Sunday, December 28, 2014

Having banned Fracking, New York can be a leader in renewable energy and jobs

Maybe the greatest victory for the anti-fracking activists in New York State is switching the burden of proof from the victims to the producers. A hallmark of European environmental policy is to place the burden of proof on the industries producing suspect products—making industries prove their products will do no harm to the public or to the environment before these products are allowed on the markets.

The reverse has been true on this side of the Atlantic. Decades of environmental and public health abuses by polluting industries—cigarettes, leaded gas and paint, using hydrofluorocarbons (super greenhouse gases) as a refrigerant, etc.—have been allowed to continue business as usual until enough time, health and environmental damage, money, and research finally brought the polluters to court.

This statement by acting New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker could have profound implications not only on Fracking in New York State but also on how we address environmental concerns in our hemisphere:

"Until the science provides sufficient information to determine the level of risk to public health from HVHF [high-volume hydraulic fracturing] to all New Yorkers and whether the risks can be adequately managed, DOH recommends that HVHF should not proceed in NYS," Zucker wrote in a letter to Martens that accompanies the public health report. (The legacy of New York's fracking decision,12/24/ 2014 Rochester City Newspaper)

The burden of proof that Fracking in New York must not harm the public’s health is now the responsibility of the Fracking industry—which should have always been the case. In states like Pennsylvania, Fracking started without much research and since then it’s been the dickens for the public to prove that their health and water well problems have been due to nearby Fracking operations. When already ensconced, the Fracking industry looks on with disdain for those concerned about methane leaks and other concerns because once given approval by the state to begin their harmful practices, it is almost impossible bring them to task.   

This business-as-usual climate, where it’s harder to stop existing polluters than to switch to energy options that don’t pollute, must change quickly. Maybe New York State’s six-year Fracking experience can offer some practical insights to the necessary energy shift we must make if we are to keep global temperatures at 2C above preindustrial levels.  

The science of Climate Change couldn’t be clearer. The CLIMATE CHANGE 2014 Synthesis Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released in November makes it crystal clear that we have to quickly reduce fossil fuel use:

The unrestricted use of fossil fuels should be phased out by 2100 if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change, a UN-backed expert panel says. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says in a stark report that most of the world's electricity can - and must - be produced from low-carbon sources by 2050.  If not, the world faces "severe, pervasive and irreversible" damage. (Fossil fuels should be phased out by 2100 says IPCC, 11/02/2014, BBC News)

Banning Fracking in New York State presents a major opportunity to address Climate Change by dramatically increasing the potential for renewable energy. Now that we’ve dodged a major environmental challenge to our environment, our health, and our climate by NOT Fracking New York, we have opened the door wider for more wind and solar power. The economic obstacles presented by cheap natural gas is now reduced and gives the growing green energy industries the boost they need.

Better battery power for when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining, conserving energy, increasing energy efficiency, and updating our energy infrastructure with Cuomo’s New York Energy Highway program (fixing leaking gas pipes, supporting green energy, reducing bottlenecks affecting renewable energy, and advancing Smart Grid technologies) can now accelerate our state’s role in reducing greenhouse gases—and provide many jobs. We’ve lost six precious years fighting Fracking in New York. Now let’s focus on the provisions of the COP20 Lima climate talks and make major strides in New York for a successful COP21 Paris climate agreement. (BTW: Did I mention more jobs? More jobs than Fracking would have ever provided New Yorkers?)

Sure, the battle to keep New York Frack-free is not over. Those pro-fracking people will never give up as long as there is a buck to be made from fossil fuels. But the COP20 Lima talks have gotten folks around the world considering an alternative to our addiction to fossil fuels:


The switch to renewable power is a battle we cannot afford to lose The Lima climate talks saw a shift towards action with renewable energy taking centre stage, says the head of the International Renewable Energy Agency Since the final gavel fell at the Lima climate talks earlier this month, discussions have centred on one question: what did the talks actually accomplish? After two weeks of intense negotiation, governments settled on a draft text that will hopefully lead to a successful global climate deal in Paris next December. While opinions vary regarding the success or failure of the outcome, there is another story emerging outside the negotiation room. This year’s conference represented a highly-significant shift in the positive momentum to act on climate change. While negotiators engaged in contentious debates, businesses, non-governmental organisations and local authorities stepped forward to present their own climate initiatives and committed to more action on the ground. In this shift, renewable energy took centre stage. (December 24, 2014 The Guardian)

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Fracking Ban in New York State important step towards COP21 Paris

 

CCCloseOneSThursday, December 17th 2014 will go down in history as the date that Governor Cuomo finally decided to ban Fracking in New York State. This matters because NY is the second and by far the largest US state to ban this dangerous, unhealthy, methane-leaking, extreme fossil-fuel extraction method in a place that actually has a lot of shale gas. That particular fossil fuel will now stay in our bedrock, not in our air. Ostensively, Fracking will be banned because of public health issues (“Citing Health Risks, Cuomo Bans Fracking in New York State, 12/17/2014 NYT) and while this is quite true, it doesn’t quite cover the gambit of concerns. Besides threatening our fresh water, our property rights, and our beautiful countryside, Fracking most likely leaks methane gas like a sieve. (Read local study: “Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations”) Great praise goes out to those who resisted this dirty energy option for New York State for six long years, including local leadership by R-Cause.

This ban is an important step towards the most important climate talks ever. Between now and December of next year, when the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris takes place to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate from all the nations of the world, many big changes must occur. New York State banning Fracking can be viewed as a major step to addressing Climate Change and protecting our own.  It would have been the height of absurdity and hypocrisy for the state of New York to pass Fracking while at the same time trying to save New York City from the consequences of rising seas and ever-stronger hurricanes.

With the milquetoast COP20 Lima talks and high-profile climate deniers worming their way to high office next year, the road to Paris 2015 is going to be long indeed. The Lima talks were hailed in mainstream media as a success because they didn’t outright fail. Mostly, this 20th Conference of Parties kicked the can down the very hot road to Paris (metaphorically the ‘can’ is our collective willingness to keep greenhouse gases (GHGs) 2C below preindustrial averages).

Some have lauded Lima because “The agreement removes the longstanding division of the world into developed and developing countries and paves way for a model of unity.” And while Lima did merge the responsibilities for curbing GHG’s for both rich and poor countries, this misses the point. The point is (again) keeping to 2C. It is necessary for the poor to help curb GHGs, but they cannot do that without a viable Green Climate Fund—and tragically there was no agreement to fund this adequately.

The final week of COP20 Lima was packed with demonstrations, a frantic two-day run into overtime, and a seething undercurrent of resentment against a binding agreement in Paris by the rich nations. Basically, the rich countries who caused Climate Change don’t want to be forced to undo it. But everyone knows, even a binding agreement is unenforceable—it’s a gentlemen’s agreement. What a binding agreement would do is create a top-down structure so that bottom-up grassroots solutions (granted the ones most likely to work) aggregate all local efforts to a level and time frame that will actually work without stepping on everyone else’s efforts. This matters because our window of opportunity to act so that our children’s future isn’t hosed is closing very quickly.

Climate change cannot be solved if it remains as an ‘us vs. them’ problem—the way we have historically characterized environmental issues. The fight between those who want a pristine nature and those who think we can have it all is over. At this point in time, there is no possibility for a pristine nature, we’ve broken it and now we own it. However, this does not mean unfettered growth and less restrictions—quite the opposite. We’ve already locked ourselves into a warmer world that will necessitate big government with lots of rules to maintain anything like a sustainable future. But we must stop the absurd battles with ourselves within our own life support system. We don’t have the time for more lengthy battles (like the six-year fight to end Fracking in New York State) that hijacked our attention from addressing Climate Change. (The tragedy of the Fracking battle in NYS is not that one side won and other side lost—it’s that we could have dramatically increased renewable energy during that time.)

