Monday, May 06, 2019

On a quickly warming world, what should we be looking at?

Once again: We keep talking about Climate Change and that we need to get our greenhouse gas emissions down, but we don’t. “Half of all emissions produced from fossil fuels have come in the last 30 years.” (David Wallace Wells) That is, ever since we knew Climate Change was a major problem we’ve acted in the worse possible way to put off this disaster.

One of the issues that the Climate Change crisis highlights is our species’ inability to maintain a high level of alert on a long-term crisis. Large predators making their way towards us, that we get; Climate Change, not so much. To help address this critical shortcoming in our critical faculties, we should create a Climate Change monitoring process that would continually be seen by everyone. Everyone needs to ‘see’ Climate Change so that we are forever mindful of this existential threat.

Every vehicle on the road has a fuel (or battery) gauge that lets you know how much further you can go. You don’t have to look at the gauge every moment but your lack of attention to this issue could result in running out of juice in some very inconvenient places.
Humanity is in danger of losing our attention to the most important part of Climate Change—our emissions curve.

‘You did not act in time’: Greta Thunberg’s full speech to MPs “People always tell me and the other millions of school strikers that we should be proud of ourselves for what we have accomplished. But the only thing that we need to look at is the emission curve. And I’m sorry, but it’s still rising. That curve is the only thing we should look at.” (April 23, 2019) The Guardian  (more on Climate Change in our area]

So, what is this emissions curve and how would we put it in our face so that whatever we’re doing or not doing to address Climate Change, we’d be able to see if life on Earth is running out of time?

For a quick look at the emissions curve, you can go here: Graphic: The relentless rise of carbon dioxide, by NASA Global Climate Change. Or, you can get a more up-to-date reading by going to the NASA Global Climate Change web page where today’s (May 2, 2019) atmospheric concentration of CO2 is 410ppm. To put this figure in perspective, according to Climate Central, “The last time CO2 levels were this high, trees grew near the South Pole and sea levels were 50 to 65 feet higher than today.”

CO2 Concentrations Rising Past 400 Parts Per Million As May begins, we are nearing the annual peak atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) — the greenhouse gas that contributes most to human-caused climate change. CO2 does vary seasonally, peaking in May as the Northern Hemisphere’s plants blossom and breathe in more CO2 during the summer. Still, the year-to-year increase in CO2 is unmistakable. When this year’s peak is announced (see here for daily updates), it will be the highest level in at least two million years. The last time CO2 levels were this high, trees grew near the South Pole and sea levels were 50 to 65 feet higher than today. (May 1, 2019) Climate Central [more on Climate Change in our area]

We must have a universal and continual way to report on increases or decreases of greenhouse gas emissions so we can monitor the effects without deluding ourselves. But, because of lag time in our climate system and many other factors we aren’t going to see a quid pro quo relationship between things we do now and its eventual results—unless a major volcano goes off or we set off a series of nuclear bombs. It’s complicated information that must be boiled down to something very easy for every media to place prominently, and relevant to our actual predicament, not our current perception of it.

Of course, we'd like to see a very robust form of monitoring so that we can get a very precise model of how our efforts to address Climate Change are going. But this kind of detail is not going to attract much attention from the public--though with hyperlinks anyone can drill down deeply into any of the particulars. I'm thinking of an info-box on a media that displays our greenhouse gas emissions so we can monitor our progress. But even this can be delusional because if we are destroying forests, we are taking away carbon sinks even if we are reducing fossil fuel emissions, increasing renewable energy, and increasing energy efficiency. All the numbers have to add up to planetary health.

Again, it's complicated. We need to make a sort of Climate Change gauge simple and that is difficult. We will need trusted folks simplifying the method so that we aren’t fooled by those pushing some kind of agenda. We are apt to be deceived by peer pressure and adulation when we are actually not moving the needle in the right direction. We need something we can trust the way we used to trust our senses--which we now know are finely tuned by evolution to be honed on the kind of reality our species evolved on—not the quickly warming planet we now live on.

We have a much better understanding of the ways our senses can be fooled, and we have ways to correct our senses so that our model of reality is more correct. Now we need to know if we are going to get through the Climate Change Bottleneck, where our past environmental abuses get cooked on a warming planet. That is going to take everything we’ve got, probably including machine-learning artificial intelligence that can think in ways we cannot overcome what seems to be insurmountable challenges—like how to capture carbon quickly enough and at a sufficient scale to bring down greenhouse gas concentrations around the world.

We’re getting close. Soon, NASA is going to get really good at knowing Earth’s carbon cycle in detail.

OCO-3 Ready to Extend NASA's Study of Carbon When the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3, OCO-3, heads to the International Space Station, it will bring a new view - literally - to studies of Earth's carbon cycle. From its perch on the space station, OCO-3 will observe near-global measurements of carbon dioxide on land and sea, from just after sunrise to just before sunset. That makes it far more versatile and powerful than its predecessor, OCO-2. "OCO-2 revisits areas on Earth at roughly the same time of day due to its sun-synchronous orbit," said Matt Bennett, OCO-3's project systems engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "OCO-3 will expand the time period of that coverage and observe the presence of carbon dioxide at varying times of day." (April 30, 2019) NASA Global Climate Change [more on Climate Change in our area]

The point I’m getting at is this: Scientists are getting better at monitoring greenhouse gas emissions with great precision. Providing this detail to the public on a continual basis would strip away the political fog surrounding Climate Change and give everyone a way to note our collective progress—or lack thereof—towards solutions. Imagine if every media posted this trusted, objective information continually.

