Monday, March 20, 2017

Was Rochester prepared for the consequences of Climate Change?

Our recent spate of hard storms and the public’s reaction to the government and power company response provides an interesting learning moment about the public’s expectation of preparedness in a time of Climate Change.

Was Rochester Gas and Electric prepared for storms? Questions persist about whether the Rochester region's largest electric utility was prepared for the fury nature unleashed the past few weeks. Yet complete answers could be a long time coming for customers and citizens whose lives were upended by the storms and power outages. And while Rochester Gas and Electric's handling of the crisis is of immediate concern to many, more troubling may be questions about long-term preparation, including maintenance of the local electrical system. (March 17, 2017) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle)

Many in the Rochester area were not happy with the response time or the infrastructure vulnerabilities revealed by these recent storms. Were our authorities ready? Were our infrastructures (telephone poles, etc.) ready for these assaults? Were our leaders prepared to protect us from these clear and present dangers—as their jobs require?

The blame game begins and judgement day looms, when everyone gets a chance to review all the details and decide whether everyone responsible planned properly and responded satisfactorily. Heads may roll, as they say.

This is all interesting because Climate Change presents itself as a unique disaster scenario, more drawn out with many extreme weather events, and a more biblical kind of Judgement Day.

Being entirely prepared for the recent storms, after a long and lulling warm spell in February, would have meant that the City and RG&E could check the integrity of all their telephone poles, immediately summon emergency crews and subcontractors, suspend vacations, and warn the public about dire winter conditions at the end of March. However, not only would the public have scoffed at such preparations, they would have been highly incensed that the City and RG&E had started throwing their money towards such an unlikely scenario.  

This says something about preparedness.

Too often, after (let me repeat ‘after’) a calamity the public gets energized about preparation. Before last week’s wind and snow storms, the public probably assumed their local governments and power companies had prepared them for the worst. And, given the low probabilities of an 80-mile-an-hour windstorm and a mega-March snowstorm coming back to back at this time, our authorities were most likely prepared. They were prepared in the sense that they were probably prepared for the usual weather expectations for a late March, but not entirely ready for what actually happened.  
Climate Change is going to require a lot of preparation and with the recent turn of political events they are unlikely to be adequate.

“As to climate change, I think the president was fairly straightforward: We’re not spending money on that anymore,” Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, said at a White House briefing on Thursday. “We consider that to be a waste of your money to go out and do that.”1.

Preparations for disasters always seems like a “waste of money to go out and do that” before disaster strikes. And to be fair, there are times when disasters are certain only in hindsight. Most of the time you have to plan in such a way that the public is ready to front the costs of preparations with increased taxes and bills. You have to rely on experts and take a chance that your decisions on the level of risk and the cost of preparation are all worth it.

Even with such caveats, you have to appreciate the breathtaking audacity and cravenness of the Trump administration’s attacks on the very discipline (Science) which forms the bulwark of Climate Change information on preparation.

Scientists Bristle at Trump Budget’s Cuts to Research Before he became president, Donald J. Trump called climate change a hoax, questioned the safety of vaccines and mocked renewable energy as a plaything of “tree-huggers.” So perhaps it is no surprise that Mr. Trump’s first budget took direct aim at basic scientific and medical research. Still, the extent of the cuts in the proposed budget unveiled early Thursday shocked scientists, researchers and program administrators. The reductions include $5.8 billion, or 18 percent, from the National Institutes of Health, which fund thousands of researchers working on cancer and other diseases, and $900 million, or a little less than 20 percent, from the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which funds the national laboratories, considered among the crown jewels of basic research in the world. (March 16, 2017) March 16, 2017) New York Times

At this point, many in the public are stunned by this reckless disregard for predictions based on accurate scientific information. How could anyone have imagined such a blatant affront to our accumulated knowledge about how our environment actually works? Scientists are not just important in a world of Climate Change, they are absolutely necessary in the way someone operating on your heart must be a heart surgeon. You wouldn’t want a climate denier preparing you for Climate Change any more that you would want a Valentine card designer opening up your chest to get at your heart.

We are not going to be prepared for Climate Change if Trump’s attack on science and the EPA are allowed to continue. The public needs to get out and march in the streets; they need to contact their government representatives and make them accountable now; and the public needs to get engaged in this crisis before disasters strike.

Blaming our governmental officials if they don’t prepare us for Climate Change will be absurdly pointless after the fact, as we’ll be too busy struggling for our lives and our future.


Time passes.   

Monday, March 13, 2017

Declaration of Independence from climate denial

According to Carbonify.com, the atmospheric carbon dioxide level was 365.26ppm in 1998 when I began RochesterEnvironment.com. Today it’s 406.13ppm. In some places it’s projected to soon hit 410ppm. We have known for quite some time now that we are quickly warming up our planet, which is and will continue to affect all life on Earth, while increasingly making it problematic as to whether we can adapt.

For ten thousand years of the Holocene, during which humanity thrived, our carbon dioxide concentration levels hovered around 280ppm. Then in the mid-1800’s our planet’s temperature took off.

There is much about Climate Change that folks are debating and denying, but these figures on the concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere are pretty clear. Hard to squirm away from the math.

