Sunday, December 28, 2014

Having banned Fracking, New York can be a leader in renewable energy and jobs

Maybe the greatest victory for the anti-fracking activists in New York State is switching the burden of proof from the victims to the producers. A hallmark of European environmental policy is to place the burden of proof on the industries producing suspect products—making industries prove their products will do no harm to the public or to the environment before these products are allowed on the markets.

The reverse has been true on this side of the Atlantic. Decades of environmental and public health abuses by polluting industries—cigarettes, leaded gas and paint, using hydrofluorocarbons (super greenhouse gases) as a refrigerant, etc.—have been allowed to continue business as usual until enough time, health and environmental damage, money, and research finally brought the polluters to court.

This statement by acting New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker could have profound implications not only on Fracking in New York State but also on how we address environmental concerns in our hemisphere:

"Until the science provides sufficient information to determine the level of risk to public health from HVHF [high-volume hydraulic fracturing] to all New Yorkers and whether the risks can be adequately managed, DOH recommends that HVHF should not proceed in NYS," Zucker wrote in a letter to Martens that accompanies the public health report. (The legacy of New York's fracking decision,12/24/ 2014 Rochester City Newspaper)

The burden of proof that Fracking in New York must not harm the public’s health is now the responsibility of the Fracking industry—which should have always been the case. In states like Pennsylvania, Fracking started without much research and since then it’s been the dickens for the public to prove that their health and water well problems have been due to nearby Fracking operations. When already ensconced, the Fracking industry looks on with disdain for those concerned about methane leaks and other concerns because once given approval by the state to begin their harmful practices, it is almost impossible bring them to task.   

This business-as-usual climate, where it’s harder to stop existing polluters than to switch to energy options that don’t pollute, must change quickly. Maybe New York State’s six-year Fracking experience can offer some practical insights to the necessary energy shift we must make if we are to keep global temperatures at 2C above preindustrial levels.  

The science of Climate Change couldn’t be clearer. The CLIMATE CHANGE 2014 Synthesis Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released in November makes it crystal clear that we have to quickly reduce fossil fuel use:

The unrestricted use of fossil fuels should be phased out by 2100 if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change, a UN-backed expert panel says. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says in a stark report that most of the world's electricity can - and must - be produced from low-carbon sources by 2050.  If not, the world faces "severe, pervasive and irreversible" damage. (Fossil fuels should be phased out by 2100 says IPCC, 11/02/2014, BBC News)

Banning Fracking in New York State presents a major opportunity to address Climate Change by dramatically increasing the potential for renewable energy. Now that we’ve dodged a major environmental challenge to our environment, our health, and our climate by NOT Fracking New York, we have opened the door wider for more wind and solar power. The economic obstacles presented by cheap natural gas is now reduced and gives the growing green energy industries the boost they need.

Better battery power for when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining, conserving energy, increasing energy efficiency, and updating our energy infrastructure with Cuomo’s New York Energy Highway program (fixing leaking gas pipes, supporting green energy, reducing bottlenecks affecting renewable energy, and advancing Smart Grid technologies) can now accelerate our state’s role in reducing greenhouse gases—and provide many jobs. We’ve lost six precious years fighting Fracking in New York. Now let’s focus on the provisions of the COP20 Lima climate talks and make major strides in New York for a successful COP21 Paris climate agreement. (BTW: Did I mention more jobs? More jobs than Fracking would have ever provided New Yorkers?)

Sure, the battle to keep New York Frack-free is not over. Those pro-fracking people will never give up as long as there is a buck to be made from fossil fuels. But the COP20 Lima talks have gotten folks around the world considering an alternative to our addiction to fossil fuels:


The switch to renewable power is a battle we cannot afford to lose The Lima climate talks saw a shift towards action with renewable energy taking centre stage, says the head of the International Renewable Energy Agency Since the final gavel fell at the Lima climate talks earlier this month, discussions have centred on one question: what did the talks actually accomplish? After two weeks of intense negotiation, governments settled on a draft text that will hopefully lead to a successful global climate deal in Paris next December. While opinions vary regarding the success or failure of the outcome, there is another story emerging outside the negotiation room. This year’s conference represented a highly-significant shift in the positive momentum to act on climate change. While negotiators engaged in contentious debates, businesses, non-governmental organisations and local authorities stepped forward to present their own climate initiatives and committed to more action on the ground. In this shift, renewable energy took centre stage. (December 24, 2014 The Guardian)

