Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Climate Change procrastination penalty for Rochester, NY

As we get closer and closer to the COP21 Climate Treaty in Paris, the world is starting to realize we cannot let this climate treaty fall apart as we have the others. Nations and corporations are beginning to cooperate and contribute to solutions as never before. This change in attitude towards our UN climate negotiations around the world can be credited in part to our courageous moral leaders who are connecting the dots between Climate Change and morality. Also, environmental groups have stepped up their game, pushing governments and corporations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and take action for real progress. Meanwhile, the science behind manmade Climate Change is becoming clearer:

TEN CLEAR INDICATORS OUR CLIMATE IS CHANGING How do we know our climate is changing permanently, rather than just going through a normal period of flux? Let’s look at 10 major changes scientists have seen in our climate system to help set the record straight. Few global trends have been as controversial as climate change and the Earth’s warming. The Earth has gone through many shifts in cooling and warming driven by natural factors like the sun’s energy or variations in its orbit, but the trend scientists have seen over the past 50 years is unmistakable. Let’s take a closer look: globally, average surface temperatures increased 1.1—1.6 degrees Fahrenheit (0.6—0.9 degrees Celsius) between 1906 and 2005. However, it’s the rate of temperature change that’s especially troubling to scientists; temperatures have risen nearly twice as fast in the last 50 years alone. (August 18, 2015) The Climate Reality Project
On the local level, too many folks still don’t understand the difference between adapting to Climate Change and mitigation. There’s a crucial distinction and both are important. See my essay: “Climate Change mitigation (People’s Climate March ==> Paris 2015) & adaptation: what’s the diff?” Basically, we should mitigate Climate Change so this crisis doesn’t get worse; but, we must adapt to the Climate Change consequences because these disasters will be in our face.

We have already paid a dear price for dawdling on Climate Change mitigation for as long as we have. Much of the extreme weather we are and will experience for some time comes as a result of our inaction—allowing too much long-term greenhouse gases to build up in our air and oceans. There are many indicators that Climate Change has already made some real changes to our Rochester environment. While not as dramatic as wildfires, melting glaciers, and rising seas, they are rock-solid proof that our previous 10,000 years of climate stability are over. The workings of our life support system has ominously shifted.

Here’s a local example of Climate Change requiring immediate action:

Town's rained out and tapped out On June 15, 3.3 inches of rain fell within 40 minutes in the Ontario County town of Richmond. The "gully washer," as Supervisor Ralph Angelo calls it, busted out 22 culverts along town roads, with East Lake Road taking the worst hit. If that sounds familiar, there's good reason. On one July day last year, downpours dumped 6 inches of rain on Richmond in three hours, and a section of East Lake Road was entirely washed out. The town subsequently spent $400,000 to repair the damages; the bill equaled the entire town highway budget. (August 12, 2015) Rochester City Newspaper

So we have to adapt. Because of our lack of coordinated action on Climate Change in our region, changes already being visited upon our lands and water including a 71% increase in heavy rainfall events since 1958, we are falling behind in adequate preparations. Adequate preparations are not ad hoc, invisible-to-the-public power-saving programs, and no-regret updates to our infrastructures that we were going to do anyways. There will be penalties for our procrastination to adapt to these changes.

When we get some serious heat waves, many will die because of inadequate planning. People lacking connection with groups or families to check on them, especially if they cannot get themselves to a cool place if the power goes out, will die. If our hospitals are not prepared to deal with numerous heat victims quickly and if there is not enough emergency personnel to quickly attend to those in trouble, people die who could have been saved.

As with Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, great disasters can disable many of our infrastructures at the same time. More frequent storms with heavy rainfall can and do overwhelm our waste water systems (think raw sewage into our rivers and lakes where we bathe and drink and fish), our transportation systems (roads washed out), telecommunications (telephone poles down), and energy systems, where power outages compromise our ability to keep warm in cold weather and cool in hot weather. While we may be able to recover from some of these storms, we may not be able to recover when they occur more frequently, and we will certainly be a more impoverished society regardless. 

When we lose plant and animal species that cannot adapt quickly enough, we may never get them back. Even if we put them in zoos for temporary housing these species’ habitats may be unfit for them to return.

When climate refugees come to our region because we still have clean water, lots of farmland, and a milder climate (for a while, anyways), our region will be overwhelmed if we are not ready for the onslaught of more challenges to all our infrastructures.

Perhaps the worst penalty resulting from our region’s procrastination is the lack of public support, as many assume that their authorities have been protecting them. When consequences of Climate Change do strike and become the new normal, they will be of a magnitude grander and of a duration much longer than we are used to. Perhaps greater than we can cope with. Accordingly, the public will not understand why all of a sudden their rights are curtailed and their taxes go through the roof because their government suddenly has to adapt to all the disturbances at once—instead of having prepared over time.

Time passes. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Doublethink Climate Change energy policies won’t work

Although the fossil fuel industry is spending more money than ever to save itself at the cost of dramatically worsening Climate Change, there are signs of this industry’s demise. Educational institutions, faith groups, and pension funds are divesting from a carbon-based economy. Renewable energy, which doesn’t warm the planet or pollute the air, is on the rise.

“Wind, solar, and geothermal energy are all on the rise. At least 17,000 megawatts (MW) of these three energy sources are now under construction. According to the Energy Information Administration, renewable energy will account for about one-third of new electricity generation added to the U.S. grid over the next three years.” (U.S. Renewable Energy Growth Accelerates, 8/14/2015, Worldwide Institute)

Of course, we won’t stop using the fuel that fueled the Industrial Revolution tomorrow. But we must ask ourselves, ‘Will this planet-damaging energy option nose-dive on a scale and time frame that will matter?’ The COP21 Paris Summit coming up in a few months hopes to create a binding worldwide agreement to substantially reduce the world economy’s dependence on an energy option that is moving us into the danger zone. The intense efforts by nations to make this year’s COP (Conference of the Parties) successful highlights why reducing a carbon-based economy must be orchestrated from the level of a United Nations’ agreement—nothing else will work, else it would have already. Paris is a desperate act by desperate peoples trying to deal with their addiction to a lethal substance.
With the Clean Power Plan, President Obama hopes to demonstrate to the nations attending the Paris Summit that the United States is serious about leading the world’s Climate Change efforts. However, Obama is also allowing Shell to drill in the Arctic for oil.

Climate alarm bells are ringing, says Arctic-bound Obama  President to use Alaska meeting for global climate deal talks; critics say he can lead by stopping Shell drilling for oil (August 14, 2015)Responding to Climate Change (RTCC)

This instance of doublethink, where one holds two contrary beliefs at the same time, will not work with Climate Change. You cannot try to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in one place on the planet and allow them to increase somewhere else. The final arbitrator in our historic battle with Climate Change is physics—and it doesn’t negotiate. To address Climate Change we must have policies that make sense. 

