Sunday, July 28, 2013

Rochesterians love Kodak, but Kodak must clean up their mess


LIfeSupportSystemOdds are if you have lived in the Rochester, NY area for awhile, you or someone you know has worked for Kodak. It was for a time the largest employer in Rochester and in New York State. They treated their employees well and treated their community in such a style that endeared many to them, even as the former photo giant enters bankruptcy. As for how Kodak treated our environment over the years, it’s a different story. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is challenging Kodak Eastman Business Park’s decision to establish a 49 million dollar trust, and then wash its hands of environmental liability. (EPA objects to Kodak's environmental plan , July 17, 2013 Innovation Trail

Considering Kodak’s past environmental record, there’s cause for concern (to put it mildly) that 49 million dollars is not sufficient to cover all future environmental concerns over at Kodak Park. Here is just one of many past stories on allegations of pollution (see also past Rochester-area Brownfield news):

Kodak Park tainted past hard to bury - Some claim state oversight isn't stringent enough — Three more Kodak Park buildings will be imploded next month, part of a revitalization program in which 100 structures will have been demolished at the vast manufacturing complex by year's end. But long after the buildings are leveled and rubble is cleared, the impact of decades of pollution will persist. Despite hundreds of millions of dollars in spending, and about $65 million more to come, large swaths of Kodak Park remain contaminated, their soil and groundwater tainted by countless chemical leaks and spills over the years. (August 26, 2007) Democrat & Chronicle

And there is reason to be concerned that the public will get stuck with costs over $49 million once the Kodak trust runs out:

Possible Deal To Resolve Differences Over Kodak Cleanup Plan There may be a deal in the works to resolve differences among the agencies involved in a cleanup fund for the Eastman Business Park. According to Senator Chuck Schumer's office, there is a framework now for resolving differences that cropped up recently over the plan by Kodak to set aside $49 million in a fund that could be used for any future cleanup needed at the Eastman Business Park, formerly known as Kodak Park. (7/26/2013,WXXI News)

A deal? Is the EPA being told to back off on making Kodak liable for environmental damage? Why otherwise would a deal need to be made? Is the EPA in the habit of making such a priori deals with polluters? Where would the health of the Hudson River be today if such a deal was made with GE? If Kodak is confident that $49 million will cover future cleanup, why doesn’t Kodak come up with a 500 million dollar trust ‘knowing’ that the amount will never go over $49 million? At the end of the day, any plan that encourages the EPA to back off Kodak for the full amount to clean up alleged environmental damage and potentially leave ‘we the people’ to foot the bill for decades of possible environmental damage is not really a good deal at all. Except of course for Kodak.

Movements are afoot to encourage the EPA to stick to its guns and make sure Kodak pays, not the public:

The governor has a plan to clean up this incredibly contaminated site and is asking Kodak to foot the bill for a $49 million Environmental Trust Fund. But is that enough to clean up this massive toxic contamination and if it’s not, who will pay for the rest of the cleanup costs? We, and many other environmental and social justice organizations, need to express our opposition to the proposed $49 million Kodak environmental liability plan, which significantly underestimates the amount of funding necessary to comprehensively remediate highly complex contaminated sources, soil, buildings, groundwater and sediment contamination at Kodak Park and the Genesee River. The proposed Kodak settlement would require both the state and federal environmental agencies to waive their rights to sue the company in the future for environmental problems. New York state seems to be willing to sign off on this deal but the EPA is wisely objecting to this provision. (Web Essay: This Kodak Moment needs to be challenged, 7/25/2013, Democrat and Chronicle)

Speaking of the Genesee River and pollution, there is presently a program by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) “to enable citizen scientists to collect biological data for assessment of water quality”. It would be sensible to find out the total extent of pollution around Rochester before we write off any corporation’s environmental liability:

DEC Looking for Volunteers for Stream and River Monitoring DEC is actively recruiting citizen scientists to collect biological samples from streams and rivers in the Genesee, Delaware, Hudson, and Mohawk River watersheds as part of the Wadeable Assessments by Volunteer Evaluators (WAVE) project to assess water quality. (WAVE, July 24, 2013) NYS DEC

Many businesses today realize that it doesn’t pay to pollute with the government and environmentalists looking over their shoulder. The world of business is changing from one where businesses could pollute and walk away from the resulting damage to one where they cannot. Read: Good to Green: Managing Business Risks and Opportunities in the Age of Environmental Awareness. I’m sure it will eventually become the norm to operate a corporation without contaminating our environment and jeopardizing the public’s health, but not until we rid ourselves of the absurdity that environmental regulations are ‘too burdensome’ on the business community. The real burden is trying to clean up old industrial sites on the backs of tax payers.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

