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 RochesterEnvironment.com. (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.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Before: Rochesterians going to the People’s Climate March in NYC

 

CCBeforeSMany folks who live in the Rochester, NY region are preparing to arrive at the largest climate march in history—the People’s Climate March. I view this march as an attempt to capture the media’s attention and demonstrate how important it is to our leaders and fellow human beings that the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris must not fail. Other climate talks, especially 2009 in Copenhagen, failed miserably and this leads some to conclude that climate talks—worldwide binding agreements to keep greenhouse gas emission down and do so fairly—are not the answer. But climate talks are the only answer to a worldwide crisis that involves all people, all governments, all corporations, all animals, all plants, and our life support system. Just recently, ‘experts’ realized that our population growth assumptions were off by about 2 billion people. This makes 12 billion folks who by 2100 will have to eat, earn a living, and adapt to a warmer world. We still don’t fully understand all the ramifications of this aspect of the looming disaster.

One thing is for sure, absolutely nothing but a successful climate conference in Paris 2015 can adequately address Climate Change. Without the force of law throughout the world on mitigating Climate Change within a level playing field soon, we’ll be left to the forces of the invisible hand and voluntary efforts. The invisible hand, free market fundamentalism, allowing the market to supplant our moral system, is too selfish and heedless to anything but its own inhuman survival. Voluntary efforts, heroic though they may be, will not be comprehensive and rapid enough to address a problem that has grown exponentially because we’ve let it go for a very long time.

Will the People’s Climate March work? Many obviously don’t think so or they’d be going. I do not know if the People’s Climate March will get people’s attention to the most important crisis of our age. Many who are going to the march are going because of a deep, visceral urge to do something about the complacency they see in their neighbors, powerful corporations, and their governments. Some are going because they’re hoping hundreds of thousands of people marching around New York City on a Sunday afternoon might capture the media’s attention and give Climate Change the top priority it deserves. For those who think they just have to ignore this one because their plate is full, this is not one of those kinds of issues. You will have to adapt to Climate Change, just as you would have to respond to any immediate disaster.

Some are going because they hope. They hope this march will change everything. (A full discussion of this need for a complete change is probably best developed by Naomi Klein in her just-released book.

Naomi Klein: Only a Reverse Shock Doctrine Can Save Our Climate In her new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, Naomi Klein argues that if we had taken action years ago when scientists first established that human activities were changing our climate, we might have been able to deal with the problem of global warming with only minimal disruption to our economic system. But as we approach a tipping point, and the consequences of climate change come into sharper focus, that time has passed, and we now have to acknowledge that preserving humans’ habitat requires a paradigm change. But Klein doesn’t just offer us a depressing litany of the damage we’ve already done. She calls on us to seriously rethink the way our economy is structured to address not only climate change, but also other longstanding social problems like persistent global poverty and rising inequality. (September 16, 2014) Moyers and Company

The People’s Climate March is not an attempt to defend science, which many who speak to the media about this issue tend to find themselves doing. (It’s like having to explain gravity every time a reporter asks a passerby why some poor soul just jumped from a tall building.) The media, still in its infancy on messaging Climate Change, still wants to give denial a chance, and appease those who might find this subject too alarming and dreadful. So, we still have to march and make a lot of noise to grab the media’s attention because the media cannot get their heads around the all-inclusiveness of this issue.

The science of Climate Change can speak for itself, as it has in many climate studies around the world. The People’s Climate March is about reaching the public at a gut level (beyond politics and the will not to believe) and getting them to demand that their media and their leaders get moving.

Before this march, we still can hope. I find myself, someone who has seen almost no local action on Climate Change, hoping for a new day on climate responsibility when I return. A day where we wake up to the world we are really living in, a warmer world that is quickly getting warmer and a community ready to get their hands dirty. Before this march, I wonder if the local media will find it in their hearts to cover this issue after a great jolt of adrenaline from New York City. I wonder whether the public will continue to only muse about Climate Change, if they think about it all, or might instead become engaged with the issue of their generation. I wonder, as a soldier might before a great war, if all the planning and inconvenience of getting to and experiencing a great human movement whether it will be worth it all. But this last question will be answered after the march, not before it.

I acknowledge that many are working towards a sustainable future, doing their part and all that. But we must ask ourselves, is what we are doing going to make a difference? If our actions don’t address the immediate problem of lowering greenhouse gases on a planetary scale, it’s not enough. Unlike many of the great issues, where we won’t know the outcome of our actions, the need to lower GHGs is clear. We cannot dodge this one with rationalizations.

