Sunday, December 27, 2009

Connecting the Green Dots

The Copenhagen Climate Conference is over and almost everyone, including President Obama himself, admits failure: “I think that people are justified in being disappointed about the outcome in Copenhagen.” (Obama on Health Reform Politics, Copenhagen Climate Outcome, 12/23/09 PBS: Newshour) Consequently, depending on how you connect the dots of this historic event, you will tend to view Copenhagen as positive, negative, or not relevant to your life.

‘Green Dots’, or specific environmental events like say an oil spill or an attempt by 190 nations to come to an agreement on how to tackle climate change, can be connected in many ways in the public’s mind. I mean this in the sense that one has the inalienable right to view these events in any way they wish. Logic or using science as your model for framing arguments may not be your thing.

A corporation might view Copenhagen as a success because it wouldn’t be compelled to conform to some arbitrary carbon capping. Just as possible, a corporation might view attempts to set a world-wide standard on carbon trading as positive since reducing carbon emissions on their own would be a corporate wildcard: there would be no way to measure and thus compete with other corporations on curbing these warming gases.

If you’re a climate change denier, you might relish Copenhagen’s dysfunctional status, as it simply confirms your conviction that climate change is all a hoax and better removed as a spoiler of our petroleum-based economy. Or, climate change deniers might just hate greenies, just because it’s fashionable in some circles.

If you are like many Americans, you might not care one way or the other whether Copenhagen was a success or not. Some may not find anything connecting Copenhagen to anything in their life. According to a “…recent Harris Poll, among the latest of several over the past year, shows that barely half of the American public believes that the carbon dioxide that's building up in the atmosphere could warm up our planet.” “For Public, Climate Change Not A Priority Issue : NPR Dec.7, 09) In other words, about half of us are not connecting the dots between the evidence and the word of most scientists about the causal relationships between the buildup of greenhouse gases and Climate Change in any rational, logical, or scientific way.

This is disturbing because if you were listening to the reports coming out of Copenhagen, many people around the world are getting annoyed at American intransigence on not making concessions to those who have not had a chance to develop their nations—as we have gobbled up much of the commons, especially our atmosphere’s and ocean’s ability to absorb any more carbon dioxide.

Actually, there’s only one way to connect the green dots. Our ability to connect the dots in our lives in any haphazard way we wish will become vanishingly small as we bump up against Nature’s uncompromising laws. Then, we’ll adapt (if we can) and our lives will be driven by those constraints whether we like it or not. Copenhagen’s failure was not Obama’s failure; it was ours.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Earth-fixing Gadgets

In the back of many modern minds there probably nestles the comforting conviction that science will get us out of our twenty-first century environmental mess. It must be so because despite all signs that world-wide pollution rages on, our climate changes, and our oceans are dying, we go happily along as if there were no tomorrow. Instead of making the hard ethical choices need to get six billion souls focused on our environment, we trust in technology.

That’s a curious attitude given most of our own experiences with technology. Most of the gadgets we buy work for awhile and then, as if planned, go kaput. Or, they work but too often with those irritating idiosyncrasies that make us wonder if they are really worth it.

For instance: I have this cordless vacuum cleaner that I’ve had for years and battle with weekly. First, I vacuum a room and the gadget eagerly eats every little crumb, cheerfully as you could imagine. But, when it comes time to reattach it to its power supply it consistently refuses to engage. Sometimes, I have to slam it into its cradle ten times before the light comes on and indicates that it’s feeding. Or, sometimes, it won’t connect until after inserting it twenty times. So, I give up and come back to it another day. Eventually, it works—almost as advertized. (Of course, if I had any Mr. Fix-it skills, I’d learn how to arrange the contact points so that it would work each time.) Anyway, my point is that our reliance on our gadgets is often an irrational one held by an imperfect being who designed these darn things in the first place.

Pursuing this notion further, are we ready to entrust the working of our planet to gadgets we make? I’m not talking about the innocuous gadgets like bicycles or energy efficient light bulbs, or those IPod Apps that show you the best route to the airport. If these things breakdown, our planet won’t go belly up. I’m talking about some of the more invasive technologies that assume we know a whole lot more about the working of our biosphere than we actually do.

Some enterprising individuals have marched out some ‘interesting’ technologies to combat climate change, including a mechanism to spew out volcanic dust into the atmosphere, or spray salt particulates into the air; a solar umbrella; a way to dump massive quantities of iron ore into our oceans; and carbon sequestration. None of which has been tried on a planetary scale and whose advocates have the neither the desire nor capability to test all the possible ramifications to our environment. Yet, despite all evidence to the contrary, we still believe in gadgets: once you wind them up they just keep doing their thing, often elegantly so, forever.

However, all the manmade concoctions in the world won’t make up for the collective brain power of people focused on sustainability. People using their brain power, which includes their knowledge of each other, science, reason, culture, business, governance, and their attitudes towards each other, must make the choices that will promote a sustainable environment. We cannot relegate that responsibility to gadgets. Yet, judging from the delusion that was Copenhagen (BBC News - Climate summit: Where's the beef? 12/19/09), we must still think that something other than ourselves can solve our environmental woes.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Bat News

One of the many reasons why I believe our present mainstream media are mostly dysfunctional concerns this story about a major decline in bats in our area.  Seems to the press that bats aren’t too popular and won’t bring in the big bucks the media wants. 

So, connecting the dots about the major role bats play in our local environment (controlling insects, providing food for the predators we do like, etc.) and getting in the public’s face about this issue is not there.  We should care about this issue because it is a rapid change in our environment that may have grave consequences. 

Tt has nothing to do about what the press might think the public cares about bats.  The public is becoming increasing removed from knowledge about the working of their environment—which we need to survive—because our media doesn’t know how to present environmental issues—which need to be continual, focused on connecting the dots, and investigative reporting on all the possible consequence of any change or potential change in our environment.

More stories in the media about the decline in bat population would generate more interest in the public and perhaps more funding to get at the bottom of this issue and how it might change our environment here in the Rochester, NY region.

DEC Survey Shows Bat Populations down 90 Percent in Caves Impacted by "White Nose Syndrome" - NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation Wide-ranging, Coordinated Research Effort Continuing; NY Gearing Up for Next Round of Winter Surveys Populations of some bat species have plummeted more than 90 percent in Northeast caves impacted by "White Nose Syndrome," according to an extensive investigation by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), Commissioner Pete Grannis announced today. (December 16, 09) Press Releases - NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation [more on Wildlife]

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bicycle Friendly Rochester

There are those who believe that Transportation in Rochester could be a bicycle friendly community as Copenhagen. That would be something to behold.

Check out: Streetfilms | Copenhagen’s Climate-Friendly, Bike-Friendly Streets "Tens of thousands of people from nearly every nation on earth have descended on Copenhagen this month for the UN climate summit. As the delegates try to piece together a framework for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, they're also absorbing lessons from one of the world's leading cities in sustainable transportation. In Copenhagen, fully 37 percent of commute trips are made by bike, and mode share among city residents alone is even higher. "

Monday, December 14, 2009

Acid Rain

We haven't' heard much about Acid Rain lately. Back in 1998, when I started RochesterEnvironment.com, I had an entire page devoted to Acid Rain and it was very busy because many were concerned about dead lakes in the Adirondacks at the time. I don't know the state of Acid Rain now, but I suspect things have gotten better, not that it has fallen off mainstream’s agenda, or that it’s been solved.

What I do remember, is that Elliot Spitzer, our former NYS Attorney General, was instrumental combating this problem. Soon, I’ll do an article on this subject because I am curious as to why Acid Rain is not such a hot topic. Just because an environmental issue is not being reported on by mainstream does not mean that it should be an environmental concern.

Here's why I brought up the matter: Acid Rain Program 2008 Progress Reports | Progress Reports | Clean Air Markets | Air & Radiation | US EPA EPA has released a series of reports that evaluate progress under the Acid Rain Program (ARP) in 2008 by examining emission reductions, reviewing compliance results and market activity, and comparing changes in emissions to changes in pollutant concentrations. The first report was released in July 2009, followed by additional releases through December 2009.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

If Your Grid Is Dirty

If you are getting your power from a dirty electric grid, you are using dirty power. In other words, if your electric lamp is plugged into a system that is powered somewhere along your power line with a power generator that pollutes or emits greenhouse gases into our atmosphere (or otherwise harms our environment), your lamp is using dirty power. (Presently, we New Yorkers get 18% of our power from coal; 17% from hydroelectric, 1% wind, 1% biomass, 1% solar, 1% solid waste, 12% oil, 29% nuclear, and 22% natural gas.)

This is not an opinion or a particularly profound insight. But it is a quirk of human nature that our species, since it became a cultural being instead of a hunter gatherer, tends to see what it wants to see—if it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind. Meaning, in this case, if you don’t see that dirty power plant polluting the planet at the end of your plug, you can allow yourself to think that you aren’t significantly contributing to global warming. Hence, if you don’t wish to educate yourself about how we get our energy from mostly coal and gas and other non-renewable sources (or even to bother your pretty little head about it), our culture makes that chimera convenient .

