Saturday, December 28, 2013

Shared service agreements or true mergers, Rochester’s media is racing to the bottom


CCDogIn many ways it is moot whether Rochester’s media is blurring the lines between legal or illegal consolidation because the overall trajectory for local news is dismal. Whether one voice or five covers most of the daily items—the ubiquitous car accidents, pet abuse, sports scores, acts of violence, sex scandals, and the occasional business ventures that manage to bubble up to the local headlines with equal hyperbole and fervor, we are getting very little of the news we need. The problem is not so much local media consolidation (which should have been addressed long ago) in whatever form it takes; the problem is finding news sources where actual reporters conduct thorough investigations on important news at all.

The City Newspaper’s article this week “Dialing it down: local media changes” is an interesting insight into the Byzantine world of local media machinations to boost ratings, increase branding, and secure more ad revenue. And while the article does at least mention the local media changes as an important concern in the disseminating of better, deeper, and more balanced local news coverage, it is media consolidation that captures most folk’s attention. But I am not so sure that this is our most salient concern the local level. Certainly, at the state, federal level, an international level, I don’t want a Murdock empire of media satellites peppering my information sources with free market fundamentalism, while dismissing environmental concerns. But at the local level, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between stuff plastered on the headlines from one media to another. There are few tough-hitting, competitive, investigative reporting on our county and city government policies and practices. There are fewer muckraking stories that challenge our businesses’ practices on environmental issues. And there’s just about nothing on the most important crisis of our age, Climate Change.

In the 1850’s, the decade before the Civil War, Rochester’s media roiled with inequality issues, starting with Fredrick Douglas’s North Star (anti-slavery newspaper) and Susan B. Anthony’s efforts to get women the right to vote. But in the crisis of our times, Rochester’s media remains mum.

News, an effective fourth estate, is what you need to plan effectively. It isn’t supposed to be an opiate for the masses, pandering to their every whim in order to make money and advance businesses’ interests. It’s supposed to make our Democracy sustainable. It’s supposed to be our eyes and ears so we can make informed choices, not just for elections, but for our future. Climate Change is about planning for the future.

What is our region doing to prepare for Climate Change? I don’t mean what are the few ad hoc entrepreneurial efforts by an intrepid few doing that which merits an occasional happy story. I mean what are we, and our government officials, for doing to insure our water quality, preserve our wildlife, ward off invasive species, maintain the public health, restore our wetlands, clean up our Brownfields, and provide the critical public funds for all those issues? Climate Change will not come cheaply and the private sector hasn’t the power or the money to make our way of life sustainable. Except for a few poignant articles here and there on Climate Change, the prevailing local media zeitgeist on our climate is that we are doing swell; there’s more important stuff to report—even though there isn’t.

There isn’t a local media network, a media institution with the potential to capture the attention of a majority of our citizens, trying to break into the cozy consolidative cabal of Rochester’s local media as much as there is such a prevailing climate of denial where, even as our Arctic melts and our growing seasons change, our local media refuses to acknowledge the existence of Climate Change. If there was such a responsible media on the sidelines, even without media consolidation, they’d have a hard time of it since the disinclination of our present media to report on Climate Change has sown a great distaste for this world responsibility, as if we were an island unto ourselves.

But Rochester isn’t an island. When, as most Rochesterians do these days, gather their news from the Internet, that is, from around the world from innumerable sources, it is quite plain that Climate Change is happening everywhere on planet Earth. Like the evils of slavery and critical importance of women’s rights, Climate Change concerns us all. We are connected. When we burn greenhouse gases here in Rochester, island nations sink thousands of miles away.

With just another click you can follow local issues further by searching for that online. For example, for all the local media dysfunction on Fracking (as the issue is energy in a time of warming, not on just another fossil fuel), one can easily find out about related studies on Fracking the public health and examples of Fracking contamination all over the place—by credible sources. The Internet doesn’t just lead to Joe Blow’s basement blog; it connects to your government, university studies, and world’s media. However, while this level of connectivity allows for the big picture on many issues, it cannot replace local investigative reporting. To find out if our local recycling system is actually recycling stuff and keeping waste from festering, or worse yet, leaching dangerous chemicals out of our landfills into our streams and lakes, we need a local media on the job, asking the hard questions. To find out how Climate Change is actually affecting our region, we need some rigorous reporting on that.

