Sunday, January 25, 2015

Climate Change occurring in Rochester too; we should act like it


CCActLikeSThis week President Obama delivered his State of the Union address, where he highlighted the importance of addressing Climate Change right now. His message was unambiguous. Climate Change poses an immediate threat and we should act in a way that is equal to the threat.

“2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record. Now, one year doesn’t make a trend, but this does: 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century. I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists; that we don’t have enough information to act. Well, I’m not a scientist, either. But you know what, I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and at NOAA, and at our major universities. And the best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we don’t act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration and conflict and hunger around the globe. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.” (President Obama, State of the Union 2015, January 20, 2015)

(Watch ABC’s short video version of the above transcript State of the Union 2015: Obama Wants Climate Change Addressed as Security Risk)

Rochester, NY (and every other community on Earth for that matter) should be addressing Climate Change on a level and speed that corresponds to the threat. As reported in this week’s local news, Rochester, NY is starting to put together a Climate Action Plan. It’s very milquetoast, but it’s a start.

Rochester to undertake citywide climate inventory The City of Rochester will hire a consultant to help it put together a Climate Action Plan — a step that an official says builds on other projects and programs helping to make Rochester a more sustainable and, therefore, more desirable city. "You want to be in a community that's somewhat progressive in sustainability areas. People like that," says Anne Spaulding, the city's energy and sustainability manager. "It's a place where people kind of like to live and like to be." The plan will essentially be a blueprint that will include goals, actions, and strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the city, she says. The city will accept proposals from interested consultants until January 30. (January 21, 2015 Rochester City Newspaper)

It seems to be the City’s goal to quietly address Climate Change using the ‘no regrets’ strategy, which is to say actions that can be justified economically, socially, and environmentally whether Climate Change is real or not. This is not leadership on an issue posing an immediate threat; this is hedging your bets politically.

Although the City is doing many things on the climate front, few know about these efforts. Number one on its to-do climate action list should be ‘community engagement’. That is not happening. Even in the City’s bicycle projects (bikeROCHESTER), a fantastic effort which constitutes one of the City’s strongest adaptation strategies (as 27% of greenhouse gas emission come from the transportation sector), ‘Climate Change’ or even ‘greenhouse gases’ are not mentioned.

You cannot lead by quietly setting an example that nobody knows about. You lead by continually educating the public so that they will understand the threat, by updating our various infrastructures so they will be resilient and robust enough to tolerate more frequent extreme weather, and by asking the public to become engaged in viewing and acting on all our local issues through the lens of Climate Change—election year after election year. 

Also this week, the City conducted a summit on downtown parking.

Parking summit leads to wider wish list A public meeting Wednesday night on parking downtown had very little to do with parking lots or garages. Instead, city planners and citizens at the city's parking summit focused much more on making downtown an easier and more attractive place to get around by foot, bike, public transit or some kind of shuttle service — not necessarily by car. No one in the crowd of a few dozen people suggested paving over more of downtown for new parking lots, but several people suggested ways to better manage the spots that the city already has. (January 21, 2015) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

But instead of a call for more parking (which the majority of Rochesterians would most likely prefer) the City got a surprise. Folks asked, why not increase active transportation (walking and bicycling)? Why not manage the parking lots we have better so we don’t have to pave over downtown completely? (A lot, really a lot, of downtown is already paved over.) Why not make public transportation better, develop parking apps to find unused parking spots, and make park-and-rides more desirable?

Paving over downtown with even more impermeable surfaces, which (while very friendly to resting cars) is not friendly to our environment. Paved surfaces suffocate our soil, make flooding worse, and create more stormwater surges that are more likely to carry more pollution to our streams, rivers, and lakes. Not to mention that more paved surfaces renders the urban heat island effect more intense.

Admittedly, not creating more parking lots in Rochester will be a hard sell. We love our cars and our cars love parking lots—free, convenient, and secure asphalt cribs of auto desire.

The trouble is that our life support system doesn’t like parking lots—any more than we’d like to have a plastic bag put over our head.

