Saturday, March 29, 2014

Earth Day 2014: Communicating Climate Change to the public, Part 7


CC7BillionThis is part 7 of a series of essays leading up to a major public discussion of Climate Change in Rochester NY on Earth day. On April 17, 2014 at 7PM, the Rochester Sierra Club will host a community discussion on Climate Change in our region with Mark Lowery, Climate Analyst, and manager of the state’s Climate Smart Communities program. The program is called 2014 Earth Day Forum “Climate Smart Communities:  Let’s Get With the Program." This “Earth Day” event (I know, April 22 is actually Earth Day) will be held at the First Unitarian Church, 220 Winton Road South, Rochester, NY. We hope to reach the entire public—community, faith, and business leaders, students, the unemployed, the employed, young and old, healthy and not so healthy, rich and poor, and folks busy with other stuff —and have an old-fashioned community talk about the world crisis called Climate Change. Join your neighbors in a town hall meeting free from activism, ideology, politics, and denial.

It’s not uncommon for Americans to look to their wealthiest for the answers to their problems. After all it was J. P. Morgan who single-handedly helped ease the financial panic of 1907. Some of our wealthiest businessmen-turned-philanthropists have continually poured their time and resources into solving many of the world’s aliments. Today, some of those starting to get alarmed about Climate Change find a desire to pick the brains of those whose brains have served them well in the present economic system. “Innovation is the real driver of progress” (Bill Gates: The Rolling Stone Interview The richest man in the world explains how to save the planet, March 13, 2014), which is what you would expect from someone with a golden hammer seeing every dirty little problem as a nail. 

As suggested by some billionaires, innovation certainly must be considered. New ideas in the form of creating products that don’t produce waste--finding environmentally friendly ways to sort, dismantle, and reuse materials--will undoubtedly be a part of our climate adaptation toolbox.  However, as with much of the conundrums of addressing Climate Change, we cannot engineer ourselves out of a problem that human ingenuity and a fantasy economic system put us in.

For example, to address past, present, and future waste on a level that will matter in the coming decades, the public will have to understand the issues related to Climate Change and be a major part of the solution. Changing our way of living, one that continually creates waste, can only be accomplished by billions of ordinary folks changing their behavior—quickly. The innumerable things we use every day to get around with, to eat with, to compute with, have all been forged from fuels that are heating up the planet. Smug billionaires with lots of time to recycle their past solutions to this new problem of Climate Change won’t put us on the road to a sustainable future.

Communicating with those seven billion folks who are desperately trying to better themselves is arguably the most difficult conundrum of Climate Change. Do you pander to the public’s inclination to avoid bad news by sugaring it with things they do like, profitable stock options, pets, and sports?  Or, do you tell it to them straight? How about this straight talk from the guy who invented the hockey stick (not that one), climate scientist Michael Mann:  

How Scientists Are Moving Climate Change Conversation Forward Last January, I wrote an op-ed for the New York Times—If You See Something, Say Something—about my feelings of duty as a climate scientist to engage with the public. I hoped it would help other scientists feel more comfortable speaking out to the public about the dangers of a world warmed by human emissions. Little did I know that exactly two months later, the largest scientific organization in the world and publisher of the leading academic journal Science would launch an initiative aimed at doing just that—move the conversation forward by telling Americans “What We Know.” It boils down to three main points—97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is here and now, that this means we risk abrupt and irreversible changes to the climate, and the sooner we act, the lower the costs and risks we face. (March 27, 2014) EcoWatch)

Why doesn’t the public want to hear about the crisis of our century? Is Climate Change too absurd, too awful, too boring, too slow, too fast, too existential, or too depressing? How about understanding the Climate Change crisis by asking yourself this question: What if the sole purpose of human life, all the billions of life forms before it, were but to give the Baby boomers a neat retirement plan? Après nous, le deluge!

For that is what it comes down to, if we, meaning all of us, don’t vote in the right folks who are planning for Climate Change, and keep them in office. If we don’t change our behavior towards our environment, if we don’t act to adapt and mitigate Climate Change on a massive scale quickly, the folks retiring now may be witnessing a world that is, despite its various annoyances and bad TV programs, as good as it gets. No collective afterlife in the sense that our endeavors, our aspirations for our children, will carry on. What if Washington’s, Susan B. Anthony’s, and Fredrick Douglas’s sacrifices boiled down to well-off folks driving gadget-filled vehicles completely mindless of the moral implication of their actions? 

Only the behavior of billions will solve Climate Change, not a few innovators, or even a few environmental groups, viewed in the media as a special interest. Somehow we must rise from our lethargy and get moving. Below is the kind of quick comprehensive action in our New York State region that can make a big difference.

Make comment on the “2014 New York State Energy Plan” by April 30, 2014. Climate Change is about planning. One of the most important things you can do is add your voice to create a good plan to address and mitigate Climate Change. The “2014 New York State Energy Plan” falls far from the mark by vague language, pretty pictures of solar panel and wind turbines, and no baselines for a real clean energy future. Are we merely setting the table for more fossil fuels with various gas line infrastructures? This is all explained by Agree New York, who will quickly take you through the process of learning about the energy plan, explaining the problems with the plan, and pointing you towards making your own comment to the plan.

“On January 7, 2014 the New York State Energy Planning Board released the long-awaited draft New York State Energy Plan. Unfortunately, the draft plan does not represent the sea-change in energy policy that New York needs to confront the challenges of global climate change, pollution, public health, or energy affordability. The draft plan sets some ambitious goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but lacks aggressive policies and interim commitments to move the state from fossil fuels and nuclear power to energy efficiency and renewables. It's time for you to let the energy planners know what you think about this proposed plan. Read the draft New York Energy Plan at Public Comments are due by April 30, 2014. (Note, this deadline has been extended from March 31, thanks to the efforts of AGREE, Frack Action and 51 other organizations that are demanding a better public comment process.) Visit to submit comments electronically.” from Agree New York.

Also, come to the forum explained above on April 17th. Consider asking your community leader to join you and ask that they take the Climate Smart Community pledge.  This is the way ordinary folks, communities, and an entire state can begin to move towards realistic solutions to Climate Change.

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