Saturday, July 26, 2014

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 19, 2014

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Addressing the “anti-Frackers are hypocrites!” charge


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 04, 2014

Aftershocks of NYS landmark decision on local Fracking bans


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Messaging Climate Change is “Risky Business” if not impossible


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Braking in time for Climate Change in Rochester and everywhere else


CCBrakesThe time to consider braking your speeding car before a large, solid, immovable object is not at the moment of impact. Most of us, even those of us awful at physics, know that in order to avoid disaster, making the decision to apply one’s brakes involves knowing the braking distance of your vehicle, the speed you’re moving, and the varying weather conditions. We (who are still around to remark about such things) must decide to brake earlier in icy conditions. It’s physics. Same with Climate Change: If you want to stop anthropogenic accelerated Climate Change so that it doesn’t destroy your future, you must consider the braking distance (inertia in climate systems) between when greenhouse gases (GHGs) enter our atmosphere and when they leave, the speed which our climate is now warming (10 times faster than any time in the Holocene), and how much extreme weather your environment can weather. (Note: by ‘environment’ we mean our life support system.)

Failing to appreciate this feature of Climate Change means you cannot properly adapt to and mitigate Climate Change. For some, this inertia feature seems to mean that Climate Change is inevitable and nothing they do will matter. That is not correct. It’s more nuanced. The inertia in Climate Change means that the GHGs we put into the system will cause, for example, our region of New York State to get somewhat warmer, produce more extreme weather in the form of more flooding, and other stuff spelled out clearly in the ClimAID and many other climate reports. But if we dramatically lowered our GHGs and even found a way to sequester most of them, we will avoid many of the horrid scenarios synonymous with a higher emissions scenario. It’s not Doomsday if we decide now to apply our brakes.

Most already know this physical aspect of Climate Change—at least in theory. The point I’m trying to drive home is this: There are a many ad hoc, local efforts for adapting to and mitigating Climate Change, but these well-intentioned efforts are usually made with deference to other factors—economic, psychological, the public’s attention span, political interests, our personal bandwidth for activism, or other excuses—that are given a higher priority than the physics. This is tragic because the tyranny of Climate Change is that there are no excuses, no bargains, no appeasements, and no appeals with the laws of Nature. Put GHG’s into our atmosphere and the place warms up and stuff happens.

Your sustainability plans should be dictated by Climate Change predictions. Sustainability plans should not simply appease the usual stakeholders (landowners, political constituents, and industries), but include all the other stakeholders we rarely include in our climate planning, the biological architects of our environment and future generation of all species. (‘Stakeholders’ is an absurd term used in climate plans because these plans are thought to work better if they’re designed like business plans. But our environment still contains a lot of unknown unknowns, those creatures and plants whose activities are critical to our sustained survival. We don’t know who all the ‘stakeholders’ are and what priorities should be allotted to them. Think soil microbes. They don’t make neat gadgets, but without them we will have no future.)

Many of the decisions involved in proper planning to adapt to a warmer climate will be wildly unpopular. For example, it has taken 14 years to establish new Great Lakes target levels incorporating many competing (stakeholder) concerns, including those of shoreline property owners and the shipping industry. The International Joint Commission (IJC) just announced its decision, and it is assumed that their plan “…will be accepted and implemented”1. It’s the Lake Ontario St. Lawrence River Plan 2014. This from an IJC spokesperson:

"As many of you may already know, yesterday the International Joint Commission announced its conclusions on the 14 year long process to update the regulation of water levels and flows for Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River to consider the needs of the natural environment while continuing to protect the diverse established uses and interests.   The IJC submitted its conclusions to the federal governments of Canada and the United States to seek their views and concurrence.    Plan 2014 protects against extreme water levels, restores wetlands, and prepares for a changing climate.  I wanted to share the report, a video overview, the presentation overview, the response to public comments,  and IJC newsletter articles on How We Got Here? And Reversing the Harm and Balancing Interests as well as additional information available on the Plan 2014 landing page. "

Many are not happy with allowing the water levels to revert to more natural levels in order to protect our environment, including: “One U.S. politician has said the strategy, first unveiled last year, puts the interests of “muskrats and cattails” above those of homeowners.” 2. Though a clever sound bite, this attitude towards our environment by someone in a position of power highlights a skewed sense of priorities in our leaders as we plan for Climate Change. The new plan, because it accommodates Climate Change, might be a good plan. It might set realistic goals even though we are well into the inertia of Climate Change. Have we applied the brakes too little and too late? Do we have to wait until our leaders catch up with what most of the public and our scientist already know?

