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.

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