Sunday, October 26, 2014

Become the Media! in Rochester, NY on Climate Change


CCFFFFSA deer standing in the middle of the road while you approach it at 65 mph in a one-ton SUV seems to prove that many animals aren’t very smart at all. Especially when you get closer and closer, honk your horn, and they continue to stare at you fixed-eyed and unmoved by the danger you present to them. Of course, deer are not stupid. Hunters can attest to their extremely keen sense of smell, hearing, and the slightest disturbance to their environment. So why the incredible deer/car collision rate (18,000 deer per year in Connecticut)? Adaptation. Deer had hundreds of thousands of years to adapt to wolves and bears and only a little over a century to adapt to vehicles. Something humungous coming noisy and blazing-eyed straight towards them is, for all practical purposes, invisible.

That’s how we are reacting to Climate Change—a species watching a disaster coming straight us and doing little to react. Humans aren’t stupid. We’ve put men on the Moon. We’ve produced a Jane Goodall. But Climate Change, without an immediate shift in our collective consciousness, remains invisible to us. Climate Change isn’t sexy, it doesn’t do tricks for us, it’s not talked about much, it’s slow and boring, it doesn’t appear on our news, and unless you’re focusing on the science it’s almost imperceptible.

Almost. In fact there are many pressing consequences of Climate Change right in our Rochester, NY region if you’re paying attention or getting your facts from science. This, from a list gained from numerous climate studies and posted on ‘Real changes in our region because of Climate Change’: Annual temperature increases, increase in intensive precipitation events, bird population shifts, reduced snowpack, earlier ice break up, increase in lake effect snowfall, increased plant frost damage,  plant growth and decomposition affected, species shifting locations, streamflow changes, amphibians responding to Climate Change, invasive species thriving, wildlife affected by Climate Change, increase in heat-related illnesses, increase in incidents of ground-level ozone, livestock affected more by heat stress, timing of seasons is off, Northeast extreme weather increasing, more extreme weather driving up liability claims, NYS coastal sea level rising, Climate Change causing plants to shift, and forest pests increasing.

We thrived during the 10,000 years of the Holocene with a relatively stable climate, a climate we couldn’t have imagined that we could influence any more than we could move the moon in the sky. Since the Industrial Revolution, where our greenhouse gas emissions skyrocketed, things have changed. We’ve flipped the thermostat to ‘very hot’ without our even noticing that we did. However, ignorance of the laws (of physics) is no excuse. We must adapt quickly to a warmer world and stop further warming, or we’ll be unprepared for what’s coming at us.

This brings me to my point: How do we inform humanity about the all-inclusive existential danger that Climate Change presents our species on a level and a speed that will matter? In an incredibly pithy and cogent argument by a local philosopher and a prominent climate scientist, they explain the present status of the problem.

Limiting global warming to 2°C: the philosophy and the science Industrial civilization must become technologically, economically, politically, and morally sustainable to hold the earth’s temperature below 2°C (3.6°F) higher than its preindustrial average. The problem is not insurmountable. It is possible, then, that we’ll benefit in the long run from having to deal with human-caused global warming, by being forced to mature politically and ethically. As of yet, however, the world has largely failed to move beyond moral, political, and economic parochialism. Our continued failure will supplant the promise of sustainability with a legacy of collapse. (October 21, 2014) The Conversation

How do we get this message and the sense of urgency across to a species, however smart, that can’t see the thing barreling down on it?

Dr. Hansen, foremost NASA climate scientist, explained the situation to Congress in 1988, but that didn’t do it. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) formed a worldwide organization to collect scientific information and inform the world, but that hasn’t lowered worldwide greenhouse gases. We’ve had over 20 climate talks, we’ve march 400,000 strong through the streets of New York City (700,000 worldwide), there are books galore, films, a very popular Showtime series “ Years of Living Dangerously” that brings top stars and amazing technology to bear on this issue; there are a zillion climate studies, there is voluntary program created by our state (see Climate Smart Communities) to help communities to adapt—but few have opted-in. Politics have failed us. Leaders have failed us. Business has failed us. And most alarmingly, our information system, mainstream media, where we collectively inform ourselves of important stuff, has failed us. What’s left?

You. Become the media!

When one reviews all the local news every day, it is astounding at the discrepancy of how much and how thoroughly Climate Change is reported globally and how meager this news is locally. If we only depended on local media to accurately portray the world we actually live in, a warming world, we Rochesterians are essentially blind on every aspect of this worldwide crisis.

We need new ideas on how to get the deer in us to stop glazing at the headlights and focus on the problem that’s going to run us over.

Check out this amazing new media format that ‘gives you a voice, putting your stories happening now before climate scientists and journalists.” CLIMATE AT YOUR DOORSTEP, from The Daily Climate. Go around the dysfunctional media and link up directly with the folks doing the science and reach the public with the information they need to know.

