Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year’s resolution to pay attention to the Climate Change Crisis

 

As times goes on it will get easier and easier to experience first-hand the consequences of Climate Change, it will also get harder and harder and to adapt and reverse those consequences. By the time Climate Change gets in our face with wildly extreme weather that breaks through the denial of the most ardent deniers, it will be far too late to actually turn Climate Change around. We already have 50 years of warming stored in our atmosphere and oceans to keep us busy even if we stopped one more molecule of carbon dioxide or any of the other greenhouse gases from entering our atmosphere.

All of us who are beginning to realize the magnitude of the Likely Changes in our regions coming with Climate Change have an obligation to communicate that understanding to everyone else. We cannot stop and reverse the changes—like extreme weather, changes in extreme precipitation events (rain and snow), rises in sea level, increase in invasive species, and much more—that are happening now with only a few on board. We cannot just rely on scientists to communicate the Climate Change Crisis:

As Climate Change Worsens, Scientists Feel Increasing Pressure to Speak Out | InsideClimate News At a recent conference, scientists debate how far they should go in expressing their concerns about the world's response to global warming. Factors contributing to climate change are moving faster than predicted and pushing us toward planetary conditions unlike any humans have ever known—this was one of the salient themes to emerge from this month's meeting of the American Geophysical Union, the world's largest gathering of earth and space scientists. Some scientists think we've already crossed that boundary and are, as Jonathan Foley, director of the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment, said, "in a very different world than we have ever seen before."  (December 29, 2011) | InsideClimate News

In the United, as opposed to most of the world, we still have to combat Climate Change denial—especially as this most virulent form of anti-science has infested our government—but mostly Climate Change communicators need to get involved locally to find out what changes are coming to their regions and what their local government is doing to prepare for that. Climate Change action plans are critical and they must be coordinated with other counties, states, and nations.

We must all be Climate Change communicators. What specifically can Climate Change Communicators do? Here are some ideas:

  • Start a web site, blog, or online group in your community to monitor local news as your media mentions extreme weather events and other predictions of Climate Change. Use Rochester Environment.com as a model.
  • Write to you local media editors and ask them to pay attention to Climate Change as it may influence your community.
  • Join organizations like 350.org that encourage local gatherings and actions on Climate Change.
  • Comment online using your social networking like Facebook and Twitter to counteract wrong information about Climate Change and encouraging more folks to understand this issue.
  • Join your local environmental and social groups and help them see the peril of Climate Change in your region.

Like an addict on illegal drugs crippled with insurmountable problems, our environmental and social problems as the Climate Change Crisis deepens will find ourselves with only one problem: surviving Climate Change. Every aspect of our lives sooner than later will have to be viewed through the lens of Climate Change: what be buy, where we work, where we live, our public health, how we get around, and even how we communicate—as extreme events (like flooding) will put many of our infrastructures in peril.

One of the most hopeful solutions to combating Climate Change that I have come across is the concept of the Citizen Science Programs as suggested by last month’s Report 11-18 Response to Climate Change in New York State (ClimAID) funded and published by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) .

“Expand Educational Outreach and Citizen Science Programs | Educational outreach to private landowners should be a high priority to raise their awareness of the issues and their critical role in minimizing negative impacts of climate change on New York biodiversity, habitat integrity, and maintenance of important ecosystem services. All sectors of society will benefit from sound information on climate change, its potential impacts on natural areas, its implications for ecosystem services affecting human communities, and what they can do to participate in adaptation and mitigation.” (ClimAID page 194)

A world-wide Citizen Science Program could be just the kind of education and training programs that would occur on a large enough scale to make the kind of changes that would affect our Climate. With citizens (volunteers or paid) continually monitoring possible Climate Change effects in their regions, educating others, and helping to communicate that information to a world-wide network might just bring our planet’s awareness and ability to act on a scale that would make the difference between a sustainable existence and one doomed to run away warming.

Making a resolution to focus on the most important issue of our times will help turn the tide denial into one of hope and action. And, anything you can do to communicate the importance of a Citizen Science Program in your community will go far this New Year.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

By watching Germany can we find out if renewable energy works for US?

 

Whether or not Germany can power its future entirely on renewable energy is an interesting observation not because what it says about Germany, but about the rest of us. As I see it, we are asking whether a country who is going full-out on renewable energy, energy sources that don’t pollute, warm-up, or jeopardize the planet, can do it—or will they fall back on the same old fossil fuels and nuclear energy? What we are really saying that Germany’s experiment with renewable energy is a test as to whether a country can free itself from the traditional energy sources that have a stranglehold on our economies?

The answer to the question that other countries are waiting for is simple: Yes, Germany, or any other country, can certainly provide its people and businesses with solar, wind, geothermal, and other renewable energy sources—and they must. All eyes should be on ourselves, not Germany.

All Eyes On German Renewable Energy Efforts : NPR “FELDHEIM, Germany (AP) — This tiny village of 37 gray homes and farm buildings clustered along the main road in a wind-swept corner of rural eastern Germany seems an unlikely place for a revolution. Yet environmentalists, experts and politicians from El Salvador to Japan to South Africa have flocked here in the past year to learn how Feldheim, a village of just 145 people, is already putting into practice Germany's vision of a future powered entirely by renewable energy.” (December 29, 2011) NPR : National Public Radio : News & Analysis, World, US, Music & Arts : NPR

It is not a technical question as to whether Germany can power itself with renewable energy. It can be done with a change in the way we use energy. We can change our energy use and conserve energy, and make our appliances and buildings energy efficient. We can use less; we can use battery storage, smart grids, and we can tolerate to see our land and waterscapes dotted with wind turbines. We can change the relatively inexpensive way we are powering our existence that has not equated the price of environmental degradation into that mix. We can stop massively subsidizing the fossil fuel industry and prevent how much money they give to our Congress and stop the ability of lobbyist to have an unfair advantage in our political system for their industry.

But we won’t. We want to wait to see if Germany can make renewable energy work while not upsetting the world-marketplace so we don’t have to act. It’s a silly and dangerous game we are playing: we want our cake and eat it too. We want to have a sustainable planet and continue to pollute and warm the planet at the same time. But doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insanity defined.

What we are really asking is whether or not we want to be bothered, if we want to be inconvenienced, if we want to upset and move to a sustainable energy system rather than the systems now in place. We are asking that Climate Change not be true and even if it is do we have a long enough time to continue on as we are without really doing anything major on how we get energy? We are asking whether Germany can change to a renewable energy future without upsetting the present order of world economics, where the fossil fuel industry and nuclear industry rule.

We are doing something in the US to encourage renewable energy, but not nearly enough:

EPA Finalizes 2012 Renewable Fuel Standards WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today finalized the 2012 percentage standards for four fuel categories that are part of the agency’s Renewable Fuel Standard program (RFS2). EPA continues to support greater use of renewable fuels within the transportation sector every year through the RFS2 program, which encourages innovation, strengthens American energy security, and decreases greenhouse gas pollution. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) established the RFS2 program and the annual renewable fuel volume targets, which steadily increase to an overall level of 36 billion gallons in 2022. To achieve these volumes, EPA calculates a percentage-based standard for the following year. Based on the standard, each refiner and importer determines the minimum volume of renewable fuel that it must ensure is used in its transportation fuel.  (December 29, 2011) U.S. EPA Newsroom - News Releases

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Insurance may be key in getting the public and businesses to ‘get it’ on Climate Change.

 

Many, actually far too many, people dismiss the Climate Change Crisis for a variety of reasons—none of them having to do with science I suspect. That’s too bad because without public understanding of Climate Change there won’t be enough public support to adapt to the Likely Changes coming to our area, nor send the carbon dioxide count in our atmosphere back to the level we evolved.

You can read about what’s coming for New York State with Climate Change, as encapsulated in this report:

The Daily Mail > Archives > News > Report talks of climate change’s effects Columbia, CUNY and Cornell assess future for NYSERDA  | A 460-page, in-depth report developed by Columbia University, the City University of New York, and Cornell University for the NYS Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) says -- in no uncertain terms -- that New York State’s climate is changing, and cautions what its outcomes will be, and also offers recommendations for adapting to it. The report does not address mechanisms for stopping or preventing the warming trend, but only what its effects will be, and how possibly to adapt to them.  (December 27, 2011) The Daily Mail

However, despite the lack of in-your-face catastrophe that the American public seems to require (like the Japanese strike at Pearl Harbor in 1941) before they are inclined to react to danger, there is an aspect of Climate Change that will certainly grab the public’s attention: insurance rates.

