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

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