Monday, April 30, 2012

Bats and Bees: What’s the story?

 

Considering the critical roles both bats and honeybees play in our environment, our economics, and our agriculture, it’s worth taking a moment to catch up on these wonderful creatures. Bats eat bugs that eat our crops and spread diseases—like West Nile Virus. Honeybees pollinate our flowers and crops—like apples. Bat populations are being decimated by White-Nose Syndrome and honeybees are also collapsing because of Colony Collapse Disorder. We know that both these species are in trouble by their diseases, but what seems to have clouded the information and hence the saving of both bats and bees is the role pesticides are playing in their demise—if any. However, both of these issues have gone on for some time now with little progress and we have to wonder if it is due to the possible role of pesticides:

What makes saving our honeybees and bats so difficult is the interaction of politics, science, law, the pesticide industry, and the media. The science is problematic because industry does not want its pesticides associated with or even collaterally connected to these diseases even when using their products properly. But it’s often very hard to tell what happens when toxic chemicals (let’s face it pesticides kill pests) radiate out into our environment, which in turn sows doubt in the courts and in the media. Cause and effect are hard to determine after tons of these toxins are released into our air, land, and soil.

Also, concern over the use of pesticides to manage our crops and control potential pests that compromise our public health is linked with Climate Change. As our growing season lengthens in New York State because of warming, the length of survival for the pests, both indigenous and invasive, will increase. And our inclination will be to dump more pesticides and herbicides to protect our way of life.

On bats: You can find the latest news and information on White-Nose Syndrome in bats here: White-Nose Syndrome - U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and check out this latest study DEC Reports: 2012 Winter Bat Survey Results - NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation.

On bees: Check with the EPA: Honeybee colony collapse disorder | Pesticides | US EPA

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What is ‘local’ news on a warming planet?

 

A long and in-depth story appeared this week in our local media on how Climate Change will affect the Rochester, NY region. It’s part of a series that will be forthcoming. I make note of it because it’s really the first of its kind, an article in the local media about the consequences of Climate Change on a local level without the usual pandering to the deniers.

ENVIRONMENT: Climate change: upsetting the balance - News Articles - Rochester City Newspaper This is the first of an occasional series on climate change. It focuses on the effects that changing temperature and precipitation trends will have on ecosystems. Nature is about balance and climate change is already knocking finely tuned systems out of whack. Future installments will look at the effects on agriculture, the economy, and energy. (April 17, 2012) Rochester NY News, Events, Restaurants, Music, Entertainment, Nightlife - Rochester City Newspaper

Since the 1970’s Climate Change has been noticeable to most of the scientists who were testing the hypothesis that if humanity puts thousands of tons of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, it will trap heat and begin warming our climate. That hypothesis is now accepted by the majority of scientists in the US and around the world. Indeed, ice-core samples show a demonstrative spike in the concentration of carbon dioxides between the beginning of the Second Industrial Revolution (about 280ppm) to now (about 396ppm), and there is a loss of energy beyond our stratosphere because more energy from the sun is getting trapped in our atmosphere. It is and has been beyond a reasonable doubt for some time.

Around 1970 the effect of Climate Change became noticeable because the cooling effect from spewing aerosols or particulates into our air from burning fossil fuels got overwhelmed by the heat. Our atmosphere was clearly warming up. But for decades, despite announcements to Congress, peer-reviewed studies from scientists and the establishment of the IPCC - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in the 1980’s so much doubt was allowed to fester in the media that any talk of Climate Change was continually qualified by doubt.

This brings us to the problem with our watchdogs, our media. Back in the day, back around the pre-Internet era, we used to believe in the relatively few professional voices we all accepted as qualified and objective. But those days are gone. Perhaps, for our all nostalgia, they were not all that objective and qualified. For example the dangers of cigarette smoking were known long before the media gave the public that information. Acid rain was poisoning our Adirondack lakes before the media climbed on board, and many things we thought only alarmist are now our legacy, like the tragic trail of destroyed lives because lead poisoning was not adequately covered by the media.

