Monday, June 20, 2016

Remembrance of Climate Change possibilities

Nostalgia is the remembrance of what was once possible. But I don’t feel nostalgic about not addressing Climate Change earlier. I feel impatient. We have wasted valuable time prevaricating on Climate Change action. This crisis has gotten significantly worse. We are hurtling dangerously close to our inability to avoid the worse consequences of planetary warming and I suspect we will be held in contempt by those who come after us much like those who either ignored or in some way contributed to slavery. The Civil War could have been avoided had important warnings been heeded.

30 years ago scientists warned Congress on global warming. What they said sounds eerily familiar It was such a different time — and yet, the message was so similar. Thirty years ago, on June 10 and 11 of 1986, the U.S. Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works commenced two days of hearings, convened by Sen. John H. Chafee (R-R.I.), on the subject of “Ozone Depletion, the Greenhouse Effect, and Climate Change.” “This is not a matter of Chicken Little telling us the sky is falling,” Chafee said at the hearing. “The scientific evidence … is telling us we have a problem, a serious problem.” The hearings garnered considerable media coverage, including on the front page of The Washington Post (see below). (June 11, 2016) The Washington Post

For many places on Earth the time when carbon dioxide levels will drop below 400 parts per million (ppm) is gone. Considering that our species thrived for 10,000 years, up to the mid-1800’s with a very stable 280ppm climate, our present climate disruption is a case of jaw-dropping irresponsibility. The Antarctic is now experiencing this incredible benchmark: “Antarctic CO2 Hit 400 PPM For First Time in 4 Million Years” (6/15/2016 Climate Central). We could have prevented this.

The fossil fuel industry actively campaigned against acting on Climate Change when their own studies revealed the impact of the continued use their products on our climate. [See: “EXXON: The Road Not Taken” Imagine, as writer, activist, and creator of, often does if EXXON did the right thing way back then.

In the years ahead we won’t have much time to reflect on what could have been because we’ll be too busy scrambling to save critical infrastructures, vital ecosystems, and people. Lots and lots of people whose ability to feed themselves and escape the heat will be placed in jeopardy because of our inaction.

There’s this peculiar relationship we have with our own history. For instead of using history to learn from our mistakes, we often tend to see our past mistakes as inevitable. Wars, famine, accidents were meant to be. Perhaps tragedies seem more bearable if we view them as something far beyond our control.


Nothing was meant to be. If the worst of Climate Change comes to be, it’s because we allowed it to happen.

This is where we are now:

“May was the 13th month in a row to break temperature records according to figures published this week that are the latest in 2016’s string of incredible climate records which scientists have described as a bombshell and an emergency.” Shattered records show climate change is an emergency today, scientists warn” (6/17/2016, The Guardian)

Time passes. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

To rally or not to rally on Climate Change

I have joined many rallies* on Climate Change, including the greatest yet, the People’s Climate March in NYC in 2014. I’ve experienced them all as warm and welcoming, but also extremely passionate displays of concern.  I have helped put together a number of these rallies. But over time I’ve come to question the usefulness of rallies on Climate Change as a worthwhile vehicle for engaging the public on this existential issue. The downside of making a lot of noise on divisive issues is that the silent majority tends to feel alienated from the rowdy-looking crowds, plus it encourages the media’s tendency to only frame important issues through adversity or public spectacles. Neither our economy nor our media seem capable of properly framing Climate Change so the public actually understands what’s coming at them.

Traditionally, rallies have been very effective vehicles for change. Women’s rights were greatly advanced by rallies. The abolitionist movement, LGBT rights, and many more social issues have been advanced by rallies when these issues would have otherwise languished in a moral limbo due to humanity’s tendency towards social inertia. 

Certainly those folks who march with us about the urgent need to address and mitigate Climate Change understand what we are attempting. They get energized to do more. But what about those people who are watching from the sidelines? Those people watching through their media? Or, those folks we have failed to reach through the media either from our own ineptitude or mass media indifference?

If we are alienating the majority with rallies, how do you engage all of humanity in the kind of change Climate Change will require? Like it or not, there are no humans on the sidelines of Climate Change. Even the superrich will run out of money trying to save themselves. We can certainly go after the bad players, like fossil fuel industry representatives who lied to us about what they knew about their industry’s effect on our climate, and who will to continue doing business as usual regardless. We can rally against those would-be politicians, like Donald Trump, who shift their positions on Climate Change to push their own agenda.

However, at the end of the day, it is all of our collective selves who must change in order to insure that all of our collective existences—even those in our would-be future—get a chance to survive. A few cannot do it and we cannot drag along those who work against us because their accumulated damages might well bring us all down. We have come to the point in our history where we have so challenged our life support system with pollution, the loss of biodiversity, and global warming that our own sustainability continually teeters on the brink of collapse.  We’ve destroyed the environment’s resiliency, its ability to absorb our mistakes. Like running a nuclear power plant, there’s no longer any room for error.

Solving this dilemma about messaging Climate Change for full effect is like recruiting absolutely everyone at a football game—both teams, all the people on the bleachers, the people running the concession stands, the plant and wildlife around the stadium and everyone and everything that would show up for the next football game. Another metaphor to capture this unparalleled crisis perhaps: It’s like talking to our own physical selves, the collection of billions of cells that make up who we are, and getting the host of these biological microorganisms, us, to make a decision. We don’t decide to go to a football game thinking our liver or some of our brain cells can stay home and watch it on TV. We are all sharing Climate Change: When Earth cooks we are all stew.

When we rally to get the public’s attention on Climate Change, eyes roll, TV‘s get shut off, attention wanders, and many get upset. When we rally, mainstream media gets bored and refuses to cover our events unless we bake in something exotic. But if we don’t rally, we encourage the absurd notion that physics has conveniently avoided this issue. Shutting up about Climate Change won’t make it go away; it will make it far worse because nobody will be ready.    

Of course, we will continue to rally because it has worked many, many times before. Sometimes rallying is a way to gather people’s attention beyond the ability of the media’s ability to frame it their way. In repressive regimes, taking to the streets reaches people where they are. Social media and the Internet have allowed climate activists to become their own media—to some degree anyways—and reach a wider audience. Most likely, we rally because we don’t know what else to do to immediately grab the public’s attention. It should have been enough for the world to recognize that the vast majority of climate scientists say we need to stop putting more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. But it isn’t working quickly enough.