In New York State, Governor Cuomo banned Fracking and has demonstrated that our state is already stepping up to the plate on reducing GHGs:

Utilities: Shift in New York power New York won’t have much extra work to do to meet President Barack Obama’s mandated cut in carbon emissions from power plants. The state is on track to meet the mandate — which calls for a 32 percent nationwide cut — more than a decade before the federal Clean Power Plan’s 2030 deadline, boosted in large part by its own, more-aggressive goals laid out in an update to the New York State Energy Plan earlier this year. In late June, the state committed to three major energy benchmarks for the next 15 years: reducing all greenhouse-gas emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels, decreasing energy consumption in buildings by 23 percent from 2012 levels and making sure half of the state’s energy is produced from renewable sources. (August 8, 2015) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle 

But our governor is also mired in doublethink. By allowing the NYS Department of Conservation (DEC) to ignore businesses’ and citizens’ concerns about the massive methane storage project near Seneca Lake, Cuomo cannot also “’… lead on Climate Change”. The threat to our environment by allowing this dangerous buildup of more fossil fuel infrastructure doesn’t square with climate physics.

Adding insult to a massive disregard for our precious Finger Lakes ecosystem, the folks pushing for Crestwood’s plans don’t seem to care about the rising numbers of people willing to stand up against this move that jeopardizes the region’s tourism and wine businesses. (“The number of protestors arrested at the Crestwood Facility near Watkins Glen now totals 340.” --from R-CAUSE (Rochesterians Concerned About Unsafe Shale-gas Extraction.) *Note the creation of the Finger Lakes Wine Business Coalition, who’s mission is to “… lead Upstate economic development through wine-driven agritourism and sustainable business practices, unifying wineries, vineyards, local food producers, and creatives who are the stewards of Finger Lakes Wine Country.”

We hope Governor Cuomo’s and President Obama’s energy decisions quickly evolve into a coherent policy that matches the science.

Climate Change by its very nature cannot endure the sort of duplicity that has governed our way of life for so long. Our leaders cannot talk out of both sides of their mouth on Climate Change and energy because, unlike the public who can be fooled some of time, physics cannot ever be fooled.

Besides, trying to deal with the “GreedyLyingBastards” who’ll stop at nothing to save a dying fossil fuel industry is crazy. Those folks want it all.

Time passes. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

States fighting EPA’s Clean Power Plan highlight humanity’s broadening distance from reality

Somewhere along humanity’s brush with existence, we’ve become increasingly estranged from the a priori imperative of existence: Mother Nature rules. She really does. Despite our impatience with the physical/chemical/biological connections that led (somehow) to our existence, the basic laws of physics have not been supplanted by our desires, our beliefs, our technology, or our political or economic systems. I point out the obvious because many folks just don’t believe in the science behind Climate Change and continually battle those attempting to solve this issue.

No matter how much those whose ideology does not include a planet quickly warming because of our putting more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, it is nevertheless true. If you quickly increase the percentage of heat-trapping gases in a planet’s atmosphere, the ground and water will warm up too. This process (the runaway greenhouse gas effect) occurred on Venus (albeit, not human caused) so that nowadays our space ships would melt before they hit the ground.  

Because the foundation of our life support system is based on these physical/chemical/biological connections, if you only take baby-steps to address enormous environmental issues that require adult measures, you are not likely to solve the problems affecting our existence—no matter how much these milquetoast efforts assuage our desires, our beliefs, or our political or economic systems. We made up the latter systems, the former system made us.   

Here’s where I’m going with all this: If your environmental actions don’t match the problem, you’re in trouble. If you’re trying to address Climate Change with actions that don’t upset ‘business as usual’ you’re not going to have much of an effect. Nature, being nature, doesn’t care what we think about the laws of physics; it just ensures that we obey them. 

Keeping all this in mind, one has to wonder why 16 states have no intention of adhering to the EPA’s recently released Clean Power Plan.

16 States Think The EPA’s Emissions Rule Isn’t Legal And They Shouldn’t Have To Comply The Clean Power Plan hasn’t been out a week yet, and 16 states have already formally requestedthat the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) delay the rule. The states, led by West Virginia, filed a letter with the department Wednesday asking for an “administrative stay” of the rule that requires all states to cut carbon emissions from stationary power plants. The finalized EPA rule calls for state-submitted plans by September 2018 (with an extension) and reductions beginning by 2022. The rule gave states two extra years to submit their plans and to begin cutting emissions, over initially proposed timelines. If implemented on schedule, the rule will result in a 30 percent decrease in carbon emissions from the electricity sector, which currently accounts for roughly a third of emissions in the United States. (August 6, 2015) Think Progress/Climate Progress

The response by these sixteen states (West Virginia Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin, and Wyoming) might make sense if they had an alternative plan to decrease the greenhouse gas emissions that are quickly warming our planet. But they don’t have any plans to address Climate Change. They are only annoyed that their state rights might be challenged by a pugnacious EPA.

I know, the reaction by these sixteen states makes a lot of sense if you still believe Climate Change is a hoax, where the Pope and most of the nations of the world have nothing better to do than piss you off.  If you’ve only focused on satisfying your desires, making a lot of money, fulfilling your political prospects, and have ignored all the climate studies and news coming from most of the scientists around the world on the climate crisis for the last thirty years, I could understand your going to the courts to fight against regulations to protect you from something you don’t believe in. But I don’t have to respect this purposeful myopia that condemns billions to the ravages of Climate Change.

The United States--the greatest and the most powerful nation in the world and one of the most responsible for Climate Change--has a real chance to make the COP21 Paris Treaty a success. We could lead by example.

What impact will Obama climate plan have on Paris summit?  Targets set by the US for cutting CO2 emissions send a signal to the rest of the world and raise hopes for Paris accord  President Obama’s determination to reduce US power plant emissions by 32% below 2005 levels by 2030 sends a message to world leaders that the UN climate talks in Paris could – just – succeed. Past talks have foundered on a range of political excuses, but now that the world’s two largest polluters, China and the US, have committed to far-reaching changes in their energy production to keep the world below the dangerous threshold of a 2C temperature increase, the door is open for all the rest to follow. The stumbling block to US action so far has been the refusal of die-hard members of the Republican Party to accept that climate change is happening, and the well-funded fossil fuel lobby’s legal and political campaign to block any legislation. (August 7, 2015)Responding to Climate Change (RTCC)

But we have a major political problem here that will profoundly affect everyone on this planet. The forces aligned against addressing Climate Change are more than a ‘stumbling block to US action.’ They are challenging humanity’s efforts for a sustainable existence.

f the public doesn’t make it clear to their representative that addressing Climate Change is at the top of their priority list, eventually Mother Nature will give us a life support system that isn’t fit for any one of us.  

COP21 Paris Talks must not fail: Check out National and Global Climate Actions leading up to Paris Talks – and take part in one of these events.  

Time passes. 

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Halfway to hell and still asleep at the wheel

Global Warming is halfway to hell. At 1 C we are only a few decades from the hell of a 2C world we have unleashed. Not only do we have to stop the further rise in greenhouse gases, we have to adapt to the consequences of what we’ve already put into the system.

Global warming halfway to UN’s 2C limit – New Scientist  All but one of the main surface temperature monitors has recorded a 1C rise since pre-industrial times, analysis shows  Countries have agreed to try and limit global warming to 2C above pre-industrial levels. Beyond that threshold, scientists project escalating sea level rise and ever more intense and volatile weather. We might have already reached the halfway mark, according to analysis commissioned by the New Scientist. Four out of the five major surface temperature records are set to pass the 1C point this year, researchers found, measured from the 1850-1899 average. (July 30, 2015) Responding to Climate Change (RTCC)

However, if 1.5C above pre-industrial averages is a more realistic safe figure than 2C, then we are at least two thirds of our way to hell. Of course, thinking we can add any more greenhouse gases to our atmosphere than we already have since pre-industrial times may be extreme hubris; we may have long ago entered the gates of hell. 

