Saturday, December 26, 2015

Rochester, NY’s downtown future during Climate Change

The foundation of a thriving downtown Rochester encompasses more than a desirable housing market. Consider the case of Flint, Michigan where a bad official decision to save money on public water infrastructure has resulted in the lead poisoning of many children and a drinking water crisis.  When you cannot drink the water, breath the air, or if your built infrastructures (transportation, water, waste, telecommunications, and energy) are crumbing, even a cheap McMansion will be undesirable.

In a changing world, where the past we knew is not an indication of our future prospects, one of the most dramatic changes Rochester and its downtown hub will experience is Climate Change. Our housing market, our job prospects, our public health, and everything else we hold dear will not thrive if our environment (our life support system) is collapsing. In the past we developed and advanced under the delusion that our environment would take care of itself despite our environmental interference.

Things have changed. Or rather, our recognition of our incredible negative effects on our environment has improved—culminating in our growing awareness of Climate Change. Our environment is a much more sensitive biological system that we previously thought. The Paris Agreement, agreed to by almost every nation in the world, should if nothing else remind everyone everywhere that sustaining a viable future must include an urgency to act at every level.

A year ago City Newspaper reported “Rochester to undertake citywide climate inventory” (January 21, 2015) and it looks like the city is finally getting around to it. How robustly the city embraces the community-wide Climate Action Plan (CAP) and other ‘green’ initiatives could determine whether we remain a desirable place to live regardless of downtown development. Rochester is and will be experiencing many changes due to the great warming but not as much as many other areas whose ability to get enough fresh water, maintain farm productivity, and protect themselves from extreme weather will fail long before these vital elements fail here. 

Rochester has been slowly addressing Climate Change, although we have yet to reach the degree of concern equal to the threat. And the public has not been engaged.

In other words, Rochester government is changing its energy profile, assuming I suppose that if they lead on energy efficiency, conservation, and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions the public will follow. But if the public doesn’t know that Rochester is leading, the message is lost. 

Rochester has increased their focus on active transportation (walking and bicycling), which not only increases the likelihood that more folks will want to live downtown, but also decreases our fossil-fuel transportation system’s effects on our health and greenhouse gas emissions. But we have not educated the public about the importance of active transportation in combating Climate Change, we see the same old conversations about different transportation modes while the elephant sits in the room ignored.

Rochester has talked about its commitment to addressing Climate Change. But it has not demonstrated its concern to the public in a consistent manner that engages the public or the local media. Climate denial and its devastating obstructionism is still rife in our community. This means we are still talking about solving our existing problems and orchestrating our future development as if Climate Change doesn’t exist. Other areas, including other cities in our country, do not have this problem because they’ve presented their communities with strong climate action plans.

Because of climate refugees, downtown Rochester will probably grow in numbers—one way or the other. The best way would be to ready ourselves by planning and educating the public to gain their support. The other way, business as usual, will be madness.

Ultimately, the most important attraction for a city will not be its snazzy architecture. It will be the likelihood of its prolonged sustainability, and its perception among the affluent that it will flourish.

Time passes. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Not even Rochester, NY sits on the sidelines after the Paris Agreement

While everyone is still trying to get their heads around the Paris Agreement, as it is now called, we should probably spend a moment on what we have achieved. Humanity has finally admitted that Climate Change must be addressed on a level that will actually matter. No more fooling around.

Then we should probably spend at least another moment on what the world agreed to:

What are the key elements? To keep global temperatures "well below" 2.0C (3.6F) above pre-industrial times and "endeavour to limit" them even more, to 1.5C To limit the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity to the same levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally, beginning at some point between 2050 and 2100 To review each country's contribution to cutting emissions every five years so they scale up to the challenge For rich countries to help poorer nations by providing "climate finance" to adapt to climate change and switch to renewable energy. (Global climate deal: In summary 12/12/2015, BBC News)

For a species disinclined to react to far-off threats, we agreed on a lot, although not enough to actually bring the temperatures down to a safe level or provide adequate funding for developed nations to thrive.  The Agreement has unleashed a lot of hope and despair and, of course, a lot of carping by those who still believe that all this climate concern is making much of nothing. (How wonderful for them.)