Those who insure our way of life—our cars, our homes, our whatever—are not so complacent about our future as your usual Climate Change deniers. Insurance folks have to look ahead and determine risk factors so they can hedge against catastrophes. Too many disasters at once, like floods, and they cannot pay out. If an insurance company says it will no longer insure your house because the likelihood of flooding has increased in your area because of Climate Change that will get your attention.

Will 2012 top 2011 for record weather disasters? | Reuters From floods that crippled countries, to mega cyclones, huge blizzards, killer tornadoes to famine-inducing droughts, 2011 has been another record-breaker for bad weather. While it is too early to predict what 2012 will be like, insurers and weather prediction agencies point to a clear trend: the world's weather is becoming more extreme and more costly.  (December 28, 2011) Reuters.com

Getting some perspective on our planet’s extreme weather and natural disasters.

 

Not to push the morbid display of things that often go wrong with our planet’s machinations, some of which are a response to our treatment of Earth, here are some interesting photos of our Earth from satellites far above us. (See below.)

Maybe this lofty view high above the maddening crowds is the view we should be thinking of when we act locally and aggregate our effects of Nature. We might not allow legislation to go forth that spews million of more tons of fossil fuels into our atmosphere if we could visualize on a planetary scale the consequences of that.

Our consciousness will expand and we’ll finally, through our thoughts, acts, and deeds, speak for Planet Earth.

NASA Images of 2011: e360 Gallery The past year will go down as one in which extreme weather, and major natural disasters, took a heavy toll across the globe. Some of the most unforgettable images of these events — and of the planet’s natural cycles — were taken high above Earth by NASA satellites.  (December 27, 2011) Yale Environment 360: Opinion, Analysis, Reporting & Debate

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

An unavoidable Climate Change issue that must be addressed soon

 

As Climate Change takes hold there will be more flooding in the Northeast of the US so there will be more incidents of overflows from sewage systems. This is one of those issues related to Climate Change that even a Climate Change denier public official is going to have to face no matter how entrenched he or she is in their denial. Besides out-dated sewer systems that allow raw sewage to flow into our lakes and streams during frequent and heavy rainfall, our sewer system infrastructures are getting old.

Our sewer systems are going to have to be repaired, replaced, and altered to deal with the predicted increase in extreme weather. We can do things like preserve and even create more wetlands that are able to absorb some of the increases in precipitation, but we are going to have to act quickly.

Under our present attitudes towards government in these lean financial times, where government has little money and little political will to put more money into protecting and preserving our environment, things are going to get tough. The public is going to have to learn about this aspect of Climate Change in our Northeast region in order to back the kind of financial burden making these very expensive changes will require. Good luck with that. Who will put the Climate Change bell on the cat of Climate Change expenses?

Already, sewer system overflows are a major problem, contaminating our waters, but it will get much worse the longer we don’t face it now.

US cities struggle to control sewer overflows  | ajc.com TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Twice in recent summers, visitors to parts of Michigan's western coast were greeted by mounds of garbage strewn along miles of sandy beach: plastic bottles, eating utensils, food wrappers, even hypodermic syringes. At least some of the rubbish had drifted across Lake Michigan from Milwaukee, a vivid reminder that many cities still flush nasty stuff into streams and lakes during heavy storms, fouling the waters with bacteria and viruses that can make people seriously ill. Thousands of overflows from sewage systems that collect storm water and wastewater are believed to occur each year. Regulators and environmentalists want them stopped, and since the late 1990s the Environmental Protection Agency or state officials have reached legal agreements with more than 40 cities or counties — Atlanta, Los Angeles, Baltimore, St. Louis and Indianapolis among them — to improve wastewater systems that in some cases are a century old. Costs are reaching hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars. (December 26, 2011) Atlanta News

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Brown Christmas in Rochester, NY 2011 - a harbinger of Climate Change?

 

These unusually warm days before Christmas 2011 are but few of a thousand predictions of extreme weather that will come with Climate Change. Though, it is incorrect and very unfashionable to say that these particular rainy and warm days during this December 2011 are a direct result of Climate Change. It’s just as incorrect to say that the February 5–6, 2010 North American blizzard also known as "Snowmaggedon" that put hope in the souls of a dying breed of Climate Change deniers proved that climate warming wasn’t true. Actually, Climate Change predictions predict periodic big snow fall events because our warmer air holds more water (about 4% more) and when that warm moisture hits cold air you get snow—sometimes lots of it.

Back and forth those trying to engage the public on Climate Change, some who know what they are talking about and some who don’t, are trying to convey to an reluctant public their views on the greatest calamity humanity has ever faced . But it isn’t easy. In today’s political climate, where the old order of world views and economics, where many are trying to hold on to their incorrect modeling about the way the world actually works, is fighting tooth and nail against the looming reality. This is the looming reality:

  • The Year in Weather: It Was a Disaster Some areas experienced historic floods, others saw historic droughts. Is climate change to blame? A once-in-five-hundred-year flood inundated the Mississippi River valley. A once-in-a-century drought in Texas shriveled the summer's crops and sparked sweeping forest fires. The deadliest tornado season on record tore communities to splinters. 2011 was clearly a year of extreme weather. Perhaps it is a sign of the pending 2012 apocalypse, but more likely, it is the result of a changing climate that is amplifying extremes. The chart above marks more than 2,900 separate weather records broken this year, and these records were costly. In all, Mother Nature inflicted $52 billion dollars in damage on the United States.  (December 22, 2011) The Atlantic
  • Environment world review of the year: '2011 rewrote the record books' The ecologically tumultuous year saw record greenhouse gas emissions, melting Arctic sea ice, natural disasters and extreme weather – and the world's second worst nuclear disaster The year 2011 was another ecologically tumultuous year with greenhouse gases rise to record levels, Arctic sea ice nearly equalling 2007's record melt, and temperatures the 11th highest ever recorded. It was marked on the ground by unparalleled extremes of heat and cold in the US, droughts and heatwaves in Europe and Africa and record numbers of weather-related natural disasters.  (December 22, 2011) The Guardian

Dismissing, ignoring, and putting off reality for a future time just won’t do. Things are getting hot. But how do Climate Change communicators talk to the public about this unsavory topic? Right now in order to be a Climate Change communicator one has to bend over backwards not to say things like ‘Climate Change Crisis,’ or ‘Global Warming, and ‘Methane Bomb’ (that describes the potential massive release of stored up methane gas in permafrost regions) or anything else that seems offensive to the social standards of good taste. Even religion is having a tough go of it:

From the pews: Facing the reality of climate change Katharine Hayhoe is an evangelical Christian climate scientist who, when asked whether she “believes” in climate change, answers “no.” Don’t get Hayhoe wrong: She’s convinced that climate change is happening and that humans are causing it, like the vast majority of other climate scientists. She just doesn’t like talking about something like climate science in terms of “belief.” (December 16, 2011) Climate Reality

Here’s the thing: Should Climate Change communicators use fear, hope, or military thinking that says Climate Change will put more stress into all world conflicts that arise over potential wars over water shortages? Should they present the possible green energy paradigm where we can use all our gadgets without global guild, or really push the stop buying anything that isn’t energy efficient strategy? Or, should they cling on to sports events, movies, and vacations trips thus pandering to the public’s tendency towards escapism?

Should they link every extreme weather event to Climate Change or never do it and let the message seep in through a kind of oblivious osmosis? Should they connect the dots in local areas (like Rochesterenvironment.com does) between expert studies on Climate and local news stories? Should they use psychology and sociology or just the power of the market? Should they use the insurance argument that it’s going to get very expensive to live next to coastal areas because of sea rise due to glacier calving? Maybe we should use the World War II analogy where we all got together and faced the common enemy when the time was ripe—though with something so all-over-the-board as Climate Change it’s hard to tell when the time is ripe so people can get going.

Or, should we just lay out the facts and say things like the last time our planet’s atmosphere was at our present 390ppm of Carbon Dioxide sea level rose to seventy-five feet above what they are now-- which, if enough time were to pass and the concentration was held at 390ppm, the glacial melts and other associated causes (like warm water expansion and the oceans being less capable of sequestrating carbon dioxide) would put us at that mark. Florida by the way, which is only a few feet above sea level, would be long gone.