In just one year, intense efforts need to be made to educate the public on what we are facing with Climate Change and the importance of their understanding all the ramifications. All those promises made after the People’s Climate March at the UN Climate Summit in New York City, and Lima—lowering GHGs, increasing renewable energy, putting climate change into school curricula, increasing transparency in countries’ s emissions targets, stopping deforestation, appreciating the pivotal role of women in addressing climate change, and more—must come to fruition. We used to have a lot of time to wrangle over who should do what or whether we should do anything at all, but now we don’t.

For those still advocating for the Soft Plan (non-binding agreements) to Climate Change solutions, they have a year to lend any credibility to this unlikely option. Let them prove their case with substantial results before the Paris talks or be forever quiet on that non-solution. (No one has ever stopped anyone, any company, or any country from voluntarily reducing GHGs and yet the trajectory is for more GHGs, not less.) Here are some things the Soft Planners could be doing before Paris if there is any merit to their arguments: no more subsidies for fossil fuel exploration, no drilling in the Arctic, create millions of jobs in renewable energy, stop the XL Keystone pipeline fiasco, update infrastructures to adapt and mitigate Climate Change (like FDR’s job programs without the dams). This isn’t idle rhetoric, the results have to add up to subtracting GHGs. Under 2C you win; over 2C we lose.

Addressing Climate Change demands (among other things) that all humanity morph more-or-less instantly into environmentalists. No more of this looney media construct where only some folks care about their life support system (environmentalists) vs. those who only care about progress. All of us. Individuals, countries, corporations, activists, must get on the same page. There are no winners in a world that’s too warm to live in. We must change and do so quickly.

If you live in the Rochester, NY region, consider advancing the prospects for a real deal in Paris 2015 by joining one of these groups:

  • Global Warming/Energy Committee Addressing climate change is Sierra Club’s number one priority. The scientific facts on the worldwide climate crisis are fully available. They say climate is changing very rapidly and is going to get worse. In fact climate change isn’t the only problem. The world is facing an array of interconnected environmental problems such as overpopulation and water and food shortages. What can we do to avoid a ‘hard crash’? Our GW/E Committee has developed a summary design on how to address necessary changes. We call it a ‘Three Legged Stool’ approach. Rochester Regional Group of the Sierra Club.
  • Citizen’s Climate Lobby.  Here’s what Dr. James Hansen, head of Goddard Institute for Space Studies, NASA say’s "Most impressive is the work of Citizens Climate Lobby, a relatively new, fast-growing, nonpartisan, nonprofit group with 60 chapters across the United States and Canada. If you want to join the fight to save the planet, to save creation for your grandchildren, there is no more effective step you could take than becoming an active member of this group." The contact information for the local Rochester group: nyrochester@citizensclimatelobby.org We meet monthly, and people can contact us for more info on getting involved!
  • Cool Rochester--Save money, energy, the planet http://www.coolrochester.org/  Cool Rochester is a non-profit group composed of concerned citizens who are engaging the Rochester community in the fight against climate change. We believe dramatic reductions of carbon dioxide emissions are necessary to preserve and protect a functioning planet for this (and future) generations. Our goal is to reduce Rochester area carbon emissions one billion pounds in three years. To achieve this, we need to recruit 80,000 households and workplaces to participate in our program, to reduce their emissions by 25%. By unleashing the power of community we can save energy, save money and save the planet. Join Cool Rochester. [RENewsletter June 28, 09]
  • Gandhi Earth Keepers International  "is a grassroots, people powered environmental justice organization based on the teachings of sacred ecology and the principles of Gandhian styled nonviolence. Our events and programs include daily vigils, educational seminars and workshops, wildlife advocacy, outdoor meditation training for youth, book groups, blogging and other forms of new journalism, the promotion of climate justice, disaster relief preparation, community  activism, and even demonstrations of civil resistance. Every day, we vow to work for a justice that serves all living beings regardless of species, gender, age, race, nationality, religion, or social class. Founded on August 1, 2014 in Rochester, NY,  we are an income earning social benefit project designed to produce community based agency.  There are no fixed fees for our  products and we only accept donations for our programs and services. We trust that people will support this work through membership contributions, angel investment, grants, volunteer labor, and the gift economy."
  • Mothers Out Front | Mobilizing for a Livable Climate "We are mothers, grandmothers, and other caregivers who can no longer be silent and still about the very real danger that climate change poses to our children’s and grandchildren’s future. We have watched our leaders at every level fail to take action to address the growing climate crisis. We are mobilizing our energies and talents to build a movement that will be a force for change, beginning in our own communities and moving throughout the country and, eventually, the world. Our goal is to transition our society away from fossil fuels to clean energy. We do this out of our love for our children and grandchildren, and our commitment to protect their lives. Join us today by signing our Declaration of Protection for Our Children Against Climate Change."
  • The Climate Reality Project is a non-profit organization that was founded by Al Gore to promote climate change education and counter climate change denial campaigns worldwide.  They sponsor a number of different campaigns and offer training to individuals who want to become effective activists.  See climaterealityproject.org for more details.
  • Rochester Climate Action Rochester Climate Action is run by a group of local mothers who are concerned about how climate change will affect their children’s futures.  These mothers are unpaid volunteers and are not affiliated with any “green” businesses.  For more information, including other action opportunities, visit RochesterClimateAction.org.  (The site is slowly coming along.  Though it’s still in development, we invite you to check out what we’ve posted so far).  We welcome your feedback on our work.  Please send comments, questions, suggestions, etc. to rochesterclimateaction@gmail.com.
  • The Pachamama Alliance seeks to empower indigenous people of the Amazon rainforest to preserve their lands and culture and, using insights gained from that work, educate and inspire individuals everywhere to bring forth a thriving, just and sustainable world.  Through their workshops and training programs they strive to engage people in transformational conversations and empower individuals to take action.  To learn more, visit pachamama.org, contact Sue Staropoli at suestar1@rochester.rr.com, or check the events calendar on this site to find information about upcoming Pachamama events.
  • Citizens Climate Lobby "The purposes of Citizens Climate Lobby are to 1) create the political will for a stable climate and 2) to empower individuals to have breakthroughs in exercising their personal and political power.”

Sunday, December 14, 2014

January 1st deadline in NYS could inject new life into e-waste recycling

 

CCFriendlyReminderSOn January 1st 2015, it will become illegal in New York State for ordinary people to place old computers and TV’s into their trash or place them at the curb—a step in the 2010 NYS Electronic Equipment Recycling and Reuse Act that has been coming for five years. This has the potential to greatly increase the need for e-waste recycling. Suddenly, there will be a new playing field. Not recycling will no longer be a viable option. This will result in new and expanded opportunities for recycling businesses to make a profit and help protect our environment.

First, will the DEC’s friendly reminder actually work? Here’s what they say

“The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) today reminded New Yorkers that as of January 1, 2015, the NYS Electronic Equipment Recycling and Reuse Act prohibits certain types of electronic waste from being placed in the trash, or at the curbside for trash pickup.” DEC Urges New Yorkers to Recycle, Not Trash, Electronics (12/11/2014, The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) )

The DEC’s friendly message does not define what they mean by ‘prohibits’ in the sense that they make no mention of the repercussions of putting your old TV or Computer into the trash. But the law itself says,

“§ 71-2729. Enforcement of title 26 of article 27 of this chapter. 1. a. Any consumer, as defined in title twenty-six of article twenty- seven of this chapter, who violates any provision of, or fails to perform any duty imposed by, section 27-2611 of this chapter, shall be liable for a civil penalty not to exceed one hundred dollars for each violation.” ENVIROMENTAL CONSERVATION LAW ARTICLE 27 TITLE 26 | ELECTRONIC EQUIPMENT RECYCLING AND REUSE

(If I have it right ((and a good investigative media would be helpful here)) folks who march their old TV’s to the curb could get a $200 fine. This would be a game changer in people’s behavior with e-waste, assuming the law is enforced.)