There is hope that the fossil fuel era will close and the renewable energy era will rise. There is hope that the Agreement will focus humanity’s attention on not only enduring this manmade warming phase with grace, but will actually allow us to emerge from it a better steward of our planet, with a healthier and more just society.

There is despair that we’ve started much too late to address this crisis and that our lesser angels will allow our short-term interests to override our long-term survival. That instead of being charitable towards others, we’ll devolve into a constant state of self-destructive meanness as we fight over the last scraps of the bounties we accumulated in the fossil fuel era.

Whether we thrive or perish is up to us, all of us. The Paris Agreement has demonstrated that none of us can watch Climate Change from the sidelines. Especially not the climate deniers, whose worldview is no longer acceptable. Climate denial is now on par with earlier hateful memes, like the belief that some people are inherently better than others.

Not even Rochester, NY can sit on the sidelines. We’ve misspent decades continually refusing to connect the dots to local consequences so we can adapt in a timely manner, or admit to ourselves that we have a moral mandate to help others because much of the existing warmth in the atmosphere is ours. Rochester and New York and the Northeast (and Europe, from whence the Industrial Revolution began) own those dangerous greenhouse gases that are already wreaking havoc.

Overall, environmentalists were hopeful for a successful Paris Agreement in the sense that the baseline for worldwide consensus on the validly of addressing Climate Change would hold, but not so hopeful that the Agreement in and of itself would save us. That, they know, is ahead of us. Bill McKibben, as usual, says it best:

Climate deal: the pistol has fired, so why aren’t we running? | Bill McKibben There can be no complacency after the Paris talks. Hitting even the 1.5C target will need drastic, rapid action With the climate talks in Paris now over, the world has set itself a serious goal: limit temperature rise to 1.5C. Or failing that, 2C. Hitting those targets is absolutely necessary: even the one-degree rise that we’ve already seen is wreaking havoc on everything from ice caps to ocean chemistry. But meeting it won’t be easy, given that we’re currently on track for between 4C and 5C. Our only hope is to decisively pick up the pace. In fact, pace is now the key word for climate. Not where we’re going, but how fast we’re going there. Pace – velocity, speed, rate, momentum, tempo. That’s what matters from here on in. We know where we’re going now; no one can doubt that the fossil fuel age has finally begun to wane, and that the sun is now shining on, well, solar. But the question, the only important question, is: how fast. (December 13, 2015) The Guardian

Time passes. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Rochester Democrat & Chronicle article on Climate Change breaks records

This Rochester Democrat & Chronicle (D&C) article is hands down the most important local article on why COP21 Paris matters to Rochester. This connecting-the-dots article between Climate Change and the local consequences is crucial for our public to understand why Climate Change needs to be communicated in such a way so that the pubic backs their leaders to strongly address Climate Change. We hope to see more continual coverage of how Climate Change is affecting our region so we here in Rochester can plan for and adapt as quickly and painlessly as possible to this worldwide crisis. 

Paris on the Genesee: Why it matters As the global climate summit known as COP21 begins its second full week, Paris seems a long way away. But what happens at the climate talks there does matter here. Western New York, like everywhere, is vulnerable to severe stress and disruption as our climate warms and the weather changes. The talks by officials from 195 countries are intended to minimize the scope of those disruptions, which have already begun. The goal of the COP21 talks is to agree on universal goals to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. (If you must know, the acronym signifies the 21st Conference of the Parties, meaning the countries that are parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The first COP was in  Berlin in 1995.) These gases, principally carbon dioxide but others as well, are warming the Earth's climate by trapping heat that would otherwise escape into space. The predominant source of man-made carbon dioxide is burning of fossil fuels — coal and natural gas in power plants, gasoline and diesel fuel in vehicles — plus the burning of wood and some manufacturing processes. (December 8, 2015) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

