Saturday, December 28, 2013

Shared service agreements or true mergers, Rochester’s media is racing to the bottom

 

CCDogIn many ways it is moot whether Rochester’s media is blurring the lines between legal or illegal consolidation because the overall trajectory for local news is dismal. Whether one voice or five covers most of the daily items—the ubiquitous car accidents, pet abuse, sports scores, acts of violence, sex scandals, and the occasional business ventures that manage to bubble up to the local headlines with equal hyperbole and fervor, we are getting very little of the news we need. The problem is not so much local media consolidation (which should have been addressed long ago) in whatever form it takes; the problem is finding news sources where actual reporters conduct thorough investigations on important news at all.

The City Newspaper’s article this week “Dialing it down: local media changes” is an interesting insight into the Byzantine world of local media machinations to boost ratings, increase branding, and secure more ad revenue. And while the article does at least mention the local media changes as an important concern in the disseminating of better, deeper, and more balanced local news coverage, it is media consolidation that captures most folk’s attention. But I am not so sure that this is our most salient concern the local level. Certainly, at the state, federal level, an international level, I don’t want a Murdock empire of media satellites peppering my information sources with free market fundamentalism, while dismissing environmental concerns. But at the local level, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between stuff plastered on the headlines from one media to another. There are few tough-hitting, competitive, investigative reporting on our county and city government policies and practices. There are fewer muckraking stories that challenge our businesses’ practices on environmental issues. And there’s just about nothing on the most important crisis of our age, Climate Change.

In the 1850’s, the decade before the Civil War, Rochester’s media roiled with inequality issues, starting with Fredrick Douglas’s North Star (anti-slavery newspaper) and Susan B. Anthony’s efforts to get women the right to vote. But in the crisis of our times, Rochester’s media remains mum.

News, an effective fourth estate, is what you need to plan effectively. It isn’t supposed to be an opiate for the masses, pandering to their every whim in order to make money and advance businesses’ interests. It’s supposed to make our Democracy sustainable. It’s supposed to be our eyes and ears so we can make informed choices, not just for elections, but for our future. Climate Change is about planning for the future.

What is our region doing to prepare for Climate Change? I don’t mean what are the few ad hoc entrepreneurial efforts by an intrepid few doing that which merits an occasional happy story. I mean what are we, and our government officials, for doing to insure our water quality, preserve our wildlife, ward off invasive species, maintain the public health, restore our wetlands, clean up our Brownfields, and provide the critical public funds for all those issues? Climate Change will not come cheaply and the private sector hasn’t the power or the money to make our way of life sustainable. Except for a few poignant articles here and there on Climate Change, the prevailing local media zeitgeist on our climate is that we are doing swell; there’s more important stuff to report—even though there isn’t.

There isn’t a local media network, a media institution with the potential to capture the attention of a majority of our citizens, trying to break into the cozy consolidative cabal of Rochester’s local media as much as there is such a prevailing climate of denial where, even as our Arctic melts and our growing seasons change, our local media refuses to acknowledge the existence of Climate Change. If there was such a responsible media on the sidelines, even without media consolidation, they’d have a hard time of it since the disinclination of our present media to report on Climate Change has sown a great distaste for this world responsibility, as if we were an island unto ourselves.

But Rochester isn’t an island. When, as most Rochesterians do these days, gather their news from the Internet, that is, from around the world from innumerable sources, it is quite plain that Climate Change is happening everywhere on planet Earth. Like the evils of slavery and critical importance of women’s rights, Climate Change concerns us all. We are connected. When we burn greenhouse gases here in Rochester, island nations sink thousands of miles away.

With just another click you can follow local issues further by searching for that online. For example, for all the local media dysfunction on Fracking (as the issue is energy in a time of warming, not on just another fossil fuel), one can easily find out about related studies on Fracking the public health and examples of Fracking contamination all over the place—by credible sources. The Internet doesn’t just lead to Joe Blow’s basement blog; it connects to your government, university studies, and world’s media. However, while this level of connectivity allows for the big picture on many issues, it cannot replace local investigative reporting. To find out if our local recycling system is actually recycling stuff and keeping waste from festering, or worse yet, leaching dangerous chemicals out of our landfills into our streams and lakes, we need a local media on the job, asking the hard questions. To find out how Climate Change is actually affecting our region, we need some rigorous reporting on that.

Whatever the media has been, or has degenerated into, during this present media crisis [click here to find out about that: FreePress], it must quickly evolve into a useful information system as things warm up so we can plan effectively. Granted, there are few sensational highlights of Climate Change at the local level, though increasingly at any one time somewhere in the world climate is causing wildfires, tornadoes, sea rise, droughts, and much more. So, not only will Climate Change force changes on our environment, it will force changes on the media.

For a sustainable future our media will always be our eyes and ears, but they will have to see further ahead than they presently do and hear the voices of those in peril far away. If our media tended to consolidate on how to do that, it might not be such a bad thing. But our media tends to consolidate to make more money for fewer folks, which is a bad thing.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The thawing of Rochester with Climate Change

 

CCWarmerNo stranger to Climate Change, 20,000 years ago what is now the Rochester area was buried under a mile-high glacier. When all that began to thaw, carving out what are now the Great Lakes and our Finger Lakes, it did so in a gradual enough span of time for a thriving environment to evolve. The present warming, this one not caused by variations in Earth's orbit, is due to our over-use of greenhouse gases (GHGs) to fuel our way of living, and it is occurring much faster than the last (there were several) glacier retreat. In fact, the present warming is happening at a pace too fast (…10 times faster than any change recorded in past 65 million years) for many of our indigenous plants and wildlife to adapt. This will lead not only to a loss of local biodiversity, but also to more extreme flooding.

I mention flooding this week as the recent snow dump we’ve received in the Northeast is quickly warming, creating some gushers:

“The National Weather Service has issued a flood watch for the region due to a dramatic warm-up and heavy rain possible this weekend.” (Flood watch issued for region, Daily Messenger, 12/19/2013)

Flooding, snow and ice thawing so quickly they overwhelm our natural drainage streams, our cellar sub pumps, our sewer systems, and our wastewater treatment facilities are infrastructural weaknesses that are going to have to be strengthened, and it is going to take money. Over the centuries we have created some ingenious ways to keep back the water. But without government involvement (that’s our taxes at work), it’s unlikely we can rebound from major flooding (or afford the insurance) coming with Climate Change. This was brought home to the folks in the Midwest with brilliant clarity in the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, which proved that Big Government was going to have to step in, starting with the Flood Control Act of 1928.

By the end of this weekend more snow will come again, probably making many who have not been educating themselves on Climate Change think that we here in the Rochester region have dodged a bullet. Hardly. It’s the Climate stupid. As NASA points out, there’s a good reason why we here in the US are so cool, while the rest of the planet’s regions are cooking. Could we possibly have screwed up the polar jet stream too?

Opposites attract: U.S. experiences cold and heat extremes While the continental U.S. shivered through an abnormally cold spell in December 2013, Alaska experienced record-breaking heat. Both extremes were caused by an unusual kink in the northern hemisphere’s polar jet stream, which caused frigid Arctic air to move south and warm air to head north. The jet stream is a fast-moving belt of westerly winds created by the convergence of cold air masses from the Arctic and warm air from lower latitudes. It’s common for it to have meanders called Rossby waves, but what was unusual in December 2013 was how amplified and contorted those waves became after a ridge of high pressure parked itself over Alaska. As warm air pushed north, numerous temperature records fell in Alaska. On December 7, 2013, temperatures reached 39°F (4°C) at Deadhorse, an airport in far northern Alaska that serves Prudhoe Bay. This was the warmest December temperature measured there since the airport was established in 1968, according to Weather Underground historian Christopher Burt. Meanwhile, high temperature records for December also fell or were tied at Barter Island, Alaska, and Wainwright, Alaska. In contrast, many towns in the Pacific Northwest saw record cold temperatures. (December 16, 2013) NASA Global Climate Change

This heat, not coming slow or gradually or uniformly, is going to be abundantly clear to our generation when the Arctic melts. No less authority that our military thinks it will come soon: “US Navy predicts summer ice free Arctic by 2016”.