I’m sure if a meteor were zooming in on us, media around the world would give continual updates of this natural missile’s progress and humanity’s efforts to avoid this kind of disaster.

Climate Change is also a phenomenon coming at us relentlessly and quickly. We all need to see it so we can work together to avoid it.

Time passes.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Can we have a consensus on Climate Change?

Honoring the results of the political debates regarding Climate Change sounds like a position a reasonable person should take. You fought the hard fight, you lost, now wait patiently (and honorably) to you get your turn again.

Can we bridge the divide of bitter partisanship? A “commitment to democracy” does not mean that politicians and voters should not make substantive (and vigorous) arguments on behalf of their views and agendas. But it means that they should do so in good faith and on the merits. And when their arguments (or political candidates) do not prevail, they should equanimously honor the results to avoid undermining faith in our democratic institutions. (April 19, 2019 Rochester Beacon)

But as this consensus paradigm pertains to the climate crisis, ‘honoring the results’ is not a reasonable position because it asks of you to allow those who don’t or won’t believe in the physics and science behind Climate Change to destroy our collective chances of survival.

Even kids around the world understand the repercussions of accepting the status quo on addressing Climate Change:

Climate protests this week caused major disruption. That was the point. Environmental activists across the globe took drastic measures this week to demand that their governments act to curb climate change. They glued themselves to trains. They blocked major landmarks. They poured fake blood onto the streets. More than 680 people were arrested in London, where the most prominent protests took place, police said on Friday evening. Yes, it was disruptive. That was the point. (April 20, 2019) CNN [more on Climate Change in our area]

In Rochester for Earth Day, many environmental groups spent half a year on efforts to put together a forum to reach across the political divide and engage those who don’t usually even talk about Climate Change. The speaker was a former Republican Congressperson representing a deep red district in S. Carolina promoting “A Free Enterprise Solution to Climate Change”. Many groups, including conservatives, helped promote this event for over a month—TV interviews, articles, flyers, radio talk shows, a blizzard of social media, you-name-it. We built a field, as it were, but conservatives did not come.

However the sad truth is that reaching across the political aisle, bipartisanship, finding consensus on Climate Change, doesn’t work in today’s political landscape. Even when it works, it doesn’t work because conservatives will only consider solutions under the constraints of a free-market system—the system that created this debacle in the first place. Carbon pricing gets a nod from all sides (depending on how it’s done), some nice words sometimes, and some renewable energy projects, but not much else.

There isn’t a plan to follow up with all the conservatives who attended the forum and were willing to talk to us about Climate Change because they didn’t come. They didn’t have to, they’re in power, and for the time being their denial is working for them.

How can we honor the results of a system that panders to big money and big influence by a political party that is far more interested in having it all their way—no matter how far it strays from the laws of physics and human decency?

Remember, we keep talking about Climate Change and that we need to get our greenhouse gas emission down, but we don’t. “Half of all emissions produced from fossil fuels have come in the last 30 years.” (David Wallace Wells) That is, ever since we knew Climate Change was a major problem we’ve acted in the worse possible way to put off this disaster.

Where are our priorities? If they aren’t on survival, we don’t get to.

Time passes.

Monday, April 22, 2019

We need renewable energy! But not here?

Although, climate experts around the world explain that we have only a short time to bring down our greenhouse gas emissions before catastrophic Climate Change consequences, we here in the Rust Belt (where much of the world’s industrial greenhouse gas emissions once spewed) fight large renewable energy projects tooth and nail.

Nothing in the media about these wind farm fights mention the specter of a grim climate forecast if we don’t shift quickly to renewable energy. Instead, their focus is on how disruptive these projects would be on the locals and their desire for an uncluttered environment (i.e. ugly wind turbines).
Also, nothing is mentioned about the impacts of Climate Change on our Great Lakes region even though much of the arguments against wind turbines are about disfiguring the local environment. [See my recent essay “The Great Lakes, Climate Change, and Rochester, NY” about the new report “THE IMPACTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE ON THE GREAT LAKES”.] You cannot preserve the quality of life around the Great Lakes, the health of migrating birds, and our environment without addressing Climate Change—and you cannot address that without a major uptake of renewable energy around the world. Why not support efforts to build large wind farms (the only real renewable energy competitor) where fossil fuel pants once stood? Why shouldn’t a region that has done so much to put greenhouse gases into our atmosphere support local efforts for energy options that significantly lower them?

Increasingly, our youth are realizing what’s at stake if we continually find excuses for not immediately stopping fossil fuel emissions. They don’t like it.

