Friday, January 27, 2012

In your face Climate Change for the Rochester, NY region: Gardening changes.


There a many, many Likely Changes coming to the Rochester, NY region because of Climate Change. But because of the relatively slow nature of Climate Change it’s often easy to deceive yourself that it is not really happening. (I say ‘relatively slow nature of Climate Change’ because only from our human daily awareness outlook is Climate Change proceeding slowly; from a geological standpoint Climate Change is hurling itself upon us with frightening rapidity.) You look around Rochester, NY now and you feel a very warm, wet winter that certainly haunts the skiing, skating, ice fishing, and snowmobile businesses—and those who grew up with colder winters with more snow. Is all this the new normal for January?

Yet, even with the insects buzzing around in January there is no proof that this warm winter is a direct effect of Climate Change. It’s complicated, but only for those who haven’t been paying attention to the most important issue of this century.

There are far too many folks who don’t ‘get it’ on Climate Change because their political party doesn’t want them to ‘get it’ or a zillion other loony reasons. There may be some who actually like this warm weather where they don’t have to shovel and where for decades they’ve been holing themselves up in their homes until spring arrives. Secretly, they must be thinking to themselves that this warming might be a good thing—for them.

However, there is one phenomenon that cannot be ignored by even the staunchest Climate Change deniers, some who have helped the fossil fuel industry confuse what the world knows about the laws of physics and heat and sun light and greenhouse gases. That phenomenon is the change in growing seasons. If you depend on growing stuff in our area and continue to believe that your region’s climate is not warming up, you’re going to have problems. You’re going to be planting the wrong stuff at the wrong time:

Gardening Map Of Warming U.S. Has Plant Zones Moving North : The Salt : NPR It's official: Gardeners and farmers can count on warmer weather. If that's you, it might be a good time to rethink those flower and vegetable beds for this year's growing season. That's the word from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which released a new version of its "Plant Hardiness Zone Map" this week, the first update since 1990. The color-coded zones on this map of the United States are widely used as a guide for what perennial flowers will survive in a particular area, or when to plant your vegetables.  (January 26, 2012) Environment : NPR

When you see stories like this, where a major US department is changing the growing season maps, it’s got to put shivers down your spine. Not because you now have to take the trouble to actually check the maps before you plant seeds, but because of the larger implications that Climate Change is happening. This is what the Climate Change denier really fear: Climate Change is package deal—like evolution. It’s a re-framing of the way you understand reality. When you ‘get it’ on Climate Change, you have to understand the whole deal, because everything will be changing, not just planting schedules. It’s like when you sign up to join the military, you didn’t just get a really neat uniform—you’ve made a major commitment that you cannot walk away from.

That’s the way it is with Climate Change and the media. You cannot keep something as big as Climate Change quiet and expect that the deniers will be able to spin every story their way. At some point, because of the myriad effects of Climate Change, there will be at least one description of the changes going on due to our atmosphere warming up where you find a news item and go: “Holly Mackerel!, it’s true!”

I think this growing season map by the U.S. Department of Agriculture is going to be that moment for some people. Gardening is the most popular outdoor activity in the United States. Who wants to look like an idiot planting things at the wrong time? How do you explain to yourself that when it comes to planning seeds in your garden Climate Change is true, but when you shop, plan for your children’s future, vote for the next president, and buy a house that may soon be a flood plain that it’s all hogwash?

Climate Change is happening and it is the lens from which we must view all human activity in the future—how we plan our cities, plan our transportation and telecommunications infrastructures, protect our fresh water, and much, much more.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

President Obama mentions ‘Climate Change’ in his State Union Address


Last year President Obama avoided using ‘Climate Change’ in his State of the Union Address and focused on clean energy. This year the President did mention Climate Change, but not in a good way: “The differences in this chamber may be too deep right now to pass a comprehensive plan to fight climate change.” 2012 State Of The Union Address Enhanced Version | The White House#transcript

The President’s bowing to the power of the ‘chamber’ when he should be leading the country on Climate Change is disproportional to the concerns coming from our country’s own climate assessments. For example, this report that just came out this month from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with support by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies minces no words on the scale and immediacy of the Climate Change problem.

“Our climate is changing, and these changes are already impacting the nation’s valuable natural resources and the people, communities, and economies that depend on them (see Chapters 1 and 2). The observed changes in climate, in turn, have been directly correlated to the increasing levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere, which have set 5 in motion a series of changes in the planet’s climate system. Far greater changes are already inevitable because CO2 stays in the atmosphere for a long time. Even if further GHG emissions were halted today, alterations already underway in the Earth’s climate will last for hundreds or thousands of years. If GHG emissions continue, as is more likely, the planet’s temperature is projected to rise by 2.0 to 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit by the end 10 of the century, with accompanying major changes in extreme weather events, sea level rise, and acidification of our oceans. The pace and scale of these kinds of changes are expected to have major impacts on our natural resources and the communities and economies that depend on them.” From the Preface of NFWP Climate Adaptation Strategy

This means more powerful than the physics that is the underpinning of Climate Change is the extreme end of the Republican Party that doesn’t understand Climate Change science—probably because it threatens their ideology that less government is better and the free market can solve all problems. Both of which have been proven by history not to be true and threatens our existence.

