Thursday, May 31, 2012

Make comment on Rochester, NY’s new Intermodal Transportation Center

 

For the next 30 days (so that’s July 1, 2012) you can make public comment on the City of Rochester | Intermodal Transportation Center.

Though there are a lot of design features that tried in a more modern and less spacious way to capture the original Bragdon Station, we are more interested in the final building’s ability to accommodate active transportation—walking and bicycling.

After all, the building in question is called ‘intermodal’. To that end, besides making the Transportation Center good for train travelers (how about high-speed trains?) this downtown building should do more.

We’d like to see many bike racks so bicyclist perhaps coming from future bicycle boulevards could park their bikes and meet arrivals. Or, long-term bicycle lockers so travelers could leave their bicycles while traveling by train.

We like that the most likely site of the new center will be near Central Avenue and thus make it a catalyst for new businesses because it will be easy access by pedestrians.

In all though, intermodal means let’s think light-rail, bicycles, pedestrians, high-speed rail, electric cars and buses—anything but more parking for more gas-guzzlers.

How about, as there is a lot of open window space, getting a Leeds Platinum status for the center while we are modernizing in a world that is warming. No really, it’s warming:

Carbon Dioxide in the Atmosphere Reaches Dangerous Level | InsideClimate News The world's air has reached what scientists call a troubling new milestone for carbon dioxide, the main global warming pollutant. Monitoring stations across the Arctic this spring are measuring more than 400 parts per million of the heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere. The number isn't quite a surprise, because it's been rising at an accelerating pace. Years ago, it passed the 350 ppm mark that many scientists say is the highest safe level for carbon dioxide. It now stands globally at 395.  (May 31, 2012) | InsideClimate News [more on Climate Change in our area]

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

What is pristine Nature?

 

In my readings recently I came across The Wilderness Act of 1964 and began pondering about the meaning of wilderness—or pristine Nature. The more we find out about the history of North and South America, the more we learn that Columbus did not come to a land unchanged by humans.

There had been large urban areas, pervasive agriculture, frequent forest burning, and much predation on wild animals. In the future, as we try and determine what is a pristine state of Nature so we can preserve it, it may prove more difficult than previously thought.

Our focus might have to be on what we can preserve to maintain a sustainable environment and that may conflict with what we used to think as a model of a pristine state of Nature. And as Climate Change kicks in more greenhouse gases, and we delay addressing that, we may have to cut our ‘pristine wilderness’ idea to save ourselves.

Here’s the act’s definition of wilderness: “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. “ (Read the whole Wilderness Act as it’s only six pages.)

Learn more about the Wilderness Act here: Wilderness.net - 1964 Wilderness Act "Wilderness.net is a public wilderness information website formed in 1996 through a collaborative partnership between the Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center and the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute--the federal government's wilderness training and research arms, respectively--and the College of Forestry and Conservation's Wilderness Institute at the University of Montana. "

Monday, May 28, 2012

Will subscription fees keep public informed on critical environmental news?

 

It finally happened. I couldn’t read an article on a major Rochester, NY online media source because I didn’t pay the new subscription fee. Of course, I could pay the subscription fee but then why should I? (I know, to a free market fundamentalist just thinking this is heresy.)

Yet, why should I pay for a subscription to a local media when I can get all the available environmental information that this media, or any local media, puts out by surfing to the same places they do--Environmental Protection Agency; Genesee Transportation Council - Newsletter; Press Releases - NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation; Newsroom | Governor ; Monroe County : City of Rochester; Office of the New York State Attorney General; New York State Department of Health; New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets Press Releases; and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Not to mention the hundreds of surrounding news services that aren’t charging.

Let’s face it; the news ain’t what it used to be. Just ask Dan Rather, the former news anchor for the CBS Evening News.:

“During his appearance on “Real Time,” he discussed how in a media environment owned by a handful of giant corporations, the news has become “politicized” and “trivialized.” The only interests that get served are those of the corporations, he said, not those of the journalists trying to report the news, and certainly not the interests of the audience watching at home.” Dan Rather to Maher: Corporate media consolidation is politicizing and trivializing journalism | The Raw Story

Actually, there’s a lot of reasons why paying for online environmental news that used to be free is not a good idea. First, instead of paying investigative reporters a living wage and ferreting out environmental stories we need to know, media corporations simply take that money and consolidate. That’s why Rochester, which used to host a lot of newspapers like most cities in the US, now has only a few. This endless consolidations for more corporate profits has made for less real news, less investigative reporting, more about what we don’t need to know and less about what we do. Second, the free market fundamentalists have been attacking Public Broadcasting System by trying to rob them of their public funding so they can fill our radio waves with more hate and our TV bandwidths with more nonsense paraded as news.

I get the fact that many traditional media are collapsing because advertising dollars are going elsewhere, like the Internet. But that is not the only reason. Many mainstream media are dying because instead of offering the public the kind of news they need to sustain a healthy Democracy and environment, they fill their front pages with sport scores, pet issues, corporate denial on Climate Change, and a zillion other things that pander to the public’s prurient interests, instead of stuff they need to know.