For a while longer it is quite likely that the majority of humanity will continue to stand on the sidelines on Climate Change, rallies or no rallies. But increasingly all our lives will be uprooted by extreme weather events, social unrest, and public health issues that will overwhelm our health systems. Our governments, those institutions we’ve been criticizing for wasting our tax dollars, will rush in and try to save use. Those who have chosen not to engage themselves in the crisis of our age will desperately join those who have been warning them for decades to get moving. Except, as in slavery where millions of lives were squandered by inaction, billions of lives may be squandered because the chances to act in a way that would have mattered would have passed.

So, I guess until the day when temperatures start coming down precipitously, there will be rallies in the hope that they will produce different results. I know, change takes time. But time is what we ain’t got anymore.

Times passes.

* For the purposes of this essay I’m throwing marches, protests, demonstration, rallies, all under the rubric of ‘rallies’. 

Monday, June 06, 2016

Rumblings of #NYRENEWS in New York’s Capitol

On Wednesday June 1st, folks from all over New York State came together in Albany to insist that our legislators get with the Climate Change program. While a couple of us were waiting to speak to our state senators on the fourth floor, hundreds of activists were thundering through the halls of the state capitol building demonstrating for the New York State Climate and Community Protection Act on the third floor. From our perspective, the rumblings below portended a profound escalation in the public’s resolve to get their representatives to vote for “Good jobs, frontline justice, and healthy communities through 100% clean renewable energy”. (  

At that moment (about 3PM) none of us knew whether the NYS Assembly would pass A10342, the purpose of which is “…is to enact the "New York State Climate and Community Protection Act" to address and mitigate the impacts of climate change in New York.” (1). So a few of us wandered over to the Assembly Chamber where members were filing in for the vote. Despite the continual clanging of an urgent-sounding bell throughout the humongous building to alert representatives that is was voting time, our representatives made their way leisurely to their seats. But our little group had to leave in order to catch our bus back to Rochester before we found out about the results of this historic vote. Only the next day did we find out:

New York Assembly Approves Climate Bill That Would Cut Emissions to Zero The bill, endorsed by a broad coalition, is also notable for its emphasis on environmental and economic justice, advocates say. This story was updated at 1:15 am ET on May 2, 2016, to reflect the state assembly's vote on the climate bill. The New York State Assembly approved the nation's most ambitious climate change bill Wednesday. The vote came hours after a broad coalition of environmental justice, climate activist, conservation and labor groups took to the State Capitol in Albany urging lawmakers to swiftly pass the bill before the legislative session ends on June 16. The legislation requires the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from major sources to zero by 2050. That would demand a near total decarbonization of its economy, and it would put New York among the world's leaders on forceful climate action. To achieve it, the bill gives the state until 2030 to get at least 50 percent of its electricity from clean energy. (June 1, 2016) Inside Climate News

Pretty heady stuff. I’ve attended many a Climate Change rally, and it’s not often that a decision gets made in our favor immediately after our demands are made. Instant gratification is not the usual fare when protesting against a fossil-fuel world and trying to herald in a renewable and sustainable existence. In fact, we are a long way from getting even this bill passed that would make NYS a leader in addressing Climate Change; first, a similar bill has to get though the more challenging state senate and even then, the governor would have to sign it.

Outside on the Capitol steps (from about noon to 2PM), six or seven hundred of us listened to many incredible speeches by activists. Some were local politicians pleading for a viable future for their constituents, and some were union leaders describing a future with clean energy jobs. Many speakers talked about the poorest getting hit first and worst by Climate Change. One speech acknowledged the newfound association of many communities not historically linked with climate activism (as they have had many more immediate threats to their existence) and communicated a dawning realization about the new warming world we have entered: Addressing Climate Change is now the political and economic vehicle, whatever ones feelings about our environment, for a viable future. Many groups who have felt helpless getting their concerns addressed are realizing the importance of this new avenue for change. Contained in the often chanted maxim during the day, “The People United Will Never Be Divided!” is something those still attempting to block change through deceit and denial should be aware of: A people united is a force more powerful than money.

Throughout the speeches on the steps, many of the speakers floated seamlessly between English and Spanish.  One speech was rendered entirely in Hispanic. By this time, I was feeling a little stupid for only knowing one language—and some say that one not all that well.   

At around 10AM, on our way through the concourse from our bus to the Capitol, we bumped into one of our local senators. After an amiable exchange, where we all greeted each other as Rochester-centric cheerleaders, we suddenly pushed back on the senator’s characterization that NYS is doing enough already on Climate Change. We should be pounding China not New York on Climate Change, the senator implored.

Ok, that was weird, as if a very cheerful party has just been made uncomfortable by an unpleasant outburst. We pushed back again because China, as we all know, is not in New York State. China is a place where no NYS senator would have any effect. The senator was squirming now and suddenly thought of an engagement he needed to get to—which by the way was in the other direction he was headed before he met up with us.

I’ve heard the China syndrome used in the context of Climate Change before, but not by one of my senators actually talking to me. The argument, as I understand it is that, the Chinese are putting the most carbon emissions into the atmosphere and the activists should go after them. New York, which stopped Fracking in its tracks, should be given a break by the activists. We have done enough. 
There are many talking points one could have used on the senator had he been willing to stick around and listen to them. First, New York State, which was a major player in the Second Industrial Revolution, is partly responsible for most of the greenhouse gases that have already caused Climate Change disasters around the world. This fact probably would have gotten the senator’s eyes rolling big time. Moral arguments were not in the script. However, more to the point of the bill we want the state senate to consider, New York State can and should be a leader in addressing Climate Change by providing good solid jobs around a renewable infrastructure, and blocking new fossil fuel infrastructure like Bomb Trains snaking through our NYS communities or filling empty salt caverns near the Finger Lakes full of gas (see WeAreSenecaLake).

And, as a matter of politics, it was President Obama’s willingness to demonstrate to China that the US was willing to lead and make significant moves towards renewable energy that helped bring China to the table in Paris. China and the US made the Paris Agreement happen. New York can and should lead on renewable energy now that we’ve chased the specter of Fracking away.

Though it is often the nature of the beast, our legislatures shouldn’t be looking over their shoulders to see how their colleagues are voting before making their decisions on the crisis of our age. The NYS Senate is unlikely to vote favorably on the New York State Climate and Community Protection Act, we get that. But our representatives should be looking straight at their constituents, the facts of climate science, and past disasters like Hurricane Sandy for guidance on how they should vote.

The bill passed on Wednesday in the NYS Assembly but where do we go from here?