The DEC mentions all the stuff you could and should do with your old e-waste, but a lot of folks won’t take the effort to dispose of their e-waster properly unless motivated by a penalty. What’s happening now is that when folks do put their old computers and TV’s in the trash, the local authorities pick that e-waste up and send it to a separate recycling center—so I’ve been told. The problem (even if this is actually happening) is that between the time the e-waste is set outside and the point when it is picked up, scavengers smash through the equipment, take the copper and other valuables, and leave the remains about our neighborhoods, remains that that are hardly recyclable anymore.
This all means that the January deadline won’t work if the law doesn’t work as it was intended. If those who still put their e-waste to the curb and the authorities don’t fine them as the law states, then it will be business as usual.

Our local media needs to investigate this issue and find out whether our local authorities are going to enforce this part of the law that kicks in this January.

If the law were to be enforced, if the media were to do its job by informing the public about this January deadline and investigating what the local authorities intend to do about it, we would see a greatly increased market for recycling e-waste. Once the public has felt the sting of a few fines, a new playing field would be established.

With a new playing field, it would be more convenient, and possibly even profitable, to take care of e-waste properly. However if the media doesn’t expose this deadline, and authorities don’t feel compelled to act, then the e-waste problem permeating our neighborhoods will continue apace.

Again, in order for this new playing field to happen, all 700,000 folks in Monroe County need to abide by the law. You can help this happen by making sure your media covers this story—making sure the message gets out and the authorities are monitored to see if they are enforcing compliance. Simply sharing this with your friends ain’t going to do the trick.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Rich countries try to sabotage climate talks--again

 

CCLimaCOP20SOne of my favorite hangouts during the COP20 Lima Climate Change Conference is tcktcktck’s page “Live: The UN climate talks in Lima”. It’s the next best thing to being there if you don’t have an official role, or you’re not part of a non-governmental organization (NGO) or a demonstration group. From Live, you can get continual updates of the COP20 in a variety of ways, including all forms of social media where you can join the innumerable discussions, from innumerable sources around the world. You get news and information and ‘stuff’ your mainstream media wouldn’t give you even if it was so inclined to attend one of the most historic meetings in human history.

First, tcktcktck, or “GCCA, the Global Call for Climate Action”,

“… represents an unprecedented network of more than 450 nonprofit organizations. Our shared goal is to harness the respective strengths of faith, development, science, environment, youth, labor, and other civil society organizations to achieve a world safe from runaway climate change. The GCCA works to connect and facilitate the efforts of organizations from across the globe; to communicate the urgency of climate change; and to mobilize the public in support of strong, equitable government action at the national and international levels. “About TCK

Second, if you haven’t already heard (and if you’re only listening to local Rochester NY media, your ignorance would be plausible), the COP20 is a critical pit stop along the continuum of climate talks to Paris 2015 (COP21) “to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world.”

The People’s Climate March in September started this latest climate action effort with massive demonstrations around the world, including many folks from your home town. Two days later, the UN Climate Summit in NYC changed the tone from business and governmental indifference to a euphoric inclination to make non-binding promises. In October, the Bonn Climate Change Conference tidied up some paper work for Lima. In November, China and the USA agreed make some non-binding promises about lowering GHGs, which made a lot of nations optimistic about Lima. Now, COP20 Lima. Then Paris. Paris 2015 is the Holy Grail: It will answer at least one profound question about humanity: Will the rich countries act on Climate Change to help the poor countries—and ultimately themselves?

Will the developed countries, who put most of the greenhouse gases that are warming up the planet and became rich by unfair, extreme fossil fuel extractions, help mitigate the effects of that and support undeveloped countries efforts to adapt? Note: It was unfair because the extraction of these fossil fuels that light up our world involved not only consuming our trees, drilling through our land and our waters, and mining our mines. It included ravishing the undeveloped countries’ trees, their oil and gas reserves, and their mines. We used up their share of the commons—their air and water—and now are thwarting their ability to develop without making Climate Change much, much worse.

Climate Change, manmade disruption of our worldwide climate due to the burning of fossil fuels, will ultimately affect everyone, even the rich, as this disaster is occurring on a planet with finite resources. The consequences of Climate Change will probably hit the poor first but not exclusively because weather extremes can be very disruptive to all infrastructures. If the rich counties do not come to the table at Lima with sufficient measures to mitigate and help developing nations adapt to Climate Change, the rich countries will be shooting themselves in the foot. We cannot insulate ourselves, our economy, our health, and our life support system from those of everyone else on the planet. Failure to think and act globally at Lima means disaster for everyone.

We are one-week into the COP20; how’s that going? There are demonstrations by NGO’s to get our leaders to focus on Climate Justice, which drives the rich nations crazy. Developing countries demand zero emissions and help with adapting. Political posturing (of course) made comical with Australia’s absurd position that coal is good. (“Coal is the moral choice.” Good grief.) And another extreme weather event is barreling down on the Philippines—just as it did last year and the year before that. But most significantly, even though the USA and China made some great promises to reduce GHGs (mitigation), injecting a lot of hope into the talks, the USA is holding that all agreements should be non-binding. Yet, without legally binding commitments to reduce emissions, actually addressing Climate Change is not going to happen. Sticking to the irrational stance that legally binding rules could ruin hopes for success is like saying no one will join your army if you make them ‘sign up’ and make a commitment. It’s saying that if you want a successful army, you have to make it so when things get tough the recruits can just leave—no questions asked. Moreover, a non-binding agreement at Paris 2015 is not better than nothing any more than half an airplane is a viable transportation option.

Giving Climate Pact Legal Teeth Could Make It Toothless As negotiators gather in Peru for a critical round of climate talks, U.S. delegates are straining to explain what they calla “counterintuitive” reality: For next year’s global climate agreement to be effective, commitments made under it must not be legally binding. Such an outcome would disappoint many, including the European Union’s negotiating team, which says it will be pushing for binding commitments during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change talks in Lima this week and next. America’s negotiators are pushing for voluntary commitments. The success of the next climate agreement, which is due to be finalized during talks in Paris one year from now, may hinge on American negotiators winning in this latest spat in a long-simmering quarrel with their European counterparts. (December 3, 2014) Climate Central

The USA is seeking this half-assed policy because our Congress is mostly likely going to squelch any binding agreement made in Lima (or any agreements on Climate Change for that matter), so this is the best we can do. So goes the present political zeitgeist. However, non-binding agreements, bottom up mitigation efforts from individuals, business and local governments, won’t work on a time and scale that will keep global temperature from soaring to 4C above preindustrial levels. A 4C world may be more than even the rich can handle. Not to mention, Climate Change, no matter how many times it is called a liberal hoax, is a physical process that does not give a tinker’s damn about our political world.

This is an alleged political reality: “There is no chance, there is zero possibility that the U.S. congress will ratify a binding commitment,” Yale University professor Daniel Esty, who has appointments in the university’s environment and law schools, said.”(ibid) This, however, is an actual fact: When you trap the sun’s energy with greenhouse gases, your planet’s atmosphere warms up. There’s a difference.

President Obama and the American public need to stand up to Congress; not while away their time trying to get around this dysfunctional institution. Unlike slavery, we do not have one-and-a-half centuries to address this issue. We must demand a binding treaty at Paris 2015. Let Congress say “No!” to Climate Change, adaptation and mitigation, and Climate Justice. If they say “No!”, then we’ll shame them and keep saying “Yes!”