For example, our local media could be talking about fortifying our combined sewer systems to provide more resiliency as Climate Change brings more frequent overflows—like Buffalo is doing: City unveils pilot program to ease burden on sewer system - City of Buffalo - The Buffalo News. They could investigate whether the recent 48 Hour Neighborhood Notification Law is being complied with. They could find out if the City of Rochester or Monroe County is working on Climate Action plans. Or they could find out if the public health department is preparing for a possible heat wave that might be coming because Climate Change has made this year a very warm year--prepared in the sense of providing shelter from the blistering heat for all who may need it. Prepared, in the sense that our electrical grid can handle thousands turning on their AC for days and maybe weeks.

They could report on water quality as our region warms up, or whether our local nuclear plant is ready to cope with warmer water for fuel rod cooling. They could report on the recycling rate in Monroe County and find out if we are below (like Buffalo) or above the national average. They could pour through the many Climate studies and connect the dots between local changes and predicted Climate changes. They could find out if our local education systems are adequately teaching our future voters the science of Climate Change, or teaching climate skepticism, in our schools. And on Fracking, instead of playing the role of a disinterested referee on this issue, our local media could be asking this question: Why is New York State even considering Fracking considering the renewable alternatives (that also produce jobs) and the potential danger to our fresh water? Why continually assume that corporate fossil fuel needs are equal to the public’s needs?

The truth is that our present media is failing us, and free market fundamentalism won’t save it. You cannot get blood from a stone; you cannot expect graduates overburdened by college debt to subscribe to more debt. You cannot get subscription dollars from pensioners who fear some budget-balancing nitwit stealing their promised income amid sky-rocketing health insurance costs.

Besides, there are too many other choices for free news—blogs, email news lists, social media, news apps that aggregate news from around the world, public broadcasting, and movements to get back some of the public radio and TV bandwidths that has been gobbled up by corporate greed.

This would all be great except that a lot of this free news is not local and much of it doesn’t come from professionals. News organizations of the past are starving for dollars while the public is starving for useful information as our economy cools down and our environment warms up.

The answer to the problem of getting information to the public is not going to be solved by more subscription fees to get less useful information.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Climate Change: the ultimate Ultimatum Game?

 

One has to wonder why despite its solid foundation in reason and physics—more heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere, things warm up—there appears to be little movement on the Climate Change issue. Few, except the most die-hard deniers, really believe our atmosphere is not warming up. Without long-term, comprehensive data, understanding and predicting specific climate scenarios for specific regions is very difficult and prone to naysayer’s doubts. The devils are in the details, but even these devils are resolving themselves as we learn more about this phenomenon.

Many organizations, including the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, Friends of the Earth, Inside Climate, and Climate Change | Climate Central are helping to educate the public on Climate Change so the public can connect the dots. Also, most of the studies I’ve read on Climate Change include at least one section on how critical it is to educate the public on Climate Change, though in the most recent federal government study, The National Global Change Research Plan: 2012-2021, the United States Global Change Research Program reports that they proportionally spend the least amount of money (1%) on educating our country about the inevitable.

Even then, this study that encapsulates the views of thirteen government departments focuses on many materials for educators on Climate Change. You can learn about the Climate Change coming to the Northeast and get educational materials from the Toolkit Home, which includes a great 12-minute video for kids on Climate Change called Wildlife and Wildlands as well as a section on our Great Lakes.

Also, the Union of Concerned Scientists has just launched the Center for Science and Democracy in an attempt to unravel the threats of science from our crazy politics for more clarity on this issue:

"In today's hyper-partisan political environment, the public and decision makers often ignore independent science and technical analysis in favor of assertions from ideologues and thinly veiled spokespeople for powerful vested interests. This trend toward deliberate misinformation and neglect of science not only threatens the principles of transparency and accountability on which our democracy is based, but it often puts the health and safety of Americans at risk. To help meet this grave challenge, the Union of Concerned Scientists is launching the Center for Science and Democracy to strengthen the American democracy by restoring the essential role of science, evidence-based decision making, and constructive debate as a means to improve the health, security, and prosperity of all Americans. UCS will launch the new Center for Science and Democracy

You can even take a course online from the University of Chicago, Open Climate Science 101, and really drill into the physics of Climate Change. I took this course myself and learned in detail what I had hitherto only glimpsed from the experts. There are books, like Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet by Mark Lynas, and real-time climate data from NOAA, so there’s no real lack of information on Climate Change and really no excuse why our media is not connecting the dots between Climate Change and extreme weather; no excuse why our politics cannot separate science from ideology.

But what if our inability to address Climate Change is not due to a lack of knowledge, but rather a problem of fairness?