Hell, in the secular sense, is when life on Earth becomes too hot for human civilization to handle. At least this is what was politically decided back in 1997 at the Kyoto Protocol. However, many scientists, including Dr. James Hansen (who spoke here in Rochester just before Earth Day this year about the danger of setting 2C as the limit we can tolerate) think that catastrophic sea level rise and other challenges will be baked in long before we reach 2C.

At the COP21 Paris Climate Conference in December, it’s going to be the dickens just to get 190+ countries to agree on what they’ve agreed to, let alone readjusting down what our upper limit should be for greenhouse gas emissions. That science is telling us the relentless temperature rise continues regardless of humanity’s social, political, and economic past failures to address the mother of all problems bodes ill for our species and all the others we are dragging down with us.

Somewhere around the middle of this century we will hit 2C even if we stamp on the brakes because we’ve already scorched in a century and a half of these long-lasting gases into our atmosphere. COP21 is attempting to let the temperature go no higher. But if we are being honest with ourselves, in order to actually achieve 2C we’d have to have stopped all our greenhouse gas emissions a while ago.  It’s more likely we are heading to 4C or beyond, which will create an unthinkable future for our children.

What’s very frustrating about passing these critical benchmarks (even though the experts are still trying to figure out exactly what are safe levels of greenhouse gas concentrations and temperatures) is that Americans know better. We should know the grim details just as well as (perhaps better than) most countries around the world.

“Specifically: In the U.S. — unlike everywhere else — being better educated doesn’t guarantee that you are more likely to believe that climate change is a real thing that is actually happening. Instead, education seems to polarize in the United States: More education is correlated with greater concern about climate change among liberals and Democrats, and less concern from conservatives and Republicans. It seems that being better educated just means you have more ammo for defending the belief that your existing partisan identification bequeaths to you.” Education increases belief in climate change — everywhere except in the U.S. (7/29/2015, Grist)

And yet we are still allowing more drilling in the Arctic, desperately searching for more ways to get at natural gas under our state regardless of the Fracking ban, railroading Bomb Trains of volatile crude oil through our communities, and giving almost no attention to this issue at the local level.

If the facts about Climate Change and appeals by our moral leaders don’t move us to mitigate Climate Change by making sure COP21 Paris is a success and to adapt to the changes locally, what will? What will finally convince us that Climate Change must be addressed immediately? At what point will we move out of our silos of immediate interests, pull back and see the big picture, and finally understand that all the stuff we hope to happen won’t happen until we address this rapidly warming planet?

One thing is for sure: Climate Change is not going away by itself.  We must wake up.   

Time passes. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Rochester officials are critical components of Climate Change solutions

We should take seriously the Pope’s message that local officials, mayors (and in our case, the county executive), play a crucial role in leading on Climate Change. Bold demonstrations by our local officials to lead on Climate Change adaptations—encouraging private citizens and business to adopt renewable energy, connecting the dots in the media between active transportation (walking and bicycling) and lowering greenhouse gas emissions, and pushing our Governor and President to do more to make the Paris Climate Treaty a success—would do much to convince the public that this clear and present danger needs to be addressed. Our local leaders should be speaking forthrightly to the press about how Rochester and Monroe County fit into the problems and solutions for Climate Change. Many around the world already get the Pope’s message:

At Vatican, Mayors Pledge Climate Change Fight VATICAN CITY — About 60 mayors from around the world gathered here on Tuesday and pledged to combat global warming and help the poor deal with its effects, at a conference swiftly organized by the Vatican barely a month after Pope Francis’ sweeping encyclical on the environment. The two-day conference, which also focused on fighting forms of modern slavery, was not the first time that the Vatican had organized a meeting on the issue. But it was the first time that it specifically invited local officials, hoping to mobilize grass-roots action and maintain pressure on world leaders for action ahead of a global summit meeting on climate change scheduled for December in Paris. In Tuesday’s declaration, the mayors pledged to urge world leaders to pass a “bold climate agreement that confines global warming to a limit safe for humanity, while protecting the poor and the vulnerable from ongoing climate change that gravely endangers their lives.” (July 21, 2015) New York Times 

Proactive leaders who explain to their constituents that the science behind Climate Change also pertains to our region would go far in squashing the denialist zeitgeist that pervades our region. On a water stop while biking along the canal the other day, I got talking into an old codger (like myself) about our many decades in the Rochester region. All was jolly talk until I mentioned “Climate Change.” He said, “Oh, Climate Change, that’s something Al Gore cooked up.” Then he walked off. Harrumph.

Al Gore did not cook up Climate Change any more than he invented the Internet. But no amount of facts and reasoning will stop Climate Change denialists from making discussions about the most important issue of our age almost impossible for ordinary folks. That’s tragic because the science is settled. 97% of the world’s scientists tell us we are in serious trouble on our climate and yet we here in Rochester are still uncomfortable about mentioning the obvious. They say, don't talk about religion or politics in a bar. Now, added to the list of things not to talk about when fueled by intoxicants is Climate Change.

But it’s not just unfashionable to talk about Climate Change while stopping along the canal. It’s unfashionable to connect the dots on Climate Change and the consequences when commenting on local online articles. In fact, even though I always site scientific references, my comments often get yanked by some nervous media online gatekeeper. It not fashionable to mention Climate Change in Rochester outside the confines of college classes, during family discussions, while at work or play, anywhere near the front pages of our media, on a public official’s website, or forgodsakes when attending an official comment forum on protecting our wildlife.

Also, it’s not fashionable in the Monroe County region to talk about Climate Change during our local elections—even though it is our mayors and our county executives who establish regulations and make sure they are enforced. Encouraging ordinary folks and business to make their homes and buildings more energy efficient, encouraging public transit, and promoting a green culture among all residents would have an enormous effect on everyone else’s attitudes.  Including the media, who would start to realize that suppressing the facts on Climate Change is no longer fashionable. Our media might even begin pressing all candidates for public office on how they would lead on Climate Change. 

If our local leaders would lead on Climate Change, instead of waiting to be led, it would be fashionable to talk about our future in a meaningful way, even in polite society. For, it doesn’t make any sense to talk about Rochester’s future unless adapting to a warmer planet is baked in. It doesn’t make any sense to talk about a more development if our underlying infrastructures are crumbling under the financial and environmental pressures of extreme weather.

It would be a sin (in the generic sense, as I’m still an atheist) not to include Climate Change in the Monroe County executive race now gearing up. A robust debate in this election on the specific measures needed to get our region up to snuff on addressing Climate Change would go far in generating a public discussion on what things we should prioritize: What role would the county play in protecting public health as heat waves and vector-driven diseases (like West Nile Virus and Lyme disease) increase? How will our region protect our water quality as more extreme rainfalls challenge our waste water systems? How would the Monroe County Executive motivate the public to pay attention to this crisis and gather volunteers in the struggle? What can our local officials do to level the playing field on creating and maintaining a flourishing green business approach in our region? And, most importantly, how will would the Monroe County Executive candidates pour on needed pressure for a successful Paris treaty?