The Finger Lakes Regional Sustainability Plan, which attempts “to lead the development of a regional sustainability plan and to implement projects that will significantly improve the economic and environmental health of our area.”3, also includes a section on Climate Change. But, though it too gives a nod to Climate Change, it seems far more interested in accommodating all kinds of existing businesses than preparing our region for a warmer climate. Many of the things in our region we cherish now, the grape industry, brown trout fishing, the skiing and snowmobile industries, apples, and maple syrup, may already be doomed because we did not apply the brakes sooner. And so pouring massive efforts and lots of bucks to sustain them, stuff that may not be critical to the sustainability of our life support system, may be delusional. In fact any plans for a sustainable future that are not dictated by Climate Change issues are probably doomed to failure and will squander vast resources. When the disasters come—extreme weather, frequent flooding, skyrocketing insurance rates, prolonged heat spells, and disease outbreaks —there may be no “cargo to throw overboard” (no resilience built into the planning to address immediate threats).

There is hope for better planning in a local watershed restoration project mentioned in the local news this week that captures the new normal of Climate Change concerns. It’s sounds reality-based, accounting for some of the recent issues that are affecting all our water ecologies:

“The plan addresses five major themes: research, education, restoration, open space protection and regulation. Existing and emerging threats to the lake include: substantial development in the watershed; more intense use of the shoreline; new invasive species; potential for harmful algal bloom; need for more local management of septic systems; climate change causing more intense rain events, prolonged droughts and other impacts; building on more sensitive steep slope sites; increased boat traffic; increased aquatic vegetation growth; and potential hydrofracking operations.” (Plan addresses threats to Canandaigua watershed ,June 19, 2014) Daily Messenger)

As with all sustainability plans, it’s not just about Canandaigua Lake, or the Rochester region, or even the US. Climate Change is a worldwide phenomenon and must be addressed in time, at the right level, and in concert will all other plans (top-down, binding agreements like that proposed for Paris 2015) or they too will be delusional.

Dr. James E. Hansen, arguably our greatest climatologist (and now to be one of our greatest climate activists) questions Obama’s Clean Power Plan. Are we braking for Climate Change quickly and robustly enough?

Too Little, Too Late? Oops? Many queries received: is Obama’s climate effort “too little, too late?” Closely related query: are we at an “oops” moment, a realization that we have pushed the climate system too far, so consequences such as ice sheet disintegration and large sea level rise are now out of our control? It so happens that I have been working, for a few years, on a paper aimed at a clear quantitative response to the “too late?” and “oops?” questions. I will be very scarce for the next couple of months, because I want that paper to be available by the time of the UN meetings in September. The answer re “too little?” is obvious from the fact that governments, ours included, are allowing and encouraging industry to go after every fossil fuel that can be found. Rather than dwelling on that fact, let’s consider the action needed to avoid “too late”. Citizens Climate Lobby just released a study by the non-partisan organization Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI), as a 3-page summary and a full report. Their comprehensive analysis of the impacts of a carbon fee-and-dividend in the United States, with 100% revenue distribution of the money to the public in equal shares as direct payments. The fee would start at $10/ton of CO2 and increase $10/ton each year; 100% of the revenue is returned to households, equal amounts to all legal residents. This approach spurs the economy, increasing the number of jobs by 2.1 million in 10 years. Emissions decrease 33% in 10 years, 52% in 20 years (19 June 2014)  Dr. James E. Hansen |

Though well-intentioned, many of the plans rushing to include Climate Change may be more concerned with consensus building and pleasing all the known stakeholders than the actual matter at hand. Climate Change is like no other issue humanity has ever faced. Business as usual is unlikely to solve the very problem it created. Our leaders must understand that in order to brake for Climate Change appropriately, it must be given a new priority, a priority so high that it dictates how we address all other priorities. Keeping our GHG emissions to a sustainable level and doing so fairly is the challenge of our times. When we get our priorities straight, we’ll realize there is no more pressing issue than Climate Change. Let’s hope we brake in time.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Reasons for Rochester’s paltry Climate Change efforts