Game theory and one game in particular, might shed some light on why, despite all the information out there on warming, we are not acting on something so obvious and dire. Take the ultimatum game:

“The ultimatum game is a game often played in economic experiments in which two players interact to decide how to divide a sum of money that is given to them. The first player proposes how to divide the sum between the two players, and the second player can either accept or reject this proposal. If the second player rejects, neither player receives anything. If the second player accepts, the money is split according to the proposal. The game is played only once so that reciprocation is not an issue.”Ultimatum game - Wikipedia

In short, you and a friend are walking down the street and you both spot a ten dollar bill. Your friend runs and stoops to pick it up, but out jumps an experimenter and says, “You can only have the money if you and your friend agreed to your friend’s proposal on how to divide it up. If you reject the proposal, no one gets the money.” Sounds pretty simple. As we are all pretty reasonable folks, the rational answer is for your friend to offer you at least a penny and for you to accept it. If you don’t accept the penny, no one gets anything.

According to a wonderfully enlightening program I listen to regularly, In our Time, when this experiment is tested around the world, invariably unless a quarter of the prize (in this case $2.50) is offered, the proposal is rejected and neither party gets anything—regardless of the amount of money involved. A sum offered below a quarter of the amount is considered to be such an insult as to be worth no one getting anything. (Listen to this broadcast, you’ll love the description of game theories and why our experts use them: BBC - Radio 4 and 4 Extra Blog: In Our Time - Game Theory)

Does the Ultimatum game say more about us, how we operate, than about our ability to reason? This may be something to think about as we confront Climate Change. If so, it’s a chilling thought to think we ‘developed’ nations would rather have our children cook on this planet than let a lot of ‘undeveloped’ countries gain by working with them to adapt to a condition we caused.

The Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement to bring down greenhouse gases, failed because many developed countries, like the United States and Canada, dropped out because China and other developed nations were not perceived as acting fairly. Undeveloped countries were not asked to curtail their use of fossil fuels. The Kyoto Protocol was an insult to the developed nation’s sense of fair play. They don’t want to offer anything; they want it all.

Both developed countries and undeveloped countries have found a vast sum in front of them: a world full of resources and a chance for them and their children to thrive. But in order for any of us to thrive, each of us is going to have to work out a solution to Climate Change, or else we are all going to cook. We, the countries that have done so well, are going to have to make an offer to those who have not done so well —and (if the ultimatum game holds true) a penny won’t do. We are going to have to offer the countries that did not cause Climate Change, but are going to experience some of the worst consequences of it, something substantial.

If the past is any indication, where cap-and-trade emissions programs aren’t liked, a carbon tax is scoffed at, and the last Climate Change talks accomplished no reductions in GHG’s, it looks like nothing but a totally free-market solution, where the fossil fuel industries can extract every last drop of oil, will be acceptable to the developed nations.

And that will be game over.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Linking NYS agriculture and Climate Change: We’re still not there yet.

 

This report from the STATE OF NEW YORK DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE AND MARKETS on Department Testimony to Assembly Environmental Committee on Invasive Species is interesting because it hints that maybe humans are responsible for the invasive species problem in New York and perhaps even Climate Change.

“We live in a dynamic and changing world. Since the receding of the Ice Age glaciers, the natural environment of North America and New York has evolved and changed. Some of that change has been natural while other aspects are human‐sponsored. Regardless of the source, introductions of species from their original environs to areas where they are no longer considered native have been taking place for centuries.”

Well, maybe the Climate Change link is a leap. “Regardless of the source” is really vague and non-committal. That’s too bad because according to most predictions about invasive species in New York State Climate Change will exacerbate this issue. Invasive species are going to eat up a lot of our NYS food crops because many of these species that invade New York State’s environment will thrive in a warmer climate and out-compete endemic species.

There is some recent evidence regarding the impacts of climate change on invasive species. Predictions that the hemlock wooly adelgid (Adelges tsugae), an invasive insect whose range is largely constrained by overwintering temperatures, would spread more rapidly throughout the Northeast with a warming climate (Paradis et al., 2008) have already come to pass in New York’s Finger Lakes Region (USDA Forest Service, 2008). Recent work examining the flowering time of native and non-native species over 150 years in Concord, Massachusetts, indicates that non-native plants—particularly invasive species—have adapted better to long-term temperature increases than native plants. Over the last 100 years, invasive plants, on average, are flowering 11 days earlier than native plants. This may confer greater advantage to the invasive species (Willis et al., 2010). (Page 186, Report 11-18 Response to Climate Change in New York State (ClimAID)

What’s critical for solving the invasive species problem is educating the public about this Likely Changes coming to our region because of Climate Change. Until then, reports like the ones above remain hidden by a screen of doubt because of government officials are not connecting the dots between predictions of the many environmental issues like invasive species and Climate Change. It’s about education education, education.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Citizen scientists, critical in addressing Climate Change

 

Some of the solutions that will help us adapt to and mitigate Climate Change are data collection for filling in knowledge gaps on specific issues threatening our environment and educating the public. So rather than focus on proving what 13 departments of our government (see below) already know about the science behind Climate Change,

Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of the Interior, Department of State, Department of Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Science Foundation, Smithsonian Institution, United State Agency for International Development

the new “The National Global Change Research Plan: 2012-2021” just released in April by the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) describes the threats that the various departments will be addressing and how to assess and disseminate that information internally between departments and externally to the public and other nations.

