Saturday, April 26, 2014

Earth Day 2014, a still viable benchmark

 

CCUmbrellaThere are benchmarks worth noting along the possible continuum of Climate Change into a wormhole of environmental collapse (a 4 to 6C rise in warming from which we might not exit). Some of those benchmarks are atmospheric CO2 concentrations greater than 400ppm, extreme events like Hurricane Sandy, the melting of the Arctic, and our annual observance of Earth Day. I hesitate to call them Earth Day celebrations because there is little to celebrate. However busily we keep ourselves greening up the various components of our environment, the only issue that really matters is Climate Change. If our actions don’t ultimately bring down GHG concentrations quickly, they won’t make much difference. If you’ve got the Plague, eating the right foods and getting enough exercise just won’t cover it.

The tyranny of Climate Change is such that any effort we employ for our environmental heath that doesn’t result in addressing or mitigating Climate Change is taking our eyes off the ball. Each day that greenhouse gases don’t come down worldwide, we bypass tipping points towards catastrophe.

With Climate Change there is much to adapt to, especially in New York State, one of the fastest-warming states, in part because of the latent heat in our atmosphere from the past. But there is also the absolute necessity to stop putting any more greenhouse gases (GHG’s) into our atmosphere. One writer suggests we chuck the Earth Day benchmark altogether as it ends up being nothing but a feel good, green-washing sort of holiday, delusional and self-deceptive.

'Fuck Earth Day': Let This Year's Be The Last Fuck Earth Day. No, really. Fuck Earth Day. Not the first one, forty-four years ago, the one of sepia-hued nostalgia, but everything the day has since come to be: the darkest, cruelest, most brutally self-satirizing spectacle of the year. Fuck it. Let it end here. End the dishonesty, the deception. Stop lying to yourselves, and to your children. Stop pretending that the crisis can be “solved,” that the planet can be “saved,” that business more-or-less as usual—what progressives and environmentalists have been doing for forty-odd years and more—is morally or intellectually tenable. Let go of the pretense that “environmentalism” as we know it—virtuous green consumerism, affluent low-carbon localism, head-in-the-sand conservationism, feel-good greenwashed capitalism—comes anywhere near the radical response our situation requires. So, yeah, I've had it with Earth Day—and the culture of progressive green denial it represents. (April 22, 2014) Common Dreams

I don’t go that far. We need benchmarks, signposts along the way on an arduous journey to measure our progress—or lack thereof. Some have suggested that the UN stop its seven-year climate reports because they keep repeating themselves. But actually the reports indicate more certainty in human caused Climate Change and more knowledge of what that means. The reports, dismal though they may be, are the most accurate measuring stick we have for our collective efforts to solve a problem we have caused.

Earth Day 2014, as a benchmark, finds us little further ahead than previous Earth Days. The movement towards more citizen scientists to help monitor our environment is growing, but a quarter of us Americans still don’t believe in Climate Change. New York just upped its investments in solar energy, though our state and the rest of them still allow billions of subsides for the fossil fuel industry. The US’s GHG emissions are the lowest in twenty years, but China’s are soaring and the world looks to China to get its act together, even though by far most of the manmade GHG’s in the atmosphere are ours. New York State increased the standards of its climate program ‘Climate Smart Communities’, but only a fraction of the state’s communities are a part of this voluntary program. Rochester increased the amount of electric plug-in stations for electric vehicles, but still refuses to connect the dots with its efforts on alternative transportation (walking and bicycling) with Climate Change. Fracking still remains in limbo, but haunts New York with the specter of water quality issues in a state that might have to adapt to climate refugees. Plastic garbage in the Great Lakes is finally on our radar, but little has been done to address this and the other issues--invasive species, water privatization, water quality, and pharmaceuticals—that plague one of our region’s greatest environmental assets. Our local media ramped up its attention on Earth Day events, but still doesn’t present the public with continual Climate Change coverage in a world that is warming.

This mixed bag of good and not so good Earth Day 2014 assessments could evolve towards more focused efforts in addressing the key problem if, like the bicycling community in Rochester, environmental groups created an umbrella organization to maximize their Climate Change efforts. Like the Rochester Cycling Alliance (RCA) that ramps up the advocacy efforts of all bicycle organizations in our community, Rochester area environmental groups might find common ground on increasing public awareness of Climate Change by merging their clout with the media , local authorities, and politicians.