Whatever the media has been, or has degenerated into, during this present media crisis [click here to find out about that: FreePress], it must quickly evolve into a useful information system as things warm up so we can plan effectively. Granted, there are few sensational highlights of Climate Change at the local level, though increasingly at any one time somewhere in the world climate is causing wildfires, tornadoes, sea rise, droughts, and much more. So, not only will Climate Change force changes on our environment, it will force changes on the media.

For a sustainable future our media will always be our eyes and ears, but they will have to see further ahead than they presently do and hear the voices of those in peril far away. If our media tended to consolidate on how to do that, it might not be such a bad thing. But our media tends to consolidate to make more money for fewer folks, which is a bad thing.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The thawing of Rochester with Climate Change


CCWarmerNo stranger to Climate Change, 20,000 years ago what is now the Rochester area was buried under a mile-high glacier. When all that began to thaw, carving out what are now the Great Lakes and our Finger Lakes, it did so in a gradual enough span of time for a thriving environment to evolve. The present warming, this one not caused by variations in Earth's orbit, is due to our over-use of greenhouse gases (GHGs) to fuel our way of living, and it is occurring much faster than the last (there were several) glacier retreat. In fact, the present warming is happening at a pace too fast (…10 times faster than any change recorded in past 65 million years) for many of our indigenous plants and wildlife to adapt. This will lead not only to a loss of local biodiversity, but also to more extreme flooding.

I mention flooding this week as the recent snow dump we’ve received in the Northeast is quickly warming, creating some gushers:

“The National Weather Service has issued a flood watch for the region due to a dramatic warm-up and heavy rain possible this weekend.” (Flood watch issued for region, Daily Messenger, 12/19/2013)

Flooding, snow and ice thawing so quickly they overwhelm our natural drainage streams, our cellar sub pumps, our sewer systems, and our wastewater treatment facilities are infrastructural weaknesses that are going to have to be strengthened, and it is going to take money. Over the centuries we have created some ingenious ways to keep back the water. But without government involvement (that’s our taxes at work), it’s unlikely we can rebound from major flooding (or afford the insurance) coming with Climate Change. This was brought home to the folks in the Midwest with brilliant clarity in the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, which proved that Big Government was going to have to step in, starting with the Flood Control Act of 1928.

By the end of this weekend more snow will come again, probably making many who have not been educating themselves on Climate Change think that we here in the Rochester region have dodged a bullet. Hardly. It’s the Climate stupid. As NASA points out, there’s a good reason why we here in the US are so cool, while the rest of the planet’s regions are cooking. Could we possibly have screwed up the polar jet stream too?

Opposites attract: U.S. experiences cold and heat extremes While the continental U.S. shivered through an abnormally cold spell in December 2013, Alaska experienced record-breaking heat. Both extremes were caused by an unusual kink in the northern hemisphere’s polar jet stream, which caused frigid Arctic air to move south and warm air to head north. The jet stream is a fast-moving belt of westerly winds created by the convergence of cold air masses from the Arctic and warm air from lower latitudes. It’s common for it to have meanders called Rossby waves, but what was unusual in December 2013 was how amplified and contorted those waves became after a ridge of high pressure parked itself over Alaska. As warm air pushed north, numerous temperature records fell in Alaska. On December 7, 2013, temperatures reached 39°F (4°C) at Deadhorse, an airport in far northern Alaska that serves Prudhoe Bay. This was the warmest December temperature measured there since the airport was established in 1968, according to Weather Underground historian Christopher Burt. Meanwhile, high temperature records for December also fell or were tied at Barter Island, Alaska, and Wainwright, Alaska. In contrast, many towns in the Pacific Northwest saw record cold temperatures. (December 16, 2013) NASA Global Climate Change

This heat, not coming slow or gradually or uniformly, is going to be abundantly clear to our generation when the Arctic melts. No less authority that our military thinks it will come soon: “US Navy predicts summer ice free Arctic by 2016”.