Our local officials are a critical component in the worldwide crisis of Climate Change. Don’t let the race for Monroe County Executive go without a thorough debate on addressing Climate Change as what happened with last year’s mayoral race. Our community needs to get engaged this issue. 
Remember, just because folks in the Rochester region are still not comfortable talking about Climate Change it doesn’t mean Climate Change isn’t getting worse. It is getting worse and this means that we may reach a point where it is unsolvable. We will pay dearly for not acting. After all, Climate Change is about physics. 

Global warming’s record-breaking trend continues Forget talk of a slowdown in global warming. Scientists say the climate is heading smartly in the opposite direction, with 2014 proving to be a record-breaking year. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), one of the most respected sources of climate science, says that last year “the most essential indicators of Earth’s changing climate continued to reflect trends of a warming planet”. Some − including rising land and ocean temperatures, sea levels and greenhouse gases − reached record highs. The authoritative report by the NOAA’s Centre for Weather and Climate at the National Centres for Environmental Information (NCEI), published by the American Meterological Society, draws on contributions from 413 scientists in 58 countries to provide a detailed update on global climate indicators. “The variety of indicators shows us how our climate is changing, not just in temperature but from the depths of the oceans to the outer atmosphere,” says Thomas R. Karl, director of the NCEI. (July 22, 2015) Climate News Network 

Time passes.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

From the People’s Climate March to Paris

On the bus

Rochester sent two busloads and several hundred other folks to the historic People’s Climate March in New York City on September 21st.  When you wake up at two in the morning and crawl onto a bus with many other excited folks anticipating a day of cheering with 400,000 others demanding action from their leaders on Climate Change, you don’t really have any idea whether it will do any good. Should I just have stayed in bed? Will this particular march matter? Or more cynically, does anything an ordinary individual can do at this point in time (where business as usual is condemning us to at least a 2C world and no end in sight) make a difference on a scale and time frame that will matter? It is hard to see all this as you look sleepy-eyed into the dark, complicated future where salvation depends on unlikely noble actions of many people. Indeed, there is no historical equivalent to this manmade Climate Change crisis and certainly no precedent to guide us.

On the road to sustainability

At the UN Climate Summit 2014 in New York City two days after the march, many of world leaders pledged to take action to curb greenhouse gas emissions, thus setting the stage for the COP20 Climate Conference at Lima, Peru. That Lima conference was preceded by a historic US and China agreement that gave a shot of adrenalin to the possibility that the biggest polluters might start getting serious. Lima in turn set the stage for the November/December COP21 Paris Climate Conference, another step in a twenty year succession of promises, caveats, and haggling over what actually defines sustainability and what would constitute a fair deal. Lima was, like most of the other climate talks, a success only in the sense that it didn’t fail.

It should seem obvious that sustainability means humanity thriving while trying to curb the excesses of development. But 190 countries jockeying for the best deal for themselves and doing as little as possible to make Paris a success makes it all problematic. Unlike the prisoner’s dilemma (the reasoning that seems to guide each country’s strategic positioning in each of the past climate talks), where there is at least one scenario where one prisoner is set free, for Climate Change, no country will walk away unscathed.

One of the goals of the COP21 Paris Treaty is to avoid another debacle like the UN climate conference in Copenhagen. This time around carbon emission pledges are being tracked very carefully. You can track those pledges here: Who has pledged what for 2015 UN climate pact? Yet there is still much to be ironed out. In the first place, comparison among country’s pledges (or INDCs) are impossible because most countries are using different metrics. Secondly, they are only pledges and may have little effect if they aren’t binding. Thirdly, most experts agree that even when all the pledges are added together they don’t add up to the agreed 2C goal. And finally, many scientists believe that the 2C goal is set too high and will result in catastrophic warming.  
Another critical aspect of the COP21 is the Green Climate Fund, which is an attempt to help the developing countries cope with the damages that the developed countries caused. As of July 10, 2015, 35 countries have announced: USD 10.2 billion—5.8 announced and signed, 4.4 announced but not signed (Status of Pledges and Contributions made to the Green Climate Fund, Green Climate Fund). Is this enough? Probably not even close.  

Kitchen table conversations on Climate Change

When asked by host Greg Dalton of Climate One (listen to this podcast (THE ROAD TO PARIS: CHRISTIANA FIGUERES AND WILLIAM REILLY (June 16, 2015)) what should Americans be talking about at kitchen table conversations on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres (Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)) said (paraphrasing):   …there’s GOT to be a kitchen table conversation…, … so the people begin to understand the impact of what we are doing…, … there is so much awareness of this issue outside of the US instead of inside…, … I talk to people around the world who already have Climate Change having direct impacts on their life…, …already they are witnessing the migration of trees, trees are ‘moving’ up the mountain because they no longer have the temperature…, … it’s about experiential pain…,   

The greatest tragedy in this worldwide crisis is that so many who are going to be affected are not engaged or understand the gravity of the Paris treaty. Within the United States, our politicians do not have conversations amongst themselves on Climate Change, and I am pretty sure our local media editors are not having a conversation about the crisis of our age either. Throughout history the greatest tragedies occur among those who didn’t even have a chance to talk about the most important events in their lives. Those hapless farm boys on both sides of the conflagration at the start of our Civil War, eager to get out of their chores and find some new adventures, had no idea that they would be mowed down by the hundreds of thousands and left to languish in their hot, dreary tents dying from diseases for which there was no cure, had had no say in the way people of one color treated people of another color, but paid the full measure of their devotion to a cause they didn’t understand regardless.  We in the developed world are not having a conversation about the inevitable events that will affect everyone, including future generations.

Putting the heat on the Paris treaty

This statement from “Top climate envoys confident Paris on course for success”: “… although scientists say it’s well short of what is required to avert disaster” -- isn’t just a caveat, it’s a disaster. The likelihood of a treaty that only mandates plans for taking climate actions, but not the actions themselves, is not really a sign of hope at this late date. The political 2C goal is too high; even a 2C world is too hot, and we aren’t going to be able to achieve 2C anyway under the accumulated pledges being made so far. The numbers aren’t adding up.

But countries (well, the developed countries anyway) are getting excited because they are likely to make some kind of agreement at Paris, which might be a platform from which to make better agreements down the road. Maybe. Maybe not.

This is leading towards a pathetic Paris Treaty and we must ask ourselves (even in the light of the past twenty years of failed climate agreements) whether this is OK. Should we accept the good (any agreement no matter how toothless) and thereby kill the chance for the perfect? Should we just hope 190 countries just sign something and hope for the best?  

Or should we heed climate scientists (over 97%) who say  we are on a trajectory that is leading us to dangerous tipping points and therefore nothing less than a treaty with a very aggressive approach that will actually keep temperatures down to a sustainable level will actually work in a world where physics (not politics) rule?

To be at a point in human existence where we must ask ourselves these incredible questions is one thing. To sit back and stay silent while our fate and the fate of all living things on this planet is being decided by what looks like a very watered down agreement is quite another. If we remain sleeping during this momentous trip to Paris without voicing our concerns, are we merely consumers of this planet or citizens of it?

