, that would already be happening. It is not. Worldwide greenhouse gas emissions are going dangerously up.

Admittedly the climate talks have failed over twenty times, but that does not mean there is any real alternative; it merely means that those who have fought against doing the only thing that will actually bring down worldwide greenhouse gas emission have been successful in thwarting the rest of us. Thinking we can replace the moral imperative to mitigate Climate Change with our present economic system is folly, as our present economic system is the very system that has hijacked our moral system and put us in this worldwide climate crisis in the first place.

The United Nations (UN), which is hosting the Paris Climate Conference 2015 under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), was established to end worldwide conflagrations such as the first and second world wars. No other process than this, representatives of each nation continually talking and compromising, could have achieved this goal. Sure there have been many conflicts -- the Korean War, the Cold War, you-name-it -- but not another world war since the UN’s founding. Bad as the innumerable wars and nasty skirmishes that have gone on since the establishment of the UN in 1945 are, a third world war with the specter of a nuclear exchange would probably be the end. Now, though there is almost as much aspersion heaped on the UN as when President Wilson tried to start the first UN (called the League of Nations), it again is being called upon to solve an issue only it can solve. A successful Paris climate talk will not in and of itself solve Climate Change, just as the UN did not solve all world conflicts. But providing a platform where all nations meet and talk about Climate Change mitigation and find consensus in orchestrated agreements it can do. No other course of action has even a remote possibility of doing so.

In an otherwise important article “Why A New Study Thinks Next Year’s Climate Talks Won’t Keep The World Under 2°C” in Think Progress/Climate Progress, where a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) analysis predicts failure at the Paris talks, the writer includes a statement by a Paris 2015 contrarian. This article borders on the irresponsible, reminding me of Jon Oliver’s “statistically representative climate change debate.” From the study by MIT that the Paris Climate Talks will probably fail, the writer leaps to an interview with someone who says we don’t need this 2015 climate talk anyways: “We do not need a new international process to do this…”and we already have “The infrastructure already exists in other multilateral frameworks.”

It would have been more responsible for the writer to demand some evidence for these purported alternatives to the Paris 2015 talks. (And, maybe just for good measure, we might think about making those who dismiss and work against worldwide binding agreements accountable.) The truth is that after Paris 2015, there is no Plan B. If we cannot agree on a worldwide effort to mitigate Climate Change, we will be left trying to only adapt to the consequences of warming, and probably with little regard for those nations who did not cause Climate Change, who will be left to struggle with the consequences.

There are many ways we are going to have to accomplish fixing something as incredibly vast as bringing down GHG concentrations—and adapt to the inertia of warming already built up in our atmosphere and water since pre-industrial times. Clean energy; more efficient and less polluting transportation; quickly getting consumers to consider cradle-to-cradle design in their buying habits; a carbon tax, and much, much more will have to be implemented to adequately address Climate Change. But all of these actions must happen and they must happen in concert with the rest of the world or they’ll be ad hock and less than adequate for the situation—which is to say catastrophic.

Only a successful climate summit can compel governments and their peoples and their economies to comply with an orchestrated worldwide effort to bring GHG concentrations down. Nothing in our present economic system, or the religions of world, or even a major catastrophic event will get all seven billon of us on the same page. (Actually major catastrophes like 9/11 seem at least as likely to bring out the worst in our nature.] We cannot carbon capture or geoengineer ourselves out of Climate Change, because in many ways these ‘magic bullets’ will only enable us to dismiss the entire scope of Climate Change and continue on business as usual: buying more stuff, having more kids, and believing that there are no limits to our desires on a finite planet.

It is a Big Lie and it is irresponsible to suggest that because previous climate talks have failed, that because developed nations have refused to step up to the plate and lower their GHS and help those nations that did not cause this catastrophe in the past, that we must adopt plans that do little more than continue business as usual. So-called alternatives to Paris 2015 aren’t alternatives; they are deliberately sabotaging the only solution that will work for their own ideological and economic gain.

Adapting to and mitigating Climate Change in a way that sustains all life while striving to do so equitably is the defining issue of our time. How we comport ourselves during this historic trial by fire will reveal our true nature.

Lying to ourselves, looking for the quick-fix or the silver bullet, won’t solve an issue that has been building up for centuries due to overpopulation, overconsumption, and a great indifference to the workings of our life support system.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Climate Change mitigation (People’s Climate March ==> Paris 2015) & adaptation: what’s the diff?

 

CCPCM4Climate Change demands we walk and chew gum at the same time. We will have to Adapt to Climate Change and we should Mitigate Climate Change simultaneously. There are important differences between mitigation and adaptation. So that we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot while attempting both, we ought to be clear up front what we are talking about. The long road that leads us to the People’s Climate March in September and then to the Paris Climate Conference in 2015 is fraught with denial, political intrigue, physics, biology, and (dare I say it) hope.

Mitigation, taking actions to reduce the greenhouse gases (GHGs) emissions so that our atmosphere does not warm up even more, is at its core a moral issue. So that others—plants, animals, soil, and ourselves—have a viable future, we should do everything we can to stabilize or return to the climate we, and most of the life around us, thrived in. (I say ‘most’ because many creatures like amphibians and reptiles probably could have done without the Holocene altogether.) We have caused Climate Change; therefore, we have a moral responsibility to stop it. There are books and books that ruminate ad infinitum on this connection, not to mention religious leaders, including Pope Francis, who have waxed eloquently on this. But the moral imperative of Climate Change should be obvious to all; even an old atheist like me gets it.