Carbon Dioxide Could Reach 410 PPM This Month A never-ending stream of carbon pollution ensures that each year the world continues to break records for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This year will be no different. Like a rite of spring, carbon dioxide is poised to cruise pass the previous mark set last year and reach heights unseen in human history. In the coming weeks, carbon dioxide will start to breach the 410 parts per million threshold on a daily basis at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. The monthly average for May could come close to topping 410 ppm, too, according to the U.K. Met Office’s inaugural carbon dioxide forecast, released last week. (March 6, 2017) Climate Central [more on Climate Change in our area]

The New York Times recently headlined the news that spring comes earlier each year (see below). I’m sure there is a vast swath of our U.S. citizens who won’t read the New York Times—which is odd because it’s the largest selling newspaper in the world.

Spring Came Early. Scientists Say Climate Change Is a Culprit. After a mild winter across much of the United States, February brought abnormally high temperatures, especially east of the Rockies. Spring weather arrived more than three weeks earlier than usual in some places, and new research released Wednesday shows a strong link to climate change. By the 2017 calendar, the first day of spring is March 20. But spring leaves arrived in mid-January in some parts of the South, and spread northward like a wave. The map above plots the date of “first leaf,” a temperature-based calculation of when vegetation that has been dormant starts to show signs of life. This year, with the exception of a few small areas, the wave has arrived much earlier than the 30-year average. (March 8, 2017) New York Times [more on Climate Change in our area]

Science tells us more of our greenhouse gas emissions are getting into our atmosphere each year. Our media (some of them anyway) explains what that means for our way of life.

Yet, we put a climate denier into the top office of our country: “To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world” (The Declaration of Independence, 1776):


It’s now time to Declare our independence from climate denial.

We, therefore, the people of the united States of America, in general, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these United States, solemnly publish and declare, That these United States are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent of climate denial, that they are Absolved from all anti-science and Climate Injustice, and that all political connection between them and climate denial, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent peoples, they have full Power to support science, work with other nations around the world to address Climate Change.— And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

We shall not be denied a future:

Rather than the trajectory of a future riven with pollution, disease, and a vast inequality of wealth and resources brought on by climate denial, we aspire to an Attractive Future possible to all of us by addressing Climate Change immediately, which will ensure better city designs, more Equality, and a healthy and sustainable environment from which all Peoples, Business, and Life can flourish. 

Inspiration to Act:

            "90% is just showing up” short video by Paul Flansburg pflansburg@hotmail.com
Overwhelmed about what to do in a world that is warming and not enough folks seem to care? Need some real inspiration in four minutes from someone who is walking the rallies? Paul Flansburg has put together an amazing personal story about why and how to care about our planet—especially at this incredible moment in history. Powerful. Incredible.

Action Opportunities:

·         March for Science on Earth Day, here in Rochester, NY or in Washington, DC.
·         Join the People’s Climate Movement this April 29th here in Rochester, NY or in Washington, DC.
·         Retweet, share on Facebook, and/or copy to your contacts or social media this article.

Time passes.


#StandUpForScience #climatechangeshealth #ClimateFacts #MarchForScience #ScienceMatters 

Monday, March 06, 2017

EPA getting gutted. Sad.

Ever since humanity began large-scale industry, business folks have been duking it out with nature lovers.

It would be convenient to entirely blame Pruitt and President Trump for attempting to gut the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But this present crisis, where the EPA is getting eviscerated, where decades of good work by our top environmental agency is getting attacked by the Trump administration, is but a dramatic point along a continuum of our collective compliancy towards our life support system.

For most of humanity’s existence, we have fought for our place in our environment among dangerous predators and hostile climates. Some time ago, our numbers grew and our ability to dominate and even subdue nature allowed our species to thrive. We discovered how to exploit the bounties of our environment and didn’t think much about replacing or compensating important components (think, forests) because it didn’t even occur to us until centuries ago that our resources were finite.
Several hundred years ago, many naturalists and thinkers began warning humanity that the way we were treating our environment was causing problems. Serious water-polluting, soil-decimating, and other large-scale problems became so bad that communities and even civilizations perished. The push for more land was driven in part because good agricultural regions were used up by bad farming practices. We over-hunted, over-fished, and developed beyond our environment’s ability to recuperate from our abuse. We ignored the warnings of those—Thoreau, Muir, Humboldt, Marsh, and many others--whose message was to step more lightly on our planet’s bounty. They were not against growth; they were against wasteful and destructive practices that were destroying the potential of our natural resources.

After a long history of treating our environment as an infinite and magical spring of resources (as an externality), we shouldn’t be surprised when, in this latest and most horrific expression of environmental pushback, Trump says "the EPA’s regulators are putting people out of jobs by the hundreds of thousands.” (from What President Trump’s New Order Means for Clean Water, February 28, 2018, Time)

We should realize that this misguided harangue is but the most recent manifestation of a long-held attitude towards our environment from which humanity has not entirely freed itself. We’ve been treating our life support system badly for a long time.  

Shifting costs and degradation of our natural resources to tax payers

Trump’s clumsy attempts to revive old unsustainable business practices by gutting the EPA is really a throwback to how humanity used to conduct business by shifting costs and degradation of our natural resources to taxpayers. This is where business gets to use and pollute the commons—our water, land, and air—and shift the financial burden of their cleanup to the public. Meanwhile, the public suffers immeasurably in the form of bad health and in many cases, death. Too many business owners believe that it is the environmental regulations, not the loss of a healthy environment, which is causing their problems. So the EPA becomes a scapegoat for businesses unwilling to shift to sustainable practices.

