Sunday, August 30, 2015

COP21 Paris isn’t the end of anything, whether it is successful or fails miserably

While Rochester worries that our gasoline prices may not drop nearly as low as nearby communities, we should be mindful of the particular teapot in which this gas price-tempest is occurring. Our addiction to fossil fuel is wreaking bloody havoc on our climate. (And, if you noticed the 1,000 point drop at the stock market this week, our addiction will increasing cause mayhem on our finances and investments too. See: “Oil means turmoil as world’s markets nosedive”.) Accordingly, the backdrop for our local obsession for more fossil fuel burning is a world burning up. A world that is desperately trying to bring down greenhouse gas levels before the window of opportunity closes under the framework of the COP21 Paris 2015.  

(COP21/CMP11), otherwise known as “Paris 2015” from November 30th to December 11th. COP21 will be a crucial conference, as it needs to achieve a new international agreement on the climate, applicable to all countries, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C. (WHAT IS COP21/CMP11?)

Instead of obsessing over artificially low gasoline prices, Rochester should be more engaged with this worldwide movement towards a more sustainable world. There are few hopeful signs, but here’s one. Next month, we hope to see a debate between local candidates on green jobs for green energy:  

Building an Economy for Climate Stability: Candidate Forum 2015 | Click here to register! Rochester People’s Climate Coalition (RPCC) and League of Women Voters are excited to bring climate change into the conversation at area elections, as we cosponsor a Candidate Forum on green jobs and a sustainable economy. Building an Economy for Climate Stability: Candidate Forum 2015 will be an opportunity for those running for public office within Monroe County to present their vision on a greening economy. The event is free and open to the public. Wednesday, September 16 7:00-9:00 PM at the Harley School, 1981 Clover Street (from Rochester People's Climate Coalition.)

However, there should also be debates and media attention on how our local candidates will lead on adapting to Climate Change. We will have to adapt to the consequences of Climate Change in our region, and the buck stops at our leaders’ offices. When our waters rise and overwhelm our waste water systems, our leaders will be held accountable (just as officials were blamed recently when a sewage spill closed Honolulu's Waikiki Beach). When a climate disaster like Hurricane Katrina strikes again, our leaders won’t be able to use the perfect-storm excuse, where many catastrophes are triggered at once. This is because the invocation of Murphy’s Law will be more likely to accompany more weather-related disruptions as Climate Change gets worse. Our leaders must make sure we adapt, and we must make sure they connect the dots so we aren’t overwhelmed when the shit hits the fan. 

We are hard-wired to adapt—even climate deniers. When a fire gets too close, we quickly back away. The tragedy of Climate Change is that we have to start backing away from a fire that is coming much slower than our senses have evolved to detect. That’s why we must plan now, not when the next climate disaster leaves our leaders groping for excuses and us without a future.

Next door in Buffalo, the “Rise Up for Climate Justice! Rally at Niagara Square on September 24“ will help spread the message Pope Francis gives to Congress about the need to make Paris a success. Paris comes at the end of a long line—United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (1972) , Brundtland Commission (1983-1987), United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) Earth Summit Rio de Janerio (1992), Kyoto Protocol (2008), Copenhagen Summit (2009) (just to name a few as there were many more)—of attempts to right humanity’s course for sustainability.

This Conference of Parties (COP) in Paris is trying to solve Climate Change on a level of human action that cannot be achieved individually nor separately by nations. Individual actions won’t be enough. Ad hoc national efforts will likely step on each other’s efforts by giving priorities to local concerns instead of the world’s ecosystems. Yes, past attempts to direct humanity’s efforts towards a more sustainable environment have floundered, but it would be truly insane to conclude that therefore we should leave our fate to market forces (which have historically treated our environment as an externality).

This doesn’t mean there aren’t any viable options; it means we need to readjust our priorities and fix our attention on our life support systems—instead of forcing our desires and beliefs into what sustainability means before we even understand the full implications of Climate Change. It means that while we may not be able to predict the outcomes of our climate actions in a world that has already been greatly disturbed by our past developmental abuses, we can and should change course towards sustainability—betting on our penchant for problem solving.  

Climate Change is happening. It is caused by humanity. It is not hopeless. It is in fact an incredible opportunity.

Paris isn’t the end of anything, whether it is successful or fails miserably. It will be but a point on a continuum towards our absolutely compelling need to adapt. If we fail at Paris in the sense that nations give up trying to work together (as the world did with the League of Nations after World War I), we will eventually be back at the table, much as we did when we began the United Nations. The horrors of World War II cleared a lot of doubt about the need to work together on global problems. 