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Fracking Ban in New York State important step towards COP21 Paris

 

CCCloseOneSThursday, December 17th 2014 will go down in history as the date that Governor Cuomo finally decided to ban Fracking in New York State. This matters because NY is the second and by far the largest US state to ban this dangerous, unhealthy, methane-leaking, extreme fossil-fuel extraction method in a place that actually has a lot of shale gas. That particular fossil fuel will now stay in our bedrock, not in our air. Ostensively, Fracking will be banned because of public health issues (“Citing Health Risks, Cuomo Bans Fracking in New York State, 12/17/2014 NYT) and while this is quite true, it doesn’t quite cover the gambit of concerns. Besides threatening our fresh water, our property rights, and our beautiful countryside, Fracking most likely leaks methane gas like a sieve. (Read local study: “Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations”) Great praise goes out to those who resisted this dirty energy option for New York State for six long years, including local leadership by R-Cause.

This ban is an important step towards the most important climate talks ever. Between now and December of next year, when the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris takes place to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate from all the nations of the world, many big changes must occur. New York State banning Fracking can be viewed as a major step to addressing Climate Change and protecting our own.  It would have been the height of absurdity and hypocrisy for the state of New York to pass Fracking while at the same time trying to save New York City from the consequences of rising seas and ever-stronger hurricanes.

With the milquetoast COP20 Lima talks and high-profile climate deniers worming their way to high office next year, the road to Paris 2015 is going to be long indeed. The Lima talks were hailed in mainstream media as a success because they didn’t outright fail. Mostly, this 20th Conference of Parties kicked the can down the very hot road to Paris (metaphorically the ‘can’ is our collective willingness to keep greenhouse gases (GHGs) 2C below preindustrial averages).

Some have lauded Lima because “The agreement removes the longstanding division of the world into developed and developing countries and paves way for a model of unity.” And while Lima did merge the responsibilities for curbing GHG’s for both rich and poor countries, this misses the point. The point is (again) keeping to 2C. It is necessary for the poor to help curb GHGs, but they cannot do that without a viable Green Climate Fund—and tragically there was no agreement to fund this adequately.

The final week of COP20 Lima was packed with demonstrations, a frantic two-day run into overtime, and a seething undercurrent of resentment against a binding agreement in Paris by the rich nations. Basically, the rich countries who caused Climate Change don’t want to be forced to undo it. But everyone knows, even a binding agreement is unenforceable—it’s a gentlemen’s agreement. What a binding agreement would do is create a top-down structure so that bottom-up grassroots solutions (granted the ones most likely to work) aggregate all local efforts to a level and time frame that will actually work without stepping on everyone else’s efforts. This matters because our window of opportunity to act so that our children’s future isn’t hosed is closing very quickly.

Climate change cannot be solved if it remains as an ‘us vs. them’ problem—the way we have historically characterized environmental issues. The fight between those who want a pristine nature and those who think we can have it all is over. At this point in time, there is no possibility for a pristine nature, we’ve broken it and now we own it. However, this does not mean unfettered growth and less restrictions—quite the opposite. We’ve already locked ourselves into a warmer world that will necessitate big government with lots of rules to maintain anything like a sustainable future. But we must stop the absurd battles with ourselves within our own life support system. We don’t have the time for more lengthy battles (like the six-year fight to end Fracking in New York State) that hijacked our attention from addressing Climate Change. (The tragedy of the Fracking battle in NYS is not that one side won and other side lost—it’s that we could have dramatically increased renewable energy during that time.)