Framing environmental concerns as ‘us vs. them’ is not sustainable. It never has been. In actuality, there haven’t been winners and losers in environmental fights between polluters and environmentalists. Victories have been a mirage, where polluters win the battles and we all lose the war. What has happened is a ratcheting up of environmental degradation. We are now at a place where 7 billion people are eking out an existence as we warm up the planet and extinct animal and plant species around the world on par with the other five great extinctions. This observation isn’t new and many, many businesses have come to recognize their responsibility in keeping our environment healthy. For quite a while now, responsible business have adopted sustainable business practices that are becoming standard business practices around the world—not merely as environmentally sound, but also financially profitable.

Why we need a healthy EPA

The EPA has many successes under its belt including the cleanup of thousands of industry-caused Brownfields, not to mention the countless times where the rules and the very existence of the EPA has prevented catastrophic environmental abuse. This environmental regulatory agency hasn’t led to the demise of businesses. Quite the opposite. Businesses need a level and stable playing field from which to operate. Think of the reintroduction of wolves in Yellow Stone National Park where the behavior of the elk and other animals changed dramatically when wolves were reintroduced into that ecosystem. Trees grew back and even the course of the rivers changed because elk and other herbivores couldn’t stand around all day chewing up every single plant with wolves around. Ecosystems thrive when the regulators are present.

If we again let free market fundamentalism rule, we will get the world as it was before the EPA—a very polluted environment. But things will be much worse because Climate Change is accelerating and amplifying all our other environmental issues. 

Why We Need the EPA Let’s not forget what America looked like before we had the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Our rivers caught on fire, our air was full of smog, and it stank (literally). “Restoring nature to its natural state is a cause beyond party and beyond factions,” said Richard Nixon, the founder of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in his 1970 State of the Union speech. If only. While there was clearly a time when support for environmental regulations transcended politics, the GOP’s broad support for EPA antagonist and Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt to head the agency he so maligns tells us that day has passed. (February 14, 2017) NRDC [more on Environmental Health in our area]

Focusing on just a single ecosystem, Lake Erie, demonstrates how gutting the EPA will be catastrophic. Everyone, including businesses and farmers who will not be able to thrive in a failing environment, should be encouraging Trump and the EPA to keep up their pivotal role in addressing Climate Change and all the complicated consequences coming with that.

Great Lakes Scientist says, “If We Lose The EPA, We Lose Lake Erie” At the 8th Binational Meeting of the Lake Erie Millennium Network, 125 scientists gathered at the University of Windsor in Ontario to hear experts weigh-in on the health of the southernmost, warmest and shallowest of the Great Lakes. They presented research on everything from climate change, water quality, phosphorous, agricultural run-off, cynobacteria (blue-green algae), hypoxia (deficiency in oxygen), cladophora (green algae) to ice, invasive species, sediment concentrations, and much, much more. Lake Erie is the smallest of the Great Lakes by volume, and yet it has the highest population living along it’s shorelines, which makes it more vulnerable to pollution and many other problems than the rest of the Great Lakes. (February 24, 2017) Great Lakes Now [more on Climate Change and Water Quality and Great Lakes in our area]

In our desire for progress (a Star Trekian utopia perhaps) some of us forget that our visions for humanity’s future are not necessarily inevitable. There are secondary consequences to development—pollution, the breakdown of our ecosystems, and Climate Change—that can end the best of dreams. In order to ratchet up the likelihood that ours will be a bright future, we must always be mindful of our environmental health. This will not include demolishing every hard-won environmental regulation we have achieved.


Time passes. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Climate Change indicator, water

As I write, the worst possible candidate to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just got installed. It is terrible because it is via the EPA we get our legal authority to address Climate Change on a scale that will matter. States can do much, but it’s the feds that create a level playing field. So, Pruitt’s political (not scientific) confirmation could be a serious problem for our life support system. #ScienceMatters

Climate Change is affected by our politics in the sense that politics can affect humanity’s collective response to this crisis. But, at the end of the day, it is climate indicators, climate feedback mechanisms in our environment, that will determine whether we are making progress or not.
Basically, climate change indicators are things like:


Please check these indicators soon, for we do not know how much longer they will exist on the EPA’s website.

Indicators are kinda like those tubes and monitors that are hooked up to you after you’ve had a life-threatening accident. If there are loud beeps from any one of those indicators, you are going to need a nurse Johnny-on-the-spot.

I want to make a point about the changes in our water, which constitutes many of the indicators above. The importance of our water goes far beyond our current state of dysfunctional politics.

Water

Water, as you know, exists in three states on our planet: liquid, gas (vapor), or solid (ice). When it’s not present in any of these forms we have a drought, desert, or a lifeless space. #WaterIsLife
Here are some interesting data about water in our Northeast region, from GLISA a NOAA Risa team :
  • ·         “From 1973 to 2010, annual average ice coverage on the Great Lakes declined by 71%.”
  • ·         “The amount of precipitation falling in the heaviest 1% of storms increased by 37% in the Midwest and 71% in the Northeast from 1958 to 2012.”


