Friday, May 30, 2014

The 2014 Climate Change elections


CCElections2014There are a series of noteworthy benchmarks on Climate Change happening. What makes them especially noteworthy is that they are occurring more often, each one more grim than the last –which is what you would expect when nothing is done to address a worldwide crisis.

Some of these benchmarks are: the release of the 3rd National Climate Assessment (NCA); last month’s jaw-dropper “the mean monthly CO2 concentration in the atmosphere topped 400 parts per million (ppm) throughout the northern hemisphere”; reports stating that the collapse of the West Antarctic glaciers is inevitable; scientists calling for immediate action on Climate Change which is already impacting the Great Lakes; the looming “Make or break Paris climate conference in December 2015”; the recently discovered human-caused Arctic ice melt, containing trillions of plastic bits; baby puffins dying due to the warming of the North Atlantic; and the 2014 Climate Change elections coming up in the US. All are points, maybe tipping points, along the continuum called Climate Change.

The release of the third National Climate Assessment, which will direct President Obama’s Climate Change efforts until he leaves office, proves Climate Change is happening now. Tragically, the release of the NCA earlier this month has been met with distain by the few, but very powerful and influential, leaders of the Climate Change denial camp:

A power grab by political con artists “Here are the top 10 reasons Congress should ignore advice to pass major legislation to combat climate change:…,” (May 21, 2014) Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel)

This is tragic because, despite all reason to the contrary, Climate Change deniers have a good chance of not only staying in control in the House, but maybe taking over the Senate. Thirteen agencies of our government (Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of Health & Human Services, Department of the Interior, Department of State, Department of Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency, National Aeronautics & Space Administration, National Science Foundation, Smithsonian Institution, and Agency for International Development) not only participated in the findings of the NCA, but their actions will be based on this particular study. If our Congress is jammed up with Climate Change denial, all the efforts of these agencies of our government to fulfill their responsibilities to the NCA will be castrated.

The 400ppm-for-an-entire-month benchmark means it’s getting warmer. The collapse of the West Antarctic glaciers means a major tipping point in the consequences of Climate Change is occurring where major sea port cities will eventually have to tread water or move. The news about the Great Lakes means that experts are now urging that only long-term funding will sustain the greatest fresh water system in the world. The news on the Paris climate conference is probably humanity’s last chance to address Climate Change on a level that will matter. The news of the trillions of little plastic bits about to be released from the Arctic ice because of warming proves that all the stuff we’ve been dumping into our oceans never, at any point, simply disappeared or was broken down and rendered harmless by unknown natural forces. The news on baby puffins may or may not pull at your heart strings but this news proves the oceans have already warmed with immediate impacts to wildlife. And our 2014 elections will test the American public’s resolve to address a worldwide problem they are largely (though not solely) responsible for.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Insuring ourselves against Climate Change


One of the consequences of Climate Change that will affect everyone, including political parties denying anthropogenic warming, is its impact on property insurance. This recent slew of stories is a harbinger of the desperate search for the deepest pockets when paying for climate-related liabilities (CRL):

There are many unknown unknowns as Climate Change changes our lives, but one thing is for sure in CCZillionour litigious society: When extreme weather hits and causes lots of expensive damage, someone is going to pay. The media, which deserves a certain amount of culpability because they have not kept the public informed on the local consequences of Climate Change, will most likely be running many stories about these lawsuits as these cases flourish. That’s because few stories attract media attention more than legal blame games.

With Climate Change and insurance the blame game works like this:

Insurance companies go after municipalities for the money to rebuild homes and other properties after a string of frequent extreme weather events because the insurance companies don’t have enough money. And (oh, by the way) it turns out that it’s cheaper to sue the municipalities rather than pay out large sums to those who paid an insufficient amount for insurance coverage.  But the municipalities don’t have the money either to pay out large sums for extensive damage due to Climate Change. They don’t have the money because the public too often votes back into office climate deniers who don’t believe in Climate Change and promise to cut taxes. These deniers see no need to prepare the public or their budgets for something they believe doesn’t exist. 

The insurance companies don’t have the money to pay the folks who paid for their policies because the insurance companies, which tend to use historical data to decide how to charge their clients, are insisting that Climate Change doesn’t count as a CRL because Climate Change disasters only occur in the future—and increasingly, the present, as the National Climate Assessment (and many other climate studies) prove Climate Change is happening right now. 

So now insurance companies have discovered a new trick, making use of the language in a municipality’s climate action plan (if it has one) to prove that municipalities must have known about CRL’s beforehand, didn’t prepare adequately, and are thus liable.  (Maybe these legal gymnastics explain why so few municipalities have climate action plans. Hummm…)

Lawyers are going to make out great.

