Monday, January 16, 2017

Planning for Earth Day 2017 in Rochester, NY

In one fashion or another I’ve been promoting Earth Day events for almost twenty years in Rochester. In that time, local environmentalist have tried to capture the public’s attention on the one day of the year held sacrosanct for environmental concerns. Even our media, always looking for news opportunities, turns their attention towards our life support system on Earth Day.

Some of the environmental issues we highlighted to capture the public’s attention were:

·          “Biotechnology: An Organic Farmer’s Perspective” Keynote speech by Mary-Howell Martens
·         “The cost of sprawl to the environment, the economy, and people of the region” Keynote Speaker: Rochester Mayor William A. Johnson, Jr.
·         “From Crisis To Opportunity” A Forum on National, State, & Local Environmental Issues Keynote Speakers: Elizabeth Thorndike, David Higby, Jack Bradigan Spula
·         “Protecting and Policing New York’s Environment” Keynote Speaker: Peter Lehner, JD Chief of the Environmental Protection Bureau of the NY Attorney General’s Office
·         “Hemlock/Canadice: the Future of Our ‘Little’ Lakes” Keynote Speakers: Andy Beers and Jim Howe
·         “Transportation Alternatives for Rochester A Vision for the Future” Keynote Speakers: Richard Perrin, David Keefe and John Thomas.
·         “Local and Sustainable Food – Local Food Choices” Keynote Speakers: Michael Warren Thomas, Elizabeth Henderson, and Peter McDonald
·         “Transitioning to Sustainable Communities” Keynote Speaker: Tina Clarke from the Sustainability Institute
·         “Sustainable Production, Rochester’s Cutting Edge” Keynote Speakers Dr. Nabil Nasr, RIT’s Assistant Provost and Director of the Golisano Institute for Sustainability; Catherine Reeves, the Director of Sustainable Operations at Xerox Corporation
·         “Our Water’s Fragile Future: Hydrofracking, Climate Change, & Privatization” Keynote Speaker: Jim Olson, a Michigan environmental attorney
·         “Protecting Our Great Lakes Forever” Keynote Speaker: author Maude Barlow
·         “Climate Smart Communities: Let’s Get With the Program” Keynote Speaker: Mark Lowery, Climate Policy Analyst, Office of Climate Change, New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation
·         “Climate, Energy, and Intergenerational Justice”: Keynote Speaker: Dr. James Hansen
·         “Agriculture and Climate Change: Formulating Sustainable Choices”

We covered many specific environmental concerns back in the day. But even within this short span of time, the themes have gravitated quickly towards Climate Change. In other words, we used to have a lot of separate environmental problems but now we have one. Climate Change is becoming a singularity at which many environmental issues, including public health and climate justice, are now swirling because it is an existential threat.  

This year’s Earth Day is special because our environment needs as much attention by the public as it did on the first Earth Day in 1970, where millions took to the streets.

“On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment. Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values.” (The History of Earth Day, Earth Day Network)

Now, a couple of groups in Rochester are making plans for Earth Day 2017. The Rochester Sierra Club is inviting the “man who was elected as the first African American President of the Sierra Club, Aaron Mair.” (December eco-logue). At the Rochester People’s Climate Coalition, we are working on a large parade downtown. Inclusiveness, joining together, and accepting everyone from every walk of life are key to any kind of solution that will matter.

In every way possible, we have tried over the years to engage the public and get them to demonstrate their concern for their life support system. As Climate Change becomes more of a threat to our existence, so are the efforts of environmental activists, even as a great cancer of climate denial metastasizes throughout our land.

Just after this Earth Day, the People’s Climate Mobilization begins in Washington, DC. 
“New year, new resolve. Time to mark your calendars for April 29th, 2017. That’s the date of the People’s Climate Mobilization, a major march in Washington, D.C., when we will come together with hundreds of thousands of people to reject Trump’s attack on our communities and climate, and push forward with our vision of a clean energy economy that works for all. Sign up to be part of it here, and connect with others near you who will be taking action in the run-up to April. We believe that in this moment of division, turmoil, and fear, it's important to put forward an alternative vision that inspires and connects. If we don't put forward our own vision -- of an economy built on justice and powered by clean, renewable energy -- then we let fossil-fuel-soaked nationalism, xenophobia, and hatred win. We need to show that more people still believe in our shared vision for the future than in Donald Trump's. That's where you come in: The only way this mobilization will work is if it’s driven from the bottom up by people like you. That's why we want to get you involved with the People's Climate Mobilization starting today -- whether you've helped organize a dozen marches before, or if you're a first-time participant.” (People’s Climate Movement)

Don’t sit this one out.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Climate Change educational centers

While we wait for the Trump administration to come to life

While we wait to see what the Trump administration is actually going to do or undo about addressing Climate Change, we can speculate about something other than gearing up for a lot of environmental fights. Of course, it’s prudent for environmental groups and states to protect our environment and not allow any backsliding on environmental protections we’ve already achieved. Our environment is our life support system, not a special interest; so those who ‘get it’ aren’t likely to let go of hope.

Along with preparations for traditional environmental strategies, environmental groups should be trying to figure out what went wrong in the last elections such that climate denial is now in vogue. We assumed that the public understands Climate Change—instead, they just thought other issues were more important, which is absurd. If the public knew that Climate Change is an existential threat that has to be adapted to, the US Presidential elections wouldn’t have even been close. I know, many people do not believe that Climate Change is a threat to our future, but this is an opinion based on many assumptions about past climate changes, past human endeavors, and probably a healthy dose of the will not to believe. (One can think of the ‘will not to believe’ in the context of Germany under Hitler where too many Germans chose not to believe what they were hearing about what came to be known as the Holocaust.) 

My thesis that everyone must know Climate Change

My thesis about our failure at the polls last November is that environmentalists, scientists, bloggers, and our media failed to communicate to the entire public that Climate Change is unavoidable, that it must be addressed whether we like it or not. I don’t mean to say heroic efforts were not made by many parties to present evidence of this crisis, but that we failed to reach enough. I believe that if the entire public really understood the evidence supporting Climate Change and the threat to our life support system that this crisis presents, they would not have allowed Climate Change to simmer on the backburners during our last election. Many civilizations— Mississippian culture, Ancestral Puebloans, and early Easter Island, just to name a few—failed in conditions of changing climate and/or environmental failure. Of course, these civilizations didn’t know they were wrecking their environment or failing to notice ominous changes. There is no such lack of information and evidence for Climate Change today.

