Those of us who have hoped for a magical, Big Bang, or global agreement on Climate Change, may feel disappointed at Christiana Figueres’s (Executive Secretary, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) conclusion that we cannot have one. Certainly, the past attempts at Climate Change negotiations among the world powers have been dismal. So much so that we’re happy countries are still talking to each other about Climate Change at all—regardless of what they say. Progress on Climate Change, according to Figueres, will be ‘incremental.’ (From Global Meltdown: Christiana Figueres, Climate One.)
Incremental progress, a rate comfortable to nations around the world, sounds comforting, until you realize the intractability of this issue. That once-in-a-thousand-year heat wave that hit France in 2003 and killed 15,000 people is predicted by climate models to occur every other year by the 2040’s. (Read “The Weather of the Future: Heat Waves, Extreme Storms, and Other Scenes from a Climate-Changed Planet” by Heidi Cullen.) Our planet is also reaching a historic baseline soon, an ominous number that must come down. As of this writing (4/26/2013), CO2 concentration is a whopping 398.36 ppm. In 1850’s (and thousands of years before that) it was 280ppm. “So the hard reality is that we could be looking at 530 ppm by 2050 and a lot more ...” (Six degrees of separation for the planet). You can watch this figure rise on The Keeling Curve, a daily record of atmospheric carbon dioxide from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.
It doesn’t sound like our environment is going to wait until we find some magical way of turning down our carbon-induced thermostat. Climate modeling, which is getting pretty accurate, is instead revealing a world predicted to get very warm. Those bottom-up strategies, where we do things only locally to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a business-as usual-kind-of-way aren’t really going to work. Yet, we keep thinking they will.
I’ll admit that many of our attempts to clean up our air and make our transportation more environmentally and even pedestrian-friendly have come a long way. But they will not solve the problem at hand. They are not going to help us adapt to a very warm future (because of the lag time, where much of the heat we are generating now is getting absorbed by the oceans—for awhile anyway) or stop greenhouse gases from increasing.
There are things we should be doing locally, even incrementally, to prepare for Climate Change, but they’ll remain ad hoc and delusionary unless they are tied strongly to world-wide Climate negotiations.
One of the things we should be doing in New York State to prepare and adapt to Climate Change is cleanup those Brownfields, which will help make our environment more resilient and robust in a time of extreme stress. But we have a long way to go, as we won’t even do that without getting nagged by the NYS Comptroller: DiNapoli: State's Brownfield Cleanup Program Needs To Reach More Sites; Be More Cost-Effective
The just-released Genesee Transportation Council (GTC) DRAFT 2014-2017 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) Update Project List mentions a lot about road maintenance but not in the context of Climate Change, even though we know Transportation plays a critical role in how we will adapt to and mitigate Climate Change. Neither does the City of Rochester’s Complete Streets Policy—though both measures are well-intentioned and bottom up. And, the New York State Department of Environment Conservation just launched the Watchable Wildlife Program, where you can go places and see our vanishing wildlife, but nary a word about how all those wonderful creatures that designed and maintained our environment for thousands of years are going to be protected from Climate Change.
Incremental means doing things in increments towards a goal. If you don’t mention the goal, adapting and mitigating Climate Change, you aren’t being incremental, you’re dissembling.
Though Climate Change seems very fuzzy to many, it’s not so phantasmagoric to the experts. The IPCC - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a collection of climate scientist from around the world, is coming out with the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) on Climate Change this year and next. My guess is the reports won’t show that we have magically solved Climate Change by the lack of international cooperation, local solutions that avoid connecting the dots to Climate Change, or simply denying it altogether. If this all seems complicated and depressing to you, remember once we allow our carbon dioxide parts-per-million in our atmosphere to get to 530ppm, all our worldly problems will dissolve into just one. Nothing else will matter.