Just back from Rochester’s ‘Earth Vigil’ gathering. This rally was our city’s version of 350.org’s USA Day of Action on Draw the Line on Keystone XL: “Thousands of people in hundreds of cities drawing one line to protect our future.”
Sadly, this event was about as much focus as one will get in Rochester on addressing Climate Change in the public arena. About 60 souls endured the torrential (extreme) rainfall at the corner of Exchange & W. Broad Streets—still the home of our leading newspaper that still doesn’t connect the dots of regional climate warming due to Climate Change. At the EPA they are about to fight climate-destroying carbon pollution from power plants and at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) they will release the first part of the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5)—though the deniers are already trying to minimize the effects of this document, despite it being based on an overwhelming consensus of the world’s climate scientists.
But here in Rochester it seems it is sufficient to not deny Climate Change to be considered as acting on Climate Change. That’s nice, but that’s not nearly enough. We need big and fast changes to actually bring down the temperature of our atmosphere. Something on the level of a mayoral race, where our city’s leaders promise to lead, would be a great platform for discussing how our region will respond to this planetary crisis. And that’s not going to happen unless the public demands it.
If the public did demand leadership on Climate Change in Rochester, it would look something like this:
- Climate Change would be a focal point of the mayoral candidates’ platforms—not something we should infer from their vague environmental language.
- Rochester would develop a Climate Change plan that would work in concert with Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany, and look something New York City’s Climate Change Plan.
- The candidate would explain to the public that concerns about public health, education, and justice must all be viewed through Climate Change. For example, extreme heat events (which will occur more frequently in our area) are more of a threat to the poor and homeless than other folks. In Toronto they have a comprehensive heat alert system where volunteers pro-actively go around and make sure the homeless have shelter from the heat. There are many more Climate Change related health issues in our region that also must be addressed (increases in vector-driven diseases like West Nile Virus, Lyme disease, and maybe even malaria) so the candidate should talk about their plans to address these looming inequities.
- The candidate would put top priority on educating the public, with frequent media messages and community forums, about the issues facing our region as Climate Change gets worse. We will have more harmful algae blooms, more sewage overflows, and more floods (which mean some folks will have trouble getting insurance if they now find themselves in a flood region). Creating a dialogue with the public is critical because adapting our water, transportation, and telecommunications infrastructures will be impossible without herculean efforts by our governments and sustained support from the public. Forget about the private sector picking up the bill for keeping our infrastructure updated, systems that they profit greatly from. You are just not going to get the automobile companies to build highways, even though ‘we the people’ cannot walk or bike on them.
- The candidate would sign on to Climate Change programs that include other cities, like the Resilient Communities for America.
- The candidate would lead on describing to the public how important active transportation (walking and bicycling) is to addressing Climate Changes, as transportation in the US accounts for about 40% of manmade greenhouse gas emissions. More than putting bike lanes and more count-down traffic lights, it is necessary to educate the public how much more healthy and safe it would be if all knew and practiced the existing traffic rules—and require our local media to continually educate the public on sharing our streets to get our greenhouse gases (GHG’s) down. In Rochester, there needs to be a change of attitude on transportation that reflects our responsibility to the world-wide crisis.
- The candidate would be able to explain why recycling and getting rid of landfills is so important to curb GHG emissions and provide jobs from recycled materials. The candidate would promise to examine our region’s recycling rate and see how our city compares with other cities—and require that all festivals and events include recycling and food waste collection for composing. After all, we shouldn’t be trashing our climate.
- The candidate would explain to the public the critical need to protect our freshwater from Fracking and other polluting activities because our region may well be a Mecca for those areas of our country (the West and South) who are in great need of fresh water. Because of our region’s canal, rivers, railroads, and history of working with major industries, we could be a major player for producing and transporting renewable energy materials and creating thousands of jobs. The candidate, given the projections for Climate Change, should be betting on that—not on casinos.
- The candidate would explain to the public that our existing Internet speed is (really freaking slow) counterproductive to a community that will lose many high-paying jobs and industries dependant on high-speed Internet. The candidate would free up competition on Internet accessibility so many more can learn about the world’s concerns about Climate Change (thus do a Hail Mary around our local dysfunctional mainstream media) and attract world-class businesses that require very fast Internet speeds.
- Above all the candidate would be able to communicate that Climate Change is not a separate issue from all the other dire issues facing our community; it is the issue from which all other issues from now on must be addressed.
I know that mayoral candidates only see the future in four-year bites, but this will have to change so that their programs to address Climate Change will last far beyond their administration.