Saturday, January 26, 2013

Environmentalists happy with Obama’s Climate Change mention in Inaugural Address


CCRealIf we as a people don’t accomplish anything else this century, we should at least get over the nonsensical notion that our environmental health falls under the purview of just one political party. Our environment, our life-support system, affects all of us, regardless of one’s faith, economics, or political leanings. The problem of adapting to and mitigating Climate Change is exacerbated by the delusion that only environmentalists care about this issue. I belabor the obvious because of this story and many like it have appeared recently after President Obama mentioned Climate Change in his Second Inaugural Address:

Environmentalists hail Obama climate change focus WASHINGTON (AP) — Environmental groups hailed President Barack Obama’s warning Monday about climate change, but said the president’s words will soon be tested as he decides whether to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast. Obama pledged in his inaugural speech to respond to what he called the threat of climate change, saying, ‘‘Failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.’’ By singling out climate change, Obama indicated a willingness to take on an issue that he acknowledges was often overlooked during his first term. He also was setting up a likely confrontation with congressional Republicans who have opposed legislative efforts to curb global warming. (January 22, 2013) Boston Globe

The world‘s most important leader proclaiming to lead on the most important problem of Climate Change is critical and welcome. Though, it is very late in coming. A new report by GreenPeace, Point of No Return | The massive climate threats we must avoid, explains in detail how 14 major fossil fuel projects around the world will put us on a path of 6°C warming if allowed to continue. You cannot read this report without feeling some sense of urgency, as this report (that admittedly, many deniers will scorn) doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Thousands of climate reports from all over the world, including many Climate Change studies that pertain to our Rochester, NY region are pointing to a dreadful scenario by 2030.

Here in Rochester, on Wednesday February 13, 2013, 7PM at the Little Theatre, the film Comfort Zone will be shown as part of the Greentopia Film Festival. This film brings together the work and expertise of many local people to get the word out on Climate Change in our area. It says: “What does climate change mean in Rochester where it may not seem like an obvious threat? While Upstate New York is not concerned with rising sea levels and many wish its climate was a little warmer, the search for answers to how our region is affected by this global phenomenon and what we can do about it offers no easy answers.”

Also, in Rochester City Newspaper, Cornell University’s Dr. Wolfe’s work on Climate Change was highlighted in “Taking stock of the changing climate.” Dr. Wolfe was one of the lead authors in the Northeast section of the Federal Advisory Committee Draft Climate Assessment Report Released for Public Review, which you can comment on until 5pm ET on April 12th, 2013. Find out more about Dr. Wolfe’s work at Cornell Climate Change and watch the video on his work. BTW: Dr. Wolfe is featured in Comfort Zone.

While the big sea change goes on in the US on Climate Change attitudes, there are a still lot of holdouts. Seriously rich and powerful holdouts:

53 senators urge approval of Keystone XL pipeline WASHINGTON (AP) — More than half the Senate on Wednesday urged quick approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, ramping up pressure on President Barack Obama to move ahead with the project just days after he promised in his inaugural address to respond vigorously to the threat of climate change. A letter signed by 53 senators said Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman's approval of a revised route through his state puts the long-delayed project squarely in the president's hands. "We urge you to choose jobs, economic development and American energy security," the letter said, adding that the pipeline "has gone through the most exhaustive environmental scrutiny of any pipeline" in U.S. history. The $7 billion project would carry oil from Canada to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast. (January 23, 2013) San Francisco Chronicle

Just when you think you’re making progress, a relatively small but powerful few want to wreck the planet for the rest of us. The Keystone XL oil pipeline is one of those 14 projects in Point of No Return that demonstrates how important it is that President Obama not only mentions ‘Climate Change’ (ending Climate Silence) but actually stands up against the fossil fuel industry.