Extinction Rebellion keep control of major London sites into a third day Climate activists have kept control of four sites in London for a second night, with police saying they have caused “serious disruption” affecting half a million people in the city. After the Extinction Rebellion activist group threatened to disrupt the city’s public transport network on Wednesday, Transport for London disabled wifi on the underground at the request of the British Transport Police. Thousands of people have taken part in the civil disobedience protests since Monday, blockading four landmarks in the capital in an attempt to force the government to take action on the escalating climate crisis. (April 17, 2019 | The Guardian)

As we go further into the Climate Change Bottleneck, where our past environmental abuses get cooked on a warming planet, we’ll have to continually examine our priorities because our planet keeps getting warmer, and our youth want a future. #WeDontHaveTime

Time passes.

Monday, April 15, 2019

The Trump administration’s embrace of carbon capture proves they believe in Climate Change but as a solution, carbon capture isn’t

Politically (at present anyway), trying to promote carbon capture innovation over regulation sounds like a sophisticated solution to address Climate Change. However, carbon capture won’t work on a scale and timeframe that will matter. But what does matter is that the Trump administration and many conservatives finally admit human-caused Climate Change is happening.

White House will promote carbon capture technology in climate change fight The White House will begin promoting carbon capture and storage technology, two senior administration officials told McClatchy on Friday, in a rare acknowledgment from the Trump administration of the dangers of rising carbon dioxide emissions. Their embrace of the emerging technology is part of a nascent strategy by the Trump administration to promote innovation over regulation as a means of fighting climate change, and comes amid a bipartisan call from senators for an increase in federal funding for carbon capture development. Carbon capture is a technology that seeks to capture the majority of carbon-dioxide emissions produced by large fuel plants before they reach the atmosphere. (April 5, 2019) McClatchy [more on Climate Change in our area]

Before examining why carbon capture cannot be a comprehensive solution to addressing Climate Change, we should at first pause and consider that at long last many of the climate deniers really do believe in the science and the urgency of the climate crisis. This is breathtaking.

It has taken decades to get a sizeable portion of Americans to admit Climate Change is true—though what this means beyond a checkmark in a survey is unknowable. Does this mean we’ll vote in leaders who will address this issue? We’ll stop putting stances (like market-based solutions) before science? Or, that we’ll take responsibility for this crisis and help other nations get through it? 

The Unprecedented Surge in Fear About Climate Change The data are still striking, suggesting that U.S. concern about climate change has leapt by several points in just the past year. More than seven out of 10 Americans now say that global warming is “personally important” to them, an increase of nine points since March 2018, according to the Yale poll. More Americans than ever—29 percent—also say they are “very worried” about climate change, an eight-point increase. (January 23, 2019 The Atlantic)

The leap for carbon capture as a solution seems far more delusional than reality based. For one, none of the carbon capture techniques will help us adapt to the dramatic changes coming, except afforestation/reforestation and modifying our agricultural practices.

Why we can’t reverse climate change with ‘negative emissions’ technologies “In a much-anticipated report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said the world will need to take dramatic and drastic steps to avoid the catastrophic effects of climate change. Featured prominently in the report is a discussion of a range of techniques for removing carbon dioxide from the air, called Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) technologies or negative emissions technologies (NETs). The IPCC said the world would need to rely significantly on these techniques to avoid increasing Earth’s temperatures above 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to pre-industrial levels. Given that the level of greenhouse gases continues to rise and the world’s efforts at lowering emissions are falling way short of targets climate scientists recommend, what contribution we can expect from NETs is becoming a critical question. Can they actually work at a big enough scale?” (October 9, 2019 The Conversation)

We should stop any more carbon from escaping into our atmosphere because of burning fossil fuels for energy. That includes old fossil fuel sources, meaning no more new ones. This is a case where carbon capture matters. We should go 100& renewable energy.

As for adaptation, which conservatives still have little political stomach for, it’s a necessity. In order to do that we’ll need a national climate information system—and integral part of the study Trump tried to squash.

Climate change group scrapped by Trump reassembles to issue warning Panel was disbanded after a Trump official voiced concerns that it did not have enough members ‘from industry’ A US government climate change advisory group scrapped by Donald Trump has reassembled independently to call for better adaptation to the floods, wildfires and other threats that increasingly loom over American communities. The Trump administration disbanded the 15-person Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment in August 2017. The group, formed under Barack Obama’s presidency, provided guidance to the government based on the National Climate Assessment, a major compendium of climate science released every four years. (April 4, 2019) The Guardian [more on Climate Change in our area]

As we go further into the Climate Change Bottleneck, where our past environmental abuses get cooked on a warming planet, it is more likely we’ll become more convinced of the science and less likely to act. That’s what the trajectory looks like anyways.

Time passes. 

Monday, April 08, 2019

New NYS plastic bag ban presents an elegant solution—the reusable bag.

The reaction to the new NYS plastic bag ban seems mostly negative—focusing mainly on the opt-in option for each county on a 5-cents paper tax. There seems very little attention in the media to the plastic pollution problem this new law is trying to ameliorate or that the new law gives us a year to shift to reusable bags. There is also much confusion around the possible paper tax (that is only collected if shoppers use a paper bag).