(You could say that there are many instances where people know cigarette smoking will kill them, yet they do it anyways. I would argue that they don’t know it. They think they know it, but convince themselves that it won’t be them that gets nailed. Just look at their 95-year old grandfather who’s been smoking all his life. Or, there are folks whose doctor has told them they are going to die of smoking but continue regardless. These folks know that their number is up and figure it won’t make any difference now if they keep smoking. But, for my argument, civilizations don’t think like that. Civilizations don’t say that our way of life is killing us and continue business as usual anyways. Not knowingly. I believe humanity, everyone, hasn’t been presented with the full picture of how environments work and how they fail. They may know other climate changes, but they don’t know Climate Change.) 

There is already overwhelming evidence from our most credible sources that Climate Change is happening and that this crisis is a threat to our future. There are innumerable ways to get this information free. So there is no lack of expert climate information readily available. But here’s the rub: Somehow those who know Climate Change need to communicate this information to everyone on a scale and time frame that will matter. Pandering to people’s comfort zone is pointless; it encourages the wrong-headed notion that Climate Change can be addressed without challenging our way of life. If we could conduct a massive Spock-like mind-meld, I think we could go far in gaining a world-wide consensus on the urgency behind addressing Climate Change. We’d make the incorporeal jump between minds and bodies, clear of self-interests, beliefs, assumptions, politics and get to the heart of the matter.

Short of that, there may be a way to bake the reality of Climate Change into our present social and political zeitgeist so that it’s more comfortable for the majority of the public to accept it than deny it.

Climate Change Central

My thoughts strayed in this direction as I remembered the Climate Change Central project in Rochester back in 2008-09. So, for the record, I’m anchoring my idea on the great effort of two local women who spent their own money to set up a meeting place on Park Avenue to educate the public on Climate Change. They showed films, created a small library of books and pamphlets by local groups addressing Climate Change. They invited passersby to come in and just talk about Climate Change. It was a wonderful showcase for communicating with people about this crisis. Eventually, these women ran out of funds and the project vanished.

But this project could be resurrected in many ways and set on a much larger stage.

The vision:

I’d like to see brick-and-mortar institutions focused on Climate Change education in Rochester, and in every community. But first, I’d like to shoot for the stars with my vision of what could be: A climate institution where there would be a curator and staff of experts. There would be similar institutions in each community. Using our best communication tools, there would be displays explaining what climate change is and how this Climate Change is different. Each community would have Climate Change brought home through photo galleries, films, and artistic works that demonstrate how each community was contributing to Climate Change and how each community would be affected. For example, Climate Change in Rochester won’t look the same as Climate Change in Alaska (which is warming faster and more dramatically).

This climate institution would have books. It would have examples of climate models, with scientists describing how such systems worked. More public knowledge about climate modeling would convince many more people how rigorous predicting our future climate has become. Check this out:

Demystifying Climate Models By  Andrew Gettelman, National Center for Atmospheric Research Richard B. Rood, Climate and Space Sciences, University of Michigan Springer 2016 Download PDF from Springer Open Access "Uncertainty is not a weakness. Understanding uncertainty is a strength, and a key part of using any model, including climate models."

There would be interactive displays where various scenarios were modeled so the public could see the local advantages of taking action and the disadvantages of not doing so. It could be a sliding scale that would demonstrate various scenarios—like a scenario where we started building up our various infrastructures, like our sewer systems and highways, and then see what happens when there is more flooding—as predicted by climate studies. Activists and environmentalists would be able to set up booths explaining how climate justice for challenged communities are a vital component of addressing Climate Change. Projects would demonstrate likely outcomes in the future of where we took proper action and where we didn’t. There would definitely be an Internet station with online portals that would help visitors navigate and interpret the great wealth of data and information on this crisis.

My special climate educational dream project:

In the center of each institution would be a gigantic hologram, a 3-D image of Earth projected into a space where the public could walk around it and climb via a spiral staircase to perhaps several stories. This Earth hologram wouldn’t just be an image; it would be a computerized composition that visualized data from past and present monitoring data. It would be the ultimate pedagogical tool for Climate Change. The public would be able to see Earth breathe and react to the slightest biological and physical forces. The public would see various scenarios tested on this hologram and see what climate scientists see when they run possible situations in their models. Seeing Climate Change in this way would give the public, at every level of education and background, the feedback they need in order to grasp this extremely complex crisis.  

The Climate Museum

While many will see this idea as unlikely, wildly expensive, and completely improbable, something like it is actually is happening in New York City.

“We are launching a climate museum in New York City to serve as a hub for climate engagement and leadership in a challenging world. The Paris Agreement of 2015 holds great promise for the transition to a clean energy economy and culture. Despite the range of efforts across society to make this transition real, the threats of denialism and obstruction are more potent than ever. We must rise to this challenge together. To do so, we need something new: a public space where we can gather to learn about climate change, face our fears, share solutions, and commit to change. The Climate Museum will be this place: a cultural and educational institution dedicated to climate issues and solutions.” The Climate Museum  

The Climate Change imperative

This idea of a public space to learn about Climate Change must work. Traditional environmental actions—marching*, publishing newsletters, protesting, fighting in the courts, and even joining environmental groups--don’t get our entire public engaged. It gets lots of folks engaged, but obviously not enough. In fact, these activities may be distancing ourselves from the very public we are trying to reach. The NYC museum project must be scalable, in order for millions of people in all walks of life. Nobody doesn’t like museums, as millions already visit them each year.

A smaller vision involves relatively inexpensive public spaces where volunteers would explain Climate Change and connect with the public—as was the case with Climate Change Central.  After rent for a room, utilities, and insurance are accounted for, in-kind services, donations, and volunteers could make this project doable. Given the imperative of getting the public up-to-date on Climate Change, the cost would be minimal. Discovering the god particle, the Higgs Boson particle, cost billions and billions of dollars. Though a very interesting particle, it won’t save humanity. Just saying…

Time passes.