Granted, we cannot stop the Arctic from melting, even if the whole planet went on a wartime footing, because a tipping point was passed a while ago in our atmospheric warming. Because we did not know what we were doing a century ago with GHG’s, we caused the sun’s energy to get trapped as heat in our atmosphere and waters, making it too hot to float big icebergs. But we can at least stop the exploitation of the Arctic, this pristine region of our planet, by stopping ourselves from further fossil-fuel burning, from drilling for more fossil fuels, and from opening the ice-free waters to shipping and fishing. It won’t be easy, that’ for sure. The Arctic 30 got gobbled up by that annoying Russian penchant to throw folks who tell them things they don’t like (like drilling in the Arctic is an insane idea) into their cold, dark prisons. They spit these heroes out this week only because Russia didn’t want to look like a bunch of thugs before hosting the Olympics.

I know, stemming the invisible hand from grabbing the last vestige of environmental purity from the new Arctic frontier fills free market fundamentalists with horror. Just like the pro-Frackers in New York, who think the New York State economy will collapse without more fossil fuels, too many moneyheads believe the treasures of the Arctic cannot be wasted on saving our planetary environment. And yet the Arctic, one of the major air conditioners of our planet, must be left fallow, if nothing else as a reminder of our folly.

Sadly, it may even be the case that many in our region would just love to see all the ice and snow just go away—for good. Those ice caps on our planet, for all their eerie pristine beauty, may not be to everyone’s taste. The polar ice caps are extremely cold and useless for growing stuff. As for our snow-laden Rochester winters, many don’t like the icy driving conditions; they don’t like skiing, snowmobiling and can live without maple syrup. But Climate Change isn’t just about getting rid of the frosty hassles when you’re not in the mood for them; it’s about the speed at which this is all happening. Even if you don’t frequent the Arctic, you’re going to feel the effects when it thaws.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Challenges that Rochester’s poor face with Climate Change

 

CCPoorThere are many aspects of Climate Change that make it the mother of all problems—rising seas, Arctic melting, increases in extreme weather, and a grim future for our children. This is further complicated in that we cannot even talk about Climate Change without first making it clear that we must keep our economic system intact and thriving. We get very uncomfortable when the notion of Climate Justice comes up. The recent Warsaw Climate Change Conference 2013, the nineteenth of these top-down conferences aimed at lowering greenhouse gases (GHGs), almost fell apart (again) because developed nations bridle at the thought of compensating the developing nations for the warming the developed nations caused.

The notion of funding the UN’s Green Climate Fund continually sticks in the craw of many rich nations like our own because it threatens our vision that our finite world must offer unlimited growth and consumerism. For if Climate Change is really caused by the rapid use of GHGs (which it is), then everyone, everywhere, will pay the consequences, including the poor. The poor, the developing nations, already stripped of their natural resources (including our oceans and our air) are demanding their fair share of opportunities, even while the Climate Change crisis unfolds. The more the developed nations attempt to strip the Climate Change issue of the equality and justice issues inherent in this crisis, the angrier the developing nations get. This fairness aspect of Climate Change is going to be no small part of the crisis, nor can it be disengaged from the climate negotiations.

Trying to address Climate Change at the local Rochester level, amidst great poverty, is going to be a challenge too. According to ACT Rochester’s newly released report, ‘Poverty and the Concentration of Poverty in the Nine-County Greater Rochester Area, Dec 12013’, Rochester is the “fifth poorest city in the country among the top 75 largest metropolitan areas.” It’s going to be hard to appreciate the threat of Climate Change in Rochester or anywhere else if you are hungry and homeless.  If most of your time is consumed trying to find a bite to eat for your family, a shelter from more heat and cold spells (like the one we are presently experiencing), and money enough to pay your medical bills, then the Climate Change crisis is going to be the least of your worries. At least, that’s what most seem to believe.

As it is with the poor on a world scale, so the threats of Climate Change on the local level must become of greater concern to the poor of Rochester. All Rochesterians will experience more extreme weather events, more heatwaves, and more public health issues from vector-driven diseases (like West Nile Virus, Lyme disease, and maybe malaria and dengue fever). But the poor, who have neither adequate shelter nor the means to move away from such dangers, are under the greatest threat. It’s going to cost a lot, no matter who pays, to shield those who did not cause Climate Change from the impacts of those who did.

Another aspect of Climate Change in our region is more flooding, which has the tendency (besides sending home insurance rates through the roof) to flush out the toxic remains of Brownfields yet to be cleaned up into the waters and the neighborhoods where they reside. And we know who resides near those still-dirty Brownfields.

Cleaning Up Toxic Brownfields - Upscale NY Gets VIP Treatment NEW YORK - A new report says a billion-dollar-plus toxic cleanup program is not reaching neighborhoods that need it most - and now is the perfect time to fix it. Andrew Postiglione, a fiscal policy associate with Environmental Advocates of New York, said plenty of cleanup has been happening in high-property-value areas in Manhattan, but the program needs to be fixed so more cleanup and redevelopment happens in struggling communities upstate. "The brownfields tax credit is a very expensive program. It's over $1 billion to clean up only 131 sites" he explained. "This program is also off-target; it's not going to the communities that need public dollars the most." (November 18, 2013) Public News Service [more on Brownfields in our area]

Some relief from the ravages of Climate Change for the poor could come from our transportation sector. According to the EPA, 27% of our GHGs are attributed to our present transportation system. If those who cannot afford adequate transportation to get to jobs with living wages had access to safe active transportation (walking and bicycling) along with a reliable public transportation system, we could solve two problems at once. This would not only help adapt our region to Climate Change, but offer an alternative to a gas-guzzling system that is very expensive to maintain, expensive to join in, and expensive to your safety. (For this last point read this hilarious satire: Get pedestrians off Toronto roads to keep them safe for drivers: Hume (12/06/2013, Toronto Star))

Already, according to a new report by US PIRG, “Transportation in Transition, A Look at Changing Travel Patterns in America’s Biggest Cities”, Rochester workers are increasingly taking to the bike to get to work, as Rochester racks up as #8 of major American cities that show an “Increase in percent of workers who biked to work from 2000 to 2007-2011.”

If we have not completely supplanted our ethics with our crazy politics (where some of the most powerful don’t even believe in science) and our economics, we should begin to understand that Climate Change will be the standard from which all ethics will be determined. For if we don’t get through the bottleneck of Climate Change, Faith, Hope, Charity, Freedom, Justice, and even Magnanimity will be but hollow words from a species that has been far too focused on its creature comforts and its lofty Ideals to pay attention to the seas that they caused to rise.

To that end, start taking equality for the future seriously in our region by keeping our active transportation infrastructure funds from being killed by recent reductions in funding. Go here and sign on: Dedicated Funds for Bike/Pedestrian Infrastructure by December 27th. Learn more:

New Yorkers for Active Transportation (NY4AT), a coalition dedicated to working with stakeholders to assure equitable funding for non‐motorized transportation, including complete streets, community multi‐use trails, and safer and increased levels of bicycling and walking in New York’s cities, villages, and towns.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Tear yourself away from Rochester media for info on Climate Change

 

CCLocalMediaOn Wednesday, December 4th, I attended a U.S. EPA, State and Local Climate and Energy Program webcast “Gaining Support and Attracting Participation through Communication.” For over an hour I watched/listened to several environmental communications experts from all levels instruct community leaders on how to inform the public on Climate Change. Much of the material concerned itself with some psychological insights as to why many folks aren’t interested in Climate Change and practical ways to engage various groups, listening to their concerns, and explaining why this issue has to be addressed. One tactic a local expert suggested was making sure the group you spoke to got lots of coffee. Folks get sleepy listening to lectures on climate, I guess.