Monroe County plans to opt out of bag tax Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo says she is opting out of the state’s newly-announced tax on paper bags. This comes amid the passage of the 2019 state budget through the New York Legislature. The budget calls for a ban on plastic bags statewide beginning next year. The plan also allows for individual counties to impose a five-cent fee on paper bags. Dinolfo said in a statement Monday that Monroe County would not be taking part in this. “While environmental protection is a worthy priority, the State’s new ‘bag tax’ is an insult to every New York family,” the statement read, “which is why I will be opting Monroe County out.” Those sentiments were echoed Monday by County Clerk Adam Bello, who is running against Dinolfo in this November's election. (April 1, 2019) WHAM Rochester [more on Recycling in our area]

Let’s be clear: If you brought your own reusable bag when shopping, you wouldn’t need a paper bag, which is to say you’d be helping our environment (the intent of the new law) and there would be no fee.

Also, if a customer didn’t bring a reusable bag and got charged that 5-cents per bag: “Forty-percent of that money would support local programs to buy reusable bags for people with low or fixed incomes. The other 60% would go to the state's environmental protection fund.” (April 2, 2019, WKBW Buffalo)

Let’s focus on plastic pollution for a moment. It’s more than a litter problem, which is pretty freaking unsightly (riding to Buffalo last evening on the NYS Thruway was like driving through a tunnel of plastic debris):

·        Plastic bags do not biodegrade. When they finally do break down, they do not dissolve into benign substances: they just fracture into smaller and smaller bits called “microplastics.” (1.) Our Great Lakes are contaminated with microplastics which attract toxins and become part of the food chain—that is, little fish eat microplastics, medium-sized fish eat little fish, medium fish eat big fish, then we eat big fish.
·        Plastic bags harm wildlife by entrapping them and becoming pseudo food that has no food value.
·        Plastic bags clog our storm drains causing flooding, which becomes more critical as more heavy precipitation falls in our Northeast region due to global warming.
·        Plastic bags, when thrown into our recycling system, clog our Monroe County recycling machinery—costing money and time.
·        Plastic bags are made with non-renewable fossil fuels, which warm our planet more.

We go into the Climate Change crisis with the environment we have. Plastic pollution has grown swiftly into a major environmental threat, seriously compromising the health of our life support system. Instead of ignoring, dismissing, or downplaying the plastic problem the public and our media really need to understand the full implications of the problem. Check out this website:

Allowing their attention to be completely hijacked by the word ‘tax’ in the new plastic bag law, our media and our politicians have lost an opportunity to educate the public on the virtues of the reusable bag. This would be a good time to get the public onboard with doing the right thing for the environment—by pushing reusable bags, which could be made or purchased by individuals and groups and donated to those in need. Certainly, the state’s new ‘bag tax’ is not an insult to every New York family; it’s a warning of how drastic plastic pollution has become and an opportunity for everyone to act together on behalf of our environment.

As we go further into the Climate Change Bottleneck, where our past environmental abuses get cooked on a warming planet, much is going to be asked of the public to adapt to and mitigate Climate Change. Our way of life has caused this crisis. If we cannot find it within ourselves to support even this new plastic bag ban—what will we support?  

Time passes. 

Monday, April 01, 2019

The Great Lakes, Climate Change, and Rochester, NY

As Rochester, NY is one of the great communities in the Great Lakes Basin, we have a grave responsibility to understand how Climate Change is going to affect us, how we will adapt, and how we must protect the largest freshwater system in the world. The Great Lakes ecoregion is one of the great ecosystems of the world, which makes our region a critical component of addressing Climate Change at home and globally. This system isn’t just for us, it’s an integral part of Earth’s ecology—its carbon cycle, its hydrologic cycle, and more.

Great Lakes Basin warming faster than other parts of country, new study finds The Great Lakes Basin has warmed more over the last 30 years than the rest of the contiguous United States — and could warm dramatically more by the end of the 21st century, a new, first-of-its-kind study of how climate change has impacted the Great Lakes region finds. Among the study's other findings: The number of cold winter days that never reach a 32-degree high temperature could drop significantly — by almost two months under some scientifically modeled scenarios. (March 25, 2019) Democrat and Chronicle [more on Great Lakes and Climate Change in our area]

Great Lakes ice cover is decreasing due to Climate Change and this has profound impacts-- increases coastal erosion, increases extreme weather, less protection for the ecosystem, and increases bad algae over good algae.  

A new normal': decreasing ice cover on the Great Lakes The changes caused by declining ice cover on the Great Lakes are pretty bad, but it's not all doom and gloom. Ice cover on the Great Lakes has declined in the past 40 years with average ice coverage dropping up to 75 per cent, depending on the lake.  "We rely a lot on the Great Lakes for shipping ... so an ice-free Great Lake is not a barrier to shipping. But beyond that there are a lot of negatives associated," said Mike McKay, the executive director for the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research (GLIER), based at the University of Windsor. (March 29, 201) CBC News [more on Great Lakes and Climate Change in our area]

As we go further into the Climate Change Bottleneck, where our past environmental abuses get cooked on a warming planet, how we respond to changes in our local environment will matter greatly to ourselves and to the world’s efforts on this crisis. This new study (THE IMPACTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE ON THE GREAT LAKES by the Environmental Law and Policy Center) highlights how the quick warming of the Great Lakes basin will challenge our infrastructures, wildlife, agriculture, fishing, our public health and much more. Not to mention our weather is going to be different.