However, today many despair that we live in a world so filled with ‘news’ pouring over the Internet, radio, TV, cable, and satellites that it’s too bewildering to keep up. It oftentimes seems that way. For the present sound and fury by the media for your attention is a media circus that has left many traditional news sources without funding from advertizing dollars that have moved to the Internet.

We are in a media revolution that is so fluid right now that it’s difficult to actually pin down what is going on and where it will settle. Local newspapers are darting behind pay walls that had been left open for the last decade for anyone with an Internet connection. Investigative reporting on critical issues like the present series on Lead Poisoning by USA today (Some neighborhoods dangerously contaminated by lead fallout – USATODAY.com ) are too few and too far between. Mostly, what one receives as news in today’s media world is a regurgitation of a few good stories by aggregators, and bloggers who may or may not know what they are talking about, and far too many very successful media pumping out their agenda disguised as news. Read all about it in this pivotal work by McChesney and Nichols: The Death and Life of American Journalism: The Media Revolution that Will Begin the World Again.

So how are we to navigate in this crazy new world of news, with Super PACs (political groups with zillions of bucks that are keeping alive a starving media with adulterated crap cloaked as fit for human consumption) and limitless gossip spread thin around the world because of the lack of a way to pay for professional reporters. Trust me, we have reason to suspect the present mainstream media:

Meet the Media Companies Lobbying Against Transparency News organizations cultivate a reputation for demanding transparency, whether by suing for access to government documents, dispatching camera crews to the doorsteps of recalcitrant politicians, or editorializing in favor of open government. But now many of the country’s biggest media companies, which own dozens of newspapers and TV news operations, are flexing their muscle in Washington in a fight against a government initiative to increase transparency of political spending. (April 20, 2012) ProPublica

One thing is for sure. We are not going to return the ‘good ole’ days. And there are going to be disruptions. But there is also hope that the new news might offer us in the aggregate a more realistic appraisal of what is going around us so we can respond appropriately. It might be like the collapse of the encyclopedia and the rise of Wikipedia: The collapse of an unrealistic idea of news, where someone in charge tells us what to think, to one where we have to get engaged with all that is going on around us, gain our own sense of priories, and determine for ourselves who is fit to inform us.

It is not hopeless. There are guidelines we can use to filter out the noise of endless agencies clamoring for our attention—and our hard-earned bucks. Here are some questions and suggestions as our media revolution rages on:

  • Do our local media report on news we need to know? Are they informing us on matters that involve our environmental health and our public health? Or, are they merely pandering to our love of pets, our love of corporate and local sports, and our endless fascination for the local shenanigans found in police blotters?
  • Is our local media capable of investigative reporting? Or, are they merely parroting and aggregating news acquired from other media, or official reports from the Governor’s website, the New York State Environmental Department of Conservation, or the New York State Department of Health?
  • Do we need continual ‘breaking news’, or would it be more worthwhile for our local media to connect the dots between what’s going on and what we need to know.
  • What is media objectivity on a planet that is warming? Does it make sense to report on the viability of our water infrastructure, the health of our rivers and streams, or even the weather, without viewing them from the lens of Climate Change? Are local media merely balancing our basic rights for clean air and clean water with the interests of the Fracking industry?
  • Instead of relying on a single media source, new media models could transform into mega media services where you can subscribe to one aggregator for a low rate and get a multitude of media of your choice around the world. This desperate attempt by many local media to charge for their online content is not going to work; there are too many other free choices that are as informative as the ones you pay for.
  • Suggestion: Kill your TV. Corporate media, especially the ones milking the Super PAC’s that are only interesting in pushing corporate agenda, are not helping the planet at all. Free market fundamentalism is not going to solve our media crisis. We actually need to know something valid to operate within the laws of physics on this planet. We should encourage public media that doesn’t pander to corporate interests over our own.