In just one year, intense efforts need to be made to educate the public on what we are facing with Climate Change and the importance of their understanding all the ramifications. All those promises made after the People’s Climate March at the UN Climate Summit in New York City, and Lima—lowering GHGs, increasing renewable energy, putting climate change into school curricula, increasing transparency in countries’ s emissions targets, stopping deforestation, appreciating the pivotal role of women in addressing climate change, and more—must come to fruition. We used to have a lot of time to wrangle over who should do what or whether we should do anything at all, but now we don’t.

For those still advocating for the Soft Plan (non-binding agreements) to Climate Change solutions, they have a year to lend any credibility to this unlikely option. Let them prove their case with substantial results before the Paris talks or be forever quiet on that non-solution. (No one has ever stopped anyone, any company, or any country from voluntarily reducing GHGs and yet the trajectory is for more GHGs, not less.) Here are some things the Soft Planners could be doing before Paris if there is any merit to their arguments: no more subsidies for fossil fuel exploration, no drilling in the Arctic, create millions of jobs in renewable energy, stop the XL Keystone pipeline fiasco, update infrastructures to adapt and mitigate Climate Change (like FDR’s job programs without the dams). This isn’t idle rhetoric, the results have to add up to subtracting GHGs. Under 2C you win; over 2C we lose.

Addressing Climate Change demands (among other things) that all humanity morph more-or-less instantly into environmentalists. No more of this looney media construct where only some folks care about their life support system (environmentalists) vs. those who only care about progress. All of us. Individuals, countries, corporations, activists, must get on the same page. There are no winners in a world that’s too warm to live in. We must change and do so quickly.

If you live in the Rochester, NY region, consider advancing the prospects for a real deal in Paris 2015 by joining one of these groups:

  • Global Warming/Energy Committee Addressing climate change is Sierra Club’s number one priority. The scientific facts on the worldwide climate crisis are fully available. They say climate is changing very rapidly and is going to get worse. In fact climate change isn’t the only problem. The world is facing an array of interconnected environmental problems such as overpopulation and water and food shortages. What can we do to avoid a ‘hard crash’? Our GW/E Committee has developed a summary design on how to address necessary changes. We call it a ‘Three Legged Stool’ approach. Rochester Regional Group of the Sierra Club.
  • Citizen’s Climate Lobby.  Here’s what Dr. James Hansen, head of Goddard Institute for Space Studies, NASA say’s "Most impressive is the work of Citizens Climate Lobby, a relatively new, fast-growing, nonpartisan, nonprofit group with 60 chapters across the United States and Canada. If you want to join the fight to save the planet, to save creation for your grandchildren, there is no more effective step you could take than becoming an active member of this group." The contact information for the local Rochester group: nyrochester@citizensclimatelobby.org We meet monthly, and people can contact us for more info on getting involved!
  • Cool Rochester--Save money, energy, the planet http://www.coolrochester.org/  Cool Rochester is a non-profit group composed of concerned citizens who are engaging the Rochester community in the fight against climate change. We believe dramatic reductions of carbon dioxide emissions are necessary to preserve and protect a functioning planet for this (and future) generations. Our goal is to reduce Rochester area carbon emissions one billion pounds in three years. To achieve this, we need to recruit 80,000 households and workplaces to participate in our program, to reduce their emissions by 25%. By unleashing the power of community we can save energy, save money and save the planet. Join Cool Rochester. [RENewsletter June 28, 09]
  • Gandhi Earth Keepers International  "is a grassroots, people powered environmental justice organization based on the teachings of sacred ecology and the principles of Gandhian styled nonviolence. Our events and programs include daily vigils, educational seminars and workshops, wildlife advocacy, outdoor meditation training for youth, book groups, blogging and other forms of new journalism, the promotion of climate justice, disaster relief preparation, community  activism, and even demonstrations of civil resistance. Every day, we vow to work for a justice that serves all living beings regardless of species, gender, age, race, nationality, religion, or social class. Founded on August 1, 2014 in Rochester, NY,  we are an income earning social benefit project designed to produce community based agency.  There are no fixed fees for our  products and we only accept donations for our programs and services. We trust that people will support this work through membership contributions, angel investment, grants, volunteer labor, and the gift economy."
  • Mothers Out Front | Mobilizing for a Livable Climate "We are mothers, grandmothers, and other caregivers who can no longer be silent and still about the very real danger that climate change poses to our children’s and grandchildren’s future. We have watched our leaders at every level fail to take action to address the growing climate crisis. We are mobilizing our energies and talents to build a movement that will be a force for change, beginning in our own communities and moving throughout the country and, eventually, the world. Our goal is to transition our society away from fossil fuels to clean energy. We do this out of our love for our children and grandchildren, and our commitment to protect their lives. Join us today by signing our Declaration of Protection for Our Children Against Climate Change."
  • The Climate Reality Project is a non-profit organization that was founded by Al Gore to promote climate change education and counter climate change denial campaigns worldwide.  They sponsor a number of different campaigns and offer training to individuals who want to become effective activists.  See climaterealityproject.org for more details.
  • Rochester Climate Action Rochester Climate Action is run by a group of local mothers who are concerned about how climate change will affect their children’s futures.  These mothers are unpaid volunteers and are not affiliated with any “green” businesses.  For more information, including other action opportunities, visit RochesterClimateAction.org.  (The site is slowly coming along.  Though it’s still in development, we invite you to check out what we’ve posted so far).  We welcome your feedback on our work.  Please send comments, questions, suggestions, etc. to rochesterclimateaction@gmail.com.
  • The Pachamama Alliance seeks to empower indigenous people of the Amazon rainforest to preserve their lands and culture and, using insights gained from that work, educate and inspire individuals everywhere to bring forth a thriving, just and sustainable world.  Through their workshops and training programs they strive to engage people in transformational conversations and empower individuals to take action.  To learn more, visit pachamama.org, contact Sue Staropoli at suestar1@rochester.rr.com, or check the events calendar on this site to find information about upcoming Pachamama events.
  • Citizens Climate Lobby "The purposes of Citizens Climate Lobby are to 1) create the political will for a stable climate and 2) to empower individuals to have breakthroughs in exercising their personal and political power.”