The bill was first introduced to the state Assembly on May 23 by Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D). There is currently no equivalent bill in the state Senate, and with only eight days left in the legislative session, it’s unclear whether the bill will make it to Cuomo’s desk for a signature before the legislative session ends. (June 2, 2016 – Climate Progress)

I don’t know yet. But I do know Climate Change is not waiting for the voting bell, and the temperatures are rising quickly.

Time passes. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Using the past to guide us through Climate Change

Given the planetary impact of dangerously quick climate temperatures rising around the world due to human machinations, I suspect there are precious few examples in the past to guide us forward. We are in trouble in a way we never have been before. Civilizations have come and gone over the span of human existence but the entire species and all other species on the planet haven’t before been placed in jeopardy by humanity’s collective attitudes towards our life support system. (Of course, we are always under the threat of mass annihilation by nuclear proliferation but that crisis is not due to the behavior of everyone—just some bad players and some crazy national policies.) Furthermore, we will have to address all our major existential problems—nuclear proliferation, Climate Change, pollution, overpopulation, overconsumption, the loss of biodiversity and much more—at the same time. This is why Climate Change is the mother of all problems.

Toffler’s 1970 book Future Shock talked about modernization moving so quickly that it will be increasingly more difficult to use the past as a guide for the future. This is certainly true with Climate Change. Naturally, we have science as a guide as to what is going on. But science and climatologists’ rushing to fill our knowledge gaps about Climate Change won’t teach us how seven billion people will adjust to the “inconvenience” of a warming planet, where the catastrophic consequences are far more likely to impact those who didn’t cause this crisis than those who did. Also, fairness must be baked into addressing Climate Change, or else social unrest will compound this crisis by multitudes of factors.

We do have examples in history of visionaries who were able to get the measure of the critical issues of their times and arriving at insights that we, in their future, find enlightened and forever attitude altering. These special individuals knew then what we know now. Examples include Samuel Adams and the idea that a colony of a great power should and could break free when their unfair treatment becomes intolerable. Jefferson’s notion that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” (though he himself didn’t practiced what he preached.). Stanton’s and Anthony’s position that women must have the right to vote. Alexander Von Humboldt’s vision that science should develop and flourish beyond national boundaries and ideologies. And a lot more individuals throughout our history who saw ahead of their contemporaries about what people could become by turning the great ship of humanity towards those ends.  

One such visionary whose views might be instructive in our current Climate Change crisis is William Lloyd Garrison’s position on slavery in the United States.

Garrison, publisher of The Liberator, an (the) abolitionist newspaper started in 1831, compelled race equality into the US Constitution. In the 1830's most abolitionists, politicians, newspapers, and just about everyone North and South believed that slavery should and would end eventually. But for even moral heroes like Lincoln that meant holding to the Constitution, where slavery was legalized, and Colonization by sending freed slaves to another place (Liberia), and allowing time to take its course. Garrison changed everything as he upheld immediacy, no Colonization, and total equality. No if’s, and’s, or but’s.

What we think of as abolitionism today is the result of Garrison’s life work.

"It comes as a surprise to realize that of all the antebellum political conceptions about slavery that contended for supremacy--states' rights, three-fifths clause, Missouri Compromise, toleration but nonextension, popular sovereignty--it was Garrison's program of immediate emancipation through the repudiation of the proslavery constitutional compromises and a union dissolved and reconstructed that prevailed." (Page XV, All On Fire)

Emphatic on abolishing slavery, Garrison succeeded in convincing just enough groups and key individuals that anything less that immediate and total equality, regardless of the Constitution, was the only morally acceptable solution to slavery. Almost everyone but Fredrick Douglas thought Garrison was an intolerant ideologue bent on destroying the union.

Sure, most antebellum folks thought Garrison incapable of compromise and reason—though now we see that he was quite reasonable. So too will be those who hold to the proposition that Climate Change must be addressed now before it gets worse. There are innumerable solutions being entertained right now that attempt to address Climate Change but so far they are not equal to the task. Just buying an electric car, or creating a carbon tax, or shifting to organics, or other single actions won’t save the planet. Nothing but the immediate relief from manmade greenhouse gas emissions will save our life support system. There are no concessions to physics possible, no slow and gradual options for keeping fossil fuel energy use alive, and no transporting this problem to the future. We are nearing the danger zone on Climate Change, a point where natural and built environments break down from overheating and social unrest.    

Many now are realizing that Climate Change is an existential problem but are still holding that the solution must come gradually so as not to disrupt the 'harmony' of our fossil-fuel driven existence or threaten our present economy.

Garrison was able to see the clear and unambiguous nature of slavery. It was evil. That the numerous attempts to make chattel slavery a morally justified institution, thereby avoiding the obvious trajectory, were only making it more likely for all to end in a great conflagration. True, ending slavery with the Civil War and the Thirteenth Amendment did not end the brutality against folks with dark skin and yes, Reconstruction was a disaster; nevertheless, slave auctions and the selling of people in the US is no more.

Even more compelling than the moral arguments against slavery are the hard scientific realities behind Climate Change. Climate Change is the moral problem of our day. But it is not a moral problem in the way slavery was. Climate Change is beyond morality in the sense that while it is certainly a moral issue, it is our behavior, however motivated, that will matter. Though terrible and evil, slavery was not threatening the existence of every living being on this planet. Garrison’s goal was to prove to the public that slavery was evil and that humanity must change their attitudes immediately. Garrison struggled to change humanity by appealing to everyone’s sense of Christian morality. Garrison didn’t want to change Christianity to change everyone; he wanted everyone to actually practice Christianity.

With Climate Change, humanity must change their behavior so that our actions render our environment sustainable. If appealing to humanity’s sense of morality will do the trick, then we should do that. But it alone probably won’t on a scale and time that will matter. If morality had that power, it would have already worked. It’s not working; world temperatures and concentrations of greenhouse gases are going up, not down. Climate Change isn’t just morally wrong, it will be the end of us if we don’t become another kind of being—a non-selfish being willing to share the planet with others. Dramatic actions along with a keen sense of moral outrage will probably have to occur before the kind of change needed will happen. Actions like Break Free From Fossil Fuels are an indication, like abolitionism, that some are willing to stand up against the social inertial that is plummeting us into an unsustainable future.  