But there you are, without leadership from the US President, addressing Climate Change remains a series of ad hoc solutions that won’t solve the problem.

One of the ad hoc items is drilling for natural gas in our country, which is a clear and present danger in New York State.

Hydrofracking gets a boost in President Obama's speech WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's decision to support natural gas drilling on federal lands is being hailed by supporters of hydraulic fracturing in New York. Obama's comments in Tuesday's State of the Union speech "should send a message to all the folks back home that even the president has vetted this and we need to move forward together," said Republican Rep. Tom Reed of Corning. In his speech, Obama said America's natural gas reserves could meet the nation's energy needs for 100 years and could provide 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade.  (January 26, 2012) Democrat and Chronicle

Yet, despite the President’s rhetoric natural gas is still a fossil fuel that is helping to warm our atmosphere and there are a lot of environmental concerns that have not been answered yet.

We can applaud the President’s desire to remove the billions in subsides the fossil fuel gets to give clean, renewable energy a chance, but that probably won’t happen. It’s a nice thought anyway.

“Every budget President Obama has submitted to Congress since 2009 has called for chopping subsidies for oil and other fossil fuels in the neighborhood of $4 billion. Each time, it has gone nowhere. The response from the Senate and the House isn't expected to change after Obama presents his newest budget in early February. Once again, it will likely die on Capitol Hill.” (January 26, 2012) Obama's Latest Energy Blueprint: Will Congress Go Along? | InsideClimate News

And we are encouraged by the President’s promise of clean energy:

Obama: 'I Will Not Walk Away From The Promise Of Clean Energy' President Obama called for more domestic oil and gas production in his State of the Union address, saying that "a future where we're in control of our own energy" is within reach, where the nation's security and prosperity would not be so closely linked to unstable parts of the world.  (January 26, 2012) Environment : NPR

But at the end of the day, today, we are very puzzled by the overwhelming evidence that Climate Change is happening and our absolute inability to address it in a manner that would actually affect something so incredibly vast as our atmosphere.

It looks hopeless, given our present political climate, given our media’s unwillingness to hold the presidential candidates to the fire on Climate Change, and given our short-term desire for what appears to be (but actually isn’t) cheap energy. But I may be wrong.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Got ideas on how we should solve Climate Change? Make public comment to NFWP.


How important are nature’s services (one of them being LIFE) to you? The Public Review Draft of the National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy is now available for public review and comment. You have until March 5th, 2012 to submit comment via mail, web, or in person. Tell it to The National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy.

NFWP Climate Adaptation Strategy "The Public Review Draft of the National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy is now available for public review and comment. To ensure that we are able to consider your comments, we must receive them by March 5, 2012. You can submit your comments through the web, by mail, or in person. Learn how to submit your comments here. Public workshops will be conducted at several locations around the country to provide additional opportunities for public comment and discussion of the draft. Please visit our Public Workshops page for more information. In addition, a free, public online web conference or webinar will also be held. Learn more and sign up here. "

It sounds daunting to not only get your head around how our entire planet’s climate is going to change, let alone trying to figure out what to do about that. It’s complicated. For example, what’s the best way for “reducing the negative impacts of climate change on fish, wildlife, plants, and the natural systems upon which they depend.”

I hear your pain about the complexity of it all. Who would have thought that besides getting an education that is almost impossible to afford, get a house, put kids through college, and have time left over to save the planet? But that’s what it has come to. Our politics, economy, and our media have left us almost null and void on being good stewards of our planet, but what choice do we have? Our planet is warming up and very few beyond are doing something on a scale big enough to affect our planet’s climate.

So, It’s up to you and me.

Need some background on Climate Change because there are some key concepts in science that allude you? Do what I’m doing; take this free online course (complete with tests and labs) from the University of Chicago on Climate Science. It’s fun and you’ll learn a lot.

Open Climate Science 101 “Three thousand non-science major undergraduates at the University of Chicago have taken this class since 1996, and learned the science behind the forecast for a human influence on Earth's climate. The story combines physics, chemistry, biology, and Earth and atmospheric science.”