Proof of the present media failure is its inability to question our elected officials, especially the two running for our country’s highest office, about their plans to address Climate Change. Politics have rendered our media impotent and incapable of informing the public on the most important issue of this century.

If you still feel overwhelmed by the media revolution, remember this: In this present world, where the needs of seven billion people are pit against an economic hegemon where only a few are thriving while the rest wallow is despair, there will be, like a drug addict whose life is being destroyed by drugs, only one problem: his addiction. Sooner than you can imagine, everything in the future--military conflicts, economics, justice, fairness, corporate health, and your own future -- will be viewed through only one lens: Climate Change. If you are attending to a variety of media and none of them are keeping you up on the state of our planet as it warms, you will be blind.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Will the Governor of NYS do the right thing on Climate Change?

 

Hope Governor Cuomo listens to his better angels and reconvenes the New York Climate Action Council and stops Fracking, which will fuel more warming because drilling for nature gas will release more greenhouse gases into our atmosphere.

Six hundred pages from the “Climate Action Plan Interim Report” and the 600+ pages of the Report 11-18 Response to Climate Change in New York State (ClimAID) completely capture the environmental issues that will be coming to New York State because of Climate Change should not be squashed because the governor will not reconvene this critical group and address Climate Change as reported in Water-Ready Map: Impacts of Climate Change on Water Resources just released by the NRDC. 

When you go to the section on NYS New York it says several pages in “Since the inauguration of Governor Andrew Cuomo in January 2011, the [New York State Climate Action] council has not reconvened, nor has state agency staff been directed to complete a climate action plan.”

A quiet funeral where the Governor allows previous efforts by this agency to address Climate Change would leave our state vulnerable to the Likely Changes coming because of Climate Change in our state.

Our leaders cannot bury the facts that our region and all regions on this planet are going to change radically because of Climate Change.

Because without leadership from our leaders on adapting to and mitigating Climate Change there will be no actions sufficient for an entire state to actually make the necessary changes.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Off-Shore wind farms, Climate change, and the Great Lakes

 

The revival of off-shore wind farms for five states, including New York State, with President Obama’s ‘All of the Above’ approach on energy is likely to stir up fear and trepidation for those who had fought against the New York State Power Authority’s Great Lakes Off-Shore Wind Project (GLOW)—but it shouldn’t. However one might dislike the issues that come with wind power, they pale to the serious threats from Climate Change that are now looming over the Great Lakes.

Actually, the president is offering several domestic energy options as he attempts to protect and preserve our energy security from those nations who have held us hostage over our fossil fuel addiction. We must applaud him for that. But there is no talk about energy and Climate Change in the president’s approach, which is like talking about yin without yang. Good grief, it’s our use of energy that has got us into this Climate Change problem in the first place.

Because using ‘Climate Change’ is too politically toxic, President Obama only mentions energy security and jobs in his latest energy plan. It’s a lost opportunity for our nation’s leader to explain why renewable energy, like off-shore wind--is important as our planet warms up. So, we end up with this energy mix: oil, natural gas, nuclear, fuel efficiency, wind, and solar.

Among these choices, it is wind power that seems most intractable for New York State. It tends to get defeated even as Fracking looms over the state. But fortunately, we have off-shore wind power as an option once again.

Obama Administration and Great Lakes States Announce Agreement to Spur Development of Offshore Wind Projects Multi-state, multi-agency Memorandum of Understanding enhances coordination and speeds review of potential projects | Washington, D.C. – Ten Federal agencies joined with five Great Lakes states to announce the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that will streamline the efficient and responsible development of offshore wind resources in the Great Lakes.” (March 30, 2012) Northeast Region, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Yet, for all the exuberance over President’s Obama’s new initiative for off-shore wind, it’s going to be a hard sell in New York State. It’s a not-in-my-back-yard or NIMBY issue down to the bones. The GLOW project was shot down and killed only a year ago.