Regardless of our mitigation efforts, we will, sooner or later, be compelled to adapt to Climate Change as well. The consequences of Climate Change—more wildfires, more extreme weather, rising seas, melting glaciers, and overwhelming insurance costs—will force us to adapt. Even those who deny the science of Climate Change*. Those who think Climate Change is so overwhelming and hopeless that they just go fall into a paralyzing pit of despair don’t understand the adapting part of Climate Change. It’s one thing to say, for example, that a nuclear holocaust is going to happen tomorrow (as we once thought in the sixties) and just go about one’s business as usual, hoping those fools in government won’t push the button—or whatever you use now to set those things off. It is quite another thing to say during a 100-degree-plus heatwave that you’ll just keep exercising outdoors and suck it up. Or, when your water is undrinkable because of sewer overflows (CSO) due to frequent extreme rainfall, you’ll just drink bottled water. Bottled (plastic really) potable water will run out very quickly in a parched, public shitstorm. All living organisms, even humans with cars and houses, have to adapt to every little change in their environment or they don’t get to live and procreate another day.

Since we are clearly not (yet) moved by the moral aspect of Climate Change (and it appears that we in the aggregate are not), we find ourselves instead shooting ourselves in the foot, as it were, by adapting to Climate Change by using more fossil fuels to keep ourselves cool. If we don’t change to a renewable energy grid, we’ll be cooling ourselves in the short term while setting the table for disaster. It would be the height of moral depravity to adapt to Climate Change by doing more harm than good. But adapting to Climate Change without mitigation would be like a worldwide whack-a-mole, starting more fires as you’re trying to put them out.

This brings us to the People’s Climate March and the Paris Climate Conference in 2015. GHG concentrations have gone up significantly since the 1980’s (when dramatic action was called for by Dr. Hansen in a speech to Congress in 1988), so much so that the time has long since past when a few good actions by a few environmentally-minded folks alone could have any chance of mitigating Climate Change. This is the message we must all understand now: Mitigation actions now must be on a very grand scale to matter. (Let those who disagree be held accountable.) We can adapt, and we will for awhile, but ultimately our efforts to save ourselves (outweighing all our other hopes and dreams) will fail unless mitigation and adaptation go hand in hand. The physics of trapping greenhouse gases more quickly than our biology can handle them will spell doom unless we understand the compelling nature of Climate Change. (Sorry to be a ‘Debbie Downer’ but Climate Change is not a special interest.)

The People’s Climate March, where hundreds of thousands of folks will demand that their leaders take action on Climate Change, is a moral action on Climate Change mitigation on a level that will really matter. Maybe one of the last. The potential of impact of this march is summed up here:

“The September march will be more globally relevant, as Ban Ki-moon has raised expectations that world leaders from across the world will attend, in order to raise ambition ahead of the UN’s climate conference in Paris 2015, where all countries have agreed to sign off a legally binding deal to prevent dangerous global warming.” Bill McKibben issues ‘call to arms’ for New York climate summit  (May 22, 2014) Responding to Climate Change RTCC

The more you know about the Paris Climate Talks in 2015 the more you will realize it must not fail. There is no Plan B. This conference may be the world’s last chance to mitigate Climate Change and keep our greenhouse gas emissions to a sustainable level. If it does fail, most likely we’ll all be scurrying around trying to only adapt to Climate Change—which is ultimately hopeless. 

The great moral leaders of our time are urging folks to understand the important of Paris 2015:

WORLD LEADERS MUST ACT IN 2015: TUTU, MALALA AND BONO’S STARK WARNING Today is Mandela Day. Desmond Tutu, Bono, Malala Yousafzai, Graca Machel, Muhammed Yunus and Mo Ibrahim have written a powerful letter to world leaders  to make 2015 a transformative year in the fight against poverty, inequality and climate change.  Dear World Leaders, We write to sound a warning. A warning that 2015 will be a year of huge opportunity, but also of huge risk. What is at stake here could not be greater, for it is not less than the future of our human family and the world upon which we all depend. Two global processes – the replacement of the current UN development framework and the conclusion of a new climate treaty – culminate within months of each other at the end of 2015. They require us to decide which future we want for people and planet. For there are two dramatically different futures we could live in by 2030. Down one hopeful path we have built on progress, and learned how to eradicate extreme poverty, hunger, as well as put an end to preventable maternal, newborn and child deaths. In so doing, we will give everyone everywhere opportunity and the right to lead their lives with dignity without jeopardising our planet’s ability to provide for its people now and into the future. This is an entirely possible outcome if we do the right thing. (July 18, 2014) Save the Children

So connecting the dots between the People’s Climate March in September and the Paris 2015 Climate Conference (COP21) is crucial. The world has come together over twenty times to do something meaningful on Climate Change and failed. The window of opportunity is closing because if global surface temperatures are not kept below 2°C (a world consensus) over the pre-industrial average, this may well be more warming than humanity’s amazing ability to adapt can handle.
*Of course, all of the above will seem absurd and look like the mere hysterical rantings of a Chicken Little (actually, Penny Henny) if you’re still in Climate Change denial mode. However, there are folks who can help with ‘Climate Change denier Syndrome”. They are called scientists.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Local media must adapt to Climate Change & #climatemarch

 

CCAwesomeSConsider: You are sitting in a crowded movie theater and someone yells, “Fire!” but nobody moves. You look around to people’s faces around you and no one registers alarm. You don’t actually see a fire, or smoke, and no alarm goes off. Odds are that you will probably sit right there until folks just start piling out of the theatre, or some kind of appropriate response to a threatening situation.

