Saturday, March 23, 2013

New York State faces critical lack of environmental data

 

EVDataAs Governor Cuomo gets pummeled by gun control and Fracking issues, the media downplays a recent major accomplishment. It is "open.ny.gov,” a state-sponsored web site that provides all kinds of raw data pertaining to New York State for free, in various formats, including apps. It may not sound like much to you, but that’s due to our media’s bizarre ability to place emphasis on news in the reverse order of its importance. Considering the present media crisis, you’d think they’d make a bid deal of it. Think of it, the media has just been given a goose-laying pile of golden information that means they can spend even less time and money on investigative reporting.

I know, if it doesn’t bleed, it doesn’t lead. So we’ll go straight to the primary source, the governor’s press release:

Governor Cuomo Launches Open.NY.Gov Providing Public Unprecedented User-Friendly Access to Federal, State and Local Data Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today launched "open.ny.gov," a new and comprehensive state data transparency website that provides - for the first time - user-friendly, one-stop access to data from New York State agencies, localities, and the federal government. The website, featuring economic development, health, recreation, and public services information, was unveiled today during Sunshine Week, a nationwide initiative designed to raise awareness about the importance of open government. "Open.ny.gov creates unprecedented transparency across all levels of government and gives the people user-friendly access to vast quantities of information on our State," Governor Cuomo said. "This new website will dramatically increase public access to one of our most valuable assets - data. As it expands and evolves over time, Open.ny.gov will spark innovation, improve efficiency, promote accountability, and bring the people back into government." Albany, NY (March 11, 2013) Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

However, Rochester and most communities around the state and the country have a critical shortage of environmental information (raw data) available to the public. In order to adapt to and mitigate the challenges we face by Climate Change, we need to know as much as we can about what’s actually going on in our environment--not what the press, government, industry, or private groups want us to think. Grant writers, both private and public, need data to buttress their efforts to address environmental health degradation, like lead poisoning. Planners for our water infrastructure need to know if our extreme rainfall events have increased, threatening overflows in our present combined sewer systems. Our health agencies need to know if our summer temperatures are increasing so they can properly protect the public from overheating and dangerous warmth-related diseases like malaria, Lyme disease, and West Nile Virus.

To properly plan for our warming future, we need to know the exact state of our environment, including all the niggling little details. We also need to know Climate Change indicators. Here are samples of the information the governor’s new data collection might contain: By how many days has the growing season in our region lengthened in the last century? How much has ice cover diminished (think evaporation and lower water levels) on the Great Lakes in the last thirty years? What manmade chemicals and heavy metals are in our lakes, rivers, and streams? How often are our beaches closed and why? How many of what kind of fish are being restocked in what bodies of water and how often? How many coyotes are there in New York or around Rochester? How many (domestic and feral) cats are roaming around killing how many of what kind of birds? How many wind turbines, cars, glass buildings, and property disruptions are killing birds? What birds do we see earlier each spring? What are our bird wintering ranges? How many wells fail? How many Climate Change studies pertain to our area—including the one Cuomo yanked? What percent of the land around public bodies of water are privately owned? What businesses are reporting toxins and what are the toxins they are reporting? How many cars, bikes, and pedestrians accidents are there in our area? How many commute by bike? How many folks opt for green alternatives to pesticides and herbicides—like Integrated Pest Management Control? How many rabies incidents are there in our region, carried by what animals? Where are all the old dumps in our region and what are in them? Are these old dumps leaching heavy metals into our water and soils and if so what metals and in what concentrations? What kind of litter is blowing around in our environment and in what amounts? What manmade chemicals are in our land, water, air, and in our bodies, and in what amounts? How many high ozone days do we have each summer? How many unused phone books are lying on folk’s porches? Heat-related deaths? Streamflow? What is our air quality? What is our county’s recycling rate? Is that going up or down and how does it compare with state figures? How many days over 90 degrees are there in our region and how many nights over 85 degrees? What is the plastics concentration in Lake Ontario? How many private and public facilities use solar power, wind power, or geothermal? What are all the pharmaceuticals in Lake Ontario and which ones get filtered out by our wastewater treatment plants? How often does local news connect the dots on climate change? How many teachers teach climate change in local high schools? How many Brownfields are there in our region and how many need to be cleaned up? What are our flora’s leaf and bloom rates? How many businesses build on cleaned-up Brownfields? How much of our dirt (soil) is covered by pavement, highways, buildings, parking lots, and driveways? I could go on.

Some of this information already resides on open.ny.gov, like the rise of farmers markets in New York State in the past decade, wind energy project numbers and locations, and data on NYS population shifts. But it’s not enough; not even close. Our environment is a pretty complex place and we’ve already challenged it a lot from pollution and industrialization over the last couple of centuries. Climate Change is coming on quickly. We need to know all we can to plan for Climate Change because, like a hospital expecting a deluge of patients from a massive car pile-up, everything must be stocked up and ready as possible for what’s coming.

Raw data about what’s going in all aspects of our environment is invaluable because our environment no longer runs on its own. We’ve seriously mucked with the biological machinery. We are the top predators, the main water users, the largest land disturbers, the biggest greenhouse gas emitters, the biggest energy and food gobblers, and the most numerous of all the animal species larger than a rat.

Some will whine that the state, private industries or our universities don’t have money or the bandwidth to gather this info. I’d drop that suicidal line of reasoning and ditch a lot of other projects and gather this environmental information. Train and pay citizen scientists. Offer students to volunteer to gather and compile this data and then write them up a great recommendation. Make this data collection a tax subsidy, like the billions we give away to the fossil fuel industry each year. You can help. Go to "open.ny.gov” and suggest some datasets. Then, suggest that your communities use this information and get going on adapting to Climate Change.

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