We have no delusions about how difficult it will be for President Obama to stand up against the powerful political forces, funded by the fossil fuel industry, who don’t want their golden goose cooked. Even if Obama stops this dirty pipeline, it won’t be enough. The fossil fuel industry will get annoyed. Their supporters in our government will get annoyed and plow billions to fight back any efforts to solve this world-wide calamity. One of the most persistent problems will be that the public will probably become annoyed at the change required to shift gears and move to renewable energy. The extreme end of the GOP (who have a lot of money in our elections) will say there’s not even a problem, that Climate Change is a hoax, and the public is suffering for nothing. So, everything Obama accomplishes might be undone by installing a political party that panders to the public’s will not to believe. (There will be the rest of the world watching of course, but we in the U.S. tend not to consider their opinion unless they can bring some kind of economic leverage to bear.) If the public doesn’t get the long-term scope of the Climate Change crisis and accept the struggle ahead, we squander many years in hopeless political squabbles.

Tragically a major political party in our country feels beleaguered by Obama’s statement:

We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms. Inaugural Address by President Barack Obama

Obama’s validation of this crisis clashes with the very message that the extreme end of the Republican Party has been desperately trying to peddle. But addressing climate should not be a political issue at all. It is not the public’s fault that such a small powerful group has chosen such an absurd position, a position that hardens the more tenuous it becomes. Political fighting, and really any fighting at all, over addressing climate change is only going to slow down our collective efforts to address it. Time is critical. Negotiating on this issue is not possible, Nature doesn’t make deals. You either get greenhouse gases down or you warm up our atmosphere even more.

Ultimately, taking a position against addressing Climate Change is absurd, absurd in the way that taking a dislike to breathing oxygen is absurd. It is morally wrong for a political party to our hamper collective attempts to address Climate Change in the way it was morally reprehensible for a political party decades ago to deny people of color equality before the law. Climate Change is upon us, and we don’t have the luxury of bickering over this anymore. Precious time has been lost, and as a result, we’ll have to adapt to a certain amount of warming regardless of what we do. (Unless, of course, we can invent a great big machine that will suck two and a half centuries of anthropogenic carbon dioxide out of our atmosphere. Don’t count on it.)

Obama has now taken charge on Climate Change and many of us will back him up: Join the #ForwardOnClimate Rally On 2/17! Let Rev.Yearwood have the last word: Forward on Climate Rally Feb. 17th! If you live in or around Rochester, NY Get on the Bus to Washington, DC.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Planning for Climate Change in Rochester, NY


PlanningThinking about how we are going to plan for a warmer planet on the local level, as I often do, I recently attended a meeting on sustainably for our region. I especially liked the portion of the meeting that was spent on revisiting our region’s unique environmental history suggesting that sustainable efforts should include measures that preserve and protect our local character—while building for the future. This is great because we here in Rochester have an interesting environmental history. 20,000 years ago a mile of ice covered the entire region. Back then it was 6° Celsius cooler than it was when our soldiers went off to fight the Civil War. Now, .8°C later, we are headed toward another 6° C, except this time in the other direction and not in 20,000 years but in about two hundred and fifty.

It became obvious after some time at the meeting that while local groups are comfortable mentioning plans that decrease greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, they are very uncomfortable about mentioning Climate Change. This is odd because, according to recent polling, US citizens are more inclined to believe in Climate Change than ever before. At the meeting, when I brought up Climate Change and some of the local effects of Climate Change, many seemed uncomfortable. Perhaps the organizers thought I was sidetracking the program, that I had started a disagreement on the validly of climate science. Which did happen, I’ll admit.

But here’s the thing that puzzles me. How can we plan for a sustainable future without talking about Climate Change? Sure, there are still those who deny the science behind anthropogenic Climate Change. But does that mean a community can actually shape our future by continuing to appease this dwindling, out-of-sync group, who for some reason or another don’t want to believe what a majority of scientist around the world conclude is our fate?