Consequently, if you don’t wish to see it, it’s quite easy to miss. The coal power plant that runs your lights is far away, and the damage it’s doing not immediately apparent—in the way that it’s not immediate apparent to an uneducated mind that the earth is oblong spheroid not flat. But on the other hand, a wind turbine appears to some people to be very damaging, spinning its colossal blades, making odd noises, flickering sunlight if you look at it from just the right angle. And it may well be very offending to your sensibilities.

However, as annoying as wind or solar power may be to some, neither wind nor solar power contributes to global warming by polluting the atmosphere. This makes renewable energy quite a scale of difference from non-renewable or dirty energy. The neighborhood cat roaming your neighborhood, screeching at night and killing some birds at your feeder, is annoying, but a tiger on the loose is altogether different. Renewable energy options have their issues and need to be addressed, but we can deal with them. But, like the tiger analogy, there’s no way to make coal clean.

Our way of living, removed as it is from mere subsistence by labor-saving devices, has created an illusion out of our environment for some. Our houses, our skyscrapers, roads, and all the other stuff we have piled on to mitigate the harshness of nature has so thrown into the background the mechanism of our environment—wetlands, streams, lakes, our atmosphere--that many have conveniently forgotten or not educated themselves that we need a certain amount of these natural elements to sustain our environment. And, of course, there are those whose agendas include making darn sure you keep your illusions so their income and livelihood stays secure.

If you just don’t care if the power you use to power your stuff is dirty, that is another kettle of fish entirely.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Nature Doesn't Play Ball

It is an interesting (and scary) phenomenon that more that half of the people polled in our region don’t think Climate Change is serious enough to address now.  For one thing, if those who do think it’s a serious matter, but don’t want to see our country address it now for the sake of other matters, when do they think it should be addressed. 

Given the long lag time before much of the drastic effects of Climate Change will be observable by the untrained eye by the time the public does think it’s time to address Climate Change it will be long too late—as many of the conditions of climate change are already occurring and at a much faster rate than predicted. 

The question in the poll should have been not whether you think Climate Change is serious and should be addressed now, but “do you think our species is capable to addressing this issue at all.”  As evidenced by this poll and other polls, I don’t think most ‘get’ the problem of Climate Change.  

The Climate Change problem is like the person who takes drugs problem: regardless of all your other problems, there is going to come a point soon in which climate change will be our only problem because we did not address it at the appropriate point.

Readers are closely split on climate change issue | Rochester Business Journal New York business news and information By a narrow margin, respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll say they do not think climate change is a serious global problem that needs to be addressed now. (December 11, 09) Home | Rochester Business Journal New York business news and information [more on Climate Change in our area]

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Climate Change: Are We Off the Hook?

It must be heartwarming for climate change skeptics that the recent climate email flare-up in the news (In e-mails, science of warming is hot debate - washingtonpost.com) seems to question the validity of the current Climate Crisis. Nothing dilutes action like doubt. For action, especially wholesale planetary action on curbing global warming gases might have a devastating effect on the status quo of those thriving in our present economy. And that possible scenario must create great apprehension in the hearts of those whose ideology and values seem threatened by an abrupt, massive movement towards a sustainable way of life.

(On the other hand, maybe what this climate email frenzy is really about is the need some scientists feel to circumvent a dysfunctional media and take their sense of urgency straight to the public. However, that’s a formula for disaster. Scientists aren’t particularly good at shaping public opinion. Pandering to the public is the bailiwick of the press.)

In my opinion, a better model than bedlam in the media and Congress for addressing something as incredibly vast as the climate change debate is a two-tiered approach. Whether the planet is warming up is the job of the scientists and what to do about it should be up to the rest of us: the public, government, business, and the media. Lag time, how long it take Earth’s climate to actually change, means the latter group must act long before the probable consequences. Scientists need to have the space to do their vital task—determining all the possible consequences of forcing more global warming gasses into our atmosphere and offering a list of viable solutions.

Our mainstream media seems to be having both discussions at the same time and the same place. It’s like an argument between the pilots and the passengers on where to land the plane. The hard question is not “Is the science of global warming messier than they [the climate scientists] have admitted?”--it is whether humanity can actually work together to combat a common plight. At present, we aren’t doing all that well. Lots of finger-pointing, the blame game, who’s going to pay, and still (after two decades of research) ‘is Climate Change really happening’?

We’re going to have to get our act together on Climate Change soon. It’s humanity’s first real crack at taking responsibility for the entire planet. Likewise, what we do or don’t will have profound consequences on the future. We aren’t off the hook.

That is to say, we all have a role in this decision on how to combat Climate Change, not just those in Copenhagen. Whether it’s what you buy, what media you support, who you vote for, or just about anything you do, it will affect our planet. But not everyone is a scientist and has the skill, intelligence, training, or accumulative knowledge to make the case for or against this issue. Creating the illusion in the press that all opinions on the science of Climate Change have the same weight is not helpful—except to make money for the media, which thrives on controversy.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Good Environmental Coverage

I applaud this story below by the Democrat and Chronicle yesterday for it thoroughness and importance. Not that all good local environmental reporting has to be about a negative situation (Brownfields), but every community should have a thorough understanding of its environment in order for its citizens to act and vote to keep their local environmental sustainable.

Not knowing about old dumpsites, the state of our water and our air is not how a community develops and goes forward. We have to know the historical, present, and future plans of what is going on in our environment and we must be able to depend on our local media to do that. This article, if it represents an attitude towards our environment coverage to be presented to the public everyday, would demand that the public support it in this time of media crisis.

Our media shouldn’t have to pander to the public’s wishes in order to survive; it should provide the public information we need to know to survive. And, the public should be willing to support thorough ongoing environmental reporting in its community, or suffer the consequences of acting on insufficient, delusional or misguided information.

Irondequoit residents living above old dump sit on uneasy ground | democratandchronicle.com | Democrat and Chronicle Time and again over the last quarter-century, state and local agencies raised questions and alarms about possible threats to residents of Timrod Drive but never acted, an investigation by the Democrat and Chronicle found. On at least two occasions, officials recommended testing to see whether Timrod Drive residents faced any health risks, but the testing was never done. (November 29, 09) democratandchronicle.com | Democrat and Chronicle | Rochester news, community, entertainment, yellow pages and classifieds. Serving Rochester, New York [more on Brownfields in our area]

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Don’t Soil the Nest

Even a bird knows not to soil its nest. This message seems lost on us, as our nest (our planet) is filling up with our trash. Instead of properly disposing of it (as any bird would), we are living, drinking, eating, planting, and breathing our unmentionable waste products. According to Learner.org, “Every year, the United States generates approximately 230 million tons of ‘trash’--about 4.6 pounds per person per day.”

That’s a shame because most people would recycle their waste if the process was convenient, inexpensive, and the public believed that it was being accomplished properly (sustainably). Though there will always be those with something radically wrong with their heads, defying all reason and littering regardless, we must accomplish world-wide recycling.

So, why are we so dysfunctional on recycling? Part of the problem is psychological. We have become so inured to our cushy way of life that we want our discards to go away magically. (Though, this violates the Conservation Law.) Politicians, wishing to please their continuants, try to comply by finding novel ways to either support or giving up on supporting curb-side pickups. But it ain’t that easy to make billions of tons of trash disappear. In fact, it’s impossible. In order for our waste to get back into the ecosystem, it has to be removed, separated, composted, donated, or reused. In other words, for that sustainability thing to work, citizens and their governments, non-governmental agencies (NGAs), and businesses have to do their part.

For individuals in our community there is no excuse for putting your old TV or computer monitor on the curb as there many recycling events, and places that will recycle and disassemble them. No excuse for putting pharmaceuticals down the toilet: Monroe County has properly staffed collection events. No excuse for not recycling papers—all kinds of paper. [http://www.monroecounty.gov/des-hhw.php] And, no excuse for land-filling leaves or burning them (check “New Regulation on Open Burning Takes Effect Oct. 14.” –NYS DEC).

Given all that, there is much that cannot be done by the public and must be accomplished by the business community or government. Our region should compost all food waste, as other regions are doing. We should be recycling all plastics up to and including number 7. We should be checking to make sure no recyclables are entering our waste systems.

NGAs can help, but they have a conundrum. Zero waste, where cradle-to-cradle product design insures that stuff never becomes waste, is yet a dream. At present, landfills are at least an interim necessity. However, to endorse landfills would mean that the public becomes complacent, believing that this business solution of “out of sight out of mind,” which even becomes a source for energy by burning the resultant methane gas, is a sustainable solution. It’s not, because not everything breaks down to environmentally friendly stuff.

I believe that to make it all work, governments should level the playing field by adopting and enforcing best recycling practices so that everyone would be assured that a recycling outfit was doing so sustainably—with the eventual goal of Zero Waste.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Walk?

Walking for bipeds was “the cat’s pajamas” for four millions years. That is, putting humanity’s one hairy foot before another got us around just fine. Then, within a relatively short period of time, our species took to climbing on other animals’ backs, floating stuff on water, then the wheel, which brought on carts, trains, and then we took to the skies. But mostly, since the horseless carriage, autos get us around. In fact, the car culture so dictates transportation in the United States that few of us, even when the distance is short, walk.