If Paris succeeds beyond our wildest dreams by creating a binding agreement to keep global warming at 2C, provides a monitoring system to track each nation’s emissions efforts, and adequately compensates the poor countries so they can thrive without destroying their resources, this success would only bring us a little closer to the Holy Grail. We would still have a long way to go for a sustainable world. We still have to adapt to the warming already baked into our atmosphere and oceans. Sea level rise, droughts, destruction of our food producing regions, the loss of biodiversity, pollution, public health issues, and the conflicts resulting from a world in disruption will all have to be dealt with—probably simultaneously. 

But a successful Paris framework, sooner rather than later, where we work together on the same desire for a sustainable future, will increase the likelihood of our survival. That ain’t nothing.
Locally, if we can move our attention from getting cheap gas to our full engagement with this worldwide crisis, we here in Rochester can be a part of the solution.

Time passes.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Climate Change procrastination penalty for Rochester, NY

As we get closer and closer to the COP21 Climate Treaty in Paris, the world is starting to realize we cannot let this climate treaty fall apart as we have the others. Nations and corporations are beginning to cooperate and contribute to solutions as never before. This change in attitude towards our UN climate negotiations around the world can be credited in part to our courageous moral leaders who are connecting the dots between Climate Change and morality. Also, environmental groups have stepped up their game, pushing governments and corporations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and take action for real progress. Meanwhile, the science behind manmade Climate Change is becoming clearer:

TEN CLEAR INDICATORS OUR CLIMATE IS CHANGING How do we know our climate is changing permanently, rather than just going through a normal period of flux? Let’s look at 10 major changes scientists have seen in our climate system to help set the record straight. Few global trends have been as controversial as climate change and the Earth’s warming. The Earth has gone through many shifts in cooling and warming driven by natural factors like the sun’s energy or variations in its orbit, but the trend scientists have seen over the past 50 years is unmistakable. Let’s take a closer look: globally, average surface temperatures increased 1.1—1.6 degrees Fahrenheit (0.6—0.9 degrees Celsius) between 1906 and 2005. However, it’s the rate of temperature change that’s especially troubling to scientists; temperatures have risen nearly twice as fast in the last 50 years alone. (August 18, 2015) The Climate Reality Project
On the local level, too many folks still don’t understand the difference between adapting to Climate Change and mitigation. There’s a crucial distinction and both are important. See my essay: “Climate Change mitigation (People’s Climate March ==> Paris 2015) & adaptation: what’s the diff?” Basically, we should mitigate Climate Change so this crisis doesn’t get worse; but, we must adapt to the Climate Change consequences because these disasters will be in our face.

We have already paid a dear price for dawdling on Climate Change mitigation for as long as we have. Much of the extreme weather we are and will experience for some time comes as a result of our inaction—allowing too much long-term greenhouse gases to build up in our air and oceans. There are many indicators that Climate Change has already made some real changes to our Rochester environment. While not as dramatic as wildfires, melting glaciers, and rising seas, they are rock-solid proof that our previous 10,000 years of climate stability are over. The workings of our life support system has ominously shifted.

Here’s a local example of Climate Change requiring immediate action:

Town's rained out and tapped out On June 15, 3.3 inches of rain fell within 40 minutes in the Ontario County town of Richmond. The "gully washer," as Supervisor Ralph Angelo calls it, busted out 22 culverts along town roads, with East Lake Road taking the worst hit. If that sounds familiar, there's good reason. On one July day last year, downpours dumped 6 inches of rain on Richmond in three hours, and a section of East Lake Road was entirely washed out. The town subsequently spent $400,000 to repair the damages; the bill equaled the entire town highway budget. (August 12, 2015) Rochester City Newspaper

So we have to adapt. Because of our lack of coordinated action on Climate Change in our region, changes already being visited upon our lands and water including a 71% increase in heavy rainfall events since 1958, we are falling behind in adequate preparations. Adequate preparations are not ad hoc, invisible-to-the-public power-saving programs, and no-regret updates to our infrastructures that we were going to do anyways. There will be penalties for our procrastination to adapt to these changes.

When we get some serious heat waves, many will die because of inadequate planning. People lacking connection with groups or families to check on them, especially if they cannot get themselves to a cool place if the power goes out, will die. If our hospitals are not prepared to deal with numerous heat victims quickly and if there is not enough emergency personnel to quickly attend to those in trouble, people die who could have been saved.