After the march, after the dust settles as it were, I’ll be back with my observations.

BTW: If you really cannot make the march, check this out: “5 Ways to Support the People's Climate March Without Marching” (9/18 The Huffington Post)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Climate Change from special interest to mainstream

 

PCM2It’s been an interesting week messaging the People’s Climate March (PCM) from Rochester, NY. The PCM occurring in New York City on September 21st will be the largest climate march in history. It’s a demonstration by over a thousand organizations and hundreds of thousands of ordinary folks and their children (not activists as mainstream media tends to characterize them). The march is but a single (though dramatic) event among many others going on in many other places: a Global Day of Action. Still, in Rochester, Climate Change is viewed by most people as a special issue. A special issue is something only a select group of people think is important, while the rest of us need not worry ourselves.

Of course, Climate Change is not a special interest, nor is it the concern of only a few. Every aspect of our environment, which is to say our life support system, and our entire social fabric will be challenged by this sudden shift in greenhouse gas concentrations (GHGs). Climate changes are already happening as the National Climate Assessment states, a report by 13 federal agencies that don’t have the luxury of avoiding this crisis. Climate studies that inform our leaders and agencies what’s happening, what to plan for, and what to do about Climate Change present the many practical solutions that must be occurring now. Again, Climate Change is not a special interest issue, and should not be treated as such.

In Rochester Climate Change is still seen by most as a minor annoyance or possibly a somewhat greater inconvenience. Those trying to communicate the necessity of adhering to the critical measures recommended by most official climate studies are thought to be overwrought and ‘passionate’ about this issue. Such ‘zealots’ are asked to restrain their enthusiasm for the proper venue. For example, on a local neighborhood social network, my announcement that a Rochester neighborhood association agreed that it was important to send locals to the PCM was received by one of the administrators of the popular program with distaste, suggesting if I wanted to mention ‘Climate Change’ I should create a special group for my special interest. Maybe go to a coffee shop and spill our hearts out. Climate Change, presumably, is more upsetting than house break-ins, robberies, and car thefts to the general public.

This isn’t simply a rambling rant of greeny woes. What is happening in our overloaded information age is that the gatekeepers of media--mainstream media editors and our social media administrators--are forcing us into silos where important stuff gets ignored and too often drivel rules. Owners of the mediums we now communicate through direct, and too often constrict, what we can transmit and what we can receive. Few issues highlight this alarming muzzling effect as Net Neutrality, where if we don’t act soon, only those with a lot of bucks will have the opportunity to communicate their message to most of the public. That happened with radio and TV and now the Internet is in jeopardy.

When Rochester region’s media were asked last Tuesday to attend a press conference, only one TV station showed up. Folks representing over 30 organizations, themselves representing over 100,000 Rochesterians, eloquently spoke in front of Rochester City Hall about the importance of getting local folks to the PCM. But, as usual, they ended up speaking largely to the converted. (You can Become the Media! by posting videos of the press conference all over the place.) Attending the PCM, an activity on the level that could force change in a timeframe that will actually matter, effectively got hushed up. Already, it is quite likely that the low-emission scenarios (where New York’s climate will be like Virginia’s) have passed us by as GHG accumulation rates break records. Today’s Florida climate is now more likely for New York even if we stop all anthropomorphic GHG emissions right now. This isn’t a special issue; it’s a practical emergency. If Neil Armstrong had reported from space to Huston that a vital component in the spaceship was failing and the moon mission was in trouble, Houston would have listened and acted.

Of course, not all efforts to get the 700,000 inhabitants of Monroe County energized about the People’s Climate March have been in vain. There are already two buses filled with local folks, a lot of car-pooling, train riders and other ways available to get to the march. There will be local actions for those who cannot go. Generous donations have been made so many can come. There has been some press. You can find out all about local efforts here http://peoplesclimate.org/westernny/. As I mentioned above, many local organizations have come together to speak as one on the urgency of Climate Change. This is good, the actions of a relative few; but it’s not enough. More folks live in Monroe County than the entire state of Vermont. We should be seeing a proportional response.