If your future planning doesn’t include Climate Change, then you are planning for a future on another planet. Though well intentioned, what many planners are doing by avoiding Climate Change is creating a delusional process where we plan for the future by a consensus about the science, even though it requires that we move around the hard choices that the proper preparations demand. Perhaps, it is a compulsory Purgatory where those in a state of grace on Climate Change think they must spend an eternity oscillating between appeasing denialists and actually addressing all the issues that will actually make a difference.

Using a phrase like ‘reducing greenhouse gases’ as codeword for that which cannot be said in polite society doesn’t really address the problem we are facing. When you say ‘Climate Change’ instead of ‘reducing greenhouse gases’ you are saying that a myriad of deeply complex issues have to be addressed all at the same time. In our region, where we already have longer growing seasons, heavier precipitation (though less snow fall and snow pack), higher highs in summer, and warmer winter temperatures, more flooding along coastlines, and less precipitation towards the end of summer, all of these have to be kept in mind as everyone plans. Issues involving energy, public health, transportation, telecommunications, water quality, land preservation, equality, and really anything else in the future are going to be affected by Climate Change. There are, if nothing else, insurance issues that will have to be addressed as regions not affected before will be inundated by more extreme weather and flooding—in an industry that uses “historical data” to plan for the future.

Does it all sound bewildering, complex, contentious, and perhaps a little too intrusive in our usual planning procedures? It is. But we cannot give into false models of our future if they are going to leave us vulnerable—just because it’s easier and doesn’t put-off some folks. If you drop your car keys at night in a parking lot, you don’t go to another parking lot to find them just because the other lot has more light.

One of the main problems with Climate Change is that so many who are trying to protect and preserve our local environment are trying to do so without bringing up the specter of Climate Change. That strategy only increases the public’s disinclination to believe it at all. Climate Silence creates a positive feedback loop for denial. The public gets their doubts validated by their leaders because their leaders fail to lead.

I would argue that, rather than worry that Climate Change might sidetrack our plans for the future, we should demand that Climate Change become a guiding principle in our planning. Too often government and non-government groups are trying to solve sustainability issues without mentioning Climate Change—even though one of the main goals of official climate studies is to educate the public and inform them of the very expensive and very inconvenient actions that are needed. There’s no way around it, actions like updating and making our transportation, telecommunications, public health, and water infrastructure robust enough in a time when more extreme weather and heat occurs more often will be very expensive and require public support—both financial and political.

Here is the delusion before us: Most of the recommendations by Climate studies will never see the light of day because the public has not been properly informed or prepared. The worst emissions scenarios in climate studies are going to become reality unless a dramatic change occurs. All climate studies fail to address how they intend to get the public to adopt the kind of massive changes that are absolutely needed for the less emission scenarios to come about. A few talks where only a few attend won’t do. Something on the order of a Pearl Harbor moment is required.

This is an important time in our history, a bottleneck of sorts, where we’ll either bring down our greenhouse gas emissions in a short amount of time or we won’t. This most recent draft by the federal government on Climate Change gives you a sense of the gravity and urgency facing future planning:

Federal Advisory Committee Draft Climate Assessment Report Released for Public Review A 60-person Federal Advisory Committee (The "National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee" or NCADAC) has overseen the development of this draft climate report. The NCADAC, whose members are available here (and in the report), was established under the Department of Commerce in December 2010 and is supported through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It is a federal advisory committee established as per the Federal Advisory Committee Act of 1972. The Committee serves to oversee the activities of the National Climate Assessment. Its members are diverse in background, expertise, geography and sector of employment. A formal record of the committee can be found at the NOAA NCADAC website. The NCADAC has engaged more than 240 authors in the creation of the report. The authors are acknowledged at the beginning of the chapters they co-authored. Following extensive review by the National Academies of Sciences and by the public, this report will be revised by the NCADAC and, after additional review, will then be submitted to the Federal Government for consideration in the Third National Climate Assessment (NCA) Report.  For more information on the NCA process and background, previous assessments and other NCA information, please explore the NCA web-pages. The NCA is being conducted under the auspices of the Global Change Research Act of 1990 and is being organized and administered by the Global Change Research Program. To simply access and read the draft report, please download the chapters below.  (January 2013)U.S. Global Change Research Program

