Sunday, June 29, 2014

Messaging Climate Change is “Risky Business” if not impossible

 

CCHearSomethingSOne of the prevailing thoughts that must pass through the minds of climate messengers is how to reach a public who is sick and tired of hearing about Climate Change. The science aspect of Climate Change is no longer being questioned by reasonable people. Most folks get it, in theory, but not as a top priority. Climate messengers know that heaping more scientists on board and going over the facts again and again are probably not going to work. Nor will psychologists, philosophers, and sociologists noodling how to get folks to care about what kind of climate they are bequeathing to their great grandchildren.

Though we are a species blessed with the ability to connect cause and effect, seemingly we have little regard for the consequences of a warmer world for ourselves, our children, other folks, and the creatures we share the planet with. Aren’t we humans just the darndest?

The National Climate Assessment (NCA) tried to convince Americans that Climate Change is happening now: “Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present.” But even this immediate threat to our own self interest isn’t causing much change in the media, nor in the public’s concern, and not even a blip in our political world. Actually, it’s causing an anti-blip where President Obama‘s critics believe the report and his Climate Action Plan are merely ploys to mess with their agenda. American politics, ya gotta love it.

Climate messengers could try and be nicer, I suppose. Apocalyptical scenarios are very off-putting. One could say (and some do): just drive an energy efficient car, march against the fossil fuel industry, or walk more and all will be fine. (It is fine, but it’s not enough.) But climate messengers are truly getting tired of a public content to let our life support system tank because they’ve got other stuff to do, and aren’t willing to do the little that is asked by science (lower GHGs). Everyone knows at this point in time that Climate Change is happening, and there’s absolutely no indication we can marshal the will to do something about it. Not on a global level that will matter, anyway.

Humm …, What will work? What would be a teachable moment, a moment when we collectively sit up and say, “Ah ha, we need to get moving on Climate Change!” The West Antarctic glacier melting beyond the point of no return? Too far into the future. More warm-related diseases? Naw, we got health insurance. Food shortages because of droughts? We got supermarkets. Heat? We’ve got air conditioners. Yep, it’s tough trying to convince folks whose ancestors have given up so much so we can live so insulated from the real world.

How about: “RISKY BUSINESS: The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States”? This report just released may be one of those teachable moments (though to be truthful, Hurricane Sandy should have done that). This report is not written or compiled by the usual suspects, but by some not given to the green agenda: economists. And they aren’t even asking fellow conservatives to morph themselves into limp-wristed liberals. Just a carbon tax. Just a reality check; for if the free market fundamentalists cannot even find it in their hearts to patch up their crazy economic system with a ‘carbon tax’ to offset their historical distain (negative externality, where they don’t have to pay for polluting our commons ((our air and water)) for our environment (our life support system), then we must give up all hope to reason with them.

With “Risky Business…”, the core conservatives are themselves trying to message climate and reason with the loony end of their party, those who hear TAX! and think BIG GOVERNMENT! But a co-author of “Risky Business”, Henry M. Paulson Jr, US Secretary of the Treasury under Bush II, is saying (pleading, actually) to his own party that what the climate-denying, Big Government haters don’t get is that they’re causing government to get bigger!

“Some members of my political party worry that pricing carbon is a “big government” intervention. In fact, it will reduce the role of government, which, on our present course, increasingly will be called on to help communities and regions affected by climate-related disasters like floods, drought-related crop failures and extreme weather like tornadoes, hurricanes and other violent storms. We’ll all be paying those costs. Not once, but many times over.” (The Coming Climate Crash Lessons for Climate Change in the 2008 Recession | (June 21, 2014) New York Times

Sorry about all the exclamation points. (!) But it’s hard not to get a little excited when economic experts set out to prove Climate Change will be an economic meltdown if the business community doesn’t change their attitudes. If the GOP, who are seriously jamming up our efforts to address Climate Change, cannot hear environmental distress, maybe they can understand economic distress. Maybe there’s hope. Maybe not.

