Sunday, July 26, 2015

Rochester officials are critical components of Climate Change solutions

We should take seriously the Pope’s message that local officials, mayors (and in our case, the county executive), play a crucial role in leading on Climate Change. Bold demonstrations by our local officials to lead on Climate Change adaptations—encouraging private citizens and business to adopt renewable energy, connecting the dots in the media between active transportation (walking and bicycling) and lowering greenhouse gas emissions, and pushing our Governor and President to do more to make the Paris Climate Treaty a success—would do much to convince the public that this clear and present danger needs to be addressed. Our local leaders should be speaking forthrightly to the press about how Rochester and Monroe County fit into the problems and solutions for Climate Change. Many around the world already get the Pope’s message:

At Vatican, Mayors Pledge Climate Change Fight VATICAN CITY — About 60 mayors from around the world gathered here on Tuesday and pledged to combat global warming and help the poor deal with its effects, at a conference swiftly organized by the Vatican barely a month after Pope Francis’ sweeping encyclical on the environment. The two-day conference, which also focused on fighting forms of modern slavery, was not the first time that the Vatican had organized a meeting on the issue. But it was the first time that it specifically invited local officials, hoping to mobilize grass-roots action and maintain pressure on world leaders for action ahead of a global summit meeting on climate change scheduled for December in Paris. In Tuesday’s declaration, the mayors pledged to urge world leaders to pass a “bold climate agreement that confines global warming to a limit safe for humanity, while protecting the poor and the vulnerable from ongoing climate change that gravely endangers their lives.” (July 21, 2015) New York Times 

Proactive leaders who explain to their constituents that the science behind Climate Change also pertains to our region would go far in squashing the denialist zeitgeist that pervades our region. On a water stop while biking along the canal the other day, I got talking into an old codger (like myself) about our many decades in the Rochester region. All was jolly talk until I mentioned “Climate Change.” He said, “Oh, Climate Change, that’s something Al Gore cooked up.” Then he walked off. Harrumph.

Al Gore did not cook up Climate Change any more than he invented the Internet. But no amount of facts and reasoning will stop Climate Change denialists from making discussions about the most important issue of our age almost impossible for ordinary folks. That’s tragic because the science is settled. 97% of the world’s scientists tell us we are in serious trouble on our climate and yet we here in Rochester are still uncomfortable about mentioning the obvious. They say, don't talk about religion or politics in a bar. Now, added to the list of things not to talk about when fueled by intoxicants is Climate Change.

But it’s not just unfashionable to talk about Climate Change while stopping along the canal. It’s unfashionable to connect the dots on Climate Change and the consequences when commenting on local online articles. In fact, even though I always site scientific references, my comments often get yanked by some nervous media online gatekeeper. It not fashionable to mention Climate Change in Rochester outside the confines of college classes, during family discussions, while at work or play, anywhere near the front pages of our media, on a public official’s website, or forgodsakes when attending an official comment forum on protecting our wildlife.

Also, it’s not fashionable in the Monroe County region to talk about Climate Change during our local elections—even though it is our mayors and our county executives who establish regulations and make sure they are enforced. Encouraging ordinary folks and business to make their homes and buildings more energy efficient, encouraging public transit, and promoting a green culture among all residents would have an enormous effect on everyone else’s attitudes.  Including the media, who would start to realize that suppressing the facts on Climate Change is no longer fashionable. Our media might even begin pressing all candidates for public office on how they would lead on Climate Change. 

If our local leaders would lead on Climate Change, instead of waiting to be led, it would be fashionable to talk about our future in a meaningful way, even in polite society. For, it doesn’t make any sense to talk about Rochester’s future unless adapting to a warmer planet is baked in. It doesn’t make any sense to talk about a more development if our underlying infrastructures are crumbling under the financial and environmental pressures of extreme weather.