One of the most creative opportunities in our region is a new kind of film festival to do just what I’ve been talking about. In the Rochester area create your own environmental message and win a prize:

Fast Forward Film Festival  Showcasing New Environmental Perspectives.  Presented by WXXI/Little Theatre, George Eastman House, RIT, and the NYS Pollution Prevention Institute. The Fast Forward Film Festival invites residents in the greater Rochester area to submit independent short films (5 minutes or less) that inspire a deeper connection to the environment. As an incubator for innovative thinking and artistic expression, FFFF encourages films that tap into the local experience, compel audiences to engage with the community, and raise environmental awareness. An acclaimed jury will review the films and select winners who will receive a $1,000 cash prize for each of these categories: (1) most inspiring, compelling, and engaging, (2) most unique perspective, (3) strongest call to action. Submission deadline is February 27, 2015. Read more at:"

The FFF is an amazing opportunity to think outside the box on messaging Climate Change. What might some folks do for this film? Try something wild. Mimic something that’s gone viral on the Internet and tailor it to Climate Change messaging. Connect with your friends and crowdsource ideas. Demonstrate the Climate Change has gotten personal. Zen it: How, in just five minutes, do you get everyone to pay attention to this worldwide crisis quick enough and on a level that will matter? Sure it’s a challenge, but even the exercise, thinking about the most important crisis of our age, will produce something better than denial.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Censure a remedy for powerful political climate change deniers


CCOutOfOrderSAs those who don’t exclusively get their news locally already know, September 2014 “is now the hottest on record, according to NASA”1 That jaw-dropping reality goes along with NASA’s conclusion that “Earth Just Experienced the Warmest Six-Month Stretch Ever Recorded.”2 I could go on with an endless litany of grim facts (benchmarks) from scientists proving every day that we are headed for disaster.

But one thing the public must be wondering: If things are this bad, why isn’t our media apoplectic with alarm, politicians pounding the pavement with their local solutions for addressing this crisis, or folks with their hair on fire over this?

Good question.

Actually a lot of your friends and neighbors were out in the streets, their hair on fire as it were. The People’s Climate March (PCM), beginning in Rochester with the People’sClimateMarch/WesternNY, was a massive demonstration that is finally starting to sink in. Social experts are stating that because of the march “The Climate Change Movement Is Not Wishful Thinking Anymore”3 and may actually be “a burgeoning social fact” [ibid] Burgeoning, beginning to grow or increasing rapidly; flourishing.

What may be the most immediate result of the PCM comes from Todd Stern, Special Envoy for Climate Change at the US State Department: “Todd Stern says that mounting public pressure could rapidly force GOP to address global warming, and urged people to demand action. Climate change denial will switch from being a litmus test for major Republican politicians to a liability in the near future.” More:

Stern said that mounting public pressure would eventually force American politicians' hand on global warming. The People's Climate March in New York City last month, he noted, was a start. Hundreds of thousands of people flooded the streets of Manhattan calling for action—any action—on climate change. The event took place 48 hours before world leaders, including Stern, gathered at the United Nations to lay the groundwork for climate treaty talks. "It's a basic rule of politics that politicians listen to the voice of potential voters," he said. "When politicians come to believe that not listening could be detrimental to their political health, they listen." Will Climate Change Denial Become a Political Liability? U.S. Treaty Envoy Thinks So (October 15, 2014 Inside Climate News)

Climate Change denial could become a political liability? Wow! Kind of unbelievable given the dreary assumption that climate deniers may flood the Mid-term elections. Yet historic social conditions thought to be so entrenched as to be impossible to transform have changed with amazing rapidity. Recent examples include the acceptance of gay marriage. Nowadays you don’t going around in colleges blurting that you’re a knee-jerk bigot on this issue.

But, before we get too giddy, drunk with success, let’s face a very unpleasant denier obstruction, one that goes to the heart of our collective inability to address Climate Change. What do we do with the denier-in-chief: Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee?

Just this week the US Department of Defense made it crystal clear that Climate Change is not only happening but is a prime concern of our military.

The Department of Defense Must Plan for the National Security Implications of Climate Change The responsibility of the Department of Defense is the security of our country. That requires thinking ahead and planning for a wide range of contingencies. Among the future trends that will impact our national security is climate change. Rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels, and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict. They will likely lead to food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe. In our defense strategy, we refer to climate change as a “threat multiplier” because it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we are dealing with today – from infectious disease to terrorism. We are already beginning to see some of these impacts. (October 13, 2014) White House Blog

Climate Change for the US Military is a ‘threat multiplier’, which is to say the military must view all global military issues through the lens of Climate Change.