Right here in New York, we might not pass a bill “that would require state-funded projects to factor in climate change”1 because it might piss off some business groups. This is pathetic because nothing is more critical than making sure projects and planning of all types (not just state-funded projects) must factor in Climate Change—this integration of Climate Change and planning is in every freaking climate study you read.  Maybe these “business groups” just haven’t read “RISKY BUSINESS.” Maybe they should.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Braking in time for Climate Change in Rochester and everywhere else

 

CCBrakesThe time to consider braking your speeding car before a large, solid, immovable object is not at the moment of impact. Most of us, even those of us awful at physics, know that in order to avoid disaster, making the decision to apply one’s brakes involves knowing the braking distance of your vehicle, the speed you’re moving, and the varying weather conditions. We (who are still around to remark about such things) must decide to brake earlier in icy conditions. It’s physics. Same with Climate Change: If you want to stop anthropogenic accelerated Climate Change so that it doesn’t destroy your future, you must consider the braking distance (inertia in climate systems) between when greenhouse gases (GHGs) enter our atmosphere and when they leave, the speed which our climate is now warming (10 times faster than any time in the Holocene), and how much extreme weather your environment can weather. (Note: by ‘environment’ we mean our life support system.)

Failing to appreciate this feature of Climate Change means you cannot properly adapt to and mitigate Climate Change. For some, this inertia feature seems to mean that Climate Change is inevitable and nothing they do will matter. That is not correct. It’s more nuanced. The inertia in Climate Change means that the GHGs we put into the system will cause, for example, our region of New York State to get somewhat warmer, produce more extreme weather in the form of more flooding, and other stuff spelled out clearly in the ClimAID and many other climate reports. But if we dramatically lowered our GHGs and even found a way to sequester most of them, we will avoid many of the horrid scenarios synonymous with a higher emissions scenario. It’s not Doomsday if we decide now to apply our brakes.

Most already know this physical aspect of Climate Change—at least in theory. The point I’m trying to drive home is this: There are a many ad hoc, local efforts for adapting to and mitigating Climate Change, but these well-intentioned efforts are usually made with deference to other factors—economic, psychological, the public’s attention span, political interests, our personal bandwidth for activism, or other excuses—that are given a higher priority than the physics. This is tragic because the tyranny of Climate Change is that there are no excuses, no bargains, no appeasements, and no appeals with the laws of Nature. Put GHG’s into our atmosphere and the place warms up and stuff happens.

Your sustainability plans should be dictated by Climate Change predictions. Sustainability plans should not simply appease the usual stakeholders (landowners, political constituents, and industries), but include all the other stakeholders we rarely include in our climate planning, the biological architects of our environment and future generation of all species. (‘Stakeholders’ is an absurd term used in climate plans because these plans are thought to work better if they’re designed like business plans. But our environment still contains a lot of unknown unknowns, those creatures and plants whose activities are critical to our sustained survival. We don’t know who all the ‘stakeholders’ are and what priorities should be allotted to them. Think soil microbes. They don’t make neat gadgets, but without them we will have no future.)

Many of the decisions involved in proper planning to adapt to a warmer climate will be wildly unpopular. For example, it has taken 14 years to establish new Great Lakes target levels incorporating many competing (stakeholder) concerns, including those of shoreline property owners and the shipping industry. The International Joint Commission (IJC) just announced its decision, and it is assumed that their plan “…will be accepted and implemented”1. It’s the Lake Ontario St. Lawrence River Plan 2014. This from an IJC spokesperson:

"As many of you may already know, yesterday the International Joint Commission announced its conclusions on the 14 year long process to update the regulation of water levels and flows for Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River to consider the needs of the natural environment while continuing to protect the diverse established uses and interests.   The IJC submitted its conclusions to the federal governments of Canada and the United States to seek their views and concurrence.    Plan 2014 protects against extreme water levels, restores wetlands, and prepares for a changing climate.  I wanted to share the report, a video overview, the presentation overview, the response to public comments,  and IJC newsletter articles on How We Got Here? And Reversing the Harm and Balancing Interests as well as additional information available on the Plan 2014 landing page. "

Many are not happy with allowing the water levels to revert to more natural levels in order to protect our environment, including: “One U.S. politician has said the strategy, first unveiled last year, puts the interests of “muskrats and cattails” above those of homeowners.” 2. Though a clever sound bite, this attitude towards our environment by someone in a position of power highlights a skewed sense of priorities in our leaders as we plan for Climate Change. The new plan, because it accommodates Climate Change, might be a good plan. It might set realistic goals even though we are well into the inertia of Climate Change. Have we applied the brakes too little and too late? Do we have to wait until our leaders catch up with what most of the public and our scientist already know?

