Monday, September 26, 2011

Environmentally concerned in Rochester, NY … for a little while


If you’ve been getting your news from sources other than mainstream local media, you know that a lot of attention has been focused on our environment lately. A couple of weeks ago, the Tar Sands issue raged in Washington, DC; on September 14th Al Gore began a world-wide attempt to challenge Climate Change deniers with a 24-hour Climate Reality Project; the Greentopia Festival brought 18, 000 Rochesterians to engage in a conversation about our local environment last weekend, and yesterday Moving Planet, another in a series of yearly events by Bill McKibben to focus on Climate Change, happened in Rochester and around the world. For a little while, thousands, probably millions gave their attention to the environment that keeps us alive and expressed their concerns.

You would think that given the nature of our environment, that is, the physics, chemistry, and biology of the 4-billion-year experiment of life on this planet, our devotion and attention would be easily sustained. But mostly our focus on our environment only goes on for a little while. In The American ‘allergy’ to global warming: Why?:

Tucked between treatises on algae and prehistoric turquoise beads, the study on page 460 of a long-ago issue of the U.S. journal Science drew little attention. "I don't think there were any newspaper articles about it or anything like that," the author recalls. But the headline on the 1975 report was bold: "Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?" And this article that coined the term may have marked the last time a mention of "global warming" didn't set off an instant outcry of angry denial. (September 23, 2011) Post-Tribune

In the Rochester, NY area some went to the Tar Sands demonstrations in Washington, DC and tried to grab President Obama’s attention on the consequences of running an oil pipeline down to the Gulf of Mexico to refine a very dirty fossil fuel that could greatly contribute to Climate Change. Then, with the Greentopia Moving Planet Bike the Bridges Self-Guided Bike Ride, we had over seventy-five souls take the green way into Rochester, NY’s first green festival. They wanted to say that our streets can be a carbon neutral way to move about in our area. We were moving towards sustainable responsibility, for a little while.

During the festival, we talked about Fracking, an attempt to extract in a secret and potentially dangerous way those fossil fuels under our feet. Fracking is heralded as a transitional fuel—as some say it’s not as greenhouse gas intensive as coal or oil. But if Fracking was a transitional fuel, we would be promoting renewable energy at the same time and nobody talked within my earshot about the quiet demise of the Great Lakes Off-Shore Wind (GLOW) project. We talked about Monroe County’s adoption of recycling for #3-7 plastics now and the creation of the new ecopark. We talked about conserving energy, installing solar panels (Yes! in New York State where the sun shines too) creating environmentally friendly communities nearby, developing electric bikes and other eco-friendly gadgets. We had recycling stewards helping folks recycle properly in a weekend festival event that tried to be a zero waste event. We were all together on taking the initiative for our planet, for a little while.

Then we listened to many speakers on the state of our environment and how we can help—including Bill McKibben, who reminded us that Nature formerly had ways to take care of many of the environmental issues of today. For instance, thousands of ungulates wandering the Great Plains served to trample their methane and even some carbon dioxide into our soil. (In this case, Nature’s way of motivating buffalo and other ungulates was called the wolf.)

So, for a while some of us in Rochester, NY took a break from the political bickering and extreme weather events taking their toll on our neighbors. Granted, you had to go out of your way to find out about these environmental issues and events that will affect our area, as your local media was still distracted by the usual nonsense. Greentopia was a breath of fresh air, a glimpse of the concern about the wide spectrum of issues that plague our environment. What we eat, how we move about, how we get our energy, what we buy, and how we throw it away are crucial in an environment which will soon (studies suggest on Halloween) contain 7 billion humans.

What I hope everyone who has paid attention to these environmental issues in the past weeks comes away with is a sense of urgency. Nature, red in tooth and claw, is a harsh reality as she sticks maniacally to her laws of physics and never for a moment veers from them--not even for a little while.

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