* I don’t mean to undermine the importance of marching, rallying, and demonstrating in any way—as I have been a part of the largest environmental marches in and around the Northeast for many years. For the purposes of this essay, I want to highlight in the importance of reaching folks who wouldn’t even think of marching in the streets to save their environment, which I suspect is a lot of people. Those are the people we need to reach.  

Monday, January 02, 2017

19 years of

When I began almost two decades ago, my goal was to demonstrate that environmental news was just as important and occurred as frequently as other news. Only, our local and national media weren’t paying much attention to the condition of our life support system. The Internet, I thought then, could provide anyone with an opportunity to collect news and information from an incredible number of sources—including all local media, governmental agencies, universities, digital books, and similar sources from around the world—that would help reach everyone.

I focused my efforts on a single region—Rochester, NY—as an experiment to find out what effect providing every environmental resource available to the public, media, environmental groups, governments, businesses, and individuals.

I found over the years that there was an incredible amount of environmental information and news that our local media was not disseminating to the public. Finding environmental news in the public interest was slow at first during the late 1990’s but as major issues evolved such as plastics pollution, water quality issues, and Climate Change, it became more important to prioritize environmental news than post whatever I could find. Also, many institutions, official agencies, and environmental groups were increasingly providing news, online studies, all free. Climate studies, official reports, and data abound on the Internet, ready for public consumption.

My position on getting environmental information to the public grew as I saw environmental issues like Climate Change grow, while public interest and knowledge on these critical issues seem to waiver and then diminish. (Note that the election of Trump to President, who is filling top positions in science agencies with climate deniers, is a low point in the public’s environmental awareness. Last November’s elections weren’t entirely a fluke, as still too many Americans don’t appreciate the urgency of addressing Climate Change.) Which is to say, my efforts and a lot of others to get the public to appreciate the urgency and scope of Climate Change and other environmental problems has failed.

Protecting our environment, I’ve come to believe, requires a different kind of journalism, one that communicates to the public the potential of various environmental threats before these issues reach the front pages of our media in the traditional way. By the time oil spills, invasive species breakouts, and climate warming itself reach public attention, they are oftentimes at a stage in their development that makes it difficult if not impossible to address them.

During’s existence, I’ve witnessed many positive developments that demonstrate a growing awareness of environmental concerns in our region:
  • The City of Rochester has developed and is ready to release its Climate Action Plan. This plan was a long-time coming and not only describes the threats coming to our region but governmental efforts to solve them. (When you think of the direction our nations is going, Rochester’s and other community’s efforts at this time are critical.)
  • The march last year on Nov 29th to support the UN’s Climate Change Conference, which produced the Paris Agreement, brought over 400 people into our streets. (Hundreds March To Support United Nation’s 2015 Climate Change Conference ROCHESTER, N.Y. (November 29, 2015) Time Warner Cable News 
  • Dr. Hansen’s talk in Rochester, NY on April 21st at Monroe County Community College. This event, sponsored in part by the Rochester Regional Group of the Sierra Club, brought together over 800 people. If you missed Dr. Hansen’s talk, check out this video.
  • For several years, Greentopia sponsored week-long festivals that brought in thousands of local people with activities focused on living sustainably. Greentopia still works towards making our community more environmentally friendly.   
  • The Center of Environmental Initiatives, now Genesee RiverWatch, has honed in on researching and cleaning up our Genesee River.
  • Back in 2008-2009 some inspired folks created ‘Climate Change Central’, a brick-and-mortar outlet for discussing and distributing information on Climate Change in the Park Avenue area. (I still think this concept is so great that efforts should be made to resurrect it.)
  • Monroe County passed the Neighborhood Notification Law, which protects children and pets from pesticide drift during pesticide applications. Our county also added 3-7 plastics in recycling, moved to single-stream recycling, and helps keep our parks clean with its yearly Pick-Up-The-Parks program.
  • Rochester’s Clean Sweep brings hundreds of volunteers to spruce up our gardens, streets, and remove litter. 
  • The inclusion of bicycle boulevards in the City Bicycle Master Plan and the pursuit of the Bicycle Friendly Awards keeps our city focused on active transportation (walking and bicycling), which will reduce greenhouse gas emission and make folks healthier.
  • In 2016 Rochester piled hundreds of folks onto buses, trains, and car pools heading to the People’s Climate March, helping to join with hundreds of thousands (about 400,000) to get a real climate deal. In the process of promoting Rochester’s commitment, the Rochester People’s Climate Coalition was formed and thrives today with over 100 member groups.
  • Started a couple of years ago, the Fast Forward Film festival encourages efforts by young folks to tell their story about our environment.

Much has happened in a positive direction, but not nearly enough.

The rise in social media and Smartphones over the years has been both a boon and bust. While it is great to get feedback and reach more people, what has also happened is that the silos of interest have become more narrow and entrenched. I use both Facebook and Twitter and they provide immediate feedback but they are also ephemeral. With social media it is possible to keep more of our base engaged while keeping that information completely invisible to anyone who does not understand or care to understand the role of our environment in our existence. 

By the close of 2016, the lack of environmental news and information is not as prevalent as the misunderstandings of it caused by bad players intent on sowing doubt where there really isn’t any. How environmental issues are framed, even by environmental groups, is now paramount in environmental communication. I don’t mean pandering to the public’s desire to see environmental issues tamped down to fit within our comfort zone. I mean properly framing environmental issues, especially Climate Change, as the existential threat that they are. Our past environmental abuses—pollution, loss of biodiversity, overconsumption—are going to make addressing Climate Change incredibly difficult. We are challenging our life support system beyond our ability to make it sustainable.

With the election of Trump the threat of less information coming from governmental sources seems more likely. (I hope our media is monitoring not only our environment but also whether our environmental agencies will be stripped of critical information.)

What has struck me in the last twenty years is that there is more breaking news on the state of our environment than I ever could have imagined: More oil pipeline ruptures, more Bomb Trains, more extreme weather events, more people in the streets sick and tired of allowing our environment to be trashed. This is not good because, as I have mentioned earlier, by the time environmental stories get to our headlines, they’ve probably become intractable.

The first UN Climate Change Conference was held in 1995 in Berlin, about the same time as began. Since that time, the Paris Agreement, a result of the 21st climate talks, became official. The world understands the threat of Climate Change as well as conscious beings, who caused this climate change, can understand. Humanity no longer has any excuse not to address Climate Change.