But how can our military act on Climate Change if a key figure in the Senate Armed Services Committee says “It is disappointing, but not surprising, that the president and his administration would focus on climate change when there are other, legitimate threats in the world.” (Emphasis added) (Pentagon Signals Security Risks of Climate Change   (October 13, 2014) New York Times)

Climate Change isn’t a ‘legitimate’ threat? Really? The worldwide public, our military, our government, and most scientists agree that Climate Change is something we ought to plan and protect ourselves from, but a few powerfully political ideologues say no. So we’re screwed?

Is there no accounting for powerful deniers who block the rest of us from protecting ourselves? Censure might send a signal that Climate Change denial, just as slavery, is off the table at the US Congress.

In 1954, the censure of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy [5] effectively shut up the rabidly irresponsible senator. Perhaps Congress should consider other well-placed censures so ’we the people’ can get on with addressing the most important crisis of our age.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Mid-term elections: We must not put a climate denier into public office


CCVoteForMeSPlease note: this essay is not about politics. I find US politics as they are presently practiced bewildering and nasty. I have no stomach for the slings and arrows of outrageous US politics. Nor is this a diatribe about climate deniers. These are other people’s battles, battles that should have ended years ago.

This essay is a plea to remove Climate Change denial from US politics. Climate Change should be apolitical, as if it were as much about our environment as our environment—our life support system. I know, it seems at this moment in time like an impossible request in every sense …, except we do not have the time to remove Climate Change denial from a position it should have never been placed. Inserting Climate Change denial into the mêlée of US politics has put everyone, including the party embracing it, in an impossible position. We can and should debate how to address Climate Change, but it’s suicidal for our country to doubt that it exists.

Voting is important. It has always been integral to democracies. Folks have lived their lives and died so others of different races, genders, religions, and financial status can vote. Getting people to vote is difficult at this point in history because of a prevailing mood that because of money and political influence one’s vote doesn’t count. Corporations, many of which are extremely politically influential, are now ‘people’, according to the 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission These corporate-backed groups have almost unlimited funds to manipulate votes. This befouls our political system with pervasive lobbying and makes these powerful Climate Change deniers the puppeteers of our legislative puppets.

So why bother voting?

Attempting to get beyond the voting malaise of the present generation is a great get-out-the-vote video going viral:

'Turn Out for What' Video Aims to Get Millennials to the Voting Booths “Rapper Lil John (the name on his ballot is Jonathan Smith) has repurposed his 2013 summer anthem "Turn Down for What" into a celebrity-filled parody music video, "#TURNOUTFORWHAT," appropriately employing a hashtag to encourage millennials to post, tweet, and share the video with their peers.” (October 8, 2014 Yahoo News)

This video is wonderfully whacky and poignant, but it does throw a grab bag of issues at potential voters. Nonetheless, no one in the video is trying to make up your mind for you on any particular issue; they’re just trying to get you to vote. It doesn’t matter what you vote on, just vote.

But it does matter not only that you vote, but vote through the lens of Climate Change. The warming of our oceans and air temperatures due to manmade Climate Change is accelerating, not abating. It does matter that we understand and accept that humanity’s use of fossil fuels is causing this condition, because we cannot solve the effect if we deny the cause.

We need to prioritize our issues in accordance to Climate Change because in order for our candidates to do their job, they need to plan. That means there needs to be plans and actions in place long before our infrastructures crumble, our food security fails, and disasters due to sea rise and extreme weather events overwhelm our ability to adapt. It’s not that Climate Change is more important and urgent than jobs, public health, equality, justice, energy and anything else; it’s that they all must be addressed within the context of a warming world. You would not carry on normal activities on a cruise ship that was quickly sinking. You’d be preventing the ship from sinking and prioritizing all other issues and activities accordingly.

The mid-term elections (by definition) do not include voting for the next president, which will be held in 2016. But they will be setting the table for the direction for the future. If the people don’t clearly demonstrate in the voting booth that climate denial is not acceptable in a candidate or party, this particular suicidal form of delusionalism will rule. Our ship, as it were, will continue to sink.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

The People’s Climate March from the voice of the people


CCPCMLotSNews of the People’s Climate March (PCM) got headlines all over the world, except Rochester, NY, of course.  As a matter of fact when I mentioned that I went to the march to an acquaintance she said, “How nice that must have been for you folks who believe in global warming.” (It’s as if those of us in this special club of science lovers had a great big party for ourselves. Ya gotta laugh.) Local media has so much to account for, for not messaging this worldwide crisis.  

Admittedly, the PCM efforts to get Rochesterians to the march got some press before the event. Not much ((as some mentions (below) were letters to the editor and our own coverage of ourselves)) given the enormity of the march but some nevertheless.