There’s no environmental freight to throw overboard; it’s a Fracking delusion


Environmental issues are riddled with examples of why our environmental infrastructure must remain intact for us humans to have a sustainable future. I mean intact in the way that 4 billion years of biology and evolution on this planet has fit every little piece of our environmental puzzle together resulting in our specie’s appearance and survival. Deep ecology recognizes that our environment is not just about us. Take biodiversity for example. If we carve up our environment for our particular immediate needs, we threaten our environment’s ability to rebound after a disaster—say extreme weather. A disease could rip through our monocultures, like the potato blight, and leave our agriculture crippled. Allowing other plants and animals to survive gives our environment a cushion against a complete collapsed when things go awry.

If we continue to shape our environment to exactly the way we want it, that is, create a state where we want fresh water to drink, water to use as a drain for all our waste, and then even more water for Fracking, what will we do for water during an extended drought? These water deprivation periods, even in NYS, will strain our ability to provide water for hydroelectric generation, wells, some municipal water reservoirs, and irrigation for our crops—even without the demands the Fracking industry will require if we lift the moratorium on horizontal drilling for natural gas. Droughts will come more often as Climate Change shifts our hydrology cycle to more precipitation in the spring in the form of rain and more incidents of drought towards late summer and early fall. This isn’t just an idle threat, as most climate change reports that include the American Northeast state this general precipitation pattern for our state.

This is pertinent as we consider Fracking in our state. Apparently, some folks think Fracking is something we can back out of if things go wrong. There must be a feeling out there, by a sizeable portion of our population, that we puny humans can’t really do anything to affect the overall health of our environment. Much has been said about Nature’s resiliency, that Nature when abused somehow comebacks and heals itself, like when you get a scratch on your arm and in a few weeks you’re as good as new.

Nothing of the kind happens in our actual environment. When you change the environment, you change the environment and everything in it has to adapt or die. Sometimes these environmental changes are slight and we don’t notice them, like a big rain storm, when things seemingly come back to something like it was—except some soil has washed away never to be seen again, and some branches and trees are killed. We don’t usually notice the effect of a big rain if plants and trees that died get replaced. When the rains settle, and enough remains intact, we don’t notice the changes. But it isn’t the same. Things have changed. Really, you cannot step in the same river twice.

It’s a dangerous illusion to believe that Nature is somehow adjusted to suit us humans, and no matter what we do things will just spring back when we stop doing bad things—like cramming Fracking fluids into thousands of miles of natural and unnatural fissures. How we deceive ourselves must go something like this: Many of us tend to think of our environment like the sick, elderly lady who just needs to stop all her bad habits to get well:

“Mark Twain tells of a doctor at the bedside of a very sick, elderly lady. The doctor told her that she must stop drinking, cussing, and smoking. The lady said that she’d never done any of those things in her entire life. The doctor responded, “Well, that’s your problem, then. You’ve neglected your habits.” Twain added: “She was like a sinking ship with no freight to throw overboard.”She Was a Sinking Vessel with No Freight to Throw Overboard « Quote Investigator

That’s a delusion. There is no environmental freight to throw overboard. Everything living is part of the stuff keeping us alive and keeping the machinery of life going. Every single organism at every single minute has to adapt to existing conditions or it perishes. Creatures, like the dinosaurs, ruled the planet for 200 million years but it only took a fraction of that time to wipe them out by the conditions probably caused by a ten-mile sized meteor that fell to earth. (If it wasn’t for this strange interstellar anomaly, dinosaurs, not us New Yorkers, would be Fracking with our water.)

If we screw up our NYS environment with Fracking, we may or may not be able to adapt to the changes, along with everything else coming down the pipe with Climate Change. Nature is not predisposed to ‘right’ itself when we make bad decisions so we can live uninterrupted cushy lives again. Nature, for all the poetry that abounds telling of its glory and motherly concern for us, is simply a mindless algorithm of the laws of physics. Plug fracking mistakes into the program and out comes disasters for us. And nature provides no “undo” button.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Wanna do something about Climate Change in Rochester, NY? (Hint: bike.)


If you care about increasing Active Transportation in the Rochester, NY region you can still make comment on this major road construction project by the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) until January 30th, 2012. Check this out:

Access 390: Interchange 16 “This project will evaluate the current and future operational and safety needs of the I-390 Interchange 16 (Routes 15 and 15A). Potential design solutions will be developed to increase safety, reduced congestion and accommodate planned future growth and development. To submit comments, please go to the Contact Us page.” NYSDOT Home

Among all the engineering feats the DOT will accomplish, they will determine the social, economic, and environmental effects of this project. One of the environmental effects of this project, and any road project for that matter, will be increasing vehicular traffic that will emit more greenhouse gases (GHG). One of the ways to reduce the bad environmental effects of a great big road and bridge project is to implement active transportation. Active transportation is walking and wheel-chairing and bicycling and even skateboarding (if that’s your thing) to get to those short distances—which are the trips most folks take with their cars. But active transportation doesn’t put greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, so when you walk or bike instead of driving your car, you aren’t contributing to Climate Change.