The above, of course, is a thought experiment about how we humans react to danger. One of the ways we react to stimuli is to look around, social creatures that we are, and see how others are reacting. Did something significant happen, or was it just our imaginations? That’s adaptive because we’d lose a lot of energy if we jumped through the roof (so to speak) every time something caught our attention.

There are things we need to pay attention to, though. The severe lack of local media coverage on Climate Change feeds the delusion that there’s no danger. You look in the local news and there’s no sense of alarm about what alarmed folks around the world are saying about Climate Change. Locally, you see happy articles about how a few are living green and some are even starting up green business. Rarely do you see real investigative inquires as to whether we are actually preparing properly and on a scale that will actually make a difference. Rarely do you find any local media connecting the dots with this worldwide crisis and the Rochester region. One exception is the efforts of Rochester City Newspaper, as in this recent article:

Get used to the downpours Rochester has had a pretty wet July. Going by National Weather Service records, the area has had 7.51 inches of rain this month through yesterday, when the normal level is 3.11 inches. And yesterday's intense rains broke the daily record: the 2.42 inches measured by the NWS at the Rochester airport topped the 1966 high water mark of 1.94 inches. Outside of the city, some areas received much more rain: Richmond Fire Chief Ken Adami told the Democrat and Chronicle that the town, which suffered substantial flood damage, received 7 inches. It's worth looking at the storm through the lens of climate change, with the caveat that it's difficult to tie individual weather events to climate change.  (July 29, 2014) Rochester City Newspaper

Articles like that above are crucial for the public to understand the nature of Climate Change in our area. We don’t just have to get used to more frequent heavy downpours in our regions. We have to adapt to that, and we have to mitigate (stop) an increase in greenhouse gases, so the consequences of Climate Change don’t get worse. Sure California would love to have some of our rain right now, but it doesn’t work that way and besides, we cannot handle frequent massive flooding unless we start planning and acting on this immediately. When raw sewage overflows into our drinking water or our roads collapse too quickly for us to handle the new normal, the public is going to be pointing fingers. They will ask: Why weren’t we informed in a timely manner so we could plan and fund the efforts to update our infrastructures? This wouldn’t be a failure of government but a failure of our media to properly inform local citizenry of clear and present dangers. Without proper coverage of Climate Change the public thinks the deniers still have a case.

Jon Oliver’s video, criticizing the media’s false balance about Climate Change, went viral recently, probably long after most folks already knew this particular failure of media. But still, this is quite entertaining: John Oliver's viral video: the best climate debate you'll ever see. This week Senator Bernie Sanders forwarded this report by Media Matters Climate Change and Network News proving that an unbalanced view of Climate Change still pervades mainstream media.

Of course there are other reasons besides media dysfunction or intentional obstruction why this worldwide crisis of a warming planet doesn’t get the attention it deserves. In another thought experiment—the essay “The Collapse of Western Civilization” by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway—describes many other reasons why the public is not alarmed about Climate Change. Some are misinterpreting historical events, some are the inertia of old thinking in a new warming world , and some are the results of orchestrated efforts by rogue scientists and rich climate deniers who battle what they perceive as a threat to their livelihood. BTW, Oreskes and Conway also authored Merchants of Doubt, which is required reading if you want to stand a chance of understanding the malfeasance behind climate denial—and the concerted efforts to mislead the public on the dangers of DDT, tobacco smoke, and acid rain.

To circumvent and combat media’s failure to inform the public on a warming world, new global media efforts to message Climate Change are being developed. Some major media are offering environmental sections to their news lineup. Leaders in Congress, like Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), attempt to fill the media/Climate Change gap by continually lecturing on Climate Change to their colleagues—your representatives. Rochester is experimenting with media options for the public like Rochester Free Radio; but I suspect it will be the dickens trying to get the majority of the public to tune in. Scientists continually develop Climate Facts online to unravel the complexity of this singular issue. But all present efforts still remain in silos, which the mainstream treats as special interests—as if only a few were concerned about their life support system.

The Mexican tetra or blind cave fish lost its eyes because eyesight in a dark cave environment is a complete waste of energy. (Eyes, usually very evolutionary adaptive, consume a lot of energy, energy in the case of a blind cave fish better spent on fine-tuning other senses.) In the same sense, mainstream media cannot continue on its present trajectory of Climate Change misrepresentation. Not because folks will finally realize that this would be immoral (which it is), but because their ‘news’ will be useless as an extension of our senses. The complexity of modern life requires a capable media in the same sense we need our own eyes and ears. If these senses are delivering nonsense, they are as worthless as a blind cave fish’s eyes.

At this point in time, 2014, climate denialists with the help of an attention-deficit media have hijacked our Climate Change adaption and mitigation efforts that should have already begun on a large scale. As California burns and manmade greenhouse gas emission rise, Rochesterians are still depressingly lackluster about this issue, even as worldwide grassroots efforts on Climate Change gather in our own state. For example, however long it might be before local Rochester media finally reports on the People’s Climate March [#climatemarch] in September, it will most likely be after the spectacle of 300,000 ordinary people march through Manhattan demanding their leaders take action on Climate Change. Reporting on this event as it develops, bringing to the public’s attention the importance of this demonstration, would bring many more folks to the level of alarm that many around the world are feeling—and make a greater impact on our leaders. But I suspect most reading this article haven’t even heard of the People’s Climate March and aren’t likely to until they switch media and begin to sense what’s really happening in our environment.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Rochester’s Climate Change efforts: We’re going to need a bigger boat

 

CCBiggerBoatSGloating over our recent spate of fantastic July weather, as a local weather station Facebooked recently (NO 90 DEGREE DAYS IN JULY SO FAR… “Are you missing the heat?”), is pathetic. More pathetic are the 80+ folks who commented how wonderful that was—many thumbing their noses at Climate Change.

It’s hard to believe that a local news station is promoting Climate Change denial by bragging about a cool July in Rochester without placing this anomaly in the context of the world’s rising temperatures. Last month, according to NOAA was one of the hottest June’s ever. As for July, we don’t know how hot it will get. But consider this speculation about the rest of this summer from The Guardian: “Will 2014 be the hottest year on record?

Climate Change is a global phenomenon, and the trajectory is that the atmosphere is warming up 10 times faster since the Industrial Revolution than the previous 10.000 years. That one place, Rochester, NY, may be experiencing a cooler summer does not disprove Climate Change, and it’s sad that a local media would encourage this deceit. Actually, in our area, temperatures in the summer over the past thirty years have been going steadily up--overall. Climate Change is climate disruption, where the rise in increasing temperatures will ratchet up and down, but mostly it will jerk upwards. While it is nice to have this temperate summer (so far), it is folly to assume that a cool spell in one particular region of the world means that Climate Change is a hoax. (Doesn’t anyone check the Internet anymore? The world is bigger than just Rochester. )

Perhaps it wasn’t the intent of our local media to disparage Climate Change. Maybe they were merely glorying in the happiness of a perfect summer day. But the failure to properly place our cool summer in the context of this worldwide crisis is becoming a signature form of Climate Change denial in the USA. A recent poll states that “… U.S. Leads The World… In Climate Denial”. That is to say the #1 country responsible for Climate Change is the #1 country in climate change denial. Most of the manmade greenhouse gases (GHGs) in our atmosphere right now are from the developed nations. CO2, which is the main GHG, stays in the atmosphere for a long time. The warming the world must address and endure now is from past CO2 accumulations. Sure, China is emitting more CO2 right now, but the GHGs that have warmed our atmosphere thus far are ours. We ought to take responsibility for that. If moral responsibility is not a popular idea, then we should at least act in our own self-interest and begin adapting.

In Rochester Climate Change denial expresses itself by…, not expressing itself. We presumably have heard of Climate Change, but like a deer in the headlights, we cannot make head or tail of it. We think that because Climate Change isn’t actually running over us at the moment, we have enough time to consider all the usual priorities and ignore the approaching semi.

For example, ACT Rochester (part of Rochester Area Community Foundation), arguably the largest local non-profit leader on local planning data, eliminated environmental concerns in their data sets altogether. Presumably, they eliminated the environmental aspect of our lives because they couldn’t find climate change indicators in our region. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) seems to have no lack of data on a national scale: ‘Climate Change Indicators in the United States”. Also, GrowWNY (part of the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo) has no problem going full throttle on environmental issues, including Climate Change information and events. Not to mention, there are already many presently observable indicators in our local climate and expert predictions of what is coming shortly for our region.

So yeah, it would be nice to have useful data on Climate Change indicators in the Rochester region so our local government, grant writers, community leaders, and business leaders can respond to the real world, a world where this worldwide crisis will become the top priority. To be sure, Climate Change will engulf all other local issues—“Arts, Culture, and Leisure, Children and Youth, Community Engagement, Economy, Education, Financial Self-Sufficiency, Health, Housing and Public Safety” (ACT Rochester) whether we prioritize them properly or not.

The City of Rochester itself is addressing Climate Change. But everything is so secretive that you wouldn’t even know that Rochester cared about Climate Change—which is weird because it’s the job of our government to get on the bully pulpit about looming concerns. Rochester quietly participates in the state’s Climate Smart Communities program, the leading New York State program to address Climate Change. The city’s ‘bikeROCHESTER’ program is a phenomenal program to transform our community’s transportation system to a more sustainable one, but they don’t even mention Climate Change on the website. And though we keep hearing that Rochester is coming out with a climate plan, it never seems to materialize. This is a sort of Rochester denial that gives only a timid nod to this inconvenient problem and then walks (or bikes) on by.