That’s odd, when you think about it because most trips are within 6.5 miles of one’s home. (And, many of those trips are to the gym so we can walk on the treadmill.) So why, given the accidents (over 58, 000 per year), the expense, the taxes, repairs, and the repercussions to our environment, don’t we usually consider walking as a transportation option?

I know the answer is obvious: Cars are fun. They look great. We can get from here to there really fast and carry a lot of stuff. Inside our steel jackets there’s a leveling of the classes from the strain of the masses that is simply exhilarating: rich or poor, that pedestrian better move out of your path. Driving is a right! Get a car, and you get instant respect.

Walking, on the other hand, is time consuming. Everything is so far away. Can’t carry much. One feels so exposed out there on those cold, windy streets where drivers have enough going on—cell phones, backseat conversations, that great new tune on that expensive sound system, crazy drivers who don’t know what they’re doing, and a myriad of gadgets on the dashboard—without worrying about some rambling itinerant who thinks they own the world.

Yet, there are advantages to walking over driving a car--still. When you walk, you don’t need insurance, a repair shop, or have to worry about getting your new paint job scratched. You don’t need a parking space because you can take yourself anywhere you want to go. You don’t have to leave yourself out on the street to get broken into or ticketed. You can walk in groups (the walking school bus) and get to where you want to go safely. You can save the planet by not driving a polluting behemoth.

By walking instead of driving you have more control over your life. You’ll be healthier and more cheerful—it’s the endomorphin thing kicking in. You can allow yourself to get distracted by things, as you won’t have to “keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel.”

A walk-centered world instead of a vehicle-dominated world compels us to design our existence so work, play, stores, friends, and neighbors all wind up near our home. Instead of betting our future inventing a high-tech vehicle that doesn’t pollute, we might turn the transportation issue on its head and put our world within reach—so there will still be a sustainable one for our kids.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Complete Streets

An integral part of any communities Transportation efforts must be the concept of Complete Streets so that the best and most efficient use of our streets can be made for pedestrians, bicyclers, and anyone who wants to get around.

Complete Streets The streets of our cities and towns are an important part of the livability of our communities. They ought to be for everyone, whether young or old, motorist or bicyclist, walker or wheelchair user, bus rider or shopkeeper. But too many of our streets are designed only for speeding cars, or worse, creeping traffic jams.

How Walkable is Rochester, NY?

Walking is a great way to get around and it's Transportation. Take your own survey and find out how Walkable Rochester is: Walkability Checklist --from Partnership for a Walkable America The Partnership for a Walkable America (PWA) is a national coalition working to improve the conditions for walking in America and to increase the number of Americans who walk regularly. The members are national governmental agencies and non-profit organizations concerned about three main areas: Health, Safety and the Environment.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sharing A Vision

What we gain vicariously from the keen vision of an eagle or the ultrasonic sight of a bat is but a glimpse of our world through the superior senses of other animals. Our surroundings become something more when we take the time and have the imagination to see our environment through their eyes. From mimicking the ultraviolet landscape that a honeybee sees, we know that a field of flowers presents a much larger and more dynamic color spectrum than the one we see.

Creatures like our pet dogs can smell a world that reveals the past in dropped spores and a present more aromatically vibrant and enlightening than the one we can detect. Even the air around us becomes more extraordinary when we look at it from the miniatures’ viewpoint. For a fly, our atmosphere it is more viscous than the one we know. It is like an ocean of water where the mosquitoes and bees above us swim more than fly. Speaking of the ocean, a whale more massive than any dinosaur that ever lived is an agile acrobat and sender of distant messages we cannot hear.

Truly, there is a lot more going on than we ever expected. Once we understand and appreciate the full dimension of our environment from our fellow creatures’ vantage point, we realize that we are handicapped without animals—all of them.

It is not that we have not appreciated them. We have long used animals to carry our burdens, feed and clothe us. They have become our tools and inspired our art. They have accompanied us into battle and shared the casualties. Medicines from them, like the anticoagulants in snake poison, relieve our pain. Experimentation on our fellow creatures reveals the dangers of drugs or the usefulness of our cosmetics before we endanger ourselves.

Our pets give us comfort and share our lives. Zoos offer us entertainment and awe. Many of our machines, airplanes, and submarines for example, were modeled after observing the natural exploits of animals. In short, there is no limit to the ways we have used and abused animals to bolster our way of living. However, what we have failed to grasp is that exploitation does not quite cover our relationship to animals.

Our destinies are more deeply linked than we have ever imagined. Not merely are our lives something less (perhaps, if you are religious, our souls more empty) by the horrendous devastation we have caused in the animal kingdom, but each time we extinct an animal species (the educated guess for loss of plants and animals species is about thirty thousand per year) we are less able to monitor our world. Without the heightened senses of our fellow creatures, we become duller to the warning signals in our environment and have less time to adjust to their consequences.

Animals, all of them in every corner of our planet, are telling us that we have only a partial view of reality, a limited spectrum of input that mostly blinds us to our surroundings. Without the omnipresence of all creatures, worms and bacteria in the ground, microscopic organisms in the seas, or viruses jumping from creature to creature, we have not a clue as how our planet is working as a whole unit. Our senses—short-sighted eyes, pitiable hearing, and a lousy sense of smell by comparison with other creatures—were good enough when our ancestors were swinging from the trees. That is because we had not yet disrupted the natural order of things.

We are now, two hundred years into the Industrial Revolution, quite oblivious to a great deal of critical information in our environment—not only because of the relative poor quality of our senses. The extreme myopia of our attitudes towards animals is a far more insidious defect. Our lack of insight is the problem. When something triggers the loss of an entire species in a short amount of time (two species of vultures in India as I write are dropping from the sky without a clue), it should tell us how quickly a minor variation in the environment can change things radically—for vultures, in a society that does not eat cows, are a necessity.

Our best chance for a sustainable existence is that before we eliminate any more animal species, we should do what we do most excellent—amalgamate and communicate. An ability we have, perhaps our greatest, is to share experiences and learn from others. Being able to understand and empathize, not only with our own kind, but also with other beings, offers us our greatest potential to grow as a species. If, instead of exploiting other species on this planet, we began assimilating their abilities and appreciating the role other beings play in our environment, we could vastly increase our chances of survival.

Almost all other animals have had a lot more experience at survival than we have. We are only five million years old; frogs existed before the dinosaurs. It is by our observations of our fellow creature and research of them in situ (not torn from their environment and condemned to a zoo) that we are able to get a hint of a far brighter and richer environment than the short-term obsessive vista we presently live in.

If we are willing to embrace all the senses and talents of all the other animals on our planet, we might be able to find our way back to a mode of living that works in the long term. The model of the canary in the coalmine is an insufficient paradigm for our relationship to animals because it assumes that we will have time to bolt when our fellow creatures drop.

Our chance for a sustainable existence is that before we eliminate any more animal species, we should do what we do best—amalgamate and communicate. An ability we have, perhaps our greatest, is to share experiences and learn from others. Being able to understand and empathize, not only with our own kind, but also with other beings, offers us our greatest potential to grow as a species.

If, instead of exploiting other species on this planet, we began assimilating their abilities and appreciating the role other beings play in our environment, we could vastly increase our chances of survival. Almost all other animals have had a lot more experience at survival than we have. We are only five million years old; frogs existed before the dinosaurs. It is by our observations of our fellow creature and research of them in situ (not torn from their environment and condemned to a zoo) that we are able to get a hint of a far brighter and richer environment than our short-term obsessive vista we presently live in.

If we are willing to embrace all the senses and talents of all the other animals on our planet, we might be able to find our way back to a mode of living that works. The model of the canary in the coalmine is an insufficient paradigm for our relationship to animals because it assumes that we will have time to bolt when our fellow creatures drop.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Copenhagen Comes to Rochester!

Except for our local institutions of higher learning, most Rochesterians seem to think that what’s going to happen (or not happen) in Copenhagen [UN Climate Change Conference, DEC 7-18] is about as important as last year’s bird nest. But, Copenhagen is coming to Rochester. It’s coming to Buffalo, Albany, NYC, Mexico City, Ireland, and Timbuktu.

So, what does that mean? It means that whether you like it or not the decisions that are made at Copenhagen are going to affect you. Not because everywhere you turn you’re going to see it on the news (which could happen.) Not because those annoying greenies will just shut up when they realize once and for all that most people and most countries don’t really care. Copenhagen will come to Rochester because we cannot avoid the repercussion of the conference’s outcome. We will either deal with the political ramifications of global warming or we won’t. But either way, the chickens [laws of physics] are coming home to roost.

Already we are living with the consequences of the past climate talks: kick the can further down the road. At some point the can hits a wall. At 387 part per million (ppm), carbon dioxide concentration matters--350 ppm is the recommended dose. In the Rochester area we could expect: temperatures rising, a migration of plants and animals north as our climate adopts a Southern visage (though, many -- especially plants -- won’t move quickly enough), change in precipitation (droughts), lowering of Great Lakes water levels, coastal flooding, sea-level rise, shore-line change, extreme heat in our cities, more diseases (Lyme disease, West Nile Virus, and maybe malaria), and more potent cases of poison ivy, air quality loss, agriculture changes, changes in the fisheries, changes in the dairy industry, changes in spruce/fir forest of the Adirondacks, alterations in winter recreation (did you know the NYS has more ski areas than any other state in the nation?), and an increase in ozone pollution.