As with Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, great disasters can disable many of our infrastructures at the same time. More frequent storms with heavy rainfall can and do overwhelm our waste water systems (think raw sewage into our rivers and lakes where we bathe and drink and fish), our transportation systems (roads washed out), telecommunications (telephone poles down), and energy systems, where power outages compromise our ability to keep warm in cold weather and cool in hot weather. While we may be able to recover from some of these storms, we may not be able to recover when they occur more frequently, and we will certainly be a more impoverished society regardless. 

When we lose plant and animal species that cannot adapt quickly enough, we may never get them back. Even if we put them in zoos for temporary housing these species’ habitats may be unfit for them to return.

When climate refugees come to our region because we still have clean water, lots of farmland, and a milder climate (for a while, anyways), our region will be overwhelmed if we are not ready for the onslaught of more challenges to all our infrastructures.

Perhaps the worst penalty resulting from our region’s procrastination is the lack of public support, as many assume that their authorities have been protecting them. When consequences of Climate Change do strike and become the new normal, they will be of a magnitude grander and of a duration much longer than we are used to. Perhaps greater than we can cope with. Accordingly, the public will not understand why all of a sudden their rights are curtailed and their taxes go through the roof because their government suddenly has to adapt to all the disturbances at once—instead of having prepared over time.

Time passes. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Doublethink Climate Change energy policies won’t work

Although the fossil fuel industry is spending more money than ever to save itself at the cost of dramatically worsening Climate Change, there are signs of this industry’s demise. Educational institutions, faith groups, and pension funds are divesting from a carbon-based economy. Renewable energy, which doesn’t warm the planet or pollute the air, is on the rise.

“Wind, solar, and geothermal energy are all on the rise. At least 17,000 megawatts (MW) of these three energy sources are now under construction. According to the Energy Information Administration, renewable energy will account for about one-third of new electricity generation added to the U.S. grid over the next three years.” (U.S. Renewable Energy Growth Accelerates, 8/14/2015, Worldwide Institute)

Of course, we won’t stop using the fuel that fueled the Industrial Revolution tomorrow. But we must ask ourselves, ‘Will this planet-damaging energy option nose-dive on a scale and time frame that will matter?’ The COP21 Paris Summit coming up in a few months hopes to create a binding worldwide agreement to substantially reduce the world economy’s dependence on an energy option that is moving us into the danger zone. The intense efforts by nations to make this year’s COP (Conference of the Parties) successful highlights why reducing a carbon-based economy must be orchestrated from the level of a United Nations’ agreement—nothing else will work, else it would have already. Paris is a desperate act by desperate peoples trying to deal with their addiction to a lethal substance.
With the Clean Power Plan, President Obama hopes to demonstrate to the nations attending the Paris Summit that the United States is serious about leading the world’s Climate Change efforts. However, Obama is also allowing Shell to drill in the Arctic for oil.

Climate alarm bells are ringing, says Arctic-bound Obama  President to use Alaska meeting for global climate deal talks; critics say he can lead by stopping Shell drilling for oil (August 14, 2015)Responding to Climate Change (RTCC)

This instance of doublethink, where one holds two contrary beliefs at the same time, will not work with Climate Change. You cannot try to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in one place on the planet and allow them to increase somewhere else. The final arbitrator in our historic battle with Climate Change is physics—and it doesn’t negotiate. To address Climate Change we must have policies that make sense. 

In New York State, Governor Cuomo banned Fracking and has demonstrated that our state is already stepping up to the plate on reducing GHGs:

Utilities: Shift in New York power New York won’t have much extra work to do to meet President Barack Obama’s mandated cut in carbon emissions from power plants. The state is on track to meet the mandate — which calls for a 32 percent nationwide cut — more than a decade before the federal Clean Power Plan’s 2030 deadline, boosted in large part by its own, more-aggressive goals laid out in an update to the New York State Energy Plan earlier this year. In late June, the state committed to three major energy benchmarks for the next 15 years: reducing all greenhouse-gas emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels, decreasing energy consumption in buildings by 23 percent from 2012 levels and making sure half of the state’s energy is produced from renewable sources. (August 8, 2015) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle 

But our governor is also mired in doublethink. By allowing the NYS Department of Conservation (DEC) to ignore businesses’ and citizens’ concerns about the massive methane storage project near Seneca Lake, Cuomo cannot also “’… lead on Climate Change”. The threat to our environment by allowing this dangerous buildup of more fossil fuel infrastructure doesn’t square with climate physics.