Humanity has an obligation to protect its life support system.

Time passes.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Musings on U.S. election’s failure to highlight Climate Change

As we watch lead science agency positions being taken over by folks who are diametrically opposed to the missions of the institutions they will soon take over, we might pause and figure out how this disaster came about. Make no mistake, this is a disaster, one that even its most ardent proponents did not believe would actually happen. However Pollyannaish your take is on Trump’s ability to unravel years of environmental regulations, undo efforts to address Climate Change, and put science itself into Limbo, this year’s elections results are the worst case scenario for our chance at a sustainable future. Spending our time trying recover what we had, when we should be moving drastically forward, may well spell irreversible damage to our life support system. As climate Scientist Michael Mann has said, “Trump's Policies Are 'Game Over' for Our Climate.” (Climate Scientist Michael Mann: Trump's Policies Are 'Game Over' for Our Climate, November 13, 2016, The Real News Network) (Also: Check out this article by Mann: I’m a scientist who has gotten death threats. I fear what may happen under Trump., (December 16, 2016, The Washington Post))

Now that Trump has been deemed the winner and is packing his cabinet positions with anti-environmentalists, Americans are going to be talking past each other on Climate Change even more. Our sense of priorities, which are always undergoing public examinations in a democracy, are now more likely to veer away from science and our biological obligations to live sustainably. An historical fluke, a troubled election, means that climate denial will now seem more legitimate to many more people than before the election. It will seem normal to silence people from saying ‘Climate Change’ in public discourse because it is a divisive issue. To rant and rave against environmental regulations and champion more unsustainable ideas (that our species has tried to overcome since we’ve been a species) is likely to become the new normal. 

Science is humanity’s light in a biological system often hidden in deep interconnected complexity, billions of years in the making. And now this light is growing dim in the United States. Climate denial is not just another worldview with different priorities and values; it’s crazy.

Pulling out NASA’s ability to monitor our environment is suicidal. The US, together with the rest of the world, depends on NASA’s information. Our new political landlords who think Climate Change is a hoax might be able to scrap all previous efforts to address Climate Change, but this will not stop the physical impacts of this crisis—just seriously thwart our ability to do so. 

TRUMP’S PLAN TO DEFUND NASA’S CLIMATE RESEARCH IS ... YIKES CLIMATE CHANGE DOESN’T CARE ABOUT POLITICS Today, The Guardian reported that President-Elect Donald Trump plans to defund NASA’s Earth Science Division to cut down on what a campaign advisor referred to as “politically correct environmental monitoring”. NASA may instead focus on a Cold War-era throwback space race to explore the cosmos, leaving climate research to other agencies. But NASA’s unique position as a space agency means that it has a view of Earth that other agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are rarely afforded. Indeed, NOAA and NASA often partner on climate-monitoring projects like the recently launched GOES-R satellite or the DSCOVR climate observatory, which watches for space weather that can knock out electrical grids (among many other things). (November 23, 2016) Popular Science

This change coming at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is just chilling.

An Enemy of the E.P.A. to Head It Had Donald Trump spent an entire year scouring the country for someone to weaken clean air and clean water laws and repudiate America’s leadership role in the global battle against climate change, he could not have found a more suitable candidate than Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general, whom he picked on Wednesday to run the Environmental Protection Agency. This is an aggressively bad choice, a poke in the eye to a long history of bipartisan cooperation on environmental issues, to a nation that has come to depend on the agency for healthy air and drinkable water, and to 195 countries that agreed in Paris last year to reduce their emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases in the belief that the United States would show the way. A meeting Monday between Mr. Trump and Al Gore had raised hope among some that the president-elect might reverse his campaign pledge to withdraw the United States from the Paris accord. The Pruitt appointment says otherwise. (December 7, 2016, New York Times Editorial Board)

We can conjecture all day long (or for the next four years) about how and why climate deniers were able to defeat science and reason. They have won and their ideology will cloud most media attention on Climate Change. Rather than focusing on the actions needed to address Climate Change, our media will likely use the new administration to frame environmental issues and Climate Change. At the very least, mainstream media will feel compelled to include climate denial as a fact of life in the United States instead of focusing on the problem itself.   

Time passes. 

Monday, December 19, 2016

Get EPA’s climate indicators 2016 while you can

If you only have about forty-five minutes to learn everything you need to know about Climate Change, a good source would be the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Climate Change Indicators in the United States 2016 Fourth Edition. Considering the massive changes coming to the EPA (probably not in a good way), I highly recommend you download this report soon. Very soon. You can both view and download the full report here. This report is peer-reviewed, amazingly easy to read, and organized for quick comprehension. It’s the fourth since the EPA started publishing them in 2010.

The report is framed around 37 climate indicators.

Why Use Indicators? One important way to track and communicate the causes and effects of climate change is through the use of indicators. An indicator represents the state or trend of certain environmental or societal conditions over a given area and a specified period of time. (Page 3, Climate Change Indicators in the United States 2016 Fourth Edition)

Considering all the rubbish being bandied about by those who either don’t know or care to know about this present warming phenomenon occurring on our planet, you’d think everyone would want to go check out the most accessible and compelling facts by the most respected (at least for now) environmental agency in the world.

It isn’t the EPA’s job to create the data for these reports, it’s their job, their responsibility (at least for now), to assemble the facts behind our government’s obligation to inform and protect the public. Because this report is the fourth, it builds on what has happened with our climate since the first three.

If each editor of each mainstream media outlet took a few moments to read this official document, it might go far in producing responsible reporting on Climate Change. Responsible reporting on Climate Change might well have avoided putting a climate denier into our country’s highest office, along with his cabinet choices who will most probably do their utmost to undo what centuries of science has attempted to do—inform humanity correctly as to what’s going on in our world.

