More than likely you’ve already decided which of the three Monroe County Executive candidates you are going to vote for in November. Or whether you’re going to vote at all. So I’m keenly aware that my chances of changing your mind are limited. Arguing that you should vote for Sandy Frankel and that you should do so based on Climate Change vastly decreases the likelihood that you’ll even hear me out. In our community, the phrase Climate Change deflates any election dialogue quicker than a pin poking a balloon.
Before your attention bursts altogether, let me march out the gist of my argument: This election is not about Ms. Frankel, it’s about you and your family and your future. You may think that your top priorities in this election are about your family, your jobs, your schools, taxes, guns, and our crumbling infrastructure—and they are. But none of these pressing issues can actually be solved unless the underlying reality of Climate Change is factored in. Because the job of Monroe County Executive is the most important political position in our immediate region, our community’s response to Climate Change will be orchestrated (whether intentional or not) from this position.
“The County Executive is the chief executive officer and administrative head of the Monroe County government. The County Executive develops policies, proposes legislation to the County Legislature, appoints department heads, directs the preparation of the annual operating budget and the Capital Improvement Program and coordinates the management of all departments. The County Executive also represents County interests to the local, state and federal governments.” Departments – Monroe County Government
Sandy Frankel has spoken repeatedly about what she has done and what she plans to do in the future to help our community adapt to a quickly warming world. The GOP candidate has yet to even mention Climate Change, let alone defend her position. Rajesh Barnabas, the Green Party candidate, is a really great guy willing to move out of his comfort zone and busy life to inject some environmental and justice issues into this election—even though he has essentially no hope of getting elected.
Even if you don’t believe in the science behind Climate Change (which, by the way, is the same science behind gravity), wouldn’t you want this issue debated so that the candidates were compelled to explain and defend their position? Sandy Frankel and Rajesh Barnabas have both attempted to bring this issue into this election at the Candidate Forum 2015: “Building an Economy for Climate Stability”. But the entire enterprise of informing the public by the Rochester People’s Climate Coalition was thwarted by a dismissive local media that couldn’t be bother to attend—and the GOP candidate who must think the best strategy is to sit this one out. The media, custodians of the public’s awareness of election issues, should not be deciding at this (almost too) late date that we cannot even have this crucial conversation about the worldwide crisis of Climate Change. A moral crisis as Pope Francis describes it:
“Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation.” (Pope Francis Addresses President Obama And Guests At White House (Full Transcript) 9/23/2015, The Huffington Post)
The Guardian, arguably the most responsible media in our warming world, has for the last year focused on framing the Climate Change issue as “keep in it in the ground”. ‘It’ being fossil fuels. That was phase one of their coverage. Phase two is Hope. Hope is essential in a world that is increasingly experiencing the consequences of a rapidly warming world, but irrational hope is counter-productive. An example of an irrational hope is when you know your car’s brakes don’t work but climb in the car and tear off down the road regardless, hoping that you won’t need to slow down or come to a stop. The Guardian is not advocating irrational hope. It’s advocating something like getting your brakes fixed then driving your car down the road.
“There is hope in the many voices who are now calling for action from their leaders. There is hope in the rapidly falling cost of renewable energy that is starting to transform our dirty energy system. There is hope in the pledge by G7 countries to phase out coal power. There is hope in the communities and innovators around the world who are getting on with the job rather than waiting for the politicians.” (10/05/2015, The Guardian)
Hope for our future, especially at the local level, cannot be based on climate denial, or a ”no-regrets” policy (which attempts to accomplish environmentally friendly actions even if Climate Change were to somehow prove to be false). Hope cannot be expressed in a sudden reversal of political strategy once it becomes clear that it’s your ox being gored—highlighted this week by Senator Graham’s about-face on federal disaster relief in the face of Climate Change disasters: Graham Opposed Sandy Aid, Now Wants Help For South Carolina. Hope expresses the best of humanity, the desire to prosper through a realistic appraisal of one’s goals. Hope cannot thrive if climate of denial has left us unprepared.