Also, the recently released progress report from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) describes how our various official authorities are working together to address many of the points brought up in the ‘impacts’ study. Check the DEC’s report, as it incorporates Climate Change into many restoration projects and what various local communities are doing.

DEC Releases 2016-2018 Great Lakes Program Progress Report People and Communities Are Benefitting from Collaborative Projects to Restore New York's Great Lakes Resources New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos today announced the release of the 2016-2018 progress report on the restoration and protection of New York's Great Lakes resources. The report, released to commemorate World Water Day, highlights New York's programs and projects in the Great Lakes watershed that are benefiting communities taking action to maintain and improve community uses of the lakes, surrounding lands and other waterways in the Great Lakes Basin. "The Great Lakes are a vital resource for New York and the nation's environment and economy. However, the growing absence of federal environmental leadership is putting the lakes' continued recovery at risk," said Commissioner Basil Seggos. "New York is committed to making investments to restore, protect, and enhance this critical watershed for the benefit of our state's environment, economy, and quality of life, and the Great Lakes Action Agenda is a strong blueprint to achieve our goals. This report showcases how New York's leadership is creating collaborative partnerships and implementing effective programs that build on progress underway." The 2016-2018 Great Lakes Report details how DEC and its partners are restoring environmental quality, conserving natural resources, promoting resilient communities, and supporting sustainable development. Key projects include Lake Ontario flood mapping, municipal sewage system upgrades, projects that help prevent beach closures, restore habitat, and wetlands, and projects that use native plants to stabilize shorelines at Sodus Bay, Sacketts Harbor, and Irondequoit Bay. Report highlights include: (March 22, 2019) Department of Environmental Conservation [more on the Great Lakes in our area]

As DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos suggests (“… the growing absence of federal environmental leadership is putting the lakes' continued recovery at risk,") our federal government, a critical player in keeping our Great Lakes healthy, is increasingly distracted by other concerns. With the feds missing action on prioritizing Climate Change, we are not working with the rest of the world on a comprehensive program where these lakes’ ecosystem plays an important part.   

With little help from the federal government, can we really protect the Great Lakes waters from diversion to places outside of the basin desperate for this invaluable resource? Without the feds working in conjunction with other states and Canada, do we have a fighting chance to stop invasive species like the Asian Carp from dramatically altering our local environment?

And, the $64, 000 question, if the US doesn’t join the rest of the world and bring our greenhouse gas emissions down soon, what role will the Great Lakes ecosystem play in a world spiraling out of control?

Time passes. 

Monday, March 25, 2019

Hope and fear during the Climate Change Bottleneck

Focusing solely on reducing our greenhouse gas emissions to address Climate Change, while a powerful message, may mischaracterize this crisis and lead to both an insufficient response and a lack of public concern. Climate Change is better described as the Climate Change Bottleneck, where our past environmental abuses get cooked on a quickly warming planet. As both our planet’s temperature heats up and our environment breaks down from humanity’s heavy footprints, we must prioritize our efforts so that we survive. And there will be a great procrastination penalty for having dragged our feet so long.

UN: Ecological Damage Putting Millions of Lives at Risk The UN has published a comprehensive and rigorous assessment on the state of the environment this week, warning that ecological damage to the planet is becoming so dire that millions of lives will soon be at risk unless urgent action is taken. The report, which was produced by 250 scientists and experts from more than 70 countries, says that either humanity drastically scales up environmental protection, including climate protection, or cities and regions notably in Asia, the Middle East and Africa could see millions of premature deaths by mid-century. “The science is clear. The health and prosperity of humanity is directly tied with the state of our environment,” said Joyce Msuya, Acting Executive Director of UN Environment. “This report is an outlook for humanity. We are at a crossroads. Do we continue on our current path, which will lead to a bleak future for humankind, or do we pivot to a more sustainable development pathway? That is the choice our political leaders must make, now.” According to the sixth Global Environmental Outlook, green investment to the tune of 2 per cent of countries’ GDP would deliver long-term economic growth as high as presently projected but with far fewer impacts from climate change, water scarcity and loss of ecosystems. The projection of a future ‘healthy planet with healthy people’ is based on a new way of thinking where the ‘grow now, clean up after’ model is revised to a near-zero-waste economy by 2050. (March 15, 2019) United Nations Climate Change [more on Climate Change in our area]

Should we communicate hope or fear?

This procrastination penalty is coming due. It’s 2019, decades into the Climate Change Bottleneck. We have already experienced how we have responded to past pollution, the loss of biodiversity, and how we are responding to Climate Change. We are not doing so well.  Our greenhouse gas emissions are going up and the concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere will never go below 400ppm again in any of our lifetimes. Many businesses, environmental and religious organizations, plus disciplines such as psychology and economics have responded to some degree.

But are these responses on a scale and timeframe that will matter? It doesn’t look it, but the Climate Change Bottleneck only leads to a complete disaster by a lack of energy and imagination to adapt.   