Sunday, December 14, 2014

January 1st deadline in NYS could inject new life into e-waste recycling

 

CCFriendlyReminderSOn January 1st 2015, it will become illegal in New York State for ordinary people to place old computers and TV’s into their trash or place them at the curb—a step in the 2010 NYS Electronic Equipment Recycling and Reuse Act that has been coming for five years. This has the potential to greatly increase the need for e-waste recycling. Suddenly, there will be a new playing field. Not recycling will no longer be a viable option. This will result in new and expanded opportunities for recycling businesses to make a profit and help protect our environment.

First, will the DEC’s friendly reminder actually work? Here’s what they say

“The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) today reminded New Yorkers that as of January 1, 2015, the NYS Electronic Equipment Recycling and Reuse Act prohibits certain types of electronic waste from being placed in the trash, or at the curbside for trash pickup.” DEC Urges New Yorkers to Recycle, Not Trash, Electronics (12/11/2014, The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) )

The DEC’s friendly message does not define what they mean by ‘prohibits’ in the sense that they make no mention of the repercussions of putting your old TV or Computer into the trash. But the law itself says,

“§ 71-2729. Enforcement of title 26 of article 27 of this chapter. 1. a. Any consumer, as defined in title twenty-six of article twenty- seven of this chapter, who violates any provision of, or fails to perform any duty imposed by, section 27-2611 of this chapter, shall be liable for a civil penalty not to exceed one hundred dollars for each violation.” ENVIROMENTAL CONSERVATION LAW ARTICLE 27 TITLE 26 | ELECTRONIC EQUIPMENT RECYCLING AND REUSE

(If I have it right ((and a good investigative media would be helpful here)) folks who march their old TV’s to the curb could get a $200 fine. This would be a game changer in people’s behavior with e-waste, assuming the law is enforced.)

The DEC mentions all the stuff you could and should do with your old e-waste, but a lot of folks won’t take the effort to dispose of their e-waster properly unless motivated by a penalty. What’s happening now is that when folks do put their old computers and TV’s in the trash, the local authorities pick that e-waste up and send it to a separate recycling center—so I’ve been told. The problem (even if this is actually happening) is that between the time the e-waste is set outside and the point when it is picked up, scavengers smash through the equipment, take the copper and other valuables, and leave the remains about our neighborhoods, remains that that are hardly recyclable anymore.
This all means that the January deadline won’t work if the law doesn’t work as it was intended. If those who still put their e-waste to the curb and the authorities don’t fine them as the law states, then it will be business as usual.