  • Connections: Climate Change “Coming up on September 21, the People’s Climate March takes place in New York City. The organizers describe the event as the largest single event on climate ever organized. The march is designed to get the attention of world leaders about the issue. Our guests today will tell us about the march and discuss the issue of climate change: Susan Spencer, Ph.D. candidate at RIT, Susan Smith, Dr. Abigail McHugh-Grifa”
  • People’s Climate March |Coalition recruits climate marchers  On September 21, hundreds of thousands of people will march through Manhattan to show leaders from around the world, particularly US politicians, that the American public supports and demands action on climate change. (September 3, 2014) Rochester City Newspaper
  • Rochester group to join climate march Early on the morning of Sunday, Sept. 21 — very early — people will filter into a parking lot in Pittsford and board a bus. Their intended destination? A future that’s a little less overheated than it otherwise would be. The Sept. 21 bus-riders from the Rochester area, and others who will travel by train and car, will be among several hundred thousand people expected to descend on New York City that afternoon for an event known as the People’s Climate March. Participants hope to focus attention on the need for the United States and other countries act more aggressively to reduce emission of the greenhouse gases that are altering the Earth’s climate. The protest march is timed to bring pressure on international leaders attending a climate summit two days later at United Nations headquarters in Manhattan. More than 100 people from the Rochester area are expected to join in. (September 8, 2014) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
  • Rochesterians Prepare for Climate March in NYC A group of Rochesterians are headed to the Big Apple to take part in a historic march.  The Rochester “People’s Climate Coalition” is organizing a trip to send about 200 people to the “People’s Climate March” in New York City on September 21st. The coalition is made up of several local organizations and agree that climate change and carbon emission reduction are two of the most serious issues facing us today.  “Locally we want to raise awareness about the concern our community feels about climate change. and the speed with which organizations have come together and the number of people who are going down to the march speaks to the concern that does exist here in Rochester addressing climate change,” said Sue Smith of the Rochester People’s Climate Coalition.  (September 9, 2014)
  • “The local chapter of the Sierra Club staffed the Community Tent. Holly and Frank discussed Sierra Club programs and the upcoming People’s Climate March in New York City.” (9/08/2014The Monroe Village Farmers’ Market News)
  • Our press conference was videotaped and is now available on our hub site. Please distribute the press release web address to everyone on your distribution lists, your websites, and when you talk to the media.  We cannot depend on historical media to message Climate Change, an issue they’ve completely failed us on.  There’s a reason why so many in the public still deny Climate Change science and how it will affect our region and how our leaders must respond to it.  So we have to become the media.  You all have spoken eloquently and put much effort and concern into your statements.  Please don’t let this evaporate; this chance will not come again anytime soon.
  • Letter to the editor: Why march for the climate? “Is the People’s Climate March in New York City on September 21 a waste of time? Even hardcore environmentalists are questioning the political efficacy of major street demonstrations to produce significant legislative action...” (9/17/2014) Rochester City Newspaper.
  • GUEST ESSAY: Why I’m going on the people’s climate march By Sue Staropoli is a wife of 48 years, mother of 6, grandmother of 11, volunteer facilitator for the Pachamama Alliance (9/18/2014) Brighton-Pittsford Post).

And much of this coverage occurred because those who thought waking up our leaders to take action on the mother of all problems contacted the media—not because our local media themselves thought this worldwide event might be newsworthy.

How about after the march?

For a moment, it would be interesting to find out what the participants in the march thought of it. Why did they go? (Trust me it wasn’t because those who boarded a bus at 2 in the morning and stayed up for 30 hours are particularly fond of this kind of endurance experience.) Many (non-local) talking heads, media pundits, and show hosts got their inordinately loud utterances shouted to the world as why they thought so many (400.000) individuals attended this historic event, but little from the marchers themselves. As you know, some networks seem solely preoccupied to talking to only themselves about issues they haven’t a clue about—Climate Change a noteworthy case in point.

In a democracy our media should find out what the people think, instead of what the media think.

Thankfully, there are sources where you can find out what participants thought of their participation in the biggest climate march in history. These sources, though, aren’t mainstream sources. First is the local People’s Climate March/Western New York hub page: WHY WE ARE GOING TO PCM. Then there’s a great article in “Happenings the monthly newsletter of the Finger Lakes Institute” on the efforts of Hobart and William Smith Colleges (HWS) called: The Green Hand: HWS At The Climate March Of The Century. Finally (but not least, because zillions of folks using their social media have spread photos and stories of their experience) is the People’s Climate March Wrap-UP web page. This page hosts an almost endless string of ‘everything’ connected to that amazing day.

That’s not the end. Locally there’s an event to find out what folks in our region who went to the march thought about their experience and why it was so important to them. Come. Check this out CLIMATE MARCH REPORT TO THE COMMUNITY, WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 8, 2014 FROM 7-8 PM, Church of the Assumption, 20 East Avenue, Fairport, NY 14450.

Bring your friends, bring your media, and let’s not pretend the greatest gathering of folks concerned about Climate Change didn’t happen.