How Is This Report Useful? Climate Change Indicators in the United States, 2016, is written with the primary goal of informing readers’ understanding of climate change. It is also designed to be useful for the public, scientists, analysts, decision-makers, educators, and others who can use climate change indicators as a tool for: Effectively communicating relevant climate science information in a sound, transparent, and easy-to-understand way. Assessing trends in environmental quality, factors that influence the environment, and effects on ecosystems and society. Informing science-based decision-making. (Page 4, IBID)

There is a tendency towards focusing on the fine details when reading reports. But in this case, while the numbers themselves are cause for concern, it’s the bigger picture humanity needs to understand: We have put into motion a planetary event that we barely understand and whose outcome we cannot entirely predict and may not be able to stop. 


Sunday, December 11, 2016

The ‘best’ way to fight Climate Change?

While protecting our forests is crucial, it is delusional to think any single or even a hundred separate, specific actions are the ‘best’ way to fight Climate Change.

Protecting forests is the best way to fight climate change' With the CancĂșn Declaration adopted at the Convention on Biological Diversity summit, DW talks to an indigenous leader on how native peoples are defending the Earth's forests - and through that, biodiversity and climate. At the 13th meeting of the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD CoP13), representatives from more than 190 nations are discussing conservation in Cancun from December 4 to 17. Already on Saturday (03.12.2016), delegates agreed to adopt the CancĂșn Declaration to ramp up efforts to protect the world's biodiversity. At the conference, indigenous groups' role in protecting biodiversity will be among the topics in the spotlight. Leaders from the Amazon region, Congo and Indonesia, among others, are unifying their voices in demanding greater respect and support for their communities, which they believe to be key actors in the fight to protect our planet. (December 5, 2016) Deutsche Welle 

Along with protecting our forests are voting climate deniers out of office, ramping up renewable energy, blocking fossil fuel infrastructures, pushing our media to do a better job reporting on Climate Change, enacting a worldwide carbon tax so that burning fossil fuels becomes prohibitively expensive, ceasing oil drilling in the Arctic, developing a Climate Action Plan in every community, helping our wildlife and plants to adapt to the warming, enhancing our ability to monitor the changes that come with warming up a planet by making sure agencies like NASA are capable of maintaining crucial equipment, keeping scientists focused how our climate system works, backing environmental groups who are at the legal forefront of beating back bad environmental legislations, organizing local groups to stop bad environmental decisions, growing food locally so that we can produce as much good food as possible, preparing our communities for climate refugees who will need a place to live, making sure the Green Climate Fund helps support those nations that did not cause Climate Change but will experience the consequences more quickly and worse, increasing public education about Climate Change and how our public health will be affected so that we when plan for warming we do so comprehensively, and on and on and on and on … 

The point being that however overwhelming people may find addressing Climate Change to be, there is nothing for it. We have to both adapt to the changes and stop anymore warming—at the same time and all at once. We must attempt to accomplish this even if doing so will increasingly consume most of our lives. The more we drag our feet the more likely our children’s and grandchildren’s lives will be but desperate attempts to deal with this crisis. And a less likely their being successful. Climate Change will get worse unless we change course immediately, and this is true whether we like it or not.

However convenient or psychologically comforting folks may find seizing on the ‘best’ solution for themselves, there is no single way to fight Climate Change. It’s one of the reasons why communicating Climate Change is so very difficult and unpopular. But dumbing the problem down to a just few actions you can take is not the answer to this problem. (I cannot ever say ‘this kind problem’ because there is no problem like Climate Change.)

To put forth the psychological position that too many action items needing immediate attention will overwhelm and paralyze folks into doing nothing is a stance, not a fact. (‘We cannot do anything to address Climate Change that will harm our economy’ is also a stance and so is ‘We cannot address Climate Change unless the actions are fair’ (albeit a good and moral stance).  Military personnel preparing for battle are not told to leave the battlefield and chill if they feel overwhelmed. As we have witnessed in humanity’s many wars, we can do incredible things to save ourselves and our loved ones—however inconvenient and numerous they may be.

I understand the psychosocial reasoning behind trying to tamp down the urgency and plethora of actions needed and putting acting on Climate Change all into a doable package of some sort, but it’s backwards psychology. To address Climate Change properly, you must first assess what Climate Change is (an existential problem threating our life-support system) and help humanity move towards solving it on a scale and time frame that will matter. Not deciding first your level of commitment.

Watching the world pass tipping points where the consequences of this warming are irreversible cannot be alieved by shrugging one’s shoulders and saying, “Well, we tried.” We cannot decide first what our capacities are for taking action and then try to solve the problem. Nature is not designed for our convenience. Our ancestors, going all the way back to the beginning, either adapted or perished.

So what can we do? We can fully embrace this challenge and prioritize our actions so that they are equal to the task. We aren’t trying to save the planet so much as we are trying to save our place on it.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Some notes on our transportation future

Transportation (26 percent of 2014 greenhouse gas emissions) – Greenhouse gas emissions from transportation primarily come from burning fossil fuel for our cars, trucks, ships, trains, and planes. Over 90 percent of the fuel used for transportation is petroleum based, which includes gasoline and diesel. (EPA, Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions)

At a recent public meeting about our transportation future in the Rochester region, I arrived expecting that there wouldn’t be much discussion about Climate Change. My expectations were confirmed, except that I brought up the specter of the link between Climate Change and transportation issues. It only got a respectful but gloomy nod of recognition.

The meeting was the Community Symposium on the Future of Transportation Technology, sponsored by the Genesee Transportation Council. Though I’ve tried to connect the dots between transportation and Climate Change in a couple of leadership capacities (chair of the local Sierra Club’s transportation committee and the Center of Initiatives’ alternative transportation group), I haven’t had much luck. The prevailing zeitgeist about transportation among local officials seems to be: there isn’t much money around to address transportation issues and what money there is has to go for road or bridge repair. As for the need to change attitudes about connecting transportation and Climate Change, fuhgeddaboudit.

To be fair, there has been a lot help getting active transportation (walking and bicycling) moving from local officials. It’s about as much that one would expect from our public servants with little money to leverage and little interest demonstrated by the public for anything other than cars. It’s no secret we really, really like cars and our eyes grow dim when someone mentions alternative transportation. Those eyes grow even dimmer if you mention the most boring word in the English language: infrastructure. (Which reminds me, we did not talk about trolleys, public transportation, or electric buses, or bus mass transit, though someone (in jest) mentioned drones.)