CCS&PMapThough it’s a terrible indictment of those of us in the developed world (who have largely caused Climate Change), the map referenced below might be showing us the real reason why we are in denial. When we find ourselves bored by all the recent news on Climate Change, it might be instructive to question the motives behind the obvious fact that we are less likely (for a time anyway) to receive the worst consequences of a warming world. The developing countries—Bangladesh, Indonesia, India, Egypt, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Uganda, Suriname, Philippines, and others—are going to get nailed with massive increases in flooding, wildfires, sea level rise, and a whole lot more of the consequences that will (and in some cases already have) overwhelmed their ability to endure. Could a perceived sense of invulnerability be why we are only making only half-hearted attempts to address this worldwide crisis?
This map explains why climate change is so unfair It's a huge day for climate policy. President Obama is announcing a dramatic new EPA proposal to regulate carbon emissions from existing power plants. If and when it's implemented, the EPA regulations will be Obama's signature policy in the campaign to reduce America's contribution to climate change. They also might be Obama's greatest contribution to the fight against global poverty. Climate change is bad for everyone. But it's particularly bad for the world's poorest. Standard and Poor's, the credit rating company, recently published a report assessing the risk each country faces from climate change. You'll notice the more vulnerable (redder) countries cluster in Asia and Africa, while the better off (greener) countries are almost all in North America or Europe: (June 2, 2014) Vox
It would be naïve and pretty darn stubborn to think that Climate Change is merely a hoax by the entire world who have nothing else to do but make the deniers feel uncomfortable. But it would be morally reprehensible if we knew others would pay a dear price for our way of life while we were going to get off comparatively unscathed. Already US business groups are grousing: EPA Too Fixated on the 'Global' in Global Warming, Says U.S. Chamber. Those who only see the world in dollars and cents see no sense in expanding our financial responsibility for Climate Change beyond our borders. This is what happens when you replace your moral system with your economic system (the poor and unfortunate are so because they are lazy).

One of the most important Climate Change plans for our region (that you probably haven’t heard about -- “Finger Lakes Regional Sustainability Plan 2013”) characterizes our laissez faire attitude towards Climate Change.  I know, it’s unfair to cherry-pick one sentence in a 288 page plan to call into question the whole report’s agenda.  But waffling on Climate Change, a no regrets attitude, is not a prescription for success. If the pubic even thinks there’s a chance that our extreme weather will ‘return to normal’ they will ignore everything else you say. There are a lot of uncertainties and unknown unknowns about how Climate Change will affect our region—but one of them is NOT a chance that we will return to ““normal” rates seen in previous decades.” If we don’t plan with the absolutely certainty that our climate is warming, then we won’t plan at all. We will continue to think that measures like ‘emergency rescue’ efforts and other short-term maintenance of our existing infrastructures will be sufficient to protect our way of life during Climate Change. In addition, the study assumes we don’t have any moral need to cooperate in a worldwide mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions.

The report, though very thorough and professional and consensus-building, tends in its views of our past and future to be Disneyesque. It forgets most of the pollution and other damage that have rendered our region extremely compromised before we head inexorably into Climate Change.  The sentence I refer to is the second sentence is this quote:  “A critical aspect of climate change adaptation and resiliency for local communities is the potential increase in the frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events – such as drought, very heavy rainstorms, ice storms or snowfalls occurring more often. The recommended strategies outlined in this Plan would be tremendously beneficial to local communities, even if these projections do not materialize and the frequency of extreme events returns to “normal” rates seen in previous decades.’(Page 165) [Emphasis added].

If you’re interested in examining the myriad moral implications of Climate Change, read A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change (Environmental Ethics & Science Policy) by Stephen M. Gardiner. Though reductionist and loaded with game theory, Gardiner’s thesis seems to be excusing our lack of concern on Climate Change by explaining how it plays on our worst temptations and weaknesses. This may be so, but when I was a kid both the church and comedian Flip Wilson characterized this kind of rationalization as ‘the devil made me do it’.

Putting aside the moral aspect of Climate Change for the moment (you don’t really have to be a brain surgeon to connect the dots on morality and Climate Change), I suspect that much of our denial, our collective inaction, has more to do with various modes of delusional thinking we employ when the going gets tough, than outright immorality and a lack of concern for our fellow man. Instead, we tend to think we understand Climate Change, or we tend think that whatever we are doing (changing our light bulbs, driving an electric car, composting, or giving money to our favorite environmental group) is enough to do the job. Yet if all this were true, greenhouse gas concentrations in our atmosphere would be going down. That is not happening. Not only is that not happening, but the present (business as usual) trajectory is not even coming close to limiting the average global surface temperature increase to 2°C over the pre-industrial average. It’s probably going to soar to 4c or even 6C.