All local environmental groups have their historical strengths and they are all concerned about Climate Change. By the next Earth Day, rather than a mixed bag of efforts on Climate Change in Rochester, wouldn’t it be worthwhile to coordinate environmental efforts—water quality, monitoring birds, ridding our land of toxins, environmental health, land conservation, energy efficiency and conservation, recycling, food and agriculture, wetlands, sprawl, Brownfields, wildlife, water quality, air quality, transportation, and environmental education--so that the environmental community in our region speaks with one voice on Climate Change? Maybe, pool our resources, and hire a PR specialist?

The next Earth Day we need clear and measureable results on bringing down GHG concentrations or these yearly benchmarks will just be a pretense.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

This Earth Day demand that your media report on Climate Change

CCSpeakThough many were invited, only one media in Rochester NY reported on state expert’s presentation of Climate Change’s local effects. Climate Change is not only happening, it is happening in Rochester, NY—just like it is all over the world. Mostly, as you attend to local Rochester media there’s nary a mention of Climate Change.

Folks, this is not merely disappointing, disappointing that our local media cannot get off their collective butts and check out what the state of New York is doing about Climate Change, it is an outrage! The latest IPCC reports make it clear we (meaning all of us) are not going to reach a tolerable level of greenhouse gases unless we make a dramatic turn in our behavior towards fossil fuel use.

Thankfully, we have at least one publication, Rochester City Newspaper, who feels compelled to report on local activity on the most important crisis in our time. This Earth Day demand that your media report on Climate Change; do not shrug your shoulders and say there is nothing you can do.

Please, read:

Making the case for local communities to act on climate change Drastic cuts in global carbon dioxide emissions are necessary to prevent the worst effects of climate change. Still, decades of human-generated carbon emissions have already locked the planet into some degree of warming and change, climate scientists say. In other words, the only relevant question is, just how bad will it be? And the answer depends on whether countries across the world can agree to sharp cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, chiefly carbon dioxide. Local governments should, at a minimum, develop plans to deal with current and anticipated hazards caused by climate trends, such as flooding and strong storms, said Mark Lowery, a climate policy analyst with the State Office of Climate Change. Lowery was the featured speaker at the Rochester chapter of the Sierra Club's annual environmental forum, which was held last night at First Unitarian Church. "The costs of action pale in comparison to the costs of inaction," Lowery said. (April 18, 2014, Rochester City Newspaper)

Over three hundred folks listened to Mr. Lowery and asked pointed questions on the local effects of Climate Change. Soon we will post a video of the presentation here and it will wow! you with the calm, clear deliberation of the world as it is, a warming world that the state is addressing. In the meantime, listen to the WXXI podcast of the interview before the Rochester Sierra Club’s 2014 Earth Day Forum: "Climate Smart Communities: Let’s Get With the Program"

One last point on Climate Change and the urgency of acting: At some point, soon I suspect, climate studies will no longer include low emission scenarios because they will have been exceeded. When this occurs it will be a great tragedy because it will highlight a great lack of will by humanity to heed its climate experts, giving into the despair that we cannot summon the will to protect our future from ourselves. When we are left with only high emission scenarios—extremely high temperatures, extreme weather, and a lot more—all the excuses in the world won’t mean a thing to those who will follow us and have to struggle with the consequences.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Earth Day 2014: Government is critical on Climate Change, Part 9

CCHearThis is part 9 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.

Your state, your government, isn’t just another group of folks trying to get your ear on stuff they want you to hear. The state, your state, is you. It’s ‘we the people’. If your government thinks Climate Change is real and something they must address, you should know how and why. Not because they have clout, which they do, but because they represent you.

Some think their government is not only powerless on addressing Climate Change but ineffective on the messaging. This article kind of gets at the heart of this:

Can Business Break Impasse on Climate Action? The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change urged immediate action on adapting to human-caused climate change in the second part of its fifth assessment report, released in March. But it may be that governments and the media are poorly equipped to deliver that dire message to the public. That was the consensus among experts speaking about the evolution of the public debate over climate change and clean energy at Bloomberg’s Future of Energy Summit in New York City. Andy Hoffman, director of the Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan, said that climate change and renewable energy are caught in a cultural schism in which both, regardless of the science, are seen as products of radical environmentalists and big government. “What we find is that when people start to discuss these issues, they’re questioning your motives and (trying) to find out whether you’re a member of their tribe,” he said. (April 9, 2014) Climate Central

Indeed, when it comes to messaging about Climate Change, there are many striving to be the messenger. As most now know, solving Climate Change is not merely a problem of physics—lowering the concentration of anthropogenic greenhouse gases in our atmosphere -- though it is certainly that. This issue has accumulated not only a lot of hot gas, but a lot of human baggage too. Climate Change is burdened with politics, economics, justice, liberty, and pretty much all that affects human behavior. Business, one of the most effective shapers of human behavior, is especially good at messaging products. However, businesses are not especially good at messaging complicated issues without incorporating those issues into something they are trying to sell. As for the media and whether or not they are ‘properly equipped’ to message Climate Change, they might be if they had a longer attention span.