Why ‘Once-In-A-Lifetime’ Flooding Keeps Happening Climate change is making rare weather events less rare At least nine people have died in flooding across South Carolina that has left city streets submerged in water, destroyed homes and closed more than 100 bridges. Nikki Haley, the state’s governor, described the disaster as one of such an epic scale that science suggests it would only occur once every 1,000 years. A flooding disaster of this scale was unlikely to be sure, scientists say, but climate change has transformed once-in-a-lifetime events into periodic occurrences. The flooding may have been hard to predict, but it should no longer come as a surprise. (October 5, 2015) Time
The job of the Monroe County Executive, as mentioned above, “represents County interests to the local, state and federal governments.” Many of those ‘interests’ fall under the bailiwick of our infrastructures, but it becomes very difficult to articulate the importance of addressing Climate Change locally if the public doesn’t understand the importance of our infrastructures. It’s pretty amazing that we have studies that have to ask, “What is infrastructure and why it is so important?”
We aren’t even maintaining the infrastructures we have—water, waste water systems, telecommunications, transportation, and much more—let alone preparing them for more extreme weather (frequent heavy flooding, and heat) and all the other consequences that are happening and will happen with Climate Change in our area.
Road and bridge funding sought by engineers and government leaders New York's infrastructure is crummy and getting worse, as anyone who drives on the state's roads probably already realizes. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives the state's infrastructure a C- in a report card it released this morning (the report is attached at the bottom of this post). But the grade is boosted by B- grades on parks and solid waste infrastructure. The state's roads get a D- and its bridges a D+. In Rochester, the roads are in such rough enough shape that they cost drivers an average $402 in repairs annually, according to the ASCE report. In Buffalo, the roads suck a little less, apparently, since they cost drivers there an average of $293 annually. The ASCE looked at other areas, too. Drinking water infrastructure receives a C, for example, and the state's waste water systems get a D. (September 29, 2015) Rochester City Newspaper
We should be voting in the up-and-coming local elections based on how the candidates will address real threats to our way of life. For those wondering in the back of their minds at what point Climate Change will affect them personally, it is at the level of massive and frequent infrastructure breakdowns that they will notice. Then they will be more than sorry they voted for leaders who hadn’t prepared them and their built systems that make our way of life possible. If you’re thinking that we’ll just address these infrastructure problems when and if they happen, you just don’t know Climate Change. (BTW: These Climate Change threats to our local infrastructure are not simply my opinion. My insights are based partly on three official climate studies that pertain to our region: Responding to Climate Change in New York State (ClimAID) sponsored by NYSERDA, the New York State Climate Action Plan Interim Report, and the report on the “Northeast” by the National Climate Assessment, which is to say the US government.)
We’ve barely had a dialogue during this critical year on Climate Change in our local elections even as the voting time draws near. In order for a democracy to work, its citizens must be well-informed. Accomplishing that has always been problematic—given that historically so many rich and influential entities (like the fossil fuel industry) have become the gatekeepers of our media--and even more so with an issue as inconvenient and complicated as Climate Change.
If we don’t have this critical public discussion locally, the position we will find ourselves in will be one of unpreparedness. No doubt anyone we elect will attempt to swat every fly, every flood, every heat wave, and every increasing Climate Change consequence. But once you take the time to discover the full implications of this crisis, you will realize a knee-jerk, ad-hoc reaction to these kinds of calamities is woefully inadequate. A leader is needed, one willing to take charge of an unpopular but critical issue that cannot be avoided. Going mum and sitting out forums on our environment in order to keeps one’s lead in the polls is not leadership.
I have heard Sandy speak publically many times on the importance of addressing Climate Change locally—including her valuable support to those busloads of Rochesterians who marched in New York City for the 400,000-strong Peoples Climate March, September 21, 2014. As the former Supervisor of the Town of Brighton, one of the cleanest and environmentally conscious communities in our area, Frankel has a proven record of active transportation (walking and bicycling) action, action on urban forestry, educating and supporting greenhouse gas emission reductions in Brighton, and even spells out her position on Climate Change on her election page. Coming out on Climate Change during this election is breathtakingly bold considering Sandy’s GOP opponent has not dared mentioned a word about the elephant in our local election for Monroe County Executive.
At this point in time, even if you don’t believe in Climate Change, you should think the attention it has been given worldwide makes it worthy of our consideration in the race for Monroe County Executive. For the buck, as it were, on Climate Change will stop at the executive’s door. She must prepare us all for that. Sandy Frankel has proven that she is ready to lead.