The Finger Lakes Regional Sustainability Plan, which attempts “to lead the development of a regional sustainability plan and to implement projects that will significantly improve the economic and environmental health of our area.”3, also includes a section on Climate Change. But, though it too gives a nod to Climate Change, it seems far more interested in accommodating all kinds of existing businesses than preparing our region for a warmer climate. Many of the things in our region we cherish now, the grape industry, brown trout fishing, the skiing and snowmobile industries, apples, and maple syrup, may already be doomed because we did not apply the brakes sooner. And so pouring massive efforts and lots of bucks to sustain them, stuff that may not be critical to the sustainability of our life support system, may be delusional. In fact any plans for a sustainable future that are not dictated by Climate Change issues are probably doomed to failure and will squander vast resources. When the disasters come—extreme weather, frequent flooding, skyrocketing insurance rates, prolonged heat spells, and disease outbreaks —there may be no “cargo to throw overboard” (no resilience built into the planning to address immediate threats).

There is hope for better planning in a local watershed restoration project mentioned in the local news this week that captures the new normal of Climate Change concerns. It’s sounds reality-based, accounting for some of the recent issues that are affecting all our water ecologies:

“The plan addresses five major themes: research, education, restoration, open space protection and regulation. Existing and emerging threats to the lake include: substantial development in the watershed; more intense use of the shoreline; new invasive species; potential for harmful algal bloom; need for more local management of septic systems; climate change causing more intense rain events, prolonged droughts and other impacts; building on more sensitive steep slope sites; increased boat traffic; increased aquatic vegetation growth; and potential hydrofracking operations.” (Plan addresses threats to Canandaigua watershed ,June 19, 2014) Daily Messenger)

As with all sustainability plans, it’s not just about Canandaigua Lake, or the Rochester region, or even the US. Climate Change is a worldwide phenomenon and must be addressed in time, at the right level, and in concert will all other plans (top-down, binding agreements like that proposed for Paris 2015) or they too will be delusional.

Dr. James E. Hansen, arguably our greatest climatologist (and now to be one of our greatest climate activists) questions Obama’s Clean Power Plan. Are we braking for Climate Change quickly and robustly enough?

Too Little, Too Late? Oops? Many queries received: is Obama’s climate effort “too little, too late?” Closely related query: are we at an “oops” moment, a realization that we have pushed the climate system too far, so consequences such as ice sheet disintegration and large sea level rise are now out of our control? It so happens that I have been working, for a few years, on a paper aimed at a clear quantitative response to the “too late?” and “oops?” questions. I will be very scarce for the next couple of months, because I want that paper to be available by the time of the UN meetings in September. The answer re “too little?” is obvious from the fact that governments, ours included, are allowing and encouraging industry to go after every fossil fuel that can be found. Rather than dwelling on that fact, let’s consider the action needed to avoid “too late”. Citizens Climate Lobby just released a study by the non-partisan organization Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI), as a 3-page summary and a full report. Their comprehensive analysis of the impacts of a carbon fee-and-dividend in the United States, with 100% revenue distribution of the money to the public in equal shares as direct payments. The fee would start at $10/ton of CO2 and increase $10/ton each year; 100% of the revenue is returned to households, equal amounts to all legal residents. This approach spurs the economy, increasing the number of jobs by 2.1 million in 10 years. Emissions decrease 33% in 10 years, 52% in 20 years (19 June 2014)  Dr. James E. Hansen | http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/

Though well-intentioned, many of the plans rushing to include Climate Change may be more concerned with consensus building and pleasing all the known stakeholders than the actual matter at hand. Climate Change is like no other issue humanity has ever faced. Business as usual is unlikely to solve the very problem it created. Our leaders must understand that in order to brake for Climate Change appropriately, it must be given a new priority, a priority so high that it dictates how we address all other priorities. Keeping our GHG emissions to a sustainable level and doing so fairly is the challenge of our times. When we get our priorities straight, we’ll realize there is no more pressing issue than Climate Change. Let’s hope we brake in time.

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.








Friday, June 06, 2014

The tyranny of reducing carbon pollution

 

CCTryingEarlier this week, Obama and the EPA released a plan to cut 30% of carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants by 2030. China has followed suit with its own plan to cap CO2 emissions . This might be seen as a turning point in the Paris 2015 climate talks. (China plans absolute CO2 cap for first time: government adviser China, June 3, 2014 Reuters). Without China and the US agreeing on something substantive, the Paris talks would be just another attempt, maybe the last, for a worldwide binding agreement on controlling greenhouse gases (GHG) at a level that will matter.

These plans are part of a growing worldwide realization that something on a grand scale must be done to avert the disasters coming if we continue business as usual. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its Fifth Assessment Report in April, which “put greater emphasis on assessing the socio-economic aspects of climate change and its implications for sustainable development”1. In May, the US released its National Climate Assessment (NCA) which “provides an in-depth look at climate change impacts on the U.S. It details the multitude of ways climate change is already affecting and will increasingly affect the lives of Americans.”2.

