Saturday, February 21, 2015

Political leaders, including Rochester’s, must lead on Climate Change


CCWeDidItSUltimately, it is our political leaders and their parties who decide if and how we will address Climate Change. Much can and is being done to adapt to and mitigate this worldwide crisis from the bottom-up—individuals, faith organizations, educational institutions, and businesses—but their efforts are doomed to ad hoc, insufficient, and contradictory solutions if our leaders are not leading the way. A worldwide crisis requires a worldwide top-down framework. President Obama is just now starting to lead. His leadership will encourage billions to act. And just recently, New York State Assembly Speaker Heastie “created a working group to review NYS’s response to Climate Change.”

Assembly Speaker Heastie Creates Group To Review NYS Response To Climate Change The speaker of the New York state Assembly has created a working group to review the state's response to climate change. Speaker Carl Heastie announced the formation of the panel on Thursday. It will consist of 10 lawmakers charged with examining possible ways to reduce greenhouse emissions as well as measures that could help the state prepare for future extreme weather. (February 20, 2015) WXXI News

That’s leadership, taking charge of finding out whether our state’s current response to Climate Change is adequate. I submit that our state’s efforts are woefully lacking in many areas and I hope the findings of the working group will reflect that. Our state’s environmental agency (The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) established in 1970, understands its mission as:

"To conserve, improve and protect New York's natural resources and environment and to prevent, abate and control water, land and air pollution, in order to enhance the health, safety and welfare of the people of the state and their overall economic and social well-being." (About DEC)

But the DEC’s mission, which was written about the time greenhouse gases (GHGs) began to seriously affect our climate, should be updated. The DEC, which was far too interested in regulating Fracking and now regulating oil trains, should change their mission to focus entirely on protecting our life support system. Instead of making fossil fuel use safer, they should discourage it. Instead of making wildlife more plentiful for harvesting, the DEC should be planning and educating the public on how to help our wildlife and native plants adjust to a climate that is warming far faster than our endemic species’ ability to adapt. The DEC’s Climate Smart Communities voluntary program to address Climate Change should be mandatory and more robust. The DEC should orchestrate all their public information sessions through the lens of Climate Change. And, most notably the DEC should not be worrying their pretty little heads about our ‘overall economic well-being,’ as that’s why we created economists. The DEC should keep our life support system sustainable; which is the only way to ensure economic health in the future anyway.

These kind of holistic changes can only be changed at the top—our political leaders.

I’m not tilting at windmills here. Rather than a dreamy idealistic hunger for change, many political leaders are coming to terms with the core problem of this issue—it’s physics stupid. Taking time out from going at each other’s jugular, some of UK’s political leaders have agreed to agree that Climate Change is happening and it must be addressed.

Cameron, Clegg, and Miliband Sign Joint Climate Pledge | David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband have signed a joint pledge to tackle climate change, which they say will protect the UK’s national security and economic prosperity. The agreement of the three party leaders is highly unusual and comes amid a general election campaign that is becoming increasingly bitter. The prime minister, deputy prime minister and leader of the opposition have all clashed over green issues, but the joint declaration states: “Climate change is one of the most serious threats facing the world today. It is not just a threat to the environment, but also to our national and global security, to poverty eradication and economic prosperity.” February 17, 2015) Climate Central

Can you imagine our US political leaders walking boldly across the aisle, shaking hands, then speaking jointly to the media, “My worthy opponent and me agree that Climate Change is happening and it is doing so as a result of mankind’s GHG emissions.” It’s not a dream. It must happen. It must happen at all levels of government. It must start happening in the Rochester region too.

Rochester’s efforts under the state’s Five Cities Energy Plans include:

“•Create a Solarize Rochester program to encourage installation of solar panels by private residents and companies in city neighborhoods and streamline the approval process they must go through. •Support development of a large solar-energy project on 10 acres in the Emerson Street area. Like a similar project now being considered by Monroe County, the solar farm would be built and owned by a private company, with the city purchasing the power at a favorable rate. •Advance energy-efficiency efforts in city-owned buildings and encourage private owners to do the same. An example cited in the plan is the installation of energy-efficient lighting in six city-owned parking garages, which saves $400,000 a year. •Do more to encourage walking, bicycling and transit use. This includes installing more facilities such as bicycle lanes, which the plan foresees going from the present 30 lane-miles to nearly 80 in the coming years. The city also would support bike- and car-sharing programs. •Install efficient LED bulbs in the city’s 28,000 street lights. •Seek expansion of energy districts and microgrids, and explore use of the historic downtown heating district to also generate electricity.” Rochester energy plan pushes community-wide efficiency (2/17/2015, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle)

Wonderful though they are, these measures are not enough. Rochester must lead on Climate Change. The Rochester energy plan also says this: “These include reduced operating costs, a healthier, safer and more livable community, natural resource conservation and restoration, and mitigating and adapting to climate change.” (Rochester/Five Cities Energy Plan) It’s hard to be a leader on mitigating and adapting to Climate Change if you don’t mention it in public—so the public is clear that you mean you’re willing to lead on Climate Change.