Rochester’s Monroe County barely acknowledges Climate Change at all. Greening up the fleet (county-owned vehicles), and presumably getting a lot of awards for that, is about as far as their token efforts go. Other than that, ‘Climate Change’ doesn’t even show up in their website’s search engine. When addressing a Climate Change related issue, like reducing algae on Ontario Beach, our county’s solution is to attack the symptoms, not the cause—which is what will continue to happen if you don’t understand Climate Change.

“The county is building a pump system. When the algae gets bad, county workers will use a tractor fitted with a boom and skimmer to push all of the muck into the corner where the beach and the pier meet. They are installing a suction head there, which will connect to a pump and a pipe through the middle of the Charlotte pier. Long story short: the system will suck the algae out of the corner and pump it over into the Genesee River. The flow of the river will disperse the algae farther out in the lake.” County's algae solution: suck it up  (July 23, 2014) Rochester City Newspaper

Another way to deal with algae problems at Ontario Beach is to plan for Climate Change, as warming affects algae growth. Check out EPA’s three-page document on this: “Impacts of Climate Change on the Occurrence of Harmful Algal Blooms We are pretty good at getting rid of the symptoms of environmental problems (like shunting algae away from our beaches) but not so good at addressing the underlying causes, like dealing with the rise in algae growth due to warming waters and more phosphorus (non-point pollution of fertilizers) pollution throughout our Great Lakes and Finger Lakes.

Climate Change is about planning. But we cannot plan for it in Rochester or anywhere else if we continue to deny it—even in the lukewarm, half-hearted way that denial gets expressed in Rochester. We’ll just continue hammering away at all the symptoms of Climate Change, an uneven decline in public health, a transportation system too expensive to afford, and getting bigger pumps with bigger pipes to suck the annoying symptoms of Climate Change further away.

However, when the enormity the threat finally dawns on Rochesterians, we are going to realize that we’re "going to need a bigger boat". But there won’t be one around because we didn’t plan properly.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The market won’t save us from Climate Change, but government might

 

CCHorrorSIf it were the case that Climate Change had a prayer of being solved by the responsibility of consumer choices, I suspect that ameliorative effect would have kicked in by now. It hasn’t. Nor is it likely given that this unfounded faith in the invisible hand of the free market has put us on an unstoppable trajectory of environmental (life support system) collapse. The great experiment in replacing our moral system with our economic system has failed. The predicted temperature increase from Climate Change for Rochester NY is between 3°C and 5°C (5.4°F and 9.0°F). (5°C above pre-industrial warming is probably game over.)

“Collapse” is not hyperbole when prioritizing this crisis. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report released last Thursday (7/17/2014) ‘State of the Climate in 2013 states that in 2013 “Greenhouse gases continued to climb, warm temperature trends continued near the Earth’s surface, sea surface temperatures increased, sea level continued to rise, the Arctic continued to warm; sea ice extent remained low, Antarctic sea ice extent reached record high for second year in a row; and South Pole station set record high temperature…”.1 Folks, Climate Change is happening and it’s happening now and for all the sound and fury from the deniers, it’s jeopardizing our existence.

The belief that our economy will magically address Climate Change has been dealt a fatal blow with the news that Australia’s new leader, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, killed the Carbon Tax. The Carbon Tax is not a “useless, destructive tax”2, nor is it a penalty for polluters. It is payment for environmental goods and services rendered. Australia’s rollback of the Carbon Tax proves that the marketplace only works when it doesn’t have to include the externalities, the costs of exploiting our natural resources. If anything good can come from abolishing the Carbon Tax in Australia, it must be the lesson that when the public finally gets a Carbon Tax installed, they’ve got to make it stick—voting for science, election year after election year. The threat by those who will always take advantage of the inconvenient changes that will come from transitioning to a system where the environment doesn’t get paid for, to where it does, will always loom. Climate Change and environmental degradation are the price we have paid for an economic system that has for centuries been piling up a debt it refuses to pay.

This is why President Obama’s long and tortuous climb up to the bully pulpit to address Climate Change is so important: Without political leadership, neither the marketplace nor our government can summon the economic strategy or political will to maintain the roads and bridges, the infrastructure, that give our gas-guzzlers something to move on.

The second phase (the first was the Clean Power Plan) of Obama’s National Climate Assessment addresses the problem of infrastructure and Climate Change:

Preparing Communities for the Impacts of Climate Change | We've been talking a lot recently about the need to rebuild and strengthen our nation's infrastructure. As the President has made clear, a world-class infrastructure system is a vital part of a top-performing economy. But there's another important reason why we need to rebuild our infrastructure: climate change. Communities across America need more resilient infrastructure that can withstand the impacts of climate change -- like more extreme weather and increased flooding. That's part of the reason why the President established the State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience last November. The Task Force, made up of 26 governors, mayors, and county and tribal officials from across the country, advises the President on how the federal government can best help American communities dealing with the effects of climate change. Today, the Task Force came to the White House for their fourth and final meeting, and will give the President final recommendations this fall. (July 16, 2014) White House

Granted, US politics has made us stupid and our economic system has rendered us blind to our life support system. But if we don’t get the President’s message on infrastructure and Climate Change, we’re screwed. Not only do we have an aging infrastructure for (water, wastewater, sewage, telecommunications, and transportation) that all need serious repairs, we need those infrastructures to be ready for the extremes of Climate Change—something that every climate study says must happen.  