This all matters because it is at the point of transportation planning that Rochester must connect the dots between Climate Change and demonstrating its intention to act. By far most of our transportation tax dollars are gobbled up by bridge and road repair, so adapting our existing infrastructure to accommodate low or no GHG emissions when getting around town is relatively low-hanging fruit, financially. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by using alternatives to gas guzzlers as much as possible may be the most effective Climate Change strategy Rochester has in its toolbox. Fewer vehicles, less need for parking them. But when we have surveys and public discussions about our transportation future, we do not mention ‘Climate Change'. It is still unfashionable to connect the climate crisis with our Rochester lifestyle.

If we planned our local transportation strategies so that the public believed there was a shared effort in addressing this worldwide crisis, wouldn’t they be more likely to do their part? Someone who must use a car might be more likely to tolerate those who don’t—and share the freaking road.

Community engagement with Climate Change should include baking Climate Change into our transportation plans. More Rochesterians would move out of their comfort zones to make more sustainable transportation modes work if they believed they were a necessary part of the solution to Climate Change. This will take leadership.

Climate Change is happening. We here in Rochester should act like it.

Time passes.  

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Ominous signs of Climate Change


You’re looking at a very small crack at the bottom of a very large dam leaking water. It doesn’t look ominous, just a little dribble of water. But it feels ominous because it’s just the first sign that an incredibly large structure is eventually going to fail.

CCMGlassSThis is how I feel when I read Climate Change studies about our area, and they mention some of the changes already occurring. Annual temperature increases, increase in intensive precipitation events, bird population shifts, and streamflow changes don’t seem like much until you realize these events are unstoppable. (They are unstoppable in our life time; if we address Climate Change now we may be able to slow them down for future generations.)

An incredibly large biological structure that took billions of years to evolve is changing very quickly due to manmade global warming—although, to our untrained eyes these changes appear to be occurring very slowly.

When our local media helps us open our eyes, we can see the cracks. Quietly and with little fanfare, this recent article in Rochester City Newspaper, describing efforts to fortify Irondequoit Creek's banks, bakes Climate Change into the report. When recounting factors that contribute to the creek’s bank erosion, some ominous changes comes up:

“Shifts in precipitation patterns, brought on by climate change, also play a role in the erosion. Overall, the amount of precipitation that the Rochester area gets hasn't changed much, but more frequently it's coming in heavy bursts. And those downpours tend to be more intense than in the past. "On an observation basis, I think we've seen more what we call flashy storms, where the water rises very quickly within the creek, within the parks, more so than in the past," says Monroe County's Rinaldo.” (Water power  (1/14/2015) Rochester City Newspaper)

Articles like this that responsibly include the worldwide crisis of Climate Change demonstrate several important reasons why this sort of reporting should be the new normal in journalism. First, in order to fix problems like bank erosion in a warmer Rochester, we must factor in more frequent heavy rainfall, else fortifying the banks will fail. Second, public officials don’t have the luxury of denying Climate Change because the consequences of warming in our region will affect all efforts to make our way of living sustainable. Finally, the public will truly appreciate how Climate Change must now be weaved into all our plans for the future.

Without reporting continually on how Climate Change is (and will be) affecting our life support system, the public will not be able to compare political candidates, judge the accuracy of energy company claims, or appreciate the urgency of addressing this relentless warming process right now. Though Rochester, and every community around the world, is plagued with innumerable problems, these problems must be addressed while addressing Climate Change. Trying to save species whose ability to adapt have passed is (by definition) too late. Trying to solve public health, inequality, and other issues without factoring in Climate Change is delusional, which is to say impossible.

The tragedy is that the article above is rare. Dominating our local news is sports, then sports, then accidents, then happy news, and then maybe a handful of sentences about stuff we need to know. Our priorities have reversed: We now highlight the trivial and bury the serious.

Locally, the crucial period between the COP20 Lima climate talks last December and decision time coming up next December at COP21 Paris is ignored in the press. A remarkable transformation in humanity’s attitude towards energy use must occur during this timeframe. Instead, there is a hue and cry over gas prices (lowest in a long time but higher than anywhere else in the nation) which is an irresponsible and immoral response to the direct threat of using more fossil fuels on a rapidly warming planet.