Despite the fact that most folks already know about Climate Change, that it is human caused and threatens many dire consequences, it’s the dickens to get folks to get interested in the most important crisis of our time, maybe of all time. No less authority than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) still feels compelled to modycoddle the public into taking actions that will prevent some avoidable catastrophes. Inexplicably for our federal environmental authority, the EPA seems quite ready to write off a sizable portion of our population whose stance against Climate Change makes them particularly difficult to reach. At the state level, our New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) tries to engage New Yorkers under the Climate Smart Communities program, a voluntary program that only a few communities in our region have signed on to.

At the local Rochester level you’re not going to get much information at all about the consequences of Climate Change if you don’t tear yourself away from mainstream media. They don’t just under-report or miss-report on Climate Change, they mostly don’t address it at all. This oversight cannot be explained as a disinterest in far-off events, like why the Warsaw Climate Change Conference last month was avoided locally, because the media had no such qualms about re-experiencing the JFK assassination. Thus they cannot use the excuse that warming is too remote (in time and distance) to worry about because our media is clearly OK with ‘remote’. And of course Climate Change is not remote to Rochester; it’s here. The Likely Changes coming to our region because of Climate Change are mentioned readily in most climate studies, so the failure to report on warming cannot be a lack of information or relevance. Maybe it’s because Climate Change doesn’t bleed, it doesn’t wear a pretty dress, it doesn’t get wasted and take illegal drugs. So it must be a great big bore to our local media.

But don’t despair, it’s not hopeless. While local mainstream media struggles for ad dollars and your attention with attention-getting puffery, you have other choices. You only have to turn your computer’s pointing device to some other local media sources to get news and information on the local effects of Climate Change. A wonderful resource I’ve come to depend on lately is the monthly newsletter out of Hobart and William Smith College: Happenings: the monthly newsletter of the Finger Lakes Institute:

The FLI Happenings newsletter is a monthly publication with FLI staff and guest authors contributing articles relating to environmental topics and issues of concern for the Finger Lakes region. Themed issues have included such topics as alternative energy, green jobs, environmental education, climate change, Marcellus Shale, environmental stewardship, green infrastructure and more. To offer a regional perspective, each month the Finger Lakes Regional Watershed Alliance contributes an article featuring their individual lake members and accomplishments. Happenings: the monthly newsletter of the Finger Lakes Institute

Not only can you get some connect-the-dots info on Climate Change in our region, but the difficult-to-find info on warming on the Finger Lakes. For some reason most climate studies, let alone local media, haven’t focused on our Finger Lakes. (This is odd, for if you have access to a map ((our media obviously doesn’t)) you can readily see that Rochester has several of the Finger Lakes all about it: Canadice Lake, Hemlock Lake, Honeoye Lake, Canandaigua Lake, and Conesus Lake.) For instance this month, here are several important stories you should check out: “Climate History From The Depths of Seneca Lake,” “Developing Resiliency For Great Lakes Communities”, and “Communities’ Stakes Are High As Climate Changes”. The articles are expert, local, and crucial to our understanding some of the issues related to Climate Change that we need to plan for.

There’s also the Cornell Chronicle Online: “The Cornell Chronicle, Cornell's primary source of news since 1969, is part of the Division of University Communications. The site publishes daily news about research, outreach, events and the Cornell community.” Here’s some articles you should read: “New website is 'one-stop shop' for climate change info ”, “As crop indicators, weeds spread in warmer world”, “Grants support Great Lakes biology surveys ” , “Expert: U.S. must do more to protect climate, environment ”, and “Cows' carbon hoofprint is smaller than thought” .

You can also get the news you need from several of our officials: EPA’s Region 2 News Releases, Press Releases - NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation, New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets Press Releases, and news from the New York State Department of Health

There are many more ways to get un-blinded by local media’s failure to cover the most important issue of Climate Change. You can check out local newsletters of local environmental organizations, some media from surrounding communities (who are sometimes better than we are in Rochester in environmental news coverage), newsletters from our local universities, and more. You can find these sources on this web page: News Sources - Rochester, NY area. Or you can check the new listing of Climate Change news networks around the world: Global Environmental News.

Here’s the thing: Although our local media believes there are more immediate stories worthy of our attention than Climate Change, more and more of these ‘NEWS!’ stories are going to be absorbed by our scurrying around trying to adapt to the conditions we should have long ago accepted as the new normal. Local news has let us down in failing to educating us day-to-day on how we in Rochester are connected to this world-wide moral, economic, and environmental crisis. The tragic fact about Climate Change is that if only a relative few engage themselves on this issue, it will make the catastrophic consequences of Climate Change inevitable. If our local mainstream media demonstrates that they don’t think it’s important, the public won’t think it’s important either—so there will be scarce political or economic support for the necessary adaptation measures.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Water quality concerns for Rochester, NY’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program

 

Genesee River Lower Falls The due date for public comment for Rochester, NY’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP) comes to an end this December. You can complete a survey and/or submit a comment online here: Rochester LWRP Update. The description of the program is as follows from the City of Rochester: “The purpose of this project is to update the city’s LWRP and expand the boundary of the plan to include all of the city’s waterfront areas along Lake Ontario, the Genesee River and the Erie Canal.”

The ten questions on the survey mostly contain a wish-list of projects to make life more appealing to those who visit, live, or want to develop along our city’s waterfronts. Stuff like creating a skate park, more fishing sites, more bars and restaurants, more residential homes, and more trails figure large. And then there is a project peculiar to our city, and I suspect wildly expensive, the ‘re-watering the old Erie Canal through downtown’. There’s also the Garden Ariel loop project that would “Through stewardship, innovative design, and community outreach to preserve natural and historic resources, and cultivate High Falls transformation into a world-class public green space.” One survey option—“naturally preserved, undeveloped” must have been thrown in as a sop to hardcore environmentalists because out of all the options this would be the most expensive, spending millions of dollars to clean-up this developed and historically abused region—and then do nothing with it except let Nature be Nature. If this option sends chills down the spine of future developers, don’t worry; it has about the same chance as a rich climate denier passing through the eye of a needle.

My focus is on the water quality of one these projects’s centerpieces, the Genesee River. It’s going to be hard to enjoy any of the suggestions listed in the survey (they mention casinos) if the water is lousy. The Genesee River has been given some negative news lately, as it has been named the 32nd most toxic polluted river in the US according to this report: Wasting Our Waterways 2012 by Environment America Research and Policy Center, March 22, 2012.

A troubling note comes from a local mainstream media article. While rhapsodizing on the Genesee’s great fishing, it just happens to mention “Most fish caught here are stocked rather than wild” Rochester's Lower Falls an angler's paradise  (November 16, 2013) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle). A healthy, thriving riparian and river ecology with a healthy fishing industry is not one that has to be continually stocked.