So, let’s talk about the liquid form for a moment. That recent California dam crisis offers a teaching moment about a particular water infrastructure, but also all our infrastructures, because it talks about planning, about how infrastructure change must be tailored to the local predictions of Climate Change. Decisions for this dam should have been made years ago because now everyone is freaking about displacing 200,000 people and trying to figure out if the drought is over. No, the drought isn’t over and, no, the aquifers that will be needed for more droughts a-coming are not being replenished. But they could have been recharged if the dam had been redesigned properly. It’s not just that damn dam, it’s all our infrastructure.

Our infrastructures—dams, bridges, waste water systems, gas pipelines, electric grids, etc.—are old and they were designed for a world that wasn’t feeling the consequences of Climate Change. Our infrastructures here in the Northeast haven’t had to deal with the dramatic droughts of the West; instead, heavy precipitation (snow and rain) at a 71% increase since 1958 presents many problems with sewage overflows and damages due to increased flash flooding.

The article (below) is great for understanding some of the key issues about addressing Climate Changing because it gets to more of the particulars than merely updating old structures. Our infrastructures of the future have to be ready for the climate disruptions that are already different from the calmer climate when those structures were first designed. The public needs to be more aware of how our infrastructures—which are now key to our survival because there are so many of us who need food, waste removal, communication, and transportation. Oftentimes, when our infrastructures fail, they do so dramatically, because so many people are dependent on them.

What California’s Dam Crisis Says About the Changing Climate After five years of record-setting drought, much of California is being pummeled by an extremely wet winter. The disaster unfolding at Oroville, where precipitation is more than double the average, is the latest reminder that the United States needs a climate-smart upgrade of our water management systems. In the West, much of our water infrastructure is old. Oroville Dam, north of Sacramento, was completed in 1968, nearly a half a century ago. Other major components of our water system are generations older, and maintenance has not been a priority. The damage to Oroville Dam, where the primary spillway developed a giant gash and the emergency spillway threatened to erode, illustrates the hazard of relying on aging infrastructure to protect us from extreme weather. But age and upkeep are not the only problems. Our water system was designed and built in an old climate, one in which extremely warm years were less common and snowpack was more reliable. Here in the West, we use the same dams and reservoirs for both water storage and flood control, so during the wet season, reservoir managers continuously balance the dual pressures of storing as much water as possible for the dry summer and releasing sufficient water to create room for the next storm. (February 14, 2017) New York Times [more on Climate Change in our area]

Ice cover

A dramatic shift in Great Lakes ice cover due to Climate Change could have profound changes to lake levels, weather, snow, shipping, nuclear power cooling, fishing, and the entire ecosystem. There’s more on this story here.  Also, this is interesting:

Climate shifts affecting Great Lakes ice cover The mild winter across the Great Lakes is producing below average ice cover once again. As of Sunday, 13.5 percent of the Great Lakes is covered with ice according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That’s well below the historical median of about 30 percent for this week of the year, according to the Canadian Ice Service. (February 13, 2017) MPR News [more on Great Lakes and Climate Change in our area]

Data.

As of this writing, there is still official climate data from which the public and their government can work from. For example, check graphs and maps that show observed and modeled data for ROCHESTER, NY. This information comes from the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit, which “is a website designed to help people find and use tools, information, and subject matter expertise to build climate resilience. The Toolkit offers information from all across the U.S. federal government in one easy-to-use location.”

This information from our government may not always be there. Data and public information from our government is disappearing in a cloud of denial and an ideology that still thinks the only way business can survive is to treat our environment as their free and unrestricted sewer.

I am continually reminded of Dr. Sagan’s warning: “Anything else you're interested in is not going to happen if you can't breathe the air and drink the water. Don't sit this one out. Do something. You are by accident of fate alive at an absolutely critical moment in the history of our planet.”


Time passes.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The warming poles of Climate Change

Feeling a compulsion to continually acknowledge the fact that human-caused Climate Change is happening? It’s understandable. Our last US election has resurrected the pathetic chimera of climate denial. It’s a tragedy. Our attention to the problem at hand, that our climate is warming quickly, has been hijacked.

Now we worry for our latest immigrants. For we are all are immigrants. I’m Famine Irish, myself, and only differ from those misaligned today by the trumped-up Travel Ban but for the vagaries of time. At a recent rally in Rochester against the so-called ban, I felt compelled to read before a gathering of hundreds the entire poem, "The New Colossus", whose lines "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” everyone knows.  

Now we worry for indigenous peoples whose temporary victory at the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), following fire-hosing of our fellow Americans in freezing weather, captured the nation’s and world’s attention. We worry for those who have worked all their lives to qualify for Medicare and Social Security. We worry for our youth whose understanding of science is in jeopardy. We worry for the common decency we expect towards our fellow citizens and allies around the world because all that now hangs on the irrational behavior of our so-called leader.

Bizarre money-drunk politics has reinvigorated hate, prejudice, xenophobia, and a great distain for environmental regulations, dragging along with it all this climate denial BS. Science had put a lid on this immoral and anti-science ideology years ago. But this scourge has reared its ugly head, fueled, in part, by fossil-fuel money.  