The value of learning about Garrison and other visionaries is that there are past examples of how someone understood the core problem of their age and became the vehicle of change. Garrison understood that the only solution to ending slavery was changing the public’s attitudes about slavery. Not ballot box morality (continually electing pro-slavery politicians to avert war sure didn’t work), not making concession with the other side, not continuing business as usual, and not thinking some states could have slavery and some could not; none of these provided the solution. Was Garrison right about slavery? Yes, and the Thirteenth Amendment proved him right.

Garrison can help teach us to understand the core problem of our age: that our environment must above all be healthy or no one survives. No human contrivance can work quickly enough to solve this problem of Climate Change for it is we who must change.

The difference between those who would continue slavery in the yesteryears and those in our day who procrastinate on Climate Change is that the former would burn in Hell and the latter will burn right here on Earth, along with everyone else.

Time passes.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Rochester, NY’s Climate Action Plan survey

Consider completing Rochester, NY’s Climate Change Action Plan survey. This plan will affect how our local government addresses Climate Change. Your input into this process is vital.
Critical to addressing Climate Change are our local community governments because they set the rules, enforce the rules, maintain our infrastructures, educate the public on issues vital to our way of life, and prepare the public for clear and present dangers. The City has been working on shoring up its own clean energy and transportation in the first phase of addressing Climate Change and now it’s moving to the second phase: Our community’s role.

Many local groups have been a part of the process to complete the second phase where much is being planned to address the local consequences of Climate Change and engage the public on this issue. Climate Change is affecting our lives now and it will increasingly affect our children’s lives.
Please take a moment and fill out this survey on the Climate Action Plan which will demonstrate to the City that you want this worldwide crisis addressed here in Rochester too.

CLIMATE ACTION PLAN "We want to hear from you!  Take our community-wide Climate Action Plan survey. What is a Climate Action Plan? Climate Action Plans (CAP) are comprehensive roadmaps that outline the community-wide efforts that will be taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. CAPs build upon the information gathered by greenhouse gas inventories and generally focus on those activities that can achieve the relatively greatest emission reductions in the most cost-effective manner.  CAPs typically focus on quantifying existing and projected community-wide greenhouse gas emissions; establishing greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets; identifying and analyzing future greenhouse gas emissions; identifying specific measures that will achieve the emissions targets; and establishing a mechanism to monitor the plan's progress. ”City of Rochester, NY

The urgency and importance of helping Rochester by filling out this survey can be expressed more emphatically by appreciating the backdrop from which the request is made: It’s getting hotter.
If the Paris Agreement is going to work, it had better do so quickly. Earth's thermostat is still going up dramatically. It is in this way that Climate Change is quite simple to understand; when we overheat we’re going to cook. What we have done thus far to bring temperatures down has not worked. Just doing something is not enough. Just getting a little more environmentally friendly doesn’t cut it anymore. What we do must actually fix the problem.

Far From Turning a Corner, Global CO2 Emissions Still Accelerating The latest greenhouse gas inventory from NOAA shows CO2 and methane 'going completely in the wrong direction.' The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is not just rising, it's accelerating, and another potent greenhouse gas, methane showed a big spike last year, according to the latest annual greenhouse gas index released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. CO2 emissions totaled between 35 and 40 billion tons in 2015, according to several agencies. Some of that is absorbed by forests and oceans, but those natural systems are being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of new CO2. As a result, the inventory shows, the average global concentration increased to 399 parts per million in 2015, a record jump of almost 3 ppm from the year before. (May 19, 2016) Inside Climate News

Though many may still view Climate Change as political, trust me, whatever your political persuasion, frequent extreme weather events will ruin your day, your economy, and your future.  

It’s important to give the City of Rochester feedback about what their citizens expect from their government on Climate Change. Of course, filling out this five-minute survey is only one way to get engaged on Climate Change. There are many other things you can do also, including using active transportation (walking and bicycling) for short distances, adopting a carbon fee, protesting against more fossil fuel infrastructures, driving an eco-efficient vehicle, or fixing those heating leaks in your house. But in order to act on a scale and speed that will actually matter we’re going to have to think and act on a global scale. We must join and help accelerate our local government’s efforts to bring together all our efforts to address this issue.

Without your input governments are put in a hard place. Although Climate Change includes all the issues a government is under an obligation to their constituents for, many, if not most folks still don’t perceive Climate Change as a threat that their governments, and their tax dollars, should be putting on top of their priority list. That means the government doesn’t get your support or tax dollars to plan and adapt to the assaults on our way of life that Climate Change presents. Government are the only institutions that can protect it citizens from Climate Change. Governments are the only institutions that must protect their citizens from Climate Change.

Indians demand government action after temperatures hit 51C Hospitals struggle to cope as patient numbers soar and cold water in short supply after hottest day (May 20, 2016 The Guardian)

The private sector can do a lot of specific measures, like building gas efficient or electric cars, but the private sector cannot do what a government does. Here’s a hundred things that your government does: WHAT DOES OUR GOVERNMENT DO? Think about them as Climate Change bears down on us, not on what climate deniers think about the realities that contradict their world view.

Be neat if we could get thousands of Rochesterians to sign this five-minute survey and learn about our city’s Climate Action Plan.  Please thinks of filling out the survey and then sending it on to your contact lists and so on until everyone gets a chance to pipe in.   

Time passes. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

#BreakFree2016, saying No! to an unsustainable future

After twenty some years, the Paris Agreement finally created a framework in which most of the world leaders agreed that Climate Change is human-caused, it’s happening, and our global temperatures must be kept to a 1.5C increase over pre-industrial averages. But the Paris Agreement isn’t official yet and it doesn’t have much legal teeth. What we have is a bottom-up (voluntary) mechanism to address Climate Change and if we squander this time by continuing business as usual we are lost.  A 4C or 6C world would be unendurable.

To jumpstart Paris activists created Break Free to increase the pressure to address Climate Change and engage the public. Break Free is a series of 23 mass actions demanding to keep fossil fuels in the ground (#KeepItInTheGround) in 12 countries on 6 continents. Actions have already started all across the globe. 

May 4-15, 2016: A global wave of mass actions will target the world’s most dangerous fossil fuel projects, in order to keep coal, oil and gas in the ground and accelerate the just transition to 100% renewable energy. Across the world, people are showing the courage to confront polluters where they are most powerful — from the halls of power to the wells and mines themselves. (Break Free From Fossil Fuels)

At Albany’s action last Saturday (#Albany2016, #BreakFree2016), a bus load of Rochesterians cosponsored by Rochester People’s Climate Coalition (RPCC), Mothers Out Front, and the Pachamama Alliance rallied at Liberty Park, marched a mile, and ended up at the railroad tracks at the Port of Albany where the Bomb Trains usually accumulated from around the country with dangerous crude oil. But the trains weren’t there on Saturday, only thousands of protesters.