It’s a big job. Actually, given the doubt that still exists on Climate Change in the public sector and the dearth of information we need to understand just how Climate Change will affect our environment in the future, it’s just about impossible. But coming to the rescue could be a massive shift (in the way FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps was a massive shift) to train and disperse thousands of Citizen Scientists upon our lands and collect the crucial data we need to address Climate Change:

In addition, as discussed, observation of ecological and social systems can be dramatically improved by collecting new kinds of data or using new data collection methods, including emerging opportunities to vastly scale-up the use of non-traditional data sources and “citizen science” research programs. For example, in the ecological sciences, citizen observer networks have revealed long-term, climate-driven trends in organismal phenologies. (Page 44, The National Global Change Research Plan: 2012-2021”)

Also, the recent New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) funded Report 11-18 Response to Climate Change in New York State (ClimAID) points out the need for citizen scientists to gather critical data as our atmosphere warms up. This from an extensive (600 pages +) report on the changes coming to New York State because of Climate Change and plans to adapt to it:

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. Page 194, ClimAID)

Although technology has increased exponentially in the last decades—super computers, satellites, and the Internet—to analyze data about our environment, there are few technological replacements for trained human observations to detect local changes in land, water, and air. It will take boots on the ground—sometimes private landowner’s own property, as 60% of US land is privately owned—to accomplish this.

There are efforts already going on for human data collection on many levels:

  • USA National Phenology Network | USA National Phenology Network “The USA National Phenology Network brings together citizen scientists, government agencies, non-profit groups, educators and students of all ages to monitor the impacts of climate change on plants and animals in the United States. The network harnesses the power of people and the Internet to collect and share information, providing researchers with far more data than they could collect alone.”
  • Great Backyard Bird Count “The Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual four-day event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the continent. Anyone can participate, from beginning bird watchers to experts. It takes as little as 15 minutes on one day, or you can count for as long as you like each day of the event. It’s free, fun, and easy—and it helps the birds.”
  • Alliance for the Great Lakes Adopt-a-Beach™ allows volunteer Adopt-a-Beach™ teams across all five Great Lakes to collect data that is making a positive impact for our lakes! Information collected by volunteers is being shared with local, state and regional beach health officials and is used by the Alliance to help protect and preserve our coastal areas. During the online introductory training, Alliance staff will provide an interactive webinar complete with a program overview and tips and methods for data collection. Data is gathered through litter monitoring and collection, scientific based observations, and simple citizen science tests. These trainings are also a perfect opportunity to learn about the Adopt-a-Beach™ online system and anything new offered through the program. For more information about the training and the Adopt-a-Beach™ program, please visit www.greatlakes.org/aabtraining.
  • Citizen Scientists League “promotes responsible scientific observation, experimentation, discovery, and invention. We encourage active participation, networking and publishing by science enthusiasts at all levels of education and experience.”
  • Community Air Screen Program - NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation “This new community-based program works with volunteers from local communities to screen for toxic air pollutants in order to begin to address some local air quality concerns. The goal of the Community Air Screen program is for community groups and citizens to partner with DEC to collect local-scale air samples. Approximately 12 to 18 applicants will be selected for this program. A total number of sixty (60) air samples will be analyzed statewide. Individuals as well as not-for-profits and neighborhood and community groups in New York State may apply.”
  • And, locally, join in a active transportation traffic count: The Active Transportation Working Group, a spin-off the Rochester Cycling Alliance’s April 2011 Active Transportation Symposium, is searching for volunteers to conduct bicycle and pedestrian traffic counts in Rochester and Monroe County during May 2012 as part of the National Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Project, http://bikepeddocumentation.org/. We are planning to conduct the counts during commute times in the A.M. and P.M. on May 15-17. You will be using a clip board and recording on a paper form during the count and standing outdoors. We will have some selected sites. We will be determining other locations dependant on the number of volunteers available. Bring a friend that is willing to help. Help us select additional sites. We are also planning to use automated equipment at some selected locations but our first effort will be mainly manual. We will tell you about the automated counting devices at our disposal. If you are willing to do a count please send an email to Richard DeSarra, rdscomm@rochester.rr.com . We will arrange other training dates as needed depending on the response.

But these efforts not nearly enough to accumulate the incredible amount of information we will need about our existing environment before and after it starts seriously warming up. In order for our government to provide resiliency to our waste-water, transportation, and other infrastructures, we are going to need accurate and continual monitoring of our environment to determine how to adapt to the changes coming. Our industries need to know how water supplies will change in any given area due to warming. And the public is going to need to know how their property value--including all the plants, animals, and water availability—will change as our climate warms.

What can citizen scientists do?