But because we have allowed the merchants of doubt to lull the public into thinking Climate Change is a hoax, the bill is coming due, and no one is going to be in a position to pay it.  Insurance companies cannot pay, governments cannot pay, and, of course, individuals cannot pay. People purchase insurance policies in the first place because of the overwhelming expenses involved with unforeseen and even foreseen damages. Further, these extreme weather events tend to be difficult to insure because everyone in a specified region gets nailed, so there’s no way to bring in enough funds to pay for massive damages.

So, what’s the way out this financial and environmental nightmare? Planning. Some of the ‘heavyweights’ in the insurance industry already realize the potential threat to our environment and their industry because of Climate Change and are starting to plan ahead.

Insurance leaders pack climate punch The heavyweights of the global insurance industry, well aware of the risks posed to their finances by extreme weather events, have made a renewed commitment to use their financial clout and influence to tackle the climate impacts of a warming world | It might have the reputation of being rather a dull − some might even say boring – business, but there’s no doubting the insurance industry’s financial muscle. The Geneva Association − a leading international insurance thinktank, whose members have total assets of nearly US$ 15 trillion − has been meeting in Toronto, Canada. And the focus has been very much on climate change. The Association, issuing a climate risk statement calling for urgent action by governments and other bodies, said: “The prospect of extreme climate change and its potentially devastating economic and social consequences are of great concern to the insurance industry.” Those putting their names to the document – 66 chief executives of the world’s leading insurers − commit themselves to a set of guiding principles on what they describe as the substantial role the insurance industry can play in tackling risks related to climate change. (May 23, 2014) Climate News Network

Such planning is a hopeful sign. There’s much that the insurance industry can do to fortify their assets for the payouts ahead, including investing in industries that will help us to adapt and mitigate Climate Change.

But however massive the collective assets of insurance companies might be, they still won’t be able to insure the world against Climate Change. The only way to do that is to make sure we don’t put climate deniers into office. Our governments are the insurers of last resort. They’re the ones who come to help with planes and trucks and food and boats and expert personnel and pockets deep enough to handle such emergencies that a climate in extremis will bring. But governments cannot insure its people if an office-holding denier has not prepared their country.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Make or break Paris climate conference in December 2015


CCBustThe United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP21, is to be held in Paris in December 2015. That’s where we (humanity) will try to adopt a legally binding agreement to keep global temperature increase below 2°C. (Many climate scientists believe even 2°C is too high.) If this conference doesn’t work, and we fail to start the serious work to get greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions down by 2020, what will accomplish that? Business as usual? The invisible hand? Denial? Despair? Irrational exuberance? Magical thinking? Alien or super-person intervention? 

Many believe that climate talks are a dead end; that grassroots efforts are needed instead. Their efforts make sense in an emotional sense (we have to do something). But I cannot think of anything other than a worldwide binding agreement that would actually manage to bring down an entire planet’s atmospheric concentration of GHGs to a sustainable level. Proof of this are the myriad efforts around the world to green our economy and reduce emissions that are working, but not quickly enough. We are already passing the point where the lower emission scenarios (where, for example New York’s climate resembles Virginia’s) will no longer be viable, just the higher ones (where New York’s climate resembles Florida).

“With negotiations on ice, temperatures outside and the levels of carbon dioxide, the main cause of climate change, are on an upward trajectory. A recent report from the UN’s IPCC climate science panel said CO2 emissions need to be halved by 2050 to have a chance of avoiding temperature rises of 2-4C by 2100.” (May 8, 2014) Responding to Climate Change

There are many reasons why the Paris climate talks will probably fail. We’ve failed twenty times already. One reason is high-profile and influential Climate Change deniers like Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, who even ‘scoffs’ at our military worrying themselves about warming:

Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee and a vocal skeptic of the established science that greenhouse gas emissions contribute to global warming, scoffed at the idea that climate change is linked to national security threats. “There is no one in more pursuit of publicity than a retired military officer,” he said of the report’s authors. “I look back wistfully at the days of the Cold War. Now you have people who are mentally imbalanced, with the ability to deploy a nuclear weapon. For anyone to say that any type of global warming is anywhere close to the threat that we have with crazy people running around with nuclear weapons, it shows how desperate they are to get the public to buy this.” Climate Change Deemed Growing Security Threat by Military Researchers (May 13, 2014) New York Times

Deniers like Inhofe have become so straight-jacketed and invested in their ideology that they find it appropriate to impugn the character of those we have trusted to lead others into battle: “There is no one in more pursuit of publicity than a retired military officer.” Really, retired military leaders are ranting about the dangers of Climate Change so they can go on TV?

We understand that Sen. Inhofe and his compatriots have committed themselves to their denial zealotry such that they cannot admit they are wrong. We must ask ourselves at what point will they be held accountable for their actions to thwart the rest of us in addressing Climate Change?