It would be a sin (in the generic sense, as I’m still an atheist) not to include Climate Change in the Monroe County executive race now gearing up. A robust debate in this election on the specific measures needed to get our region up to snuff on addressing Climate Change would go far in generating a public discussion on what things we should prioritize: What role would the county play in protecting public health as heat waves and vector-driven diseases (like West Nile Virus and Lyme disease) increase? How will our region protect our water quality as more extreme rainfalls challenge our waste water systems? How would the Monroe County Executive motivate the public to pay attention to this crisis and gather volunteers in the struggle? What can our local officials do to level the playing field on creating and maintaining a flourishing green business approach in our region? And, most importantly, how will would the Monroe County Executive candidates pour on needed pressure for a successful Paris treaty?

Our local officials are a critical component in the worldwide crisis of Climate Change. Don’t let the race for Monroe County Executive go without a thorough debate on addressing Climate Change as what happened with last year’s mayoral race. Our community needs to get engaged this issue. 
Remember, just because folks in the Rochester region are still not comfortable talking about Climate Change it doesn’t mean Climate Change isn’t getting worse. It is getting worse and this means that we may reach a point where it is unsolvable. We will pay dearly for not acting. After all, Climate Change is about physics. 

Global warming’s record-breaking trend continues Forget talk of a slowdown in global warming. Scientists say the climate is heading smartly in the opposite direction, with 2014 proving to be a record-breaking year. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), one of the most respected sources of climate science, says that last year “the most essential indicators of Earth’s changing climate continued to reflect trends of a warming planet”. Some − including rising land and ocean temperatures, sea levels and greenhouse gases − reached record highs. The authoritative report by the NOAA’s Centre for Weather and Climate at the National Centres for Environmental Information (NCEI), published by the American Meterological Society, draws on contributions from 413 scientists in 58 countries to provide a detailed update on global climate indicators. “The variety of indicators shows us how our climate is changing, not just in temperature but from the depths of the oceans to the outer atmosphere,” says Thomas R. Karl, director of the NCEI. (July 22, 2015) Climate News Network 

Time passes.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

From the People’s Climate March to Paris

On the bus

Rochester sent two busloads and several hundred other folks to the historic People’s Climate March in New York City on September 21st.  When you wake up at two in the morning and crawl onto a bus with many other excited folks anticipating a day of cheering with 400,000 others demanding action from their leaders on Climate Change, you don’t really have any idea whether it will do any good. Should I just have stayed in bed? Will this particular march matter? Or more cynically, does anything an ordinary individual can do at this point in time (where business as usual is condemning us to at least a 2C world and no end in sight) make a difference on a scale and time frame that will matter? It is hard to see all this as you look sleepy-eyed into the dark, complicated future where salvation depends on unlikely noble actions of many people. Indeed, there is no historical equivalent to this manmade Climate Change crisis and certainly no precedent to guide us.

On the road to sustainability

At the UN Climate Summit 2014 in New York City two days after the march, many of world leaders pledged to take action to curb greenhouse gas emissions, thus setting the stage for the COP20 Climate Conference at Lima, Peru. That Lima conference was preceded by a historic US and China agreement that gave a shot of adrenalin to the possibility that the biggest polluters might start getting serious. Lima in turn set the stage for the November/December COP21 Paris Climate Conference, another step in a twenty year succession of promises, caveats, and haggling over what actually defines sustainability and what would constitute a fair deal. Lima was, like most of the other climate talks, a success only in the sense that it didn’t fail.

It should seem obvious that sustainability means humanity thriving while trying to curb the excesses of development. But 190 countries jockeying for the best deal for themselves and doing as little as possible to make Paris a success makes it all problematic. Unlike the prisoner’s dilemma (the reasoning that seems to guide each country’s strategic positioning in each of the past climate talks), where there is at least one scenario where one prisoner is set free, for Climate Change, no country will walk away unscathed.