  • Fill in the knowledge gaps that exist in our environment, in some cases before a noticeable change occurs to provide an extensive baseline of pre-warming data.
  • “Development of citizen-science programs that can provide accurate and reliable data on change in species distributions and movements” (Page 459, ClimAID)
  • Provide a volunteer base for business incubation that would churn out trained data collectors for industries and even new start-ups.
  • Help extract information from existing studies and info gleaned from social media to connect-the-dots to local events—like extreme weather events.
  • Once trained, ordinary folks can provide public outreach for government and industries on how Climate Change will affect specific regions.
  • Join expeditions to remote areas that have little existing data on our environment. Especially useful would be to see how pristine environments operate as models of ecologies not yet despoiled by humans—like wetlands and rivers untainted by industrial waste.
  • Helping extract old data, like from shipping and ice thaw records, and insert into new data systems.
  • Become a Climate Champion to coordinate sustainability efforts in small companies to reduce carbon footprints.
  • I could go on and on…

Here’s what Climate Change looks like: specific humidity going up; troposphere (near surface) air temperature going up; glaciers diminishing; temperatures over oceans increasing; snow cover going down; sea-surface temperatures going up; sea-levels going up; sea ice going down; ocean heat going up; temperature over land going up. (Page 47, The National Global Change Research Plan: 2012-2021)

It’s time to stop paying the polluters and the folks who caused the Great Recession we are trying to crawl out of and develop a corps of citizen Scientists for jobs and critical data we need to adapt to Climate Change. What if instead of operating our economy to bail out too-big-to-fail banks and pay top executives millions of bucks, we channel public funds to offer grants and subsides for data collectors--not billions to oil companies as we do now? (BTW: you can go here to stop that nonsense: Petition - Support the End Polluter Welfare Act: Bernie Sanders - U.S. Senator for Vermont)

Despite the silence on Climate Change in our upcoming presidential election, our government ‘gets it’. Not only do we need more information to address something as wildly complex as Climate Change, we are risking valuable information being lost forever and this increases every year. If the public is looking for jobs, they need to read official reports on Climate Change and petition their government to act on enlisting Citizen Scientists.

USGCRP research is addressing the need for improved understanding of the rates and consequences of shifts in species’ ranges through new, more comprehensive observations. By bringing together multiple data sources of species occurrence (collected by scientists, local and national governments, and citizen scientists), and incorporating these data into models of ecosystem and climate functioning, scientists can help predict important shifts for agriculture and forestry, assist in the strengthening of protected areas, and better respond to outbreaks of invasive species. (Page 23, The National Global Change Research Plan: 2012-2021)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Is our NYS Public Health Department doing its job in a time of warming? Are they connecting the dots between Climate Change and vector-borne diseases?

 

Many of these vector-borne diseases (including Lyme disease, and West Nile Virus) are predicted to increase in NYS because of Climate Change, as mentioned in many area Climate studies.

It would be nice if the NYS Department of Health would start educating the public on this, as this too is a recommendation of many Climate studies. Instead the NYS Department of Health does not connect-the-dots on Climate Change and vector-borne diseases when it publicizes information on misquote-driven diseases:

Health Departments Team Up Against Mosquitoes State and Central NY Counties Working Together to Protect People from EEE ALBANY, N.Y. (May 10, 2012) - State Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah, M.D., M.P.H., and health officials from counties in Central New York have joined together to raise awareness about the dangers of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) and the importance of taking personal protective measures to reduce the risk of disease. New York State and counties work together each year to monitor mosquito populations and the potential for the spread of disease. They also educate people on how to prevent mosquito bites. This year's efforts are critical in light of three deaths in the past three years in Central New York due to EEE virus, including the death of a young child last summer.  (May 10, 2012) New York State Department of Health

The warmer weather will allow mosquitoes to come out earlier and stay longer in the fall and just about the last thing we want to do is dump pesticides all over our environment to solve this problem. So, if the NYS Health Department began a serious campaign to education the public on the relationship of these misquote-driven diseases we might be able to adapt to them without further environmental damage.

Learn more about what the government knows about vector-driven diseases coming to NYS as Climate Change gets worse:

New York State has experienced the emergence of several vector-borne diseases in the past few decades. For instance, the state leads the nation in numbers of Lyme disease cases. Between 2002 and 2006, the top two counties in the United States for number of cases, and four of the top 10 counties in Lyme disease incidence rate (cases per 100,000 people) were in New York State. Illness caused by West Nile virus in the state peaked in 2002 at 82 cases, and the state has had the highest numbers of cases on the East Coast since 2005. Both Lyme disease and West Nile virus tend to be most prevalent in the Hudson Valley, Long Island, and New York City areas with dense and growing human populations. The factors responsible for the concentration of Lyme disease and West Nile fever in the southeastern region of the state are not well understood. Similar southeastern concentrations of Borrelia burgdorferi-infected blacklegged ticks, as well as of West Nile virus in mosquitoes and wild birds, suggest that ecological conditions, possibly including warmer climate, might be important. (Page 204) Report 11-18 Response to Climate Change in New York State (ClimAID)

