Saturday, September 28, 2013

News on release of Climate Change IPCC (AR5) reaches all but Rochester, NY

 

ClamteAbsAfter looking high and low for news about the United Nation’s release of the new Climate Change report today (9/27/2013) of the IPCC WGI AR5, I could find nothing. Zip (except this, by Rochester City Newspaper). This is puzzling because over the last decade of attending to local online news every day, I’ve noticed no dearth of local media’s interest in far-off political shenanigans, celebrity breakups, sport scores, CEO changes, and how to develop your abs for that desired washboard look.

You’d think something as important as a 95% agreement among the world’s climate scientist that our planet’s atmosphere is warming up, we’re the cause, and we need to get off our duff and start planning would capture our media’s attention. You’d think all that would get at least an itty-bitty mention here. None, nada (except this, by Rochester City Newspaper). Though there are many, many Likely Changes coming to the Rochester area because of warming, there are no interviews of mayoral candidate on how they’ll lead, or even a little polling of what the average Rochester person on the street thinks of this:

Human influence on climate clear, IPCC report says STOCKHOLM, 27 September - Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident in most regions of the globe, a new assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes. It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. The evidence for this has grown, thanks to more and better observations, an improved understanding of the climate system response and improved climate models. Warming in the climate system is unequivocal and since 1950 many changes have been observed throughout the climate system that are unprecedented over decades to millennia. Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850, reports the Summary for Policymakers of the IPCC Working Group I assessment report, Climate Change 2013: the Physical Science Basis, approved on Friday by member governments of the IPCC in Stockholm, Sweden. “Observations of changes in the climate system are based on multiple lines of independent evidence. Our assessment of the science finds that the atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amount of snow and ice has diminished, the global mean sea level has risen and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased,” said Qin Dahe, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group I. (September 27, 2013) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Non-local media mention the AR5 release in depth--Climate Panel Says Upper Limit on Emissions Is Nearing (September 27, 2013) New York Times; Climate change: U.N. summary of latest science coming Friday (September 26, 2013) CNN; and As IPCC Warns of Climate Disaster, Will Scientific Consensus Spark Action on Global Warming?  (September 26, 2013) Democracy Now! just to name a few—but Rochester’s media seems immune to the planetary situation that will affect the lives of all Rochesterians, our wildlife, plants, soil, and, of course, our climate. The Guardian provided around the world coverage of reactions to the AR5 release, unlike local Rochester media that has become more deeply committed to what the public craves—sports, puppy love, newest TV shows, and how to doll up your lawn—rather than what they need to know. There are other outlets for the public’s prurient interests than our mainstream media.

Most climate scientist agreed that a 2C rise in global temperature would be the absolute limit we can tolerate, but we’re headed for 4C or 6C. That’s because we are doing freaking nothing about it. Climate Change isn’t about apocalyptic horror stories, it’s about planning. We in Rochester cannot plan for something we are incapable of talking about. By ‘planning’ I don’t mean like planning for a vacation, where you could conceivably leave everything to last minute, then stop the mail, throw your stuff into a suitcase, and run to the airport hoping you can find an open seat on a jet to Europe.

I mean planning in the sense that a failure to do so dooms plant and animal species, and wreaks bloody havoc on our transportation, telecommunications and our water infrastructures. A lack of planning mean the poorest in our region get to die miserably from inadequate health insurance due to increases in heat and diseases. No planning for Climate Change, because much warming will occur even if we stop putting greenhouse gases into our atmosphere right now, means absolute chaos for our kids, or maybe even sooner. The window for planning against the worst consequences of Climate Change is quickly closing.

Some who have read the preliminary AR5 report are carping about the leveling off of world-wide temperatures in the last 15 years despite a continual rise in carbon dioxide—but at least someone in that crowd as actually read the report! Look, clever as our scientists are it’s very difficult to chase down how added CO2 to our atmosphere will radiate through the system. The system, 4.5 billon years old, is on a level complexity that would even bewilder even an Einstein with a supercomputer. This ‘missing’ heat could well be going into the ocean for the moment only to spring back into our atmosphere all at once. Odds are that the leveling off of temperature rises is not due to the laws of physics, bending its rules just once because we’re a really nice species. ‘Pretty please’ doesn’t work with Mother Nature.

The point is that silence in Rochester (or anywhere else for that matter) on Climate Change won’t make it go away or mitigate its consequences. We’ve been dragging our feet on this issue for many decades and it’s getting a bit morbid. Morally, it’s rather depraved to think only of ourselves, when most of the greenhouse gases that are warming up the world’s atmosphere came from us, the US. Since the Industrial Revolutions (both in Britain and here) GHG’s have skyrocketed. Many third-world countries made almost no contribution to Climate Change but they are feeling the effects. Climate Change will change the world and everything we hold dear.

I’m not sure what it will take for communities like Rochester, NY to speak up and have a conversation about Climate Change—how we will respond, how we will adapt and mitigate it—but because at the core of this issue is physics we will start talking soon.