Already comments are coming in from groups in favor of and against Obama’s carbon reduction plan. Some Democrats, trying to get elected or re-elected in 2014, think Obama plan is throwing them under a bus and are buckling under political pressure by carping about it. Some groups think Obama’ plan, given the political climate, is a good start. Others think, despite the political climate, the plan is “sadly insufficient” and isn’t robust enough to do the job:

“EPA's proposal is remarkable given the relative paralysis on climate action in Washington, but it would not budge the world's ever-rising emissions trajectory. That's because climate change is a global problem, and addressing it would require concerted action by all nations, heavy investments in carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) and near-zero emissions before 2050.” Obama Climate Rules Not Enough to Fight Global Warming  (June 3, 2014,Scientific American)

Then, of course, there are those who will fight Obama’s plan tooth and nail simply because it attempts to do anything to address a worldwide crisis they don’t believe in. Or maybe it’s because of their new-found concern for the poor and elderly. This strategy to cripple Climate Change solutions is breathtakingly craven in its hypocrisy:

Citing Concern For The Poor, GOP Senators Ask Obama To Ax EPA Climate Rule Forty-one Republican Senators asked the Obama Administration on Wednesday to abandon its new rules limiting carbon emissions from coal plants, saying their “primary concern” is how the rules will harm the poor and the elderly. “Our primary concern is that the rule as proposed will result in significant electricity rate increases and additional energy costs for consumers,” the senators wrote, citing a thoroughly debunked study from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “These costs will, as always, fall most heavily on the elderly, the poor and those on fixed incomes.” (Climate Progress, June 4, 2014)

Whatever side you come down on, Obama’s plan to limit carbon pollution is forward movement on Climate Change. We don’t make it easy. We, ‘we the people’, require of our leaders impossible tactical contortions so that they can protect our environment, our very life support system. We want all our rights, all our privileges, and ever more energy, more stuff, and more freedoms. At the same time we display a callous disregard for what all this will entail.

For example: Pages 138-139 of the National Climate Assessment contains one of the most important sentences of the report. It refers to adapting our transportation systems during Climate Change, but it can pertain to all our infrastructures—water, telecommunications, drainage, etc. It’s a rather dull, wonky kind of sentence that says volumes. Here it is: “By incorporating climate change routinely into the planning process, governments can reduce the vulnerability to climate change impacts and take actions that enhance the resilience of the transportation system to adverse weather conditions.”

What’s important about this sentence is that if we do not have a federal government that believes in Climate Change helping and advising governmental agencies at all levels, we will not be incorporating Climate Change impacts routinely into the planning process. Given our track record, ‘we the people’ are not projected to vote for anyone who actually tries to do what the NCA advises.

The sentence says that not only must the denial of Climate Change end; it gets at the heart of understanding what Climate Change means right now. If deniers are running the show we will not be properly prepared for our immediate future, let alone our long-term future. If we do not support the inconvenient and expensive measures that need to be taken now to address Climate Change, it will be too late to address them later. We aren’t just kicking the can down the road; we are kicking it off a cliff into an irretrievable abyss. We have allowed the merchants of doubt to characterize Climate Change as a political issue.

The tyranny of Climate Change is that it does not abide any excuses. If we don’t get our GHG’s down, we boil. We have never been up against such a global situation before, but we’d better cop a different ‘tude soon.

Don’t be political, don’t be selfish; get moving. Below is the information you need to back Obama’s plan to save us from ourselves, however puny or inadequate it may be. If it only gets countries like China to step up to the plate, that’s a major accomplishment. Support those leaders who are trying to solve Climate Change. Kick the bums out who are thwarting us.

Here’s a full description of Obama’s carbon pollution plan and how you can help move it along. This was provided in a recent EPA emailing:

Clean Power Plan. EPA's new proposal will cut carbon pollution from existing power plants 30 percent by 2030. Find out more about this proposal, how you can comment, and what you can do to #ActOnClimate.

· News release: http://go.usa.gov/8dMY

· Administrator Gina McCarthy’s blog post: http://go.usa.gov/8dMQ

· Video explaining the proposal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AcNTGX_d8mY

· How to comment on the proposal: http://www2.epa.gov/carbon-pollution-standards/how-comment-clean-power-plan-proposed-rule

· More info: http://www2.epa.gov/carbon-pollution-standards

· What you can do about climate change: http://epa.gov/climatechange/wycd

· Gina McCarthy, "A Day in the Life" photos: http://www2.epa.gov/aboutepa/day-life-epa-administrator