The truth is that our environment has changed. However Climate Change communicators spin the message, our planet’s atmosphere is warming up. As Bill McKibben states in Eaarth, our atmosphere holds 4% more water vapor since the centuries that we evolved. Everything now and in the future on this planet must be viewed through the lens of Climate Change. Even environmental groups, who view themselves as preservationists, will have to change how they act as environmentalists because their targets will be forever moving in a changing climate.

This brown Christmas might be a moment to reflect that this might be the new normal for Rochester, NY.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Climate Change is not a political issue, but in the US it is

 

There’s no way Climate Change is not political in the US. Not only have the extreme wing of the Republican party robbed the party of a coherent position on the science of Climate Change, the present GOP Presidential candidates haven’t a clue as to how to please their money-backers and talk to the media about Climate Change at all.

Word is that the GOP has been told not to talk to the press about Climate Change, except to say the regulators (like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)) are a job-killer. Ouch! Those Republicans can really sling a slur against sanity. Dutifully, we who understand Climate Change and science have to say that the Republic Party produced Presidents like Teddy Roosevelt and Richard Nixon who did much to preserve and protect our environment. (OK, I just did that.)

But now things are getting dire. We just had a string of loony presidential candidate debates where the mainstream media barely mentioned Climate Change. And what was said was, well…. Loony:

Top 5 Craziest Things GOP Contenders Said on Climate in 2011 | ThinkProgress Sure, the extremist wing of the GOP has been saying crazy things about climate for a while (see Rep. Shimkus: “Man will not destroy this Earth. This Earth will not be destroyed by a flood”). But the anti-science wing is now in charge (see John Boehner says on ABC: “The idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical”). And it has been able to make climate craziness a litmus test for the Presidency. (December 20, 2011)  Top 5 Craziest Things GOP Contenders Said on Climate in 2011 | ThinkProgress

The public should not be sitting back and letting this circus on denial on the most important issue of our century play on. The public, the public who reads the news, buys subscriptions, add comments to newspapers, and turns on the boob tube (as we children of the sixties used to call TV) should demand that the news agencies grill all presidential candidates on Climate Change. Either that or we should turn our attention to media who is able to focus on the fact that the US might elect a President who doesn’t understand Climate Change.

Here’s what the media should be asking:

  • What is the next president going to do about the new agreements in the next Climate Change talks?
  • What is the next president going to do with all their authorities’ reports on addressing Climate Change in our country? Are they going to ignore, for example, what the Fish and Wildlife Service says that has to be done to save our wildlife? Check out: Rising to the Urgent Challenge Strategic Plan for Responding to Accelerating Climate Change | US Fish and Wildlife service http://www.fws.gov/home/climatechange/pdf/CCStrategicPlan.pdf
  • What is the next president going to do to educate the public on the enormous amount of money is it is going to take to adapt our transportation, telecommunications, and wastewater infrastructures so they aren’t flooded by the increase in extreme weather coming down the tubes?

The absurd position that we cannot talk about Climate Change and politics in the same sentences and paragraphs is a crazy social quirk in the US. This is exactly how we should be talking about Climate Change. We need to move away from this:

“In the United States an individual’s partisan affiliation is the most important determinant of their views on the existence of global warming, with Democrats significantly more likely than Republicans to believe that the Earth is warming” Climate Compared: Public Opinion on Climate Change in the United States & Canada February 2011

This isn’t just sad; it has to change if we are to be a functional nation. The US exists on this planet with other nations and other nations are either addressing climate change without us or getting annoyed at us for doing little. Without getting political, the US must inject Climate Change into our national presidential debates or we the people are going to get robbed of a future.

Save the planet, surf the web

 

I know, it sounds just a little too convenient and ridiculously easy to think we can save the planet by surfing the web. But hear me out. Your great big brain added to all the other human brains pondering our collective fate and interconnecting with each other on Climate Change could be one of our most effective Climate Change strategies. For without a wholesale understanding of the Climate Change crisis by the public, all the other stuff—Climate Change talks, Climate Change actions plans, specific Climate Change Action (Tar Sands Action), and all those little things we do to limit our carbon footprints--are just are not going to happen at the speed and across-the board changes that will matter. Climate Change cannot be solved by doing little things here and there. (This is the bottom-up approach.)

Climate Change is a world-wide phenomenon that is happening right now and no matter how inglorious this issue many seem and how annoying the increasing natter about denial gets, we have to address it. For a zillion reasons, the public (especially the American public whose per capita greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) out produces all other nations in warming up the planet) doesn’t want to hear about Climate Change. They doubt it, or they believe it all too well and it makes them feel helpless, or they don’t understand how Climate Change is affecting them right now, or how it will increasingly do so. Or, they think the Climate Change folks want to take their gas-guzzling pick-up trucks away from them. Whatever. The Climate Change crisis, however slow some may think it is occurring, is a kind of disaster like nothing our species has experienced.

While there are a lot of Climate Change studies around, including one of the most comprehensive studies called Response to Climate Change in New York State (ClimAID) that was funded by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), there is little possibility of accomplishing what needs to be done in the study’s recommendations without the public onboard. The study suggests actions like moving our transportation and telecommunications modes away from low-lying coastal areas, and moving waste water treatment plants away from flood plains. Also, we need to change most of our waste water treatment plants so they aren’t overwhelmed by frequent and heavy rain falls that will create combined sewer overflows and despoil our Great Lakes, Finger Lakes, and rivers. Just these actions alone (there are a lot more) will cost billions. They are expensive, inconvenient, and might possibly help us survive the future. (You really ought to challenge your Climate Change denier friends to read ClimAID, which was funded by your government, not rich, whacky political pundits who make zillions lying to the public.)

Climate Change denial is stupid. And sure, crying in your beer about how the previous generations screwed up your generation is morbid fun, but think for a moment about the Giant Killer Pigs From Hell. They were 600 pound pig-like predators who ruled prehistoric American for 10 million years. They were crazy mad, ferocious, and had only a teeny weenie brain. But they didn’t destroy their environment and every living being in it. Though ugly, their way of life worked for a long, long time. They had their fun and we got a chance to take over. But our brainy species has only been around (in the form we are today) about 200,000 years. Yet we, allegedly the most incredibly smart creature who ever lived, are not only cooking ourselves because of the way we use energy (burning greenhouse gases) but all the other creatures who might want a chance to evolve and play computer games on this planet too.

Ok, back to the surfing the web idea. The Internet has and is increasingly making it possible to garner information about the state of our environment from all over the world. It allows us to turn our great big brains into one big world-wide brain for gathering useful information about Climate Change. It increases our vision to view the world from one place, noodling over it, and connecting those observations with others by multitude of factors never before imagined. And, this was true years ago. Now there are some more useful web features that environmentalists (that’s every human on the planet wishing to have a habitable planet) can use which will vastly increase our information gathering and connectivity.

Without promoting one particular product, I’d just like to use Google Currents as one of the best examples of an enhanced resource for finding out about your environment. I’m sure there are many more. With this web-based aggregator app you can read any news service or a web site with a feed as if it were a professional online magazine. Doesn’t sound like more than a slick piece of software until you think about these new apps on your Smartphone or tablet as a way of making every feed (web site, magazine, or news service) look and operate as smoothly and easily as the major online magazines. This democratization of information (which, I can assure you drives the major media moguls nuts, because they want the new media all to themselves) will make the public more inclined to look for more alternative news sources—instead of the usual mainstream stuff, much of which is corporate-based propaganda bent on keeping you addicted to fossil fuels.

That’s not all. Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has tried to promote the use of the Internet as a way to engage the public on learning about and acting for our environment. Check out some of these environmental apps:

11/08/2011: EPA Announces Winners of Apps for the Environment Challenge WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced the winners of its Apps for the Environment challenge, which encouraged new and innovative uses of EPA’s data to create apps that address environmental and public health issues. Developers from across the country created apps with information about everything from energy efficient light bulbs to local air quality. A few even developed games to help people learn environmental facts. (November 8, 2011) U.S. EPA Newsroom - News Releases

This is all important because the biggest dilemma on Climate Change is how to get the majority of the public around the world to understand and act in concert on Climate Change. Governments don’t know how to do it; businesses don’t know, and politicians—forgetaboutit. Even environmental groups are spinning their wheels trying to get folks to take action on Climate Change without saying ‘Climate Change.’ Right now we think pandering to people’s self-interests, not the full implications of Climate Change, is the way to convince those you don’t want to hear about it to act. This keep-your-eye-off-the ball approach isn’t working and I don’t think it’s a good strategy. It infantilizes the public and ignores the top-down approach that needs to be done to adequately address this issue.