“Today, New York's plan for offshore wind in the Great Lakes arrived at its final chapter. The New York Power Authority has officially closed a plan to site turbines offshore in Lake Erie or in Lake Ontario. That's right, GLOW has gone out. "Community acceptance" The Great Lakes Offshore Wind project had been at the heart of many rowdy town hall meetings in Western New York since it was proposed in the spring of 2009. Some environmentalists supported the plan. Others said it would wreak environmental havoc. But whatever the reasons, many lakefront communities passed resolutions condemning the project.”(September 27, 2011) NYPA: Great Lakes offshore wind is dead | Innovation Trail

I’ve been at meetings where wind power has been blamed for noise on such a catastrophic level that would make one go mad, or the flicker effect from the sun bouncing off the blades that would also make one go mad. Wind turbines kill birds and bats. One person ranting in my ear said that wind turbines have been known to crack house foundations. And, there’s the argument that building off-shore will kick up some nasty stuff that industries left behind years ago.

“Opponents of the project say wind turbines could obstruct views of the lake, and that construction of the turbines could kick up chemical-laden sediment left over from the lakes’ industrial age.”(April 12, 2011) Great Lake towns still waiting for GLOW | Innovation Trail

This last argument is interesting given the changes that are coming to the Great Lakes because of Climate Change. You have to put kicking up chemical-laden sediments on the bottom of the Great Lakes in perspective. Whatever disturbances might come from making way for wind turbines will be nothing compared to having to dredge up the waterways for shipping because of predicted lower water levels in the Great Lakes. Arguing over sediment disruption due to installing off-shore wind is penny wise and pound foolish.

As for the other arguments, let’s tick them off. Noise and bats don’t count with off-shore wind because the turbines will be too far out in the water to hear them and bats don’t fly far out over the lakes for bugs. The distance over water point will also solve the flicker effect and as for house foundations, I’m sure an earthquake set off by Fracking is more likely to crack those.

Birds are another issue. Wind Turbines do kill birds, especially in migratory routes. But there are solutions. Just ask the Audubon Society:

New Federal Guidelines a Step Forward for Bird-Friendly Wind Development On Friday, March 23, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe released unprecedented federal wind guidelines intended to improve siting of wind development across the country and reduce impacts on birds and other wildlife. The guidelines were developed with the assistance of a 22-member Wind Turbine Guidelines Advisory Committee which included experts from the National Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy, Defenders of Wildlife, Massachusetts Audubon, and Bat Conservation International. The committee, created under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) in 2009, worked with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to recommend guidelines to avoid or minimize impacts to birds and their habitats by land-based wind energy facilities. (April 12, 2012) National Audubon Society

As we reconsider off-shore wind power, the bigger point that we should all get this time around is that it has become much more than an aesthetic or NIMBY issue. Off-shore wind power has the potential to produce a sizeable amount of our energy needs—along with a smart grid, increased battery storage capacity, energy efficiency and conservation that can make a real impact on putting less GHG’s into our atmosphere. It’s not only a problem of physics—put more GHG into our atmosphere and the place warms up—it’s a moral problem:

Nasa scientist: climate change is a moral issue on a par with slavery Prof Jim Hansen to use lecture at Edinburgh International Science Festival to call for worldwide tax on all carbon emissions Averting the worst consequences of human-induced climate change is a "great moral issue" on a par with slavery, according to the leading Nasa climate scientist Prof Jim Hansen. (April 6, 2012) The Guardian

For those deeply concerned about the Great Lakes and the potential threat imposed by off-shore wind, they must put their complaints in perspective; it must be measured against Climate Change.