Only your government, with you behind it 100%, can deliver on the kind of very expensive, long-term commitments this will take. Remember: The marketplace does not build roads and bridges; your tax dollars do. The market system is an amoral system we’ve used to improve our existence, which it admittedly has, but at a very high cost. It needs a firm hand to guide it, and that’s why government leaders who think it is their job is to find a balance between the marketplace and environmental health are failing us too. It isn’t the job of government to suck up to industry; it’s the job of our government to tame our excesses so we don’t self-destruct. Among other things, of course.

This tendency to view our relationship with our life support system as simply the operations of the market pervades. We here in New York State, despite the pivotal role that energy plays in addressing Climate Change, still focus only on energy costs to the consumer:

Report: N.Y. ranks 38th in energy efficiency New York ranks among the most expensive states for energy bills, a new report from WalletHub shows. WalletHub—a social website launched by Evolution Finance that offers financial tools and information for consumers and small-business owners—ranked New York 38th among the 50 states and District of Columbia based on energy efficiency. The report, 2014’s Most & Least Energy-Expensive States, looked at six key metrics, including electricity cost, consumption, natural gas prices and fuel prices. New Yorkers average $365 a month in energy costs, including electricity costs of $126 and natural gas costs of $80. Drivers pay some $160 a month for gasoline, on average. (July 14, 2014) Rochester Business Journal

If it’s true that New York ranks among the most expensive states for energy bills, then it’s the wrong metric. If the only way you measure energy cost is by using energy bills, then you don’t see a lot of things. You don’t see fossil fuels warming up the planet. You don’t see that using more renewable energy (wind and solar) for more of our electricity will increasingly lower your bills and do less harm to our environment. You don’t see that there are other ways to get around Rochester besides driving gas guzzlers, like active transportation (walking and bicycling), or moving out of the suburbs and near places you need to go. You don’t see that there are many federal and state grants around to lower your energy cost and improve energy efficiency. You don’t see energy conservation as a real option in a scheme that requires endless growth. All you see from using energy bills for your energy-use metric is the need to get your energy bills down. You will never consider alternatives to fossil-fuel-burning energy sources because the moral issues will be invisible to you. You’ll see only your electric bill.

The Carbon Tax that Mr. Abbott so blithely killed in a country ravaged by wildfires and sea rise due to Climate Change might well have been the last chance his country had in taming the market system. For to be quite blunt, there’s just no reasoning with Mather Nature.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Addressing the “anti-Frackers are hypocrites!” charge

 

CCHipocriteSThe question, as we move deeper into Climate Change, is not how many anti-frackers in New York State heat their homes with natural gas (It’s one of the ways anti-frackers are dismissed. See the comments on my article:“Aftershocks of NYS landmark decision on local Fracking bans”). The question is: how can we stop business as usual with fossil-fuel-based energy and move to energy sources that don’t emit greenhouse gases?

Too many pro-frackers dismiss those who message that we need to stop digging for more gas and oil because at the core of their argument pro-frackers don’t believe in the science of climate—though they tend to believe in the ‘science’ of present-day economics, and presumably, the ‘science’ of drilling for gas and oil. Pro-frackers cherry-pick their way through science and only pick those arguments that buttress their belief in fossil-fuel business as usual. The science says overwhelmingly that our use of fossil fuel is warming up the atmosphere faster than it has warmed in at least 10,000 years—which is faster than most animals and plants can adapt, and probably faster than we can adapt also.

However, New York State is fully capable of transitioning to renewable energy. Read “Examining the feasibility of converting New York State’s all-purpose energy infrastructure to one using wind, water, and sunlight” (M.Z. Jacobson et al. / Energy Policy 57, 2013) As for the argument from those who are hell bent on hammering the present need and existence of fossil fuels, no one thinks that the transformation from fossil fuels to renewables can be done immediately—it’s a change of direction we need from an energy source that does destroy our environment to one that doesn’t. The quicker the better.

But too many pro-fossil fuel folks are comforted that those who think we must move to renewable energy are simply a bunch of hypocrites, driving on gasoline, and heating their homes with natural gas, while crabbing about fossil fuels. This argument has many problems, not to mention it’s depressingly disturbing that it is still being used with such distain even now as CO2 reaches 400ppm. Here’s the problem:

  • The renewable industry has to compete with oil and gas industries that get billions of tax subsidies each year.
  • Oil and gas industries spend millions preaching to the public that we can solve Climate Change with fossil fuels—which is a lie.
  • The argument ‘if you heat your home with gas and rail against Fracking you must be a hypocrite’ is ludicrous because all of us are condemned to a fossil-fuel based transportation, economic, and energy system. No other energy zeitgeist has a chance! It’s the whole point about needing a revolution, changing quickly and on a large enough scale so that our energy system doesn’t heat up the planet more.
  • Local media still views NYS energy options during Climate Change through the lens of the Fracking fight. Rather than inform the public that there are many other options to address our energy needs during a rapid warming, the local media are still stuck on only the legal and political ramifications of this controversial fossil-fuel drilling technique.
  • There should be no Fracking debate at all. We are all losers if we continue to debate Fracking in the midst of a warming planet. In this sense Climate Change is like no other issue. Historically we have battled each other for eons to decide on positions where neither side will give. But on the issue of Climate Change, the physics of how our planet uses energy from the sun compels all of us towards the same result—regardless of what intellectual or belief positions we might hold. It is delay that will doom us; the Fracking issue is only a side-show.