83% of US citizens have accepted Climate Change into their brains, but only 60% think it’s due to manmade causes. If we want our government to act responsibly at Lima, we need to make some serious dot connections. When you remove the ‘manmade’ part of Climate Change, you remove not only the unsavory guilt that you may be responsible for the planet’s atmosphere warming up, you also make it impossible to address the cause of this crisis.

The road to getting the world to understand and act on Climate Change has been a long journey, fraught with pitfalls along the way. One of those pitfalls, one of the quagmires, is that the public will start to understand the overwhelming evidence of Climate Change but get stuck on doing nothing because it is to them just a phenomenon that happens. Humanity, mostly those in the rich countries, has caused Climate Change: “There is simply no other mechanism that can explain the significantly altered climate path and the changes in the radiative forcing other than human causes.” (From Open Source Systems, Science, Solutions.)

We, who have reaped the bounties of a fossil-fuel-driven world, must support those who are suffering our injustices and stop playing dumb on this worldwide crisis. It’s in our best interest to act properly. Another week of COP20 to go. Will we do our part, or drag our feet again?

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Rochester, NY obsesses with holiday shopping while planet burns

 

CCOneDotSWhile local Rochester media sets the table for the holidays and lots of shopping, the Climate Change conference in Lima sets the table for Paris 2015. There is nothing on the looming conference in the Rochester media, even though the Lima talks are a crucial link to an important benchmark in human history coming up in about a year. Of course, we have blithely passed many warning signs—hitting 400ppm of C02 concentrations in our atmosphere, dramatic increases in frequent extreme weather around the world, and the rapid melting of the Arctic—but the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris is particularly noteworthy. Paris 2015 may well be the last chance humanity has to act as one on mitigating Climate Change.

The latest IPCC report indicates that Climate Change cannot be put off a moment longer. Mitigation, keeping our global temperature below a 2C rise since preindustrial times, is the top priority.

‘Mitigation’, in the context of climate change, is a human intervention to reduce the sources or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases (GHGs). One of the central messages from Working Groups I and II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is that the consequences of unchecked climate change for humans and natural ecosystems are already apparent and increasing. The most vulnerable systems are already experiencing adverse effects. Past emissions have already put the planet on a track for substantial further changes in climate, and while there are many uncertainties in factors such as the sensitivity of the climate system many scenarios lead to substantial climate impacts, including direct harms to human and ecological well‐being that exceed the ability of those systems to adapt fully. (Page, 3, IPCC Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Page, Working Group III, Mitigation of Climate Change, WG III Assessment Report 5, Final Draft)

This is the scientists’ way of waving their hands in the air, jumping up and down, and shouting, “If we fail to make binding agreement to keep global temperatures at or below 2C preindustrial levels soon, we may very well not have a sustainable life support system—EVER!” Some non-Rochester mainstream media that finally get it on Climate Change now recommend that we ditch the Paris talks altogether because it’s too milquetoast: “We're Kidding Ourselves on 2-Degree Global Warming Limit: Experts” (11/28/2014 NBC News). However, scrapping Paris 2015 because it's too feeble means we'll never know whether we can act on Climate Change at all.

From this moment on, just days before the COP 20 in Lima, leaders around the world are readying for real action on Climate Change in the COP 21 in Paris. The Lima talks will test our political will for real success in Paris. These are the stakes:

The stakes are tropospheric, and far clearer now than when Kyoto was negotiated. High tide floods are becoming common across the coastal U.S. Greenhouse gases are making seas hotter and more acidic. Climate change is clearly amping heat waves, which are fueling wildfires. Global temperatures have risen 1.5°F since the Industrial Revolution, pushing sea levels and storm surges up an average of 8 inches. Greenhouse gas levels are rising now faster than ever, largely because India, China and other developing countries, which were never obliged under Kyoto to take climate action, are burning fuels at hastening paces to catch up on living standards. In the West, climate pollution levels are largely plateauing or dropping slightly. That’s because of energy efficiency improvements and because, in a growing number of cases, wind and solar energy are becoming as cheap as fossil fuel alternatives. Some say fracking and natural gas are helping by displacing coal. Others say methane leaks and natural gas’s low prices, which can hold back renewable energy investments, are making the problem worse. Either way, the planet is on a dangerous pollution trajectory. (What’s At Stake in Lima Climate Talks  (November 27, 2014) Climate Central)

This all matters to the Rochester and the New York region—whether your local media is paying attention or not. The recent 2014 update to the “Responding to Climate Change in New York State (ClimAID)” report does not indicate that taking our eye off the ball, shopping or watching sports on TV during the holiday season (which has stretched from around October 1st to mid-January), has alleviated the consequences of Climate Change at all. As a matter of fact, the projections for more heatwaves, more sea level rise, more extreme weather, and more precipitation in New York State have incredibly gone up.

Updated climate models and methods have helped scientists refine their previous projections for higher average temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and sea level rise in New York State. Scientists also project an increase in the frequency of extreme events, such as heat waves, heavy downpours, and coastal flooding. (Page 2, 2014 Supplement - Updated Projections Summary Brochure)

One of the most fascinating things to me about Climate Change is the incongruity between the lack of information and action locally on Climate Change juxtaposed with the information available worldwide about this crisis. Despite the Internet and the unlimited resources—including worldwide news and climate studies--to find out about the most important crisis of our age, there are seemingly no efforts in local media to connect the dots between the local consequences of Climate Change and the plans to deal with it. It is as if we were in the 1850’s and nobody will talk about slavery.  

Actually, with Fredrick Douglas in town, back in the day, running the The North Star, from the basement of the Memorial AME Zion Church, Rochester was one of the hot beds for ending the evil system of slavery. 

What has happened to Rochester, NY? Why are we now one of the leading capitols of Climate Change denial? As a major industrial region in the US Northeast that help put most of the manmade greenhouse gases into the atmosphere that is now wreaking havoc on developing nations, why have we forsaken them? Why is preparing (shopping) for the interminable holiday seasons more important to Rochesterians than this worldwide crisis we are in part the cause of?

The crucial negotiations coming up in few days aimed at paving the way for real binding agreements in Paris 2015 is not even news in our region—news of an event that will transform our future. How can we be so blind to a crisis that (besides being a worldwide moral problem) is in fact a physical problem that will eventually make Rochester and every other place on this planet unlivable—if we do not act? We have major studies and plans to deal with Climate Change locally, and you probably haven’t even heard of them because our media doesn’t investigate them and our authorities are too timid to mention them. Our local indifference to this present crisis boggles the mind.

So, what’s really fascinating about Climate Change is that because Climate Change is not simply a moral problem, but a life-support kind of problem, there are grave consequences to not paying attention to this issue in a time frame and level that will matter. Shopping for the holiday will eventually fade from our priories as our infrastructures—public health, water, waste, telecommunications, and transportation--get overwhelmed.

You don’t have to be a part of this local conspiracy on climate silence. Speak out, write letters to local media editors, and get our media to focus on Lima and then Paris. Remind them that we in Rochester marched along with 400,000 at the People’s Climate March. Give a shit about Climate Change. Make your voice heard at Lima climate discussions!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Cuomo, he who said he would lead on Climate Change, isn’t

 

CCDisruptiveSMost of Governor Cuomo’s accomplishments on Climate Change preparations were in fact initiated by his predecessor, Governor David A. Paterson. Although it was Cuomo who stated after Hurricane Sandy that “We will lead on climate change |New York must press ahead with urgency to equip itself for the new age of extreme weather… ”, it was Patterson who began the moratorium on Fracking, developed our climate plan ‘New York State Climate Action Plan Interim Report,’ and kicked off our Climate Smart Communities (CSM) program. While most communities west of Syracuse have not signed into the voluntary CSM program (and those who have like Rochester barely admit it) it is an increasingly robust program that provides a lot of state help for local action to adapt to Climate Change.