While this tempest steals our attention, both geological poles of our planet are undergoing extreme changes due to warming. It’s quite possible that celestial beings far away, even if they didn’t know anything about our precious blue orb, would probably notice our polar ice caps changing. “Hey look over there at that little planet in the Local Group, its polar caps are dwindling instead of increasing as we would expect from its present orbit. Something must be causing its greenhouse gasses to increase. Hmmmm.”   

First, the Artic, where we know Climate Change is the cause:

The Winter of Blazing Discontent Continues in the Arctic Weird. Strange. Extreme. Unprecedented. These are some of the words that describe what’s been happening in the Arctic over the past year as surge after surge of warm air have stalled, and at times reversed, sea ice pack growth. And the unfortunate string of superlatives is set to continue this week. Arctic sea ice is already sitting at a record low for this time of year and a powerful North Atlantic storm is expected to open the flood gates and send more warmth pouring into the region from the lower latitudes. By Thursday, it could reach up to 50°F above normal. In absolute temperature, that’s near the freezing point and could further spur a decline in sea ice. (February 6, 2017) Climate Central [more on Climate Change in our area]

Next, the big crack in an Antarctica ice shelf, which may not be caused by Climate Change, but it is still expected to greatly threaten the stability of the ice shelf, which “… could also significantly change the landscape of the Antarctic peninsula.”

A Crack in an Antarctic Ice Shelf Grew 17 Miles in the Last Two Months A rapidly advancing crack in Antarctica’s fourth-largest ice shelf has scientists concerned that it is getting close to a full break. The rift has accelerated this year in an area already vulnerable to warming temperatures. Since December, the crack has grown by the length of about five football fields each day. The crack in Larsen C now reaches over 100 miles in length, and some parts of it are as wide as two miles. The tip of the rift is currently only about 20 miles from reaching the other end of the ice shelf. Once the crack reaches all the way across the ice shelf, the break will create one of the largest icebergs ever recorded, according to Project Midas, a research team that has been monitoring the rift since 2014. Because of the amount of stress the crack is placing on the remaining 20 miles of the shelf, the team expects the break soon. (February 7, 2017) New York Times [more on Climate Change in our area]

Even some conservatives are concerned. They’ve marched out their own proposal for taking immediate climate action:

A Conservative Case for Climate Action CRAZY as it may sound, this is the perfect time to enact a sensible policy to address the dangerous threat of climate change. Before you call us nuts, hear us out. During his eight years in office, President Obama regularly warned of the very real dangers of global warming, but he did not sign any meaningful domestic legislation to address the problem, largely because he and Congress did not see eye to eye. Instead, Mr. Obama left us with a grab bag of regulations aimed at reducing carbon emissions, often established by executive order. In comes President Trump, who seems much less concerned about the risks of climate change, and more worried about how excessive regulation impedes economic growth and depresses living standards. As Democrats are learning the hard way, it is all too easy for a new administration to reverse the executive orders of its predecessors. (February 8, 2017) New York Times [more on Climate Change in our area]

(Actually, it DOESN’T sound CRAZY that some US conservatives are concerned about Climate Change and urge their party to address this crisis. It doesn’t sound crazy that intelligent people find the science behind Climate Change compelling. It DOES sound CRAZY to think environmental regulations should be rolled back and the free market (which, by the way, was instrumental in causing Climate Change) be allowed to take over. The political parties will disagree about how to address Climate Change, but both political parties should NOT disagree that Climate Change is happening because that is CRAZY! Also, as long as I’ve stolen your attention from this article’s main thesis: Those inclined to pin their hopes on "The Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends," for addressing Climate Change, because this is the most we are likely to get from a wrong-headed ideology, should remember that the free market system cannot fix Climate Change. Climate Change is deeply complex and will affect all aspects of our life support system, including our infrastructure, our individual health, our social stability, and our ability to adapt to the heat already built up in our climate system. While a carbon dividend will go far in slowing down human-cause greenhouse gas emissions, it is far short of a complete plan to address Climate Change. Our politics need to get their priorities straight.) #ScienceMatters