Time passes.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Sorry Citizen’s Climate Lobby, we know GOP is bad on Climate Change

In response to Mark Reynolds, Executive Director of Citizen’s Climate Lobby: “Mark Reynolds: Everything you think you know about Republicans and climate change is wrong” (June 5, 2015 | Brighton-Pittsford Post)

I understand the desire to gain a political consensus on Climate Change in order to take action, but it’s delusional to think the Republic Party is remotely onboard. As we approach the historical COP21 Climate Conference in Paris this December, the US Republican Party is painting itself ever further into a corner on climate denial. Just this week, “Republican Governors Signal Their Intent to Thwart Obama’s Climate Rules,” which is to say five Republican governors are saying no to President Obama’s attempts to address Climate Change.

Climate Change, the mother of all problems, can be addressed in two basic ways--mitigation and adaptation—and the Republican Party (the GOP) fails miserably on both counts. It does nobody or any group attempting to address Climate Change any practical good to bury this political conundrum.

The GOP has so thwarted mitigation efforts (stopping or even slowing down US greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs)) that they have become notorious worldwide. President Obama’s milquetoast efforts (“US: 26-28% on 2005 levels by 2025”) at the Paris conference are a direct result of having to go around a GOP-led Congress. In fact it is considered a ‘fact’ worldwide that Obama’s hands are tied on making any systemic changes on lowering GHGs to a survivable level (2C) because everyone knows Congress will do everything in their power to stop anything the president signs at Paris. The message is clear: Unless Obama can go around the GOP-Congress, don’t even try for a sustainable environment. This is why greens chose to highlight the halt of the XL Keystone as a line in the sand with dirty fossil fuels—Obama doesn’t need Congressional approval to stop it.

On adaptation (or adjusting to the consequences of Climate Change), the GOP has been a major obstruction. The governors of Florida and Wisconsin have banned their staff from connecting the dots between Climate Change and local issues like rising water levels. Even in Rochester, there are already changes taking place because of Climate Change—a 71% increase in heavy rainfall events since 1958 (accompanied by more frequent discharge of untreated sewage into our waterways), more flooding, annual temperature increase of 0.6ºF per decade since 1970, bird population shifts, increase in lake effect snow, increase in plant frost damage, and much more—but little is being done by our authorities because it is so politically unpopular to do so. Rochester, like many communities around this country, is in Climate Silence, and this means we cannot tackle this issue on the local level. The GOP has made it impossible to talk about adapting to Climate Change by raising the bogeyman of tax increases, which effectively shuts off discussion in our current political environment. And so the other political parties, the media, and the public goes quiet on actually saving themselves.

Which has been the strategy of the GOP on Climate Change: “Don’t like the solutions? Don’t admit there’s a problem...” The GOP says they hate tax increases and Big Government. We got it. But because of the nature of Climate Change, which will require a universal response by our governments to protect our public health, our infrastructures, and help communities recover from more extreme events, only our governments can truly address Climate Change. Because the GOP doesn’t like the solution, because the GOP cannot be captain of the ball game, their response is to take their football and go home, thereby condemning us all. The GOP has made the other party be the bearer of bad news, which allows them to carp at every solution unless it agrees with the GOP’s outdated ideology. Ironically, this has the effect of insuring that Big Government will get incredibly bigger. No other entity but our governments can make and enforce laws, set environmental regulations, implement taxes, or bring in the military if extreme disasters completely overwhelm our communities—as occurred with Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina. As the consequences of Climate Change become more dire, the ability of the private sector to handle it become more impossible.

If timid Republican office holders are quietly saying they believe in what 97% of the climate scientists are saying, that is not leadership. That is dropping the ball. If these Republicans who allegedly believe in Climate Change don’t stand up and remove the ugly head of climate denial from their party, their Grand Old Party will go the way of the Whigs. If your government leaders or candidates don’t believe in the science of climate, that humans are responsible for this crisis, they are unfit for office. Unfit in the way a surgeon who didn’t go to school is unfit to replace your heart with a new one.

We shouldn’t be prioritizing a carbon fee as the only solution to a problem that includes every aspect of our existence; we should be making sure that the COP21 Paris Conference doesn’t fail. Without a world structure to bind nations to economic and political policies that will actually be able to enforce clean energy options or anything else on a scale and timeframe that will matter, there will be no universal carbon fee. And while giving the proceeds from such a carbon fee to households would be popular, it is far more efficient for government to use that money to help us adapt to the consequences of Climate Change—like disaster relief which is already overtaxing our government. Trying to bridge the political divide on Climate Change by bitch-slapping Democrats about their supposed propensity to grab all revenue they can completely fails to address the needs brought on by the actual physical consequences of the oncoming calamity, a calamity already baked in to our future even if GHG emissions were zeroed out tomorrow.

The answer to this argument is not somewhere in the middle—but completely on one side or another. An argument about whether the earth is flat cannot be decided by compromising with flat-earthers. Climate Change at the core is a problem of biophysics.  No matter how much the GOP insists that any solution must contain no change in economic models or government interference, they are wrong. The GOP either loses its climate denial extremists or they continue being the force preventing the rest of us from adapting to Climate Change.

Last fall, we had an election for the mayor of Rochester that did not include any discussion about local leadership on Climate Change. We are now starting the race for Monroe County executive, and there threatens to be once again nary a word about the elephant in the room. The GOP has made Climate Change so political everyone tries to ignore the crisis of our age.

So sorry, but most folks who are beginning to realize their worst suspicions about the Republicans and Climate Change are not wrong. 

Saturday, July 04, 2015

A beacon of hope: Official Ban on Fracking in New York

New York State’s Fracking ban is a beacon of hope for other places being terrorized by fossil fuel giants in a time of Climate Change.

Fractivists say NY's ban is influencing moratorium decisions elsewhere New York Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens announced this week that he is leaving that position, just two days after he issued the final environmental impact statement banning hydrofracking in the state.  The final report on fracking is a signal for others to move on as well. Anti-fracking groups say they are using New York’s stance to help convince other states -- and even countries -- to also ban the gas drilling process. (July 2, 2015) Innovation Trail)

Getting the Fracking ban in New York was a long, hard struggle for thousands, a struggle that seemed hopeless against a worldwide juggernaut of fossil fuel drilling. Those who want to drill for more fossil fuels will never give up. No matter that 97% of climate scientists warn that fossil fuels must stay in the ground, or our world’s moral leaders, inspired by Pope Francis’s Encyclical, agree.

Fracking ban starts clock for lawsuits When Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration officially banned large-scale hydraulic fracturing Monday, it finally put an end to a seven-year review process that drew hundreds of thousands of public comments and sharply divided the general public. For now. The state Department of Environmental Conservation's action started a 120-day clock for fracking proponents to examine whether the ban has any legal holes; fracking opponents have lauded the ban. If a lawsuit isn't filed by Oct. 27, state law says the decision can no longer be challenged. For years, both boosters and opponents of shale-gas drilling have operated under the belief that the state's ultimate decision on fracking would end up in the courts. The next four months will prove whether the assumption becomes reality. (July 3, 2015) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle 

When we sense hopelessness about our species’ ability to address Climate Change, this madness for more greenhouse gases masquerading as economic boom is what they are talking about. The nattering narrative pandered by the press and our politicians, that only drilling for more fossil fuels can provide more jobs and more money, must end. The push for 100% renewable energy by 2030 must begin in earnest now if we want anything like sustainable development.