Yet there’s reason to believe that this time around climate talks might work. For example, there are signs that pre-Paris negotiations between the US and China are going on so that some of the biggest players are making critical agreements on lowering GHG emissions. That’s hopeful; China and the US are pivotal to a successful treaty. And President Obama’s campaign to leverage the National Climate Assessment to convey the urgency of addressing Climate Change might gain him the political capital to make significant contributions to the Paris talks. (BTW: President Obama will need your support if this strategy is to work.)

So sure, there are hopeful signs. But hope is not enough. It’s climate talk agreements (actually implemented) or mass delusionalism while we boil. I know, the rich think there’s wiggle room because they can air condition themselves out of this.

However we manage to set our priorities—making a living, raising a family, serving our country, teaching others, finding meaning—we as a species are going to have to include solving this worldwide crisis or none of our other priorities will matter. The specter of a world too warm to thrive is upon us. A future that we have always assumed, that others will survive our own personal death (“the collective afterlife”), so integral to our existence that we probably never think of it, may be in jeopardy.

Quite astonishingly this ‘collective afterlife’ is probably the faith we all share. All of us—regardless of our religious faith or lack thereof. We believe that what we do and think will somehow matter in the end; but that cannot happen if no one is around.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Just-released National Climate Assessment ain’t no foolin’ around


CCPartyThe most ominous part of the just-released National Climate Assessment (NCA) is that while proving Climate Change has moved firmly into the present, which finally gets the attention of many who thought this issue only involved the distant future, it also portends an awful truth: By the time you can feel the effects of Climate Change, it’s probably too late to stop them. Sea rise, extreme weather, longer-hotter summers with dangerous heat waves, and more disease-carrying, crop-eating bugs are not changes you can stop or reverse. Nor is this new normal, bad as it is, a static state. More than likely, it’s a spiral into a cascading collapse of some critical environmental service we need—like breathable air, drinkable water, and arable land.

The point about Climate Change that we should have understood long ago is that we need to stop Climate Change before we can actually feel the effects. Climate Change is about planning, and because we’ve allowed ourselves to be lulled into inaction for so long, much that we thought we could avoid becomes inevitable. Much that we thought we could fix becomes impossible. More delay in action, means more consequences of Climate Change that cannot be stopped. Read Overview: “Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present.” National Climate Assessment

In order to accomplish climate messaging so that everyone hears, much needs to be done quickly. A relatively few onboard won’t do. We must break through the political Surreal Zone so we can message warming without triggering a knee-jerk denial reaction where environmentalists have to come up with talking points for science. [That last link is a shameless ploy to highlight an interview I had with Time Warner Cable News Service on the NCA this week.]

Actually, given the GOP’s reluctance to even admit warming is occurring, what is even more startling about the United States Global Change Research Program’s release of the NCA, is that President Reagan began our country’s response to the then-consensus that global change, including Climate Change, was going to seriously challenge our country’s ability to prepare for the future. 

“President Ronald Reagan created—and Congress in 1990 codified—the United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP or Program), charged with providing a “comprehensive and integrated United States research program to assist the Nation and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change.” THE NATIONAL GLOBAL CHANGE RESEARCH PLAN 2012–2021

The designers of the NCA focused on messaging because they hoped many folks would actually view the study, instead of allowing their favorite pundits to frame this issue. That is critical because much of the misinformation, and denial, which is to say, much of the delay that has kept us doing something significant, is a result of those trying to thwart the rest of us from doing something. Really, check out the actual website of the National Climate Assessment and spend some time there. Many have spent a lot of time trying to make it as information-accessible and friendly as possible. Climate Change is complicated and can only be dumbed down so much.

Can We Talk About the New NCA Website? This week’s release of the National Climate Assessment, which chronicles in painstaking detail how climate change is affecting the U.S., is a far cry from what most expect when they hear the words “government report.” The NCA represents the first major digital release of a federal report, one that could be a prototype for all future reports. The new assessment reflects the immersive digital experience most people expect in 2014. The site is beautifully designed, easy to navigate, and dare we say,modern. A silent looping video of palm trees whipping in the wind introduces a chapter on extreme weather, and interactive graphics abound, allowing users to delve into key climate change indicators in as much detail as they want. And you can actually look at it on a cell phone without squinting or wanting to smash your screen in frustration. It’s a far cry from slogging through static pages or links to PDFs. For lovers of print, yes, you can still download a hard copy of the entire 840-plus page report, But for the vast majority of Americans, that holds about as much appeal as standing in line at the DMV. (May 8, 2014) Climate Central

Why is Obama putting so much effort into getting the word out about this study? Why are the Democrats freaked out about this? Why are Republicans so dismissive of the study? Why hasn’t your media changed its climate-denial frame of mind when 97% of the climate scientists agree that manmade Climate Change is happening because of too much fossil-fuel use? Why is so much being made in the media of this one climate study when there are so many? Maybe Obama decided that giving into the loony GOP attitude on Climate Change any more was nuts. Maybe President Obama has seen the light and finally realized his bully pulpit is the bulliest pulpit there is, given US power and influence.