What is the likely climate future for the Great Lakes region? In general, the climate of the Great Lakes region will grow warmer and probably drier during the twenty first century. Climate models predict that by the end of the century, temperature in the region will warm by 5 to 12°F (3 to 7°C) in winter, and by 5 to 20°F (3 to 11°C. From Confronting Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region (2003) by The Union of Concerned Scientists and The Ecological Society of America

Even fishermen who help contribute to the billion-dollar Great Lakes fishing industry must be willing to put up with off-shore wind farms because their favorite fish species are already changing as the waters warm. Also, as water levels drop with Climate Change, even our hydroelectric plants, often hailed as New York’s answer to renewable energy, will be adversely affected. Not to mention nuclear plants, which need water for cooling.

President Obama’s ‘All of the Above’ approach for solving our energy needs may please or not disproportionally displease a sufficient number of potential voters in this year’s election to get him reelected, but Mother Nature, who doesn’t get a vote (and little respect from our economists, who treat her as a ‘negative externality’), rules. Our energy choices are integral to our solutions to Climate Change. And our solutions are threatened if New York State again trounces off-shore wind and our leaders fail to lead on Climate Change.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Earth Day 2012 – A continual State of Denial

 

Many think that because they can say ‘Climate Change’ in polite company that we have come a long way on addressing Climate Change. Is it true, and should we celebrate? Not so much. A more realistic view is that although more folks, and even some governmental officials, can finally admit that Climate Change is happening, this Earth Day is foremost a reminder that for all the talk little has been done to stop and reverse manmade greenhouse gases (GHG) going into our atmosphere. As a matter of fact, GHG’s have risen steadily through this Great Recession we are still struggling to overcome, which purportedly kept a lot of folks out of jobs and money for gas-fueled vacations.

A couple of days ago the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) published a major report Water-Ready Map: Impacts of Climate Change on Water Resources that says New York is among only a handful of states that have made substantial progress in addressing the causes and effects of climate change and its challenges to water management. Read it to understand the scope of Likely Changes coming to our region and how our state authorities plan to address them. However, the report is also a reminder that the road to perdition is paved with good intensions that don’t have a chance in hell of getting accomplished.

Why not? Answer: Climate Change Denial. It comes in many forms. Denial is when the President of the US fails to mention Climate Change in his State of the Union Address, as he didn’t do in 2011 and only begrudging did so this year. Climate Change denial is when mainstream media views Climate Change as ‘too toxic’ to question those running for the highest office in this country—the Decider. Climate Change denial is the actual sowing of doubt on the science of Climate Change by scientists getting paid to do so. (See Merchants of Doubt) Denial is when gas prices go up in an election year, and, despite the science of Climate Change and the fact that the US president can do little about gas prices, you vote for the other guy hoping to get a better price. Climate Change denial is when our media notes extreme weather events and fails to connect the dots to the predictions of Climate Change. Climate Change denial is thinking you understand it and yet fail to get alarmed.

This isn’t alarmist, it’s alarming:

“Natural variations in climate are clearly substantial, but one critical comparison is between short-term variability and the long-term changes that have occurred since the last ice age. During the past 20,000 years, the climate of the Great Lakes area has changed enough to alter the regional distribution of forests, prairies, and other vegetation types dramatically, and this change was driven by a 9 to 11°F (5 to 6°C) change in temperature. Put in these terms, the current projections for a 5 to 20°F (3 to 11°C) warming in the region in less than 100 years should ring bells of alarm.” (Page 13) From the Union of Concerned Scientists & Ecological Society of America Confronting Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region |Impacts on Our Communities and Ecosystems (2003)

Earth Day was first observed on March 21, 1970, and for most of the span between then and now (42 years) many climate scientists and increasingly more of the public has understood that Climate Change can and is happening. Because of the efforts of Dr. James Hansen, Bill McKibben, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)and many more, a profound idea, perhaps as profound as the Copernican Revolution, monotheism, and evolution, has dawned: Mankind is changing the planet.

It sounds trite to repeat this but I will because it is a paradigm shift in the way we must now view the word. Mankind is changing the planet. In our 5 million year existence on this planet, none of us, not even our philosophers or scientists, ever imagined that our puny little species could, in a concrete way, actually screw up the forces that run our planet and make human life possible.