The great tragedy of this six-year Fracking debacle in New York State is that it has stolen everyone’s attention from the real problem—energy and Climate Change. There’s a great danger that humanity’s inability to see the big picture and only focus on the political and economic fights stirred up by the self-interests of a few will render our life support system null and void.

Bill McKibben, the great environmentalist and writer, gets at the heart of this hypocrisy issue:

“Hypocrisy is when you say one thing and do another at the same time. Growth is when you weigh new information and then change your thinking and behavior.” (We Want People to Change Their Minds, July 10, 2014, The Huffington Post)

If you don’t understand the Climate Change issue, you tend to think only the economic issues have merit. The fossil fuel industry and those who pledge allegiance to it, just like the tyrants of old, want it all—all the land for drilling, all the transportation options, all the money—and none of the responsibilities of this world crisis. We in New York State have the possibility of a fantastic economic boom if we keep our water free from being Fracked, as eventually climate refugees will come to our state from the ravages of Climate Change in their regions. We can change.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Aftershocks of NYS landmark decision on local Fracking bans

 

CCFrackCleanNYSThe New York State Court of Appeals ruling on Home Rule that upholds local Fracking bans in Dryden (Tompkins County) and Middlefield (Otsego County) has made the “170+ fracking bans adopted by NYS municipalities legally incontestable”1. This ruling could embolden other communities to stand up to the Fracking bullying by the oil and gas industries who try to force municipalities and states to drill for more fossil fuels in a time of Climate Change.

The Dryden town supervisor, Mary Ann Sumne, said, “The oil and gas industry tried to bully us into backing down, but we took our fight all the way to New York’s highest court.” She added, “I hope our victory serves as an inspiration to people in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Florida, North Carolina, California and elsewhere who are also trying to do what’s right for their own communities.” (New York Towns Can Prohibit Fracking, State’s Top Court Rules, 6/302014, New York Times)

This ruling certainly is a “countercurrent to the energy revolution happening in other states.”2 Even if Cuomo went ahead and approved Fracking altogether (still in limbo after six years), a carved up state full of local bans will look very unappetizing to an industry that wants it all. But this is not a bad thing. The ‘revolution,’ more like an insane desire to keep digging when we are already in a hole, is not a real revolution.  A real revolution would be to move away from historic fossil fuels for energy, which have warmed our atmosphere to new levels, and drive towards 100% renewable energy (wind and solar).  In the light of Climate Change, energy options in New York State should not be focused on Fracking in the first place. But it was probably too alluring for the media to hype the Fracking controversy than make a serious investigation of all our energy options in a time of Climate Change. This is to say, there is another revolution that needs to happen: The media needs to adapt to a changing, warming world, and learn to prioritize accordingly. 

Critics of the Court of Appeals decision remark that the ruling was not an indictment on the merits of the Fracking industry, as these alleged merits were never mentioned. In their view, the ruling simply upheld New York State’s NIMBY (not in my backyard) attitude, which they see as a real drawback for large industries considering business in New York. Actually, preserving the character of local towns under threat of Fracking is no small matter. Just ask some folks in Pennsylvania being offered money to accept any and all health and quality of life problems introduced since the Fracking industry came to their backyards:

Aggressive Tactic on the Fracking Front A Pennsylvania gas company offers residents cash to buy protection from any claims of harm. For the last eight years, Pennsylvania has been riding the natural gas boom, with companies drilling and fracking thousands of wells across the state. And in a little corner of Washington County, some 20 miles outside of Pittsburgh, EQT Corporation has been busy – drilling close to a dozen new wells on one site. It didn't take long for the residents of Finleyville who lived near the fracking operations to complain – about the noise and air quality, and what they regarded as threats to their health and quality of life. Initially, EQT, one of the largest producers of natural gas in Pennsylvania, tried to allay concerns with promises of noise studies and offers of vouchers so residents could stay in hotels to avoid the noise and fumes. But then, in what experts say was a rare tactic, the company got more aggressive: it offered all of the households along Cardox Road $50,000 in cash if they would agree to release the company from any legal liability, for current operations as well as those to be carried out in the future. It covered potential health problems and property damage, and gave the company blanket protection from any kind of claim over noise, dust, light, smoke, odors, fumes, soot, air pollution or vibrations. (July 2, 2014) ProPublica

However, characterizing the anti-Fracking movement as a NIMBY issue is unfair because Fracking will be in everyone’s backyard. The thousands of folks who spoke against Fracking in their local New York communities (some, like Rochester, not even facing an immediate threat by this secretive form of drilling) raised concerns about health effects, threats to water quality, and the looming impact of Climate Change on everyone.