Adding insult to a massive disregard for our precious Finger Lakes ecosystem, the folks pushing for Crestwood’s plans don’t seem to care about the rising numbers of people willing to stand up against this move that jeopardizes the region’s tourism and wine businesses. (“The number of protestors arrested at the Crestwood Facility near Watkins Glen now totals 340.” --from R-CAUSE (Rochesterians Concerned About Unsafe Shale-gas Extraction.) *Note the creation of the Finger Lakes Wine Business Coalition, who’s mission is to “… lead Upstate economic development through wine-driven agritourism and sustainable business practices, unifying wineries, vineyards, local food producers, and creatives who are the stewards of Finger Lakes Wine Country.”

We hope Governor Cuomo’s and President Obama’s energy decisions quickly evolve into a coherent policy that matches the science.

Climate Change by its very nature cannot endure the sort of duplicity that has governed our way of life for so long. Our leaders cannot talk out of both sides of their mouth on Climate Change and energy because, unlike the public who can be fooled some of time, physics cannot ever be fooled.

Besides, trying to deal with the “GreedyLyingBastards” who’ll stop at nothing to save a dying fossil fuel industry is crazy. Those folks want it all.

Time passes. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

States fighting EPA’s Clean Power Plan highlight humanity’s broadening distance from reality

Somewhere along humanity’s brush with existence, we’ve become increasingly estranged from the a priori imperative of existence: Mother Nature rules. She really does. Despite our impatience with the physical/chemical/biological connections that led (somehow) to our existence, the basic laws of physics have not been supplanted by our desires, our beliefs, our technology, or our political or economic systems. I point out the obvious because many folks just don’t believe in the science behind Climate Change and continually battle those attempting to solve this issue.

No matter how much those whose ideology does not include a planet quickly warming because of our putting more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, it is nevertheless true. If you quickly increase the percentage of heat-trapping gases in a planet’s atmosphere, the ground and water will warm up too. This process (the runaway greenhouse gas effect) occurred on Venus (albeit, not human caused) so that nowadays our space ships would melt before they hit the ground.  

Because the foundation of our life support system is based on these physical/chemical/biological connections, if you only take baby-steps to address enormous environmental issues that require adult measures, you are not likely to solve the problems affecting our existence—no matter how much these milquetoast efforts assuage our desires, our beliefs, or our political or economic systems. We made up the latter systems, the former system made us.   

Here’s where I’m going with all this: If your environmental actions don’t match the problem, you’re in trouble. If you’re trying to address Climate Change with actions that don’t upset ‘business as usual’ you’re not going to have much of an effect. Nature, being nature, doesn’t care what we think about the laws of physics; it just ensures that we obey them. 

Keeping all this in mind, one has to wonder why 16 states have no intention of adhering to the EPA’s recently released Clean Power Plan.

16 States Think The EPA’s Emissions Rule Isn’t Legal And They Shouldn’t Have To Comply The Clean Power Plan hasn’t been out a week yet, and 16 states have already formally requestedthat the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) delay the rule. The states, led by West Virginia, filed a letter with the department Wednesday asking for an “administrative stay” of the rule that requires all states to cut carbon emissions from stationary power plants. The finalized EPA rule calls for state-submitted plans by September 2018 (with an extension) and reductions beginning by 2022. The rule gave states two extra years to submit their plans and to begin cutting emissions, over initially proposed timelines. If implemented on schedule, the rule will result in a 30 percent decrease in carbon emissions from the electricity sector, which currently accounts for roughly a third of emissions in the United States. (August 6, 2015) Think Progress/Climate Progress

The response by these sixteen states (West Virginia Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin, and Wyoming) might make sense if they had an alternative plan to decrease the greenhouse gas emissions that are quickly warming our planet. But they don’t have any plans to address Climate Change. They are only annoyed that their state rights might be challenged by a pugnacious EPA.

I know, the reaction by these sixteen states makes a lot of sense if you still believe Climate Change is a hoax, where the Pope and most of the nations of the world have nothing better to do than piss you off.  If you’ve only focused on satisfying your desires, making a lot of money, fulfilling your political prospects, and have ignored all the climate studies and news coming from most of the scientists around the world on the climate crisis for the last thirty years, I could understand your going to the courts to fight against regulations to protect you from something you don’t believe in. But I don’t have to respect this purposeful myopia that condemns billions to the ravages of Climate Change.

The United States--the greatest and the most powerful nation in the world and one of the most responsible for Climate Change--has a real chance to make the COP21 Paris Treaty a success. We could lead by example.