Granted, we cannot stop the Arctic from melting, even if the whole planet went on a wartime footing, because a tipping point was passed a while ago in our atmospheric warming. Because we did not know what we were doing a century ago with GHG’s, we caused the sun’s energy to get trapped as heat in our atmosphere and waters, making it too hot to float big icebergs. But we can at least stop the exploitation of the Arctic, this pristine region of our planet, by stopping ourselves from further fossil-fuel burning, from drilling for more fossil fuels, and from opening the ice-free waters to shipping and fishing. It won’t be easy, that’ for sure. The Arctic 30 got gobbled up by that annoying Russian penchant to throw folks who tell them things they don’t like (like drilling in the Arctic is an insane idea) into their cold, dark prisons. They spit these heroes out this week only because Russia didn’t want to look like a bunch of thugs before hosting the Olympics.

I know, stemming the invisible hand from grabbing the last vestige of environmental purity from the new Arctic frontier fills free market fundamentalists with horror. Just like the pro-Frackers in New York, who think the New York State economy will collapse without more fossil fuels, too many moneyheads believe the treasures of the Arctic cannot be wasted on saving our planetary environment. And yet the Arctic, one of the major air conditioners of our planet, must be left fallow, if nothing else as a reminder of our folly.

Sadly, it may even be the case that many in our region would just love to see all the ice and snow just go away—for good. Those ice caps on our planet, for all their eerie pristine beauty, may not be to everyone’s taste. The polar ice caps are extremely cold and useless for growing stuff. As for our snow-laden Rochester winters, many don’t like the icy driving conditions; they don’t like skiing, snowmobiling and can live without maple syrup. But Climate Change isn’t just about getting rid of the frosty hassles when you’re not in the mood for them; it’s about the speed at which this is all happening. Even if you don’t frequent the Arctic, you’re going to feel the effects when it thaws.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Challenges that Rochester’s poor face with Climate Change


CCPoorThere are many aspects of Climate Change that make it the mother of all problems—rising seas, Arctic melting, increases in extreme weather, and a grim future for our children. This is further complicated in that we cannot even talk about Climate Change without first making it clear that we must keep our economic system intact and thriving. We get very uncomfortable when the notion of Climate Justice comes up. The recent Warsaw Climate Change Conference 2013, the nineteenth of these top-down conferences aimed at lowering greenhouse gases (GHGs), almost fell apart (again) because developed nations bridle at the thought of compensating the developing nations for the warming the developed nations caused.

The notion of funding the UN’s Green Climate Fund continually sticks in the craw of many rich nations like our own because it threatens our vision that our finite world must offer unlimited growth and consumerism. For if Climate Change is really caused by the rapid use of GHGs (which it is), then everyone, everywhere, will pay the consequences, including the poor. The poor, the developing nations, already stripped of their natural resources (including our oceans and our air) are demanding their fair share of opportunities, even while the Climate Change crisis unfolds. The more the developed nations attempt to strip the Climate Change issue of the equality and justice issues inherent in this crisis, the angrier the developing nations get. This fairness aspect of Climate Change is going to be no small part of the crisis, nor can it be disengaged from the climate negotiations.

Trying to address Climate Change at the local Rochester level, amidst great poverty, is going to be a challenge too. According to ACT Rochester’s newly released report, ‘Poverty and the Concentration of Poverty in the Nine-County Greater Rochester Area, Dec 12013’, Rochester is the “fifth poorest city in the country among the top 75 largest metropolitan areas.” It’s going to be hard to appreciate the threat of Climate Change in Rochester or anywhere else if you are hungry and homeless.  If most of your time is consumed trying to find a bite to eat for your family, a shelter from more heat and cold spells (like the one we are presently experiencing), and money enough to pay your medical bills, then the Climate Change crisis is going to be the least of your worries. At least, that’s what most seem to believe.

As it is with the poor on a world scale, so the threats of Climate Change on the local level must become of greater concern to the poor of Rochester. All Rochesterians will experience more extreme weather events, more heatwaves, and more public health issues from vector-driven diseases (like West Nile Virus, Lyme disease, and maybe malaria and dengue fever). But the poor, who have neither adequate shelter nor the means to move away from such dangers, are under the greatest threat. It’s going to cost a lot, no matter who pays, to shield those who did not cause Climate Change from the impacts of those who did.

