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.

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