Now, 42 years from the original Earth Day, even as the consequences of Climate Change are in our face (read Public Perception of Climate Change and the New Climate Dice), we are dragging our feet. The truth is that we are doing almost nothing to plan and execute actions to adapt to and mitigate Climate Change, including our governor: “Since the inauguration of Governor Andrew Cuomo in January 2011, the [New York State Climate Action] council has not reconvened, nor has state agency staff been directed to complete a climate action plan.” - From the New York page of Water-Ready Map: Impacts of Climate Change on Water Resources

It’s denial. It’s the belief that educating the public on the fact that our climate is warming is too politically ‘toxic’ to mention. Denial is the belief that the best way to handle Climate Change is to act on things you think might help us adapt to and mitigate Climate Change like encouraging recycling, fighting Fracking, and changing your light bulbs, while remaining too timid to use the word. (This is becoming a favorite tactic of environmental groups who think the public is becoming tired of ‘Climate Change’ and using the phrase might turn their audiences off.)

This Earth Day, rather than another 42 years down the road, would be a good time to stop Climate Change denial in its tracks. Go to 350.org’s Connect the Dots to learn how to do that. (In Rochester, NY go to the 14 Annual Sierra Club Forum "Our Water's Fragile Future: Hydrofracking, Climate Change, & Privatization" on April 19th to learn what you can do.) Because if we continue the business-as-usual trend we are on now, those highest emissions scenarios in most Climate Change studies will be our future—not the lower ones where we got our act together.

I think another aspect of Climate Change denial is that future we think we will take action on Climate Change at some more convenient point in the global crisis. It’s like thinking someday you’ll never take another puff on a cigarette. But while people have stopped smoking, there’s not even a hint that we can collectively act to stop or even reduce our emission of greenhouse gases.

We are a species in denial:

“Social and cultural barriers: High adaptive capacity, as in most of North America, should be an asset for coping with or benefiting from climate change. Capacity, however, does not ensure positive action or any action at all. Societal values, perceptions and levels of cognition shape adaptive behaviour Schneider, 2004). In North America, information about climate change is usually not ‘mainstreamed’ or explicitly considered (Dougherty and Osaman Elasha, 2004) in the overall decision-making process (Slovic, 2000; Leiss, 2001). This can lead to actions that are maladapted, for example, development near floodplains or coastal areas known to be vulnerable to climate change. Water managers are unlikely to use climate forecasts, even when they recognise the vulnerability, unless the forecast information can fit directly into their everyday management decisions (Dow et al., 2007). –from Field, C.B., L.D. Mortsch,, M. Brklacich, D.L. Forbes, P. Kovacs, J.A. Patz, S.W. Running and M.J. Scott, 2007: North America. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, M.L. Parry, O.F. Canziani, J.P. Palutikof, P.J. van der Linden and C.E. Hanson, Eds., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 617-652. (Page 638)

Monday, April 02, 2012

Great weather now but a lousy climate coming for the Rochester, NY region

 

When I wrote this essay it was the first day of spring and eighty-four degrees outside.

This year’s warm winter has finally convinced a lot of people that Climate Change is happening, but they seem OK with it. I heard some folks saying that they love this warm March and many are out running around playing Frisbee—those who would otherwise be huddled inside at this time of the year. Showing some exuberance, but not too much, our local news tells us to plan our gardens, but don’t plant anything just yet. It’s hot, but is it Climate Change? Some say it is:

Heat Wave Sends Temps Soaring into Uncharted Territory | Climate Central The March heat wave went from extreme to downright unprecedented in parts of the Midwest on Tuesday, as Chicago, Detroit and areas all the way north into Canada shattered longstanding records. So many records have been broken — 3,550 record daily highs and 3,109 daily warm low temperature records during the March 12-18 period — that it’s difficult to sort through them all. In Chicago, where the temperature rose to 85°F, an all-time record high for the month and the record sixth March 80-degree day, a National Weather Service (NWS) forecaster described the situation as “unreal.” Through Tuesday, the city had set warm temperature records seven days in a row — with more records likely to fall Wednesday and possibly Thursday.  (March 21, 2012) Climate Change | Climate Central