(Ok, back to my main point.) Since Trump has taken office, the poles of our political spectrum have deeply widened. A charge from the extreme wing on climate denial in our government suggests that the US and the rest of the nations were duped into signing the Paris Agreement. The facts behind this trumped-up conspiracy have been roundly refuted by folks who actually know what they are talking about. But, still, the specter of another Climategate which attempts to lie our country out of the Paris Agreement and sow more doubt into climate science is chilling.
  • ·         Climate Change, Science, NOAA Falsely Maligned by Tabloid Spin As a result of human activities, primarily the burning of fossil fuels, the planet is warming. Those who deny this fact have pointed to a supposed “pause” in warming to justify opposition to climate action. In 2015, a study led by NOAA’s Tom Karl was published in Science that flatly refuted the idea of a “pause.” It is one of many. But its high profile made it a target for attack. On Saturday, a feature in the UK’s Mail on Sunday by David Rose makes outrageous claims that were already disproven as the paper version hit stands, and that he has already had to in part correct. Rose, who has a history of inaccurate reporting, spins a scandal out of a letter by a former NOAA employee published on a climate change denial blog. The letter makes accusations of wrongdoing in the methodology and data archiving procedures used in the study. These accusations have already been shown to be faulty. Even if they were true, the implications have been blown out of proportion by Rose. Rebuttals were published in record time, as within minutes there was a tweet describing the story as “so wrong its hard to know where to start”:  (Climate Nexus)
  • ·         Factcheck: Mail on Sunday’s ‘astonishing evidence’ about global temperature rise This is a guest post by Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist and energy systems analyst at Berkeley Earth, an independent temperature analysis project. In an article in today’s Mail on Sunday, David Rose makes the extraordinary claim that “world leaders were duped into investing billions over manipulated global warming data”, accusing the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of manipulating the data to show more warming in a 2015 study by Tom Karl and coauthors. What he fails to mention is that the new NOAA results have been validated by independent data from satellites, buoys and Argo floats and that many other independent groups, including Berkeley Earth and the UK’s Met Office Hadley Centre, get effectively the same results. (February 5, 2017) Carbon Brief [more on Climate Change in our area]
  • ·         Contested NOAA paper had no influence on Paris climate deal Envoys from US, EU, Russia and South Africa reject claims that one piece of research in June 2015 shaped flagship UN climate pact Did a “landmark paper that exaggerated global warming” trick 195 governments into signing the Paris climate deal? That’s the bold claim in a Mail on Sunday article that, at time of writing, had been shared 36,000 times and boasted 1,600 comments. It’s a strong allegation, directed at a study from the reputable National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and one that was pounced upon by climate sceptic lawmakers in the US. “The Obama administration pushed their costly climate agenda at the expense of scientific integrity,” tweeted congressman Lamar Smith, a Republican who says climate science is bunkum. (February 6, 2017) Climate Home [more on Climate Change in our area]


While the US again ties itself up in climate denial, forever grubbing for ‘gotcha points’ in studies, articles, and discussion, the world worries.

These important words about understanding Climate Change by world renowned science communicator Dr. David Suzuki are worth noting. The US public and the media cannot just cherry-pick news and information about the complex issue of Climate Change. Climate Change, as much as possible, needs to be understood and communicated in the fullness of its impact and the exactness of its science.

Science is the most useful tool we have to adapt to climate change and avoid its worst outcomes. But it requires critical thinking and a big-picture perspective to ensure we consider all available evidence. With so many people scrolling through social media feeds for news rather than reading entire articles, facts and clarity can become elusive. It's up to us all -- media and consumers alike -- to dig deeper for the full story. (February 8, 2017, Understanding Climate Change Means Reading Beyond Headlines (Huffington Post)

Of course, physics always wins out. But will our attention have been turned away just long enough to relinquish any control we might have had over our destiny?


Time passes. 

Monday, February 06, 2017

The Trump Effect on Climate Change

Fears that Trump’s anti-environmental harangues would turn out to be reality once he got installed as President have come to pass. His spate of executive orders challenging known science and prudent care of our environment threatens to disrupt decades of national and international efforts to address Climate Change. A national frenzy, whether orchestrated purposely or not, is now in play in the form of the disturbing dazzle of the Donald’ antics, designed to steal away the public’s and the media’s attention. From this point on, one of the unknown unknowns (things we didn’t even know we didn’t know) confounding the planning for Climate Change is now unfolding, a tipping point of sorts that might be called the Trump Effect on Climate Change. The excrement has collided with the rotary oscillator: 