The other evening I attended the New York State Department of Transportation’s public meeting in Rochester to find out about the complicated Access 390: Interchange 16 project—as it includes a lot of those engineering details that thrill the experts and leaves us common folks bewildered. In short, along the route, parallel to this Byzantine project on 390 are arterials, highways, where the DOT could use some of its left-over asphalt and put in bike lanes—like say on a stretch of East River Road. (I’m told, there is always asphalt left over from a big road job.)

This idea is that instead of getting in your car to get to those destinations that serve vehicles all too well, you could also do that route on bicycle. Clean air, a healthier lifestyle, less Climate Change, what’s not to like? Including routes for bicycles and other active transportation when big construction projects go on is the idea behind Complete Streets:

Complete Streets “Instituting a complete streets policy ensures that transportation planners and engineers consistently design and operate the entire roadway with all users in mind - including bicyclists, public transportation vehicles and riders, and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.”

I talked with a DOT representative (don’t ask me names, I’m so bad at that) and he assured me that the DOT always considers and always has considered the concepts behind Complete Streets. Their position is that if they can do it they will help implement assess for Active Transportation. My argument is that with the Complete Streets, now the law in NYS, the DOT must listen and respond to requests to tailor our roads for walkers and bicyclist when constructing and re-constructing an existing road. The operative word here is ‘must’. We are sure those great folks over at the DOT want to help us move along without pollution and warming up the planet, but we want to trust and verify.

So, thinking about your planet and Climate Change and how incredibly energy intensive (transportation accounts for 27% of GHG) getting around can be, why not contact the DOT (go here to do that by January 30th and let them know you care about Complete Streets—not just gas-guzzlers.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Trying to communicate Climate Change over the din of Super denials

The collective human reaction to Climate Change in the US can be characterized as dysfunctional. I use ‘dysfunctional’ in the sense that our collective reaction to the Climate Change threat is not normal for a functional species—a species intent on survival. Whether most folks in the United States understand Climate Change, or ‘think’ they understand Climate Change, we aren’t really addressing it in any meaningful way.

To ‘get’ Climate Change in a meaningful way would be to see a massive turnaround in how our media, politics, and our culture itself reacts to the most troubling issue of this century. Only a top-down, that is, leadership from government s around the world will bring down our greenhouse gas concentrations in our atmosphere to a level that won’t threaten our ability to survive. That is not even close to happening. We need to find a way to communicate this issue that is like no other challenge the human species has ever faced. Never had we had to change human behavior instantly on a planetary scale to survive.

This conversation between Andrew C. Revkin, science communicator/reporter at Dot Earth Blog - and Nobel Prize winning physics Murray Gell-Mann about the difficulties of communicating the science of Climate Change to the public highlights one of the problems. Does the US public understand the basic physics of Climate Change or not: Can Better Communication of Climate Science Cut Climate Risks? - You ought to read this piece and watch the films clips as the whole conversation is rather amusing, amusing in the way absurdity is used in Vonnegut’s Slaughter House Five is amusing. We can laugh at our propensity for self-destruction, but not in a happy, joyful way.

Another way in which the US public is reacting in a dysfunctional way to the Climate Change crisis is through our politics. The presidential elections should be a time when important matters are discussed so the public can decide which candidate will be the best choice to solve those matters. I know even this is a pie-in-the-sky interpretation of what actually goes on during a presidential election, but this election season will be multiples of factors worse than our usual state of political ineptitude.

The 2012 presidential election will be dominated by a sound and fury about a lot of things that don’t matter, a few things that do matter, and nothing about Climate Change which will signify our country’s total inability to do anything to address it. This time around the vicious cycle of absurdity that surrounds our politics will be the roar of idiocy from the political action committees or Super PAC s. That’s political action committees with the word ‘super’ in front, where limitless amounts of money can be spent on lying for a candidate as long as the candidate isn’t orchestrating that money, and no disclosure of who is providing that money for a long time after the ads.