And then there’s this from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation:

Various recreational uses, aquatic life support and aesthetics in urban waterways of the Lower Genesee River are significantly restricted by pollutants from various industrial, municipal, commercial and other sources in the highly-urbanized metropolitan Rochester area and surrounding suburban communities. Nonpoint urban runoff flushes a variety of pollutants and debris into the river. Contaminated sediments, inactive hazardous waste sites and other impacts attributed to past/historic discharges also limit uses. (Page 5, The 2001 Genesee River Basin Waterbody Inventory and Priority Waterbodies List, Bureau of Watershed Assessment and Research, Division of Water, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation

There’s a wonderfully comprehensive and detailed study from the University of Rochester on how we, and perhaps other communities around the state, might develop their waterfronts with the public’s health in mind. It’s the Healthy Waterways: A Health Impact Assessment of the City of Rochester, New York’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program Report, May 2013

Healthy Waterways was a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) of the City of Rochester, NY's Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP) update. … In the Healthy Waterways report, we provide information and recommendations to help decision makers and stakeholders understand how to maximize the positive health impacts of water resource related decisions, while minimizing negative effects on the health of Rochester’s communities. In so doing, we hope to create a statewide model for incorporating HIA in the LWRP process. (University of Rochester Medical Center)

This report and the cautionary reports that the Genesee River needs some serious TLC for its water quality, should come before any of the other projects of the (LWRP) are entertained—not as an afterthought.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

US role in Climate talks puzzling given its history of ducking hard choices

 

WhatCCIt’s almost the end of the Warsaw Climate Talks 2013, and things are not going well on that planetary discussion about the world crisis facing all of us. A large faction of environmental groups just stormed out of the meeting in protest. “Six groups leave climate negotiations in Warsaw after saying the talks are a waste of time,” (Green groups walk out of UN climate talks 11/21/2013, Aljazeera), though they didn’t say all Climate talks were a waste of time. They said this particular Climate talk, where the developed nations balked at any financial redress for Climate Justice and even stepped down their previous commitments to curb their greenhouse gases, was an outrage.

3 Countries That Are Bailing on Climate Action Japan isn’t the only country walking away from climate promises. When Japan dramatically slashed its plans last week for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, from 25 percent to just 3.8 percent compared to 2005 figures, the international reaction was swift and damning. Britain called it “deeply disappointing.” China’s climate negotiator, Su Wei, said, “I have no way of describing my dismay.” The Alliance of Small Island Nations, which represents islands most at risk of sea level rise, branded the move “a huge step backwards.” The decision was based on the fact that Japan’s 50 nuclear reactors—which had provided about 30 percent of the country’s electricity—are currently shuttered for safety checks after the Fukushima disaster in March 2011, despite the government trying to bring some of them back online. That nuclear energy is largely being replaced by fossil fuels. (November 19, 2013) Climate Desk

The United States hasn’t come away from the talks unsullied either. Our lackluster approach to addressing Climate Change got outed by a Hindu journalist. [The Western press has ignored this issue and chosen instead to obsess over the anniversary of the JFK assassination—which is not news, just media-fed mass nostalgia.]

Leaked Memo Reveals U.S. Plan to Oppose Helping Poor Nations Adapt to Climate Change Newly leaked documents have revealed how U.S. negotiators at the U.N. climate summit in Warsaw are opposing efforts to help developing countries adapt to climate change. According to an internal U.S. briefing memo seen by Democracy Now!, the U.S. delegation is worried the talks in Warsaw will "focus increasingly on blame and liability" and that poor nations will be "seeking redress for climate damages from sea level rise, droughts, powerful storms and other adverse impacts." We speak with Nitin Sethi, a journalist with The Hindu newspaper who first reported on the leaked document. (November 19, 2013)Democracy Now!

Our country’s lackluster approach to Climate Change is puzzling given our own history of ducking hard decisions on hard questions. The United States Constitution protected the institution of slavery for fear of not being able to produce any constitution at all. For the sake of expediency, it inflicted upon hundreds of thousands of hapless souls a great evil until a country divided for’ four score and seven years ‘reached a tipping point of moral outrage in 1861. Because Climate Change is a problem of physics and our window of opportunity is quickly closing before catastrophic warming is unavoidable, we do not have the luxury to forfeit the lives of billions before we act, and in this case we ourselves will get swept along in the crisis.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Will Rochester, NY slash its climate reduction target at Warsaw Climate talks like Japan?

 

CCWarsawJapan decided to slash its climate reduction target at the Warsaw Climate talks because the Fukushima nuclear disaster is “forcing the country to increase its burning of fossil fuels.” (November 14, 2013) BBC ) One has to wonder if others will follow suit, searching their ‘excuses boxes’ to see if they have a handy excuse not to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG’s) even though we know the 'Window of Opportunity' to Curb Climate Change Quickly Closing.

How about Rochester, NY? If our local media is any indication, Rochesterians don’t even know that the Warsaw climate talks are going on. But if the climate talks this year were on our radar, and we too were going to come up with an excuse not to keep our promise on our climate reduction target, this is what we’d throw overboard: “We strive to reduce energy consumption, waste generation, our dependence on fossil fuels and production of greenhouse gases.” (City of Rochester, NY Environmental Mission Statement) It’s not much, and it’s kind of fuzzy because it doesn’t have any red lines that won’t be crossed, but it’s something, I guess….

I know, you’re thinking what I’ve said so far is very unfair. Japan really got nailed and any reasonable person would expect them not to keep their promises on Climate Change because, heh, they just gotta have as much power as they had before the nuclear disaster no matter what. However, Japan’s excuse is probably hard to swallow by developing nations that don’t even get to have a good day because of increasingly horrific typhoons and sea rise caused by the developed nation’s lack of agreement year to year on climate talks.

The Warsaw talks are the 19th in a series (COP 19) in our “attempts” to address Climate Change, and almost zip (“modest”) is expected to be accomplished. That’s not a prognostication in this particular case, that’s an order by the developed nations. If they were to jump the gun and start reducing GHG’s before 2020, as planned, the developed nations would freak. So everything is being done to have a non-climate talk with no hard decisions, just some clarifying, launching a PowerPoint display, and delivering a “path”. Really, a path? in 2013?

We must clarify finance that enables the entire world to move towards low-carbon development. We must launch the construction of a mechanism that helps vulnerable populations to respond to the unanticipated effects of climate change. We must deliver an effective path to pre-2020 ambition, and develop further clarity for elements of the new agreement that will shape the post-2020 global climate, economic and development agendas. (Opening address by Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change)

Ok, so Rochester, NY didn’t even get invited to the Warsaw Climate Talk because it’s not a country—though it’s probably bigger than some of those sinking nations (caused by sea level rise due to Climate Change) who were invited. But the United States (which sabotaged the Kyoto Protocol by not ratifying it) did get invited. Our goal at the talks will be (as usual) to kick the can down the road:

“Our task now is to fashion a new agreement that will be ambitious, effective and durable,” Todd Stern, the U.S. State Department’s special envoy for climate change, said in a speech in London last month. “(Washington Post)

While our leaders dillydally about bringing down atmospheric GHGs’s let’s be clear about some Climate Change assumptions: For one, the Fukushima nuclear disaster did not force Japan to increase its burning of fossil fuels. When you drive a nail into a board with a hammer, the nail is forced into the board. More likely, the political will failed keeping to their promise and using everything in their tool box--including energy efficiency, renewable, and energy conservation—would have made Japan’s leaders unpopular. No one seems to be questioning the Holy Premise that we, the developed nations, must all have energy and more of it—even if it means crashing the planet’s environment.

Also, there is a growing movement around the world to create a carbon tax, new generation nuclear power plants, and numerous geoengineering schemes. And while they all have their merits, they all assume that we must address Climate Change with as little inconvenience to the developed nations as possible. This trajectory, that includes many assumptions about what the public will tolerate and actually do, will only address a few of the myriad problems that come with Climate Change. Along with Climate Change comes economic justice, the loss of biodiversity, floods, incredible typhoons, and a whole lot of warming that’s already locked in because we keep letting the only platform for planetary agreement on Climate Change turn into excuses for not doing what we must.

Excuses are what you tell your teacher when the dog eats your homework.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

USA takes baby steps on Climate Change

 

You have until January 3, 2014 to comment on EPA’s draft Climate Change Adaptation Implementation Plans—I focus on the Region2 in this article but there are many more. Please frame your response according to the enormity of the problem, not on what you think is merely feasible in our present state of denial.

