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.

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