If we were not deluding ourselves on Climate Change, we would free it from our politics. We would require that our local media continually inform us of the local consequences of Climate Change and make their reporters grill our authorities on how our various branches of government were succeeding. We would instantly change our energy sources so that we aren’t depending on burning more fossil fuels. We would require all local institutions to divest from fossil fuels. We would grow more of our food locally, provide a living wage for that, compost, and never burn biomass for fuel. We would buttress our infrastructures—water, waste, transportation, and telecommunications—for more frequent extreme weather. We would take the lead on climate talks and reassure those developing counties that we care as much about them and their continued existence as we do our pets. We would mainstream Climate Change adaption and mitigation strategies by integrating them into all public health, water quality, and environmental-related plans, not simply trying to placate them with ad hoc grants. We here in the Rochester area would prepare for climate refuges (as climate studies suggest) -- those in other parts of our country coming to seek refuge from their inability to grow food and quench their thirst. We would stop viewing our environment as a special interest for a few and instead think of it as our life support system. We would stop pretending that other issues that steal our attention are more important than stopping a crisis that will end all issues. We would not assume that only stopping fossil fuel burning will fix the kind of all-inclusive problem that lies at the heart of Climate Change.

Although the map mentioned above indicates a certain moral depravity, a lack of concern about the developing nations who did not cause this worldwide crisis, those sinking islands are not simply at the forefront of the fight against climate change; they are the harbingers of things to come—for us too. The map deludes us into the luxury of thinking we’ll be safe, at least for awhile. But we who have the power to change the trajectory are sleeping through the decision opportunities that will keep this crisis from getting worse. While we tend to deceive ourselves that there are many other more immediate and pressing issues to attend to before we get to Climate Change, we forget that each day we pass decision thresholds.

The point about the recent news of the future inevitable collapse of the West Antarctica glaciers is not that it is a couple hundred years in the future, but that it is now inevitable, unstoppable, and unfixable, because at some point in the past, decisions to stop Climate Change were avoided.

Friday, June 06, 2014

The tyranny of reducing carbon pollution


CCTryingEarlier this week, Obama and the EPA released a plan to cut 30% of carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants by 2030. China has followed suit with its own plan to cap CO2 emissions . This might be seen as a turning point in the Paris 2015 climate talks. (China plans absolute CO2 cap for first time: government adviser China, June 3, 2014 Reuters). Without China and the US agreeing on something substantive, the Paris talks would be just another attempt, maybe the last, for a worldwide binding agreement on controlling greenhouse gases (GHG) at a level that will matter.

These plans are part of a growing worldwide realization that something on a grand scale must be done to avert the disasters coming if we continue business as usual. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its Fifth Assessment Report in April, which “put greater emphasis on assessing the socio-economic aspects of climate change and its implications for sustainable development”1. In May, the US released its National Climate Assessment (NCA) which “provides an in-depth look at climate change impacts on the U.S. It details the multitude of ways climate change is already affecting and will increasingly affect the lives of Americans.”2.

Already comments are coming in from groups in favor of and against Obama’s carbon reduction plan. Some Democrats, trying to get elected or re-elected in 2014, think Obama plan is throwing them under a bus and are buckling under political pressure by carping about it. Some groups think Obama’ plan, given the political climate, is a good start. Others think, despite the political climate, the plan is “sadly insufficient” and isn’t robust enough to do the job:

“EPA's proposal is remarkable given the relative paralysis on climate action in Washington, but it would not budge the world's ever-rising emissions trajectory. That's because climate change is a global problem, and addressing it would require concerted action by all nations, heavy investments in carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) and near-zero emissions before 2050.” Obama Climate Rules Not Enough to Fight Global Warming  (June 3, 2014,Scientific American)

Then, of course, there are those who will fight Obama’s plan tooth and nail simply because it attempts to do anything to address a worldwide crisis they don’t believe in. Or maybe it’s because of their new-found concern for the poor and elderly. This strategy to cripple Climate Change solutions is breathtakingly craven in its hypocrisy:

Citing Concern For The Poor, GOP Senators Ask Obama To Ax EPA Climate Rule Forty-one Republican Senators asked the Obama Administration on Wednesday to abandon its new rules limiting carbon emissions from coal plants, saying their “primary concern” is how the rules will harm the poor and the elderly. “Our primary concern is that the rule as proposed will result in significant electricity rate increases and additional energy costs for consumers,” the senators wrote, citing a thoroughly debunked study from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “These costs will, as always, fall most heavily on the elderly, the poor and those on fixed incomes.” (Climate Progress, June 4, 2014)

Whatever side you come down on, Obama’s plan to limit carbon pollution is forward movement on Climate Change. We don’t make it easy. We, ‘we the people’, require of our leaders impossible tactical contortions so that they can protect our environment, our very life support system. We want all our rights, all our privileges, and ever more energy, more stuff, and more freedoms. At the same time we display a callous disregard for what all this will entail.