At present our local leaders (not to mention the US Congress) find it more convenient to ignore and deny Climate Change because the press isn’t pressing them and the public is not connecting the dots. This must change.

“Wherever you look there are huge risks. The awful thing is that people in authority and power deny that, when the evidence is overwhelming and they deny it because it’s easier to deny it – much easier to deny it’s a problem and say ‘we don’t care’.” David Attenborough (Demand for climate action grows as 2015 deadline approaches, 1/5/2015, tcktcktck)

But avoiding the ominous signs of Climate Change has consequences—as we are experiencing.

Time passes.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Update: Challenges that Rochester’s poor face with Climate Change


CCPoorUpdateSRochester, NY still faces ‘extreme poverty.’ Read ACT Rochester’s updated study “Benchmarking Rochester’s Poverty A 2015 Update and Deeper Analysis of Poverty in the City of Rochester.”

Most of the knee-jerk responses from local commenters blame government-sponsored programs to help the poor, high taxes, racism, the Recession, oppressive government, siphoning off the ‘poverty business’ with high wages for those at the top, policies that continue to drive businesses from NYS, more people relying on the government instead of working to earn their own way, dysfunction in Albany, incorrect poverty figures, minimum standard of living too high for someone who has never bothered to stay in school, teachers, lack of help from local colleges and universities, and politicians.

You can add more to this ‘blame list’ in the comment section of this article:

Report: Rochester tops 'extreme poverty' list This is not the kind of national list that Rochester-area residents hope to top. Rochester now has more people living at less than half the federal poverty level than any other similarly-sized city in the U.S., says a report released Thursday by the Rochester Area Community Foundation and its ACT Rochester initiative. For a family of four, that means getting by on less than $11,925 a year — conditions that the report described as "extreme poverty." (January 8, 2015) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

From my perspective, this tragedy goes on despite the incredible efforts by many people and organizations who give up much of their time and money to alleviate this misery.

Rather than trying to solve the extreme poverty crisis by blaming just about everyone and every institution, I submit that we ought to stand back and see the big picture. Climate Change. “This Changes Everything,” as Naomi Klein states in her game-changing book, means the consequences of Climate Change provide us with an opportunity to rectify historic economic injustices by properly addressing the mother of all problems.

A year ago, I examined what the poor face in Rochester, based on ACT Rochester’s last report. Here’s my article I wrote on December 14, 2013 “Challenges that Rochester’s poor face with Climate Change.”

Not much has changed; we are doing the same things, expecting different results.

By taking leadership on addressing Climate Change, Rochester could vastly improve the lot of the ‘extreme poor’. Climate Change is about planning and adapting to changes—as climate studies that include our region suggest. Providing jobs that would improve our energy efficiency, updating our transportation, water, waste, and telecommunications infrastructures, proving a more robust public health system, and a continual education program on how Climate Change will affect our region could provide a lot of jobs and a better standard of living for all. Nobody benefits if our life support system is in meltdown.

Rochester can turn its “extreme poverty” around by taking bold action on Climate Change. I have worked with a lot of groups in the Rochester area on environmental issues. Trust me, there would be a lot of brilliant, capable volunteers and all kinds of financial help for this massive change if we had strong local leadership on the worldwide crisis of Climate Change.

We should “plan for climate change migrants” because Climate Change won’t hit us so hard and as soon as other regions. With our plentitude of fresh water, great soil, and no Fracking, we’ll be a destination for many whose states and countries are going to get nailed sooner and harder than us.  We can get ready for this:

Experts warn governments to plan for climate change migrants * Rising seas, heatwaves may force millions from homes * Better planning needed to help those displaced Governments need to plan better for rising migration driven by climate change, experts said on Thursday, citing evidence that extreme weather and natural disasters force far more people from their homes than wars. Projections by leading climate scientists of rising sea levels, heatwaves, floods and droughts linked to global warming are likely to oblige millions of people to move out of harm's way, with some never able to return. The issue is politically sensitive at a time when economic austerity is straining the generosity of host governments and anti-immigrant sentiment is rising in many countries, especially in Europe. (1/8/2015) Reuters)

However, in Rochester, not only is climate change politically sensitive, it’s invisible. Because we have the luxury of being in Climate Change denial a little longer than those states burning up or countries slipping under the seas, we have yet to make Climate Change public at all. We need to change everything in Rochester. Read: “Rochester, NY: a portrait in climate denial.”  