Anyway, I’ve written about local transportation and Climate Change before—Viewing local transportation plans through the lens of Climate Change, Rochester’s transportation system light-years away from Climate Change solutions, Connecting the Climate Change dots on Rochester’s transportation, Active Transportation attitudes in Rochester, NY, We need you on a bike to Greentopia September 17th, Will salmon-cyclists destroy Rochester’s chances for greatness?, Wanna do something about Climate Change in Rochester, NY? (Hint: bike.)--and though this vital link is of critical concern, this particular essay only touches on all that tangentially. The Mathew Effect (where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer) predominated the meeting about our future transportation concerns. This means the rich or well-off will like what the movers and shakers are thinking about our transportation future, while the rest, not so much.

We mostly talked about sensors, connectivity, and Big Data. Sensors are those little electronic gadgets that ‘sense’ a variety of concerns transportation experts use to monitor traffic density, infrastructural integrity, and a lot of other things traffic engineers would tend to care about. ‘Connectivity’ was not used in the touchy-feely sense that drivers may or should have with each other as they barrel down the highway; it is literally how vehicles communicate with each other and transportation infrastructures. Big Data is about the incredible amount of information transportation encompasses—traffic density, road and bridge data, bumps in the road, and that kind of stuff.

I had the feeling throughout the meeting that what everyone really wanted to talk about (but were uneasy to do so because there were a couple on greenies there) was self-driving cars. Really, these ‘intelligent’ new cars are alluring, they’re sexy, and if your career has focused on roads and bridges and traffic lights all your life, autonomous vehicles are really exciting. Insane, perhaps, but exciting. Yet, one thing I learned is that we are a long way from introducing autonomous vehicles on to our existing highways because these digital vehicles don’t work when there’s a lot of dust and dirt flying through the air. It ‘confuses’ present-day software when bad weather presents a lot of known unknowns, like how many dirt particles are flying around in storm and what their potential trajectory might be. If you know anything about software, this would be so mind-bogglingly difficult to accurately ‘digest’ as to make climate modeling child’s play.   

Ok, I’m getting a little too snarky…, We talked about many important aspects of future transportation technology …, what people are going to be driving in and on in the future because when you think about it we’ve gone from horse and carriages to gas-guzzling steel projectiles to electric/computerized vehicles in a relatively short time …, about transportation safety and health …, about land use because when you think about it, depending on your transportation system, urban and rural communities will thrive or die …, and we talked about predictability, which has a lot to do with traffic safety because when you think about it, when you know whether a traffic holdup is going to be a long wait or a short one, you are more likely to respond rationally, but if you’re in a long line of traffic backup on the highway and haven’t a clue about what’s going on or how long you’ll be trapped, you are more likely to do something crazy—like tear along the shoulder to get by everyone, or make an illegal U-turn …, and how Big Data can help alleviate some of these potential situations by you getting on your Smartphone and using some app to let you know what’s going on …, and we talked a little about how there might be a trickle-down effect with all this futuristic gadgetry for those with transportation challenges, like living in rural poverty and needing a city job, or getting those darn traffic signals to be more hospitable to pedestrians (who as you may recall are also part of our transportation future) …, and some other interesting stuff like dangerous slowdowns that Big Data interprets as an accident, therefore getting emergency crews to the scene sooner and saving more lives …,  some talked about whether some of this technology can be tailored to individuals with particular needs, loss of hearing, crossing a street in a wheelchair, riding a bike in heavy traffic …, and we talked about many more forms of transportation on demand choices that apps might be able to give you once they tap into this great, big, wonderful, and seemingly infinite, aggregation of Big Data. 

It was all kinda fun, though a bit frustrating for us trying to find a way to communicate our concerns about another future, the future where the future of transportation and just about everything else is going to be greatly affected by the consequences of Climate Change. Our existing transportation infrastructure, which must remain largely intact until we’re on to the next great idea (maybe flying autonomous drones with a pub), must be resilient enough to handle more extreme weather and the disinclination for the public to support a transportation system they now take for granted.    

Monday, November 28, 2016

The importance advanced feedback during Climate Change

One of the features that come with a roof-top solar system is monitoring software so you can tweak your energy usage. If you’re watching too much TV, for example, you can switch that off and read a book. An electric or hybrid vehicle owner also can manage their energy use by numerous gauges that are part of the vehicle’s package. If you’re getting low on battery power, just turn off your heated seat.

Feedback, knowing how and where you are using energy, can give you a lot of control over your energy costs. Without adequate feedback on many of the complicated contraptions we use today, we wouldn’t have a clue how they (and by electronic proxy, ourselves) are performing.   

If we are seeking to live sustainably, control our energy costs, and evaluate our footprints on our environment, we need good feedback because the world has become a very complicated place. Of course, our bodies came with a lot of feedback mechanisms—sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste—but these senses are no longer sufficient to survive and live sustainably. We cannot see how much carbon dioxide or any other kind of greenhouse is in our atmosphere. We cannot hear the slowing down of a glacier-fed river that supplies our community with water. We cannot smell methane gas, the odorless but a very potent greenhouse gas, leaking from our gas lines or bogs we are melting with Climate Change.

We need enhanced feedback abilities, or instruments that allow us to fly and land our jets, drive our cars, predict our weather, and monitor our water quality. You name it. These advanced abilities that our instruments provide us now were not necessary for our survival during most of our evolution.  

Now they are. Now most of us realize at this point in our history that good feedback in the form of scientific instruments that measure sea level rise, pollution in our atmosphere, and our impact on our ecosystems is critical.

I belabor the obvious need for scientific instruments as feedback because of the potential loss of NASA’s space monitoring of Earth’s ecosystems by Trump. It would be suicidal to blind ourselves to Climate Change just when we need very sophisticated monitoring systems the most.

Trump to scrap Nasa climate research in crackdown on ‘politicized science’ Nasa’s Earth science division is set to be stripped of funding as the president-elect seeks to shift focus away from home in favor of deep space exploration Donald Trump is poised to eliminate all climate change research conducted by Nasa as part of a crackdown on “politicized science”, his senior adviser on issues relating to the space agency has said. Nasa’s Earth science division is set to be stripped of funding in favor of exploration of deep space, with the president-elect having set a goal during the campaign to explore the entire solar system by the end of the century. (November 23, 2015) The Guardian 

BTW: There are other kinds of feedback related to Climate Change and that’s when 97% of climate scientists and 196 nations and say we should address Climate Change. Though not electronic, this is also good feedback from our fellow humans and we should pay attention to it.