Sure, our region has many pressing issues. Yet despite the urgency it seems as though everything else but Climate Change comes first. But if not now, when? If not in Rochester, where? When will it be the appropriate time to lift Climate Change to the level of concern it deserves? When will climate change denial and not Climate Change messaging be appropriate? When will the citizenry demand of their leaders an accounting of their plans to address Climate change? When will it be ok to talk about climate change with your friends and family? When will our local media editors instruct their reporters to connect the dots on the local expression of Climate Change.? In other words, how should a message as grave as Climate Change be messaged to the greater local public--who do not want to hear about it, even though they must? Being nice and patient hasn’t worked.

In a time where many issues are competing for our limited attention, we need to prioritize. Climate Change, the mother of all problems, should long have been a mainstream issue, not in the embarrassingly discomfiting squalor of unseemliness it now resides. It should be at the top of our priority list if we wish to give our children a fighting chance.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Rochester, NY groups join efforts to get locals to People’s Climate March

 

CCHelpComingSMore than 20 organizations in the Rochester area are helping to boost awareness that getting local folks to the People’s Climate March is absolutely crucial. Business as usual is not acceptable anymore. Rochester’s efforts, the Western New York hub of the People’s Climate March, joined over twenty groups, businesses, organizations of faith, and labor organizations, to support getting Rochesterians to the ‘Largest Climate March in History.’ Already, Rochester People’s Climate Coalition gets big local press coverage:  

  • 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”
  • 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

If you don’t get your butt to the People’s Climate March and back your leaders’ substantial actions on Climate Change, you can kiss it “Goodbye!” Look, for those who pour scorn on the Peoples Climate March as being some desperate symbolic measure by some frustrated liberals to change the world, let them be accountable for less than a great outpouring of humanity to demand that greenhouse gases be lowered, and done so fairly. If, after you have gotten out of your chair and out from behind your excuses, and joined with hundreds of thousands at the People’s Climate March in New York City, then you can carp with righteous self-importance about how you did your part.

To better understand the implications of how wimpy leadership on Climate Change threatens our ability to adapt to Climate Change, read this special investigative series “Water’s Edge” from Reuters (not exactly a bastion of liberal, bleeding-heart journalism). Despite the rage against the inconvenience of addressing Climate Change, against the climate science, the clogging affect of our ineffective politics, and the distraction of our loud but loony ideologies, the rising seas near our most populated regions are relentless. Let me repeat “relentless” (persistent, unyielding, unremitting, inexorable, insistent, harsh, unrelenting, ruthless, and uncompromising). We are going to have to understand the role of government and insurance and private property and a whole lot more in this world of warming.  This Reuters story proves we don’t get Climate Change yet: 

As the seas rise, a slow-motion disaster gnaws at America’s shores Part 1: A Reuters analysis finds that flooding is increasing along much of the nation’s coastline, forcing many communities into costly, controversial struggles with a relentless foe. WALLOPS ISLAND, Virginia – Missions flown from the NASA base here have documented some of the most dramatic evidence of a warming planet over the past 20 years: the melting of polar ice, a force contributing to a global rise in ocean levels. The Wallops Flight Facility’s relationship with rising seas doesn’t end there. Its billion-dollar space launch complex occupies a barrier island that's drowning under the impact of worsening storms and flooding. NASA's response? Rather than move out of harm’s way, officials have added more than $100 million in new structures over the past five years and spent $43 million more to fortify the shoreline with sand. Nearly a third of that new sand has since been washed away. (September 4, 2014) Reuters

Back six years ago, many, many folks in New York State thought Fracking was inevitable and Governor Patterson’s Fracking moratorium would quickly dissolve. But that did not happen. Folks from all over the state, including the heroic work of R-Cause in Rochester, blocked that Fracking nonsense—at least for the time-being. People getting together en masse can make big changes and the People’s Climate Change march ain’t nothing; check this out:

This is an invitation to change everything. In September, world leaders are coming to New York City for a UN summit on the climate crisis. UN Secretary­ General Ban Ki-­moon is urging governments to support an ambitious global agreement to dramatically reduce global warming pollution. With our future on the line and the whole world watching, we’ll take a stand to bend the course of history. We’ll take to the streets to demand the world we know is within our reach: a world with an economy that works for people and the planet; a world safe from the ravages of climate change; a world with good jobs, clean air and water, and healthy communities To change everything, we need everyone on board. Sunday, September 21 in New York City. Join us.” (People’s Climate March)

Join with the Rochester People’s Climate Coalition in our effort to get local folks to the march. Contact me [FrankRegan@RochesterEnvironment.com] to sign on.