Paterson’s climate initiatives have gone fallow under Cuomo. Instead of leading on Climate Change, Cuomo has failed to lead on energy and allowed the Fracking issue to fester. He has permitted the table in NYS to be set for fossil fuel infrastructures by snoozing as Albany becomes a major railroad hub for trafficking dangerous bomb trains and turning a blind eye as local folks fight back a Texas company from poisoning Seneca Lake lands with more fossil fuel storage. This fossil fuel mania is getting in Rochester’s face.

“About 350 New York state schools, including at least 63 in Monroe County, lie within a mile of railroad tracks used by trains carrying volatile crude oil, a coalition of environmental and other advocacy groups said Thursday.” (Oil and schools don't mix, enviro groups say 11/202014 Democrat and Chronicle)

Even our local media is finally recognizing the threat that construction of a gas storage facility on the shore of Seneca Lake presents to our region:

Opposition builds to gas storage facility on Seneca Lake shore As protests continue over construction of a gas storage facility on the shore of Seneca Lake, people across the entire Finger Lakes region opposed to the project are getting involved. As protests continue over construction of a gas storage facility on the shore of Seneca Lake, people across the entire Finger Lakes region opposed to the project are getting involved. “The Finger Lakes is all of us,” said Rosemary Hooper, a Naples resident who has joined others from Ontario County in participating in the campaign to stop the building of the gas storage facility on the shore of Seneca Lake in Schuyler County. Texas-based Crestwood Midstream's proposal is to use old abandoned salt caverns along the lake to store millions of barrels of liquid petroleum gas and billions of cubic feet of natural gas. Those opposed include organizations, individuals, businesses and municipalities. The Ontario County Board of Supervisors, Yates County Legislature, Seneca County Board of Supervisors and Geneva City Council are among those that have passed motions opposing the proposed storage facility. (11/19/2014 Gates-Chili Post)

He who should be leading on Climate Change has created a climate of delusion where business-as-usual flourishes and renewable energy languishes. Where it’s OK for our leaders and media to go mum on this worldwide warming crisis, even though over 400,000 of us insisted on action at People’s Climate March, (most of them New Yorkers). Where, despite all evidence that Fracking is a public health hazard, leaks methane gas like a sieve, and will certainly screw up our drinking water, the present governor cannot make up his mind. Where the recent snow storm buries Buffalo in a record-breaking snow storm and no dots between it and Climate Change were connected in our local media, not even in our public media: Buffalo Area Needs To Dig Out; Then Prepare For Possible Flooding (11/21/2014 WXXI) Other non-local news outlets were not so timid: Cold snap caused by climate change-weakened jet stream, scientists suggest and These Photos of Lake Effect Snow Are Crazy.

The weak-kneed Democrats in Congress are little better at leading on Climate Change. The absurdity this week that was the Keystone XL pipeline vote in the Senate would not have happened if President Obama had just squashed this game-over fossil fuel project years ago. [Demand that Obama veto it once and for all.] And while our two NYS senators didn’t cave in to this political nonsense, they didn’t lead. Our leaders have been cowed. To get a sense of just how lame this entire Senate vote was, you have to watch Rachel Maddow go at it: What On Earth Were They Thinking? Rachel Maddow On The Democratic Party. Our leaders are not leading on the most important crisis of our age.

Instead of our leaders taking the heat (suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and all that), as is part of their job description, and boldly informing the public about Climate Change and plans to deal with it, they pacify the pubic with reassurances that the climate for now is hunky-dory. Our climate is not even remotely hunky-dory.

Our scientists and the evidence of our own eyes that the growing seasons have lengthened are telling us that Climate Change didn’t go away back in the 1980’s. It’s gotten worse. No one, least of all our governor, wants to take charge. But Climate Change is physics, just like earthquakes. You can dither and downplay their devastating inevitability all you want, but come they will.

After 309 people died the in the 2009 L'Aquila earthquake, the public went berserk searching for those they thought had kept important information from them, resulting in catastrophe and no plans to avoid it. The denial machinery, political weakness, and the pressure to reassure the public is intense. After experiencing a few tremors in the region of Abruzzo, in central Italy:

“The meeting was called with intentions to reassure the public. The scientists correctly emphasised to De Bernardinis that the precise timing of major earthquakes could not be known. They were careful not to rule out the possibility of a major earthquake any time. Following their meeting De Bernardinis publicly stated: “The scientific community tells us there is no danger, because there is an ongoing discharge of energy. The situation looks favourable.” None of the scientists made an effort to correct Bernardinis’s imprecise statements. L'Aquila earthquake scientists freed but political lessons remain (11/21/2014, Dr. Lawrence Torcello, The Conversation)

With Climate Change, scientist have been clear to the point of mind-numbing simplicity:

IPCC Synthesis Report Highlights Science Strength A distillation of the major findings of the fifth assessment report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been published today (Sunday 2 November 2014). Known as The Synthesis Report, the document pulls together all the various strands of the different AR5 documents published by the IPCC over the last year or so. The launch was accompanied by a major press conference in Copenhagen. At the press conference, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for a global response to climate change: “We need everyone, even individual citizens, to take action,” he said. IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri told the press conference that “Business as usual is certainly not an option” and urged leaders to look at the science. (November 2, 2014) ReportingClimateScience.com

Instead of being buried in obscurity, our appointed governor could be established as a leader on Climate Change. Governor David A. Paterson patiently and persistently established a firm ground in climate preparedness. Our present governor could be scorned forever as one of the many politicians who dithered and dallied despite overwhelming evidence in his state and beyond that there are more than enough reasons to prepare for Climate Change.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The real tragedy of the mid-term elections

 

CCMandateSMy take-home message from a talk by the Monroe County Sewer Authority (Pure Waters) (at a neighborhood association meeting) was that our sewer system is very healthy as long as you don’t believe in Climate Change. Our sewer system is the envy of many surrounding communities like Buffalo because of our Combined Sewer Overflow Abatement Program (CSOAP) program and the ‘tunnel system’. This is to say, when there have been heavy wet weather events, we tend not to discharge raw sewage into our rivers and lakes—as other communities do.

Combined Sewer Overflow Abatement Program (CSOAP) events have all but been eliminated with the phasing in of the deep rock tunnel system unique to Monroe County. This tunnel system allowed the integration of approximately 25 smaller sewage treatment plants into the Monroe County system. The lab monitors the improvement in the surrounding environment and the positive impact of this program. CSOAP and Wet Weather Events

The operative phrase here is ‘where there have been,’ meaning our system can and has dealt with most current and historical heavy rainfall events successfully (there are a few, and increasingly more, overflows each year). The continuing issues with basement sewer backups and water pooling in our streets after heavy rains has more to do with the 100-year-old sewer pipe system or blockages in any one of our 80,000 catch basins, than advances made in the 1970’s for combined sewer overflow problems. Combined sewer overflow systems which proliferate around the Great Lakes basin take away both sewage and storm water. They work fine until more frequent heavy rainfalls overwhelm the systems, at which point raw sewage gets sent (mostly) untreated into our rivers and streams.

The problem is that Pure Waters also mentioned that according to their rain gauges we have received significantly more rainfall than what historical data would predict. This is code for Climate Change, as this is precisely what climate studies like ClimAID suggest: “Climate hazards of particular relevance as detailed by the Ecosystems sector are … increased frequency of heavy rainfall events …” (Pg. 9 Report 11-18 Response to Climate Change in New York State (ClimAID))

To be clear, Monroe County (and Rochester) ‘has greatly reduced’ overflow events:

These discharge events are referred to as combined sewer overflows. As would be expected, this sewage contains pathogens (disease-causing agents), excess nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous), metals, and large debris that can harm aquatic organisms as well as curtail recreational use of waterways. In New York State, more than 60 municipalities have sewage systems that generate combined sewer overflows, and most are located in major cities (NYSDEC, 2008). The City of Rochester has greatly reduced these events; the cities of Buffalo and Syracuse are in the process of implementing mitigation plans. (Pg. 94 (ClimAID))

But when asked (by me) about the rainfall patterns coming with Climate Change for our region, Pure Waters was mum. This leads me to infer that our region is satisfied with measures to deal with current and historical rainfalls events, but we are simply not connecting the dots with Climate Change. Which is to ask, are we properly preparing and planning for the consequences of Climate Change in our region? We don’t know because despite the attention Climate Change has received nationwide and worldwide, neither the City of Rochester nor the County of Monroe mentions Climate Change much.