Monday, May 07, 2012

Presidential elections 2012 – The Big Secret

 
I’ve been reading many, many Climate Change reports for the last year, but the new “The National Global Change Research Plan: 2012-2021” by the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) is the most impressive of all. Not because of its clever language or witty style but because 13 major departments of the US government helped shape our country’s ten-year response to Climate Change and compacted everything into to a very readable 152 pages. These departments understand Climate Change:
Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of the Interior, Department of State, Department of Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Science Foundation, Smithsonian Institution, United State Agency for International Development.
What is even more starting, given the GOP’s reluctance to even admit warming is occurring, is that President Reagan began our country’s response to growing realization that global change, including Climate Change, were going to seriously challenge our country’s ability to prepare for the future.
President Ronald Reagan created—and Congress in 1990 codified—the United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP or Program), charged with providing a “comprehensive and integrated United States research program to assist the Nation and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change. (Page xiii)
So when the media and the GOP and our present President think Climate Change is ‘too toxic’ to discuss during this year’s presidential elections, I wonder why. There is absolutely no misunderstanding the gravity of the Climate Change issue by the major branches of our government:
The environment is changing rapidly. Increases in world population, accompanied by industrialization and other human activities, are altering the atmosphere, ocean, land, ice cover, ecosystems, and the distribution of species over the planet. Understanding these and other global changes, including climate change, is critical to our Nation’s health and economic vitality. Scientific research is critical to gaining this understanding. Research, along with an array of increasingly sophisticated tools for collecting and analyzing data, can provide essential knowledge to governments, businesses, and communities as they plan for and respond to the myriad manifestations of global change, including sea-level rise and ocean acidification, heat waves and drought, and the severe storms, floods, and forest fires that pose an ever-growing risk to life, property, and agriculture. (Page xiii)
This report discusses the ecological and biological systems at risk. It discusses how it knows this. It discusses what human structures and systems are vulnerable to Climate Change. It discusses how our oceans are becoming so acidic as to threaten our food supply in the near future. It discusses the major plans to deal with warming over the next ten years. It discusses how critical it is to get the public engaged in addressing Climate Change.
But to be fully effective, USGCRP must communicate with more than just decision makers; engagement with the public is also essential [emphasis mine]. By integrating communication, education, and engagement into the Program’s core research activities over the next decade, USGCRP and its member agencies will serve as an unprecedentedly important gateway to credible and authoritative global change scientific information. (Page XV.)
It discusses how even the Department of Defense understands how crucial this issue is:
“USGCRP-produced information was cited in the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DoD) 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review as a primary source of information on expected climate change that would affect the DoD by shaping its future operating environment, roles, and missions. In addition, assessments conducted by the intelligence community indicate that climate change could have significant geopolitical impacts around the world by contributing to poverty, environmental degradation, and the further weakening of fragile governments.” (Page 15)
I’ve asked this question a hundred times in the last year, and I’ll ask it again, “Why aren’t we talking about Climate Change during this presidential election year?
Why the big secret? Why would the media, or anybody for that matter, want the American public to elect a president who wasn’t ready to lead all his major departments on adapting and mitigating the changes coming due to Climate Change?

The most fascinating part of Climate Change is reconciling in one’s mind the level of awareness that our government has on the consequences coming and how little of that information has percolated through our economics, local government, politics, media, and our everyday lives.

Connecting the Climate Change dots on Rochester’s transportation

 

I’m not bragging when I say that I was pretty good at those connect-the-dots games as a kid. I’d come up with anything they wanted me to connect: a horse, an elephant, or you-name-it. The trick (and I learned this at about three or four years old) was to connect the dots according to the numbers—meaning in order. Those drawings from kids who just randomly connected dots without heeding this operating principle didn’t look anything like the intended project. More like a Rorschach test.

That is all pertinent as 350.org’s theme on May 5th is called Connect the Dots. It’s about connecting the dots between what climate changes you are experiencing and the issue of Climate Change. The idea is if you want to solve a puzzle like Climate Change, you have to understand the relationship between the predictions of Climate Change and extreme weather. Otherwise you and your children get buffeted by the winds of change until you cook—seemingly for no reason at all.

With Climate Change there is a reason why our climate is changing, and when you connect the dots you’ll get the picture. You’ll get that large-scale, top-down approaches are the only ones that will actually allow us to adapt to and mitigate the consequences of Climate Change. Because things are warming up quickly (March was in the mid-eighties here in Rochester, and extreme weather is off the charts) there isn’t enough time for small ad hoc changes.

Bold large-scale measures like changing our transportation infrastructure is a way to connect the dots between how we get about and reducing greenhouse gases (GHG). Transportation strategies won’t help us adapt to Climate Change if we don’t connect the dots. (The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says transportation accounts for 27% of the GHG that warms our planet.)