Ultimately, we need seven billion souls turning their attention to the most significant problem of our century in order to have even a remote chance of surviving it. Of course, buying products that are green from birth to grave, recycling, re-using, and donating stuff, using less energy, bicycling and walking for short distances, and turning down the thermostat (you really should use a programmable thermostat) are all critical. But too little is being done by too few to affect something as incredibly big as our climate.

You, with your Internet connection, can learn about the ramifications of Climate Change as the world gathers more and more evidence of what’s going on. You can find ways to convince others of the science and urgency behind Climate Change. Climate Change, a rapid rise in Earth’s atmosphere in a very short time due to our own machinations, is unlike anything our species has ever confronted before. And, when you think about it, the Internet is a tool unparalleled in human communications. We can connect the dots and act in our own collective self-interests.

Whether or not you think environmental issues are your thing—they are. I could go on but the great scientists and science communicator, Carl Sagan, summed it up best:

Anything else you're interested in is not going to happen if you can't breathe the air and drink the water. Don't sit this one out. Do something. You are by accident of fate alive at an absolutely critical moment in the history of our planet.

You see, the dirty little secret about addressing Climate Change is that in order to save yourself, your going to have to save everyone—even if they don’t have a lot of money.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Why it’s important not to install a GOP President of US – It could get lonely.

 

This story about the European Union (EU) ruling that planes flying in and out of European airports having to pay a carbon tax presents an interesting heuristic for our possible future. One of our possible futures (think of the point Bush vs. Gore where we might have had a future with Gore as President and not the disastrous Bush back in 2000) is that the GOP tactics of fighting all environmental regulations and attempts to dismantle the EPA actually work and we end up with a GOP President. Then, we in the US would have a President who doesn’t understand the science behind Climate Change.

While convenient for the Tea Party who is just sick of regulations and taxes, the rest of our country and the world for that matter might not find Climate Change denial in our leader all that amusing. Besides not dealing with the most important issue of this century where we have to adapt to and mitigate Climate Change, we will be continually angering the rest of the world. The rest of the world, for example, is not all that pleased with our foot-dragging in the Durban Climate Change talks: a good portion of the manmade greenhouse gases (GHG) in our atmosphere are red, white, and blue the US pushed back against any coordinated efforts in Durban recently for an even nebulous framework for addressing Climate Change in the future.

When the Climate Change talks return, what will a GOP president, who must cave into the Climate Change denial folks because the extreme end of his or her party has so much financial clout, do about keeping what little promises we have made in the Climate talks? Will the next US President just ignore the next Climate talks? That’s just one of the problems with installing (due to the primacy of money in US politics) a GOP President. Another problem is this: what about when other countries just give up on the US and go addressing Climate Change on their own—and it affects the US?

This issue that’s just come to a head on a European carbon tax on jet fuel emissions highlights this problem. However much the US doesn’t want to understand Climate Change, because it will create havoc with our fossil fuel addiction, other countries are not on the same page. They’re not reading the same script. They have the right and they will do what they think will help solve Climate Change regardless of how much Climate Change denial pervades the US. Bush’s infamous bully tactics (“You’re either with us or you’re against us) won’t work on the Climate Change issue. We are going to be alone as we drag our feet on Climate Change. The rest of the world will get annoyed. We will have lost all the goodwill that we gained from helping the world through World War Two and its aftermath.

So, it will be interesting how this scenario with a carbon tax on jet fuel works out for US.

Turbulence As EU Court OKs Fee On Plane Emissions : NPR A European court ruled Wednesday that airlines flying into and out of European airports will have to pay a price for the carbon dioxide they emit when they burn jet fuel. U.S. airlines, which had been fighting the idea in court, say the European Union is trying to force other countries to reduce carbon emissions. Europe currently limits carbon dioxide emissions from its major industries to curb global warming. The ruling cannot be appealed, and the decision is likely to end the dispute. (December 21, 2011) Environment : NPR

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ban the bag in Rochester, NY?

 

Maybe Rochester should consider banning the bag. Seattle can do it and so should we. (See below.) Over a short period of time I suspect a total ban on plastic bags and a 5 cents cost on paper bags will reduce a lot of the waste that is flying about our City of Rochester’s trails, neighborhoods, and ponds.

If you can think of another way, other than passing a ‘ban-the-bag’ bill, please let me know. On their own, the indifferent, those who litter and think of our environment as their personal trash can, will not make an effort to recycle or use re-useable bags—that are becoming the rage in Rochester. The freedom to litter seems to be the first freedom that some wish to engage in as they begin to mature.

Many in New York State tried to prevent recent update to the New York's Bottle Bill - NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation from happening but it happened and now there are less recyclable bottles and cans in our neighborhoods. In the future, as our environmental problems become more dear because of Climate Change, we are going to increasingly look towards regulations as the way to quickly solve what laissez-faire capitalism has failed to do: keep our environment sustainable. Climate Change in New York State is going to impact all environmental issues in our area by creating more stress and a moving target for what is considered worth preserving.

I don’ like more regulations myself, but until we adopt an economy that takes in the environmental degradation from unsound business practices, like providing free groceries bags by the zillions, that end up in our trees, our waters, our yards, and just about everywhere, we’re going to have to do something. And because business are so unlikely to limit customer choices, like ‘in order to shop here you must bring your own bags’, we the people are going to continue to enact more laws to prevent more environmental damage.

The movement against unlimited free plastic and paper bags is growing. Maybe it will take hold in Rochester, NY too.

Environmental Groups Applaud Seattle City Council for their Leadership on Bags — People For Puget Sound Bag ordinance passes: plastic bag ban, 5 cents on paper bags  | Seattle. The Seattle City Council today unanimously passed the Seattle Bag Ordinance (Council Bill 11734). This vote was applauded by the coalition of environmental groups – Environment Washington, Surfrider Foundation, People For Puget Sound, Sierra Club, Zero Waste Seattle, and others – who have been working to develop grassroots support for the ordinance. Special praise goes to Council Member Mike O’Brien for his leadership on the bag ordinance and the phone book opt-out ordinance last year. “This ordinance to ban plastic bags is part of a larger Zero Waste initiative that also includes a ban on styrofoam, citywide residential organics composting, and providing our residents and businesses with a chance to stop unwanted yellow pages deliveries. These are all concrete steps towards reducing unnecessary waste in Seattle,” said O’Brien. “We are saving the city money and we are reducing impacts on the environment. Building towards our waste reduction goals are also a key part of our overall efforts to be a carbon neutral city by 2050.”  (December 19, 2011)  People For Puget Sound: Our vision is a clean and healthy Puget Sound. — People For Puget Sound

And

Seattle Officials Ban Single-Use Plastic Bags : NPR The Seattle City Council voted Monday to ban single-use plastic bags from groceries and other retail stores, joining a growing trend among cities that embrace green values. The ordinance, which was approved unanimously following months of discussion and debate, takes effect in July 2012. It includes a provision to charge a nickel fee for the use of paper bags, to encourage people to bring their own bags when they go shopping. The paper bag fee is not unique. In Washington, D.C., businesses that sell food or alcohol must charge 5 cents for each carryout paper or plastic disposable bag. (December 19, 2011) Environment : NPR

Monday, December 19, 2011

Climate Change will strain NYS’s water even if we don’t Frack

 

New York State has a lot of fresh water and, according to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), we are going to weather Climate Change. The West and the South of the United States are not going to fare so well. So you might think that piling on hydrofracking (or Fracking), which will require a lot of our fresh water for drilling, to the stresses that will be caused by Climate Change wouldn’t matter much.