One of the goals of the COP21 Paris Treaty is to avoid another debacle like the UN climate conference in Copenhagen. This time around carbon emission pledges are being tracked very carefully. You can track those pledges here: Who has pledged what for 2015 UN climate pact? Yet there is still much to be ironed out. In the first place, comparison among country’s pledges (or INDCs) are impossible because most countries are using different metrics. Secondly, they are only pledges and may have little effect if they aren’t binding. Thirdly, most experts agree that even when all the pledges are added together they don’t add up to the agreed 2C goal. And finally, many scientists believe that the 2C goal is set too high and will result in catastrophic warming.  
Another critical aspect of the COP21 is the Green Climate Fund, which is an attempt to help the developing countries cope with the damages that the developed countries caused. As of July 10, 2015, 35 countries have announced: USD 10.2 billion—5.8 announced and signed, 4.4 announced but not signed (Status of Pledges and Contributions made to the Green Climate Fund, Green Climate Fund). Is this enough? Probably not even close.  

Kitchen table conversations on Climate Change

When asked by host Greg Dalton of Climate One (listen to this podcast (THE ROAD TO PARIS: CHRISTIANA FIGUERES AND WILLIAM REILLY (June 16, 2015)) what should Americans be talking about at kitchen table conversations on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres (Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)) said (paraphrasing):   …there’s GOT to be a kitchen table conversation…, … so the people begin to understand the impact of what we are doing…, … there is so much awareness of this issue outside of the US instead of inside…, … I talk to people around the world who already have Climate Change having direct impacts on their life…, …already they are witnessing the migration of trees, trees are ‘moving’ up the mountain because they no longer have the temperature…, … it’s about experiential pain…,   

The greatest tragedy in this worldwide crisis is that so many who are going to be affected are not engaged or understand the gravity of the Paris treaty. Within the United States, our politicians do not have conversations amongst themselves on Climate Change, and I am pretty sure our local media editors are not having a conversation about the crisis of our age either. Throughout history the greatest tragedies occur among those who didn’t even have a chance to talk about the most important events in their lives. Those hapless farm boys on both sides of the conflagration at the start of our Civil War, eager to get out of their chores and find some new adventures, had no idea that they would be mowed down by the hundreds of thousands and left to languish in their hot, dreary tents dying from diseases for which there was no cure, had had no say in the way people of one color treated people of another color, but paid the full measure of their devotion to a cause they didn’t understand regardless.  We in the developed world are not having a conversation about the inevitable events that will affect everyone, including future generations.

Putting the heat on the Paris treaty

This statement from “Top climate envoys confident Paris on course for success”: “… although scientists say it’s well short of what is required to avert disaster” -- isn’t just a caveat, it’s a disaster. The likelihood of a treaty that only mandates plans for taking climate actions, but not the actions themselves, is not really a sign of hope at this late date. The political 2C goal is too high; even a 2C world is too hot, and we aren’t going to be able to achieve 2C anyway under the accumulated pledges being made so far. The numbers aren’t adding up.

But countries (well, the developed countries anyway) are getting excited because they are likely to make some kind of agreement at Paris, which might be a platform from which to make better agreements down the road. Maybe. Maybe not.

This is leading towards a pathetic Paris Treaty and we must ask ourselves (even in the light of the past twenty years of failed climate agreements) whether this is OK. Should we accept the good (any agreement no matter how toothless) and thereby kill the chance for the perfect? Should we just hope 190 countries just sign something and hope for the best?  

Or should we heed climate scientists (over 97%) who say  we are on a trajectory that is leading us to dangerous tipping points and therefore nothing less than a treaty with a very aggressive approach that will actually keep temperatures down to a sustainable level will actually work in a world where physics (not politics) rule?

To be at a point in human existence where we must ask ourselves these incredible questions is one thing. To sit back and stay silent while our fate and the fate of all living things on this planet is being decided by what looks like a very watered down agreement is quite another. If we remain sleeping during this momentous trip to Paris without voicing our concerns, are we merely consumers of this planet or citizens of it?