  • ·         Protest Against Crude Oil Trains Brings Thousands to Capital Region ALBANY. N.Y. -- An international movement right here in the Capital City. Break Free 2016 is the global fight against fossil fuels and crude oil trains that lumber though our cities. "The kind of power we have comes with our voices, our spirits and our bodies," said event organizer Marla Marcum. "There's a lot of passion that people are bringing to this work and we need out elected leaders to listen." (May 14, 2016, Time Warner News Capital Region)
  • ·         More than 1,000 march to protest oil trains ALBANY -- More than 1,000 people marched to the Port of Albany on Saturday to protest against the shipment of oil that goes through the facility that is owned by Global Partners. The Albany demonstration was one of 20 taking place on six continents. Marla Marcum helped organize the Albany rally. "We are here to declare that we need to stop the "bomb trains" flowing into Albany and we need to keep the fossil fuel in the ground," Ms. Marcum said. After assembling in Lincoln Park the protestors marched in unison down Morton Avenue. One group ended up at the Port of Albany and the others made their way to the Ezra Prentice Homes. (May 14, 2016 6News WRGB Albany)
  • ·         Albany protest: 5 arrested after oil train delayed Hundreds oppose oil trains at the Port of Albany — A daylong effort to block crude oil trains brought hundreds of people near the Port of Albany, where they sat on train tracks and listened to speeches, sang and discussed nationwide and local environmental issues. The Albany event on Saturday, organized by the coalition Break Free From Fossil Fuels, was one of several around the country and world this month. More than 400 of the 1,500 people registered said they would be willing to be arrested for physically blocking the trains, a Break Free spokeswoman said. (May 14, 2016 Albany Times Union)

Unlike Rochester’s local mainstream media, where our past marches for action on Climate Change were unattended by them, Albany’s media gave full coverage of this historic event so as to engage the public with this worldwide crisis: The continued use of fossil fuels is driving our global temperatures into the danger zone.

My experiences at #Albany2016 were a kaleidoscope of images where folks held signs saying “No Fossil Fuels, Yes Renewable Energy”, “100% Renewable Energy for New York by 2030”, “Keep It In The Ground!”, “We Can Change Everything”, “Climate Justice”, “Oil Coal Gas = Climate Chaos”, “Protect our Climate, Water, and Health” and many, many more while talking to each other, that is, folks from New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and yes, even Michigan (a party of one, a native American comedian who gave a wonderfully articulate perspective of fossil fuel damage in his home lands and the need for all folks of all color and ages to join together in this great wave of change) and more images of folks laying across the Port of Albany railroad tracks, like that scene in Gone With The Wind, where thousands upon thousands of injured combatants lie in wait for the trains to take them away from a great conflagration that could have been avoided had humanity transformed itself and accepted equality, justice, and peace, though in this case, in Albany, we listened to great speeches by many leaders trying to engage the public on Climate Change amongst many who were lying on the tracks, resting, eating lunch, and talking and talking and talking and almost everyone taking photos and videos of this peaceful and wonderful spectacle to share them around the world on the Internet to give testimony of our efforts and to connect with others around the world trying to break free of a fossil fuel future that threatens all of our futures.

Break Free in Albany was a wonderful experience but also a reminder of many other such protests and marches I’ve joined to get our leaders to act and for the rest of the public to join with us in preventing our shared fate, an impossibly warm world. At some point, of which Break Free was an example, the public will say No! to an unsustainable future and Yes! to the uncomfortable and inconvenient changes our generations needs to make so that future generations can thrive and flourish.

Time passes. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

As presidential candidates descend on Rochester, think Climate Change

President Reagan launched the United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) in order provide a “… comprehensive and integrated United States research program to assist the Nation and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change.” (THE NATIONAL GLOBAL CHANGE RESEARCH PLAN 2012–2021)
Just this week, the USGCRP released a compelling report-- HUMAN HEALTH THE IMPACTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE ON IN THE UNITED STATES—that establishes the scientific relationship between public health and Climate Change. It’s compelling.

White House: Climate Change Poses Urgent Health Risk Climate change is a major threat to human health, with extreme heat likely to kill 27,000 Americans annually by 2100, according to a report released Monday by the White House. The report, by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, outlines numerous ways global warming could devastate public health in the U.S. this century. Global warming will lead to heat waves so extreme that in the hottest times of the year, it will be “physiologically impossible” for people who work outdoors to do their jobs, John Holdren, a science advisor to the Obama administration, said during a news conference about the report. (April 4, 2016) Climate Central

As the presidential candidates descend on Rochester for our NYS primaries this week, we should all reflect for a moment on this report and consider who will lead us during Climate Change. Thirteen agencies of our government contributed to the report on human health; I mention this because, once elected, one of the candidates will be in charge of those 13 governmental agencies.

The next President will be a major factor in our ability to adapt and mitigate Climate Change. Public health is but one of the concerns with Climate Change.

Those candidates who believe that there are more important problems than Climate Change don’t understand that even if the nuclear threat trumps Climate Change, he or she will still have to deal with Climate Change. Our new normal will be public health and Climate Change, social unrest and Climate Change, extreme weather and Climate Change, food and Climate Change, ad Infinitum.  

These presidential candidates coming to Rochester should be pressed hard on their approach to Climate Change. Failure by the media to do so would be shirking their responsibility to us. We should demand that our media not shirk their responsibility.

Time passes. 

Monday, April 04, 2016

Rochester’s Earth Week highlights Paris Agreement and agriculture omission

There have been many Earth Day’s since the first in 1970. Each has been important. Each has been a benchmark along the continuum of our environmental awareness and Climate Change has stoked that fire of concern dramatically. This Earth Day in Rochester, NY is going to be observed within ‘Earth Week 2016: A menu of Climate Actions to Suit Every Taste.’ The theme of food and how its consumption and production is related to Climate Change will showcase one of the historic Paris Agreement’s shortcomings. So, like all the other Earth Day’s, this isn’t just another Earth Day. It’s a reminder, a warning of sorts, that the window of opportunity to prevent catastrophic warming of our life support system is quickly closing and a plea for all to get involved. 