Our local media needs to investigate this issue and find out whether our local authorities are going to enforce this part of the law that kicks in this January.

If the law were to be enforced, if the media were to do its job by informing the public about this January deadline and investigating what the local authorities intend to do about it, we would see a greatly increased market for recycling e-waste. Once the public has felt the sting of a few fines, a new playing field would be established.

With a new playing field, it would be more convenient, and possibly even profitable, to take care of e-waste properly. However if the media doesn’t expose this deadline, and authorities don’t feel compelled to act, then the e-waste problem permeating our neighborhoods will continue apace.

Again, in order for this new playing field to happen, all 700,000 folks in Monroe County need to abide by the law. You can help this happen by making sure your media covers this story—making sure the message gets out and the authorities are monitored to see if they are enforcing compliance. Simply sharing this with your friends ain’t going to do the trick.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Rich countries try to sabotage climate talks--again

 

CCLimaCOP20SOne of my favorite hangouts during the COP20 Lima Climate Change Conference is tcktcktck’s page “Live: The UN climate talks in Lima”. It’s the next best thing to being there if you don’t have an official role, or you’re not part of a non-governmental organization (NGO) or a demonstration group. From Live, you can get continual updates of the COP20 in a variety of ways, including all forms of social media where you can join the innumerable discussions, from innumerable sources around the world. You get news and information and ‘stuff’ your mainstream media wouldn’t give you even if it was so inclined to attend one of the most historic meetings in human history.

First, tcktcktck, or “GCCA, the Global Call for Climate Action”,

“… represents an unprecedented network of more than 450 nonprofit organizations. Our shared goal is to harness the respective strengths of faith, development, science, environment, youth, labor, and other civil society organizations to achieve a world safe from runaway climate change. The GCCA works to connect and facilitate the efforts of organizations from across the globe; to communicate the urgency of climate change; and to mobilize the public in support of strong, equitable government action at the national and international levels. “About TCK

Second, if you haven’t already heard (and if you’re only listening to local Rochester NY media, your ignorance would be plausible), the COP20 is a critical pit stop along the continuum of climate talks to Paris 2015 (COP21) “to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world.”

The People’s Climate March in September started this latest climate action effort with massive demonstrations around the world, including many folks from your home town. Two days later, the UN Climate Summit in NYC changed the tone from business and governmental indifference to a euphoric inclination to make non-binding promises. In October, the Bonn Climate Change Conference tidied up some paper work for Lima. In November, China and the USA agreed make some non-binding promises about lowering GHGs, which made a lot of nations optimistic about Lima. Now, COP20 Lima. Then Paris. Paris 2015 is the Holy Grail: It will answer at least one profound question about humanity: Will the rich countries act on Climate Change to help the poor countries—and ultimately themselves?

Will the developed countries, who put most of the greenhouse gases that are warming up the planet and became rich by unfair, extreme fossil fuel extractions, help mitigate the effects of that and support undeveloped countries efforts to adapt? Note: It was unfair because the extraction of these fossil fuels that light up our world involved not only consuming our trees, drilling through our land and our waters, and mining our mines. It included ravishing the undeveloped countries’ trees, their oil and gas reserves, and their mines. We used up their share of the commons—their air and water—and now are thwarting their ability to develop without making Climate Change much, much worse.

Climate Change, manmade disruption of our worldwide climate due to the burning of fossil fuels, will ultimately affect everyone, even the rich, as this disaster is occurring on a planet with finite resources. The consequences of Climate Change will probably hit the poor first but not exclusively because weather extremes can be very disruptive to all infrastructures. If the rich counties do not come to the table at Lima with sufficient measures to mitigate and help developing nations adapt to Climate Change, the rich countries will be shooting themselves in the foot. We cannot insulate ourselves, our economy, our health, and our life support system from those of everyone else on the planet. Failure to think and act globally at Lima means disaster for everyone.