Time passes.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Sorry Citizen’s Climate Lobby, we know GOP is bad on Climate Change

In response to Mark Reynolds, Executive Director of Citizen’s Climate Lobby: “Mark Reynolds: Everything you think you know about Republicans and climate change is wrong” (June 5, 2015 | Brighton-Pittsford Post)

I understand the desire to gain a political consensus on Climate Change in order to take action, but it’s delusional to think the Republic Party is remotely onboard. As we approach the historical COP21 Climate Conference in Paris this December, the US Republican Party is painting itself ever further into a corner on climate denial. Just this week, “Republican Governors Signal Their Intent to Thwart Obama’s Climate Rules,” which is to say five Republican governors are saying no to President Obama’s attempts to address Climate Change.

Climate Change, the mother of all problems, can be addressed in two basic ways--mitigation and adaptation—and the Republican Party (the GOP) fails miserably on both counts. It does nobody or any group attempting to address Climate Change any practical good to bury this political conundrum.

The GOP has so thwarted mitigation efforts (stopping or even slowing down US greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs)) that they have become notorious worldwide. President Obama’s milquetoast efforts (“US: 26-28% on 2005 levels by 2025”) at the Paris conference are a direct result of having to go around a GOP-led Congress. In fact it is considered a ‘fact’ worldwide that Obama’s hands are tied on making any systemic changes on lowering GHGs to a survivable level (2C) because everyone knows Congress will do everything in their power to stop anything the president signs at Paris. The message is clear: Unless Obama can go around the GOP-Congress, don’t even try for a sustainable environment. This is why greens chose to highlight the halt of the XL Keystone as a line in the sand with dirty fossil fuels—Obama doesn’t need Congressional approval to stop it.

On adaptation (or adjusting to the consequences of Climate Change), the GOP has been a major obstruction. The governors of Florida and Wisconsin have banned their staff from connecting the dots between Climate Change and local issues like rising water levels. Even in Rochester, there are already changes taking place because of Climate Change—a 71% increase in heavy rainfall events since 1958 (accompanied by more frequent discharge of untreated sewage into our waterways), more flooding, annual temperature increase of 0.6ºF per decade since 1970, bird population shifts, increase in lake effect snow, increase in plant frost damage, and much more—but little is being done by our authorities because it is so politically unpopular to do so. Rochester, like many communities around this country, is in Climate Silence, and this means we cannot tackle this issue on the local level. The GOP has made it impossible to talk about adapting to Climate Change by raising the bogeyman of tax increases, which effectively shuts off discussion in our current political environment. And so the other political parties, the media, and the public goes quiet on actually saving themselves.

Which has been the strategy of the GOP on Climate Change: “Don’t like the solutions? Don’t admit there’s a problem...” The GOP says they hate tax increases and Big Government. We got it. But because of the nature of Climate Change, which will require a universal response by our governments to protect our public health, our infrastructures, and help communities recover from more extreme events, only our governments can truly address Climate Change. Because the GOP doesn’t like the solution, because the GOP cannot be captain of the ball game, their response is to take their football and go home, thereby condemning us all. The GOP has made the other party be the bearer of bad news, which allows them to carp at every solution unless it agrees with the GOP’s outdated ideology. Ironically, this has the effect of insuring that Big Government will get incredibly bigger. No other entity but our governments can make and enforce laws, set environmental regulations, implement taxes, or bring in the military if extreme disasters completely overwhelm our communities—as occurred with Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina. As the consequences of Climate Change become more dire, the ability of the private sector to handle it become more impossible.

If timid Republican office holders are quietly saying they believe in what 97% of the climate scientists are saying, that is not leadership. That is dropping the ball. If these Republicans who allegedly believe in Climate Change don’t stand up and remove the ugly head of climate denial from their party, their Grand Old Party will go the way of the Whigs. If your government leaders or candidates don’t believe in the science of climate, that humans are responsible for this crisis, they are unfit for office. Unfit in the way a surgeon who didn’t go to school is unfit to replace your heart with a new one.