But banning Fracking is not enough.

New York should also ban Bomb Trains (moving volatile crude oil through our communities by a shaky rail system) and stopping the incredible gas storage expansion at Seneca Lake. With the specter of a Fracking jackboot removed from our necks, we should be accelerating our efforts to develop 100% renewable energy by 2030 (see before the zealots of an old technology strangle us with more fossil fuel energy options that have put our future in jeopardy.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Pope Francis’s Encyclical and avoiding hell on Earth

Before I wear out my welcome or lose you entirely while trying to make my point: Read the Encyclical (ENCYCLICAL LETTER, LAUDATO SI’OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME).

Throughout humanity’s existence, there have been many attempts to warn ourselves about damaging our environment, a place we have increasingly become aware of as our life support system. From the reverence by native peoples around the world for the place they called home, to the holy books of many faiths demanding that we care for our fellow creatures, to the writings by St. Francis Assisi, George Perkins Marsh, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Leopold Aldo, Rachel Carson, Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein, and Al Gore, (and many more, of course), we have had only limited success in getting through to ourselves that our actions on our environment matter.

George Perkins Marsh, one of the most important and effective environmentalists you have never heard of, wrote Man and Nature in 1864 (revised in 1872 as “The Earth as Modified by Human Action) while he was US ambassador to Italy. This very influential book (it provided the foundation of our US forestry system under Gifford Pinchot who served under President Theodore Roosevelt) received worldwide acclaim as a most thorough assessment of past agriculture and forestry abuses in the hope of preventing future devastation just as the US was diving headlong into the Second Industrial Revolution. Many listened, but most (fueled by the allure of more stuff) did not.   

The public, especially the public in the developed world, has continued to believe itself to be in a position of security, not compelled to act to prevent environmental excesses. At various points in history, the warning of environmentalists have been ignored and massive development went on regardless of environmental and health impacts. It seems (because massive numbers did not immediately drop dead) as if the alarms from environmentalists about overpopulation and sustainability were all overblown. Which is the not the case at all. Pollution, the loss of biodiversity that is resulting in the Sixth Great Extinction, and Climate Change are all catching up with us. Until now, the mere size of our world and our technical prowess have helped mask our ravishing of our environment. But with Climate Change we are hitting a wall that has no historical precedent. Like the myriad debris gathering from a great flood quickly forming a dam, the accumulated mistakes from our past development are building up an impossible barrier. 

The most recent invocation for environmental attention is the widely anticipated Encyclical by Pope Francis. It is an extremely auspicious work, coming at a moment where there is still time enough to effectively communicate to the world the importance of a substantial agreement before the COP21 Paris Climate Conference in December. What makes the Encyclical so significant is not only the charisma of a religious leader of 4.3 billion people; it is a moral indictment of the collected environmental abuses of the past culminating in the present Climate Change crisis. It is perhaps the last chance to take stock of our moral Climate Change crisis and make a difference.

The Encyclical, while a religious text, is meant for the world. This is what Pope Francis says on paragraph #14 of the Encyclical:

“I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.” Encyclical

While worldwide media (not Rochester’s local media*, of course) have extensively quoted from the Encyclical (on the shortcomings of our economic system, the condition of the poor, and the part about “We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth…” (161, Encyclical)), this paragraph that describes the interrelatedness of all life and our machinations grabbed my attention:

‘It may well disturb us to learn of the extinction of mammals or birds, since they are more visible. But the good functioning of ecosystems also requires fungi, algae, worms, insects, reptiles and an innumerable variety of microorganisms. Some less numerous species, although generally unseen, nonetheless play a critical role in maintaining the equilibrium of a particular place. Human beings must intervene when a geosystem reaches a critical state. But nowadays, such intervention in nature has become more and more frequent. As a consequence, serious problems arise, leading to further interventions; human activity becomes ubiquitous, with all the risks which this entails. Often a vicious circle results, as human intervention to resolve a problem further aggravates the situation.” (Paragraph 34, Encyclical)

But, and I want to stress this again, the public and our leaders need to read this critical work in full—not just a few showcase quotes. It took me several days to read the Encyclical, not because it was so long (it’s only about 80 pages including the references) but because I found myself pouring over every paragraph—sometimes reading them several times to absorb their insight.

I, as an Atheist, can appreciate the Pope’s wisdom regarding individual actions to address Climate Change, even though I believe in a practical sense our individual actions need to be accompanied by systemic societal changes and in a time frame that will actually make a difference; otherwise, our little experiment with life on this planet will be over.

There is a nobility in the duty to care for creation through little daily actions, and it is wonderful how education can bring about real changes in lifestyle. Education in environmental responsibility can encourage ways of acting which directly and significantly affect the world around us, such as avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transport or car-pooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights, or any number of other practices. All of these reflect a generous and worthy creativity which brings out the best in human beings. (211, Encyclical)

However noble our everyday actions, at this point in time they will not be enough to mitigate Climate Change. Those kind of actions must come from our leaders. Still, if we change our ways, Pope Francis implores “… any place can turn from being a hell on earth into the setting for a dignified life.” (149, Encyclical)

Hell on earth doesn’t have to happen if we listen to the wise voices that focus our priorities on our life support system—and not try to bake in all our whims and desires into them before we act.
*Ok, there was a moment when folks in Rochester came together (albeit on the radio) and talked about the Pope’s Encyclical:

Connections: The Pope and Climate Issues We examine the meaning of Pope Francis' new encyclical on climate change. What does it mean for the Catholic Church? More broadly, what does it mean when an organized religion wades into climate issues? Our panel discusses that and more: (June 22, 2015) Connections 

There should be more platforms for local Climate Change discussions.  With Climate Change and the disproportionate suffering of those who did not cause this crisis, it will indeed be a very hot hell on earth.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Speak up for wildlife as they try to adapt to Climate Change

Several centuries too late, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) gets moving on establishing a baseline for freshwater mussels. Mussels are these incredible filter feeders that not only keep our waters clean, but provide a foundation for stream, river, and lake ecosystems in our region. And, according to the DEC “Almost all kinds of mussels and clams are sensitive to pollution and environmental stress.”1 Which is to say, mussels are not only excellent indicators of water quality but Climate Change too. Because, as you know, Climate Change can be very stressful.

So, why is our environmental authority just getting around to quantifying and measuring the impact of this critical wildlife species? Without a long-term baseline from which to compare then and now, we don’t know whether invasive species (like the incredibly damaging Zebra Mussels) are destroying our endemic mussels, whether the tons of industrial waste, pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer run-offs are affecting them, or whether our warming waters from Climate Change are going to send these little creatures to oblivion. It is likely that one reason the DEC has been late to mussel research is that much of DEC funding comes from fishing and hunting licenses. Those who harvest our wildlife tend care about critters as game, not in their role in keeping our ecosystems healthy.

We need to find a way to make sure that ‘we the people’ get more of a voice in deciding on the DEC’s role in managing wildlife in a time of warming (hence the importance of public comment on this plan ((see below, I’m getting to it)) by July 17th). Those who have specific interests in keeping specific species plentiful for their sport should not have undue influence with our state environmental authority, a louder voice than the accumulated interest of all of us on a fragile planet as we try to adapt to Climate Change. Advocates for birds get heard, but there are no advocates for freshwater mussels—or beavers for that matter. But that is another essay.