As bad as our local media is on keeping us informed on Climate Change there is no excuse for ignorance on Climate Change. There is the Internet: check Global Environmental News for Climate Change. But without local media’s attention to this issue, most will be blind to its relevance to us.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Climate Change missing from Rochester, NY mayoral debate

 

EarthVigilJust 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:

  1. Climate Change would be a focal point of the mayoral candidates’ platforms—not something we should infer from their vague environmental language.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. The candidate would sign on to Climate Change programs that include other cities, like the Resilient Communities for America.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

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.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Trout fishing in a Climate Changed New York

 

TroutCCThe National Wildlife Federation just released a major report this week on the challenges our fresh water fish are having with Climate Change. Here’s their opening argument:

Changing climate poses new risks for our treasured freshwater fish resources. Warming waters mean lost habitat for cold-water species, the likely encroachment of species typically found in warmer areas, and exacerbation of existing stressors such as habitat loss, pollution, invasive species, and disease. More extreme weather events—especially longer and more intense droughts, heat waves, wildfires, and floods—mean increased likelihood of fish mortality. Shorter winters with less snow and ice cover mean shifts in stream flow and water availability through the spring and summer months, as well as lost opportunities for ice fishing. (Page 1, Swimming Upstream |Fresh Water Fish in a Warming World |National Wildlife Federation

Trout fishing is a major recreational activity in New York that constitutes a large part of our economy. Last year in New York, freshwater anglers spent $1,212,000 and freshwater fishing expenditures amounted to $895,763,000. (Page 2, Ibid.) Without long-term planning, we are not going to be able to save cold water fish—unless we are willing to refrigerate large sections of our lakes and streams. Long before we get to that unfeasible point, we’ll have decided to cut our losses. What’s more frightening is that, like the polar bear in an ice-free Arctic, cold water fish in New York State may already be doomed because we did not act to adapt to and mitigate Climate Change long ago. Because of the nature of greenhouse gases (GHG’s), especially carbon dioxide, they will continue to blanket our planet for decades to come, making a lot of warming inevitable even if we stopped putting them in our atmosphere right now.

To save trout and many other wildlife species (some of which we need to retain a healthy ecosystem, not just a healthy fishing environment), we will have to mitigate Climate Change. That means not only bringing down the concentration of GHG’s in our atmosphere, but bringing down the temperatures by reversing this heating trend. We’ll need to increase stream cover to cool streams and rivers by planting more shade trees. That will also increase stream bank stability and stop soil drainage during flooding events that will be coming more often.

Coldwater fish in many New York streams and shallow lakes currently require coldwater refuges provided by shaded stream banks, upwelling groundwater, and lakes with sufficient depth to stratify (maintain a stable zone of cold water) during summer. Any reduced availability of these refuges during warm summer conditions will reduce the future distribution and abundance of coldwater fish in New York (Page 183, Report 11-18 Response to Climate Change in New York State (ClimAID) (November 2011)

We’ll need the collected public will to remove damns that block the fish’s ability to move to cooler places in our streams and rivers. We’ll have to figure out how to sustain insect populations that trout eat—but we hate. Some brainy soul will have to figure out how to keep fish eggs from getting battered about because of the loss of protective ice covering. (Sorry, we can’t wait to evolve a warm-water trout, it would take too long.) And, we’ll need to decrease other stresses on fish populations by stopping fertilizer runoffs, improving filtering of storm and sewage drains, stop pesticides and herbicides from poisoning aquatic wildlife, and decrease water withdrawals, as less water mean it’s easier for water to warm up. All this is going to take a lot of public education and money.

Some of the challenges that reports on wildlife and Climate Change don’t mention are these media unmentionables: How much of our public efforts and money to save wildlife during Climate Change will be gobbled up by fighting the pesticide, herbicide, and fossil fuel companies—that treat our water bodies as their toilets? How much of our money will have to be spent fighting the climate deniers in public office and mainstream media?

Some may already be thinking (to themselves, at least) “Oh brother, I don’t even like fishing and hunting, all this is going to cost too much.” But, as is the case with Climate Change, it’s not just about fish. It’s about everything. The federal agency that protects our wildlife gets it, “It is worth noting that climate change is not a new mission; it is the lens through which we must accomplish the mission we already have.” (Page 13, Rising to the Urgent Challenge| Strategic Plan for Responding to Accelerating Climate Change, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service‘s mission “to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people” cannot be accomplished without a substantial proportion of our population behind them. It took thousands of years for trout to evolve in the pristine, frigid rivers created by our glacial waters and if we wish to keep them around we, not just those who love fishing, must get around the forces trying to stop the rest of us from stopping Climate Change. Getting the information packed in climate studies to a media unencumbered by climate denial, one capable of efficiently and cheaply passing on critical information in the public interest, would be a good start.

To fully address Climate Change, we would have to plan in such a way that we anticipate all environmental cause and effect relationships during an incredibly fast warming. Each day that passes that we don’t stop Climate Change is another step past a tipping point in saving some species or our chances to actually adapt to the future.

Some final thoughts about trout or any New York State wildlife species: What wildlife do we actually need to maintain our environment—as it warms? What species will we have to say goodbye to because we were too short-sighted to see their demise long ago?