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Sky is falling on Fracking New York State


SkyFallingMany dismiss alarmist claims by activists against Fracking New York State that instead of talking science the activists cry “THE SKY IS FALLING!” (See Chicken Little.) Fractivists (or anti-Fracking folks) get on the media and say things like, ‘Fracking will ruin our state’s water!’, or ‘Fracking will make Climate Change worse!’, or ‘Fracking will jeopardize the health of millions!’ Then, the pro-Frackers characterize the Fractivists as a bunch of luddites, fearful of change and unable to back up their unwarranted fears with scientific proof. Which is ironic when you think about it -- renewable energy such as wind and solar are cutting-edge technology, while Fracking for more fossil fuel to burn is so 125,000 years ago (when early man learned to control fire).

But what if the sky is actually falling? What if the allegations by the anti-Frack New York State folks have a high probability of being accurate? Wouldn’t you want to rule those claims out before going headlong into something as dangerous and unnecessary as drilling for natural gas?

Only a few decades ago, activists tried to warn the public that cigarettes were bad for your health. That second-hand smoking was bad for folks who didn’t even smoke. That the overuse of DDT for insect control was harming wildlife. That our rivers were so polluted that they were catching on fire. That the lead additive in gasoline was causing lead poisoning in our children. That building a community over a chemical dump site at Love Canal was making people sick. That the ozone in the troposphere that blocked dangerous radiation was being destroyed by manmade chlorofluorocarbons.

Not only have all these turned out to be true, despite dismissals by deniers, and eventually backed up by hard science, they remain persistent problems to this day. Just take lead poisoning for example, where “New research finds Pb [lead] poisoning is the hidden villain behind violent crime, lower IQs, and even the ADHD epidemic...” (America's Real Criminal Element: Lead) What if folks had heeded the alarms sooner rather than later on these issues?

Those against Fracking have accumulated a lot scientific evidence that this drilling process is cause for concern:

There’s more, but cherry-picking science studies to fit one’s agenda is not the point. Gaining a sense of priorities in a time of Climate Change is the point. The role of Climate Change is critical in the argument about Fracking. But if the media treats Climate Change as if it’s still an unlikely wildcard, as it did with the dangers of cigarette smoking, lead poisoning and the like, then the public gives equal value to any science study that comes along.

However, if Fracking does emit up to 9% of methane (many times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide) in the drilling process, then this study trumps most other studies—if you think rendering our environment uninhabitable as one of the top things that should concerned you.

I know, many in the US (not so much elsewhere) don’t believe in Climate Change and even if they do they don’t think a 6° Celsius rise in greenhouse gases by the end of this century is a big deal. But you have to remember that since the Ice Ages it took 10,000 years for the temperature to rise 6°C, allowing many plants and animals enough time to adapt to all that.

If you argue, as Governor Cuomo does, that the Fracking decision should be based on the science, then what ‘science’ are you going to use? The science that the Fracking proponents use or the science that the anti-Frackers use? Are you going base your science on the risks of water contamination by Fracking even though industry won’t divulge the chemicals involved? Are you going to mandate baseline water testing before Fracking begins so you can tell if a Fracking chemical is the cause? Do we want to know the answer to that question when not knowing will so effectively protect the gas industry from law suits?

There is one Science (it’s physics all the way down) and there are many scientific studies. If you want to prove or disprove something, anything really, you can do a scientific study. And, if you have designed the study correctly with a healthy dose of humility and a great concern for life, you might come up with something useful. However, what should guide your decisions is a sense of priorities, not just science studies. Science won’t tell you what you should do. Science won’t tell you if you should shoot someone or not; it’ll just tell you whether the gun will go off.