Super PAC’s are the Supreme Court’s way of saying Big money is far more important than Little people in the US. And thank goodness somebody is taken on the Super PACs.
Stephen Colbert May Run for President, Talks to George Stephanopoulos Running for president is hard work. But for comedian Stephen Colbert, who announced his plans to "explore" a presidential bid in South Carolina earlier this week, it's not the long hours of campaigning or the intense public scrutiny that weighed against his decision to run, it was giving up control of his Super PAC. "To do this exploratory committee, I had to give away my Super PAC," Colbert told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos in an exclusive interview Sunday morning on "This Week." "That's my baby. Do you know how hard it is to give away a baby? Now imagine if that baby had a whole lot of money. Imagine how much harder that would be to give away." (January 15, 2012)
Here’s why that is important: The din created by the ads created by Super PAC will overshadow any discussion on Climate Change, and likely any other issue not popular in the 1%’s self-serving attitude towards a systems of laissez faire Capitalism that got our economy and environment in the deplorable state it is presently in. Don’t think there is an effort to suppress the public’s understanding of the world-wide Climate Change crisis? Check out how our children’s classrooms will be the next stage for crippling our country’s effort to educate the public on Climate Change:
Climate change becomes a flash point in science education - Some states have introduced education standards requiring teachers to defend the denial of man-made global warming. A national watchdog group says it will start monitoring classrooms. Reporting from Washington— A flash point has emerged in American science education that echoes the battle over evolution, as scientists and educators report mounting resistance to the study of man-made climate change in middle and high schools. Although scientific evidence increasingly shows that fossil fuel consumption has caused the climate to change rapidly, the issue has grown so politicized that skepticism of the broad scientific consensus has seeped into classrooms. (January 16, 2012) Los Angeles Times
We are so going to cook.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The EPA could have been a contender on Fracking


Here’s something interesting to think about as we read the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) response to the Revised Draft SGEIS on the Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Regulatory Program (September 2011) - NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation. So, today’s news abounds with the EPA’s letter to the SGEIS report on the safety of Fracking in New York State. The EPA, which is usually responsible for enforcing measures to protect our fresh water for the entire country, had a lot to say:

EPA reaction mixed on DEC fracking review | Democrat and Chronicle | ALBANY — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency urged New York regulators to take steps to bolster the state's proposed hydraulic fracturing rules, providing a meticulous, line-by-line critique of its 1,500-page report. Beating a midnight Wednesday deadline to submit comments by less than three hours, the federal agency recommended dozens of ways for the state Department of Environmental Conservation to strengthen its hydrofracking proposals. Those suggestions include beefing up a ban on the technique within two major water supplies and taking a closer look at naturally occurring radioactive material found in gas-drilling waste.  (January 13, 2012] Democrat and Chronicle | Rochester news, community, entertainment, yellow pages and classifieds. Serving Rochester, New York |

Go straight to the horse’s mouth (as we New Yorker’s say) and read the EPA comments to the SGEIS:

Region 2 | US EPA On January 11, 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency submitted its comments on New York State's revised draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (dSGEIS) and the proposed state regulations and general permit for storm water discharges related to high volume hydraulic fracturing. US Environmental Protection Agency

I am sure that the EPA would have had a lot more to say if they had not be kicked out of the process of regulating the gas drilling operations in all states, including NYS, had it not been exempt from its Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) | Safe Drinking Water Act | US EPA regulatory position.

Those nice people over at Citizens Campaign for the Environment - New York and Connecticut Environmental Protection Preservation and Advocacy give us an encapsulation of happened:

“To recover natural gas deposits in deep shale formations the industry prefers to use hydro-fracking; a process that uses millions of gallons of water mixed with chemicals to fracture the shale and release natural gas. Volumes of toxic, caustic, and potentially radioactive liquid waste byproducts are created in the hydro-fracking process, with no real plan for safe treatment and disposal. Effective lobbying by the oil and gas industry has led to key exemptions from a laundry list of environmental safeguards, including the Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Water Act, and Superfund. New York’s air, land, water and people are vulnerable to hydro-fracking pollution due to inadequate federal and state oversight.” NATURAL GAS HYDRO-FRACKING IN SHALE | Citizens Campaign for the Environment - New York and Connecticut Environmental Protection Preservation and Advocacy

“Effective lobbying” Good Grief!—as if the oil and gas companies should be proud of themselves. The question that should be answered to the public’s satisfaction is, “Why did Fracking get exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act? “ At long last, after all that has been reported about the well and drinking water issues associated with Fracking, what were our politicians thinking about by exempting Fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act? They certainly couldn’t have been thinking of you.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

One good thing about the NYS DEC Fracking process


As we reach the last day for making public comment on whether to lift the moratorium on Fracking in New York State, something good has come out of the four-month comment period. That something good is that we New Yorkers have had a conversation about our environment. Albeit, limited but a conversation nonetheless. Usually, when environmental concerns come up, we only argue about them as NYMBY issues, as how the environmental effects of a project will affect those immediately surrounding that particular project. Or, an environmental disaster occurs and folks start pointing fingers and calling up lawyers. We are a long way from adequately addressing environmental concerns in the media. (Note the almost criminal denial of media attention on Climate Change in the US presidential campaigns this year.)