New meme for 21st Century: Linking extreme events to Climate Change


CCMemesThe thought spreading from one mind to another around the world is that every form of extreme weather—wildfires, droughts, heat waves, floods, and melting glaciers—could be a sign of Climate Change. While climate science is not precise enough yet to link specific storms or heat waves with Climate Change, there’s enough information to say that it is more probable that these extreme weather events are connected with anthropogenic warming of our planet’s atmosphere.  And while this sort of wildfire meme probably drives deniers crazy, there is no getting around it: Every major twist in the weather propagates a flurry of articles on whether the event is due to warming or not.

Like “…tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches…” (Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene) the Climate Change meme is now spreading in the public’s mind, hopefully self-replicating to a point where we actually do something on a scale that will matter to mitigate and adapt to Climate Change.  

Freedom, the idea that each individual has the right to be treated equally in the eyes of the law, is another such a meme, one that took centuries to grow and is still locked in the minds of all cultures, especially since the rise of the Internet. But with Climate Change we don’t have centuries to grow and nurture our responsibility to adapt to and mitigate planetary Climate Change. We are living in a time where the window of opportunity to save future generations from extreme climactic havoc is quickly closing.

If the dire consequences of Climate Change on agriculture, ecosystems, forests, transportation, coasts, energy, human health, society, and water resources don’t galvanize us into action, perhaps the lives of those heroes who risk their lives to save the homes of those who build in risky areas will.

Wildfires Will Worsen, And Further Strain The Forest Service The deaths of 19 firefighters near Yarnell, Ariz., this summer have focused a lot of attention on just how bad wildfire has become in the West. And research predicts the situation is going to get worse. Over the past decade, the region has seen some of the worst fire seasons on record. In addition to lives lost, the fires have cost billions in terms of lost property and in taxpayer money spent fighting the blazes. Ray Rasker, an economist who lives in the fire country of southwestern Montana, tracks fire records the way other economists study business cycles or commodity prices. He's seen a disturbing trend. (July 19, 2013) NPR

‘Will’ is the operative word in the above story. It’s code for Climate Change. But here’s the message you need to take home. At some point, probably not very far from now, insurance companies and our government are going to have to ‘do something’ about folks building and maintaining residences in high risk wildfire or coastal flooding areas. It’s not about our slide into becoming a nanny state; it’s about our inability to compensate for losses in increasingly high risk regions as Climate Change ramps up those risks. (A couple of governors say our government has already passed the point where we can pay for large disasters: Climate and Politics.) It is also about protecting our best and most courageous public servants who must save homes built in what are now danger zones.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we addressed this issue now before insurance companies and our government went broke over this Climate Change financial threat, while we still have the time and ability to plan for disasters? Instead of just reacting to them like a species too preoccupied with other things to save itself?


It has been suggested that psychology might help us figure out how we can motivate ourselves to address Climate Change in a timely matter. Perhaps, though I’m not convinced.

Here’s an example of our inability to get large numbers of folks to act altruistically for all in a kind of traffic ‘tragedy of the commons’. It goes like this: The reason large backups occur at a highway construction a site is because too many motorists try to stay in the lane that is closing until they are ‘forced’ into the slower line, thus causing a bottleneck that could be avoided if everyone moved into the correct lane at the first practical moment. So, how would a psychologist design highway signage so all motorists would slow down and begin changing lanes at the first opportunity instead of the last? If the experiment worked, everyone would have to slow down some, but there overall traffic flow would be much faster.

I’d like to see this experiment carried off successfully, but I don’t think anyone can do it. Motorists would just ignore the signs, just like most of us are ignoring the signs of Climate Change. My thought is, If psychologists cannot get folks to act together to stop something as small as unnecessary traffic jams, because there will always be many who’ll try and game the system, how in the world can they help humanity get together to solve something as thoroughly overwhelming as Climate Change?

My guess is that we don’t need psychology to solve Climate Change; we need a form of mind surgery where we can operate on seven billion folks at once and get their minds adjusted to the new reality. Just saying…

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Best transportation option in Rochester moves along

BikeCCEarlier this week my wife and I attended an adult bicycle training course. Seeking to become more comfortable riding in traffic, we wanted to take our biking prowess to the next level. Sadly, we were the only students there. But the trainers, who outnumbered us, cheerfully instructed us on NYS bicycling laws, proper road riding techniques, and basic bicycle maintenance. We learned how to make left-hand turns correctly, that carrying a bike on a vehicle to bike on a nearby trail is kind of fuelish, what equipment is necessary to bike in the streets, what the 3’ rule is and how to maintain that as you bicycle in traffic, and a whole lot more that we hadn’t even thought of. The bike course Roc City AdultChallege (RCAD) helped us even though we thought we didn’t need a lot of help.

