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 NestlĂ© 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."