What impact will Obama climate plan have on Paris summit?  Targets set by the US for cutting CO2 emissions send a signal to the rest of the world and raise hopes for Paris accord  President Obama’s determination to reduce US power plant emissions by 32% below 2005 levels by 2030 sends a message to world leaders that the UN climate talks in Paris could – just – succeed. Past talks have foundered on a range of political excuses, but now that the world’s two largest polluters, China and the US, have committed to far-reaching changes in their energy production to keep the world below the dangerous threshold of a 2C temperature increase, the door is open for all the rest to follow. The stumbling block to US action so far has been the refusal of die-hard members of the Republican Party to accept that climate change is happening, and the well-funded fossil fuel lobby’s legal and political campaign to block any legislation. (August 7, 2015)Responding to Climate Change (RTCC)

But we have a major political problem here that will profoundly affect everyone on this planet. The forces aligned against addressing Climate Change are more than a ‘stumbling block to US action.’ They are challenging humanity’s efforts for a sustainable existence.

f the public doesn’t make it clear to their representative that addressing Climate Change is at the top of their priority list, eventually Mother Nature will give us a life support system that isn’t fit for any one of us.  

COP21 Paris Talks must not fail: Check out National and Global Climate Actions leading up to Paris Talks – and take part in one of these events.  

Time passes. 

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Halfway to hell and still asleep at the wheel

Global Warming is halfway to hell. At 1 C we are only a few decades from the hell of a 2C world we have unleashed. Not only do we have to stop the further rise in greenhouse gases, we have to adapt to the consequences of what we’ve already put into the system.

Global warming halfway to UN’s 2C limit – New Scientist  All but one of the main surface temperature monitors has recorded a 1C rise since pre-industrial times, analysis shows  Countries have agreed to try and limit global warming to 2C above pre-industrial levels. Beyond that threshold, scientists project escalating sea level rise and ever more intense and volatile weather. We might have already reached the halfway mark, according to analysis commissioned by the New Scientist. Four out of the five major surface temperature records are set to pass the 1C point this year, researchers found, measured from the 1850-1899 average. (July 30, 2015) Responding to Climate Change (RTCC)

However, if 1.5C above pre-industrial averages is a more realistic safe figure than 2C, then we are at least two thirds of our way to hell. Of course, thinking we can add any more greenhouse gases to our atmosphere than we already have since pre-industrial times may be extreme hubris; we may have long ago entered the gates of hell. 

Hell, in the secular sense, is when life on Earth becomes too hot for human civilization to handle. At least this is what was politically decided back in 1997 at the Kyoto Protocol. However, many scientists, including Dr. James Hansen (who spoke here in Rochester just before Earth Day this year about the danger of setting 2C as the limit we can tolerate) think that catastrophic sea level rise and other challenges will be baked in long before we reach 2C.

At the COP21 Paris Climate Conference in December, it’s going to be the dickens just to get 190+ countries to agree on what they’ve agreed to, let alone readjusting down what our upper limit should be for greenhouse gas emissions. That science is telling us the relentless temperature rise continues regardless of humanity’s social, political, and economic past failures to address the mother of all problems bodes ill for our species and all the others we are dragging down with us.

Somewhere around the middle of this century we will hit 2C even if we stamp on the brakes because we’ve already scorched in a century and a half of these long-lasting gases into our atmosphere. COP21 is attempting to let the temperature go no higher. But if we are being honest with ourselves, in order to actually achieve 2C we’d have to have stopped all our greenhouse gas emissions a while ago.  It’s more likely we are heading to 4C or beyond, which will create an unthinkable future for our children.

What’s very frustrating about passing these critical benchmarks (even though the experts are still trying to figure out exactly what are safe levels of greenhouse gas concentrations and temperatures) is that Americans know better. We should know the grim details just as well as (perhaps better than) most countries around the world.

“Specifically: In the U.S. — unlike everywhere else — being better educated doesn’t guarantee that you are more likely to believe that climate change is a real thing that is actually happening. Instead, education seems to polarize in the United States: More education is correlated with greater concern about climate change among liberals and Democrats, and less concern from conservatives and Republicans. It seems that being better educated just means you have more ammo for defending the belief that your existing partisan identification bequeaths to you.” Education increases belief in climate change — everywhere except in the U.S. (7/29/2015, Grist)

And yet we are still allowing more drilling in the Arctic, desperately searching for more ways to get at natural gas under our state regardless of the Fracking ban, railroading Bomb Trains of volatile crude oil through our communities, and giving almost no attention to this issue at the local level.

If the facts about Climate Change and appeals by our moral leaders don’t move us to mitigate Climate Change by making sure COP21 Paris is a success and to adapt to the changes locally, what will? What will finally convince us that Climate Change must be addressed immediately? At what point will we move out of our silos of immediate interests, pull back and see the big picture, and finally understand that all the stuff we hope to happen won’t happen until we address this rapidly warming planet?

One thing is for sure: Climate Change is not going away by itself.  We must wake up.   

Time passes.