Some clearly do. Some adults who bike through the city of Rochester do so with an amazing grace, snaking through traffic and traffic lights, weaving off the sidewalks, into and out of parking lots, private property, and leaving drivers clueless as to where they are or where they are going. This kind of bicycling challenges our city’s karma as a bicycle friendly community, where we transition from a transportation system that just caters to gas guzzlers to a complete streets model that invites all and begins to solve Climate Change. Because transportation accounts for 28% of greenhouse gas emissions, and its infrastructure consumes a large part of our taxes, it matters that every community, including Rochester, get moving on that.

Everything around us (especially ads on TV) seems to validate the prevailing zeitgeist that fossil-fuel driven vehicles, laden with more and more wickedly distracting gadgets, are and will be the norm—except for the trajectory of Climate Change. Every day there are signs that Climate Change is affecting our region. An Increase in heavy rainfall, including a torrential rainfall in Toronto this week that spewed raw sewage into their streets and into Lake Ontario, is just what the climate studies predicted. West of us in Lockport, the specter of toxic contamination bubbling up and out of over-laden streams threatens to contaminate properties, so much so that these folks may have to leave. As Climate Change ramps up, the toxins we dumped into our ground and water over the years will begin to pollute more areas as more flooding overflows the boundaries where we thought that nasty stuff would stay.

Active transportation (walking and bicycling) could be an important component in our transition to a more viable way to get around during this time of warming. Unlike Fracking (which some view as a transition fuel), active transportation will get you around without putting more greenhouse gases into our atmosphere at a very low cost, and at only a moderate inconvenience level. And while Fracking comes in at an almost invisible level of inconvenience (most folks don’t care where the energy comes from when they flick the switch), as a transitional fuel it will still warm up the planet and comes at an incredible cost to our water quality and transportation infrastructure. Moreover, economies focused on increasing Fracking will inadvertently turn funds away from renewable energy. How you transition matters.

In the late 1800’s horses and their effluent almost overwhelmed New York City. Miraculously (it seemed) those horses were quickly replaced by the automobile. But now cars and truck are filling the crowded city streets. Their effluent, green house gases, are going into our atmosphere which was once thought to be limitless. A quick fix is needed. It may come in such initiatives as Mayor Bloomberg’s bicycle programs.

I’m sure there are those who think the little bit that bicycling might offer as transportation option is hardly worth the bother. But consider the military’s view of renewable energy. Admittedly, a solar panel cannot yet power a fully equipped armored tank, but every increase in renewable energy use confers a benefit. “Apart from cost, the energy dependence of the armed forces has an impact on operational effectiveness…” NATO Armed Forces Embrace Renewable Energy (7/11/2013 ENS)
So, while it is critical that our kids get proper bicycle training by experts [you can get them signed up at this program: Bike Rodeos Educate Kids on Safety and Road Rules] to keep them safe while they bike, we adults need training to get with the traffic flow in Rochester. If we do that we can tamp down Climate Change with a very healthy and inexpensive transportation option.

But not if only my wife and I show up at the training classes. It’s not too late to sign up.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

The one point about Climate Change that all would agree


CCStudiesThere is but one point on the very contentious but still over-ignored issue of Climate Change that most would agree on and that is this: Relatively few of the world’s population have actually read a Climate Change study.

For all the wailing and gnashing of teeth, all the distain, denial, and dismissal on this issue, few have actually sat down in a chair, put their feet up, opened a Climate Change study, and carefully read its contents.

Overwhelmingly, most have heard or read about Climate Change from second or third-hand sources. Perhaps most think Climate Change studies the esoteric minutia that would only interest the arcane fascination of climate scientists, or environmental professionals.

But think. Shouldn’t we give our life support system the courtesy (free of political and other propaganda) a few moments of our time to read at least one of the objective research papers on what the majority of climate scientists believe is occurring to our planet?

After all, it took four billion of years for life on this planet to produce a brainy species like ours to evolve and thousands of years more to develop a reliable process for us speak for the planet, a process called the scientific method.

That process, painstakingly robust, is talking to us in the form of peer-reviewed, scientific (yet, very readable) climate studies and they are saying “Please, pay attention to this.”

You can find many Climate Change studies here and they are free.