CCBigBecause of Congress’s continual dysfunctionality on addressing Climate Change, President Obama has had to resort to executive orders. On November 1, 2013, the president issued Executive Order -- Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change:

PREPARING THE UNITED STATES FOR THE IMPACTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE |By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, and in order to prepare the Nation for the impacts of climate change by undertaking actions to enhance climate preparedness and resilience, it is hereby ordered as follows: more…

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), who the president can direct without kowtowing to the deniers in Congress, released the Climate Change Adaptation Plan on February 9, 2013, which received input by all federal agencies. Here’s the list, just in case ‘all federal agencies’ is merely a vague abstraction in your mind: the Department of State; the Department of the Treasury; the Department of Defense; the Department of Justice; the Department of the Interior; the Department of Agriculture; the Department of Commerce; the Department of Labor; the Department of Health and Human Services; the Department of Housing and Urban Development; the Department of Transportation; the Department of Energy; the Department of Education; the Department of Veterans Affairs; the Department of Homeland Security; the United States Agency for International Development; the Army Corps of Engineers; the Environmental Protection Agency; the General Services Administration; the Millennium Challenge Corporation; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; the U.S. Small Business Administration; the Corporation for National and Community Service; the Office of the Director of National Intelligence; the Council of Economic Advisers; the National Economic Council; the Domestic Policy Council; the Office of Management and Budget; the White House Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs; the United States Trade Representative; and such agencies or offices as the President or Co-Chairs shall designate.

I know, it seems that anyone who is anyone is on the job solving Climate Change over here at the USA. But not so much. Mostly, the EPA’s recommendations for Region 2 cover only what should have taken place in the last century. Things like fixing up our highways for more extreme weather, preparing for more emergencies, getting the agencies listed above to talk to each other on Climate Change, talking to decision makers (corporations? mayors? ordinary folks like you and I?), educating public health departments about the impacts of Climate Change on public health, providing some communities who are onboard with addressing Climate Change (communities that aren’t onboard can continue with their self-destruction) with some materials, noodling over some environment permitting and enforcement possibilities, getting ready for more major cleanups like Hurricane Sandy, and (my favorite) “Bring air pollution consequences of transportation systems due to climate change to the attention of state and local partners.” Like they don’t already know cars cause air pollution and will continue to do so as things warm up?

These measures seem pretty milquetoast in light of the news on Climate Change—just this week. Here’s a few items: The Climate Impact Of Canada’s Tar Sands Is Growing; As crop indicators, weeds spread in warmer world ; New greenhouse gas record set ; Deaths From Heat Waves May Increase Ten Times By Mid-Century; Climate Change Seen Posing Risk to Food Supplies; Carbon emissions must be cut ‘significantly’ by 2020, says UN report; New Report Examines Complex Threats Facing Our Oceans; and Leaked IPCC report: Humans are adapting — but hunger, homelessness, and violence lie ahead. I’m not the only one getting alarmed. Check out Change The Earth - Music Video Project where some major music figures and environmental groups are trying to reach the public on the immensity of this issue. This 10-minute video Last Hours is trying to do the same thing. Also, the Arctic 30 are still sitting in a cold hard Russian prison for delivering the message that taking advantage of a melting Arctic (caused by manmade Climate Change) by drilling for more fossil fuels is a really depraved idea.

So, here’s the deal: the EPA wants you to comment on its plan.

The EPA released its draft agency on February 9, 2013 for public review and comment, and expects to issue the final version this fall. In 2009, all federal agencies were required to develop Climate Change Adaptation Plans by the federal Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force. Under Executive Order 13514, the Task Force was charged with developing recommendations for the President on how to increase the nation’s resilience to climate change. The new Implementation Plans provide information about how EPA will meet the agency-wide priorities identified in the draft Climate Adaptation Plan released earlier this year. (EPA Releases Agency Plans for Adapting to a Changing Climate, Nov. 1, 2013)

This is how you provide comment, if you are in Region 2 (New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands): Surf over to www.regulations.gov and copy and paste this (Docket Number EPA-HQ-OA-2013-0568) into the SEARCH box. This will display “Request for Public Comment on the Agency’s 18 DRAFT Program a…”, then click on the ‘Comment Now!’ button. Remember: If you are providing comments through the public docket, it is important to identify which of the 17 Plans your comments refer to. We here in the Rochester, NY region live in EPA’s Region 2, so you have to read the EPA Region 2 Climate Adaptation Plan 2013—some 40 pages. The comment period on EPA’s draft Climate Change Adaptation Implementation Plans closes on January 3, 2014.

All very nice but I’m thinking we need bolder measures to address Climate Change here in the USA and the Region 2. Here are a few of my suggestions and you may use them.

  • Increase the role of trained citizen scientists to monitor our land, water, and air to give ourselves a more thorough idea of how are region is actually changing because of Climate Change. Hard to adapt to Climate Change if you don’t have critical information.
  • Clean up Brownfields ASAP. "The prospect of more intense and more frequent storms and sea-level rise carries with it the risk of contaminant releases from RCRA Corrective Action sites, Superfund sites, Brownfield sites and landfills. As noted in EPA’s Climate Change Adaptation Plan, inundation and flooding may lead to transport of contaminants through surface soils, groundwater, surface waters and/or coastal waters. Uncontrolled migration of contaminants may pose an increased risk of adverse health and environmental impacts. " (Page 24, EPA Region 2 Climate Adaptation Plan 2013)
  • Change the way we farm, including how we use the soil for farming so there is no runoff. Don’t even think of using soil fumigation. Only use pesticides and herbicides as an absolute last resort. “For instance, soil fumigation as a method to apply pesticides is now rarely used in Region 2 but would be expected to become more common as crops move into the area that requires pest techniques that are associated with longer growing seasons and warmer winters (NYSERDA 2011). Soil fumigants are among the most hazardous of all pesticides and rapidly volatilize once in the soil. Once in gaseous form, the fumigant can disperse throughout the soil and contact target pests making them extremely effective. However, because of the volatility of fumigants, people who live, visit, and/or work near fumigated fields may be exposed to these toxic emissions if the gases travel offsite either via wind aboveground or through wells, sewers, vaults and other underground pathways to the surface. " (Page 26, EPA Region 2 Climate Adaptation Plan 2013)
  • Absolutely no Fracking. Climate Change is why, if nothing else, we cannot allow Fracking in New York State: “Increased precipitation may also result in additional pollutant loadings of nutrients, pesticides, and other chemicals, further challenging permittees’ ability to meet water quality standards and permit requirements. For industrial dischargers and wastewater treatment plants, lower baseflows due to increased evapotranspiration and increased likelihood of drought conditions will make meeting permit requirements more challenging.” (Page 20, EPA Region 2 Climate Adaptation Plan 2013)
  • It would be nice if the EPA, DEC, or NYS Dept. Health got going on this, as nary a word is heard from these departments or in the local media at present: “Integrate climate impacts into public health information.” (Page 38, EPA Region 2 Climate Adaptation Plan 2013)
  • Rethink our transportation system. This is crazy: “Extreme events experienced in Region 2, such as hurricanes, that hinder refinery operations or fuel transportation could require EPA to grant fuel waivers to allow more polluting fuels to be used for a short time period. Extended periods of congestion could arise in areas that are flooded, which would lead to increased transportation related emissions.” (Page 19, EPA Region 2 Climate Adaptation Plan 2013) Instead of digging deeper into the hole of asphalt highways that provide a pleasant world for gas guzzle, but not living creatures, we should move rapidly to a system that includes public mass transportation, more active transportation in urban regions, and better Internet service so folks can conduct business without having to travel.
  • To adapt to Climate Change in our region, we need to set aside a lot of money that we are not going to get from the private sector. For one, we cannot just leave abandoned buildings and old infrastructures around as we always have: “EXPOSURE TO TOXIC CHEMICALS FROM INFRASTRUCTURE DAMAGE The extreme weather events that are likely to occur as a result of climate change (e.g., high winds, heavy precipitation events) may damage community infrastructure (e.g., schools and child care facilities) and residential homes. As a result, there may be an increased risk of exposure to lead, asbestos and PCBs, when these buildings are initially damaged and when they are renovated/demolished as part of the recovery efforts.” (Page 26, EPA Region 2 Climate Adaptation Plan 2013
  • Start a major education of the public on Climate Change. How about requiring mainstream media to give the EPA free primetime, or take their freaking licenses away so they cannot use our public airwaves. ‘Cause this ain’t going to do it: “Disseminate factsheets on re-entry to homes, schools, daycare centers, buildings, etc. Address energy efficiency impacts on indoor air quality for homes and schools to avoid maladaptation.” (Page 33, EPA Region 2 Climate Adaptation Plan 2013)
  • Put some teeth into EPA Climate Change Adaption Plan. As for this long term solution “Bring air pollution consequences of transportation systems due to climate change to the attention of state and local partners.” Your ‘partners’ already know, they just haven’t been pushed to change their ways. Also, most efforts will be ad hoc if there isn’t a way to get all local governments onboard: “Coordinate with states and local governments that are piloting and demonstrating use of climate information in research, planning and rebuilding efforts.” In other words, if communities are not “piloting and demonstrating use of…”, which is most of Region2’s communities, what is the EPA going to do about that?
  • As I’ve been working on active transportation issues as chair of the Rochester Sierra Club Transportation Committee for five years, I know this is not going to work: “Increase number of communities that receive information about availability of technical assistance, such as Complete Streets, planning for older populations in communities.” (Page 35, EPA Region 2 Climate Adaptation Plan 2013) The trouble is that NYS’s Complete Streets Law is so vague and easy to get around, it’s useless. Engineers just want to build more expensive highways, not bike lanes, with signs, and educational programs so bicyclists don’t get whacked by the public who don’t even know what painted bike lane symbols are for. ‘Availability of technical assistance’ is not the problem.
  • Lastly, this is an interesting observation: “There are additional actions that EPA has not included in either the short-term or long-term actions, above, because the timing of those additional actions might not be clear or because this document is not seen as the vehicle to drive those actions. In addition to funding and employee resource constraints, these additional actions may require difficult policy or legal decisions before we can implement them.”(Page 36, EPA Region 2 Climate Adaptation Plan 2013) It suggests that the EPA has a good idea of the scale of the actions which are really needed to address and mitigate Climate Change, but realize in this present political and economic climate they can only take these baby steps.