For example: Pages 138-139 of the National Climate Assessment contains one of the most important sentences of the report. It refers to adapting our transportation systems during Climate Change, but it can pertain to all our infrastructures—water, telecommunications, drainage, etc. It’s a rather dull, wonky kind of sentence that says volumes. Here it is: “By incorporating climate change routinely into the planning process, governments can reduce the vulnerability to climate change impacts and take actions that enhance the resilience of the transportation system to adverse weather conditions.”

What’s important about this sentence is that if we do not have a federal government that believes in Climate Change helping and advising governmental agencies at all levels, we will not be incorporating Climate Change impacts routinely into the planning process. Given our track record, ‘we the people’ are not projected to vote for anyone who actually tries to do what the NCA advises.

The sentence says that not only must the denial of Climate Change end; it gets at the heart of understanding what Climate Change means right now. If deniers are running the show we will not be properly prepared for our immediate future, let alone our long-term future. If we do not support the inconvenient and expensive measures that need to be taken now to address Climate Change, it will be too late to address them later. We aren’t just kicking the can down the road; we are kicking it off a cliff into an irretrievable abyss. We have allowed the merchants of doubt to characterize Climate Change as a political issue.

The tyranny of Climate Change is that it does not abide any excuses. If we don’t get our GHG’s down, we boil. We have never been up against such a global situation before, but we’d better cop a different ‘tude soon.

Don’t be political, don’t be selfish; get moving. Below is the information you need to back Obama’s plan to save us from ourselves, however puny or inadequate it may be. If it only gets countries like China to step up to the plate, that’s a major accomplishment. Support those leaders who are trying to solve Climate Change. Kick the bums out who are thwarting us.

Here’s a full description of Obama’s carbon pollution plan and how you can help move it along. This was provided in a recent EPA emailing:

Clean Power Plan. EPA's new proposal will cut carbon pollution from existing power plants 30 percent by 2030. Find out more about this proposal, how you can comment, and what you can do to #ActOnClimate.

· News release:

· Administrator Gina McCarthy’s blog post:

· Video explaining the proposal:

· How to comment on the proposal:

· More info:

· What you can do about climate change:

· Gina McCarthy, "A Day in the Life" photos:

Friday, May 30, 2014

The 2014 Climate Change elections


CCElections2014There are a series of noteworthy benchmarks on Climate Change happening. What makes them especially noteworthy is that they are occurring more often, each one more grim than the last –which is what you would expect when nothing is done to address a worldwide crisis.

Some of these benchmarks are: the release of the 3rd National Climate Assessment (NCA); last month’s jaw-dropper “the mean monthly CO2 concentration in the atmosphere topped 400 parts per million (ppm) throughout the northern hemisphere”; reports stating that the collapse of the West Antarctic glaciers is inevitable; scientists calling for immediate action on Climate Change which is already impacting the Great Lakes; the looming “Make or break Paris climate conference in December 2015”; the recently discovered human-caused Arctic ice melt, containing trillions of plastic bits; baby puffins dying due to the warming of the North Atlantic; and the 2014 Climate Change elections coming up in the US. All are points, maybe tipping points, along the continuum called Climate Change.

The release of the third National Climate Assessment, which will direct President Obama’s Climate Change efforts until he leaves office, proves Climate Change is happening now. Tragically, the release of the NCA earlier this month has been met with distain by the few, but very powerful and influential, leaders of the Climate Change denial camp:

A power grab by political con artists “Here are the top 10 reasons Congress should ignore advice to pass major legislation to combat climate change:…,” (May 21, 2014) Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel)

This is tragic because, despite all reason to the contrary, Climate Change deniers have a good chance of not only staying in control in the House, but maybe taking over the Senate. Thirteen agencies of our government (Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of Health & Human Services, Department of the Interior, Department of State, Department of Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency, National Aeronautics & Space Administration, National Science Foundation, Smithsonian Institution, and Agency for International Development) not only participated in the findings of the NCA, but their actions will be based on this particular study. If our Congress is jammed up with Climate Change denial, all the efforts of these agencies of our government to fulfill their responsibilities to the NCA will be castrated.