The Fracking issue, drilling down horizontally for natural gas under the Marcellus Shale and Utica Shale beneath New York State, is a positive leap forward in communicating environmental concerns because the whole state has had time to engage in the issue. Even our local media has been stirred out of their slumber and focused on what others think about Fracking in our state, though they themselves have not independently investigated all the environmental ramifications of how Fracking will affect our state. To get an idea of how a responsible and competent media investigates an intricate issue like hydrofracking nearby go to ProPublica’s Fracking - ProPublica “Gas Drilling's Environmental Threat.”

Of course, the limited way in which pubic comment was accepted by the DEC did not make for a full discussion about Fracking. The Revised Draft SGEIS on the Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Regulatory Program (September 2011) - NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation was not a public discussion about whether to drill or not; it was a discussion on how to make drilling safe. For example, little still will be known about the public health aspects of Fracking after all the thousands of comments come in. Another is that because the cost of natural gas will be cheaper because of the increase in quantity, renewable energy will not be so economically desirable.

NCPR News - Gas drilling could take air out of offshore wind Politics and price are pitting gas drilling against offshore wind on the Great lakes. Our Front and Center partnership with WBEZ in Chicago looks at hopes for economic revival in the nation's rustbelt. In the Cleveland area, politicians and businessmen have been pushing for years to build a wind farm in Lake Erie. But the project's financing is up in the air, and as WBEZ's Chip Mitchell reports, state politics is tipping the balance toward hydrofracking, and away from what could be the first major offshore wind development in the Great Lakes.  (January 11, 2012) NCPR: North Country Public Radio

Those who have heralded natural gas as a transitional fuel, as it doesn’t (allegedly, as the methane component is still being argued about) burn as dirty as other fossil fuels , forget that their argument doesn’t hold up if we are not actually transitioning, that is ramping up the use of renewable energy—wind and solar—as we burn natural gas.

The problem with getting complete coverage on something that will affect New York State’s environment as profoundly as Fracking might be may boil down to simply money. The Fracking issue in New York State, regardless of how popular it is in the press at the moment because the comment period is closing today, cannot compete with something as lucrative for the media as the presidential elections—even though little of much importance is being talked about. Our presidential elections are mostly a dysfunction spin on how to keep the rich rich and the poor poor. There’s even a suggestion that the drilling companies have bribed their way into our decider’s hearts:

Hydrofracking industry bigs gave state politicians thousands of dollars - NY Daily News ALBANY — In pushing for state approval of hydrofracking, the natural gas industry has pumped $1.34 million into the coffers of New York politicians and their parties, a new study revealed. The donations were sprinkled around over the last four years as lawmakers and state officials debated whether to allow the controversial drilling process, formally known as hydraulic fracturing, in the gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation upstate, Common Cause New York said in its report. (January 11, 2012) New York News, Traffic, Sports, Weather, Photos, Entertainment, and Gossip - Homepage - NY Daily News

The conversation about Fracking in NYS should have been whether or not to allow it all at, considering how much stress our state will be under with Climate Change. As our fresh drinking water becomes dearer in the late summers (as predicted by most Climate Change models in this region), farmers, communities, and drilling companies may be competing for those precious drops of fresh water. The discussion should have been how New York State will get its energy in the future as our state and the rest of the world warms up due to Climate Change. Those few of us who have brought out this critical aspect of Fracking in these times in this state have been largely ignored.

Having said all that, I cannot remember an environmental issue that has received so much attention by so many New Yorkers in a long time. That is good. But have we really learned anything that we didn’t know about this issue? Have we learned how to decide on environmental issues at all—devoid of their potential for making some people a lot of money? Has the Fracking issue in NYS made us better stewards of our state’s environment—or have most been shooting from the hip with talking points from their favorite political parties?

Monday, January 09, 2012

Intolerable acts of denial, the 2012 Presidential race and Climate Change


Doesn’t it seem odd to you that most of the scientists and most of the countries on this planet understand Climate Change, while the US media and the US presidential elections almost completely ignore it? In this country, the media makes billions of dollars detailing the horse race, how low the President is in the polls, how much money a candidate has in their coffers, and questioning candidates on the latest slap from their opponents, yet we hear nothing on the most important issue of this century. We seem hell-bent on electing a President of the United States without even discussing Climate Change at all. What’s the point of having an election if you can’t talk about important things?

That’s not only very odd, but tragic. A US president is going to have to address this issue because it involves every aspect of being a president: wars, infrastructure, regulations, public lending, public health, and you-name-it. And Climate Change isn’t going to go away because a candidate’s handlers are uncomfortable with the issue as it threatens funding from large corporations like the fossil fuel industry.