We understand the constraints under which the EPA must adhere to, but the physics of Climate Change is not waiting for our politics to become functional. If this scenario -- Last Hours- awaits us because of the above constraints, well…, Goodbye Tomorrow.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

20 Excuses US public uses to dismiss the urgency of Climate Change

 

CCProblemDespite the urgency exclaimed by scientists around the world Climate Change has languished in a sea of indifference by most of the affluent public since the 1980’s. When Dr. James Hansen, of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. tried to alert the public to the dangers of Climate Change in his 1988 testimony to Congress, he thought that would be that. He, as a climate scientist, would inform the public and they’d get going. That hasn’t happened. Except for a slight lull in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG’s) in the US because of the 2008 Recession, there has been a steady increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) over the world.

Until we recognize the kind of transformative issue Climate Change is we have no chance of actually addressing it. Too many at this point in time think Climate Change is an issue that can be put off, that other problems are more important: or, that it can be solved by environmental groups, a sudden shift to a green economy, or placed on governmental authorities--most of which the public would not support election after election if climate adaption caused their taxes to go up. Climate Change is the perfect storm of human frailties: our dislike of change, our tendency to heed mainstream thinking instead of science, our need for normalcy, and our insatiable desire to be comfortable, free from Nature’s wrath red in tooth and claw.

If Climate Change is such a transformative issue then why are the majority folks in the developed nations not alarmed? True, many are alarmed and acting; others are alarmed but somehow have been rendered impotent. Besides the fabulously rich ideologues and/or those addicted to the large profits from the fossil fuel industries, we can only speculate why the majority of the affluent public avoids this issue. Here’s my short list the US public uses to dismiss the urgency of Climate Change:

1. Our economic system, built upon the fallacy that our survival system is merely an externality, has upended our priorities. It’s like building airplane without a clue about aerodynamics—and expecting it to fly.

2. Ubiquitous propaganda that places our economic health on an even footing with (or supplants) our biological underpinnings. This is so interwoven into our politics, media ads, mainstream environmental reporting, and what’s deemed appropriate talk in polite society that we don’t even notice.

3. Adapting to Climate Change would be too inconvenient, like it is for most of the developing countries who cannot do much about the crisis we have caused.

4. There’s a tendency in human nature to continue on the same path they’re on regardless. It explains why we still love the automobiles even though they are killing over 30 million in this country each year.

5. Present day discomfort at addressing Climate Change is thwarted because we believe we won’t appreciate immediate results in a climatic system already scheduled for decades of warming. If we’re going to do good, we want immediate feedback. Altruism, which many species unwittingly practice, is sacrificing oneself for the survival of the group. (Tough to practice in a ‘Me First’ economy.)

6. Trying to reduce the impact of warming on future generations exposes us to the prisoner’s dilemma, where folks won’t cooperate to solve a common problem even when it’s in their best interest to do so.

7. We have more immediate and important things to take care of and besides it looks like the activists have stepped up to the plate on this one and, by the way, thanks for that.

8. The shift in many environmentalists’ strategy on Climate Change by framing it as a green energy opportunity has placed the burden of success on those groups pandering to an economic system based on endless growth and consumerism. [Note: Naomi Klein’s article: Green groups may be more damaging than climate change deniers]

9. Activists successes sometimes work against themselves: Efforts like those of 350.org to get universities to divest from fossil fuel is a remarkable effort. It is also limited because it only attempts to solve only one aspect of the problem (making the fossil fuel industries the enemy), and allows many in the public to sit back and think this is the entire problem.

10. Shifting baseline syndrome, where we fail to notice change beyond our particular life spans, blinds us to longer-occurring events. Climate Change, though it is warming our atmosphere at an unprecedented rate in human times, is unfolding slower than we are used to noticing in our daily lives. This defect in our ability to observe multi-lifetime-long events was supposed to be one of the reasons why we studied history, so we can follow the implications of our actions beyond our own lifetimes. History has failed us on Climate Change because mostly it has been interested in wars and cultures and violent leaders.

11. Many environmental efforts are evangelical (marked by militant or crusading zeal) in their construct, as this way of getting large groups of people to act en masse on issues historically has worked well. [Note: women’s suffrage.] The problem with this strategy is that the activists get to own the problem and take all the heat for trying to solve everyone’s failures. Though all women and men have benefited from the 19th Amendment, only a relatively few of the entire population actually fought this for this issue.

12. We encourage media that blinds us to the reality of Climate Change by continuing to support their editors, reporters, and corporate owners who pander to our desire for denial. Hence the plethora of mind-numbing minutiae that is now local media and very little about important survival information so we can properly plan. (Why your dog wags its tail should not be headlines.)

13. Some brainy folks think humanity is in our adolescent stage and we’ll outgrow it. Well, some adolescents don’t make it to adulthood.

14. Humans are a part of nature so everything we do is natural and good. The lunacy of this line of reasoning is exposed by mountain top removal that destroys ecologies, streams, and communities’ livelihoods to warm the planet up even faster.

15. Because we are not actually desperate for our next meal (as millions in the world are) we tend to believe that we are living in the best of all possible worlds, but forget it’s not the best for everyone. [Note: see the film The Fever]

16. Alarm on Climate Change is like someone yelling ‘Fire!” in a crowded movie house, but nobody moves because nobody else is moving. Our species tends to look around at each other for appropriate responses to stimuli--mainstream thinking. This might explain why many passersby avoid getting involved in reporting on raping or mugging incidents in a crowded area.