We shouldn’t be prioritizing a carbon fee as the only solution to a problem that includes every aspect of our existence; we should be making sure that the COP21 Paris Conference doesn’t fail. Without a world structure to bind nations to economic and political policies that will actually be able to enforce clean energy options or anything else on a scale and timeframe that will matter, there will be no universal carbon fee. And while giving the proceeds from such a carbon fee to households would be popular, it is far more efficient for government to use that money to help us adapt to the consequences of Climate Change—like disaster relief which is already overtaxing our government. Trying to bridge the political divide on Climate Change by bitch-slapping Democrats about their supposed propensity to grab all revenue they can completely fails to address the needs brought on by the actual physical consequences of the oncoming calamity, a calamity already baked in to our future even if GHG emissions were zeroed out tomorrow.

The answer to this argument is not somewhere in the middle—but completely on one side or another. An argument about whether the earth is flat cannot be decided by compromising with flat-earthers. Climate Change at the core is a problem of biophysics.  No matter how much the GOP insists that any solution must contain no change in economic models or government interference, they are wrong. The GOP either loses its climate denial extremists or they continue being the force preventing the rest of us from adapting to Climate Change.

Last fall, we had an election for the mayor of Rochester that did not include any discussion about local leadership on Climate Change. We are now starting the race for Monroe County executive, and there threatens to be once again nary a word about the elephant in the room. The GOP has made Climate Change so political everyone tries to ignore the crisis of our age.

So sorry, but most folks who are beginning to realize their worst suspicions about the Republicans and Climate Change are not wrong. 

Saturday, July 04, 2015

A beacon of hope: Official Ban on Fracking in New York

New York State’s Fracking ban is a beacon of hope for other places being terrorized by fossil fuel giants in a time of Climate Change.

Fractivists say NY's ban is influencing moratorium decisions elsewhere New York Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens announced this week that he is leaving that position, just two days after he issued the final environmental impact statement banning hydrofracking in the state.  The final report on fracking is a signal for others to move on as well. Anti-fracking groups say they are using New York’s stance to help convince other states -- and even countries -- to also ban the gas drilling process. (July 2, 2015) Innovation Trail)

Getting the Fracking ban in New York was a long, hard struggle for thousands, a struggle that seemed hopeless against a worldwide juggernaut of fossil fuel drilling. Those who want to drill for more fossil fuels will never give up. No matter that 97% of climate scientists warn that fossil fuels must stay in the ground, or our world’s moral leaders, inspired by Pope Francis’s Encyclical, agree.

Fracking ban starts clock for lawsuits When Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration officially banned large-scale hydraulic fracturing Monday, it finally put an end to a seven-year review process that drew hundreds of thousands of public comments and sharply divided the general public. For now. The state Department of Environmental Conservation's action started a 120-day clock for fracking proponents to examine whether the ban has any legal holes; fracking opponents have lauded the ban. If a lawsuit isn't filed by Oct. 27, state law says the decision can no longer be challenged. For years, both boosters and opponents of shale-gas drilling have operated under the belief that the state's ultimate decision on fracking would end up in the courts. The next four months will prove whether the assumption becomes reality. (July 3, 2015) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle 

When we sense hopelessness about our species’ ability to address Climate Change, this madness for more greenhouse gases masquerading as economic boom is what they are talking about. The nattering narrative pandered by the press and our politicians, that only drilling for more fossil fuels can provide more jobs and more money, must end. The push for 100% renewable energy by 2030 must begin in earnest now if we want anything like sustainable development.

But banning Fracking is not enough.

New York should also ban Bomb Trains (moving volatile crude oil through our communities by a shaky rail system) and stopping the incredible gas storage expansion at Seneca Lake. With the specter of a Fracking jackboot removed from our necks, we should be accelerating our efforts to develop 100% renewable energy by 2030 (see before the zealots of an old technology strangle us with more fossil fuel energy options that have put our future in jeopardy.