Saturday, March 15, 2014

Earth Day 2014: rethinking environmental focus, Part 5


CCNewLookThis is part 5 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.

Many people over the eons have railed against what seemingly looked like obstructionist environmentalists thwarting their notion of progress. Environmentalists in the shape of landowners, ordinary citizens, educators, and folks from all walks of life have fought for forests, pitting themselves against the lumber industry. Others fought against damming rivers to save riverine ecologies from turning rivers and streams into conduits for waste. Thousands over the years have fought many forms of environmental disturbances to the dismay of those anxious to get ahead. However, not to be confused with Luddites, most environmentalists encouraged progress as long as it was viewed through the lens of sustainability. Over the years there began a growing concern among many diverse peoples that progress often meant a reckless disregard for environment. This galvanized environmentalists to fight in the courts, in the streets, and now on the Internet to salvage our birthright—a place where all life, not just our own, could go on.

How’s all that worked out? Well, our streams are suffering from decades of abuse, where there are few fish and the water is not drinkable. Our forests, riddled with roads and highways, have been ravaged of their diversity. More alarming, our species’ way of life is causing the Sixth Great Extinction, or Holocene extinction, an extinction event on par with five other major environmental collapses. This crisis is wonderfully articulated by Elizabeth Kolbert in her new book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History.

Environmentalists have tried to protect our environment by forming influential groups and acquiring powerful allies in government, education, and even business. But the human desire for a better life and an almost infinite resourcefulness to fulfill that desire has not only put most other species in jeopardy but ours too. With Climate Change, there are hints that our own existence (not entirely independent of the environmental services provided by all those other creatures going extinct) might go the way of the dodo also.

This Earth Day might be a good time for environmentalists to reflect on where things are headed. We might ask ourselves: Are local past successes and failures good enough guides for looming worldwide catastrophes? Are there benefits to pooling our resources and concerns providing a united front? Perhaps most importantly, is there a way for environmentalists to get into or around our present media to educate the public on the complicated character of Climate Change?

Without a competent media to objectively report and investigate Climate Change, the crisis of our age, our efforts will be crippled by an uninformed public. Just this week, the Bonn Climate Talks, battles between developing nations and developed nations, climate-protection pledges, all go unmentioned by our local press as the window of opportunity for addressing Climate Change closes. No articles about an all night talkathon by senators trying to change the dialogue about Climate Change in Congress. Nary a word about rolling back flood insurance reforms to appease those with increasingly costly coastal properties, which highlights a major conundrum with addressing Climate Change: When the going gets rough, our politicians opt for the quickest and easiest solution instead of a major overhaul of our flood insurance programs that reflects this new era of warming. With rising waters on our coastlines and more extreme weather coming with Climate Change, we need a way to lessen the threat of home damage and lessen the threat that we won’t be able to provide insurance at all. [See: Senate Vote to Roll Back Flood Insurance Reform Increases Climate Risk, Taxpayer Burdens] Without connecting the dots locally on the worldwide, human-caused crisis of Climate Change, our environmental efforts to address this issue are but a tepid tempest in a teapot. Without some way of getting the message to the people, environmentalists will continue to be unfairly characterized as the problem, not part of the solution.

With Climate Change looming, environmentalists (not to mention the rest of humanity) are entering new territory—even those who have, more or less, predicted that things wouldn’t go right if we mistreated our life support system. Perhaps, we thought that the accumulated actions of our separate groups would add up to a wholesale solution to our environmental problems. This has not worked. The Sixth Great Extinction, the collapse of the ocean ecology, and now Climate Change prove that past and present efforts are not enough to fix the problem. The problem: If nothing else, Climate Change has now defined the nature of all environmental issues because if we don’t make it through the dicey wormhole of Climate Change, all our other efforts will be moot.

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