196 countries to Trump: UN must tackle climate change Nations stand as one in Marrakech to reaffirm their commitment to the fight against climate change in the face of populism and division in America The governments of the world have issued a repudiation of the voices of doubt by reaffirming their commitment to defeat climate change. At a UN climate conference in Marrakech, ministers and negotiators from almost 200 countries stood as one to applaud a document  that reaffirmed the world’s commitment to climate progress in the face of the shock election result in the US. “We call for the highest political commitment to combat climate change, as a matter of urgent priority,” said the Marrakech Action Proclamation, read by Morocco’s foreign minister and conference president Salaheddine Mezouar. (November 17, 2016) Climate Home

Time passes. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Rethinking Climate Change activism after Trump

Since Trump won, climate activists are rethinking their strategies. Organizations like are conducting national call-ins for this very purpose.

I understand this sentiment: “The climate movement needs to connect with other conversations like the ones on trade, on gender, on economic rights, because we realize that people are disenfranchised for a reason.” (Trump won: It’s time for climate NGOs to stop preaching to the choir  (November 11, 2016) Climate Home

But I’m not so sure that trying to fit the urgency of Climate Change solely into other people’s concerns is the way to go.
Though it is important to focus on the relationships between what folks are concerned about (like clean water and justice), it is also imperative that we prioritize how the physics of Climate Change will affect not only the present but the future.

We must get folks to understand that their concerns are linked to Climate Change. For the sake of our future, addressing and mitigating Climate Change must come first—no matter where the public puts Climate Change on their list of concerns.

The planet is burning up, and if that doesn’t get addressed quickly, all other concerns won’t matter.

I oftentimes think that climate messaging is thought of as an advertisement for a great product that everyone should buy because it has something for everyone. There is an attempt to sound so positive and hopeful about addressing Climate Change by activists that sometimes the message becomes downright cheery. Not so. There are some solutions that include desirable changes we need to make, but it’s not all peaches and cream.

While advertisement experts have learned a lot about selling products to folks who probably don’t even need them, it doesn’t mean consumer psychology has anything to do with Climate Change. Climate Change is not like a product the people might buy or an issue they might chip into to if they have an inclination. 

Climate Change is a clear and present threat to our existence.  The public must understand the full implications of this—regardless of how remote it seems to their lives or how horrible it is to contemplate.

We shouldn’t have to re-package climate messaging to connect the dots between what the public is concerned about at the present moment and climate science just because a climate denier got installed into the head of our government.

Somehow we have to get the public to appreciate the absolute priority of science so they can understand how our planet is being affected by our suddenly warming it up. We don’t do that by pandering to their interests.

Climate activist didn’t do anything wrong because Trump got elected. Trump got elected because our media failed to amplify our crucial message and deliver climate science to the masses.

Time passes.  

Monday, November 14, 2016

Climate Change activism after the 2016 US elections

Many are feeling pretty hopeless after the US just installed a climate denier for President together with a political majority in both the House and Senate opposed to addressing Climate Change. Let’s face it, now the United States is a great concern to a world that just made the Paris Agreement official. 

Donald Trump Could Put Climate Change on Course for ‘Danger Zone’ For a look at how sharply policy in Washington will change under the administration of Donald J. Trump, look no further than the environment. Mr. Trump has called human-caused climate change a “hoax.” He has vowed to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency “in almost every form.” And in an early salvo against one of President Obama’s signature issues, Mr. Trump has named Myron Ebell of the business-backed Competitive Enterprise Institute to head his E.P.A. transition team. Mr. Ebell has asserted that whatever warming caused by greenhouse gas pollution is modest and could be beneficial. A 2007 Vanity Fair profile of Mr. Ebell called him an “oil industry mouthpiece.” (November 10, 2016, New York Times)

Climate scientists are very concerned too, which is to say we should all be very concerned. Which is also to say, their voice should have been the most important voice we listened to as we voted in this historic election. Theirs was the voice of a reality that must be addressed above all others.  (Or there won’t be other issues.)

Donald Trump presidency a 'disaster for the planet', warn climate scientists Leading scientists say the climate denier’s victory could mean ‘game over for the climate’ and any hope of warding off dangerous global warming The ripples from a new American president are far-reaching, but never before has the arrival of a White House administration placed the livability of Earth at stake. Beyond his bluster and crude taunts, Donald Trump’s climate denialism could prove to be the lasting imprint of his unexpected presidency. “A Trump presidency might be game over for the climate,” said Michael Mann, a prominent climate researcher. “It might make it impossible to stabilize planetary warming below dangerous levels.” (November 11, 2016 The Guardian)

But enough of us didn’t listen to these voices; we as a nation listened to other voices.

For whatever reason the majority of the electoral votes went to a climate denier, we will pay a dear price. If it was frustration, hate, or a profound despair that things couldn’t get any worse that brought Trump to power, it is now more likely that things will get worse. We probably should have addressed, or at least listened to, the concerns of those who staged this political upset before this national calamity occurred.  As Russell Brand suggests in his rant, Trump. Right. Okay, the world's gone nuts: Russell Brand The Trews, it might now be the time to figure out how to talk to those to who believe (or have been lead to believe) that our political system has not served them.

Before many of us launch a crusade against the results of the past election, it might serve us well to find out what actually happened. It certainly would have served us better if, after the attack on 9/11, we had paused and tried to figure out why we were attacked before we ourselves launched an attack on a country that didn’t even attack us—throwing the Mideast into a horrific turmoil that seems likely to last forever. Not everyone who voted for Trump voted against women, against common decency, against minorities, against gun regulations, or what they perceived would be our nation’s response to addressing Climate Change. What caused so many to vote for a person distinctly unqualified be President of the United States?  

While we ponder the question above, we must still deal with Climate Change. Just because it was kept from the presidential elections by our media and resulted in this state of denial by the most powerful country in the world, physics still reigns. Climate Change cannot be voted out of existence. 