The 400ppm-for-an-entire-month benchmark means it’s getting warmer. The collapse of the West Antarctic glaciers means a major tipping point in the consequences of Climate Change is occurring where major sea port cities will eventually have to tread water or move. The news about the Great Lakes means that experts are now urging that only long-term funding will sustain the greatest fresh water system in the world. The news on the Paris climate conference is probably humanity’s last chance to address Climate Change on a level that will matter. The news of the trillions of little plastic bits about to be released from the Arctic ice because of warming proves that all the stuff we’ve been dumping into our oceans never, at any point, simply disappeared or was broken down and rendered harmless by unknown natural forces. The news on baby puffins may or may not pull at your heart strings but this news proves the oceans have already warmed with immediate impacts to wildlife. And our 2014 elections will test the American public’s resolve to address a worldwide problem they are largely (though not solely) responsible for.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Insuring ourselves against Climate Change


One of the consequences of Climate Change that will affect everyone, including political parties denying anthropogenic warming, is its impact on property insurance. This recent slew of stories is a harbinger of the desperate search for the deepest pockets when paying for climate-related liabilities (CRL):

There are many unknown unknowns as Climate Change changes our lives, but one thing is for sure in CCZillionour litigious society: When extreme weather hits and causes lots of expensive damage, someone is going to pay. The media, which deserves a certain amount of culpability because they have not kept the public informed on the local consequences of Climate Change, will most likely be running many stories about these lawsuits as these cases flourish. That’s because few stories attract media attention more than legal blame games.

With Climate Change and insurance the blame game works like this:

Insurance companies go after municipalities for the money to rebuild homes and other properties after a string of frequent extreme weather events because the insurance companies don’t have enough money. And (oh, by the way) it turns out that it’s cheaper to sue the municipalities rather than pay out large sums to those who paid an insufficient amount for insurance coverage.  But the municipalities don’t have the money either to pay out large sums for extensive damage due to Climate Change. They don’t have the money because the public too often votes back into office climate deniers who don’t believe in Climate Change and promise to cut taxes. These deniers see no need to prepare the public or their budgets for something they believe doesn’t exist. 

The insurance companies don’t have the money to pay the folks who paid for their policies because the insurance companies, which tend to use historical data to decide how to charge their clients, are insisting that Climate Change doesn’t count as a CRL because Climate Change disasters only occur in the future—and increasingly, the present, as the National Climate Assessment (and many other climate studies) prove Climate Change is happening right now. 

So now insurance companies have discovered a new trick, making use of the language in a municipality’s climate action plan (if it has one) to prove that municipalities must have known about CRL’s beforehand, didn’t prepare adequately, and are thus liable.  (Maybe these legal gymnastics explain why so few municipalities have climate action plans. Hummm…)

Lawyers are going to make out great.

But because we have allowed the merchants of doubt to lull the public into thinking Climate Change is a hoax, the bill is coming due, and no one is going to be in a position to pay it.  Insurance companies cannot pay, governments cannot pay, and, of course, individuals cannot pay. People purchase insurance policies in the first place because of the overwhelming expenses involved with unforeseen and even foreseen damages. Further, these extreme weather events tend to be difficult to insure because everyone in a specified region gets nailed, so there’s no way to bring in enough funds to pay for massive damages.

So, what’s the way out this financial and environmental nightmare? Planning. Some of the ‘heavyweights’ in the insurance industry already realize the potential threat to our environment and their industry because of Climate Change and are starting to plan ahead.

Insurance leaders pack climate punch The heavyweights of the global insurance industry, well aware of the risks posed to their finances by extreme weather events, have made a renewed commitment to use their financial clout and influence to tackle the climate impacts of a warming world | It might have the reputation of being rather a dull − some might even say boring – business, but there’s no doubting the insurance industry’s financial muscle. The Geneva Association − a leading international insurance thinktank, whose members have total assets of nearly US$ 15 trillion − has been meeting in Toronto, Canada. And the focus has been very much on climate change. The Association, issuing a climate risk statement calling for urgent action by governments and other bodies, said: “The prospect of extreme climate change and its potentially devastating economic and social consequences are of great concern to the insurance industry.” Those putting their names to the document – 66 chief executives of the world’s leading insurers − commit themselves to a set of guiding principles on what they describe as the substantial role the insurance industry can play in tackling risks related to climate change. (May 23, 2014) Climate News Network

Such planning is a hopeful sign. There’s much that the insurance industry can do to fortify their assets for the payouts ahead, including investing in industries that will help us to adapt and mitigate Climate Change.