Unlike other institutions, you cannot give up on government when they tell you something you don’t like. Of course you can move, but with Climate Change there are no governments that won’t be messaging and doing something about it. And here’s something else as stated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in their latest report: “Governments often play key roles as regulators, providers, or insurers of last resort” (Page 24, IPCC WGII AR5 Summary for Policymakers). Governments are the folks who make sure our vehicles have a surface to drive on. They write up the rules on how all the other institutions must interact with you and other businesses, and hopefully with our environment. They set guidelines on pollution of all types. If all the other insurers go belly up, they will have act as the insurers of last resort. Governments don’t have the luxury of avoiding things that affect your livelihood, your health, and your life.

Your government, however dysfunctional it may appear at any one time, is accountable to you. There’s no substitute for the kind of responsibilities like addressing Climate Change that those folks you put into office are required to do.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Earth Day 2014: Climate Change in Rochester NY is exceptional, Part 8

CCRochesterThis is part 8 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.

Climate Change is occurring around the world and expressing itself right now in myriad forms. All major mainstream media, including a local report, are making much of the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group 2 report, Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Here’s a sampling of the news this week on the report’s release : Health Professionals Worldwide Demand Urgent Climate Action Following IPCC Report , Climate Impacts Are Going to Hit the Developing World Hardest, IPCC Says, U.N. Climate Panel Issues Dire Warning of Threat to Global Food Supply, Calls for Action & Adaption, Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability , Groundbreaking UN Report Warns Climate Change a Threat to Global Security and Mankind , New UN Report Is Cautious  On Making Climate Predictions , IPCC Says Climate Change is Here, World Needs to Adapt , Climate impacts 'overwhelming' - UN , IPCC Report: A changing climate creates pervasive risks but opportunities exist for effective responses , IPCC report: climate change felt 'on all continents and across the oceans'.

The level of concern, the observations of present indicators, and possible consequences of Climate Change should seem exceptional. (In a strict sense Climate Change exceptionalism is the idea that this issue is of an entirely different order than other issues, which given its potential to send all life towards dangerous tipping points, it probably is.) However, putting that big question aside for the moment, on a local level all our concerns are exceptional in the sense that Climate Change will affect specific areas differently. If you take the time to read some climate studies that pertain to our region, especially the ClimAID report, you find that with its fresh water, temperate climate, excellent soil, we will be one of those regions that may not get hit as hard with Climate Change as many others—at least for a while.

Folks in the South and West are experiencing severe flooding and droughts that, according to climate studies, will be long lasting. There is more than a good chance that this Rochester region will be a place many will want to come to grow food and get enough fresh clean water—as long as we don’t frack it up. We have excellent transportation infrastructures (which includes the canal that can move heavy equipment) and getting better as the City of Rochester ramps up alternative transportation (walking and bicycling).

This local exceptinalism means that one of the things to appreciate about how to adapt to Climate Change in our region is to adapt to more folks coming here, where our economy will grow. We must protect the environment we have and ready ourselves for many who will find our region a wonderful relief from wildfires, droughts, massive flooding, sea rise, and much more.

To learn more about how Climate Change will affect our region and what plans we must take to adapt, come to this public conversation on Climate Change in Rochester, NY on April 17th:

Sierra Club invites leaders to 'climate smart' program Your town board members, village board members or county legislators may be smart, but are they climate smart? The Sierra Club thinks they should be. The Rochester-area chapter of the nation's largest environmental group is devoting its annual environmental forum on April 17 to climate change — and more specifically, the state's Climate Smart Communities program. Under that program, municipalities pledge to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, increase energy efficiency and prepare for the effects of a changing climate. Ultimately, the program encourages municipalities to help their residents do the same. The Sierra Club already has sent invitations to every municipal leader it could identify in Monroe and Ontario counties and hopes to extend the offer to officials in other counties. "We're trying to get as many people who haven't signed up yet to at least listen," said Frank Regan, a former chairman of the Sierra Club's Rochester Regional Group who has an abiding interest in climate change. "I'm hoping to bring people in and talk about an issue that doesn't get talked about that much." (March 30, 2014) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle