Sunday, September 28, 2014

After the People’s Climate March, a Rochester manifesto


PCMPhotoSThe public has delivered a clear mandate on Climate Change. The People’s Climate March (PCM), which drew 400,000 concerned souls, demanded that their governmental leaders act on the most pressing crisis of our age. However milquetoast the UN Summit in NY turns out to be (the summit the PCM tried to kick start), the march will change everything. The media, despite their intentional use of the word ‘activists’ to dismiss most of the world’s peoples as only a special interest group, will have to change too.

Never again. Never again will it be fashionable to deny or dismiss what most people know to be true: that our present way of living is causing our planet to warm up far quicker than most plants, animals and we can adapt to. Never again will our leaders be able to speak as if Climate Change is not occurring. Never again will public pressure cease to compel businesses and governments to respond to the climate crisis with actions that actually bring down greenhouse gases. Promises will be held to a strict standard of compliance—regardless of weak-kneed leaders. The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, whose “objective is to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world”1 must not fail.

Even in Rochester, where the Climate Change crisis goes unheeded by the public, the media, and our leaders, there will be change. Rochester runs with the top third of fastest growing cities, but it is also the 5th poorest city in U.S. Though most think there are more pressing issues to be addressed, it will become increasingly clear that the ‘we’re-too-busy’ approach demolishes any chance to plan properly. Growth and making Rochester habitable for all can only work through the lens of Climate Change because Rochester (as with every other community) will be in climatic chaos. The stance that addressing Climate Change can only occur within the confines of our present economic zeitgeist will have to give way to reality. Already, within many of the organizations that comprise the Rochester People’s Climate Coalition, a group that helped propel hundreds of Rochesterians to the PCM in NYC, excitement for change is growing. A major press conference in front of Rochester City Hall on local Climate Change concerns and a local march in support of the PCM show that change is happening—even in Rochester. But it’s not enough and it’s not soon enough, not even close.

Over a span of several years, I have suggested many local solutions to Climate Change in my essays and Daily Updates on (Also, I have been chair, transportation chair and zero waste chair for the Rochester Sierra Club, and endured polite Climate Change denial from the trenches.) At this pivotal moment, I reemphasize the need to act locally to this worldwide crisis on the level that will matter. If the moral imperatives of our region acting immediately on Climate Change are not enough to drive us, then the need to plan adequately in the proper time frame should. As climate scientist Michael Mann says there is a "procrastination penalty" for not acting on Climate Change.

Most immediately, there will probably be an effort to contact local media and community leaders about taking local action on Climate Change. Sounds obvious. But our media and our leaders already know most of the gory details; they need to be pushed. Two major climate studies in our region--Responding to Climate Change in New York State (ClimAID) and New York State Climate Action Plan Interim Report ( Governor Patterson, 2010)--spell out clearly what climate changes we are already experiencing, likely changes coming, and what needs to be done. What needs to be done will require massive changes to business as usual. The public must compel both our leaders and our media to act: Demonstrate outside the offices of local leaders and media—in large numbers. Drop subscriptions to local media that do not connect the dots of the local consequences of Climate Change. Become the media by using all online and off-line connections to connect the dots on local Climate Change that our media are not doing. Create islands of Climate Change education through outlets like what “Climate Change Central” did a few years ago, where two marvelous women dedicated their time and money to offer a library of books, videos, and even some coffee. (This could be achieved through grants from state and municipal outreach programs, something they should be doing anyways.)

On transportation there must be a major transformation in the way we get around. Even before we update and make our transportation infrastructure resilient, we should consider whether we should spend more billions of dollars on a system that will increasingly be impossible to maintain. Enhancing our present system with high-speed rail is continually put on and off the table because of funding gymnastics. But it, along with active transportation, could get folk around with a much lower carbon footprint than our present system. Because US transportation emits 27% of our greenhouse gas emissions, it must be a major area of focus. It has not. Instead, active transportation (walking and bicycling) have been languishing behind a tepid program to increase bicycling with painted road symbols that few understand and a sidewalk/trafficlight situation that turns individual pedestrians into packman-like casualties. Unlike New York City (where we marched for Climate Change) both pedestrians and bicyclists in Rochester are the first to be sacrificed for construction projects, trash collection, parking, deliveries, lawn service and telecommunications equipment parking.

One of the best Climate Change adaptation strategies we’ve got for the City of Rochester is also one of the best kept secrets (so where is the local media on 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 – a rather ridiculous assertion. You can find it starting on page 223. Also, the two surveys from Genesee Transportation Council (GTC)--Help shape western New York’s trail network and Long Range Transportation Plan 2040—ask for public input on local transportation planning, but nary a word about the warmer future we must plan for. Education on this issue must be seriously ramped up. For more details read these essays on local transportation.

On public health, there is little at all happening on the local or state level to educate the public about impending health issues related to Climate Change. It took me awhile to find this, but NYS Dept of Health is offering information on public health and Climate Change buried on their website, called Climate, Weather & Health. You have to do a separate search on their site to find it. You won’t find this information at the Monroe County Public Health Department or the city of Rochester for that matter. Though you will find some information on Rochester’s Climate Change efforts buried here: Office of Energy & Sustainability and Climate and Environment Protection Resolution, with a City of Rochester Municipal Operations Climate Action Plan still in progress (though years have gone by). Zilch on Climate Change and public health.