One of the successful parts of the Paris Agreement is a united focus on clean, renewable energy. Already, there are encouraging signs that our energy dependence on fossil fuels is shifting.

Wind and solar are growing at a stunning pace (just not enough to stop climate change) There's good news and sour news on climate change in this hefty new report on renewable energy from the UN and Bloomberg New Energy Finance. (March 24, 2016 VOX

And while this is very good news the increase in clean energy threatens to be too little too late. Good intentions on Climate Change are not enough. Warning: dismal alert -- You are not going to want to hear this:

“Just considering wind power, we found that it would take an annual installation of 485,000 5-megawatt wind turbines by 2028. The equivalent of about 13,000 were installed in 2015. That’s a 37-fold increase in the annual installation rate in only 13 years to achieve just the wind power goal,” Jones says. And similar expansion rates are needed for other renewable energy sources. (WHY ‘PARIS AGREEMENT’ TO LIMIT GLOBAL TEMPS IS DOOMED TO FAIL, March 25, 2016 Futurity)

This is to say we have much to do to make Paris work. First, we need to get the agreement signed and make it official. UN Secretary Ban Ki Moon has asked world leaders to come together this Earth Day and ratify the deal so it can become legally binding. We need 55 nations whose greenhouse gas emissions add up to 55% of the world’s total in order to ratify Paris; if that doesn’t happen this Earth Day, there’s still a year to do so. We can name and shame those who don’t keep their promises but there is no enforcement apparatus to hold nations to strict greenhouse gas emissions limits. However, what Paris does do (and this is really important) is provide a mechanism where every five years adjustments can be made on nations’ goals as the warming situation changes. In other words, the Paris Agreement can grow, evolve, and mature into a healthy adult treaty that can provide a future for our children.

To get to our goal (sustainability), we have to update Paris to make it a truly realistic mechanism for humanity to address Climate Change. Besides the issue of scalability of renewable energy, Paris needs to adequately deal with food and agriculture. This op-ed in The Washington Post nails the issue:

“Unfortunately, the world leaders who gathered in Paris this past week have paid little attention to the critical links between climate change and agriculture. That’s a huge mistake and a missed opportunity. Our unsustainable farming methods are a central contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change, quite simply, cannot be halted without fixing agriculture.” (A secret weapon to fight climate change: dirt, December 4, 2015 The Washington Post)

We have proven that humanity can feed 7 billion people (though millions still starve) but we haven’t acknowledged the cost our environment has paid. Our soil must be healthy, not reduced to a substance that has been ‘fortified’ with fertilizers and poisoned with herbicides and pesticides. Because we have landfilled a lot of our waste, including food waste, we have somehow come to believe that decomposition and other amazing (many still unknown) properties of our soil are insignificant. As we march towards 9 billion people in 2050 and perhaps as high as 12 billion people in 2100, we will desperately try to feed them all. It’s most likely that we will increasingly give top priority to that goal. But in that process we could render one of the most vital ingredients of our existence null and void. You cannot vote soil out of our existence. Not including agriculture in the Paris Agreement was a mistake that must be fixed. 

Mindful of this omission in the Paris Agreement, Rochester, NY seeks to highlight not only the treaty signing, but also the importance of agricultural practices during its Earth Week 2016 – A Menu of Climate Action to Suit Every Taste. This is a week-long series of events of actions and lectures on food and agriculture, culminating in an Earth Eve Climate March Forward.

Engaging the public on this worldwide crisis is still an uphill climb. We haven’t heard much about the ‘successful’ Paris Agreement lately in the media, which is odd considering the whole point of Paris was to get everyone galvanized and make Climate Change adaptation happen. Voluntarily.

Paris is a bottom-up, non-authoritarian approach that critics of the 20+ previous top-down approaches demanded. Now that the bottom-up strategy for addressing Climate Change is in play, those who fought against a top-down approach must realize that “unless the private sector gets involved in a substantive and meaningful manner”(see below), the new strategy will fail just as the window of opportunity is closing.

We have an agreement in Paris: So, what’s next for the private sector? It's been two months now since the historic climate change conference, COP21, wrapped up in Paris, concluding with 195 countries pledging to take actions to keep global warming to under 2 degrees Celsius. This is an unprecedented achievement in the long history of international climate policy.   Compared to past negotiations, there was a different atmosphere in Paris. The negotiators were determined to find common ground rather than draw insurmountable lines in the sand. Investors lined up with billions of dollars in new financial commitments in addition to the suggested roadmap for developed nations to contribute to the needed $100 billion annually for mitigation and adaptation efforts. (February 9, 2016) The World Bank

If folks think that the Paris Agreement was a great treaty and now we can all go back and continue business as usual, they’re going to have a rude awakening when they find out this is the worst possible scenario of all—ignoring this issue completely just when it matters most. Paris, a bottom-up approach to dealing with Climate Change, cannot work if the public, our media, businesses, and our governments don’t continually breathe life into it. Our life support system needs life support.

To that end, we ask that you demonstrate your commitment to addressing Climate Change in the Rochester area by joining one or more of the Earth Week activities, thus helping to get our media’s attention. This worldwide crisis will require all hands on board.

Time passes. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Rochester’s environment in 2050 will prosper—if…

Bleak though the prospects for our planet’s environment may because of Climate Change
Rochester could be set to prosper for a while. By 2050 the planet and our Rochester, NY region will be a much warmer place (on average).

There will be more heavy rainfall events (which means more flooding), more tropical disease threats, more damage to our trees as invasive species are able to tolerate our winters, and, of course, more heat. Our local climate will suddenly feel like Virginia’s after it’s been put through a blender (abnormal will be the new normal).

Unpleasant as most of Climate Change’s consequences are, Rochester is not, and probably will not be for a while, experiencing the worst of the disastrous storms, sea level rises, droughts, and life-threatening heat waves already occurring around the world.  
If Rochester acknowledges the threat from Climate Change and begins intense planning, we will be ready for the influx of climate refugees looking for a place with a lot of good water and healthy soil to produce food.

If we re-adapt our energy sources to accommodate renewables (wind and solar power), Rochester’s air will be cleaner and there would be more jobs.

If we use Climate Change as an opportunity to address many of our past environmental abuses, our environment will be in better shape for the vicissitudes of a warmer world.

If we address Climate Change justly, all Rochesterians will prosper.

If our local media connects the dots with the local consequences of Climate Change, the public will be more supportive of their leaders and businesses trying to address this crisis.

