Friday, June 13, 2014

Reasons for Rochester’s paltry Climate Change efforts

CCS&PMapThough it’s a terrible indictment of those of us in the developed world (who have largely caused Climate Change), the map referenced below might be showing us the real reason why we are in denial. When we find ourselves bored by all the recent news on Climate Change, it might be instructive to question the motives behind the obvious fact that we are less likely (for a time anyway) to receive the worst consequences of a warming world. The developing countries—Bangladesh, Indonesia, India, Egypt, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Uganda, Suriname, Philippines, and others—are going to get nailed with massive increases in flooding, wildfires, sea level rise, and a whole lot more of the consequences that will (and in some cases already have) overwhelmed their ability to endure. Could a perceived sense of invulnerability be why we are only making only half-hearted attempts to address this worldwide crisis?
This map explains why climate change is so unfair It's a huge day for climate policy. President Obama is announcing a dramatic new EPA proposal to regulate carbon emissions from existing power plants. If and when it's implemented, the EPA regulations will be Obama's signature policy in the campaign to reduce America's contribution to climate change. They also might be Obama's greatest contribution to the fight against global poverty. Climate change is bad for everyone. But it's particularly bad for the world's poorest. Standard and Poor's, the credit rating company, recently published a report assessing the risk each country faces from climate change. You'll notice the more vulnerable (redder) countries cluster in Asia and Africa, while the better off (greener) countries are almost all in North America or Europe: (June 2, 2014) Vox
It would be naïve and pretty darn stubborn to think that Climate Change is merely a hoax by the entire world who have nothing else to do but make the deniers feel uncomfortable. But it would be morally reprehensible if we knew others would pay a dear price for our way of life while we were going to get off comparatively unscathed. Already US business groups are grousing: EPA Too Fixated on the 'Global' in Global Warming, Says U.S. Chamber. Those who only see the world in dollars and cents see no sense in expanding our financial responsibility for Climate Change beyond our borders. This is what happens when you replace your moral system with your economic system (the poor and unfortunate are so because they are lazy).

One of the most important Climate Change plans for our region (that you probably haven’t heard about -- “Finger Lakes Regional Sustainability Plan 2013”) characterizes our laissez faire attitude towards Climate Change.  I know, it’s unfair to cherry-pick one sentence in a 288 page plan to call into question the whole report’s agenda.  But waffling on Climate Change, a no regrets attitude, is not a prescription for success. If the pubic even thinks there’s a chance that our extreme weather will ‘return to normal’ they will ignore everything else you say. There are a lot of uncertainties and unknown unknowns about how Climate Change will affect our region—but one of them is NOT a chance that we will return to ““normal” rates seen in previous decades.” If we don’t plan with the absolutely certainty that our climate is warming, then we won’t plan at all. We will continue to think that measures like ‘emergency rescue’ efforts and other short-term maintenance of our existing infrastructures will be sufficient to protect our way of life during Climate Change. In addition, the study assumes we don’t have any moral need to cooperate in a worldwide mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions.

The report, though very thorough and professional and consensus-building, tends in its views of our past and future to be Disneyesque. It forgets most of the pollution and other damage that have rendered our region extremely compromised before we head inexorably into Climate Change.  The sentence I refer to is the second sentence is this quote:  “A critical aspect of climate change adaptation and resiliency for local communities is the potential increase in the frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events – such as drought, very heavy rainstorms, ice storms or snowfalls occurring more often. The recommended strategies outlined in this Plan would be tremendously beneficial to local communities, even if these projections do not materialize and the frequency of extreme events returns to “normal” rates seen in previous decades.’(Page 165) [Emphasis added].

If you’re interested in examining the myriad moral implications of Climate Change, read A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change (Environmental Ethics & Science Policy) by Stephen M. Gardiner. Though reductionist and loaded with game theory, Gardiner’s thesis seems to be excusing our lack of concern on Climate Change by explaining how it plays on our worst temptations and weaknesses. This may be so, but when I was a kid both the church and comedian Flip Wilson characterized this kind of rationalization as ‘the devil made me do it’.

Putting aside the moral aspect of Climate Change for the moment (you don’t really have to be a brain surgeon to connect the dots on morality and Climate Change), I suspect that much of our denial, our collective inaction, has more to do with various modes of delusional thinking we employ when the going gets tough, than outright immorality and a lack of concern for our fellow man. Instead, we tend to think we understand Climate Change, or we tend think that whatever we are doing (changing our light bulbs, driving an electric car, composting, or giving money to our favorite environmental group) is enough to do the job. Yet if all this were true, greenhouse gas concentrations in our atmosphere would be going down. That is not happening. Not only is that not happening, but the present (business as usual) trajectory is not even coming close to limiting the average global surface temperature increase to 2°C over the pre-industrial average. It’s probably going to soar to 4c or even 6C.

If we were not deluding ourselves on Climate Change, we would free it from our politics. We would require that our local media continually inform us of the local consequences of Climate Change and make their reporters grill our authorities on how our various branches of government were succeeding. We would instantly change our energy sources so that we aren’t depending on burning more fossil fuels. We would require all local institutions to divest from fossil fuels. We would grow more of our food locally, provide a living wage for that, compost, and never burn biomass for fuel. We would buttress our infrastructures—water, waste, transportation, and telecommunications—for more frequent extreme weather. We would take the lead on climate talks and reassure those developing counties that we care as much about them and their continued existence as we do our pets. We would mainstream Climate Change adaption and mitigation strategies by integrating them into all public health, water quality, and environmental-related plans, not simply trying to placate them with ad hoc grants. We here in the Rochester area would prepare for climate refuges (as climate studies suggest) -- those in other parts of our country coming to seek refuge from their inability to grow food and quench their thirst. We would stop viewing our environment as a special interest for a few and instead think of it as our life support system. We would stop pretending that other issues that steal our attention are more important than stopping a crisis that will end all issues. We would not assume that only stopping fossil fuel burning will fix the kind of all-inclusive problem that lies at the heart of Climate Change.

Although the map mentioned above indicates a certain moral depravity, a lack of concern about the developing nations who did not cause this worldwide crisis, those sinking islands are not simply at the forefront of the fight against climate change; they are the harbingers of things to come—for us too. The map deludes us into the luxury of thinking we’ll be safe, at least for awhile. But we who have the power to change the trajectory are sleeping through the decision opportunities that will keep this crisis from getting worse. While we tend to deceive ourselves that there are many other more immediate and pressing issues to attend to before we get to Climate Change, we forget that each day we pass decision thresholds.

The point about the recent news of the future inevitable collapse of the West Antarctica glaciers is not that it is a couple hundred years in the future, but that it is now inevitable, unstoppable, and unfixable, because at some point in the past, decisions to stop Climate Change were avoided.

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