17. Most folks need to feel that their efforts will matter. Making money has magically (despite the morality of what one actually does money for) solved this inherent human motivator. Solving Climate Change doesn’t pay all that well. In fact, some, the Arctic 30, are suffering in a cold Russian prison because they took on the role of protectors of our planet’s refrigerator.

18. We feel trumped by the argument that excoriating fossil fuels makes us hypocrites, as we all use fossil fuels to heat our homes and power our gas guzzlers. Well it’s true and get over it. We didn’t get born in 1491, America. We have to metamorphose the system we have been delivered to a system that is sustainable.

19. Many favoring the ‘wait and see’ approach will enjoy this new report this week from the BBC “Report suggests slowdown in CO2 emissions rise.” It suggests that if we drag our feet long enough some study will come out and stop all the worry. I wouldn’t bet on it.

20. The ‘I just don’t give a damn about Climate Change’ excuse, the mother of all excuses. There aren’t many deniers in the drought-stricken regions of Australia, or waterlogged Bangladesh, or sinking Maldives. [Watch: The Island President.] Only those not experiencing these disasters have the luxury of such an excuse.

None of these excuses will change the physics of Climate Change. They are merely a partial list of the possible excuses that many use to avoid the Climate Change issue. Some of these excuses may or may not offer clues to solutions. Some of these excuses may be the bailiwick of various fields of expertise--engineering, psychology, sociology, political science, and philosophy. But one thing is for sure: none of them are offering solutions on scale that will matter.

A couple of more Hurricane Sandy’s in a row would accomplish what an auditorium full of so-called experts on human motivation cannot do. But the point of addressing Climate Change is to adapt to the warming before we get to the point that we cannot solve them. Figuring out how to get a majority of folks on this planet to do just that should be (but are not) paramount in any strategies to address it.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Rochester, NY entering the Anthropocene with no leadership

 

Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point,” said Scrooge, “answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are they shadows of things that may be, only? (“A Charismas Carol,” Charles Dickens)

CCleadersTrying to predict what our environment will look like in fifty or one hundred years as Climate Change progresses has turned into a sort of cottage industry. [Note: Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, by Mark Lynas and The Weather of the Future: Heat Waves, Extreme Storms, and Other Scenes from a Climate-Changed Planet, by Heidi Cullen] Nevertheless, they are useful thought experiments as they anticipate what changes warming might bring and what we might do to adapt. They also offer up a futuristic strawman, based on many climate studies, from which to think through some of the many long-term consequences of any one of the problems or solutions.

It will get complicated. For example, if you are looking ahead and following only one of the myriad threads of the consequences of a warmer Northeast, you might be expecting a longer and better growing season. (In the last century and half, our growing season has increased by about ten days.) The problem with that particular scenario is that crop pests grow faster in a warmer climate and some studies predict a limit to the carbon bump because high CO2 levels hamper nitrate incorporation by plants. Not to mention, our first reaction to more crop pests will be a dramatic ‘shock and awe’ of pesticide use, and climate studies predict this also.

In the Rochester NY area (Northeast America), we can reasonably expect some or all of these consequences of Climate Change in our region within the next 50 years or so:

...higher temperatures and increased heat waves have the potential to increase fatigue of materials in the water, energy, transportation, and telecommunications sectors; affect drinking water supply; cause a greater frequency of summer heat stress on plants and animals; alter pest populations and habits; affect the distribution of key crops such as apples, grapes, cabbage, and potatoes; cause reductions in dairy milk production; increase energy demand; and lead to more heat-related deaths and declines in air quality. Projected higher average annual precipitation and frequency of heavy precipitation events could also potentially increase the risks of several problems, including flash floods in urban areas and hilly regions; higher pollutant levels in water supplies; inundation of wastewater treatment plants and other vulnerable development in floodplains; saturated coastal lands and wetland habitats; flooded key rail lines, roadways, and transportation hubs; and travel delays. Sea level rise will increase risk of storm surge-related flooding, enhance vulnerability of energy facilities located in coastal areas, and threaten transportation and telecommunications facilities. Across the varied geography of New York State, many individuals, households, communities, and firms are at risk of experiencing climate change impacts. Some will be especially vulnerable to specific impacts due to their location and lack of resources. [Page 3, Report 11-18 Response to Climate Change in New York State (ClimAID)

There’s more:

  • The Great Lakes water will become more acidic, even faster than our oceans. Warmer waters will affect temperature-sensitive fish (like trout which evolved in glacial cold waters), forcing them to move or die. Warmer lake waters cause less ice cover and increase evaporation which in turn lowers lake levels, causes more erosions of shorelines, reduces the cooling waters for nuclear power plants, and changes duck migration patterns. Lower water levels affect Great Lakes shipping and will starve hydroelectric plants of some of their water power.
  • Wildlife will migrate northward to avoid heat. Some can escape up mountainsides where it is cooler, until they get to the top. Of course, it is very probable that most wildlife migration would be stopped by manmade barriers such as roads, canals, and backyard fences.
  • Invasive species, which are by definition opportunists, will probably fill the gaps left by indigenous species. Weeds seem to benefit better from more carbon in the atmosphere than crops.
  • There will be less snowfall and less snow cover, both of which are important to various local industries (skiing and snowmobiling). This means less protective blanketing for plants and animals that traditionally used this shield to weather the cold. The freezing and thawing schedule will be more erratic, making fruit growing more problematic. Also, not much is known about how the loss of snow cover will affect the microbes in our soil that evolved in a calmer climate.
  • There will be more droughts in late summer and more precipitation in the form of rain in late winter that will mean more flooding and more toxic chemicals washing into our streams from unattended Brownfields, muddier planting seasons, more sewer overflows from the prevalence of combined sewer systems in our region which will in turn will put raw sewage into our rivers and lakes.
  • Public Health issues such as Lyme Disease, Dengue Fever, Malaria, West Nile Virus, asthma, heatstroke, and ground-level ozone pollution will get worse (a threat to the healthiest athlete). Also it is possible that new pathogens will arise due to a disturbed ecosystem increasing the likelihood of insect-to-animal-to-human diseases.
  • Migrating birds will find their food not ready or already taken by other critters because the synchronization of the birds’ arrival and their food will be disrupted.
  • The weather will get whacky causing disruptions in the insurance industries that still use mostly historical data, instead of climate modeling, for predicting future costs. Home and property insurance could get prohibitively expensive, and put a tremendous burden on governments.
  • See Likely Changes in our region because of Climate Change.

We can and should prevent at least some of these probable consequences; some we can adapt to; but some, like the extinction of cold water fish (lake trout), are probably going happen--except for continual restocking. Some, if not most, of the consequences are already happening. As of this writing many of our lakes are experiencing Harmful Algae Blooms (HAB). But few in our local media connect the dots with Climate Change, despite information from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [Impacts of Climate Change on the Occurrence of Harmful Algal Blooms May 2013 US Environmental Protection Agency], thus rendering local efforts to prevent this threat to our beaches ad hoc and ultimately futile.

If this list seems overwhelming, there is nothing for it. We have been banished from the Holocene because we failed to realize we were living in an Eden that needed our keen stewardship to keep it sustainable. We now enter the Anthropocene.

And in Rochester, NY, because the mayoral candidates will not show us their Climate Plan, nor will the media press them on this, we will have no leadership in this new age. After all, Climate Change is all about planning. The shadows of things that may be are increasingly looking like they will be.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Living environmentally friendly in a warmer Rochester, NY

 

EVFriendlyThe New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), our environmental authority in New York State, offers several seasonal ideas for living sustainably: Make a Difference “Green Living - Tips and Resources for Making Environmentally Responsible Choices in Your Daily Life | Looking up at the sky through fall foliage on trees.” There are, of course, many places online and off that make suggestions on living more environmentally friendly. Some are merely trying to make a buck on the inclination of many to continue business as usual with a greener flare; while others are very earnest in their attempts to get us all to change course and get on a sustainable path to the future.