But however massive the collective assets of insurance companies might be, they still won’t be able to insure the world against Climate Change. The only way to do that is to make sure we don’t put climate deniers into office. Our governments are the insurers of last resort. They’re the ones who come to help with planes and trucks and food and boats and expert personnel and pockets deep enough to handle such emergencies that a climate in extremis will bring. But governments cannot insure its people if an office-holding denier has not prepared their country.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Make or break Paris climate conference in December 2015


CCBustThe United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP21, is to be held in Paris in December 2015. That’s where we (humanity) will try to adopt a legally binding agreement to keep global temperature increase below 2°C. (Many climate scientists believe even 2°C is too high.) If this conference doesn’t work, and we fail to start the serious work to get greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions down by 2020, what will accomplish that? Business as usual? The invisible hand? Denial? Despair? Irrational exuberance? Magical thinking? Alien or super-person intervention? 

Many believe that climate talks are a dead end; that grassroots efforts are needed instead. Their efforts make sense in an emotional sense (we have to do something). But I cannot think of anything other than a worldwide binding agreement that would actually manage to bring down an entire planet’s atmospheric concentration of GHGs to a sustainable level. Proof of this are the myriad efforts around the world to green our economy and reduce emissions that are working, but not quickly enough. We are already passing the point where the lower emission scenarios (where, for example New York’s climate resembles Virginia’s) will no longer be viable, just the higher ones (where New York’s climate resembles Florida).

“With negotiations on ice, temperatures outside and the levels of carbon dioxide, the main cause of climate change, are on an upward trajectory. A recent report from the UN’s IPCC climate science panel said CO2 emissions need to be halved by 2050 to have a chance of avoiding temperature rises of 2-4C by 2100.” (May 8, 2014) Responding to Climate Change

There are many reasons why the Paris climate talks will probably fail. We’ve failed twenty times already. One reason is high-profile and influential Climate Change deniers like Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, who even ‘scoffs’ at our military worrying themselves about warming:

Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee and a vocal skeptic of the established science that greenhouse gas emissions contribute to global warming, scoffed at the idea that climate change is linked to national security threats. “There is no one in more pursuit of publicity than a retired military officer,” he said of the report’s authors. “I look back wistfully at the days of the Cold War. Now you have people who are mentally imbalanced, with the ability to deploy a nuclear weapon. For anyone to say that any type of global warming is anywhere close to the threat that we have with crazy people running around with nuclear weapons, it shows how desperate they are to get the public to buy this.” Climate Change Deemed Growing Security Threat by Military Researchers (May 13, 2014) New York Times

Deniers like Inhofe have become so straight-jacketed and invested in their ideology that they find it appropriate to impugn the character of those we have trusted to lead others into battle: “There is no one in more pursuit of publicity than a retired military officer.” Really, retired military leaders are ranting about the dangers of Climate Change so they can go on TV?

We understand that Sen. Inhofe and his compatriots have committed themselves to their denial zealotry such that they cannot admit they are wrong. We must ask ourselves at what point will they be held accountable for their actions to thwart the rest of us in addressing Climate Change?

Yet there’s reason to believe that this time around climate talks might work. For example, there are signs that pre-Paris negotiations between the US and China are going on so that some of the biggest players are making critical agreements on lowering GHG emissions. That’s hopeful; China and the US are pivotal to a successful treaty. And President Obama’s campaign to leverage the National Climate Assessment to convey the urgency of addressing Climate Change might gain him the political capital to make significant contributions to the Paris talks. (BTW: President Obama will need your support if this strategy is to work.)

So sure, there are hopeful signs. But hope is not enough. It’s climate talk agreements (actually implemented) or mass delusionalism while we boil. I know, the rich think there’s wiggle room because they can air condition themselves out of this.

However we manage to set our priorities—making a living, raising a family, serving our country, teaching others, finding meaning—we as a species are going to have to include solving this worldwide crisis or none of our other priorities will matter. The specter of a world too warm to thrive is upon us. A future that we have always assumed, that others will survive our own personal death (“the collective afterlife”), so integral to our existence that we probably never think of it, may be in jeopardy.

Quite astonishingly this ‘collective afterlife’ is probably the faith we all share. All of us—regardless of our religious faith or lack thereof. We believe that what we do and think will somehow matter in the end; but that cannot happen if no one is around.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Just-released National Climate Assessment ain’t no foolin’ around


CCPartyThe most ominous part of the just-released National Climate Assessment (NCA) is that while proving Climate Change has moved firmly into the present, which finally gets the attention of many who thought this issue only involved the distant future, it also portends an awful truth: By the time you can feel the effects of Climate Change, it’s probably too late to stop them. Sea rise, extreme weather, longer-hotter summers with dangerous heat waves, and more disease-carrying, crop-eating bugs are not changes you can stop or reverse. Nor is this new normal, bad as it is, a static state. More than likely, it’s a spiral into a cascading collapse of some critical environmental service we need—like breathable air, drinkable water, and arable land.