I don’t know. These are not the questions we should be asking. What we should be asking is how are we going to get greenhouse gases down to a sustainable level? Anything else is just prevaricating.

It took forty years for us to ‘see’ Climate Change and ‘get’ that we are the culprit. We don’t have the luxury of wasting another forty years trying to figure out why we’re not doing what it takes to fix this. If you’re a parent, there’s a time in the life of your child where your child asks “why” each time you ask her to do something. Eventually, parents learn to ignore the “why’s and move ahead.

The Paris Climate Change talks are coming up in 2015. This twenty-first attempt to have a meaningful world-wide conversation about this crisis could be a make or break situation for planet Earth. That’s where we (humanity) will try to adopt a legally binding agreement to keep global temperature increase below 2°C. And many climate scientists believe even 2°C is too high. 

Like the Talking Heads put it: “This Ain't No Party... This Ain't No Disco... This Ain't No Foolin' Around."

BTW: One of the best Climate Change adaptation strategies for the City of Rochester is also one of the best kept secrets (so where is the local media n this?). In a recent study from the Genesee Transportation Council released in March 2014 “Planning for Transportation and Climate Change: Model Ordinances, Incentives, and Other Resources” Rochester’s urban active transportation efforts have been heralded as a model for addressing Climate Change. You can find it starting on page 223.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Redacting Climate Change won’t work


CCRedactOne of the goals of the Rochester Sierra Club’s 2014 forum "Climate Smart Communities: Let’s Get With the Program" was helping to inform communities west of Syracuse about the state’s volunteer climate adaptation and mitigation strategy. Not only did we fill the place with folks learning about how Climate Change will impact the state and the state’s program, some communities signed the pledge. It was a thrill to get this feedback by Bill Moehle, supervisor of the Town of Brighton:

“The cover headline of City laments government inaction when it comes to climate change, but in Brighton, we take sustainability seriously. Brighton has signed on to become a Climate Smart Community ("Climate Change: It's All Up to You"). It may be up to you, as City's cover states, but in Brighton you're not in it alone. Brighton is working hard to become a more walkable, bikeable community. We have completed a Bicycle Pedestrian Master Plan, and are planning our first bicycle boulevard. We also plan to reduce South Clinton Avenue from four lanes to three south of Westfall Road, improving bicycle access to the Erie Canal Trail.” (Feedback, Climate change and local action, Rochester City Newspaper, 4/30)

No local news reported on Brighton’s effort. It would have been nice to have more than one reporter to show up and describe the state’s solution to Climate Change, but I guess they were busy framing other issues for their subscribers. Hopefully, more communities will sign the pledge for the state volunteer program: Climate Smart Communities. That effort would accelerate if folks contacted their community leaders and asked them to join this program. Solving Climate Change cannot happen without full public, government, and media support.

You cannot solve Climate Change alone. It’s a worldwide crisis happening far too quickly. Openness and media involvement should dominate the Climate Change issue. Folks must understand the full implications of this worldwide crisis or the public funds for adequate measures won’t materialize and politicians who do something positive (but costly) may be ousted as soon as they enact unpopular programs that last longer than an election cycle.

Certainly, redacting public documents about transportation infrastructure and endangered species locations because they are considered “a security risk” don’t contribute to the sort of openness we need in a rapidly changing environment.

Irondequoit Bay Bridge, redacted The missing information was a surprise. The justifications for the redactions were even more of a surprise. Some material was withheld, the cover letter said, because it would reveal the location of the habitat of an endangered species. State law forbids the disclosure of such habitats to protect vulnerable animals and plants from human intrusion or exploitation. While we have none of the notoriously endangered owls, there is a bald eagle nest a few miles south of the bridge; maybe the inspectors mentioned the eagles in their report. Or maybe some other endangered or threatened species – a bird, a bat, a butterfly – has taken up residence on or near the bridge. DOT would have felt obligated to black that out, I guess. (May 2, 2014) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Good Grief! As if Climate Change deniers aren’t enough of a hurdle to properly informing the public of this worldwide crisis, now it looks like we are going to have to tease national security out of environmental security. Which, admittedly, is going to be tough. Folks want to be secure from both immediate threats and slower-moving but just as deadly environmental threats. We should have a discussion about these security issues openly and honestly (not like the deceptive build-up to the Iraq War) because both issues intersect and are equally critical to our existence.

We cannot redact ourselves out of Climate Change because Nature has a way of extreme-weathering its way to your attention—not in a good way.