Since the inauguration:
  • ·         EPA airbrushes climate webpage as Pruitt nears confirmation US federal environment agency has quietly removed a reference to UN climate cooperation from its website Scott Pruitt is on his way to approval as Donald Trump’s environment chief after Republican senators waved him through a committee vote on Thursday. The controversial choice, who as Oklahoma attorney general sued the Environmental Protection Agency he is about to lead, got through despite a Democrat boycott. He is expected to pass a full senate vote next week. Even before he takes up the position, mentions of climate cooperation have been scrubbed from the EPA website, in a clear signal of intent from the new US administration. (January 3, 2017) Climate Home
  • ·         Top download from any federal site right now is Park Service report on climate change The events of the past week have been worrying to advocates of government action on climate change, with the removal of climate priorities from the White House website, the order to freeze all Environmental Protection Agency contracts and the inauguration of a president who said he is “not a big believer” in the fact that humans have played a role in changing Earth's climate. But these events have also been very good for website traffic. According to data from analytics.usa.gov, which tracks Web traffic on all .gov websites, several pages related to climate change have been extremely popular in the week since President Trump's inauguration. (January 27, 2017) The Washington Post [more on Climate Change and Environmental Education in our area]
  • ·         U.S. will change course on climate policy, says former EPA transition head The United States will switch course on climate change and pull out of a global pact to cut emissions, said Myron Ebell, who headed U.S. President Donald Trump's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) transition team until his inauguration. Ebell is the director of global warming and international environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a U.S. conservative think tank, and helped to guide the EPA's transition after Trump was elected in November until he was sworn in on Jan. 20. Trump, a climate skeptic, campaigned on a pledge to boost the U.S. oil and gas drilling and coal mining industries by reducing regulation. (January 30, 2017) Reuters [more on Climate Change in our area]
  • ·         Impact of EPA freeze on Holley vacant homes One of several executive orders President Trump signed earlier this week included a freeze on the Environmental Protection Agency. That meant all contracts and grants being issued were put on hold. Now we're learning that freeze has been lifted. But people living in Holley are worried about the impact on a push to occupy eight vacant homes. As Rachel Spotts reports, we’re talking about the site of the Diaz Chemical spill back in 2002. After the spill, many neighbors left their homes, in fear they had been contaminated. A few years later, the EPA bought the abandoned homes, and neighbors say it’s been a battle ever since. (January 27, 2017) WHEC Rochester [more on Environmental Health and Brownfields in our area]
  • ·         Trump Wants to Downplay Global Warming. Louisiana Won’t Let Him “Mother Nature is threatening to kick our people out.” On a recent morning in Baton Rouge, a thousand miles from where Senate Democrats were jousting with Donald Trump’s nominee to run the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about whether humans are warming the planet, the future of U.S. climate policy was being crafted in a small room in the east wing of the Louisiana Capitol. The state’s 7,700-mile shoreline is disappearing at the fastest rate in the country. Officials had gathered to consider a method of deciding which communities to save—and which to abandon to the Gulf of Mexico. Bren Haase, chief of planning for the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), was presenting his team’s updated Coastal Master Plan. Five years in the making and comprising 6,000 pages of text and appendices, the document details $50 billion in investments over five decades in ridges, barrier islands, and marsh creation. Tucked into the plan was a number whose significance surpasses all others: 14 feet, the height beyond which Haase’s agency has concluded homes couldn’t feasibly be elevated. (January 26, 2017) Bloomberg [more on Climate Change in our area]
  • ·         Official: Trump wants to slash EPA workforce, budget The former head of President Donald Trump's transition team at the Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday he expects the new administration to seek significant budget and staff cuts. Myron Ebell said in an interview with The Associated Press that Trump is likely to seek significant reductions to the agency's workforce — currently about 15,000 employees nationwide. Ebell, who left the transition team last week, declined to discuss specific numbers of EPA staff that could be targeted for pink slips. Asked what he would personally like to see, however, Ebell said slashing the agency's size by about half would be a good start. (January 27, 2017) AP [more on Environmental Health and Brownfields and Environmental Health in our area]
  • ·         Global Warning: 24 hours on the climate change frontline as Trump becomes president – as it happened With climate change deniers moving into the White House, the Guardian is spending 24 hours focusing climate change happening now. After reporting from Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the Americas, we’re now focusing on how warming temperatures will affect the Asia-Pacific region  Our partner, Univision News, is hosting a parallel event in Spanish today. Follow it here  The Tumblr community is joining us with personal posts about climate change. See them here We’re just a few hours from Donald Trump being inaugurated as the president of the United States, and we’re signing off from our 24-hour Global Warning live blog: a marathon effort from our Guardian offices in London, New York and Sydney, as well as our correspondents dotted around the globe. What we’ve seen, as we’ve travelled around the world, is that regardless of what climate deniers (yes, deniers) like Trump may say about the science, the stark reality is that it is happening now. (January 20, 2017) The Guardian [more on Climate Change in our area]


Though much data are factored into climate models, scientists would have been exceptionally imaginative to think of a scenario much worse than business as usual. In climate models, there are predicted ranges from where scientists characterize a world were humanity addresses Climate Change to a dismal scenario where humanity does not. In the best situation, we would change our behavior, experience some uncomfortable warming because of the inherent lag time of greenhouse gasses in our climate system, but eventually adapt and live sustainably. In the worst case scenario, business as usual, we’d find ourselves continuing to burn fossil fuels, trying to adapt to the warming, but eventually failing because the consequences of Climate Change would overwhelm us.

The Trump Effect is where there is a concerted effort to back-peddle on what little humanity has already achieved towards solving this complicated, existential threat. It’s an extreme-business-as-usual scenario at odds with science itself. The Trump Effect threatens to plow most of the fossil fuels in the ground up into the air—a scenario scientists have described as game over. The Trump Effect threatens to cause massive economic conflicts among nations as most nations favor renewable energy with new technology, while the most powerful nation insists on old, dirty technology. The Trump Effect increases the likelihood of massive social unrest as nations fight amongst each other for enough food to eat and potable water to drink. The Trump Effect is beyond business as usual because it is a spectacular ratcheting up of climate warming along with tying our hands from even attempting to adapt. It is an ultra-form of the Backfire Effect “When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger.”

Now, our governmental environment and scientific agencies will be offering less stability instead of more; less cooperation between nations on Climate Change instead of more; more volatility in the world market, instead of less; less faith in our already mediocre media (as Trump has declared war on the media), instead of more, and less guidance by science, instead of more. 

Trump’s anti-environmental enactments already have US scientists trying to defend their own jobs and years of painstaking, peer-reviewed facts. Things have reached such fevered pitch that scientist are now going to march on Washington, DC on Earth Day.