To think that we can afford another round of unproductive climate change talks is like thinking after a couple of bottles of beer that you can fly.

Of course our personal efforts at confronting climate change—recycling, energy conservation, and all those things environmentalist preach--are important. Those efforts demonstrate that we care, that we take responsibility for our planet, and that we can lead by example. But to reverse the accumulated effects of man-made climate change, it’s going to take the efforts of nations. Here’s what the scientists say: “This is the consequence of failure at Copenhagen: A marked shift in scientific effort from solving global warming to adapting to its consequences, a hodge-podge of uncoordinated local efforts to trim emissions - none of which deliver the necessary cuts - and an altered climate.” (November 10, 2009 Scientific American)

Copenhagen matters to us here in Rochester, even if the media doesn’t get in our face with it. This is not the time for “a number of other key players will most likely hide their cards.” It’s time for all of us to consider what non-action on climate change will mean.

How's our Infrestructure?

Although the story below is addressed to the Albany area specifically, the issue of old sewer infrastructure is not a popular environmental issue but it is going to have to be addressed in every community.

Old sewer pipes creating a tough challenge -- Page 1 -- Times Union - Albany NY:2783: ALBANY -- Aging sewer systems in the Capital Region are dumping more than a billion gallons of watered-down, untreated sewage into the Hudson River each year, according to a report by the Capital District Regional Planning Commission. (November 15, 09 ) Albany NY News - Times Union - Serving Albany, Saratoga, Schenectady, Troy

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Should Rochester Worry About Clean Water?

Because we live in an area so rich in Clean Water, we forget that water scarcity is a world-wide crisis that need addressing. And because we have so much clean water, we are part of this equation:

Could water scarcity cause international conflict? | csmonitor.com "In reporting a recent story on a fight over water between residents of a small Colorado town and Nestlé Waters North America, a bottled water company, I learned much about water scarcity around the world, and the sense — also growing — that shortages of water could spark much future conflict. In recent years, there’s been a proliferation of books on the world’s present and future water woes, from Maude Barlow’s Blue Covenant to Robert Glennon’s Unquenchable." --from The Christian Science Monitor | csmonitor.com

Global Health

Don't forget you personally have a stake in the Climate Change Bill coming up: Climate Fight: EPA Sends Global Warming Finding to White House | Congress might be a long way from passing legislation to fight climate change, but the Obama administration appears one step closer to creating its own regime for controlling greenhouse gases. On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it sent the White House Office of Management and Budget its proposed finding that greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare. (November 9, 09) Business News & Financial News - The Wall Street Journal - WSJ.com

Monday, November 09, 2009

Ubiquitous Pollution

Within the last couple of weeks, I have posted numerous environmental articles on Brownfieldsway more than normal. Speculating as to why there is a sudden interest in Brownfields in the local media, I thought of several possible factors: There’s a rash of Brownfields actually springing up; or, the media is clearing their desks of Brownfields related articles; or, because localized pollution events oftentimes show up randomly anyways; or, the media are becoming more attentive to what our policies towards recklessly releasing man-made chemicals into our environment has wrought. Possibly, because the United States does not have strict regulations on the chemicals used in our products or released into our environment (as the Europeans do) this irresponsible policy is catching up with us.

Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe there’s more federal stimulus money suddenly ending up in local coffers, so it’s OK for the media to launch a story or two on why we need to clean up these old polluted sites. Because unless there is a pollution event (toxins bubbling up to the surface from where they were dumped) the media usually finds little incentive to continually remind us that most man-made pollutants don’t merely breakdown and reenter our environment as warm and fuzzies. Get real: Dangerous toxins don’t merely go benign because we they’ve left our field of vision—like down a drain, or into a stream or lake.

The list of toxic chemicals [http://www.scorecard.org/chemical-groups/one-list.tcl?short_list_name=tri00ry] grows all the time. Moreover, despite all the attempts to ignore the ugly specter of the symptoms caused by our own pollutants, they resurface. Cancer, endocrine disruptions (hermaphrodite frogs), you-name-it (and some have [http://www.chemicalinjury.net/chemicalupdates.htm]), they come back with a vengeance.

Pick your most convenient reason as to why we collectively approach the issue of Brownfields with such monstrous neglect. But the truth is that those dangerous chemicals we’ve allowed to go out and mix in our environment accumulate somewhere, perhaps in our bodies, as the body burden [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_burden]), in fish, or in our dinking water.

My guess is that besides the specter of global warming for those who come after us, an increase in pollution outbreaks will be commonplace. Our environment never has been able to ‘take care’ of dangerous man-made chemicals. It’s just that in the past we were better able to fool ourselves that the stuff we cooked up in the labs and released without testing, would just disappear. Simply go away with nary a thought. Out of sight, out of mind.

When you think of how many centuries it took to evolve all of those cool chemicals in Nature (say bee venom, or that stuff spiders inject to make the guts of insects ready for a tasty meal) you have to wonder what our species were thinking when we concocted a zillion man-made chemicals and instantaneously spewed them into this 4 billion-year process on Earth called ‘life.’ Think of a single element or compound Nature didn’t test.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Thoughtful Feedback

Seemingly, online media has opened itself to a plethora of mindless rantings by those without even a crazy ideology to spur them on. I speak of feedback on online news sites that are unmonitored and unfiltered so any nutcase with a computer, an Internet connection, and only a modicum of sense is allowed to write responses to local news stories online.

You know what I’m talking about: follow any online article that offers reader’s responses and you’ve probably long since avoided those parts of the articles because it’s a vast wasteland of craven lunacy. This is a tragedy because the medium where we get our news is moving to the Internet where interaction between the media and its readers is critical and will add greatly to our Democracy.

Standing outside of this vast morass of nonsense is Rochester City Newspaper that does monitor and filter out the crazies so the informed and concerned citizen can have their voice and be heard. Sure, freedoms are great and the freedom to speak one’s mind without the state hauling you off to the crowbar hotel stripping you of your writ of Habeas corpus is among them. But, somewhere along the continuum of our freedoms we must find a happy medium between mindless ravings and government pronouncements. All this is to say, that an article in Rochester City Newspaper caught my eye because the feedback to this article was as important as the article itself: ENVIRONMENT: County considers plan to offset wetlands impacts - News Articles - Rochester City Newspaper.

This kind of discourse on a critical environmental matter, where a good investigative reporter presents a story and a thoughtful readership responds respectfully, makes for a better Democracy. However, the responsible and informed public, able to present their views and engage the rest of us in something that will help us decide our future, are usually disinclined to enter into what has become the online world of bug-eyed zealotry and hopeless anarchy.

This could change if more of the informed and thoughtful posted their responses to online articles, so much so that the ‘others’ would shy away from publicly shaming and humiliating themselves—as would be the case if all were seated in a real room surrounded by real people.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

"BEIJING (Reuters) - China's busy climate change diplomacy has become increasingly feverish weeks before crucial talks that could forge a new pact to fight global warming, or end in rancor that could rebound onto the world's biggest emitter."

Flower City Habitat for Humanity - Rochester, NY

Flower City Habitat for Humanity - Rochester, NY

A salute to those helping Smart Growth and working against Urban Sprawl by making sure there is good housing for all in our community

Voluntary Carbon Standard

Voluntary Carbon Standard: "The VCS Registry System is a state of the art custodial system for Voluntary Carbon Units (VCUs), the carbon offsets generated under the VCS Program. The VCS Registry System enables the tracking of all VCUs, from issuance to retirement, and is a key part of the VCS Program which ensures that all VCUs are real, measurable, additional, permanent, independently verified, unique and traceable."

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Rochester’s 350.org Coverage

Judging from the media response around the world, the 350.org event has been a hit: October 24 Press Release | 350.org “350.org To Stage Largest Day of Environmental Action in History | 5,242 Simultaneous Events on Climate in 181 Countries.”

“Citizens, scientists and world leaders in 181 countries will take to nearby streets, mountains, parks, and reefs today to demand strong action on climate change, in what will be the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history. 5,242 rallies and creative demonstrations will take place, all of them centered on the number 350, to draw attention to 350 parts per million (ppm), which an overwhelming number of scientists now insist is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”

However, judging from our local media response to the several 350.org events, not much happened: a Rousing Dud. (Disclaimer: Because I did not rush out and buy up all the paper versions of our local media, or frantically tune into all the TV and radio stations either, ((because they are insufferably myopic and merely pander to their corporate sponsors)), I am basing this observation on what our local media has posted on the Internet today—October 25, 2009.)

Maybe I posted this article too soon and the media just hasn’t gotten up to snuff yet on how this world-wide event played out in Rochester. Maybe, they’re all scurrying around in their backrooms, honing 350.org coverage so it will be a real sizzler when it comes out. Maybe.

But, I’m not on any of the local media’s editorial staff. So, what do I know? Maybe, getting world-wide attention focused on the planet warming up just is too far out of the comfort and profit zones of our local media. That must be the case because there are lots of sports, criminal activity, political carping, and lots of sports coverage on our local media. Really, a lot of sports. Sports are in, imminent environmental collapse is out.