Rochester Competes For State Funding For Energy Projects Governor Cuomo has announced funding for a new energy competition that will award up to $20 million for innovative energy projects in five upstate cities including Rochester.  Cuomo talked about the plan in his State of the State message.  It's part of a $35 million, five-year program spearheaded by the New York Power Authority. Under the plan, a state-funded energy manager position will be created for each city: Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo, Albany and Yonkers. Officials say this "five cities energy plan" could save some of New York's largest municipalities up to $400 million annually in energy costs. (February 17, 2015) WXXI News

Also, the slow progress deciding on Ontario Lake water levels highlights the political difficulty of adapting to Climate Change locally. Clearly, allowing the lake’s level to be restored to a healthier ecosystem level where wetlands flourish is more adaptive to more frequent extreme weather. But a relatively small number of folks reject this because it potentially harms their shoreline property. The answer is not to allow the entire lake ecosystem to fail because of the few, but to help compensate the few who might feel the sting of the majority’s need for a sustainable environment. Climate Change is going to require some very inconvenient and tough decisions; but not to make these decisions will be catastrophic. Our political leaders need to get out in front of this very divisive component of Climate Change adaptation in our region, which many are not.

Lake-level plan lacks top-level endorsements Lake Ontario may be nearly frozen over, but fevers still run high along the shoreline as folks continue to debate the merit of changing the way the lake's water levels are regulated. Many of New York's top elected leaders, however, are playing it cool. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the state's two United States Senators and U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter have yet to take a position on the matter. Of the four other members of Congress whose districts touch the Lake Ontario shoreline or St. Lawrence River bank, one is opposed, one in favor and two are skeptical and want more study. Not exactly a tidal wave of support. (February 19, 2015) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

The increase in extreme cold that we are experiencing right now in Rochester and oil bombs exploding all around us recently are results of using ‘all of the above’ to solve our energy needs in a time of Climate Change. (“All of the above” is code for “I cannot make up my mind.”) However, the colder it gets, the more fossil fuel we use, so the more the fossil fuel industry drills, produces, and ships, which causes more bomb trains and refinery explosions, causing the planet, especially the Arctic, to warm more, which means more of the extreme cold gets pushed our way from the Arctic, so the colder it gets…

Wind farms and solar panels don’t blow up. We should be dramatically increasing renewable energy instead of having to get used to more violent fossil fuel explosions.

As Extreme Cold Engulfs Eastern U.S., Fossil Fuel Mishaps Leave Disaster Areas on Fire As extreme cold temperatures blast the eastern third of the United States, the fossil fuel industry has seen a series of disasters in less than a week. On Wednesday, an explosion at an ExxonMobil refinery south of Los Angeles rocked the surrounding area with the equivalent of a 1.4-magnitude earthquake. The blast in California happened as oil tank cars from a derailed train remained on fire Wednesday in West Virginia, two days after the accident. The derailment forced the evacuation of two towns and destroyed a house. The derailment in West Virginia happened just two days after another oil train derailment in Ontario, Canada, which also left rail cars burning for days. We are joined by Stephen Kretzmann, executive director of Oil Change International. "Climate policy and energy policy are not usually discussed together in this country," Kretzmann says. "Climate change means that we need to transition away from fossil fuels, sooner rather than later." (February 19, 2015) Democracy Now!

Our political leaders and their party platforms need to adapt to this crisis. Quietly working behind closed doors to reduce GHGs and hoping that their constituents will magically connect the dots with Climate Change is not leadership. Speaking publically about a clean energy future but not including ‘Climate Change’ panders to the denial zeitgeist. (Everyone, as Bill Nye, the Science Guy implores the media, needs to “just say the word ‘Climate Change’ now and then”.) This kind of hope and pray political approach to address Climate Change has installed powerful climate change deniers into office which allows them to thwart and reverse what little we have done. The political hush job on “Climate Change” means the public continues to languish in limbo, where nothing is asked of them to address this crisis. There is an incredible opportunity for political leaders to regain the public’s trust by leading on Climate instead of dodging it.

Time passes.

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