The March for Science is Set to Happen on Earth Day Scientists officially have a date where they’ll be taking to the streets. The March for Science has been scheduled for Saturday, April 22 in Washington, D.C. A growing constellation of marches are also scheduled for that day in cities across the U.S. What began as a Reddit conversation has grown into a movement of scientists and science lovers standing up for evidenced-based policy making and inclusivity in the science community.   The date of the march isn’t just an average Saturday. April 22 is Earth Day, first celebrated in 1970. The original Earth Day is seen by many as a turning point in the environmental movement. The year itself also marks a major turning point for the U.S. government and environmental policy. In 1970, Richard Nixon signed the Environmental Protection Agency into existence and it began operating that December. (February 1, 2017) Climate Central 

Many people may think a march by scientists is bad idea. Scientists in the thousands, carrying signs, shouting and chanting? Really? Really. We must remember that this anti-science, climate denial thing, is happening within the US, not the rest of the world. If we who know better don’t stand up for science, we demonstrate to the world that all of us here in the United States find anti-science a viable intellectual option. It ain’t. What is happening in the United States, being bullied by climate deniers, needs to get out to the world. We need to demonstrate that the rest of us (most of us) haven’t given up our principles and respect for science just because it pisses off those whose view of reality is clouded by ideology. BTW: Scientists are NOT the ones politicizing this. Scientists would rather do their wonky lab-and-field jobs—which is now critical to our collective survival.

We can speculate about how the Trump Effect came about. We can try to imagine how to convince people who are just thrilled that Trump has thrown a monkey wrench into science and politics as usual:

How to bridge the political divide with better moral arguments “In this divisive and polarized era how do you bridge the political divide between left and right? How do you persuade the people on the other side to see things your way? New research by sociologist Robb Willer and psychologist Matthew Feinberg suggests that the answer is in learning how to cross something they call the empathy gap.” (November 4, 2016, You Are Not So Smart Podcast)

And while this psychological-aisle-crossing may be helpful for understanding the communication problem going on with Climate Change, it’s unlikely to effect a necessary shift in attitudes. Ultimately, if both sides of the Climate Change issue don’t accept mainstream, 97% peer-reviewed, climate science, then it’s a pointless exercise. There’s no giving ground on science, even if we wanted to.

The Trump Effect is now in play and we will have to deal with it, ready or not.


Time passes. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Why Rochester, NY should release its Climate Action plan soon

Climate action plans (CAPs) are critical for addressing Climate Change locally and demonstrating to the public that their government has their priorities straight. Last year at this time, I wrote: “Why Climate Action Plans (CAP) are so important for every community” and in October I wrote this: “Connecting the dots between Rochester’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) and our disadvantaged communities”. Both articles give a robust argument for the release of the City’s CAP.

Mayor Warren has already spoken publically and forcefully about the role of government in addressing Climate Change:

"Cities must take a leading role in confronting climate change regardless of federal policy," Warren said. "I have no doubt this is what our citizens expect of us and will allow us to lead by example on this critical issue." (from, City aims to fight climate change, November 21, 2016, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle)

However, the City may decide to integrate the CAP rollout within rollout of the Comprehensive Master Plan  (technically, it is part of the Comprehensive Plan, but here I’m referring to its rollout to the public). Such a strategic embedding is not a good idea at this time. If this is done, and the CAP is not highlighted in the media separately, it conceals the compelling concerns our government has about Climate Change in our region. It demonstrates to the public and the media that Climate Change isn’t all that important.

Mayor Warren has taken a leadership role in defending Rochester’s status as a 'Sanctuary City' against the federal government’s new xenophobic attitude towards immigrants, and I hope she also maintains a similar degree of leadership regarding Climate Change. 

For a long time, a great complacency towards our environment has become entrenched in the US. The first Earth Day in 1970 came about because we had allowed our environment to descend to such a deplorable state that 20 million people rushed to the streets to protest. It resulted in the formation of a federal agency, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to preserve and protect our environment. Now, the EPA is under a massive attack by the new administration, hoping to severely reduce the size and effectiveness of our nation’s leading environmental agency.

Official: Trump wants to slash EPA workforce, budget The former head of President Donald Trump's transition team at the Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday he expects the new administration to seek significant budget and staff cuts. Myron Ebell said in an interview with The Associated Press that Trump is likely to seek significant reductions to the agency's workforce — currently about 15,000 employees nationwide. Ebell, who left the transition team last week, declined to discuss specific numbers of EPA staff that could be targeted for pink slips. Asked what he would personally like to see, however, Ebell said slashing the agency's size by about half would be a good start. (January 27, 2017, AP

Over the years, the EPA came to understand that our gravest environmental threat would come as a quick warming of our planet, Climate Change. All our myriad environmental issues—pollution, loss of biodiversity, water quality, etc.—would be intimately entwined within a human-caused increase in greenhouse gasses. Much of the legal force in our country to address Climate Change came from the EPA. Now, the EPA is being gutted and science itself is being attacked. The American public, which includes scientists, educators, government employees, and ordinary citizens, finds itself in the absurd position of having to defend science. We cannot be complacent about science and our life support system anymore.   

The public needs to feel confident that their local government is on the ball in a time when our federal government is scrubbing environmental information from its agencies. The State of New York, as well as its cities, now needs to take the lead. 

Consider sending your personal note and/or one from your organization to: Anne Spaulding, Director of the Office of Energy and Sustainability: anne.spaulding@cityofrochester.gov requesting that the City’s CAP be unveiled soon and separately from the Comprehensive Master Plan (Earth Day 2017 is a great and timely opportunity for it). This would be just a year from the first public announcement that the Rochester CAP was in the works and moving to a final drafting stage. Watch this video of the press conference in City Hall last year that includes the City’s announcement of Climate Action Plan.

In a time when many of the lights are going out on governmental climate change information critical to the public and media, Rochester needs to step up to the plate. It is long past time to be shying away from Climate Change.


#ScienceMatters