On recycling, though it is integrally related to Climate Change in our region, there are almost no dots being connected, which is alarming because this is where most individuals can act on Climate Change. We are transitioning to a single-stream waste system and highlighting the virtues of burning methane gas (a major greenhouse gas) from our landfills. There is precious little in the press about how all that is working out. If we had serious investigations into Monroe County’s recycling stats, like they do in Buffalo (Investigative Post), we might have a better grasp about what is going on. Presently, the Buffalo Recycling Alliance is conducting Buffalo Recycling Thoughts and Habits; something like this in Rochester would be revealing.

Ok, there’s more on Wetlands, Brownfields, Urban Sprawl, Plants (Rochester's flora), Air Quality, Great Lakes, Pesticides, Water Quality, Food & Environment, Genesee River, Wildlife, Invasive Species, Energy, Wind Power, Solar Power, and Fracking, but I’ve probably already tested your patience. However no manifesto on Climate Change would be complete without action bullet points. In the immediate aftermath of the People’s Climate March, it feels like the low roar that came down the long, long march of 400,000 souls following the moment of silence at 12:58PM, which then quickly crescendoed into a deafening roar. It was a call for humanity to pay attention to Climate Change. On a level that will matter, there is much in Rochester that can be done to change everything:

  • Stop Fracking (a method of using undisclosed chemicals to drill a hole in the ground for more GHGs to send up into our atmosphere) and go 100% renewables. Living off the sun and wind is not insane; it’s a real choice: Read: Examining the feasibility of converting New York State’s all-purpose energy infrastructure to one using wind, water, and sunlight
  • Read and get others to read climate studies; stop listening to media that don’t report reality. Especially read ClimAid if you live in New York. The studies are long, but bumper-sticker talking points on Climate Change are not enough to understand the crisis of our age.
  • Learn about the Rochester People’s Climate Coalition, and have your group join it.
  • Encourage High Speed Rail and Active Transportation instead of throwing more public money at our present transportation infrastructure that’s too fossil-fuel intensive and costly.
  • Get your community to sign up to New York State’s Climate Smart Communities program.
  • Become a citizen scientist to help monitor what’s happening to our environment and help provide more robust data for climate modeling.
  • Conduct more climate studies to fill in holes in our knowledge. Check out these amazing photos of the Finger Lakes with the smaller lakes completely frozen over by this year’s whacky weather. These lakes will be profoundly affected by Climate Change, but few studies exist. Each lake will react differently to Climate Change. There should be a dramatic push to undertake more climate studies on the Finger Lakes and surrounding region.
  • Refrain from the high-tech lure of nuclear power (which is too hot to for us to handle) and most geoengineering schemes—except planting trees. Plant as many trees as you like and keep them in the ground.
  • Do everything to protect our soil, as there are absolutely no high-tech solutions to decomposing life and making things grow. Consider massive organic farming by listening to folks like these, who know about keeping our soil healthy and farming: NOFA-NY, Northeast Organic Farming Association. Leaves and soil are really, really important and both will be severely challenged by Climate Change.
  • Get your government to get moving on infrastructure—transportation, waste water, water, and telecommunications—fixes and updates geared towards mitigating and addressing Climate Change.
  • Get meteorologists talking about Climate Change. If you think weather prediction is problematic, Climate prediction will be a doozy. It’ll be more than a parade that gets rained on if the projections are wrong. We’re going to have to plan our future based on climate predictions and free it up as much as possible from politics, economic jitters, and ideology, or else our predictions will be completely delusional.
  • Get wealthy Climate Change deniers out of American politics. Move to amend Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and gets some of ‘we the people’ back into it.
  • Stop the XL Keystone Pipeline “Stop the fuse to the largest carbon bomb on the planet.”
  • Morph social media into something useful. If environmentalists were to direct the energy that our youth pour into social media towards Climate Change, instead of inadvertently pushing corporate agendas, we would have a society tuned in to the most important crisis of our age. Corporations, the film industry, and the fashion industry, have learned how to leverage Youth Power and social media to make big bucks for themselves; why can’t scientists and environmentalists get our kids to focus on something important to Generation Like’s continued existence?  Just saying… Think of all this as you watch this insightful program “Generation Like”:  Generation Like | Frontline | PBS
  • Vote. Do not vote a climate denier, or someone without a strong climate policy, into office, regardless of their position on other issues. Here’s what happens when that happens.
  • Encourage all environmental groups, politicians, and countries to advocate for a top-down, worldwide, binding agreement on lowering GHG’s. [See: IPCC - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] Don’t fall for the lie that climate talks won’t work: Addressing the Big Lie that there are alternatives to the Paris Climate Conference 2015
  • Get politics out of our Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) so that projections of future catastrophes include Climate Change predictions. When your property is destroyed by extreme weather due to Climate Change, you’re going to need a well-funded FEMA to help you pick up the pieces.
  • Pass a single payer health care system. Hurricane Katrina, probably a Climate Change event, showed that everything fails everyone at once. Hurricane Sandy, also probably a Climate Change event, showed that everything fails for those without health insurance.
  • Stop shopping for stuff you don’t need. Reduce, reuse, and recycle. And if you do have to shop, make sure those you buy from a green use cradle to cradle design.
  • Climate Change educational outreach team ready to go to any local school, business, faith group, governmental group, neighborhood association, festival, or whomever with brochures, short films, lectures, displays, and whatever it takes to educate our community on Climate Change.

The People’s Climate March in New York City (and many events like it around the world) has already vanished from the attention of most—including our media. But it was a watershed moment, a moment when hundreds of thousands walked with others of a similar view that everything has changed.

We won’t forget.

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