The greatest aftershock (a shock in a good way) of the new ruling would be if Governor Cuomo placed an absolute ban on Fracking in New York State. If Cuomo doesn’t ban Fracking (a fossil fuel) pretty freaking soon, New York will lose that pretty green hue that every sustainability-conscious governor loves to see on national maps:

What Every Governor Really Believes About Climate Change, In One Handy Map  With all the recent talk at the federal level about the EPA’s proposed carbon regulations for new and existing power plants, it’s easy to forget about the executives that have front row seats to cutting American carbon pollution. And though climate deniers run rampant through the halls of Congress, a new analysis from the CAP Action War Room reveals that half of America’s Republican governors agree with the anti-science caucus of Congress. Fifteen out of twenty-nine sitting Republican governors deny climate science despite the overwhelming level of scientific consensus, the enormous cost to taxpayers, and the critical place governors occupy in implementing new limits on carbon pollution. None of the country’s Democratic governors have made public statements denying climate change. This map from the analysis categorizes governors into four groups: green for those who both accept climate science and are taking action to fight climate change; orange for those who either accept or haven’t openly denied climate science, but also have yet to take serious action to address climate change; red for those who have failed to take action or openly rejected to federal safeguards to address climate change, and red with stripes for climate deniers.  (July 2, 2014) Think Progress/Climate Progress

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Messaging Climate Change is “Risky Business” if not impossible

 

CCHearSomethingSOne of the prevailing thoughts that must pass through the minds of climate messengers is how to reach a public who is sick and tired of hearing about Climate Change. The science aspect of Climate Change is no longer being questioned by reasonable people. Most folks get it, in theory, but not as a top priority. Climate messengers know that heaping more scientists on board and going over the facts again and again are probably not going to work. Nor will psychologists, philosophers, and sociologists noodling how to get folks to care about what kind of climate they are bequeathing to their great grandchildren.

Though we are a species blessed with the ability to connect cause and effect, seemingly we have little regard for the consequences of a warmer world for ourselves, our children, other folks, and the creatures we share the planet with. Aren’t we humans just the darndest?

The National Climate Assessment (NCA) tried to convince Americans that Climate Change is happening now: “Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present.” But even this immediate threat to our own self interest isn’t causing much change in the media, nor in the public’s concern, and not even a blip in our political world. Actually, it’s causing an anti-blip where President Obama‘s critics believe the report and his Climate Action Plan are merely ploys to mess with their agenda. American politics, ya gotta love it.

Climate messengers could try and be nicer, I suppose. Apocalyptical scenarios are very off-putting. One could say (and some do): just drive an energy efficient car, march against the fossil fuel industry, or walk more and all will be fine. (It is fine, but it’s not enough.) But climate messengers are truly getting tired of a public content to let our life support system tank because they’ve got other stuff to do, and aren’t willing to do the little that is asked by science (lower GHGs). Everyone knows at this point in time that Climate Change is happening, and there’s absolutely no indication we can marshal the will to do something about it. Not on a global level that will matter, anyway.

Humm …, What will work? What would be a teachable moment, a moment when we collectively sit up and say, “Ah ha, we need to get moving on Climate Change!” The West Antarctic glacier melting beyond the point of no return? Too far into the future. More warm-related diseases? Naw, we got health insurance. Food shortages because of droughts? We got supermarkets. Heat? We’ve got air conditioners. Yep, it’s tough trying to convince folks whose ancestors have given up so much so we can live so insulated from the real world.

How about: “RISKY BUSINESS: The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States”? This report just released may be one of those teachable moments (though to be truthful, Hurricane Sandy should have done that). This report is not written or compiled by the usual suspects, but by some not given to the green agenda: economists. And they aren’t even asking fellow conservatives to morph themselves into limp-wristed liberals. Just a carbon tax. Just a reality check; for if the free market fundamentalists cannot even find it in their hearts to patch up their crazy economic system with a ‘carbon tax’ to offset their historical distain (negative externality, where they don’t have to pay for polluting our commons ((our air and water)) for our environment (our life support system), then we must give up all hope to reason with them.

With “Risky Business…”, the core conservatives are themselves trying to message climate and reason with the loony end of their party, those who hear TAX! and think BIG GOVERNMENT! But a co-author of “Risky Business”, Henry M. Paulson Jr, US Secretary of the Treasury under Bush II, is saying (pleading, actually) to his own party that what the climate-denying, Big Government haters don’t get is that they’re causing government to get bigger!

“Some members of my political party worry that pricing carbon is a “big government” intervention. In fact, it will reduce the role of government, which, on our present course, increasingly will be called on to help communities and regions affected by climate-related disasters like floods, drought-related crop failures and extreme weather like tornadoes, hurricanes and other violent storms. We’ll all be paying those costs. Not once, but many times over.” (The Coming Climate Crash Lessons for Climate Change in the 2008 Recession | (June 21, 2014) New York Times

Sorry about all the exclamation points. (!) But it’s hard not to get a little excited when economic experts set out to prove Climate Change will be an economic meltdown if the business community doesn’t change their attitudes. If the GOP, who are seriously jamming up our efforts to address Climate Change, cannot hear environmental distress, maybe they can understand economic distress. Maybe there’s hope. Maybe not.

Right here in New York, we might not pass a bill “that would require state-funded projects to factor in climate change”1 because it might piss off some business groups. This is pathetic because nothing is more critical than making sure projects and planning of all types (not just state-funded projects) must factor in Climate Change—this integration of Climate Change and planning is in every freaking climate study you read.  Maybe these “business groups” just haven’t read “RISKY BUSINESS.” Maybe they should.