If we make it easy and inexpensive to update our old buildings so that they are energy efficient, we’ll have happier and healthier homeowners.

If we update our transportation infrastructures so that they are more robust and resilient, more folks will get to all the new jobs that come with proper planning.

If we pay attention to this worldwide crisis as we did with women’s rights and abolishing slavery, by 2050 Rochester will again be a beacon of hope. 


Sunday, March 20, 2016

Ground rules for deciding on large-scale wind farm placement

Large-scale wind farms (LSWF) in the Great Lakes region are integral to adapting to Climate Change but there is still much local opposition to specific projects. When the NY State Power Authority (NYPA) tried to implement their Great Lakes Offshore Wind (GLOW) program in 2009, they were met with stiff resistance from many effective shoreline property owners. Eventually, NYPA gave up: “NY Power Authority Trustees Vote to End Proposed Great Lakes Offshore Wind Project”. (True, the failure of GLOW may not have hinged on local opposition but there was major resistance. Also, many folks may have forgotten about GLOW because the public’s attention on this renewable energy program was completely hijacked by six-long years of the New York State Fracking fight.)

Things don’t seem to have changed much as opposition mounts against the Apex Clean Energy’s wind power project in Somerset and Yates—Lighthouse Wind. This is particular wind project is an on-land wind project that promises to produce about 200 megawatts of electricity, which is enough to power up to 53,000 homes. The resistance by locals to wind farms isn’t unique to our region; it’s prevalent nationwide. A search for “opposition to wind Power” brings up innumerable articles and anti-wind groups. This article by The Seattle Times presents a good overview of the issue: “As wind power surges, opposition grows”.

These ongoing conflicts present a great conundrum for addressing Climate Change in New York State because there is no doubt that renewable energy (of which LSWF’s are vital) is a critical component. In fact, Governor Cuomo’s green energy plan, Reforming the Energy Vision (REV), includes the Lighthouse Wind project (see Find a REV Project Near You). The Solutions Project for New York, hailed by many environmentalists because it provides a map to 100 % renewable energy by 2030, is highly dependent on LSWF’s. This is a quote from the study from which the Solutions Project is based on:

“Year 2050 end-use U.S. all-purpose load would be met with ~30.9% onshore wind, ~19.1% offshore wind, ~30.7% utility-scale photovoltaics (PV), ~7.2% rooftop PV, ~7.3% concentrated solar power (CSP) with storage, ~1.25% geothermal power, ~0.37% wave power, ~0.14% tidal power, and ~3.01% hydroelectric power. (100% clean and renewable wind, water, and sunlight (WWS) all-sector energy roadmaps for the 50 United States† Mark Z. Jacobson,*a Mark A. Delucchi,b Guillaume Bazouin,a Zack A. F. Bauer,a Christa C. Heavey,a Emma Fisher,a Sean B. Morris,a Diniana J. Y. Piekutowski,a Taylor A. Vencilla and Tim W. Yeskoo)

A business and social movement in New York, NY RENEWS, advocates for “100% clean energy of accessible and affordable 100% clean energy by 2050 with a benchmark goal of 50% by 2030.” Wind power is an important component of this movement to get jobs and energy that won’t warm the planet.

The urgency of addressing Climate Change by reducing greenhouse gases is clear. This from the recently agreed upon Paris Agreement says:

“Recognizing that climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet and thus requires the widest possible cooperation by all countries, and their participation in an effective and appropriate international response, with a view to accelerating the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions,” (Paris Agreement, the United Nations)

It’s doubtful that any real reduction in greenhouse gases can be accomplished without large scale wind projects.

Clean energy is win-win for the US Simply implementing its Paris climate conference commitments on reducing greenhouse gas emissions could save the US billions of dollars – and save hundreds of thousands of lives. Scientists have worked out how the US could save as many as 300,000 lives by 2030, and get a tenfold return on its investments at the same time. It’s simple. All the nation has to do is what it promised to do at the Paris climate conference last December − launch clean energy and transport policies, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds or more, and pursue the international goal of keeping global warming to below 2°C. (March 13, 2016) Climate News Network

Given the critical importance of LSWF’s in addressing Climate Change on a scale that will matter, you’d think the public and environmental groups would have devised a way to make their peace with clean energy. Instead, the battles rage on.

Shouldn’t there be a way for the majority’s desire for clean energy, which includes LSWF’s, to result in actual local implementation?

I suggest baking in some ground rules for the public debate about the local implementation of LSWF’s so that the debates don’t devolve into the same not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) strategies that killed many a fossil-fuel (brown energy) infrastructure. Yes, NIMBY concerns have been important in stopping the historical environmental abuse of projects that impose undue burdens on local residents and businesses for energy options no longer viable on planet that is quickly warming. But how do we transition NIMBY effectiveness so that we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, that is, how do we prioritize renewable energy so that grassroots action can be leveraged toward addressing Climate Change?

These are my proposed ground rules, guidelines that we should all agree upon so we can move forward and ultimately make our way of life sustainable. We accept that:

  • ·         Climate change is real and humans are causing it.
  • ·         100% renewables is key to Climate Change mitigation and large-scale wind projects (on-shore and off-shore) are a necessary component if Western New York State is to achieve anything close to this goal.
  • ·         The Paris Agreement puts a sense of great urgency behind renewable energy production.
  • ·         There is a moral imperative for those regions (developed nations) that were most responsible for producing and using brown energy to now be a major player in producing green energy.

If these ground rules are not accepted by developed countries for addressing for LSWP placement, we are lost. There are two compelling reasons why these ground rules should be accepted: Continual resistance to LSWP’s will dramatically slow down our ability to provide sufficient clean energy for a growing population and at some point governments will inevitably institute more powerful rules for LSWP placement. Our need to adapt to Climate Change will force our governments’ hands. Already, our government uses Eminent domain to take over private property for the public good. As the consequences of Climate Change become more dear, government policies to protect the public are more likely to reflect that urgency.