And that is actually the conclusion of the Report 11-18 Response to Climate Change in New York State (ClimAID) report that NYSERDA funded and completed last month. This report is a very comprehensive look at Climate Change in New York State. What the report suggests is that “As much as 7 million gallons of water may be required to hydraulically fracture a well.” (Page 94, ClimAid) “Increased consumption due to natural gas drilling in deep shales” will be “low.” (Page 444, ClimAid). The report also states that we should feel assured about our fresh water because “The commissions already have guidelines for determining acceptable withdrawals during low-flow periods, and other possible guidelines have recently been proposed in the generic environmental impact statement related to shale gas drilling in New York State.” (Page 100, ClimAid)

On the face of it you would think that drill-baby-drill for Fracking as our state (and the planet) warms up is something we can handle. And maybe we can if everything goes according to plan. But Climate Change is going to be messy—even if we just stay within the parameters of the ClimAid study itself.

First off, let’s take a look at the state of water in New York State:

“New York State has an abundance of water resources. Despite having only 0.3 percent of the world’s population, the state is bordered by lakes containing almost 2 percent of the world’s fresh surface water: Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, and Lake Champlain. It is home to the Finger Lakes in central New York, which are the largest of the state’s 8,000 lakes as well as some of the largest inland water bodies in the United States. The state has several high-yielding groundwater aquifers, particularly those underlying Long Island. It has an average annual rainfall of almost 40 inches, readily supplying numerous small municipal reservoirs as well as the extensive New York City water supply system with surface water impoundments in the Catskill Mountains and the Croton watershed east of the Hudson River. The state contains the headwaters of three major river systems in the Northeast: the Hudson River, the Delaware River, and the Susquehanna River. In 2000, New York State’s 19 million residents consumed approximately 2,200 million gallons per day of fresh surface water and 890 million gallons per day of fresh groundwater for public water supply, irrigation, and industrial uses (Lumia and Linsey, 2005).” (Page 87, ClimAid)

Pretty impressive, eh? Looks like we have it made: a relatively low population with a lot of fresh water. But, as with all things related to Climate Change, it gets complicated. Let’s go on. The study also notes that our region, because we will not suffer water loss as much as other areas of the country, will be a Mecca [my phrase] for those who do need more water. That means our population will grow significantly in a small amount of time. That population will need water—clean, potable water.

Also, agriculture in the West and other regions will suffer for the lack of water and, because we have water, it is likely that more of our state will be devoted to agriculture. Agriculture uses a lot of water. “Approximately 70% of the fresh water used by humans goes to agriculture” Water - Wikipedia. We should also note that as our climate warms up the insects that feed on our crops are able to weather our winters better, which means we will be dumping more pesticides (which will get into our water) and weeds will do better (because they utilize the increase in carbon dioxide more efficiently) and thus more herbicides, which again will get into our water systems.

This isn’t in the study, but I want to throw in this issue to what will likely happen when other regions dry up as we maintain our fresh water amidst Climate Change. Despite international agreements with Canada on diversion, or taking water from the Great Lakes, it is very likely that our region will have to divert water to the South and West so their communities can survive. Can we really stop a world thirsty for water from somehow getting our water? This will compound Climate Change for us because the Great Lakes water system is an almost closed hydrological system —meaning the water replenished just about equals the water going out. So, if you divert a lot of water from this system you will change our weather, then our Climate. (Which, of course isn’t hasn’t been factored into ClimAid.)

This increased use of water from possible diversion, population growth, and agricultural growth will get complicated by even more factors that come with Climate Change. Our water will get warmer. “Increasing water temperatures in rivers and streams will affect aquatic heath and reduce the capacity of streams to assimilate effluent from wastewater treatment plants.” (Pg 110, CliimAid). Which is nasty because there will be increased precipitation in the spring (extreme rainfall and flooding) and longer droughts in the late summer.

ClimAid states that we will be able to handle the combined sewer overflows (CSO) because overall precipitation will not increase during Climate Change. Because many communities, like Rochester, NY have increased the storage capacity of our wastewater treatment plants, it is assumed that we can handle backed-up sewage. And we probably can if these heavy rain periods don’t happen frequently. (Page 68) Which, of course, they will with Climate Change. In other words, if we have a nice Climate Change catastrophe where extreme weather events don’t happen too often we’ll be fine. Remember our state and states around the Great Lakes are mostly serviced by these kinds of wastewater systems that can handle only so many heavy rainfalls.

But there’s more. Sea levels will rise along our NYS shorelines creating salt-front movement. This means that as the oceans rise, their salty waters will affect communities that use aquifers and rivers directly connected to the ocean. For example, the City of Poughkeepsie could have a problem:

While this withdrawal of 10 million gallons per day is only a small fraction of total river flow, the intake is located far enough downriver that the saltwater/freshwater interface (salt front) could move above the City of Poughkeepsie’s intake as a result of reduced freshwater inflows or sea level rise. (Page 87, ClimAid)

Then there are droughts. Towards the end of each summer, with increasing frequency, there will be prolonged droughts that will affect many communities’ water storage capacity. A large city near a lake may not have a problem, but smaller communities that don’t have large storage capacity systems will ‘borrow’ water from other communities. And this may work fine, if the drought doesn’t last very long or impact too many communities at once—or you aren’t competing with the Fracking industry’s desire for our water. (Granted ClimAid has thought about this issue: “It is important to ensure that these withdrawals do not affect established users (such as public water suppliers) and ecosystem services and that the potential impact of climate change on low flows is accounted for in the permitting process.” (Page 94, ClimAid) However, when water is scarce will the drillers stop drilling? Or, will they run to the courts to keep the drilling going (the example of the 2011 Texas drought is hopefully not a harbinger in this regard)?

With Climate Change also comes more water evaporation, which causes more extreme weather events and lower lake levels. Which will in turn affect hydroelectric plants that use water, and nuclear power plants which need cool water to cool their spent rods. Not to mention a vast increase in the use of air conditioners, which will create even more need for energy—probably dirty energy that burn fossil fuels (i.e. greenhouse gases) to keep their turbines moving. There are a lot more positive loop scenarios that the ClimAid study is aware of, but seems incapable of connecting the dots to Fracking.

In short, the uncertainty about water use in New York State that comes with Climate Change should make us less inclined to throw Fracking into the mix. Admittedly, hydrofracking was factored into the ClimAid study and hydrofracking is included in the Revised Draft SGEIS on the Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Regulatory Program (September 2011) - NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation where public comment will end soon. But these documents are crunching their Fracking numbers in a way that makes a perversity of the Precautionary Principle.

The precautionary principle or precautionary approach states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action. Precautionary principle - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

But because of public doubt and a wide-spread disinclination for our nation to accept the science behind Climate Change, a sort of perverse reversal of the principle now rules: If a Climate Change action is suspected of causing harm to our economic system or status quo, the burden of proof should be put on the those who believe that Climate Change is happening.

The truth is that we don’t really get Climate Change, not even our government. We think we can handle something that we have never experienced before--a rapid acceleration of our Climate world-wide. We are so confident of this that we are willing to gamble that we can handle Fracking while our state and our world warms up, risking the most precious resource we have outside of the air we breathe – fresh water. Actually, New York State already uses its water thoroughly: Water Use in New York - NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation. Pride Cometh Before a Fall, indeed.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Why add more methane (GHG) leaks from Fracking when our existing gas system is a clunker?

 

This article by NPR begs an interesting question given that New York State is about to end the moratorium on Fracking: How much gas (methane) is normally leaked into our atmosphere via the existing system of gas pipes in our state, or our country for that matter?

Boston's Leaky Gas Lines May Be Tough On The Trees : NPR A scientist in Boston has been driving around the city measuring leaks in the gas mains. He's found a lot, and he wants the public to know where they are. Gas leaks aren't uncommon, and gas companies spend a lot of time tracking them down and repairing them. But the scientific team says they're surprised at how many they've found, and what those leaks are doing to the health of the city's trees. (November 21, 2011) NPR : National Public Radio

So, I asked myself, what is the present state of natural gas leaking greenhouse gases (GHG) including the methane gas (CH4), one of the most potent GHG from our existing gas system? It could be quite a significant contributor to Climate Change, even without hydrofracking. One source estimated that:

“Recent measurements indicate that urban emissions are a significant source of CH4 and in fact may be substantially higher than current inventory estimates. As such, urban emissions could contribute 7-15 percent to the global anthropogenic budget of methane.” (May 13, 2011) BU RESEARCHERS IDENTIFY EXTENSIVE METHANE LEAKS UNDER STREETS OF BOSTON » Gas Safety USA

That’s a lot of GHG coming from a potential energy sources in NYS just from our existing system. But, I wanted to be sure so I asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), just to be sure. Here was their answer via an email:

Pipeline leaks in the United States accounted for about 8 billion cubic feet of methane emissions in 2009, a small but important contribution to the 346 billion cubic feet of methane emitted by the U.S. oil and gas industry that year (see http://www.epa.gov/gasstar/basic-information/index.html for a breakdown of emission sources and pie charts showing the relative contribution of each source).