This is the question: Should you even consider using fossil fuels as an energy option in the future if there’s a good (scientific) chance that by doing so you will accelerate warming? Science, however useful, won’t tell you if a sustainable future is a good thing or not. That is a judgment call.

So, when do you sound the alarm? After you have lifted the moratorium on Fracking in New York State and the first twenty or thirty complaints about water contamination comes to the New York State Department of Conservation’s door? Or, do we wait and see if by the end of this century we have learned enough to understand the consequences of Fracking? The sky is falling for Climate Change and as a matter of scientific fact it is already warming things up.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Protecting New York State’s environment against Fracking

MustFrackWhy any state would assign their environmental protection agency (DEC in New York) with the task of enabling gas drilling companies to wreak havoc on their environment at all is very curious. The DEC allowing the Fracking companies to frame the Revised Draft SGEIS as solely an engineering process, instead of an overall environmental issue, is like bringing the fox in to formulate henhouse security.
If I were King of the World (don’t worry, a very unlikely prospect indeed), I would conserve, improve and protect New York's natural resources and environment by challenging any industry, especially a fossil fuel industry. I’d make them prove to me that any process or chemicals they might use that might affect our environment be safe for the public and the environment in a world that is warming. But alas, I’m not the king, just an ordinary citizen.
This Fracking debacle in New York State reached a higher level of absurdity this week when someone revealed the inner thoughts of state officials on the Fracking process’s potential health and safety to the media and all hell broke loose—which all sounds pretty emotional (and not science) to me.
Is hydrofracking safe with DEC? A year-old state report leaked to the New York Times and Gannett’s Albany bureau says that hydraulic gas drilling can be done safely if the state Department of Environmental Conservation stays on top of the regulations. Never has there been an environmental issue in New York that has garnered so much emotion and attention than hydrofracking. A record-breaking 80,000 comments were sent to the DEC when it released its first review of the controversial process of extracting natural gas deep underground with sand, massive amounts of water and chemicals. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has long delayed a decision on hydrofracking in the state, saying he will rely on science —not emotion. This is the same governor who directed a “white paper” on air pollution at the Peace Bridge that local academics were highly critical of for its lack of science. (January 3, 2013) Investigative Post
The problem of pushing Fracking on New York State is that you cannot contain the news from other places that Fracking is a really bad way to take greenhouse gases from the ground, which of course we shouldn’t be doing in a time of Climate Change anyway.  Fracking wells could be leaking 9% of gas, says recent research
January 11th is now the latest drop-dead date to make public comment on the health and safety aspects of the regulations. But expressing your general concerns about the state of our environmental health, where our water quality is already lousy and thousands of Brownfields aren’t being cleaned up, isn’t on the plate:
The Department of Environmental Conservation is accepting comments on its revised proposal to amend 6 NYCRR Parts 52, 190, 550-556 and Subpart 750-1, and to add Part 560 and Subpart 750-3, to address high-volume hydraulic fracturing. New York State High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing Comments NYS DEC.
If you don’t refer to a specific section of Revised Draft SGEIS and miraculously ‘catch’ the DEC or the Fracking industry on some engineering technicality, you are not going to be heard at all. It’s as if you cannot make a complaint about speeding cars in your neighborhood unless you know how to assemble a car. My brain aches just thinking about what might go wrong drilling miles underground, then horizontally for more fossil fuels. And you don’t have to be an engineer to be aware of the Fracking problems folks in other areas are confronting.

All this Fracking furry is going on while a report was released that stated “According to a new analysis of thousands of U.S. women of child bearing age, most exceeded the median blood level for two or more environmental pollutants - lead, mercury, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) - that are known to harm brain development of fetuses and infants..” And we are about to allow an industry to drill for our natural resources with chemicals they won’t divulge. All sound too much to absorb? Why not attend a local Letter Writing Party and learn how to fill out that Fracking comment before it’s too late?