Somehow, we here in the US have got to get over Climate Change denial and get going on grappling with it. Climate Change isn’t just an ordinary issue that you tack on to a laundry list of endless worries that end up paralyzing you into inaction. It has to be adapted to and reversed—or we cook. It is the one issue upon which all other issues in our future will revolve. It is caused by humans putting more greenhouse gases (GHG) into our atmosphere and it is steadily increasing:

2010 Carbon Dioxide Output Shows Biggest Jump Ever - “Global emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel burning jumped by the largest amount on record last year, upending the notion that the brief decline during the recession might persist through the recovery. Emissions rose 5.9 percent in 2010, according to an analysis released Sunday by the Global Carbon Project, an international collaboration of scientists tracking the numbers. Scientists with the group said the increase, a half-billion extra tons of carbon pumped into the air, was almost certainly the largest absolute jump in any year since the Industrial Revolution, and the largest percentage increase since 2003.”

The Republican race for president is winding up, and the US public still doesn’t have a clue as to what the candidates will do about the next UN Climate Change talks, or how much public funds will be allocated to buttress our water, wastewater, transportation, and telecommunications infrastructures as extreme weather threatens them. There’s no plan among the candidates to deal with Climate Change. In fact, the Republican candidates are falling all over themselves to appease their base and ignore the elephant in the room.

Still Searching for Republicans With Climate Concerns - The Climate Desk, a collaborative journalism project of Mother Jones and several other publications, has produced a video searching in vain for a Republican presidential candidate willing to make any science-based statements on climate. (January 5, 2010)

So, how does that work? Though denial plays well in the bizarre world of US politics, how does dismissing Climate Change work with the laws of physics and the growing concerns of the other nations around the world? (Australia just implemented a carbon tax.) At what point will the next president get tired of swatting every fly, that is, addressing every extreme weather event separately, until he or she finally connects the dots and calls for a comprehensive Climate Change action plan and summons up the courage to speak about it to the public? What will the mood of the American people be when they awaken from their slumber on Climate Change and start looking for those who have been lying about what most scientists and other countries have known for quite awhile now. Will there be accountability?

If we cannot talk about Climate Change in our politics, how can we choose a candidate who will address it? How do you have a conversation when one side won’t talk? How do we measure our chances of survival if a president won’t even mention it in his State of the Union address—as President Obama failed to do last year? How do we talk about economics and trade with other nations who are trying to reduce their GHG? Are we just going to get angry when other nations implement changes and these measures start to tread on our inalienable rights to warm the planet?

Carbon Emission Fees for Flights Upheld “PARIS — The European Union’s highest court on Wednesday endorsed the bloc’s plan to begin charging the world’s biggest airlines for their greenhouse gas emissions starting Jan. 1. The move sets the stage for a potentially costly trade war with the United States, China and other countries. A group of United States airlines had argued that forcing them to participate in the potentially costly emissions-trading system infringed on national sovereignty and conflicted with existing international aviation treaties.” (December 21, 2011) The New York Times

Shouldn’t the American public demand that their next president define his or her position on how they will address Climate Change? Sure it’s uncomfortable. There is no denying that understanding Climate Change implies a lot of inconvenient actions our nation must take—like moving to a carbon-free economy instead of one that continues to prey on our future. Heads will roll; there will be winners and losers, and if we do nothing, we’ll cook.

Many folks just don’t understand Climate Change, or don’t want to hear about it, but that isn’t going to stop the planet warming up. There are things we the people can do to start a national conversation and at least put this issue on the one platform where Americans speak about crucial matters–our presidential elections:

  • We could use our social media programs to encourage that media outlets address all our concerns about Climate Change in our region.
  • We could respond to the constant horserace by pivoting and challenging our local media to question our politicians on Climate Change.
  • We could write letters to the editors of our local media and ask why they are not questioning our presidential candidates on what they would do to help us adapt and reverse Climate Change.
  • When political candidates come for a visit, we can stand up and speak out for the US to take responsibility on Climate Change as Durban Climate Hero Abigail Borah did: Durban Climate Hero Abigail Borah: 'I Am Speaking On Behalf Of The USA Because My Negotiators Cannot' | ThinkProgress
  • We could let our friends and family know that we are concerned about how politics as usual will jeopardize our future.
  • We can visit our community leaders and let them know that we understand Climate Change and that we want to know what measures are being taken in our area to address it.
  • We should contact the environmental groups we belong to and demand that they pressure the media to challenge the candidates on Climate Change. Some already do, like the League of Conservation Voters.