Here’s an example of what I am talking about: The New York Climate Change Advisory Group, created under Governor Patterson, published an exhaustive Climate Action Plan that addressed the issues confronting our transportation system (among other issues) due to Climate Change—flooding, heat waves, and other extreme weather events. The team got the message about the importance of NYS transportation systems contributing to and being affected by Climate Change. They connected the dots.

“Public and private entities will need to assess whether new investments in infrastructure, particularly long-lived infrastructure like power plants and transportation, will be consistent with a low-carbon future, both in terms of GHG emissions and in terms of vulnerability to a changing climate. We should avoid investments that are not highly adapted to a modified climate, such as infrastructure sited in low-lying floodplains.” (Pare E-5) The New York State Climate Action Plan Interim Report

But that effort has been quietly thwarted because Governor Cuomo won’t reconvene the New York Climate Change Advisory Group, according to NRDC’s Ready or Not report. So our government won’t be acting on the kind of large-scale construction projects that would need a governor’s backing to protect our transportation systems from this:

Low-lying transportation systems such as subways and tunnels, especially in coastal and near coastal areas, are at particular risk of flooding as a result of sea level rise and heavy-precipitation events. Materials used in transportation infrastructure, such as asphalt and train rails, are vulnerable to temperatures and frequency of extreme heat event. The Great Lakes may see a shorter season of winter ice cover, leading to a longer shipping season. However, reduced ice cover is also likely to mean an increase in “lake effect” snow events, which often cause transportation-related problems. Air- and land based transportation systems are vulnerable to ice and snowstorms, although requirements for salting and snow removal may decrease as snow tends to turn more often into rain. The number of freeze/thaw cycles, which disturb roadbeds, may increase as winter temperatures rise. (Page OV-10) The New York State Climate Action Plan Interim Report

In all fairness to Governor Cuomo, his vision of a New York Energy Highway does make many strides towards solving our energy problems in the future—but he’s not connecting the dots on Climate Change. It is not a plan to deal with wildlife, water quality, air quality, invasive species, the Great Lakes, the Finger Lakes, wetlands, and public health as our region warms. Energy is a vital component of adapting to and mitigating Climate Change, but it’s not all the dots:

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, in his 2012 State of the State Address, put forward a sweeping public-private initiative to upgrade and modernize New York State’s electric power system. This bold proposal for an “Energy Highway” promises to help provide reliable, economical power to New York’s homes and businesses for the next half century while creating jobs, energizing private-sector investment and protecting the State’s environment and the well-being of its citizens. About - New York Energy Highway

The well-being of our NYS citizenry will not occur if they are enduring the consequences of Climate Change. Our leaders must focus on Climate Change as the lens through which we create jobs, fix our economy, and provide reliable power for the future. If instead, our NYs leaders focus only on energy, then even the New York State Environmental Department of Conservation (DEC)’s work on Climate Change will be completely side-tracked by unnecessary threats to our water quality from Fracking.

Moreover, if our leaders don’t lead on addressing Climate Change by planning and leading the state and our cities, then local activities like those going on in Rochester NY, right now look like a shotgun spray of unrelated pellets, unconnected to anything but saving some bucks and pleasing the public.

Here are some transportation achievements in Rochester, NY that need to be connected to state and federal attempts solve Climate Change.

  • The Genesee Transportation Council (GTC) has finished its new program to help citizens in our area get around without riding around in single-vehicle gas-guzzlers. Without leadership at the top explaining the significance of this program, the media doesn’t inform the public on this new option for getting around our region and it goes unused.
  •         “roceasyride is a free-to-use rideshare solution allowing you to create a commute profile to find carpool matches and smart commute options specifically for you. Online tools allow you to track the money you save and the environmental benefits that result. roceasyride provides information on bicycling, public transportation, and other travel choices that can help you save money while improving our environment. Easy to use Easy on your wallet Easy on the environment Start using roceasyride today! “
  • Public input on transportation center: On Wednesday, May 30th from 5PM to 7PM (with presentation at 5:30PM) at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center, Riverside Court, 123 East Main Street, Rochester, NY come and give your input about public transportation and active transportation (bikes and walking). Will this new transportation center meet the needs of walkers and bicyclists too?
  •         Rochester Intermodal Transportation Center Scoping Study "The City of Rochester invites you to share your thoughts, concerns, and vision regarding Rochester’s Intermodal Transportation Center. On the date and time noted below, the City of Rochester is hosting a Public Meeting for the entire community to participate in. This meeting will involve an brief open house from 5:00pm to 5:30pm leading into a formal presentation beginning at 5:30pm. Following the presentation, a Q/A period will help solicit further dialog. We encourage each and every one of you to join us as we move forward in reshaping and energizing our regions downtown core. "
  • Demonstrating that the public wants active transportation to be easier and safer in our communities.
  •       Walk for our environment on May 16th & 30th: Bike Walk Brighton "Mark your calendars...members of the Bike and Pedestrian Task Force will be making a brief presentation at the Community Forums, WEDNESDAY, MAY 16, 7:00PM @Temple Sinai and WEDNESDAY, MAY 30, 7:00PM @West Brighton Fire Department. Look forward to seeing everyone there. "
  • Conducting a bicycle and pedestrian traffic count to assess the need for better bike trails in our area.
  •       Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Project (Traffic Counts) | Rochester Cycling Alliance “The Active Transportation Working Group, a spin-off the Rochester Cycling Alliance’s April 2011 Active Transportation Symposium, is searching for volunteers to conduct bicycle and pedestrian traffic counts in Rochester and Monroe County during May 2012 as part of the National Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Project, http://bikepeddocumentation.org/ . We are planning to conduct the counts during commute times in the A.M. and P.M. on May 15-17.”
  • · Connecting college campuses in the Rochester area with bike-friendly trails. Think of the savings in public health, parking lot construction, and the release of GHG if there were bike paths to our area’s major institutions of higher learning.
  •       TRANSPORTATION: Building bike-friendly campus connections - News Articles - Rochester City Newspaper The Erie-Lackawanna bike-pedestrian bridge should open in June, connecting the University of Rochester campus with both sides of the Genesee River. The bridge will provide a convenient way to cross the river, but it's significant in another way, too: it's another step toward creating a cohesive bikeway between some of Rochester's higher-ed institutions. (May 1, 2012) Rochester NY News, Events, Restaurants, Music, Entertainment, Nightlife - Rochester City Newspaper
  • On Saturday, September 15th Greentopia Festival will again host a bike ride for the public to demonstrate their desire for more active transportation options in our region. Last year, we had a hundred riders. But this year, if we had leaders willing to inform the public and the media of the significance of coming to events like these in great numbers, we might get thousands of folks.

