Friday, July 29, 2011

Environmental data must include Climate Change data – Climate Change indicators


Recently, at a meeting to update ACT Rochester talks included adding Climate Change indicators to their Environment page. Although this may seem arcane to some, it’s crucial that the data we use to plan our future include the likely changes that Climate Change will bring to our area. We can only do that if we have accurate data that reflect all areas of concern in our changing environment.

So, let’s start with the beginning. What is ACT Rochester?

ACT Rochester, a program of Rochester Area Community Foundation and the United Way of Greater Rochester, functions as: a trusted data provider, a neutral convener, an advocate for change. Reshaping our approach to community problem-solving requires objective, timely and independent data. ACT Rochester stimulates community solutions to our most critical challenges by changing the culture of public discussion and debate. includes a wide-array of over 180 community indicators. Community indicators measure the overall health of a community when they are viewed together and are a key ingredient to systemic change. ACT Rochester also interprets this information through trend summaries, charts and graphs. Current efforts to advance our region as well as links to more than 300 local community resources can be found for each of the twelve quality of life categories. ACT Rochester.

We need in every community a neutral fact gatherer because, especially with environmental matters, various groups, governments, businesses, and others tend to create informational silos of cherry-picked information that suits their agenda. Not necessarily because they are trying to do that, but because it’s the nature of groups with limited funds to focus on their interests. So, we need independent fact gathers and a consensus on what constitutes ‘objective’ information on our environment.

Environmental information free of an agenda of some sort is hard to come by. And this is important because grant-writers who often times try to fund monies for environmental projects need objective environmental information about their area to get funded. All parties trying to create a sustainable environment must work from the same page—the same data so that they don’t unintentionally try to solve problems by only finding data that suits their agenda.

Next step: One of the major changes in gathering environmental information is the growing realization that the profound changes Climate Change will bring to all environmental issues. Check out my recent essay “Hydrofracking in NYS through the lens of Climate Change”, which describes how even the present issue of hydrofracking must be seen, as the US Fish and Wildlife Service says, through the lens of Climate Change.

“As a Service, we are committed to examining everything we do, every decision we make, and every dollar we spend through the lens of climate change, fully confident in our workforce to rise to this challenge and to lead from in front and from behind.” page 5, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Rising to the Urgent Challenge, Strategic Plan for Responding to Accelerating Climate Change

So, to do that you need to ‘see’ environmental events through Climate Change indicators. These are best described by the Environmental Protection Agency who has already defined many of the indicators we need to focus on.

“Collecting and interpreting environmental indicators play a critical role in our understanding of climate change and its causes. An indicator represents the state of certain environmental conditions over a given area and a specified period of time. Examples of climate change indicators include temperature, precipitation, sea level, and greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. EPA's Climate Change Indicators in the United States (PDF) (80 pp, 13.3MB) report will help readers interpret a set of important indicators to better understand climate change. The report presents 24 indicators, each describing trends related to the causes and effects of climate change. It focuses primarily on the United States, but in some cases global trends are presented to provide context or a basis for comparison. EPA will use these indicators to examine long-term data sets to: Track the effects/impacts of climate change in the United States; Assist decision–makers on how to best use policymaking and program resources to respond to climate change; Assist EPA and its constituents in evaluating the success of their climate change efforts” Climate Change Indicators in the United States | Climate Change | U.S. EPA

The value of all this is immeasurable because this data provides all interested parties, including the public, a more useful way of viewing environmental data. Even reporters can capitalize on this new and critical way to view local environmental stories. Events like massive fish die-offs that we occasionally see in the news and heat waves, which are Climate Change indicators, can be properly reported as possible indicators of Climate Change that are happening around us. This is not a bias, or someone’s pernicious agenda, it’s the proper lens now from which to view all environmental news.

Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of including Climate Change indicators in all environmental data gathering and environment reporting will be to convince the public that Climate Change is something that has to be addressed.

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