Actually, this very warm winter probably is a result of Climate Change, but not in a direct cause-and-effect way. It’s related in the sense that last year’s major snowstorms, the drought in Texas, storm Irene in upper New York State, and a long string of recent extreme weather events show a trend towards warming. Because we have put gobs of greenhouse gases (GHG) into our atmosphere in the last century and a half, the dice are loaded towards more extreme events. Check this out from our country’s top climate change scientist Dr. James Hansen.

"Climate dice", describing the chance of unusually warm or cool seasons relative to climatology, have become progressively "loaded" in the past 30 years, coincident with rapid global warming. The distribution of seasonal mean temperature anomalies has shifted toward higher temperatures and the range of anomalies has increased. An important change is the emergence of a category of summertime extremely hot outliers, more than three standard deviations (σ) warmer than climatology. This hot extreme, which covered much less than 1% of Earth's surface in the period of climatology, now typically covers about 10% of the land area. We conclude that extreme heat waves, such as that in Texas and Oklahoma in 2011 and Moscow in 2010, were "caused" by global warming, because their likelihood was negligible prior to the recent rapid global warming.” Perceptions of Climate Change: The New Climate Dice

For those suddenly exhilarated by this Georgia-like weather in March, who think they’ll gladly take the good with the bad as Climate Change kicks in, haven’t been listening. It’s like someone who stumbles across a bag full of money and, when told that it belongs to the mob, thinks they’ll just keep it anyways and deal with the consequences later. So, before we jump for joy, we might want to think this one through.

‘Getting it’, or understanding the full ramifications of Climate Change, is going to be tough because most are too ignorant, bored, or overwhelmed by the steady drone of news connecting Climate Change and extreme weather in the news. But it matters. Without most of the public onboard, we really cannot address something as incredibly vast as the concentration of a GHG’s in our atmosphere. A Pearl Harbor moment on Climate Change is needed, some experts believe, to wake everyone up to the dangers of warming. Then, we’ll get going as we did back in the early 1940’s. Others are not so confident that Climate Change will have as clearly defined a moment as a military attack; hence this catastrophe brought about by our own machinations will never become crystal clear. Rather, it will increment forever and, unless something triggers a response in us from this continuum of warming, we’ll cook like a frog in a pot.

I believe there will be moments of clarity on Climate Change even for the most die-hard anti-environmentalists. Even if you don’t care about the Likely Changes coming to our Rochester, NY region, or you couldn’t give a brass farthing that our oceans are becoming very acidic (because they are gobbling up the majority of the GHG’s), you might care when your insurance rates jump through the roof. Strangely enough, insurance premiums may be the Peal Harbor moment for galvanizing the public on Climate Change action. Money matters to most—even if stranded polar bears on a melting iceberg don’t. Likewise those who don’t care about anything about our environment might start caring if they cannot pay for their insurance.

Let’s start this line of thinking with the big insurance boys, THE GENEVA ASSOCIATION: “International Association for the Study of Insurance Economics: The Geneva Association is the leading international insurance think tank for strategically important insurance and risk management issues.” They ‘get’ the problem of Climate Change, understanding that insurance companies must eventually pay the bills when extreme events come due.