These Rochester, NY transportation projects, and many others will not get connected to Climate Change in the public’s mind until leaders and the media and the public start connecting the dots. Without leadership and adherence to Climate Action Plans at the top levels, the media thinks there’s still doubt about the science of climate warming and time to solve this issue when we get good and ready.

But time is running out. Waiting until Climate Change activists come up with the goldilocks’ solution that will please everyone and adapt to the changes coming is unrealistic. Our leaders must shrug off the political risk of educating the public on the true state of our affairs and lead.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

President Obama releases updated 2012-2012 Climate Action plan. Who knew in this election year? Media, what is Romney’s plan?

 

Somehow I missed that President and presidential candidate Obama has been diligently working on an updated Climate Action plan?  What about Romney? 

What was the media coverage, as this was released just in April 17th of this year? 

I read the Global Climate Change Impacts in the US (2009) but the new report by the US government got right by me.  What was I doing that day?  What was the media doing? 

The US is having a major election for the president of the US and billions are being spent to fill the public’s mind full of all kinds of nonsense but a story about the President putting out a major update on what needs to be done on Climate Change get buried.  Very interesting. 

I’m sure I’m missing something. Administration Releases 10-Year Global Change Strategic Plan

The Obama Administration today released a 10-year strategic plan for research related to global change, identifying priorities that will help state and local governments, businesses, and communities prepare for anticipated changes in the global environment, including climate change, in the decades ahead. The Plan—released by the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), which for more than 20 years has coordinated Federal global change research— was developed collaboratively by more than 100 Federal scientists. It reflects extensive inputs from stakeholders and the general public, as well as a detailed review by the National Research Council, chartered by Congress to provide independent expert advice to the Nation. The Plan will be implemented through the USGCRP and the 13 Federal departments and agencies it represents. (April 27, 2012) United States Global Change Research Program

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Saving the planet or saving the symbol?

 

Wouldn’t it be far more sustainable for the polar bear species to save the arctic ice by stopping greenhouse gases in our atmosphere than artificial insemination?

It seems like someone who is searching for their lost keys in a lighted parking lot, instead of the parking lot where there’s no light. In other words, it is delusional to think we are saving the arctic by saving the most charismic species of the arctic.

How can artificial insemination save the polar bear if there is nowhere for the polar bear species to live but a zoo—an artificial environment? The polar bear evolved to live and thrive and become one with the arctic and now that the arctic ice is melting and shows no signs of coming back in the foreseeable future why are we keeping saving the bear?

So, in a thousand years, when we finally start doing something about Climate Change we can put them in a great big box, fly them back to the arctic, open it up, place some seals around, and fly away? We’re fooling ourselves if we think Climate Change is about saving polar bears.

The polar bear has become a symbol of saving the arctic, but saving the symbol will not save the arctic. Read on:

Seneca Park Zoo attempts world's first artificial insemination of polar bear A scientific breakthrough at the Seneca Park Zoo could have an important effect on the global polar bear population, in addition to providing a much-needed assist for the zoo’s resident bachelor. Aurora, a 22-year-old female polar bear and the denmate of the cubless male Zero, is likely pregnant after being on the receiving end of the world’s first artificial insemination of a polar bear, zoo officials said Tuesday. (May 2, 2012) Democrat and Chronicle