Another aspect of Climate Change in our region is more flooding, which has the tendency (besides sending home insurance rates through the roof) to flush out the toxic remains of Brownfields yet to be cleaned up into the waters and the neighborhoods where they reside. And we know who resides near those still-dirty Brownfields.

Cleaning Up Toxic Brownfields - Upscale NY Gets VIP Treatment NEW YORK - A new report says a billion-dollar-plus toxic cleanup program is not reaching neighborhoods that need it most - and now is the perfect time to fix it. Andrew Postiglione, a fiscal policy associate with Environmental Advocates of New York, said plenty of cleanup has been happening in high-property-value areas in Manhattan, but the program needs to be fixed so more cleanup and redevelopment happens in struggling communities upstate. "The brownfields tax credit is a very expensive program. It's over $1 billion to clean up only 131 sites" he explained. "This program is also off-target; it's not going to the communities that need public dollars the most." (November 18, 2013) Public News Service [more on Brownfields in our area]

Some relief from the ravages of Climate Change for the poor could come from our transportation sector. According to the EPA, 27% of our GHGs are attributed to our present transportation system. If those who cannot afford adequate transportation to get to jobs with living wages had access to safe active transportation (walking and bicycling) along with a reliable public transportation system, we could solve two problems at once. This would not only help adapt our region to Climate Change, but offer an alternative to a gas-guzzling system that is very expensive to maintain, expensive to join in, and expensive to your safety. (For this last point read this hilarious satire: Get pedestrians off Toronto roads to keep them safe for drivers: Hume (12/06/2013, Toronto Star))

Already, according to a new report by US PIRG, “Transportation in Transition, A Look at Changing Travel Patterns in America’s Biggest Cities”, Rochester workers are increasingly taking to the bike to get to work, as Rochester racks up as #8 of major American cities that show an “Increase in percent of workers who biked to work from 2000 to 2007-2011.”

If we have not completely supplanted our ethics with our crazy politics (where some of the most powerful don’t even believe in science) and our economics, we should begin to understand that Climate Change will be the standard from which all ethics will be determined. For if we don’t get through the bottleneck of Climate Change, Faith, Hope, Charity, Freedom, Justice, and even Magnanimity will be but hollow words from a species that has been far too focused on its creature comforts and its lofty Ideals to pay attention to the seas that they caused to rise.

To that end, start taking equality for the future seriously in our region by keeping our active transportation infrastructure funds from being killed by recent reductions in funding. Go here and sign on: Dedicated Funds for Bike/Pedestrian Infrastructure by December 27th. Learn more:

New Yorkers for Active Transportation (NY4AT), a coalition dedicated to working with stakeholders to assure equitable funding for non‐motorized transportation, including complete streets, community multi‐use trails, and safer and increased levels of bicycling and walking in New York’s cities, villages, and towns.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Tear yourself away from Rochester media for info on Climate Change


CCLocalMediaOn Wednesday, December 4th, I attended a U.S. EPA, State and Local Climate and Energy Program webcast “Gaining Support and Attracting Participation through Communication.” For over an hour I watched/listened to several environmental communications experts from all levels instruct community leaders on how to inform the public on Climate Change. Much of the material concerned itself with some psychological insights as to why many folks aren’t interested in Climate Change and practical ways to engage various groups, listening to their concerns, and explaining why this issue has to be addressed. One tactic a local expert suggested was making sure the group you spoke to got lots of coffee. Folks get sleepy listening to lectures on climate, I guess.

Despite the fact that most folks already know about Climate Change, that it is human caused and threatens many dire consequences, it’s the dickens to get folks to get interested in the most important crisis of our time, maybe of all time. No less authority than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) still feels compelled to modycoddle the public into taking actions that will prevent some avoidable catastrophes. Inexplicably for our federal environmental authority, the EPA seems quite ready to write off a sizable portion of our population whose stance against Climate Change makes them particularly difficult to reach. At the state level, our New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) tries to engage New Yorkers under the Climate Smart Communities program, a voluntary program that only a few communities in our region have signed on to.

