Saturday, September 14, 2013

Great NYS DEC’s ‘Climate Smart Communities’ program doomed to failure


CSCAt a recent talk by a representative of the Climate Smart Communities (CSC) program I learned that our region of the state is one of the worst in joining in this comprehensive statewide program. Among local communities, only the City of Rochester, Victor, and Irondequoit have signed on. Check out this sparsely populated map of communities in New York State that have signed on to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) voluntary climate adaption program. It’s a pretty dismal showing.

The Climate Smart Communities program by the DEC and jointly sponsored by the following six New York State agencies: Department of Environmental Conservation; Energy Research and Development Authority; Public Service Commission; Department of State; Department of Transportation; and the Department of Health—is voluntary. “Climate Smart Communities is an unprecedented state-local partnership to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, save taxpayer dollars and advance community goals for health and safety, economic vitality, energy independence and quality of life.”

Here’s a glimpse of this incredibly in-depth program that attempts to connect all the communities in New York State so they can adapt to and mitigate Climate Change. Climate Smart Communities provides community coordinators, a listserv, webinars, local action guide, and an Adopt the Climate Smart Communities Pledge. The CSC also provides instructions on how to: set up a Climate Smart Coordinator or Task Force, how to set up local Greenhouse Gas Inventories, how to develop a local Climate Action Plan, how to  decrease energy demand for local government operations, how to: boost energy efficiency in municipal facilities/operations, how to realize benefits of recycling and other climate-smart solid waste management practices, and how to plan for adaptation to unavoidable Climate Change by increasing local climate resilience.

Robust as the CSC program is, there are a lot of critical features missing that will doom it to complete and utter failure and condemn our state to a lack of preparedness for Climate Change. First of all, the program, as mentioned already, is completely voluntary. ‘Voluntary’ means acting of one’s own free will. That means in this case, when the state offers all municipalities around the state a comprehensive program, complete with funding opportunities, they mostly say ‘No thanks. It’s a very nice program, but we cannot be bothered.” Unless this program is made mandatory, most will opt-out and leave our communities bereft of an interconnected program to coordinate efforts in our state and act together in a comprehensive way that will actually accomplish getting us ready for Climate Change.

Another missing component of the CSC program is the lack of visibility. Who has heard of this program? Who, besides a few state officials (only about seven folks run this program and some are not even full-time employees) and some mayors around the state, knows our state has this program available? There should be a mechanism in the CSC to get this program widely visible in the press, in such a way that a passive public can learn about how this program works and about implementation strategies in their areas.

Also, there are a lot of other complications that will come with Climate Change in New York State that are not addressed in the CSC. How will communities address the loss of biodiversity and human population pressures? How will the public get informed of accurate climate information when mainstream media and their weather reports don’t include climate considerations? How will we work with other states and countries, as their ability to adapt to Climate Change affects our ability? How will our region react when other communities in the South and West run out of water and want ours? How will environmental justice be handled by each community as the poor and homeless will tend to be the first to reap the ravages of a very hot environment? How will various communities tackle the anticipated rise in invasive species, when these species may actually fare better in a warming climate than endemic species? And, how will we adapt to more weeds and crops pests that grow more quickly than our crops without dumping tons and tons of pesticides on them? In other words, this program tends to focus on municipalities’ utilities and transportation issues but does not radiate their solutions to their constituencies and does not span the complete range of issues that come with Climate Change.

One of the most immediate effects of this program’s failure is the lack of any mention of Climate Change in the Rochester mayoral race. Though Rochester has signed on to this program, the candidates feel no compulsion to drive home the message that our next mayor must prepare our city. If this program was mandatory and covered adequately by the press, no mayoral race could occur without a full discussion about this looming crisis that ultimately a mayor will be held responsible for.

If our leaders and the media continue to pander to the public’s delusion that our environment isn’t warming and everything will somehow be OK, we’re going to be in deep doo doo. Many experts (scientists, psychologists, sociologists, environmentalists) are puzzling over why the public seems so indifferent to Climate Change and other environmental issues. The 1970’s Earth Day rally helped us bring the environment to the forefront. Now, not so much.

One expert I talked to thought that our very successes in cleaning up our waters and other environmental successes is actually fueling the lack of concern on our environment today, allowing the public the delusion that we had somehow removed ourselves from the four-billion year experiment called ‘life’ on this planet. None of the things (sports, entertainment, driving gadget-filled fossil fuel burning vehicles, and shopping, etc.) that are distracting us from concern for the environment are going to take place if, as I recently heard from another expert, New York State’s present trajectory for warming is consistent with a 6C rise in temperatures by 2100. If you’ve read any of the major climate studies that pertain to our region, or either of these two books: Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet or The Weather of the Future, you know that a 6C overall increase in greenhouse gases since the Industrial Revolution (that’s 10,000 years of warming in about 300 years) means game over for human civilization as we know it.

If the CSC doesn’t accomplish anything else, it should awaken the public that our state takes Climate Change seriously and actually has a plan to deal with it. However it cannot actually work if a majority of our communities are not engaged in the process—or even know about it. Here are some things you can do: Write letters to your local media about the CSC program. Contact your mayors and town and county supervisors and executives and ask them why they haven’t made the pledge. Get your community leaders to join in this discussion: EPA: Climate & Clean Energy Resource Roundup for State & Local Governments. Social-media the urgency of Climate Change to all your contacts. Invite a representative of the CSC into your community and conduct a program on Climate Change—and don’t forget to invite your local leaders.

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