“Small”? Eight billion cubic feet of methane emissions in 2009 from the normal usage of our natural gas system doesn’t sound small to me. But what do I know?

And, as long as I’m asking myself questions, how about this question? How much natural gas would we save if we tightened up our existing gas system so it wouldn’t contribute to GHG releases and maybe stop the need for Fracking?

Again, who knows? It probably doesn’t make much difference anyway because despite the release of GHG’s already in the pipes the state and the gas companies want to drill–baby-drill even though we New Yorkers probably won’t see any of that Fracking gas because prices here in the states are too low so it will all get shipped to a place that will pay more. But those GHG will eventually end up in our atmosphere because even if there isn’t even the teeny weenist leak in the system, you still burn gas for energy and that releases GHG to our atmosphere.

When you’re buying a used car, you take the clunker for a ride checking to see if there is an oil leak and trying to figure out whether it’s worth purchasing this cheap car, rather than a new one, based on how much damage the clunker is going to do to your wallet. At least if you buy sensibly. Using this metaphor, why would we in New York State engage in a more dicey form of natural gas extraction when natural gas is already costing our environment in the release of GHG?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Getting important information to the Rochester, NY public: The Rochester ANNOUNCElist

 

It would seem in these days of social media and the Internet itself, that it would be easier to disseminate information to the public, especially important environmental information. Except that isn’t the case. What has evolved in this media crisis (as explained by Robert W. McChesney, John Nichols in their seminal book “The Death and Life of American Journalism”)is a collapse of real journalism and a consolidation of the mainstream media where the voice of the media’s owners and backers get to frame the issues most American hear. This doesn’t bode well for a Democracy and a healthy environment.

One of the issues critical to our existence that doesn’t get much support, and thus much attention from the public, is the state of our environment. Of course, there is a lot of environmental information out there, but because of the silo effect (issue groups tend to speak to themselves instead of the public at large) the public is sometime oblivious to some of the most important issues of our day. Note the relationship in the US between political parities and the inclination to believe the Climate Change Crisis:

“In the United States an individual’s partisan affiliation is the most important determinant of their views on the existence of global warming, with Democrats significantly more likely than Republicans to believe that the Earth is warming” Climate Compared: Public Opinion on Climate Change in the United States & Canada February 2011

Climate Change, pollution, loss of biodiversity, and other environmental issues are not just the focus of issue groups. Framing environmental concerns about the environment we need to survive in has somehow evolved in our media to the point where survival is only the concern of some, a small but passionate group who are forever thinking up clever street theatre to engage the public on these special issues. Please. When our environment heats up every one will experience the Likely Changes in the Rochester, NY region, not just a small group of environmentalists. Climate Change and other concerns that will affect our future must be catapulted to the top of mainstream news—even if that dysfunctional system has to be replaced.

Think of it: We just completed the Durban Climate Change talks and there will be no questions from the media to the GOP candidates on whether they will comply with the provisions to halt the world-wide increase of greenhouse gases. We should be having a nation-wide discussion during the presidential debates about whether the US will continue to work on the world stage to curb Climate Change but under the present state of mainstream media, who panders to the political dollars and the political parties’ agenda, instead of the public’s agenda, that isn’t going to happen. Incredibly, we are going to put someone at the most powerful office in the world and not talk about Climate Change.

“What on Earth,” our next generation will ask, “were you thinking?”

Locally, one of the best ways to help get the message out about events to educate the public is to sign up and get others to sign up to a very effective announce list for in the Rochester, NY region. This moderated list, which announces important events, including environmental events, has been critical in gathering area residents to educational events that might otherwise be under-attended. Check this out, sign up, and help this worthy cause get thousands more aware of the important events in our area.

‘The Rochester ANNOUNCE list has been serving our community 365 days a year and 24 hours a day for more than a decade. This free service has a very simple goal: help promote local progressive events lead by local progressive activists. Any subscriber to ANNOUNCE may post information about a local progressive event. Volunteers quietly moderate the flow of messages making sure the list stays focused. Every year more than 500 calls to action go out to nearly 1,000 subscribers. But wouldn't it be GREAT if the number of subscribers swelled to 2,000 or more?’ RochesterAlliance

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Results of the Durban Climate talks and what it means for Rochester, NY

 

Despite last minute negotiations at Durban Climate Change Conference for a package deal that includes resetting negotiations so that every country (presumable the US also) agrees to the same legalize, a fund to help developing countries cope, creating green technologies, and extending the Kyoto Protocol a few more years we are so going to cook. Mostly, we are going to cook because nothing substantive happened at the climate talks in the sense that the world got together and decided to bring down the greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in our atmosphere right now. That can has been kicked down the road for a number of human dysfunctional reasons, not science.

U.N. Climate Talks End With Deal for New Emissions Treaty - NYTimes.com DURBAN, South Africa — Two weeks of contentious United Nations talks over climate change concluded Sunday morning with an agreement by more than 190 nations to work toward a future treaty that would require all countries to reduce emissions that contribute to global warming. “While governments avoided disaster in Durban, they by no means responded adequately to the mounting threat of climate change,” said Alden Meyer, director of policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “The decisions adopted here fall well short of what is needed.” (December 11, 2011) The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia

The US dragged its feet because the Climate Change deniers in Congress wouldn’t have supported any robust measures. “The United States was a reluctant supporter, concerned about agreeing to join an international climate system that likely would find much opposition in the U.S. Congress.” 12/10/2011) Landmark Deal Approved At Climate Conference : NPR. And the greatest Climate Change denier of all was exuberant. (Lauding "Collapse of Global Warming Movement," Sen. Inhofe Tells U.N. Summit "You Are Being Ignored", 12/09/2011 Democracy Now! ) Not only that, we have in this country a political party that has leaned so extreme in its slavish devotion to laissez-faire capitalism that instead of opening a science book to find out about the scientific issues surrounding Climate Change, they would fire those we put in charge to protect our environment. Be afraid, be very afraid:

Fracking and the EPA: Two Endangered Species? ALBANY, N.Y. - The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced that groundwater in Wyoming had been contaminated by chemicals associated with fracking - the process used to extract natural gas and oil using pressurized water and other fluids. It was news that didn't surprise Ramsay Adams of Catskill Mountainkeeper. "We knew that they would find chemicals in groundwater. It's very significant in de-bunking the line that the industry has been using, saying that it's safe."  (December 12, 2011) Public News Service

For the Rochester, NY region the Durban Climate talks that just concluded will mean that all the Likely Changes for our region will occur and they will do so under the worst case scenario. Meaning, many of the Climate Change action studies in our state provide at least two scenarios in their studies—a scenario where we get our act together and slow down and start to reverse greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and a scenario where we do nothing. We are heading for the do-nothing scenarios where things will get nasty.

This is because even if the Rochester, NY region (the Northeast) adopted the actions plans in the reports below; Climate Change will warm the entire planet:

Those who believe that the real substantive work on Climate Change has to be done on the local level—from the bottom up, not the top down-- don’t get Climate Change. It doesn’t work that way. You cannot put a drop of ink in a beaker of water and expect it not to diffuse throughout the beaker. You cannot reduce the GHG in one place and expect that place in such a dynamic system as our atmosphere to cordon it off and remain unaffected by global warming. It’s physics.

This is the point about the Climate Change talks which continue to fail year after year: Everything thing that those who do something positive to solve Climate Change will be negated the lack of world-wide agreement. Adapting to and mitigating (stopping) Climate Change must be orchestrated from the top, from a body that decides how our planet will act as one to solve a planetary problem. The wrangling over fairness, who does what, how to compensate the developing countries, and how to tax carbon emissions, are probably inherent in human nature as countries around the world negotiate and posture themselves for the best deal.