Like the many consequences of Climate Change we are now experiencing—more extreme weather, more wildfires, glaciers melting, and sea levels rising—the election of Trump and his fellow deniers presents innumerable challenges to what is already a complicated myriad of environmental problems. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), NASA, NOAA, and many more scientific agencies that monitor climate changes and educate the public about our environment are going to be burdened with directions from those who do not accept what the world’s climate scientists have told us: That our environment is warming quickly because of our way of life and we need to change immediately.  

Though many of the specific repercussions of our dependence on fossil fuel energy were unknown a couple of decades ago, climate scientists quickly learned that our climate was very sensitive, indeed. Land, air, and water around the world has reacted instantly (though unevenly) to more heat. We did anticipate some possible outcomes. Many of us knew there were going to be a lot of challenges. Scientists, environmentalists, and many more anticipated social strife when heat was turned up on our planet. For example, many of us knew that humanity itself would be part of the trials ahead.

Some people are galvanized by a great catastrophe and lead thousands towards solutions. But others think differently. They prioritized their own concerns, maniacally working towards how they think the world should be and how they can profit from the turmoil. Efforts to warn the public about the dangers of acid rain, cigarette smoke, second-hand smoke, holes in the ozone, and DDT have been fought and foiled for years. (See: Merchants of Doubt.) Humanity’s history is littered with actions based on wrong-headed notions, no matter how much evidence there was at the time to the contrary.

Those choosing to address Climate Change decades ago knew the job was dangerous when they took it. They knew there would be push-back against trying to solve this crisis—it’s part of human nature. A Trump win is but an atrocious manifestation of this human inclination for short term gain at the cost of future sustainability. Although these folks who are going to do everything in their power to increase fossil fuel use, thwart environmental regulations, and stop the worldwide attempt to make the Paris Agreement work have names, they are but part of this human condition. We are an adolescent species, hoping to mature. This is to say, the road ahead that we knew would be bumpy has now gotten very bumpy. Not only are the physical challenges going to get more difficult because we have allowed so much GHG’s to build up, the human reaction against the major changes needed to solve the warming crisis has metastasized into a powerful and irrational force against our efforts. It is a force that has to be overcome in some ways like all the other obstacles in front of us for a bright future.  

What now? This isn’t a time for despair, this is a time to assess our strengths and double-down on them.

Many who are trying to get their heads around this catastrophe are thinking that now the focus for addressing Climate Change must come from all our other tools in our toolbox, everything except our federal government. It must come from individuals, leaders, businesses, communities, environmental groups, local government, state, and other nations besides our own. 

Other countries are going to do what they can with a blind, deaf, and dumb elephant in the room:

Turnbull signals Australia won't follow Trump's lead on Paris climate agreement Prime minister confirms Australia will ratify agreement despite opposition from One Nation and conservative Coalition MPs Malcolm Turnbull has signalled Australia will not seek to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement even if the US president-elect, Donald Trump, follows through on his threat to cancel the emissions reductions commitments made by Barack Obama last December. Turnbull on Thursday confirmed Australia had ratified the Paris agreement despite domestic opposition from the One Nation party, a critical Senate bloc for the government, and persistent climate change scepticism roiling within Coalition ranks. After Trump’s victory, and ahead of Turnbull’s confirmation of the government’s intentions with ratification on Thursday morning, the chairman of the government’s backbench committee on the environment and energy, the Liberal MP Craig Kelly  (November 9, 2016) The Guardian

Or, how about this scenario? A major power like China takes advantage of the US’s climate paralysis and becomes the world leader on addressing Climate Change, leaving US in the dust:

Trump win opens way for China to take climate leadership role Beijing is poised to cash in on the goodwill it could earn by taking on leadership in dealing with what for many other governments is one of the most urgent issues on their agenda. "Proactively taking action against climate change will improve China's international image and allow it to occupy the moral high ground," Zou Ji, deputy director of the National Centre for Climate Change Strategy and a senior Chinese climate talks negotiator, told Reuters. (November 11, 2016 Reuters)

Not even Trump can tell China what to do.

If it is so that for now and for the time being much of the effort to address Climate Change in our country will come from the states, New York State may (as it did with stopping Fracking) show the nation a way through the coming anti-science miasma. 

Trump win means little for NY climate programs President-elect Donald Trump's pledge to roll back federal environmental regulations will likely have little effect on New York's efforts to combat climate change, according to the state's top energy official. Richard Kauffman, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's chairman of energy and finance, touted New York's various clean-energy programs Thursday while noting they predate the federal Clean Power Plan, an emissions-reductions program Trump has vowed to scale back. Should Trump curb environmental regulations at the federal level, New York's programs — including the Clean Energy Standard, which subsidizes renewable and nuclear energy — would remain in place. (November 10, 2016) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle 

But let us not get too cocky. In order to address Climate Change, we have to adapt to the changes, and we have to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions on a scale and time frame that will avoid the worst consequences of this crisis.

One can say that “President-elect Donald Trump's pledge to roll back federal environmental regulations will likely have little effect on New York's efforts to combat climate change”, yet, it is delusional. First and foremost, Climate Change cannot be compartmentalized when it comes to being affected. When the temperature goes up on our planet, everything will be affected as there are no safe zones that won’t experience this planetary phenomenon. Some places will be affected differently and more quickly than others, for a while, but like cooking a great big pot of soup, eventually the whole pot will get hot if you leave the flame on long enough.

So if the federal government is dragging its feet or thwarting progress by doubling down on fossil fuel infrastructure (take the Dakota Access Pipeline for example), New York as all regions will eventually be affected and threatened by planetary tipping points. Holding back funds for infrastructure repair and development that is resilient enough to withstand the extreme weather that comes with Climate Change is going to affect New York. The energy aspect of Climate Change, though critical, has little to do with adaption, which will require a federal response at times, and is only a part the mitigation part of this crisis.

However committed we are individually or at the state and local level on addressing Climate Change, there’s no denying our job has been made exponentially more difficult by this election. It’s pretty late in the day for our country to have made such a colossal error in judgement. Our prospects are grim if we don’t find a way to encourage this new administration to do the right thing. In this effort we should leave no stone unturned, no vote unchecked, no bill un-scrutinized, no bad media report unchallenged, no rally for climate action and justice unattended, no chance for despair to creep into our soul. Climate denial is batshit crazy at any level.

Time passes.