We are one-week into the COP20; how’s that going? There are demonstrations by NGO’s to get our leaders to focus on Climate Justice, which drives the rich nations crazy. Developing countries demand zero emissions and help with adapting. Political posturing (of course) made comical with Australia’s absurd position that coal is good. (“Coal is the moral choice.” Good grief.) And another extreme weather event is barreling down on the Philippines—just as it did last year and the year before that. But most significantly, even though the USA and China made some great promises to reduce GHGs (mitigation), injecting a lot of hope into the talks, the USA is holding that all agreements should be non-binding. Yet, without legally binding commitments to reduce emissions, actually addressing Climate Change is not going to happen. Sticking to the irrational stance that legally binding rules could ruin hopes for success is like saying no one will join your army if you make them ‘sign up’ and make a commitment. It’s saying that if you want a successful army, you have to make it so when things get tough the recruits can just leave—no questions asked. Moreover, a non-binding agreement at Paris 2015 is not better than nothing any more than half an airplane is a viable transportation option.

Giving Climate Pact Legal Teeth Could Make It Toothless As negotiators gather in Peru for a critical round of climate talks, U.S. delegates are straining to explain what they calla “counterintuitive” reality: For next year’s global climate agreement to be effective, commitments made under it must not be legally binding. Such an outcome would disappoint many, including the European Union’s negotiating team, which says it will be pushing for binding commitments during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change talks in Lima this week and next. America’s negotiators are pushing for voluntary commitments. The success of the next climate agreement, which is due to be finalized during talks in Paris one year from now, may hinge on American negotiators winning in this latest spat in a long-simmering quarrel with their European counterparts. (December 3, 2014) Climate Central

The USA is seeking this half-assed policy because our Congress is mostly likely going to squelch any binding agreement made in Lima (or any agreements on Climate Change for that matter), so this is the best we can do. So goes the present political zeitgeist. However, non-binding agreements, bottom up mitigation efforts from individuals, business and local governments, won’t work on a time and scale that will keep global temperature from soaring to 4C above preindustrial levels. A 4C world may be more than even the rich can handle. Not to mention, Climate Change, no matter how many times it is called a liberal hoax, is a physical process that does not give a tinker’s damn about our political world.

This is an alleged political reality: “There is no chance, there is zero possibility that the U.S. congress will ratify a binding commitment,” Yale University professor Daniel Esty, who has appointments in the university’s environment and law schools, said.”(ibid) This, however, is an actual fact: When you trap the sun’s energy with greenhouse gases, your planet’s atmosphere warms up. There’s a difference.

President Obama and the American public need to stand up to Congress; not while away their time trying to get around this dysfunctional institution. Unlike slavery, we do not have one-and-a-half centuries to address this issue. We must demand a binding treaty at Paris 2015. Let Congress say “No!” to Climate Change, adaptation and mitigation, and Climate Justice. If they say “No!”, then we’ll shame them and keep saying “Yes!”

83% of US citizens have accepted Climate Change into their brains, but only 60% think it’s due to manmade causes. If we want our government to act responsibly at Lima, we need to make some serious dot connections. When you remove the ‘manmade’ part of Climate Change, you remove not only the unsavory guilt that you may be responsible for the planet’s atmosphere warming up, you also make it impossible to address the cause of this crisis.

The road to getting the world to understand and act on Climate Change has been a long journey, fraught with pitfalls along the way. One of those pitfalls, one of the quagmires, is that the public will start to understand the overwhelming evidence of Climate Change but get stuck on doing nothing because it is to them just a phenomenon that happens. Humanity, mostly those in the rich countries, has caused Climate Change: “There is simply no other mechanism that can explain the significantly altered climate path and the changes in the radiative forcing other than human causes.” (From Open Source Systems, Science, Solutions.)

We, who have reaped the bounties of a fossil-fuel-driven world, must support those who are suffering our injustices and stop playing dumb on this worldwide crisis. It’s in our best interest to act properly. Another week of COP20 to go. Will we do our part, or drag our feet again?