Here's a running list of all the ways climate change has altered Earth in 2019 Earth is now the warmest it's been in some 120,000 years. Eighteen of the last 19 years have been the warmest on record. And concentrations of carbon dioxide — a potent greenhouse gas — are likely the highest they've been in 15 million years.  The consequences of such a globally-disrupted climate are many, and it's understandably difficult to keep track. To help, here's a list of climate-relevant news that has transpired in 2019, from historically unprecedented disappearances of ice, to flood-ravaged cities. As more news comes out, the list will be updated. (March 16, 2019) Yahoo News [more on Climate Change in our area]

This situation shouldn’t stoke incapacitating fear; it’s one that should shift our behavior towards the problems at hand. If you’ve just run your spaceship through an asteroid belt resulting in your ship being peppered by multiple holes that have breached the ship, you cannot just focus on one of the breaches. Doing so spells doom. You’re going to have to act immediately and at the same time plan for all the issues so that you act in such a way that your priority, your spaceship, stays a viable life-support system. (However, in the space ship metaphor it might be possible that you can fix your spaceship so it can at least limp to a place where it can get fixed. That metaphor only works so far with Earth, as there is no planet repair shop.)

In a cogent essay, one of our foremost climate scientists argues this crisis should not use fear as a motivating communication tool.

Tackle global warming with hope, not fear And yet, as painful as these disasters may be, our failure to tackle climate change remains a remote issue of concern to most voters. At a time when people should be agitating for action, many are still reluctant to engage. That’s largely because climate change is terrifying. It means unprecedented floods, droughts, heat waves, wildfires, hurricanes, rising sea levels, and millions of lives and trillions of dollars lost, if we fail to confront it. This may help rally some behind climate action, but for many others it has the adverse effect — making the challenge seem insurmountable and remote. One way for politicians and policymakers to punch through the apathy is to start talking once again about the future. But rather than talk about what will happen if we do nothing, they should talk about the opportunities that will be made possible once we take action (By Michael E. Mann, 12/3/18 Politico)

I wouldn’t argue with an expert climate scientist on the science behind Climate Change, but I’m thinking a healthy dose of both fear and hope is the best collective approach to the Climate Change Bottleneck. Whatever our experts have come up with to communicate the urgency of this crisis, it hasn’t worked thus far. In that spirit, here’s a gentle reminder: Whatever you are doing now, you are doing so on a quickly warming planet, a planet whose climate threatens to spin out of our collective ability to survive on it.

Heat records falling twice as often as cold ones, AP finds Over the past 20 years, Americans have been twice as likely to sweat through record-breaking heat rather than shiver through record-setting cold, a new Associated Press data analysis shows. The AP looked at 424 weather stations throughout the Lower 48 states that had consistent temperature records since 1920 and counted how many times daily hot temperature records were tied or broken and how many daily cold records were set. In a stable climate, the numbers should be roughly equal. Since 1999, the ratio has been two warm records set or broken for every cold one. In 16 of the last 20 years, there have been more daily high temperature records than low. (March 19, 2019) AP News [more on Climate Change in our area]

Who gets to characterize this crisis--politicians, reporters, authors, media outlets, scientists, teachers, philosophers, bloggers? How much of the messaging about Climate Change by various representatives of groups are indulging only their self-interests, or presenting a limited, positive view of a very large, complex conundrum? Both morally and practically, everyone must take ownership of the Climate Change Bottleneck and fully understand the full implications of this problem. Our hopes must be realistic, and our fears kept in control.

Time passes. 

Monday, March 11, 2019

Walking is the first step towards addressing Climate Change

Regardless of how you get around, at some point, you’re a pedestrian, which includes those using ambulatory devices. Walking isn’t just fundamental to being bipedal, it must be a critical way we address Climate Change. Active Transportation (walking and bicycling) can dramatically reduce the transportation sector’s greenhouse gas emissions. Especially if you move to a place where you can walk to most of the places you need and want to go.

According to the EPA, “transportation accounted for the largest portion (28%) of total U.S. GHG emissions in 2016.” But, despite decades of efforts by countless concerned citizens, pedestrians are continually being slaughtered by our vehicular transportation system. We won’t significantly reduce our greenhouse gases until we stop killing ourselves when we go for a walk.

Being able to walk safely in Rochester is a focus of our City, county, and state governments. But their efforts are not enough.

Pedestrians Dying at Highest Rate in 30 Years The number of pedestrians killed on U.S. roads in 2018 hit the highest record in nearly three decades.   Based on data during the first half of 2018 by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), its projected 6,227 pedestrians died. That number is up 4 percent from 2017, marking the highest recorded number since 1990. "The alarm bells continue to sound on this issue; it’s clear we need to fortify our collective efforts to protect pedestrians and reverse the trend,” said GHSA Executive Director, Jonathan Adkins (March 4, 2019) Spectrum News Rochester [more on Transportation in our area]

Those of us who walk as our primary transportation option know that despite the City’s best efforts there are many challenges for us pedestrians: Too many times we must walk (or wheelchair) around improperly placed recyclables that block our sidewalks; too often our sidewalks are used as temporary parking for vehicles, lawn waste, and construction materials; and, too often our sidewalks are filled with snow and lined with ice. Even though the City plows our sidewalks in the winter (Buffalo doesn’t, and Syracuse is just starting up, using Rochester as a model) our sidewalks are unpassable to many. Remember those using ambulatory devices are trapped or are forced out into traffic if our sidewalks are not clear.