Only as an observer (another disclaimer: I was a participant) did I see over sixty bicyclists ride from downtown Rochester to the RIT campus. Then, I witnessed for myself a great rally with the RIT president and his college in full support of the sea change needed on the matter of Climate Change and a full day’s programming to show that our community gets it on 350ppm. I witnessed lots of people taking photos and videos and uploading them to 350.org. To be fair, our local media wasn’t completely hopeless. I see one media with one article on one 350.org event for our area: RIT Marks International Day of Climate Action “It may not always be the right weather for a bike ride around here, but as they say wait 5 minutes and it'll change. The rain Saturday morning didn't stop a group of environmentally conscious riders from hitting the trail. The purpose: to mark the International Day of Climate Action.” (October 25, 09) http://rochester.ynn.com/

Yet, all in all it’s very troubling. One of 350.org’s purposes (the other was to get our politicians’ attention focused on the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference Copenhagen 2009) was to make enough noise to make everyone take notice of the danger point we have passed for a sustainable environment. That is, to both circumvent the dysfunctional media and get in the face of a corporate-manipulated press that is disinclined to speak about the fact that the planet’s atmosphere is warming up due to humanity’s activities.

Our planet is warming up due to our way of life. This is as clear as those annoying pop-ups on every mainstream media’s web page, as clear as the ubiquitous sports scores that flash across those flat screen TV’s, and as eye-catching as the endless violence that inundates local media stories: Those charged with informing us with the information we need to live sustainable are not doing their job.

If you did attend one of the area’s 350.org events, and you still welcome a challenge, why not contact your local media and ask them why they didn’t cover Rochester’s participation in this world-wide event?

Friday, October 30, 2009

New Bottle Bill Regulation:

Like the new regulations or not, there will be less plastic bottles littering our state and less going into our landfills because this sort of legislation works. It works simply because people may throw away what they perceive as trash, but they won’t throw away money. Many people scour our city streets for deposit-able bottle to supplement or have an income at all.

However, the recent rash of stories on the new bottle bill regulation is not on the benefits to our environment that removing a zillion plastic bottles from our land will bring about-- it is the new regulation’s effect on local businesses. Think about it: What is more important the health of our environment, or the keeping the way we run our economy? (The Recession how is that working for you?) We can alter how our regulations will affect business; once our environment gets compromised by pollution, it’s the dickens getting it back on track.

Here’s the real issue: If we spread the repercussions of changing our economy to include the health of our environment—say, increasing deposits on all potential recyclable products and adequately compensating those businesses that must reclaim these bottles by spreading out the economic effects of the changes in new regulations--there wouldn’t be so many wrongly-focused articles on environmental regulations and environmentalists verses businesses.

If we all got engaged in our environmental situation and all took responsibility, we would affect change for a sustainable economy and environment without many the few take the hit.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Is Your Drinking Water Being Protected?

If you haven’t been reading the series of article on the state of our clean drinking waters from the New York Times Toxic Waters - Series - The New York Times, here’s a chance to hear all about it. 

Toxic Waters: Regulatory Absence Allows Chemical, Coal and Farm Industries to Pollute US Water Supplies "Toxic Waters: Regulatory Absence Allows Chemical, Coal and Farm Industries to Pollute US Water Supplies We speak to New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg about the latest in his investigative series “Toxic Waters,” which examines the worsening pollution in the nation’s water systems." --from democracynow.com

Sunday, October 18, 2009

350 Why It Matters

“350 is the number that leading scientists say is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide—measured in ‘Parts Per Million’ in our atmosphere. 350 PPM—it's the number humanity needs to get back to as soon as possible to avoid runaway climate change.” –from Understanding 350 | 350.org

Several events are going on in Rochester this coming Saturday for the 350.org and we hope you will attend one. If enough people demonstrate in a positive way that they acknowledge the problem of Climate Change and are willing to make their voice heard, it might make a difference. It’s all on 350.org.

I personally think it matters that we act in some concerted effort now to raise our voice because of the cloud of indifference that wafts over environmental matters. So much irrational and ideological dust has been kicked up over global warming that we have lost the moral point. It goes like this: Only in the last couple of decades has there been overwhelming evidence that we –Homo sapiens—are affecting the planet’s environment.

Up to this point, only a few believed we were doing great damage. But the majority of humanity didn’t really think our puny little species and our busy machinations could actually steer the course of the planet’s biology enough to affect how it all works. Now, no well-informed person can deny that we’ve not only trashed the place, we are on Earth’s board of directors. Way beyond our Peter Principle.

This changes everything. Morality itself takes on a new meaning because our choices aren’t simply about us or our personal salvation. Our choices have a tangible affect on the workings of our planet, even threatening our future and the lives of other beings on this planet. So, if you follow my logic, our sense of Morality must include our responsibility to our environment because we now realize we can actually change it.

It’s a profound idea. This wouldn’t have occurred to Aristotle, Plato, Marx, or even Darwin because they didn’t have computers and satellites to access the data from a far enough vantage point to reach this conclusion. Our ancestors would not have deduced from watching a campfire in a cave that several millennia later, with billions of people and zillions of fires, we can raise the temperature of the planet, so they had better cool it. But, our generation does know.

In the same way that other great ideas have transformed the way we view the world—evolution, monotheism, fire, agriculture—manmade Climate Change will forever change how we see ourselves. Once you realize that we are altering the planet, you must, like a Kantian imperative, acknowledge your responsibility.

One way to act on that responsibility is to attend a 350.org event and get heard by the rest of the world.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Top Ten Things You Can Do for Rochester’s Environment

Sure there are lots of top ten lists around. So why not one on the things you can do for your local environment—that system that keeps us alive and thriving? But, this list is different from the usual stuff. It’s not one of those really easy, warm and fuzzy lists of fun activities you can do in your spare time. It’ll be transformative.

This list assumes you are ready to take responsibility (as a member of the only species capable of doing so) for your presence at this critical time in our planet’s history. And, it isn’t about just your personal fulfillment thing—our environment isn’t politics, religion, a fad, or a cause; it’s science all the way down. Pollute the planet, stuff happens. Finally, in order for the effects of this list to be effective a lot (I mean billions) of humans need to do them too. In the deepest practical sense, everything you do (where you live, what you eat, what you buy, what you throw away) matters to our environment. Ready folks, here we go:

1. Be engaged with the issues surrounding our local environment by monitoring the media, books, reports, and the Internet using the laws of Nature as your guide to monitor how our lifestyle is affecting our environment.

2. When you consume anything--food, water, cars, gadgets, whatever—do so as though you were demonstrating how to consume for the rest of the world—considering the lifecycle of the products you buy, how they are made, how they are used, and how you get rid of them.

3. When you have someplace to go, consider all your options in order of their affect on our environment: walking, biking, car-pooling, mass transit, and lastly a personal vehicle.

4. Conserve energy until we find a non-polluting, renewable energy source.

5. Vote. If you’re doing good for our environment and your representative in government doesn’t get it, you’re just making yourself feel good without much effect.

6. Recycle, reuse and encourage your local government to create a place where recycling just about everything is the norm.

7. Think twice before using toxic chemicals that make your yard look like a golf course and your house like a hospital.

8. Consider other species (plants and animals) and their role in sustaining our environment. Some are annoying and critical. Some are cute and a burden.

9. Adopt green business practices: your business will save our environment and be able to compete with the rest of the world.

10. Communicate your concerns about the state of our environment to everyone. Sustainability isn’t going to work unless everyone gets on board quickly.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Could we be the new Green Leaders?

Could our region be leading the way to clean up Brownfields and creating sites for renewable Energy?

Green Shoots from Brown Fields: Scientific American Uncle Sam looks to eliminate the biggest hurdle to expanding renewable energy--the need for suitable sites to place commercial-scale wind and solar farms--by reusing hundreds of old mines, landfills and industrial sites When the Bethlehem Steel mill in Lackawanna, N.Y., finally shut its doors for good eight years ago, it took away thousands of jobs and left behind a polluted and unsightly mess. Science News, Articles and Information | Scientific American

Friday, October 09, 2009

Coyote Dread:

Because the issue of the Eastern Coyotes among us has come up in the news, I wanted to make a reference to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation who reminds us the coyotes are an ‘integral part of our ecosystem.’  As we have exterminated most of the top predators in our area in the last couple of centuries (bears, wolves, cougars used to rule), we have a proliferation of deer and our environment has altered a lot. 

My point is that when it comes to coyotes there are much misinformation and prejudice about this creature whirling about—sometimes resulting in coyote killing contests.  This is not how we should be reacting to ‘integral part of our ecosystem’ in this time.  We should be reacting as stewards of our environment, which we are now.

Get the factsL Coyote Conflicts - NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation The Eastern coyote is firmly established in New York. They live in New York as an integral part of our ecosystem. People and coyotes can usually coexist if the natural fear of people that coyotes have is maintained.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Climate Event in Rochester, NY

Oct 24th It’s the Environment folks! If you are looking for a local event for the 350.org string of environmental events (October 24th) check out RIT’s program [4214] 350 Climate Action Festival | 350.org

What is 350.org? Mission | 350.org “350.org is an international campaign dedicated to building a movement to unite the world around solutions to the climate crisis--the solutions that science and justice demand.”