For whatever reason--politics, other concerns, not-being-grilled-by-the-media, whatever—our leaders are not leading on Climate Change. Climate Change is about planning. If you’re just relying on historical data to plan for the future, you’re delusional. Just focusing on the present viability of Monroe County’s sewer system, especially in the presence of data indicating a worrying trend, is like watching someone peeing into the water at the other end of the pool where you’re swimming and thinking it won’t matter to you.

The results of the mid-term elections suggest that it is more likely that those politicians already squirming on Climate Change will be more squirmy, and less likely to talk about, address, or inform the public about any measures they are taking to adapt to and mitigate Climate Change. This is significant because Monroe County’s sewer system is but one of many systems connected to the Great Lakes basin. If any number of communities around the largest fresh water system in the world are continually dumping raw sewage into our waters, this is going to matter to all of us. Top down planning, leaders around the Great Lakes talking to each other and preparing, is crucial.

Listen to this archived version of a local program on the likely effects of recent elections on Climate Change. Three local experts examine the possible repercussions of our efforts to adapt to and mitigate Climate Change after the recent dismal election turnout.  Have we shot ourselves in the foot, as it were? Have we crippled our ability to adapt to Climate Change locally and possibly hampered our efforts to lead on Climate Change at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris because it’s now easier for our leaders to plead ignorance? 

Connections: Recent Elections and Climate Change What do the election results mean for those who had hoped for more aggressive public policy relating to climate change? To say the least, advocates are disappointed. What's next? We discuss with our panel: Lawrence Torcello, RIT Ethics professor, Dr. Susan Spencer, solar scientist Abigail McHugh-Grifa of The Rochester People's Climate Coalition.

Already, we are seeing signs that the science of Climate Change is being ignored by our local leaders, who are responsible to plan for the consequences of Climate Change. For example, why hasn’t New York State upheld the Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act? Are we swimming in raw sewage? (BTW: Monroe County is reporting diligently and you can find that information here: Sewage Discharge Reports. However, we here on the shores of Lake Ontario are downstream from all the other Great Lakes.)

WHAT'S IN THE WATER? STATE AGENCY'S FAILURE TO FOLLOW SEWAGE POLLUTION LAW PROVOKES QUESTIONS Each year the aging sewer infrastructure in New York’s cities, towns and villages dumps billions of gallons of raw sewage mixed with dirty stormwater into local waterways. These overflows close beaches, kill fish and wildlife, and sicken scores of people each year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “No one swims in their toilet,” said Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo. “We don’t want to swim in waterways that are contaminated.” In an attempt to provide immediate notification to New York residents about this public health threat, two years ago Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act into law. (October 30, 2014) City and State

Why are we even considering liquid gas (an explosive, greenhouse emitting fossil fuel) storage on the shores of Seneca Lake and setting the table for Fracking? For a great encapsulation of this dynamic folly check this out from Food and Water Watch’s. Wenonah Hauter:

Standing by Those Who Stand in the Way of Fracking Infrastructure It all began taking shape back in March of 2013, when Sandra Steingraber – the noted biologist, author, educator and advisor of Americans Against Fracking – and 11 other courageous individuals were arrested for blockading the entrance to a natural gas compressor station on the banks of Seneca Lake, in the environmentally sensitive Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. These so-called “Seneca Lake 12” were simply doing what countless other Americans have done over generations when they knew their health and safety were threatened, when their elected leaders weren’t there to help, and when they had no other choice: they stood up for their neighbors, their families and themselves, and were hauled off to jail. Sandra spent 10 days behind bars after defiantly refusing to pay a fine. (November 10, 2014) Food and Water Watch

Also, watch, listen, and read this amazing coverage (you have to go here because the local media isn’t covering this) of the human blockade of the gates of a methane gas storage facility near Seneca Lake, one of New York’s Finger Lakes, a water source, a tourist attraction, an ecosystem, and a whole lot of other resources, all put in jeopardy by another volatile fossil fuel: 10 Arrested as Human Blockade Continues Protesting Methane Gas Storage Facility. Consider signing a petition or donating to help this cause to reject Inergy Midstream‘s (now Crestwood) proposal to store Liquefied Petroleum Gas and expand natural gas storage at facilities on the shore of Seneca Lake in Reading, NY. More at Gas Free Seneca. Even folks in the Rochester area should care about the health of our Finger Lakes.

The real tragedy of the mid-term elections, and climate denial in general, is that the burden of proof is still put on the science and on the expensive, inconvenient things that have to be done to plan properly for Climate Change. Instead of us all being grownup and facing the challenge of our generation, we are hiding behind the skirts of denial, demanding that our leaders make this problem go away—instead of dealing with it forthrightly.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

The window of opportunity for mitigating Climate Change is closing

Recently, “R. K. Pachauri, Chair of the IPCC said: “The scientific case for prioritizing action on climate change is clearer than ever. We have little time before the window of opportunity to stay within 2ÂșC of warming closes.”” (IPCC warns time is running out to tackle climate change, 11/03/2014, tcktcktck)  

(Remember: Adapting is adjusting. Mitigation is alleviation. You can adapt to brushfire by continually moving away from the fire. You mitigate by putting the fire out. Pachauri is speaking about mitigation.)

One of the really annoying things about Climate Change is that, because it’s a problem of physics, we cannot wait around until our collective social consciousness can digest it. The clock is ticking. Even trying to vote it away won’t work. Regardless of the dismaying mid-term elections (in which one of the consequences will be to install Sen. Inhofe, the climate denier-in-chief, to the chair of Senate environment committee) won’t slow Climate Change down a bit. Allowing such an irresponsible senator to escalate his efforts to thwart our government’s efforts (especially our military) to address Climate Change will only cripple our chances to mitigate Climate Change. Denier obstructionists will only make our ability to make critical commitments at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris more unlikely. In other words, deniers cannot stop Climate Change—that can only be done by lowering GHG concentrations--all they can do is kill our efforts to save ourselves.

Think of our present situation this way: Someone is frantically knocking at your apartment door. You open the door and it’s a firefighter saying you must evacuate the building immediately. You ask why. The firefighter says that your building is on fire. You don’t believe her. You ask, what makes her think your apartment is on fire. She says that your apartment isn’t on fire yet, your building is on fire. You still don’t believe her. You explain that you don’t see any signs of a fire, no smoke, no sirens, no alarms in the building are sounding, and nary a mention of a fire on your TV. She says that she is a firefighter and it’s her job to know whether there’s a fire or not.  The firefighter explains to you that the manager of your apartment doesn’t believe in fires and the cable service from which you get your TV news doesn’t believe in fires either, that’s why you haven’t been warned. You say that you don’t want to leave as it would be very inconvenient for you and all your stuff inside might get stolen.  You further explain very calmly and respectfully that if you see a lot of smoke or fire trucks pulling up outside or something on the news about it then, and only then, will you get moving.  Otherwise, fuhgeddaboudit. The firefighter says that if the fire isn’t stopped in your building, then the whole neighborhood will go up in flames. You still refuse to believe that which is very inconvenient to believe; you’re not getting out of your apartment so that some firefighter can put out a fire that you don’t believe exists or will have any effect on your neighborhood. The firefighter explains with more urgency that she has witnessed the fire, you can talk to her supervisor. You can even come with her and see the fire for yourself. But you think this is just her sneaky way to get you out of your apartment so the firefighter can do some kind of mischief. You close the door on the firefighter and go back to watching the cable news, occasionally checking to see if they make any mention of the alleged fire.   