US mainstream media, backed by corporations who are not particularly fond of their puppets challenging the presidential candidates on Climate Change, must be replaced by a media that acts on our behalf, not the corporations. The present state of affairs, where the most powerful country in the world refuses to acknowledge the most important issue in the world, is intolerable. This craven idiocy cannot go on:

Climate coverage down again in 2011 — The Daily Climate Climate change dropped even further from the world's headlines and newscasts last year. Weird weather, Australia's carbon tax and Solyndra fracas weren't enough to stem a decline that started in 2009. Media coverage of climate change continued to tumble in 2011, declining roughly 20 percent from 2010's levels and nearly 42 percent from 2009's peak, according to analysis of's archive of global media. (January 3, 2011)

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

NYS Fracking decision looms; it’s getting intense


Three years ago I had never heard of Hydraulic fracturing (Fracking), until it was brought up at a Sierra Club conference I attended. Someone at the meeting said then that this issue will be big in New York State. Still, even a year ago it was barely mentioned in the Rochester, NY region—as the local media failed to mention for a long time that Fracking regulations are being shaped for both the Marcellus Shale and the Utica Shale, which includes Rochester, NY. . Now, things are getting intense. Even the governor is going to feel the heat:

“Superhero” Ads, Protesters Pressure Cuomo on Fracking ALBANY, N.Y. - Critics of fracking are to protest today at Gov. Andrew Cuomo's "State of the State address, hoping to tell the governor that he should slow the rush toward horizontal drilling for natural gas in New York's Marcellus Shale. Meanwhile, those worried about fracking's impact on New York's water have a new superhero, in a television ad produced by the Water Rangers Coalition. Wearing tights and a cape, he's played by a familiar character actor, Albany-born Adam Lefevre.  (January 4, 2012) Public News Service

Though, it is still hard to believe that New York State is still considering to Frack for natural gas. There are so many bad reasons why our state should not even consider this energy option, when we could have gone to renewable energy with the GLOW program (see NYPA: Great Lakes offshore wind is dead | Innovation Trail) that it leaves one stunned with incredulity.

The end is near: January 11th ends the public comment period on the:” Hydraulic Fracturing SGEIS - Comment period extended to January 11, 2012. Information available for hydraulic fracturing in Marcellus Shale area:” New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)

First off, this statement by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is misleading because this SGEIS isn’t just about the Marcellus Share area, which run well below Rochester, NY. It includes the Utica Shale, which is where we live. So, and I don’t know why this talk about drilling in NYS continues to do it, we are hiding the fact that the Utica Shale is part of the SGEIS. Check page 2 of the Executive Summary (PDF) (805 kb).

In New York, the primary target for shale-gas development is currently the Marcellus Shale, with the deeper Utica Shale also identified as a potential resource. Additional low-permeability reservoirs may be considered by project sponsors for development by high-volume hydraulic fracturing. The Department has received applications for permits to drill horizontal wells to evaluate and develop the Marcellus Shale for natural gas production by high-volume hydraulic fracturing.

Then, there are questions as to why a drilling practice so threatening to our fresh water (see EPA Finds Compound Used in Fracking in Wyoming Aquifer - ProPublica) has been exempted from the Fresh Water Safe Drinking Act:

Former Bush EPA Official Says Fracking Exemption Went Too Far; Congress Should Revisit - ProPublica When Benjamin Grumbles was assistant administrator for water at the Environmental Protection Agency in the George W. Bush administration, he oversaw the release of a 2004 EPA report that determined that hydraulic fracturing was safe for drinking water. Then he watched as Congress used those findings to bolster the case for passing a law that prohibited the EPA from regulating fracking under the Safe Drinking Water Act. (March 9, 2011) ProPublica

I mean it’s not like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is blind to the risk that Fracking brings to our drinking water:

Regulation of Hydraulic Fracturing Under the Safe Drinking Water Act | Hydraulic Fracturing | US EPA Water is an integral component of the hydraulic fracturing process. EPA Office of Water regulates waste disposal of flowback and sometimes the injection of fracturing fluids as authorized by the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act. Safe Drinking Water Act| Several statutes may be leveraged to protect water quality, but EPA’s central authority to protect drinking water is drawn from the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). The protection of USDWs is focused in the Underground Injection Control (UIC) program, which regulates the subsurface emplacement of fluid. Congress provided for exclusions to UIC authority (SDWA § 1421(d)), however, with the most recent language added via the Energy Policy Act of 2005: US Environmental Protection Agency

Anyway, before for this essay gets too long (as information about Fracking is growing in leaps and bounds in the media and all over the Internet) let me just encapsulate a few of the concern about Fracking--concerns about drilling leases, about drilling accidents, about earth quakes, and about Climate Change--just published by local media:

The deadline for responding to the DEC's revised draft SGEIS is fast upon us: January 11! If you're sending your letter through USPS, it must be stamped no later than 1/11. Here is a very comprehensive guide on how to do all that: DSGEIS Responses - SourceWatch