Michael Butt, Chairman of AXIS Capital Holdings and co-Chair of The Geneva Association’s Climate Risk and Insurance Project said, “The nature and scale of the challenge of natural catastrophes is greater than can be covered by insurance alone. The principle reason for increasing damage and loss figures are more socio-economic changes rather than changes of natural variability. A closer cooperation and collaboration between governments, industry and insurers is needed to manage disaster risks and to reduce the financial impact of extreme events.” The Geneva Association reviews the past year Extreme events and insurance: 2011 annus horribilis

You can read the whole report here: http://www.eenews.net/assets/2012/03/08/document_pm_01.pdf and remember this is not a group of greenies trying to undermine our economic system (one of those loony arguments that anti-environmentalists march out when they’re bereft of facts), but the movers and shakers whose mission is the future of the insurance industry around the world.

However, US insurance companies are not so wise. A report by Ceres written in September of 2011 reveals most US insurer’s unwillingness to address Climate Change:

‘This report documents this powerful industry’s sluggish and uneven response to the ever-increasing ripples from global climate change, which could undermine both its own financial viability and the stability of the larger global economy. With the world still reeling from the devastating impacts of an economic crisis triggered by hidden risks in the banking sector, we can ill afford a new problem triggered by hidden risks in another.’ CLIMATE RISK DISCLOSURE BY INSURERS: Evaluating Insurer Responses to the NAIC Climate Disclosure Survey

Many US insurance companies are in denial about Climate Change and haven’t changed their polices to fortify their assets against the financial threats that come with expensive Climate Change catastrophes like heat waves, floods, droughts, and storm surges. But ultimately, they don’t have the luxury of avoiding it. When damage occurs, and folks have paid their home, health, and vehicle insurances, they will expect money from their insurers.

You might ask, “Why aren’t US insurance companies acting on potential losses from Climate Change when at the international level they are very concerned?” There are many reasons and some are obvious—denial. Denial can be cheap in the short run: If one company admits the Climate Change risk, then they will have to raise their rates and fail to remain competitive with insurance companies who just continue business as usual. Some, who haven’t done their homework, think that the extreme events that come with Climate Change will be gradual, kind of blending into the mosaic of meteorological miasma. But gradual is not what comes to my mind when I use the word ‘extreme.’ Extreme weather events are not only not gradual, they can occur, as they frequently do, one right after the other—easily overwhelming any levees constructed for the rare 100-year storm.

Reports link heat waves, deluges to climate change Scientists are increasingly confident that the uptick in heat waves and heavier rainfall is linked to human-caused greenhouse-gas emissions, posing a heightened risk to the world’s population, according to two reports issued in the past week. On Wednesday, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a 594-page study suggesting that when it comes to weather observations since 1950, there has been a “change in some extremes,” which stem in part from global warming. (March 28, 2012) Washington Post

Some insurance companies plan to offset Climate Change claims by taking GHG emitters to court—as mentioned in the Ceres report. That’s a hoot. Those insurance companies must think their lawyers are smarter than the lawyers for the fossil fuel industries. Good luck with that.

If suing the tobacco companies is any indication (read “Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming” by Naomi Oreskes (May 24, 2011)), I suspect that it will take decades, if ever, to get money from a fossil fuel company to pay for Climate Change damages. You’re as likely to thread a fat Climate Change denier through the eye of a needle.

At long last, after US insurance companies have dragged their feet and tried all kinds of tricks to avoid the inevitable, insurance rates are going to go up. After all, who do you call when stuff happens?

Here’s where I’m going with the insurance thing: The Pearl Harbor moment for a large swath of the public will come when thousands of homeowners get a notice in the mail that their premiums just climbed beyond their ability to pay for them. When it comes to the point that insurance coverage is denied or premiums too costly for large sections of the public, there will be an epiphany even for those who still don’t get the science. Let’s just hope that all this denial ends before it’s too late as a few nice days amidst a century of an absolutely lousy climate is a bad deal.

BTW: Climate Change doesn’t have to be a train wreck for the insurance industry. They can mitigate their loses if they help educate the public on Climate Change and encourage communities to advance programs, like fortified building codes in a hurricane prone area, to reduce the incidents of insurance claims. Then the hike in insurance premiums will go up only a little in the short term-instead of into the stratosphere.