BTW: Please ask our friends over at ACT Rochester to put ‘Environment’ back on their agenda, as in order to assess today’s health accurately for Rochester and plan for its future we need to know the state of our environment—especially Climate Change.

Time passes.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Rochester, NY: a portrait in climate denial


Climate change denial is a denial or dismissal of the scientific consensus on the extent of global warming, its significance, and its connection to human behavior, especially for commercial or ideological reasons.” Wikipedia

CCWakeUpSA major characteristic of Climate Change is that it is measurable. Unlike most other issues humanity faces, Climate Change is at the core an existential phenomenon that only responds to physical inputs—and that is quantifiable. If we continue business as usual by burning fossil fuels at our present rate, temperatures go up. Garbage in, garbage out. All our good intentions must end up lowering greenhouse gas (GHGs) levels in our atmosphere and adapting to the increased levels already baked into our present climate by past fossil fuel emissions—or our efforts will be ineffective. Keeping our eye on the ball, on our scientific data as it were, is critical to this issue. 

There are many websites where you can get near real-time data, scientific feedback, about how our planet’s climate is changing due to humanity’s energy use. NOAA is one:   

Climate Monitoring Welcome to Climate Monitoring at NOAA's National Climatic Data Center. Our mission is to monitor and assess the state of the Earth's climate in near real-time, providing decision-makers at all levels of the public and private sectors with data and information on climate trends and variability including perspectives on how the climate of today compares to the past. Use the menu on the left to navigate our available products. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) also helps us monitor our new reality—a reality fraught with many knowns and unknowns. But in the new Congress, funds for NASA’s research into Earth's changing climate could be threatened. This could seriously blind ourselves to many of the consequences of our behavior. These unknowns (how will our atmosphere respond to the heat stored in our oceans if suddenly released?) are not reasons for Climate Change doubt; they are reasons to dramatically increase our scientific research and monitoring. We need to know as much as possible about the consequences of Climate Change so we can plan properly.

As I mentioned, the Climate Change crisis is a direct result of how humanity gets energy for our present way of living. After the COP20 Lima climate talks, there is now a great push for renewable energy, like wind and solar power, that doesn’t emit GHGs into our atmosphere. For all the talk about addressing Climate Change from the bottom up—cities, states, businesses, environmental groups, individuals, and countries—there is now a way to track who is actually stepping up to the plate and making public pledges for emissions reductions, urban environment, energy efficiency, renewable energy, land use, low emissions development, use of carbon price, resilience, non-CO2 greenhouse gases, and carbon capture use and storage. 

PRESS RELEASE Climate Action Portal to Capture and Catalyze Climate Action in Support of 2015 Agreement Site Spotlights Rapidly Growing Momentum by Cities, Subnational Regions and Companies   Lima, 11 December 2014-- A way to increase the visibility of the wealth of climate action by cities, regions, companies and investors was launched today by the government of Peru. The portal aims to demonstrate the strategic action being taken by ‘non-state actors either individually or as part of cooperative initiatives. The on-line site, developed with the support of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), has been named the Nazca Climate Action Portal, after the vast ancient lines found in the landscape of Peru. These world-famous works of art depict among other things the agility of the hummingbird, the creativity of the monkey and the soaring ambition of the condor—all key qualities that are needed now and into the future for realizing short and long term climate action. (December 11, 2014) Untied Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC)

The portal, The Non-state Actor Zone for Climate Action (NAZCA), indicates that Portland Oregon is doing its part as are several other US cities and states. But not Rochester, NY. Many communities (317 Cities, 70 Subnational Regions, and 261 Companies) worldwide are proving they are willing to make commitments. But good intentions must add up to holding warming to 2C maximum. Rochester should be a part of the worldwide effort to address Climate Change. We aren’t even watching from the sidelines.