No more Open Burning:

Long needed, I was surprised to see this new state regulation from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC) just appear on the DEC press releases.  I haven’t seen a mainstream media item on this, but it’s big news.  Preventing the open burning of household trash in outlying communities, in light of what we know about Dixons and other air pollutants and global warming should have been enacted a long time ago.

So, without much fanfare and unlike the brouhaha over the new bottle bill, this regulation, this new regulation should  fill a gaping hole in our state’s air quality laws. 

Check out: New Regulation on Open Burning Takes Effect Oct. 14 - NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation Taking a step to reduce harmful air pollutants and help prevent wildfires, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has extended restrictions on the open burning of residential waste effective Oct. 14. The open burning of residential waste will be prohibited in all communities statewide, regardless of population, with exceptions for burning tree limbs and branches at limited times and other certain circumstances (detailed below). Previously, the ban applied only in towns with populations of 20,000 or more. The New York State Environmental Board approved this state regulation on Sept. 1. (October 5, 09) Press Releases - NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation [more on Air Quality in our area]

Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Great Conceit

In this wonderful and expert article on bird migration [City Newspaper “A bird in the hand” 9/30/09], something hauntingly familiar struck me from the section: “Why protect birds?” Birds have a right to live; birding helps our economy because birders buy binoculars; birds are an early-warning system, etc. I’ve come across this apparent need for reporters and scientists to justify the need for other species in many articles on our environment: why we need biodiversity (lots of different species), why we need wolves, why bears, whales, or those darn mosquitoes, whatever. Basically, I guess, the assumption is why the rest of us who are driving around in our hot new clunkers, making a living, or watching the latest ‘reality’ on TV, and doing just fine should care about birds, which may not be our ‘thing.’

Here’s what strikes me: To pose such a question in the media at all reveals a great human conceit that humankind should relieve itself of. Feeling compelled to prove the existence of birds is like having to explain the existence of the third floor in a high-rise. Answer: You don’t get to live on any of the above floors if there is no third floor. Birds and other species don’t simply exist at our pleasure; they and our environment are One. Birds are so woven into the fabric of our present environment as to cause serious structural damage if they were somehow removed.

This great conceit that we humans can casually sit back and calculate and consider the worth of the other biological components on this planet is sheer irresponsible lunacy. We forget ourselves, what we learned in biology, and who we are. The media and the public should take responsibility for informing themselves on how this planet operates (because we are at the helm as never before) so we don’t have to keep explaining why other creatures are valuable. That birds are important is an absolute no-brainer. Our culture should have advanced to the point where implicit in every article on other species is that they are not at the mercy of our false belief in the preeminence of our economy.

I’ll unpack that last point. Our economy doesn’t rule, Nature does. Denying the critical role of birds would be like the crew on a space ship suddenly seized with the fancy that it didn’t need air and began jack hammering the oxygen tanks. Birds are not only really neat, our environment will be different when they are gone—and you probably won’t like the results.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Where's that pollution?

A report (37 pages) that should be on your reading list this week is the new report by the International Joint Commission because it's about "programs to abate, control and prevent pollution from municipal sources entering the Great Lakes System.” The report’s object: The objective was to survey existing programs aimed at controlling surface-water pollution and to provide an overview of the current situation."

And, he current situation is not pretty.  Not only is one of the largest fresh water systems in the world, which is in and is our backyard, being compromised, the municipal sewage overflow, which is integral to our environmental health (a point that doesn’t usually get high prominence in mainstream media because they don’t know how to quantify it) is also affecting the fishing and tourist industries—which do get a high profile in our mainstream media. Anyway, if you don’t have time to read this report, you should see that your congress person does.   

International Joint Commission - News room IJC Releases 14th Biennial Report WINDSOR, Ontario - The International Joint Commission today released its Fourteenth Biennial Report on Great Lakes Water Quality. Under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (Article VII), the International Joint Commission reports to the federal, state and provincial governments biennially concerning its findings on their progress toward achieving the Agreement’s general and specific objectives. The Commission’s report, which is released to the public, is also to assess the effectiveness of programs and other measures undertaken pursuant to the Agreement

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Gassing the News

A good example of how dysfunctional our present media is on our environment, specifically on natural gas drilling, can be made by a point-by-point comparison of National Public Radio’s (NPR) three-part series on natural gas and recent coverage by ProPublica on the same subject:

Rediscovering Natural Gas By Hitting Rock Bottom: (September 22, 09) Morning Edition : NPR

Who's Looking At Natural Gas Now? Big Oil: (September 23, 2009) Morning Edition : NPR

With Little Clout, Natural Gas Lobby Strikes Out: (September 24, 09) Morning Edition : NPR

Buried Secrets: Gas Drilling’s Environmental Threat from Pro Publica”

In short, while NPR wildly endorses the convenient view that natural gas is our environmental and energy salvation, ProPublica’s coverage suggests that this issue is far more complicated and sorted. NPR states that water is used for fracturing, or breaking up underground rocks for gas, and ProPublica states that unnamed manmade chemicals are being used. NPR suggests environmentalists can live with natural in the short run, and ProPublica reports wide-spread concern by environmental groups and the public. ProPublica’s coverage on gas drilling by fracturing and NPR’s don’t match in the places they should be matching—science and the facts.

But, a point-by-point analysis is missing the big point. The big point is that environmental issues are too often presented by the media with an agenda. This agenda can be, “we want to save our environment, but we don’t want to create change because change makes the public nervous. Or, “everything industry does is bad.” Or, “don’t worry your pretty little heads, the experts are on it.” Or, “everything environmental groups say is right because ‘they get it’.” Or, “somewhere between the experts, industry, and non-profit environmental groups, the truth will get hammered out and will be the better for it in the great belief that environmental matters are like a democracy.” Of course, Nature isn’t a democracy at all. Nature (for all its beauty and cruelty) is a mindless algorithm of cause and effect: garbage in, garbage out.

Granted, there are political, economic, governmental, and individual aspects in every environmental issue, but editors in the media should be ‘pushing’ only one agenda on our environment: sustainability. In other words, are we and our children’s children likely to survive? Sometimes, as one reads environmental stories on mainstream media, you get that haunting feeling that they’re all discussing different planets with different laws that will have different outcomes—all subject to their editor’s opinions.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Same Green Sheet

Evidence of a great change in attitudes and behaviors towards our environment in our country and around the world is evident. Slowly, but more rapidly than ever before, individuals, communities, and governments are adopting greener ways of doing things. This is probably not due to a sudden change of heart towards our planet, but more probably due to the mounting evidence that mankind’s activities are affecting our very ability to survive on it. Also, we cannot deny the growing realization that an economy disdainful of our environment cannot complete with other economies that set strict standards for toxic chemicals and adopt tight environmental business practices.

Most are now aware that our species "Homo sapiens" are not simply passengers on a small pale blue orb spinning through the universe; we have been promoted to third-class environmental engineers. Those vagaries of our existence—disease, climate change, even our health--that our species hitherto perceived as beyond our control (fate) are increasingly understood as well within our area of influence.

This is heartening as businesses are springing up all over helping other businesses and communities green up. Efficiency, conservation, innovation, preservation, and reclamation are in the air. And, as in any great change, there will be people and businesses trying to game the new game—heralding their green credentials when in fact they have changed but little, merely checked off a list of better operating practices without a clue about the lifecycle of their products and services or their accumulative affect on our environment.

On the whole, though, most will try to do the right thing. But doing the right thing may take a while to understand and make systemic—i.e., make the right changes, not merely creating the illusion that we are making wholesale, world-wide changes. What I mean by this is that in order to actually adopt a sustainable way of life we all need to be singing from the same sheet of music, talking the same scientific language, the unambiguous laws of Nature. Hype, rants, ideological diatribes, and green quackery won’t do the trick.

Already, in our communities there are attempts to coordinate and orchestrate green efforts. Because we have avoided the hard choices for so long, ad hoc, and piecemeal changes by dedicated individuals are not going to be enough. Planetary changes are required. Programs like Climate Smart Communities by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is an example of a volunteer effort by a governmental agency hoping to get communities all on the same page, working toward the same goals, sharing information and guided by an agency that knows what its doing, as forty-one New York communities have already signed on.” Also, around the world governments are subscribing to the Climate Registry “that sets consistent and transparent standards to calculate, verify and publicly report greenhouse gas emissions into a single registry.”

The arc of history is long and bends towards justice, may be true. (Though, the millions who have suffered under Injustice throughout history while the rest of us padded comfortably up to the future probably would not agree.) But the arc of tending towards a greener future may extend longer than we have if we don’t make the necessary changes in time. With the laws of Nature, there’s no waiting around until we get it right.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Water Issue:


Don’t miss this series by the New York Times on the long series of violations of the Clean Water Act of 1972.  Environmental issues don’t tend to go away because people are too busy or uninterested.  Many people, rather than think about the decades of inadequate enforcement of the Clean Air Act (if they think such things at all), grab bottled water and be done with it. Case closed, hand me my TV remote.  What most interesting to me is not merely the pervasiveness of the violations of this law (‘cause that’s what corporations do), but how we react to this overwhelming environmental issue—clean water.  We are not reacting to the world-wide pollution of our fresh water well. 

