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. 

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