At the local Rochester level you’re not going to get much information at all about the consequences of Climate Change if you don’t tear yourself away from mainstream media. They don’t just under-report or miss-report on Climate Change, they mostly don’t address it at all. This oversight cannot be explained as a disinterest in far-off events, like why the Warsaw Climate Change Conference last month was avoided locally, because the media had no such qualms about re-experiencing the JFK assassination. Thus they cannot use the excuse that warming is too remote (in time and distance) to worry about because our media is clearly OK with ‘remote’. And of course Climate Change is not remote to Rochester; it’s here. The Likely Changes coming to our region because of Climate Change are mentioned readily in most climate studies, so the failure to report on warming cannot be a lack of information or relevance. Maybe it’s because Climate Change doesn’t bleed, it doesn’t wear a pretty dress, it doesn’t get wasted and take illegal drugs. So it must be a great big bore to our local media.

But don’t despair, it’s not hopeless. While local mainstream media struggles for ad dollars and your attention with attention-getting puffery, you have other choices. You only have to turn your computer’s pointing device to some other local media sources to get news and information on the local effects of Climate Change. A wonderful resource I’ve come to depend on lately is the monthly newsletter out of Hobart and William Smith College: Happenings: the monthly newsletter of the Finger Lakes Institute:

The FLI Happenings newsletter is a monthly publication with FLI staff and guest authors contributing articles relating to environmental topics and issues of concern for the Finger Lakes region. Themed issues have included such topics as alternative energy, green jobs, environmental education, climate change, Marcellus Shale, environmental stewardship, green infrastructure and more. To offer a regional perspective, each month the Finger Lakes Regional Watershed Alliance contributes an article featuring their individual lake members and accomplishments. Happenings: the monthly newsletter of the Finger Lakes Institute

Not only can you get some connect-the-dots info on Climate Change in our region, but the difficult-to-find info on warming on the Finger Lakes. For some reason most climate studies, let alone local media, haven’t focused on our Finger Lakes. (This is odd, for if you have access to a map ((our media obviously doesn’t)) you can readily see that Rochester has several of the Finger Lakes all about it: Canadice Lake, Hemlock Lake, Honeoye Lake, Canandaigua Lake, and Conesus Lake.) For instance this month, here are several important stories you should check out: “Climate History From The Depths of Seneca Lake,” “Developing Resiliency For Great Lakes Communities”, and “Communities’ Stakes Are High As Climate Changes”. The articles are expert, local, and crucial to our understanding some of the issues related to Climate Change that we need to plan for.

There’s also the Cornell Chronicle Online: “The Cornell Chronicle, Cornell's primary source of news since 1969, is part of the Division of University Communications. The site publishes daily news about research, outreach, events and the Cornell community.” Here’s some articles you should read: “New website is 'one-stop shop' for climate change info ”, “As crop indicators, weeds spread in warmer world”, “Grants support Great Lakes biology surveys ” , “Expert: U.S. must do more to protect climate, environment ”, and “Cows' carbon hoofprint is smaller than thought” .

You can also get the news you need from several of our officials: EPA’s Region 2 News Releases, Press Releases - NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation, New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets Press Releases, and news from the New York State Department of Health

There are many more ways to get un-blinded by local media’s failure to cover the most important issue of Climate Change. You can check out local newsletters of local environmental organizations, some media from surrounding communities (who are sometimes better than we are in Rochester in environmental news coverage), newsletters from our local universities, and more. You can find these sources on this web page: News Sources - Rochester, NY area. Or you can check the new listing of Climate Change news networks around the world: Global Environmental News.

Here’s the thing: Although our local media believes there are more immediate stories worthy of our attention than Climate Change, more and more of these ‘NEWS!’ stories are going to be absorbed by our scurrying around trying to adapt to the conditions we should have long ago accepted as the new normal. Local news has let us down in failing to educating us day-to-day on how we in Rochester are connected to this world-wide moral, economic, and environmental crisis. The tragic fact about Climate Change is that if only a relative few engage themselves on this issue, it will make the catastrophic consequences of Climate Change inevitable. If our local mainstream media demonstrates that they don’t think it’s important, the public won’t think it’s important either—so there will be scarce political or economic support for the necessary adaptation measures.