This rather silly thought experiment is just another of my futile attempts to understand why folks are not alarmed by Climate Change. The International Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is not only a collection of science experts, they tend (as anything related to the UN is very political) to be conservative. If they say the freaking window is closing, it might be a good idea to heed their warning.

On the local level, it’s interesting to look for signs of Climate Change alarm in our leaders. Are any of our local agencies alarmed; are they planning; are they even aware of Climate Change?
At least someone is. Here’s a press release from one our leaders: NYS Attorney General Schneiderman says in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy (from press release, October 29, 2014A.G. Schneiderman: Two Years After Sandy, We Must Remain Committed To Making New York Stronger Than Ever):

In the past two years, Attorney General Schneiderman has made several significant efforts to help New Yorkers overcome the challenges posed by Sandy. Among his achievements:
·         Intervening in a Public Service Commission proceeding on a proposed rate hike for Consolidated Edison and successfully advocating that the utility company be required to take into account the risks posed by climate change in its storm-hardening plans;
·         Proposing legislation to require all electric and gas utilities in the state to ensure that the critical services they provide to millions of New Yorkers are properly protected from the impacts of climate change;

One of the things we absolutely have to do to address Climate Change is make sure our critical utilities are ready for more frequent disruptions. For all the doubt and dismissing of Climate Change in our region, our public officials must see to it that we are prepared for Climate Change and that we are also prepared for the collateral damage. Our public officials do not have the luxury of doubting Climate Change—no matter how loony their political constituencies are.

We need more media attention focused on efforts by our public servants like A.G. Schneiderman’s. The media must make it crystal clear to the public that Climate Change is real, that it is happening, and it must be planned for—especially by our government. Only our government can set the playing field for addressing Climate Change, and only our government (no matter how many donors and volunteers help out after a disaster) can be the insurers and provide assistance of last resort.

Some may view that the Paris 2015 conference is merely a line drawn in the sand, an arbitrary point where climate scientists around the world have chosen to act. The window of opportunity may have already passed or it still maybe some point in the future. Only someone viewing our present position from the future can be absolutely certain. We will never have absolute certainty. So, it is important that we draw a line in the sand at the Paris 2015 conference, even though there will never be a Pearl-Harbor moment of clarity on when we should act. Our best bet is not to trust the deniers, but listen to our experts, a firefighter, as it were: 


How Michael Mann Views Sunday’s IPCC Synthesis Report Michael Mann, originator of the hockey stick graph that shook world science in the 2001 IPCC Third Assessment Report and contributed to the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, posted some thoughts today about the final IPCC climate synthesis report released by the UN on Sunday. Mann’s take on the key points of the report, which calls for zero fossil fuel emissions by 2100: “The world’s scientists are more confident than ever that climate change is not only real and caused by us, but that it is already taking a toll: on our health, on our economy, on our security, and on the health of our environment. The good news is that it it still possible to solve the problem cheaply. But if we delay acting, it will be far more expensive, and the damages will be far greater.” He finds this latest IPCC synthesis report more definitive than the past reports in terms of its tone of certainty. He hears in it a higher level of confidence that human activity (fossil fuel burning) is responsible for warming. “The report is far more definitive that climate change isn’t some nebulous, far-off threat—it is negatively impacting us already, where we live.” He cites the influence of climate change in the US, such as increasing impacts of extreme droughts, floods, and massive wildfires. (November 2, 2014) Planet Save [more on Climate Change in our area]

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Demand NPR restore its climate reporting team

 

"I am convinced that ecology cannot be kept secret. Environmental openness is an inalienable human right. Any attempt to conceal any information about harmful impact on people and the environment is a crime against humanity." --Alexandr Nikitin, Russian environmentalist.

CCTooSmallSHere is an astonishing remark by a newly hired climate reporter for the New York Times “Few topics fuel as much reader attention as climate change.” (Steering the Climate Change Coverage, October 27, 2014 New York Times) It’s astonishing given that the New York Time gutted its climate reporters a while ago and now is rehiring. But it’s also astonishing because National Public Radio has just gone ahead and gutted their climate reporter staff.

NPR Guts Its Environment And Climate Reporting Team, Becomes ‘Part Of The Problem’ NPR has gutted its staff dedicated to covering environmental and climate issues. Given the nation’s and world’s renewed focus on the threat posed by unrestricted carbon pollution, this baffling move is already receiving widespread criticism from scientists and media watchers. It is “a sad commentary on the current state of our media,” as one top climatologist told me. Katherine Bagley broke the story for InsideClimate News. She reports that earlier in 2014, NPR “had three full-time reporters and one editor dedicated” to cover environmental and climate issues within NPR’s science desk. Now, shockingly, “One remains — and he is covering it only part-time.”(October 24, 2014) Climate Progress

The reasoning behind this unfortunate shift? Anne Gudenkauf, senior supervising editor of NPR’s science desk, says “… she doesn't "feel like [the environment] necessarily requires dedicated reporters" because so many other staffers cover the subject, along with their other beats.” (NPR Reduces Its Environment Team to One Reporter, Oct. 24, 2014 Inside Climate News). This response by our public radio would make sense if our collective understanding and acceptance of Climate Change had reached such a level that Climate Change, the mother of all problems, were already understood and assumed by the public to be, indeed, the mother of all problems.

First, the media didn’t cover Climate Change because it was so new they could not decide if it was even an issue worth reporting. Then when they did start covering Climate Change, this issue was framed as if 97% of the scientists who back the science were evenly balanced with the 3% who didn’t buy it. (See Jon Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Climate Change Debate (HBO)”.) And now, presumably, Climate Change is so ingrained into the public consciousness that it makes no sense to have dedicated reporters covering it. This magical jump—where the media leaps suddenly from unbalanced coverage to ‘this is a no-brainer’—avoids the reality that most of the US public are woefully uninformed on an issue that requires massive public planning with massive public backing —as suggested in most Climate Change studies.

NPR’s unfortunate decision is especially tragic considering the fast approach of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris—where the “objective is to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world. ” Even though we marched 700,000 strong worldwide for the People’s Climate March to demand action on Climate Change, they couldn’t hear us in Bonn, the most recent climate talk preparing for Paris: Governments at Bonn climate talks apparently lose memo on people’s support for climate action (October 25, 2014, Climate Action Network ). Secretary of State John Kerry stated on the excellent climate documentary “Years of Living Dangerously” that in order for countries to stop insane practices like drilling for more fossil fuel in the Arctic, the public needs to demonstrate they care on a level that their political servants cannot avoid.  Which is to say, the public must make it clear that not acting on Climate Change is unacceptable if they are to give our leaders the clout they need in tackling this issue. That cannot happen if the public is not informed.

“The final instalment [sic] of the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is due for launch on 2 November in Copenhagen, Denmark” (Special Alert: IPCC Synthesis Report, Oct. 24, 2014, The Tree). It portends the last chance, the last fork in the road for humanity:

“It is expected to say that we can go down a clean energy path where we enjoy economic benefits and manage to adapt to modest climate change, or follow a path with increasing carbon pollution worldwide where severe climate change threatens our societies and derails our economies.” [ibid]

The public is so not prepared and informed on Climate Change. To say that a major component of US public broadcasting, a public institution that “has a substantial news operation of its own with hundreds of reporters and editors in a central newsroom in Washington and in bureaus around the country and the world”1, a public entity where 39% of their revenue comes from ‘individuals’ and 4.6% from federal, state, and local governments (i.e. your tax dollars) is doing their job on the most important crisis of our generation by gutting environmental and climate reporters is ludicrous indeed.

