Much of the present focus on Climate Change is on the COP21 Paris Conference and mitigation—keeping greenhouse gases below 2C (3.6F) above pre-industrial averages. Preparations for the COP21 are going slowly, as evidenced by the lack of real progress in Bonn recently. So we don’t really know if humanity will get its act together in time to make life sustainable as the window of opportunity quickly closes.
But one of the aspects of the Climate Change crisis that environmental groups, local media, and local governments often ignore are the day-to-day preparations required to adapt to the consequences of Climate Change in our region. Because Climate Change has become so politicized, emotional, and fearful to our media, we often fail to appreciate the exceptional nature of this worldwide crisis locally. Of course, local government at every level always has a lot on its plate—poverty, crime, taxes, education, transportation, fires, social services, code enforcement, waste management, you-name-it. But the difference between the day-to-day responsibilities of local government and preparation for the consequences of Climate Change is like the difference between maintaining a busy household and keeping it all together during major (and increasingly intense) hurricanes—where complete failure is always possible.
Governments have a responsibility to protect their constituents from the vulnerabilities of clear and present dangers. They can and must be held accountable. The exceptional vulnerabilities from Climate Change are on a scale that requires the kind of government leadership that anticipates disasters before they become unmanageable. Some of these special vulnerabilities are spelled out in the NYSERDA funded “Responding to Climate Change in New York State” or ClimAID 2011 report.
The vulnerability of the people in New York State is largely determined by several key factors: behavioral norms that have been institutionalized through building codes, crop insurance, flood-management infrastructure, water systems, and a variety of other programs; socio-economic factors that affect access to technology, information, and institutions; geographic climate-sensitive health risks due to the proximity of natural resources, dependence on private wells for drinking water, and vulnerability to coastal surges or river flooding (Balbus and Malina, 2009); and biological sensitivity related to preexisting medical conditions, such as the sensitivity of people with chronic heart conditions to heat-related illness (Balbus and Malina, 2009). (Pages 52 & 53, ClimAID)
Other climate studies that pertain to our area (New York State Climate Action Plan Interim Report or National Climate Assessment, Northeast) validate the immediacy of local Climate Change preparation. They don’t prevaricate as to whether Climate Change is happening, whether it is human caused, or whether we can delay action. These studies are official certainties that should be expressed as mandates in our local government. Which is to say, our government should be held accountable for making our way of living robust and resilient as more extreme weather (floods, heat waves) and increased threats to the public health (West Nile Virus and Lyme disease) come upon us. Preparations cannot be put off. Our media should be monitoring our government’s climate actions continually.
However, at the Rochester level we are still responding to Climate Change as if we are waiting for someone or something to kick us into action. Citizens are waiting for their government to act and the government is waiting to be pushed, looking over its shoulder to see if anyone really cares about this issue, instead of providing the vision and guidance for the road ahead. The media is focused primarily on sports.
The race for Monroe County Executive is now underway.
I sincerely hope we can have a public discussion on Climate Change during this critical race. Preparing the local public for the public health and infrastructural consequences of Climate Chang in our region should be a top priority of the Monroe County Executive position. Debates and discussions on this important election should not be completely hijacked by taxes and budgets. Ignoring Climate Change preparation, as it was completely ignored in the Rochester mayoral race, is immoral and impractical.