So, even though walking can help us alleviate Climate Change, we continue to kill ourselves in appalling numbers when we morph from drivers to walkers and bicyclists:

Why US cities are becoming more dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians As cities strive to improve the quality of life for their residents, many are working to promote walking and biking. Such policies make sense, since they can, in the long run, lead to less traffic, cleaner air and healthier people. But the results aren’t all positive, especially in the short to medium term. In Washington D.C., for example, traffic fatalities as a whole declined in 2018 compared to the year before, but the number of pedestrian and bicyclist deaths increased by 20 percent. Pedestrian deaths also have risen in New York, and pedestrian and cycling fatalities have increased in Los Angeles in the past several years. Across the nation, cyclist fatalities have increased by 25 percent since 2010 and pedestrian deaths have risen by a staggering 45 percent. More people are being killed because cities are encouraging residents to walk and bike, but their roads are still dominated by fast-moving vehicular traffic. As my research has shown, this shifting mix can be deadly. (February 20, 2019) The Conversation [more on Transportation in our area]

What is the answer? I don’t know, but I do know that just accepting pedestrian deaths and Climate Change as inevitable are immoral and unsustainable. As mentioned above many communities are adopting a policy that attempts to get the number of pedestrian deaths down to zero. Rochester should join.

“The Vision Zero Network is a collaborative campaign aimed at building the momentum and advancing this game-changing shift toward safe, healthy, equitable mobility for all. The Network brings together local leaders in health, traffic engineering, police enforcement, policy and advocacy to develop and share strategies, policies and practices that make Vision Zero a reality.” (the Vision Zero Network)

To get involved and bring a sane attitude towards our transportation system locally, join this very effective group:

Reconnect Rochester is a 501(c)3, non-profit organization working to build a more sustainable transportation network for the greater Rochester community.

Remember, we keep talking about Climate Change and that we need to get our greenhouse gas emission down, but we don’t. “Half of all emissions produced from fossil fuels have come in the last 30 years.” (David Wallace Wells) That is, ever since we knew Climate Change was a major problem we’ve acted in the worse possible way to put off this disaster.

Time passes. 

Monday, March 04, 2019

Wish-cycling is recycling’s evil twin

Watching this Monroe County Recycling Center (MCRC) Video Tour is like opening the Wizard of Oz’s curtain in the Emerald City because, guess what, your recyclables don’t just magically get processed. Your stuff, if you haven’t wish-cycled it into your recycling bins, gets transformed into valuable resources. If you have been wish-cycling (putting the unrecyclable into your curbside recycling bins), your stuff gums up the machinery, poses a danger to workers (especially if you’ve thrown that spent propane tank into the bin), and gets landfilled after wasting our government’s time and money. Which is to say, yours.

Help Put a Stop to Wish-Cycling “Wish-cycling might start with the best of intentions, but it’s one of the biggest issues facing waste management today. This is because it actually creates more waste in the long run. It also makes recycling potentially unsustainable, which is obviously a bad thing.” (recyclecoach)

Before humanity invented agriculture, some ten thousand years ago, there was no waste. Not in the 3.5 billion experience of life on Earth. As hunter gathers, we melded into nature’s regenerative system as seamlessly as the wildebeests on the Serengeti. Waste is a human invention, a spectacularly loathsome and unsustainable notion that wreaks havoc on our life support system. [See Jeremy Iron’s documentary film, “Trashed”.]

You cannot tour our county’s recycling center because they say it’s too dangerous. But it’s instructive to watch the official video on how our recycling is handled and prepared for markets. Instead of feeling annoyed by the county’s strident message to recycle properly, you’ll understand why our county tries to educate us on the fine art of recycling here in Rochester and Monroe County (all recyclables go to the same place). [See “Monroe County's Recyclopedia! Click here for in-depth answers to recycling questions!”]

When the public recycles properly, conforming with what the county can recycle, instead of what the public just wishes were recyclable, it’s more likely that our county will have the time and money to discover more recycling market opportunities. Instead of just trying to keep up with what’s being thrown at them.

Recycling, along with reuse, reduction, and composting won’t by itself put humanity back on the kind of sustainable footing we were hundreds of thousands of years ago, but it is a step in the right direction, and we can do better. Better business practices, including ‘cradle-to-cradle design’, and responsible consumerism will move us closer to helping our environment instead of choking it to death with our stuff.  

We go into Climate Change with the environment we have. If that environment is less robust and resilient because we have degraded it with our trash, adapting to the quickly warming crisis will be much harder, for which we will pay with our money and with our lives. Paleoclimatologists research past climate changes via proxies like sediments, tree rings, shell growth, etc., in order to glimpse how our environment has previously reacted to worldwide warmings (or coolings for that matter). This gives us an idea of what’s coming. However, climate experts cannot input the kind of trash we have dumped into our environment into their climate models and come up with any predictions that will do anyone any good. There simply wasn’t trash back then, but now there’s a freaking planet full it. 

Adapting to Climate Change is going to be hard enough without wish-cycling our environment until it seizes up and dies. If you think a product should be recycled, but it isn’t yet, contact our county government and talk to them about that. Also, the county’s Ecopark can recycle some of the hard-to-recycle stuff. Don’t just chuck stuff into the recycle bin because it makes you feel good.  