But, unlike nuclear proliferation talks, where all the cards are held by the players at the table, Climate Change talks have a player at the table with most of the cards. Mother Nature is a harsh mistress and cares not about fairness, economics, politics, or technology. She watches the Climate Change negotiations impassionedly, undisturbed by our collective tendency to dismiss the thermodynamics of the planet.

In the Rochester, NY region, as in all regions around the world, we are held hostage when the world fails to act in concert on Climate Change as our efforts will come to naught—even the specific things we do to protect our local infrastructure, and our public health. Eventually, despite all our local efforts, when the planet cooks so do we. Like no other problem humanity has even been confronted with, Climate Change will force us to combat the selfish foe inside us: the will not give up individual gains for the survival of all. Mother Nature cares not about the outcome, but we should take heed:

Durban Agreements a step towards a global agreement, but risk of exceeding 3°C-warming remains – scientists. - What's new? - Climate Action Tracker Durban—11 December 2011-- As the climate talks in Durban concluded tonight with a groundbreaking establishment of the Durban Platform to negotiate a new global agreement by 2015, scientists stated that the world continues on a pathway of over 3°C warming with likely extremely severe impacts, the Climate Action Tracker said today. The agreement in Durban to establish a new body to negotiate a global agreement (Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action) by 2015 represents a major step forward. The Climate Action Tracker scientists stated, however, that the agreement will not immediately affect the emissions outlook for 2020 and has postponed decisions on further emission reductions. They warned that catching up on this postponed action will be increasingly costly.  (December 11, 2011) Climate Action Tracker

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The conversation: Looking at Climate Change full in the face

 

Climate Change has many unpleasant truths besides the many Likely Changes to our local environment. And people don’t like unpleasant stuff. One of the unpleasant truths that Climate Change brings is upsetting the present order. To address Climate Change on a scale that will actually make a difference will require our way of life to alter significantly—because it will be the lens though which we must view our environment, everything we do, even our purpose in life. Our generation will be held accountable for how we address this issue.

Presently, although many think they understand the implications of Climate Change, they continue to act in the same old way. Environmentalists continue to attempt to preserve our pristine environment when there are no more pristine environments and Climate Change will make even maintaining a sustainable environment a moving target. Meaning, trying to restore ecology by removing invasive species and leaving only endemics ones may be futile in a world where the endemic species cannot adapt fast enough. Note: Western rattlesnakes might not make it: Pleistocene Climate, Phylogeny, and Climate Envelope Models: An Integrative Approach to Better Understand Species' Response to Climate Change

Government authorities, although they have studied Climate Change and fully understand its ramifications and what they need to do, continue to act as though we have a million years to adapt. They quietly encourage the public to conserve energy; they rarely get their message to the media in a way that confronts the public with the hot-hard truth, and they busy themselves with the same old programs to repair the same old infrastructures (sewer systems, road, and power lines) that will be inadequate for our Climate Change future.

Business still conduct business as if their products and way of doing business is still subject only to pandering to the public’s desires—even products like gas-guzzlers and products that continue to release greenhouse gases.

We here in New York State continue to flirt with a dangerous technique for drilling more fossil fuels for energy (Fracking) without even discussing its role in Climate Change. The public and the media are mostly oblivious to the methane leaks already present in our existing gas lines. We will cook here in New York State if we ramp up our use of gas and continue to ignore renewable energy—as we have done by allowing the Great Lakes Off-Shore wind project (GLOW) by the New York State Power Authority to die a quiet death.

Because the public has not been fully informed and because they don’t want to be fully informed on Climate Change we cannot look this crisis fully in the face and shift demonstrably to address it. We talk about energy conservation as good for saving money. We talk about increasing active transportation (walking and bicycling) using obesity rates and appealing to the biking culture instead of reducing the 27% of GHG that transportation accounts for. We continue thinking we can kick the can of US strategy towards Climate Change down the road to 2020 before we actually start doing something about it at the Climate Conference in Durban.

Doing the same old thing and expecting different results is a classic definition of insanity. Yet, if we don’t dramatically shift our stance on Climate Change all those other things we want to accomplish are not going to happen.

No groups seem to know that better than those who slavishly believe in laissez-faire capitalism—a system of economics that has raped our environment and heads us over a Climate Change cliff. They are running scared. Hence money’s involvement in our politics may be the most intractable truth we must overcome. This dialogue must occur in our nation and it is best encapsulated in this conversation between Naomi Klein and Andrew Revkin:

Naomi Klein's Inconvenient Climate Conclusions - NYTimes.com Naomi Klein, the author of a string of provocative and popular books including “The Shock Doctrine,” recently took on global warming policy and campaigns in “Capitalism vs. the Climate,” a much-discussed cover story for The Nation that has been mentioned by readers here more than once in the last few weeks. The piece begins with Klein’s conclusion, reached after she spent time at a conclave on climate sponsored by the libertarian Heartland Institute, that passionate corporate and conservative foes of curbs on greenhouse gases are right in asserting that a meaningful response to global warming would be a fatal blow to free markets and capitalism. (December 7, 2011) Natural Resources and the Environment - Dot Earth Blog - NYTimes.com

Friday, December 09, 2011

Fracking, EPA study, NYS moratorium on Fracking and connecting the dots

 

The media is abuzz over the recent EPA study (Investigation of Ground Water Contamination near Pavillion, Wyoming) as to whether contamination in Wyoming lake water is due to a nearby hydrofracking operation. The timing for this study probably couldn’t be worse for the gas industry, as we New Yorker’s near the deadline for a decision on whether to allow horizontal natural gas drilling, hydrofracking, in our state. After January 11th 2012 it will be all over but the shouting—and there will be a lot of shouting.

Revised Draft SGEIS on the Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Regulatory Program (September 2011) - NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation “Well Permit Issuance for Horizontal Drilling and High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing in the Marcellus Shale and Other Low-Permeability Gas Reservoirs DEC received more than 13,000 public comments on the Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) issued in September 2009. The Draft SGEIS addresses permit conditions required for gas drilling in Marcellus Shale and other areas of the State. In response to issues raised, DEC has prepared a Revised Draft SGEIS. As of September 7, the document is available for public review. To help those interested in understanding the issues involving horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing, several fact sheets are also available. Proposed regulations regarding high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) are available for public comment. Comments will be accepted through close of business on January 11, 2012.” New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

Should we, as environmentalists assume, be connecting the dots between this study and Fracking in New York State? The answer is obvious: Drillers say no; environmentalists say yes. Did the Fracking operation’s chemicals end up in the lake? Who should you believe those who promise you jobs and lower energy bills, or those who say Fracking will ruin our water and scar our landscape (and a few of us who believe we shouldn’t be drilling for any more fossil fuel as it will add to Climate Change)?

Take a moment and get a sense of the news on this fractious news today:

  • EPA Implicates Fracking In Wyoming Pollution : NPR The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday for the first time that fracking — a controversial method of improving the productivity of oil and gas wells — may be to blame for causing groundwater pollution. The draft finding could have a chilling effect in states trying to determine how to regulate the process. The practice is called hydraulic fracturing and involves pumping pressurized water, sand and chemicals underground to open fissures and improve the flow of oil or gas to the surface. (December 9, 2011) Environment : NPR
  • EPA Connects 'Fracking' To Water Contamination : NPR For the first time, a government study has tied contamination in drinking water to an advanced drilling technique commonly known as "fracking." The Environmental Protection Agency released a draft study Thursday tying the technique, formally called hydraulic fracturing, to high levels of chemicals found in ground water in the small town of Pavillion, Wyo. EPA scientists found high levels of benzene, a known carcinogen, and synthetic glycol and alcohol, commonly found in hydraulic fracturing fluid.  (December 9, 2011) Environment : NPR
  • Wyoming fracking pollution may fuel NY debate ALBANY — The Environmental Protection Agency’s finding that chemicals used in fracking natural gas wells are to blame for groundwater pollution in Wyoming is likely to fuel opposition to the industry in New York state. New York regulators haven’t issued permits for gas drilling with high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale since they began an extensive environmental review in 2008. A public comment period on proposed regulations ends Jan. 11, after which permitting may start if the Department of Environmental Conservation determines fracking can be done safely.  (December 8, 2011) NY Daily Record
  • Feds Link Water Contamination to Fracking for the First Time - ProPublica In a first, federal environment officials today scientifically linked underground water pollution with hydraulic fracturing, concluding that contaminants found in central Wyoming were likely caused by the gas drilling process. The findings by the Environmental Protection Agency come partway through a separate national study by the agency to determine whether fracking presents a risk to water resources.  (December 8, 2011) ProPublica

Connecting the dots on this story seems to hinge on whether you want to believe the environmentalists or the hydrofracking industry. It doesn’t actually. Connecting the dots hinges on everything you learned in school about geology, energy, Climate Change, biology, environmental science, economics, and politics.