Rochester had plans to release a climate action plan in September of 2013, as noted in its “Energy Management and Climate Action Status Report,” but nothing has come of this “…roadmap for City actions, projects and programs to achieve continued reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and energy use.” There are no public education components to inform the public, especially the poor, about the significance of Climate Change (even though the poor will get disproportionally nailed by more heat and more flooding). Though the City’s Office of Energy & Sustainability explains in its report how they are acting on climate protection, energy efficiency and conservation, reduction in fossil fuel emissions, and greenhouse gas management, they only mean all this within the context of municipal owned buildings and property. They’re hoping that their actions will be ‘leading by example.’ But because there is almost no media attention on this, they are not leading. They are talking to themselves.

There are no real educational or enforcement aspects to the active transportation (walking and bicycling) aspirations of our city. Although an extraordinary effort is being put into Rochester’s bicycling infrastructure (bikeROCHESTER) nowhere is “Climate Change’ mentioned. Not even greenhouse gases. Rochester’s strongest (transportation accounts for 27% of GHGs) climate action plan is buried under a desire to be a bike-friendly community. However, without continual education and enforcing the present traffic laws pertaining to vehicles and bikes, even this effort to increase active transportation in our region remains but a dangerous delusion.

At this point, many are probably thinking ‘don't sacrifice the good in search of the perfect.’ In other words, the city and county and many well-intentioned individuals are doing what they can. Don’t dismiss their efforts because their efforts are not perfect. The trouble with this logic is that the window for keeping global temperatures to a safe level is rapidly closing; just doing a little is not enough. Now, as 2014 rises in the ranks to be the hottest year in human history, little things cannot fix this problem unless they are part of accumulated, directed efforts on a speed and scale that will matter. The COP21 Paris climate treaty next December will attempt to bind every country’s efforts into something that will actually make a difference. Soon, very soon, global temperatures must level off at 2C, or better yet, concentrations of carbon dioxide must go back to 280ppm—where they were for the last 10,000 years. We are almost to a yearly average of 400ppm and steadily going up. Remember: The Last Time Atmospheric CO2 was at 400 parts per million Humans Didn’t Exist.

The dearth of news on Climate Change, the lack of city and county education programs, and the disinclination of our officials to connect the dots between local adaptation efforts and the consequences of Climate Change mean Rochester is in climate denial. You cannot ‘lead by example’ if nobody knows you’re leading.

Besides the physical aspect of Climate Change, where the mother of all problems will affect all aspects of our life, there are moral issues as well. Though not as measurable as scientific data, those who follow us (our kids) will likely pass through more than just the nine circles of hell if we do not act. Pope Francis, the leader of over a billion Catholics, is demonstrating what climate leadership means:

Pope Francis prepares to issue Vatican teachings on Climate Change to 1.2 Billion Catholics Pope Francis is set to make history by issuing the first-ever comprehensive Vatican teachings on climate change, which will urge 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide to take action. The document will be sent to the world’s 5,000 Catholic bishops and 400,000 priests who will distribute it to their parishioners. Given the sheer number of people who identify as Catholics worldwide, the pope’s clarion call to tackle climate change could reach far more people than even the largest environmental groups. "The document will take a position in favor of the scientific consensus that climate change is real ... and link the deforestation and destruction of the natural environment to the particular economic model of which Pope Francis has been a critic," says our guest, Austen Ivereigh, author of a new biography called "The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope." The pope also plans to address the United Nations General Assembly and convene a summit of the world’s main religions in hopes of bolstering next year’s crucial U.N. climate meeting in Paris. (January 1, 2014, Daily Kos)

The picture that Rochester is painting on Climate Change is a portrait of denial, of official irresponsibility to its constituents. If the government doesn’t demonstrate a willingness to inform and adapt to a warmer climate, how can it expect its citizens to pay attention—or support their efforts election cycle after election cycle? Rochester needs to wake up from the slumbers of climate denial and join the world community in our global efforts to reduce greenhouse gases—by leading.

Time passes.