It’s also important to note that the National Audubon Society, arguably the strongest advocate group for healthy bird populations, understands that that the ultimate threat to birds is not wind turbines but Climate Change:

Audubon's Position on Wind Power “Audubon strongly supports properly sited wind power as a renewable energy source that helps reduce the threat posed to birds and people by climate change. However, we also advocate that wind power facilities should be planned, sited, and operated in ways that minimize harm to birds and other wildlife, and we advocate that wildlife agencies should ensure strong enforcement of the laws that protect birds and other wildlife.” (Audubon)

The moral imperative for wind placement in our area comes about as a simple case of fairness. It’s getting hot but not evenly all over the world. The countries most responsible for the heating are not reaping the worst consequences. Human conflict will increase as the temperatures rise and the human body has a limit to how much heat it can tolerate. Anthropogenic CO2 emissions are the cause of Climate Change and the low latitudes will soon become inhospitable if we continue business as usual. In this article by Dr. James Hansen, one of our greatest climate scientists provides his most pithy and cogent arguments on the need for Climate Change action, detailing the inherent unfairness: 

Regional Climate Change and National Responsibilities Global warming of about 1°F (0.6°C) over the past several decades now "loads the climate dice." Fig. 1 updates the "bell curve" analysis of our 2012 paper for Northern Hemisphere land, which showed that extreme hot summers now occur noticeably more often than they did 50 years ago. Our new paper shows that there are strong regional variations in this bell curve shift, and that the largest effects occur in nations least responsible for causing climate change. In the United States the bell curve shift is just over one standard deviation in summer and less than half a standard deviation in winter (Fig. 2). Measured in units of °F (or °C) the warming is similar in summer and winter in the U.S., but the practical implication of Fig. 2 is that the public in the U.S. should notice that summers are becoming hotter but is less likely to notice the change in winter. Summers cooler than the average 1951-1980 summer still occur, but only ~19% of the time. Extreme summer heat, defined as 3 standard deviations or more warmer than 1951-1980 average, which almost never occurred 50 years ago, now occur with frequency about 7%. (March 2, 2016) The Huffington Post 

Having said all this, I am not arguing for or against any particular LSWF project. There are many ways that LSWP can be made more accommodating to locals. Germany and other countries that have successfully implemented LSWP’s have used a variety of financial incentives including community choice aggregation (public utilities) that don’t result in a single, large industrial company taking charge.

What’s happening now is very corrosive because, in their efforts to stop LSWPs, locals are injecting climate denial rhetoric into their campaigns, thereby encouraging more fossil fuel use and infrastructure. The argument that we want green energy but not in our backyard must change soon if we intend to adapt to a warmer world.  

Time passes. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Media often misses Climate Change in Great Lakes ice coverage

Starting around 1970 Great Lakes ice coverage began decreasing because of Climate Change. Then ice coverage spiked upwards in the winters of 2013/2014 and 2014/2015. There has been less ice coverage this winter, harking back to the overall trend towards less ice on the Great Lakes. You wouldn’t know this if you only paid attention to some local news whose weather myopia blinds their readers to the big picture.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

Great Lakes ice cover: See the dramatic difference a year makes What a difference a year can make when it comes to weather on the Great Lakes. That also means ice cover can vary greatly. There is a vast difference in the amount of ice on the Great Lakes now compared to this time last year. Currently, the Great Lakes in total are covered with only 9.7 percent ice. This time last year the Great Lakes were 83.2 percent covered with ice. This means there was 70,300 square miles more ice at this time last year. (March 8, 2016) Michigan Live

While it is true that “ice cover can vary greatly,” this article is very misleading because the article only focuses on last winter and this winter.

Here’s another example of short-sighted ice coverage by the media; this time back in 2014 when ice cover shifted dramatically upwards. The article obsesses about the almost record high but doesn’t put this anomaly in perspective.

Freeze pushes Great Lakes ice cover toward '79 record The Great Lakes are on the cusp of a record for ice cover - but if the record does stand another winter we can blame Lake Ontario.” “The ice cover on other lakes, including Lake Superior, Huron and Michigan, though, has increased from 79.7% to 88.4% just in the past week, putting the region close to the record of almost 95% set in February 1979, according to data compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor.” (February 14, 2014 Rochester Democrat and Chronicle)

Not all media get it wrong. This article appeared before the 2013/2014 hard winter. 

Shrinking ice worries Great Lakes scientists Winter ice cover has decreased 70% since 1970s. Why? Great Lakes ice is shrinking. Ice cover has decreased nearly 70% on the five Great Lakes since the early 1970s, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The five Great Lakes hold 20% of the world's fresh water and have more than 11,000 miles of shoreline. Every one of the lakes has endured the winter meltdown: Lake Ontario saw the most dramatic decrease with an 88% drop in ice coverage. Lake Superior lost 76% of its ice. Lake Michigan saw a decrease of 77%. Lake Huron's ice has decreased 62%. Lake Erie, the shallowest of the lakes and therefore the first to freeze every year, lost half of its ice cover. Scientists blame global warming. Hotter days mean warmer water. (March 7, 2013) USA Today)

Information from the experts on Great Lakes ice coverage is not misleading at all. It’s very clear where the trend is going. But the general public doesn’t read climate experts’ data, they attend to the mass media. Here’s the information about Great Lakes ice coverage from just one expert group:  

Great Lakes Ice Coverage From 1973 to 2010, annual average ice coverage on the Great Lakes declined by 71%. From 1975 through 2004, the number of days with land snow cover decreased by 15 days, and the average snow depth decreased by 2 inches (5.1 cm). Snow and ice levels on the Great Lakes and on land will likely continue to decrease. Reduced lake freezing will result in more exposed water that could increase lake-effect precipitation. Ice coverage declined by 71% overall on all five Great Lakes and Lake St. Clair since from 1973-2010. Total losses of annual lake ice coverage varied from lake to lake, ranging from 37% in Lake St. Clair and 50% in Lake Erie to 88% in Lake Ontario. Though the long-term trend has been downward, high ice winters, such as 2013-2014 and 2014-2015, can still occur and illustrate the complexity of this system. (The Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments Program (GLISA))

Great Lakes ice coverage presents the media with an excellent opportunity to educate the public about the seemingly confusing yearly weather trends against the backdrop of Climate Change. A melting Arctic, which often pushes jet streams into our region, can make it appear as if our winter temperatures and ice cover are bouncing all over the place. A step back in perspective clearly shows that the trend in our weather is matching the predictions of Climate Change. A media that properly characterizes what’s going on with our wacky weather will better inform the public (and businesses) so they can make better choices in a warming world. 

When our media fails to adequately present the new normal of Climate Change and falls back into shifting baseline syndrome  (a sort of environmental amnesia), the public will think Climate Change is true every time it gets warm and false every time it gets cold.

Climate Change is a complicated issue and one that needs public knowledge and support for any real actions to address this worldwide crisis. Our media is the way our public understands the world around them and only an accurate portrayal of reality will do.