The DEC, which runs the voluntary Climate Smart Communities programs, for all their expertise and authority, seems focused on not aggravating anyone with more robust adaptive measures. Make a Difference misses many critical aspects of living green in a warmer world, including even mentioning that our environment is warming up. This oversight is a crucial distinction because without viewing all our environmentally friendly actions through the lens of Climate Change, none of them are going to actually work. It may feel good--recycling, mulching grass cuttings instead of curbing them, installing solar panels, and taking a camping trip (really?)—but unless these actions are part of a world-wide concerted effort to stop greenhouse gases from going into our atmosphere on a massive scale, they just aren’t going to matter much.

Things that will matter are probably a lot more inconvenient than what most Green Living sites suggest. Changing the local media so they reflect the world we actually live in, instead of the world we think we live in, would be a good start. If your information system doesn’t accurately reflect reality, you’re going to think that a tiger is a pussy cat. There are consequences for relying on bad information to plan your life.  Drop your media if they cannot inform you accurately about Climate Change. 

Mainstream Media ‘Balances’ Climate Science With Fossil Fuel Funded Propaganda USA TODAY became the latest mainstream newspaper to incorrectly “balance” the views of the hundreds of scientists behind a major climate report with the Heartland Institute, a fossil-fuel-funded organization that once compared those who accept climate science to the Unabomber. In an op-ed published by the newspaper yesterday, the head of the organization portrayed outright falsehoods as simply “opinion” in order to dismiss the United Nations (U.N.) panel behind the report as a “discredited oracle.”  (October 16, 2013) EcoWatch

Mainstream local media desperately presents a delusional world, a world devoid of objective reporting on the local effects of Climate Change, avoiding their responsibility to the public. The problem is that Climate Change means planning on a long-term schedule much further away than we are used to or comfortable with. Compare the world presented by this report Study: Climate change will significantly impact ocean health by 2100  (October 16, 2013 CBS News) with the local glitz on the Democrat and Chronicle’s new format. Or compare this week-long series--In Warm Water: Fish & the Changing Great Lakes—by Michigan Radio with the incomprehensive barrage of fluff on the Daily Messenger. Really think about how you get information.

Other big stuff we can do locally is demand that our candidates for office discuss their plans to address Climate Change. Stop Fracking in New York State altogether. Bug your elected officials to address Climate Change or get yourself elected. Start reconsidering your interests so they reflect the new reality, a reality in which our climate is changing rapidly and moving quickly to something unsustainable. Invite the DEC’s Smart Communities for a free talk about how our state is actually adapting to Climate Change. Attend or create a public discussion on Climate Change. Stop business as usual.

Climate Change is like no other issue humanity has ever faced so it is very difficult to find a historical example. I find similarities to the 1850’s, with the various states, the US Supreme Court, and the Presidency desperately trying to reconcile two desperate worlds, one where slavery was OK, and the other where slavery was not. These world views were irreconcilable. But many ordinary folks were playing ‘wait and see’ as they are now, waiting for someone or something to show them the way, or maybe just to make it all go away. However, the evil of slavery didn’t go away on its own; it came to a conflagration that changed our country and killed over 600,000 souls.

Climate Change threatens to send human civilization and most of the world’s biota into collapse, beginning with the poorest and the most vulnerable.

Living green in Rochester, or anywhere else, can only happen if all our actions are placed on a scale equal to the problem of Climate Change. How that is all going to happen, and happen fairly, is something we’re going to have to begin working on—quickly.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Why Climate Change means big, really big government

 

CCBigGovtAt the core of those fighting our collective efforts to address and mitigate Climate Change is the fear of Big Government. Big Government means, by those who fear its name, more environmental regulations and more taxes on the so-called “producers”. Big Government means fewer jobs because burdensome regulations kill jobs that are only created by those ambitious individuals who magnanimously trickle some of their profits down to you. Big Government will take away your guns, take away your doctor and all those great health benefits you’re getting—or could get if you got a really good fossil-fuel job. Through regulations such as Fracking moratoriums, Big Government is stealing your absolute right to use your land as you want. Big Government is evil and does no good for society, only harm. And so it goes for those who haven’t really thought this issue through—or have thought it through and are too craven to admit it.

What’s odd about the rage against Big Government is that the very folks who continually rail against more government regulations and taxing are exactly the folks who will insure the hurried necessity for even Bigger Governments. Free market fundamentalism, which treats our environment as an externality (garbage dumps and magical resource provider), forces public monies to develop and maintain a transportation system that allows their industries to function. These publicly supported services, along with supplying water and removing waste, will force Big Government to grow Bigger because Big Business is certainly not going to do it. That would violate their prime objective, which is to only provide profit for their shareholders. Corporations are single-minded in a way that makes a mad dog seem as distracted as a puppy.

Brownfields, insurance for extreme weather events, public health measures to mitigate diseases, more military engagements to confront waster disputes that will come with Climate Change, and a lot more environmental disruptions will all have to be paid for and orchestrated by Big Government. There is no private option to replace the kind of planetary infrastructures needed to keep corporations or the rest of us thriving. Even if they had a desire to do so. Big Business, by maniacally focusing on ‘business as usual’, will lead all of us to Big Government (and probably Big Brother if we’re not careful). No amount of existential rage will stop that. Even if you continually vote out of office those politicians who create more environmental restrictions and up your taxes, you’re going to have to vote them right back in because you’ll be desperate. Your water will go bad from sewage overflows and pesticide pollution. Your roads will deteriorate and your bridges will fall down. You won’t be able to afford any health system, Obamacare or Fat Cat Care.

Planet Earth, 25,000 miles in circumference, is very big but not infinitely so. Free market fundamentalism has appeared to work well because, just as it was failing in Europe, we discovered the New World. The New World (of exploitation) seemed at the time to come with an endless supply of fresh water, lumber, beavers, soil, fresh air, and a ready supply of indentured servants to make it all work. Actually, because free market is a human idea, not accountable to the laws of Nature, it has created a destructive delusion. There has always been a cause and effect relationship between what we take and give to our environment. We just got really infatuated with the absurdity that we could conquer Nature, that is, until we bumped up against pollution and other environmental problems on a planetary scale. Now, with Climate Change we are threatening everyone and every living thing (except some bacteria, I suppose).

There is no private mechanism which addresses the environmental implications of the products we buy, even when used correctly. Stuff has to be transported and those carriers usually burn greenhouse gases (GHG’s). Anything made with paper depletes our forests, which reduces biodiversity and transforms carbon sinks to carbon emitters. Anything made with plastic creates environmental pollution that affects all life on land and sea—and in the air if you’re crazy enough to incinerate this stuff. Removing what little restrictions there are on using our waters for waste removal and our land for trashing cannot be replaced by any market force. Nor can we expect any sudden moral epiphany to sweep humanity from its love affair with unfettered consumerism and growth. It was a crazy idea in the first place to shape human behavior around greed.

Granted, it would be more politically savvy to frame the Climate Change issue as something that wouldn’t invoke the core ‘evil’ of Big Government that many fear the most. It would be more economically savvy to frame Climate Change as something bright with green energy jobs. And it would be more psychosocially savvy to frame Climate Change as something benign and remote, only the worry of those who need help.

Yet, for all the framing of Climate Change, only one thing will address it: quickly bringing down GHG’s in our atmosphere. Big Government is the only mechanism we have to affect that kind of large-scale and immediate change. Oh, I forgot, war accomplishes that too; but that won’t bring GHG’s down. Quite the reverse.