This is an important issue and you need to do your homework. If you sit this out and just let things happen, you will be responsible for the future of New York State. Sure buying that special person just the right Christmas gift is important, but not important in the way this decision on the future of New York State will be.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Kicking the can down the road on Climate Change talks: We are so going to cook.

 

Seems like we’re in for a warm century and maybe who knows—worse. Squabbling over who’s going to not do what rules over at the Durban Climate Change Conference - November/December 2011. Too bad, it’s the last day.

At Climate Talks, Resistance From India, China, U.S. : NPR The climate treaty talks in Durban, South Africa, are confronting some fundamental disagreements among the 190-plus nations represented at the meeting. In addition to the usual divides between rich and poor, and north and south, there is no consensus about the best way to move forward with an international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Confronting that reality, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon yesterday urged the gathered delegates to press on, even so. Ban admitted up front that a comprehensive deal may well be out of reach in Durban. But that's not reason to give up.  (December 7, 2011) Environment : NPR

What most people and countries around the world don’t seem to get is that we can’t wait if we want to stop Climate Change; and, we cannot do it alone. Without major agreements by the countries at the Climate Change conferences (this is the 7th) we, the folks on planet Earth, cannot move in concert towards a solution to reducing greenhouse gases (GHG) in something as large as our atmosphere. All those little things we do in our daily lives and all those things our governmental agencies say we must do won’t much matter if the rest of the world keeps spewing GHG into our atmosphere. We are so going to cook.

Some think we can use the social media to encourage our leaders not to delay critical decisions to curb the release of GHG and you should sign on:

350 | USA: Don't Delay on Climate Action! “At the UN Climate Talks in Durban, South Africa, the US is pushing for a delay on global climate action until 2020. A nine year delay could slam the door on ever getting carbon pollution back below 350 ppm, and would be a death sentence for the people at the front lines of the climate crisis.”

Using the social media might work. I don’t know. I’m not sure what our leaders are thinking because it’s not likely Climate Change will solve itself. Nor, obviously, do the major agencies in our country and non-governmental groups think Climate Change will just up and go away. The information is out there:

Yet, however much proof our leaders need that our climate is out of whack with the climate we evolved with (it’s the hockey stick effect) we go on dragging our feet when it comes to the Climate Change talks. That’s despite evidence that our situation grows more dire every day.

Billion-dollar weather disasters smash US record - Houston Chronicle WASHINGTON (AP) — America smashed the record for billion-dollar weather disasters this year with a deadly dozen, and counting. With an almost biblical onslaught of twisters, floods, snow, drought, heat and wildfire, the U.S. in 2011 has seen more weather catastrophes that caused at least $1 billion in damage than it did in all of the 1980s, even after the dollar figures from back then are adjusted for inflation.  (December 7, 2011) Houston News, Sports, Business, and Entertainment - The Houston Chronicle at Chron.com - Houston Chronicle

Many are probably overwhelmed by the multitude of crises around the world and find it hard to prioritize. For example, many think that the possibility of a nuclear exchange between warring nations will do us in. That instead of worrying about the nebulous Climate Change issue, we should worry about that. This is a worry, but here’s the difference between a possible nuclear exchange and Climate Change: a nuclear holocaust might happen. Climate Change is happening.

We are so going to cook.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Another regulation, this time on recycling rechargeable batteries, will it never end?

 

There’s a new law that goes into effect today on properly getting rid of those rechargeable batteries in New York State. Though the onus is on the manufacturers and retailers of recyclable batteries at this time, it would be a good idea for everyone to realize the importance of not throwing your small rechargeable batteries into the trash.

New battery-disposal law takes effect today | Democrat and Chronicle | democratandchronicle.com A law goes into effect today that makes it illegal to dispose of rechargeable batteries in the regular trash. The New York State Rechargeable Battery Law, which was signed by then-Gov. David Paterson in December 2010, prohibits the disposal of rechargeable batteries, such as laptop batteries or camera batteries, in non-recyclable containers. (December 5, 2011) Democrat and Chronicle

We encourage all residents to use this opportunity to properly Recycle these kinds of batteries which have heavy metals in them: nickel-cadmium, sealed lead, lithium ion, and nickel metal hydride. We don’t want that stuff in our landfills.

DEC: Ban on Disposing Rechargeable Batteries in NYS Goes into Effect Today A provision in the New York State Rechargeable Battery Recycling Act prohibiting disposal of most rechargeable batteries as a solid waste in the state starts today, announced the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The new provision of the law gives consumers the opportunity to drop off rechargeable batteries at local retail stores. The law already requires battery manufacturers to provide for collection and recycling of rechargeable batteries in a statewide program at no cost to consumers. "Since many rechargeable batteries contain toxic metals that can be released into the environment when managed improperly, this program is a good example of product stewardship among consumers, retailers and battery manufacturers," DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said. "Valuable metals from rechargeable batteries can be recovered for reuse instead of ending up in the trash." (December 5, 2011) New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

You can take those spent batteries back to the places that sold you the rechargeable batteries, or store them in a can and take them to the Monroe County recycling center when it’s filled, or store them until a local recycling event that includes them occurs. There are many such events in the Rochester region, where we post these events on our calendar and newsletter. Here is the reference for the new law:

Rechargeable Battery Recycling - NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation “Beginning December 5, 2011, no "person" (as defined in Subdivision 1-0303(18) of the Environmental Conservation Law available on the right side of this page under "Links Leaving DEC's Website") shall knowingly dispose of covered rechargeable batteries as solid waste at any time in the state.”

So, this brings us all to this: A new law about recycling. Another new darn law. It probably drives some folks crazy to see that yet another law has been marched out to limit the public’s freedom. The freedom to buy anything thing they want and then throw that used item anywhere where one wants is in jeopardy.

But here’s the thing: environmental groups, scientists, health officials and others concerned about our environment have been stating for a long time that these heavy metals from rechargeable batteries shouldn’t be thrown into our landfills, which can be very toxic. These groups have tried to back green business and encourage reduction, reuse, and recycle. And when businesses tried to start up and collect those batteries, few bothered use that business to properly dispose of those recyclables. The market, the invisible hand of laissez-faire Capitalism, was not reaching into our pockets for those spent batteries and properly taking care of them. The market only cares about our environment when specific actions make a profit. Otherwise the market is completely blind to the health of our environment.

(Please, don’ march out that creative destruction argument, where the market automatically stops ruining the environment when it has destroyed it. For example, when fish populations drop so low as to be non-profitable, the market will go elsewhere. That’s great for the market, but we will have destroyed the oceans—which we’re pretty close to doing anyway. )

The answer is not, oh well if you cannot make spend batteries profitable, or any other discarded item pay, just landfill it. The answer, more than likely, will be for governments to put in place laws so our environment doesn’t get more harmed by the toxic release of improperly disposed items.

What are you going to do? We have to protect ourselves from the mindlessness of the market place. The market place has had a couple of centuries to run their operations sustainably so that they don’t poison and harm our environment. That certainly hasn’t happened. It’s taken the government to step in and make laws to make sure our environment isn’t completely trashed by corporations.

This is all quite pertinent because the GOP is launching an effort to get their candidates elected by reducing environmental regulations. Jobs, any kind of job, are the answer they believe. That’s loony. You cannot have a job on a planet that can no longer support life. Given the historical abuse of industry in polluting our land, air, and water (not to mention our fauna and flora) the GOP has become an irresponsible political party unfit for leadership.

E.P.A. Draws Harsh Words From Most G.O.P. Candidates - NYTimes.com WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency is emerging as a favorite target of the Republican presidential candidates, who portray it as the very symbol of a heavy-handed regulatory agenda imposed by the Obama administration that they say is strangling the economy. (August 17, 2011)

The answer to the question: Will regulations about recycling properly ever end? No, not until our economy reflects its costs to our environment. Until then, government will have to be the adult.