This essay is about Climate Change and wildlife. Sorry, I got a little side-tracked, but so did Wednesday’s Proposed State Wildlife Action Plan public meeting at the local DEC headquarters in Avon. It took us awhile to get through the mussels before we got down to the plan. This is the plan:

“The proposed State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) to protect rare and declining wildlife species is now available for public comment, state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens announced today. The deadline for comment is Friday, July 17.”

The SWAP is a comprehensive plan for the next ten years to protect wildlife from such common threats as “loss of habitat, pollution, invasive species, and climate change.”2
Issues like loss of habitat (a euphemism for massive destruction of lands and wetlands from development) pollution, and invasive species get little consideration from the DEC because these wildlife threats tend to be baked into our way of life. It would require a very heavy lift to get a majority of the public and the DEC focused on wildlife threats that are exceedingly difficult and inconvenient to solve without disrupting today’s economic growth. So it goes.

Vanishingly small is the attention the DEC gives the threat to our wildlife by Climate Change. Yet, on paper the SWAP gets the connection between wildlife and Climate Change.

Climate Change & Severe Weather - Threats from long-term climatic changes which may be linked to global warming and other severe climatic/weather events that are outside of the natural range of variation, or potentially can wipe out a vulnerable species or habitat.
10.1. Habitat Shifting & Alteration - Changes in habitat composition and location.
10.2. Droughts - Periods in which rainfall falls below the normal range of variation.
10.3. Temperature Extremes - Periods in which temperatures exceed or go below the normal range of variation.
10.4. Storms & Flooding - Extreme precipitation and/or wind events. (Page 25, “Draft State Wildlife Action Plan for Public Comment”)

But in real life, the DEC rarely connects the dots. My impression is that the DEC only connects Climate Change and wildlife as they are related to mitigation (i.e., stopping greenhouse gas ((GHG)) emissions), not adaptation. The DEC heralds the ClimAID report, the New York State Climate Action Plan Interim Report, Climate Smart Communities program, and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) as their way of addressing Climate Change. These studies and programs concentrate on lowering greenhouse gases, which in turn reduces the consequences to wildlife as mentioned above. In other words, helping wildlife to adapt to Climate Change is like President Reagan’s way of helping the poor by trickling down the wealth of the rich. These are not going to address the specific issues wildlife have with adapting to Climate Change in any time frame or on a level that will matter.

We know from the ClimAID and Interim Report that wildlife will have to move in order to avoid the heat. But much of their ability to move requires getting across the barriers of our transportation system (highways and canals) and adapting ten times faster than the 10,000 years of a stable climate before pre-industrial times. Part of adapting is that the ecosystem of which wildlife is an integral part must also ‘move’ with the creatures. In order for a frog to leave a wetland, its wetland must ‘leave’ with it. Cold water fish (trout) need to be able to move upstream or dive for deeper water to exist. Without a stream free of obstructions (dams) or an increase in shade and water deep enough for them to cool off, these fish will not adapt. (Note: restocking fish every year is not adapting; it only creates the illusion of adapting -- like thinking you can stay within your budget even though your parents keep bailing you out.)

Our wildlife require the ecosystems they evolved with. Let me drill down a little deeper on this point: wildlife not are simply individual creatures who just happen to ‘like’ living in a certain place. Wildlife are the place. Without frogs and bugs and fish and birds and all those little creatures that breakdown life and recycle it, a wetland is just a watery ditch that collects cigarette butts. A ditch not a biological system. A plan to protect our wildlife must be a plan to protect our ecosystems. And that plan should be a part of our climate plans. The SWAP should spell out exactly what our environmental authority is doing to help wildlife adapt to Climate Change—and be held accountable for their actions. The specific actions mentioned by the SWAP in Planning and Administration Projects should be formulated with Climate Change in mind—not as an afterthought. Adaptation strategies like creating transportation corridors so wildlife can move across our highways; removing dams and changing culverts so aquatic life can move to cool off; and preventing development in or near wetlands, these all need to demonstrate that they are helping wildlife adapt. If not, these actions need to be readjusted to that end. And (always mentioned last even though it is critical) educating the public about wildlife’s role in our environment and what the general public can do to augment the state’s efforts.

Educating the public on wildlife and Climate Change could have the wonderful effect of getting the public to tolerate wildlife in their backyards. Because much of what constitutes New York State is private property, this change of attitude towards wildlife would go far in allowing our property to be passageways to adaptation and maybe homes for those creatures we evicted long ago. The City of Rochester’s Wildlife webpage explains how urbanites can learn to get along safely with those beings we should no longer be calling a nuisance.   

Consider making comment to the SWAP by Friday, July 17. First, read the draft SWAP, then if you need more information, contact Joe Racette at (518) 402-8933 or Comments should be sent to or mailed to Joe Racette, NYSDEC, 625 Broadway, 5th Floor, Albany, NY 12233. Really, Joe and the DEC want to hear from you. Because if the public doesn’t speak for our wildlife, only the special interest folks will get heard.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Climate Change and the Monroe County Executive race

Much of the present focus on Climate Change is on the COP21 Paris Conference and mitigation—keeping greenhouse gases below 2C (3.6F) above pre-industrial averages. Preparations for the COP21 are going slowly, as evidenced by the lack of real progress in Bonn recently. So we don’t really know if humanity will get its act together in time to make life sustainable as the window of opportunity quickly closes. 

But one of the aspects of the Climate Change crisis that environmental groups, local media, and local governments often ignore are the day-to-day preparations required to adapt to the consequences of Climate Change in our region. Because Climate Change has become so politicized, emotional, and fearful to our media, we often fail to appreciate the exceptional nature of this worldwide crisis locally. Of course, local government at every level always has a lot on its plate—poverty, crime, taxes, education, transportation, fires, social services, code enforcement, waste management, you-name-it. But the difference between the day-to-day responsibilities of local government and preparation for the consequences of Climate Change is like the difference between maintaining a busy household and keeping it all together during major (and increasingly intense) hurricanes—where complete failure is always possible.

Governments have a responsibility to protect their constituents from the vulnerabilities of clear and present dangers. They can and must be held accountable. The exceptional vulnerabilities from Climate Change are on a scale that requires the kind of government leadership that anticipates disasters before they become unmanageable. Some of these special vulnerabilities are spelled out in the NYSERDA funded “Responding to Climate Change in New York State” or ClimAID 2011 report.

The vulnerability of the people in New York State is largely determined by several key factors: behavioral norms that have been institutionalized through building codes, crop insurance, flood-management infrastructure, water systems, and a variety of other programs; socio-economic factors that affect access to technology, information, and institutions; geographic climate-sensitive health risks due to the proximity of natural resources, dependence on private wells for drinking water, and vulnerability to coastal surges or river flooding (Balbus and Malina, 2009); and biological sensitivity related to preexisting medical conditions, such as the sensitivity of people with chronic heart conditions to heat-related illness (Balbus and Malina, 2009). (Pages 52 & 53, ClimAID)

Other climate studies that pertain to our area (New York State Climate Action Plan Interim Report or National Climate Assessment, Northeast) validate the immediacy of local Climate Change preparation. They don’t prevaricate as to whether Climate Change is happening, whether it is human caused, or whether we can delay action. These studies are official certainties that should be expressed as mandates in our local government. Which is to say, our government should be held accountable for making our way of living robust and resilient as more extreme weather (floods, heat waves) and increased threats to the public health (West Nile Virus and Lyme disease) come upon us. Preparations cannot be put off. Our media should be monitoring our government’s climate actions continually.