In fact, we’re mostly dysfunctional on how we react to gloomy environmental reports altogether: We ignore them, make excuses, look for solution that don’t address the matter, blame others, attack the whistler blowers, deny that anything wrong is going on, or dismiss environmental problem as low on our priority list.  Somehow, despite all evidence to the contrary, we think that the more we ignore it, the more it will go away.  Of course, that’s nonsense.   

Toxic Waters - Clean Water Laws Are Neglected, at a Cost in Suffering - Series - NYTimes.com This pattern is not limited to West Virginia. Almost four decades ago, Congress passed the Clean Water Act to force polluters to disclose the toxins they dump into waterways and to give regulators the power to fine or jail offenders. States have passed pollution statutes of their own. But in recent years, violations of the Clean Water Act have risen steadily across the nation, an extensive review of water pollution records by The New York Times found. (September 12, 09) Toxic Waters - Series - The New York Times

Monday, September 14, 2009

An Environmental Education

Most educational programs in our colleges and universities probably include some science courses, but probably not an environmental course as a general educational requirement. This, and an ethics requirement for business majors, is woefully lacking in an educational system trying to survive into today’s economic world. Note: I didn’t say that our institutions were not aligning ourselves with other world-class educational curriculums to produce students who will be able to complete in today’s market. We may or may not be cranking out über breadwinners. That may not be clear until the financial dust settles around the world.

But, whether or not you believe institutions of higher education exist for people to get high-paying jobs, fit into our society, know their cultures and others, or think well on their feet with a smart gadget in their hand, you must include graduates who can (and will) rationally assess the health of their environment. In the September 2009 edition of Harpers Magazine “Dehumanized, When Math and Science Rule the School,” Mark Slouka makes the case that the humanities have suffered in our colleges as our country only focuses of what they think we need to compete. In our strivings to compete, Slouka says, we are losing what is to best to be human. I submit that we are also losing something more basic: the core of our existence. For, whatever one’s beliefs or interests, we are among the billions of biological creatures on this planet that must have clean air, water, and land.

In today’s world of 6.5 billion people a well educated person should have a firm grasp of our biological underpinnings. It may not get you a job, a mate, popularity, or allow you to be a stunning dinner speaker, but it will allow you to intelligently sift through news, environmental studies, and reports of early signs that our environmental systems are shutting down—as many argue they are. The climate is warming (despite crazy radio talk rhetoric) along with acidification of the oceans, the loss of biodiversity, and much more. A people who cannot tell (or don’t even pay attention) that things are not going well with the system that keeps them alive is a people on their way out.

So, if you missed that day in college when your professor mentioned during a math or computer class that she wasn’t opening the windows that day because of an ozone alert, you might want to attend one of the many programs on the environment in our area this fall. Check rochesterenvironment.com/calendar.htm. There are a lot of good programs going on by non-profit groups, universities, and our local governments, including a lecture series to draw attention to important environmental topics by the town of Irondequoit.

Of course, we cannot make up for decades of not putting environmental studies high on the agenda in our universities, nor demand that a sizeable (for that is what it will take) portion of humanity to take note of the vast unhealthy changes we’ve made in the last couple of centuries. We are a ‘free’ people, in pursuit of Happiness, Liberty, and just trying to get by. But Mother Nature is a demanding parent: Ignorance of her laws will have no effect on her rules. One of these programs might help your reconnect with Her.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Walking as Transportation:

I know this seems radical, characterizing walking as transportation, in the same room as bus, car, planes, etc. But, when you realize that most 'trips' in this county are 31/2 miles or less, walking is a healthy viable transportation mode. And, the better you design your urban areas, the better you make changes in your urban area so that it become convenient to walk (and have time to smell ((and buy the roses in between)) the more environmentally friendly and safer your community becomes. So, this news out of Henrietta, where they can use a lot more sidewalks is very refreshing:

Where it stands: New sidewalks in Henrietta - Canandaigua, NY - MPNnow Henrietta, N.Y. — The issue Henrietta is filled with a mix of retail areas and residential neighborhoods — which creates a flurry of traffic. Supervisor Michael Yudelson — with the help of the Town Board — is trying to make the neighborhood more “walkable,” he says. Some streets, like Beaconsfield Road, Colonnade Drive and Commons Way, don’t have sidewalks, creating a potentially unsafe situation for pedestrians. The town is looking to change that. (September 11, 09) Home - Canandaigua, NY - MPNnow [more on Transportation in our area]

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Public Meeting on Our Parks

Take the opportunity to join in the fate of our area's parks:

Is Monroe County’s fiscal crisis putting our parks at risk?

Public Meeting Monday, September 21, 2009 Nurturing natural monroe: the challenge of caring for county parks Master planning for County Parks has led to uses that threaten some parks’ long-term environmental health & beauty.

In 2010, County planners will turn their attention to Powder Mills Park. Citizens need to be ready. Nora Bredes invites you to join NYS Assemblyman Steve Englebright chair of the assembly’s Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts & Sports and NYS Assemblyman Joe morelle to discuss stewardship of our public parks September 21st 5:30 pm - 7 pm Wadham’s Lodge Powder Mills Park Park Road Pittsford, New York 14534 For more information, call Nora at 585/314-1597

Monday, September 07, 2009

Healthy Debate

Missing amidst the uproar on health care reform at the town meetings and the bug-eyed hysteria encouraged by our media is the link between our health care system and public health. Death panels, pulling the plug on our loved ones, socialism, deficits (mostly ignored during the war of choice), and even some cogent arguments that don’t embarrass us in the eyes of the world have been rung through the wringer that is called our media. It’s all as clear as mud, but politically the issues over health care reform are clear: defeating the present party on this ‘hot’ button issue offers new life to a party in search of a victory—any victory.

As decision time nears Obama, speaking soon to a joint session of Congress (bottom of the ninth, the last lap, third down and goal to go, whatever) every morbid rock has been overturned except one strangely illuminating environmental health fact: Regardless of how healthy various pockets in your population are (say, those with great health coverage) those weak links, those without the means to prevent diseases early or build up their immune systems when weak can be your conduit to a raging pandemic.

In other words, if some one close to you is--physically close like your neighbor, the one seated to you on a bench, walking by you on the street, next to you at a public meeting, seated next to you at a movie, waiting in line at a store, or a friend of a friend who has come in contact with someone with no health coverage—is vulnerable then you’re connected to the pandemic too. During this health coverage debate, during a possible resurgence in strength of the present flu pandemic, little has been made of the consequences to you who have adequate health coverage of the millions of your unfortunate neighbors who don’t.

Washing your hands, yelling at your senator or congress person, securing and plugging the holes in your own health policy, isn’t going to stop the flu virus from getting to you. When a disease passes from human to human we are all as vulnerable as the weakest link in the chain. Our public health has been compromised by a rapacious and selfish health care system that puts us all at risk.

Never mind health care costs, who’s going to win the next election, whether the president will hit one out of the park next week, or whether the government is going to squeeze its incompetent self between you or your favorite doctor. If a large part of your population is riddled with inadequate health care whose only recourse is the emergence ward when they collapse, someone in the great chain of being is going to pass a fast-spreading disease like the swine flu to you.

Even if you don’t care about those people who lose their health care or didn’t bother to get a job and get a great policy like yours, you aren’t safe. The weakest link in a pandemic provides the quickest route to you. A pandemic, like any other health problem, follows the path of least resistance. That person next to you without adequate health care is your brother.

Recycling In Rochester, New York

Got ideas, suggestions, or comments on recycling in the Rochester, NY region? How can we get more peoplet to recycle? How can we stop recycleable items from being landfilled. Should our goal be Zero Waste in our area?

Pandemic Flu, Getting Ready

We want to applaud Monroe County's getting out in front on the possible pandemic issue in our area. It may turn out to be a mild flu season this years, but it would be irresponsible not to be prepared otherwise. Think seriously of using a hand sanitizer before you hand get near your face and check out all warnings, cautions, and information from this site:

Public Health | Monroe County, NY Pandemic Flu | "Bird Flu. Pandemic Flu. These terms - confusing as they can be - are seemingly in the news daily.  Monroe County, with our partners at the local, state and federal level has been working aggressively to develop and test plans so we can be sure that we respond effectively. While we all hope we never have to face such a health emergency, I want to assure you that if our community ever does encounter Pandemic Flu, we will deal with it like we have with all other emergencies."

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Getting Up to Snuff on High Speed Rail:

National Public Radio has offered a great series on High Speed Raid across the country.  Because this mode of transportation may be coming to our area, because of the Obama’s desire to help communities with jobs and help our environment, this series of programs is especially useful.  It’s not all happy talk.  Getting High Speed Raid is complicated and involves many aspects, but other communities have done it.  Learn from them. 

Check it out: On The Fast Track? The Obama administration is pushing the development of high-speed-rail lines, claiming that ultrafast trains would ease traffic, help the environment and boost the economy. Critics question those claims — and say the United States has a long way to go to catch up with other countries' rail travel. NPR : National Public Radio : News & Analysis, World, US, Music & Arts : NPR

Monday, August 31, 2009

Gas Drilling Nearby

More information about gas drilling in our area is good not bad. 