Time passes. 

Monday, February 25, 2019

Are we allowing this climate change to bring our civilization to an end also?

There is increasing evidence that past climate changes have influenced the collapse of civilizations. By influence, I mean prolonged droughts or climate disruptions that amplified problems that were already affecting many past civilizations—especially as related to food production and distribution. This notion is (of course) controversial and much more research needs to be done. But it does seem plausible that if a civilization is unable to respond to sudden shifts in their climate, it’s not only possible but entirely probable, that this disruption could tip a civilization over the edge.

When Civilizations Collapse The new study suggests merely that climate change caused the late Ottoman abandonment of the Khabur River valley, not collapse of the entire Ottoman Empire. But it also makes the case that archaeologists and historians ignore climate change at their peril. “There is an environment in which history occurs,” said Weiss. “There are reasons for regional abandonments that are definable, observable and testable,” even when ancient peoples have left no written record of climate changes. (environment Yale)

Over the last several decades, climate scientists have tried to paint a picture of what the world will look like if we dramatically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and what the world will look like under business-as-usual or the worst-case scenario. Despite heading wildly towards the worst, the Green New Deal is a bill that offers our government the chance to address this crisis in a way that might give us a chance.

The worst-case scenario will affect regions of the world differently. If you live in Rochester, you can expect major challenges by about 2050. According to @ClimateCentral, Rochester will experience more intense precipitation, more warming, more droughts, and more heatwaves by 2050. Other communities will likely fare far worse.

CLIMATE PILE-UP: Global Warming’s Compounding Dangers Recent research shows that unchecked warming pollution could bring concurrent climate crises to U.S. cities by midcentury — and that emissions cuts could reduce the danger. Scientists tend to study the risks of climate change separately. Some papers consider how higher temperatures contribute to drought. Others assess the connection between warming and wildfires. Still others look at the links between carbon emissions and flooding, heat waves, or ocean acidification. In the vast library of climate science, these subtopics might occupy separate shelves, each adding its part to humanity’s understanding of the consequences of climate change. In reality, climate change’s risks have more in common with an overturned bookcase than with a tidy library. The various effects of global warming can and increasingly do materialize in particular places almost simultaneously, in messy jumbles. Last year, for instance, Florida experienced severe drought, record high temperatures, wildfires, and the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Panhandle. California, meanwhile, saw record-setting wildfires and extreme heat waves. As such hazards accumulate and intensify, each can become harder to manage, as our ability to respond becomes more strained. (February 20, 2019) Climate Central [more on Climate Change in our area]

But the GOP ridicules the Green New Deal as “zany”. And because the GOP holds so much political power at the moment this new proposal to avoid the worst-case scenario will be mocked and dismissed to death.

A Green New Deal is Technologically Possible. Its Political Prospects Are Another Question. President Trump derided the Green New Deal as a “high school term paper that got a low mark.” Congressional Republicans mocked it as “zany.” Even Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House speaker, called the proposal a “green dream,” and some of the party’s 2020 candidates are starting to describe it as merely aspirational. Yet, despite that disdain, the goals of the far-reaching plan to tackle climate change and economic inequality are within the realm of technological possibility, several energy experts and economists said in recent interviews. (February 21, 2019 The New York Times)

This Climate Change is different from any other climate changes humanity has ever experienced. This Climate Change is occurring much faster than any of the previous climate changes since we’ve been walking the Earth. This one is global instead of regional. We are causing it and we know we are causing it, instead of this Climate Change being an invisible phenomenon that has unknowingly crept up on us. It is occurring at the same time as our mass pollutions (of our air, water, and land) and mass extinctions are catching up with us—surely, a time when our environment is not at its best. And while most of humanity understands the existential threat Climate Change presents, our leaders are failing to act on a scale and timeframe that will matter.

Isn’t it quite likely that despite our technological prowess our politics is jeopardizing our survival? Might we go the same way that other civilizations have gone because our governments haven’t realized the priority that must be given to Climate Change? Are we really that special that our environment isn’t unimportant anymore?  

However awful and inconvenient it may be to contemplate this, before you dismiss the #GreenNewDeal, the growing protests by students, and the accumulated evidence by climate scientists of the urgency needed to address Climate Change, you might want to consider the ghosts of the climate yet to come.

 It is absolutely time to panic about climate change Author David Wallace-Wells on the dystopian hellscape that awaits us. “It is, I promise, worse than you think.” That was was the first line of David Wallace-Wells’s horrifying 2017 essay in New York magazine about climate change. It was an attempt to paint a very real picture of our not-too-distant future, a future filled with famines, political chaos, economic collapse, fierce resource competition, and a sun that “cooks us.” Wallace-Wells has since developed his terrifying essay into an even more terrifying book, titled The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming. And it is a brutal read. Wallace-Wells was criticized in 2017 for being too hyperbolic, too doom-and-gloomy. But as Vox’s David Roberts explained at the time, those criticisms were mostly misplaced. Wallace-Wells isn’t counseling despair or saying all is lost; he’s merely laying out the alarming facts of what is likely to happen if we don’t radically change course. (February 22, 2019) VOX [more on Climate Change in our area]

Time passes.