The point about Climate Change that we should have understood long ago is that we need to stop Climate Change before we can actually feel the effects. Climate Change is about planning, and because we’ve allowed ourselves to be lulled into inaction for so long, much that we thought we could avoid becomes inevitable. Much that we thought we could fix becomes impossible. More delay in action, means more consequences of Climate Change that cannot be stopped. Read Overview: “Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present.” National Climate Assessment

In order to accomplish climate messaging so that everyone hears, much needs to be done quickly. A relatively few onboard won’t do. We must break through the political Surreal Zone so we can message warming without triggering a knee-jerk denial reaction where environmentalists have to come up with talking points for science. [That last link is a shameless ploy to highlight an interview I had with Time Warner Cable News Service on the NCA this week.]

Actually, given the GOP’s reluctance to even admit warming is occurring, what is even more startling about the United States Global Change Research Program’s release of the NCA, is that President Reagan began our country’s response to the then-consensus that global change, including Climate Change, was going to seriously challenge our country’s ability to prepare for the future. 

“President Ronald Reagan created—and Congress in 1990 codified—the United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP or Program), charged with providing a “comprehensive and integrated United States research program to assist the Nation and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change.” THE NATIONAL GLOBAL CHANGE RESEARCH PLAN 2012–2021

The designers of the NCA focused on messaging because they hoped many folks would actually view the study, instead of allowing their favorite pundits to frame this issue. That is critical because much of the misinformation, and denial, which is to say, much of the delay that has kept us doing something significant, is a result of those trying to thwart the rest of us from doing something. Really, check out the actual website of the National Climate Assessment and spend some time there. Many have spent a lot of time trying to make it as information-accessible and friendly as possible. Climate Change is complicated and can only be dumbed down so much.

Can We Talk About the New NCA Website? This week’s release of the National Climate Assessment, which chronicles in painstaking detail how climate change is affecting the U.S., is a far cry from what most expect when they hear the words “government report.” The NCA represents the first major digital release of a federal report, one that could be a prototype for all future reports. The new assessment reflects the immersive digital experience most people expect in 2014. The site is beautifully designed, easy to navigate, and dare we say,modern. A silent looping video of palm trees whipping in the wind introduces a chapter on extreme weather, and interactive graphics abound, allowing users to delve into key climate change indicators in as much detail as they want. And you can actually look at it on a cell phone without squinting or wanting to smash your screen in frustration. It’s a far cry from slogging through static pages or links to PDFs. For lovers of print, yes, you can still download a hard copy of the entire 840-plus page report, But for the vast majority of Americans, that holds about as much appeal as standing in line at the DMV. (May 8, 2014) Climate Central

Why is Obama putting so much effort into getting the word out about this study? Why are the Democrats freaked out about this? Why are Republicans so dismissive of the study? Why hasn’t your media changed its climate-denial frame of mind when 97% of the climate scientists agree that manmade Climate Change is happening because of too much fossil-fuel use? Why is so much being made in the media of this one climate study when there are so many? Maybe Obama decided that giving into the loony GOP attitude on Climate Change any more was nuts. Maybe President Obama has seen the light and finally realized his bully pulpit is the bulliest pulpit there is, given US power and influence.

I don’t know. These are not the questions we should be asking. What we should be asking is how are we going to get greenhouse gases down to a sustainable level? Anything else is just prevaricating.

It took forty years for us to ‘see’ Climate Change and ‘get’ that we are the culprit. We don’t have the luxury of wasting another forty years trying to figure out why we’re not doing what it takes to fix this. If you’re a parent, there’s a time in the life of your child where your child asks “why” each time you ask her to do something. Eventually, parents learn to ignore the “why’s and move ahead.

The Paris Climate Change talks are coming up in 2015. This twenty-first attempt to have a meaningful world-wide conversation about this crisis could be a make or break situation for planet Earth. That’s where we (humanity) will try to adopt a legally binding agreement to keep global temperature increase below 2°C. And many climate scientists believe even 2°C is too high. 

Like the Talking Heads put it: “This Ain't No Party... This Ain't No Disco... This Ain't No Foolin' Around."

BTW: One of the best Climate Change adaptation strategies for the City of Rochester is also one of the best kept secrets (so where is the local media n this?). In a recent study from the Genesee Transportation Council released in March 2014 “Planning for Transportation and Climate Change: Model Ordinances, Incentives, and Other Resources” Rochester’s urban active transportation efforts have been heralded as a model for addressing Climate Change. You can find it starting on page 223.