This new citizen-based web site maps and chronicles the spread of gas drilling in our region:   

MAP–Tompkins - Home "The Marcellus Accountability Project for Tompkins County Gas drilling is coming soon to the Finger Lakes Region. Rumors abound, but one thing is sure: in the next few years residents will see a dramatic transformation of the local area to a more industrial landscape. How many wells will be drilled? How rapidly? Economic uncertainty makes answering these questions difficult, but predictions range from hundreds to thousands of wells over the next 5 to 20 years."

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Green Grants

Ok, there’s probably no grants specifically labeled ‘green.’ And admittedly, there’s not anything particularly new or fresh about the field of grant writing worth noting: It still involves long hours of research, tedious and meticulous fact checking, and (at least from the grant writer’s side) it’s a crap shoot.

What’s different now is that a window of opportunity for cleaning up pollution, promoting conservation, getting funds for new energy efficient devices, and getting monies to provide jobs helping our environment has opened wide at the same time lending by banks has tightened up. Recessions shake things up. This latest market crash, with the proliferation of stimulus monies in the form of grants, offers a chance for governments, institutions, and businesses that may not have had a previous environment focus to off-set some of their unsavory practices and policies by encouraging environmentally positive practices (clean-ups, studies, innovative designs that conserve energy, or retrofitting an existing facility to be more efficient) that make our environment and our economy more sustainable.

Another sea-change in the world of grants is that healthy attitudes towards our environmental, once mostly the bailiwick of non-profit groups, are now being supplanted by businesses. It’s not that the major environmental groups, dedicated for decades to compel governments and industries towards better environmental practices, have lost their clout to the almighty dollar. It’s that on the whole these groups have been successful alerting and demonstrating the urgency of the present environment crisis: the planet is warming up, pollution proliferates, and bad development is trashing what’s left of our verdant world. Most of those in government (now) and in business get it. Of course, advocating and rallying for the planet to clean up its act is probably not going to fall under the purview of the business sector any time soon. But, much of the implementation for a sustainable world will be accomplished by the market.

This doesn’t mean there’s a free-for-all out there: Grants, especially federal and state grants, have strings attached. Because they are usually reviewed by experts, often engineers, your request has got to make sense all the way down, from the moment of conception to the moment of implementation. You have to follow all the laws—local laws, conservation laws, laws of physics, economic laws, and the laws of common sense. And, you usually have to report on your progress all along the way. Someone’s not only holding your hand when you get a grant, they usually have a very firm grip.

But grants, because they can be shaped by what we’ve learned about our environment, instead of the reckless ‘invisible hand’ of the free market, offers an excellent alternative to influence peddling and bad practices. Monies provided though governments or foundations set up by businesses can reset the direction of those businesses hitherto only focused on profits for the shareholders. Grants, the way they are designed and implemented, offer an excellent way to infuse into our economy one of the crucial ingredients long since missing from it—the wise use of our resources.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Track the Pandemic

As we move into the flu season with the Pandemic still around, it's good to keep track

Novel H1N1 Influenza Novel H1N1 Influenza Hotline for the Public 1-800-808-1987 New York City residents call 311 | New York State is carefully monitoring a new flu strain, referred to as Novel H1N1 Influenza, that began to appear in the U.S. and worldwide in Spring 2009. New York is working with national, state and local officials to track the disease and provide guidance to members of the public, health care professionals and others. --from the NYS Dept. of Health

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Rochester's Air Quality

Important information about our area's Air Quality, which of course determines our health and Transportation issues in our area.

Home - American Lung Association in New York American Lung Association’s 10th Annual State of the Air Report Details Air Quality in New York State New Standards Provide New Insight into New York’s Toxic Air The American Lung Association’s tenth annual State of the Air report, released today, finds that over 12.5 million New Yorkers - a stunning 65 percent of the state’s residents - live in counties where air pollution levels endanger lives. According to the report, which applies new and stricter federal air quality standards, 22 out of the 33 counties with air quality monitors received failing grades.

Climate Change and our National Parks

Scientists are watching how Climate Change is going to affect our National Parks:

NPCA | Climate Change and National Park Wildlife: A Survival Guide for a Warming World "Climate change has arrived in America’s National Parks. Native trees and animals are losing ground because changing temperature and weather patterns are making the availability of food, water, and shelter less certain. Fish and wildlife are being driven from their national park homes by changes that are unfolding faster than the animals’ ability to adapt. If we fail to act, some wildlife may even go extinct."

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Condition of our area's Beaches. Are they safe?

How Clear are our beaches? What does the condition of our beaches say about the condition of our environment?

NRDC: Testing the Waters 2009 "Did you know that beaches around the country posted more than 20,000 closing or advisory days last year -- for the fourth year in a row? Check out NRDC's 19th annual Testing the Waters report to see how 200 popular beaches around the country fared and learn how to stay safe the next time you spend a day at the shore. "

Help biking in Rochester, help our area's environment

Increasing bicycling for the Rochester, NY area will reduce air pollution, positively affect your health, decrease traffic on our streets and give you a chance to smell our roses and see our sites.  Check out this site and help out getting more bike to more people.    

R Community Bikes: Rochester, New York "R Community Bikes is a grassroots, 501(c)3 organization that collects and repairs used bicycles for distribution, free of charge, to Rochester, NY's most needy children and adults. Our mission is meeting the basic transportation needs of those in the community who depend on bikes for recreation as well as for transport to work, school, rehabilitation programs, and training sessions. For this segment of the population, both quality of life and the ability to participate in our community are greatly enhanced when our mission is achieved. R Community Bikes also provides a venue for the Rochester bicycling community to conduct educational programs relative to bicycle safety and maintenance. We are open to the public on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 9:30 am to 1:00 pm at our warehouse at 226 Hudson Ave. (at the intersection with Woodbury Street). In addition, on Wednesdays in the summer we conduct bike repairs at St. Joseph's House of Hospitality at 402 South Avenue. We welcome donations of bikes, bike parts, tools and money to cover expenses such as spare parts. We are always in need of volunteers to serve as mechanics and a variety of other positions. We provide the necessary training."

Tracking High Speed Rail for our area

If High Speed Rail comes to the Rochester, NY area (via the Buffalo to Albany corridor) it is going to have an tremendous, environmental, economic, and transportation impact on our area.  Be sure to get the latest official news and updates for this incredible project. 

Program: Nation-wide Discretionary Grant Program for High-Speed Rail (HSR) "In April, President Obama released a strategic plan outlining his vision for high-speed rail. The plan identifies $13 billion in federal funds -- $8 billion in the Recovery Act and $5 billion requested in the President's budget -- to jump-start a potential world-class passenger rail system and sets the direction of transportation policy for the future." --from NYSDOT Home

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Unsolvable Problem:

As we ignore the signs that the underpinnings of the environment we have inherited are breaking down—global warming, pollution, oceans dying—so as it goes with the underpinnings of the environment we created: our water and sewer systems, our roads and highways are crumbling.  If we adopt other ways of getting around such as high-speed rail or maybe ‘hover’ cars, we can let our highways goes and move on to something else, as is our species way. 

But, regardless of how we design our future, we are going to need the systems that bring in our fresh water and take away our used water to be sound.  I have my doubts that we will be able to address the issue of a widespread deterioration of our water and sewer systems because: it will cost a lot of money and isn’t an issue that grabs public attention, it will be politically unpopular because we need so much public money to go elsewhere, and because this issue has been foretold long ago and little has been done about it.

Basically, unless we can retrofit an economic boon to a looming disaster (as we are now doing with energy and conservation issues) we are dysfunctional. Overcoming the costs and recriminations that will come as various parts of our system fail in various localities on an issue that is literally underground and out of our sight and one that we have been ignoring for decades means we are going to let it go until a disaster occurs. 

It’s the way we react to problems involving the underpinnings of our environment.  I applaud the Comptrollers efforts, but little will be done.  This story will go away again and keep going way until it’s in our face.

Read on... DiNapoli: New York’s Local Infrastructure Needs Projected To Be $80 Billion Under Funded Over Next 20 Years Multi-Year Capital Planning and Increased Federal Funding Needed Driscoll Joins DiNapoli at News Conference in Syracuse At the current rate of spending, New York will have $80 billion in unmet infrastructure needs over the next 20 years unless state, federal and local governments work together to improve multi-year capital planning and better fund infrastructure projects, cautioned State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli in a report he released today in Syracuse. DiNapoli’s report estimates the state’s capital needs for repairing roads, bridges, and water and sewer lines will swell to a quarter trillion dollars over the next 20 years. (August 11, 09) New York State Office of the State Comptroller

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Vote for Communiting by Bicycling in Rochester

How does Rochester, NY stack up in being bike friendly for commuters? Click here and vote us:

The Top 10 U.S. Cities For Biking Americans overwhelmingly continue to drive alone to work. With more than nine out of 10 workers favoring driving. But these 10 cities are definitely taking the initiative to change that. Here are the top 10 U.S. cities for bicycling commuters.