NPR is not just another dysfunctional media outlet that we can shrug off. It’s ours; it’s not Murdock’s or a play toy for rich billionaires. Our public communications should not shrink from its prime objective: “The mission of NPR is to work in partnership with Member Stations to create a more informed public — one challenged and invigorated by a deeper understanding and appreciation of events, ideas and cultures.”( Our Mission and Vision). Our public network, albeit far short of what Europe gets for their tax buck, is not supposed to pander to events, ideas, and cultures; it’s suppose to adequately inform the public about them. Unlike corporate media, which seemingly must indulge the ideology of their corporate backers, their customers’ prurient interests, and the agenda of their advertisers, our public airwaves should be free of all that. Or take out ‘Public’ from NPR.

We don’t have a Pravda (a state-sponsored political propaganda apparatus), nor should we; but we should expect from our public broadcasting independent, impartial and honest information to the public. The public’s (everyone’s) understanding of Climate Change is a must. Coverage must be continual, pervasive, free, and accessible to all. Climate Change is not emotional, nor political, nor economic, nor a special interest: It is our present and future reality and it needs your attention.

Sign this petition, via 350.org Campaigns: DEMAND NPR RESTORE ITS CLIMATE REPORTING TEAM And/or this petition: Sign the petition: Stop NPR from gutting its climate coverage. Also, consider contacting NPR and demand they restore their (your) climate reporting team: Go to NPR’s ‘Contact Us’ and demand they restore their Public mission.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Become the Media! in Rochester, NY on Climate Change

 

CCFFFFSA deer standing in the middle of the road while you approach it at 65 mph in a one-ton SUV seems to prove that many animals aren’t very smart at all. Especially when you get closer and closer, honk your horn, and they continue to stare at you fixed-eyed and unmoved by the danger you present to them. Of course, deer are not stupid. Hunters can attest to their extremely keen sense of smell, hearing, and the slightest disturbance to their environment. So why the incredible deer/car collision rate (18,000 deer per year in Connecticut)? Adaptation. Deer had hundreds of thousands of years to adapt to wolves and bears and only a little over a century to adapt to vehicles. Something humungous coming noisy and blazing-eyed straight towards them is, for all practical purposes, invisible.

That’s how we are reacting to Climate Change—a species watching a disaster coming straight us and doing little to react. Humans aren’t stupid. We’ve put men on the Moon. We’ve produced a Jane Goodall. But Climate Change, without an immediate shift in our collective consciousness, remains invisible to us. Climate Change isn’t sexy, it doesn’t do tricks for us, it’s not talked about much, it’s slow and boring, it doesn’t appear on our news, and unless you’re focusing on the science it’s almost imperceptible.

Almost. In fact there are many pressing consequences of Climate Change right in our Rochester, NY region if you’re paying attention or getting your facts from science. This, from a list gained from numerous climate studies and posted on RochesterEnvironment.com: ‘Real changes in our region because of Climate Change’: Annual temperature increases, increase in intensive precipitation events, bird population shifts, reduced snowpack, earlier ice break up, increase in lake effect snowfall, increased plant frost damage,  plant growth and decomposition affected, species shifting locations, streamflow changes, amphibians responding to Climate Change, invasive species thriving, wildlife affected by Climate Change, increase in heat-related illnesses, increase in incidents of ground-level ozone, livestock affected more by heat stress, timing of seasons is off, Northeast extreme weather increasing, more extreme weather driving up liability claims, NYS coastal sea level rising, Climate Change causing plants to shift, and forest pests increasing.

We thrived during the 10,000 years of the Holocene with a relatively stable climate, a climate we couldn’t have imagined that we could influence any more than we could move the moon in the sky. Since the Industrial Revolution, where our greenhouse gas emissions skyrocketed, things have changed. We’ve flipped the thermostat to ‘very hot’ without our even noticing that we did. However, ignorance of the laws (of physics) is no excuse. We must adapt quickly to a warmer world and stop further warming, or we’ll be unprepared for what’s coming at us.

This brings me to my point: How do we inform humanity about the all-inclusive existential danger that Climate Change presents our species on a level and a speed that will matter? In an incredibly pithy and cogent argument by a local philosopher and a prominent climate scientist, they explain the present status of the problem.

Limiting global warming to 2°C: the philosophy and the science Industrial civilization must become technologically, economically, politically, and morally sustainable to hold the earth’s temperature below 2°C (3.6°F) higher than its preindustrial average. The problem is not insurmountable. It is possible, then, that we’ll benefit in the long run from having to deal with human-caused global warming, by being forced to mature politically and ethically. As of yet, however, the world has largely failed to move beyond moral, political, and economic parochialism. Our continued failure will supplant the promise of sustainability with a legacy of collapse. (October 21, 2014) The Conversation

How do we get this message and the sense of urgency across to a species, however smart, that can’t see the thing barreling down on it?

Dr. Hansen, foremost NASA climate scientist, explained the situation to Congress in 1988, but that didn’t do it. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) formed a worldwide organization to collect scientific information and inform the world, but that hasn’t lowered worldwide greenhouse gases. We’ve had over 20 climate talks, we’ve march 400,000 strong through the streets of New York City (700,000 worldwide), there are books galore, films, a very popular Showtime series “ Years of Living Dangerously” that brings top stars and amazing technology to bear on this issue; there are a zillion climate studies, there is voluntary program created by our state (see Climate Smart Communities) to help communities to adapt—but few have opted-in. Politics have failed us. Leaders have failed us. Business has failed us. And most alarmingly, our information system, mainstream media, where we collectively inform ourselves of important stuff, has failed us. What’s left?

You. Become the media!

When one reviews all the local news every day, it is astounding at the discrepancy of how much and how thoroughly Climate Change is reported globally and how meager this news is locally. If we only depended on local media to accurately portray the world we actually live in, a warming world, we Rochesterians are essentially blind on every aspect of this worldwide crisis.

We need new ideas on how to get the deer in us to stop glazing at the headlights and focus on the problem that’s going to run us over.

Check out this amazing new media format that ‘gives you a voice, putting your stories happening now before climate scientists and journalists.” CLIMATE AT YOUR DOORSTEP, from The Daily Climate. Go around the dysfunctional media and link up directly with the folks doing the science and reach the public with the information they need to know.

One of the most creative opportunities in our region is a new kind of film festival to do just what I’ve been talking about. In the Rochester area create your own environmental message and win a prize:

Fast Forward Film Festival  Showcasing New Environmental Perspectives.  Presented by WXXI/Little Theatre, George Eastman House, RIT, and the NYS Pollution Prevention Institute. The Fast Forward Film Festival invites residents in the greater Rochester area to submit independent short films (5 minutes or less) that inspire a deeper connection to the environment. As an incubator for innovative thinking and artistic expression, FFFF encourages films that tap into the local experience, compel audiences to engage with the community, and raise environmental awareness. An acclaimed jury will review the films and select winners who will receive a $1,000 cash prize for each of these categories: (1) most inspiring, compelling, and engaging, (2) most unique perspective, (3) strongest call to action. Submission deadline is February 27, 2015. Read more at: www.fastforwardroc.org"

The FFF is an amazing opportunity to think outside the box on messaging Climate Change. What might some folks do for this film? Try something wild. Mimic something that’s gone viral on the Internet and tailor it to Climate Change messaging. Connect with your friends and crowdsource ideas. Demonstrate the Climate Change has gotten personal. Zen it: How, in just five minutes, do you get everyone to pay attention to this worldwide crisis quick enough and on a level that will matter? Sure it’s a challenge, but even the exercise, thinking about the most important crisis of our age, will produce something better than denial.