However, at the Rochester level we are still responding to Climate Change as if we are waiting for someone or something to kick us into action. Citizens are waiting for their government to act and the government is waiting to be pushed, looking over its shoulder to see if anyone really cares about this issue, instead of providing the vision and guidance for the road ahead. The media is focused primarily on sports.

The race for Monroe County Executive is now underway.  

I sincerely hope we can have a public discussion on Climate Change during this critical race. Preparing the local public for the public health and infrastructural consequences of Climate Chang in our region should be a top priority of the Monroe County Executive position. Debates and discussions on this important election should not be completely hijacked by taxes and budgets. Ignoring Climate Change preparation, as it was completely ignored in the Rochester mayoral race, is immoral and impractical.  

Saturday, June 06, 2015

The true cost of the Fracking brouhaha in Rochester and New York

Despite six long years battling this fossil fuel option that hijacked the public’s attention on energy during Climate Change, every bit of news about Fracking continually sends our local media into paroxysms of hope and despair. 
We are halfway to the COP21 Paris Climate Conference in December. Bonn, Germany is now hosting a two-week conference on curbing carbon emissions so that these greenhouse gases won’t make life unsustainable. Pledges from many nations at this point are still falling short of a 2C limit, which many experts believe is way too high. But one of the positive updates to Bonn is a letter sent by six major oil companies asking for a price on carbon. (Don’t get too sentimental about this request because the Big Six are corporations after all and so their altruism is limited to their bottom line.)

With significant recent developments—including India blaming Climate Change for the deaths of 2,330 people thus far in a terrible heat wave, and the soon to be release Papal encyclical demanding that Christians around the world care about this crisis–you’d think the world would be riveted by this historic attention to the worldwide crisis of our time. Many are.

But not Rochester. Even though Dr. James Hansen spoke to over 800 of us on Earth Day about how the 2C goal is too high and our carbon emissions must go below our present levels soon, this issue has been mostly forgotten. Our press isn’t covering the worldwide effort to address this worldwide crisis. Our representatives aren’t talking about it, even to themselves. Think about it. We are living in an incredible moment, where our future is going to be determined by our decisions (and remember, not doing anything about Climate Change is a decision). But unless you get your news outside Monroe County, you’re probably not engaged with what the world is doing about Climate Change locally.

Locally, we are still bemoaning the loss of Fracking. Despite six long years battling this fossil fuel option that hijacked the public’s attention on energy during Climate Change, every bit of news about Fracking continually sends our local media into paroxysms of hope and despair. The long awaited EPA report on Fracking (“EPA Releases Draft Assessment on the Potential Impacts to Drinking Water Resources from Hydraulic Fracturing Activities”) gets the press while Climate Change languishes. For our local media, a battle, however moot and self-generated, is far more enticing to the media than the complicated story of Climate Change.

Both sides draw ammunition from EPA fracking report Hydraulic fracturing can pollute groundwater numerous ways, federal environmental officials have concluded, but the controversial process to extract gas from shale is not causing "widespread systemic impacts on drinking water." The conclusion came with the release Thursday of a five-year national study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The analysis involved a "robust literature review," in the words of the EPA's Tom Burke, of dozens of scientific studies, technical papers and records from industry and activists submitted as part of the contentious and ongoing battle over the wisdom of tapping shale gas to meet the nation's energy needs. (June 4, 2015) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

The truth is that there are more than two sides to this media-created Fracking frenzy. There is the side that is working diligently towards 100% renewable energy by 2030. Check out, especially the section on New York. This isn’t nuts, Hawaii is considering 100% by 2040 and science backs up our New York State effort: “Examining the feasibility of converting New York State’s all-purpose energy infrastructure to one using wind, water, and sunlight”.

There is the side that thinks New York is already moving steadily towards cutting carbon emissions via the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

The Surprising Facts About the Clean Power Plan: Most States Are Already On Track to Meet 2020 Benchmarks for Reducing Carbon Emissions A new analysis released today by UCS shows that most states are already making progress toward cutting carbon emissions from power plants by shifting from coal-fired power to cleaner generation sources like renewable energy, energy efficiency, and natural gas. As a result of recent decisions and state laws that predate the proposed Clean Power Plan, 31 states have already made commitments that would put them more than halfway toward meeting the 2020 benchmarks set out by the EPA, and 14 of those states are already on track to meet or exceed them, including some unlikely suspects. States like Delaware, New York, and New Hampshire that are able to meet their benchmarks through collective action with the nine states that are part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI)—a multi-state effort to collectively cap carbon emissions from power plants. (June 3, 2015) Union of Concerned Scientists 

There is the side that thinks the EPA’s recent study was very limited and actually says Fracking pollutes drinking water. There is yet another side (our state) that doesn’t think the EPA study addressed many of the other reasons why New York said no to Fracking in the first place:

NY agency: EPA report won't affect state's ban on fracking Business groups are calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to lift New York's fracking ban after the Environmental Protection Agency reported the technology hasn't caused widespread harm to drinking water, but the Cuomo administration says the ban will stay. Department of Environmental Conservation spokesman Tom Mailey says the EPA review released Thursday focused on impacts to water related to high-volume hydraulic fracturing. But he said the state's review was much broader, evaluating impacts to air, water, public health, ecosystems, wildlife and communities. (June 5, 2015) WHEC Rochester

And there is the side that says that we are not addressing the true cost with any fossil fuels (including Fracking). The true cost of our energy is not the price you pay for this energy at the pump or your electric bill, which has been seriously bankrolled by your government to make it extremely addictive and deadly.

If we are to adapt to and mitigate Climate Change, we must adopt a more mature definition of costs than the one provided by a loony economic system that treats our life support system as an insignificant detail. 

Calls grow for full fossil fuel reckoning From the International Monetary Fund to doctors, voices calling out the fossil fuel industry over its health costs are becoming louder - and more numerous. But a lot depends on the definition of "cost." Six major European energy companies have called on policymakers to put global carbon pricing on the agenda at United Nations climate talks in Bonn this week. They describe this as the most effective way of encouraging greener investments. But as a growing movement shows, putting a price on fossil fuels could also provide a solution to the increasingly visible problem of their costs falling to taxpayers. (June 2, 2015) Deutsche Welle

The greatest cost of fossil fuels is the dangerous illusion that they are affordable and not responsible for this worldwide crisis of Climate Change. 

The True Cost of Fossil Fuels Fossil fuels reap profits in modern economies in part because the costs of their environmental and health damage are not included in their price. A new report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) finds that we're significantly underestimating society's subsidy for fossil fuel use worldwide. The report's co-author, IMF economist David Coady tells host Steve Curwood how they calculated fossil fuels subsidies worldwide annually cost taxpayers and consumers $5.3 trillion. (May 29, 2015) Living on Earth

The true cost of fossil fuels, including Fracking, is that it steals away our time, money, and attention as the window of opportunity to address Climate Change closes.

Time passes.