This article manages to communicate to a wide and diverse local public: that the COP21 Paris Climate Summit matters to Rochester, that Climate Change is changing our weather, that manmade greenhouse gas emissions from our transportation and energy sectors are the cause of this Climate Change, that we are already experiencing heavy rainfall (flash flooding) as reported in official climate studies, that Rochester is already “2.3 degrees higher than it was 150 years ago”, that the melting of the Arctic is making our winters too whacky to predict, that our growing season has changed, that some of our worst weeds may thrive and our best crops not fare so well, that our wildlife will be more stressed, that there are more blue-green algae blooms in our ponds and lakes, and that we must evolve towards better and cleaner energy options. All of which I have been reporting on for years, hoping our media, environmental groups, public officials, and our pubic would recognize the gravity and urgency of our situation and start planning for this new normal. We have frittered away a lot of precious time by not tackling this sooner.  

The local environmental community understands the significance of this D&C article on Climate Change as the numbers of ‘reaches’ on their social media have broken all records. On the Rochester People’s Climate Coalition Facebook page alone, almost 600 folks have viewed this article and the numbers go well over a 1,000 when more groups are included. Those numbers exploded to these highs in only two days—and trust me we never get those kinds of numbers on a single posting. (Cute puppy videos doing cute tricks get these numbers but we don’t.) Those waiting for mainstream media to connect the dots with the local consequences of Climate Change have been waiting a long time for this kind of article—and they want more. The public must be engaged on Climate Change and despite the rise of the Internet, whoever rules mainstream media gets to talk to all of the people.   

Today (12/11/2015) while waiting for the outcome of the Paris summit, two stories I came across highlight why articles like the D&C article are so important. Both are about our infrastructures—transportation and wastewater. The first is about the continual inadequate funding for local highways. Keeping our local transportation system infrastructure safe and sound not only means keeping up with the needs of the system but also preparing it for the extreme weather that comes with Climate Change—more heat and more flash flooding. The public needs to understand the problem so we can properly prepare. When our transportation system fails, you cannot get around or address emergencies. A crippled transportation system is not something you can fix at the last minute. Climate Change means planning. 

Ontario County highway crews push for fair infrastructure funding Upstate roads and bridges are in are in need of work — and the money to pay for it, highway crews and local state legislators say. Ontario County has more than 1,200 culverts, which carry water from a stream or open drain underneath a road. Over 46 percent of them require major work, said Bill Wright, commissioner of public works for the county. And it can be costly — a culvert replacement project this year on County Road 16 in the town of Canandaigua cost in the neighborhood of $1 million. (December 10, 2015) Brighton-Pittsford Post

The other story is out of Portland, Oregon, a city that has been preparing for Climate Change for over twenty years. This story highlights how just any kind of planning is not enough. The public must understand the nature of the beast, as it were, so their officials fund and plan adequately. Portland had planned for a one-in-twenty-five-year flood, thinking the public would never go for more dramatically expensive updates. But Portland just got a one-in-one-hundred-year flood.

Why Portland's drainage system failed to stop this week's flooding PORTLAND, Ore. - Parts of Portland looked more like a lake this week after the city saw near record rainfall. On Monday, Portland's third wettest day ever, the Pearl District flooded as manholes overflowed. The brown water they spewed was around 90 percent storm runoff and 10 percent sewage, according to the city's Bureau of Environmental Services (BES). Similar scenes played out throughout the city this week as creeks and drains overflowed and people had to take sometimes desperate measures to avoid being stranded and stay out of the muck. So how did it happen in a city with a massive and expensive drainage system? (12/9/2015, KATU)

I believe that if our media continually reported on local consequences of Climate Change in the way the D&C did this week, public attitudes would change. When attitudes change, the public will begin voting differently. The public will vote for leaders who understand all the implications of a warming climate quickly and address it properly.

Once the public understands what has been set in motion with Climate Change, that a great giant has been awakened by our deeds and that this giant is now stirring, they will understand the urgency and level of threat this crisis poses. 

Now we know our media knows the nature of the problem. Could this recognition of our new climate normal will become the new norm for local reporting? For all our sakes, let us hope so.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Best media coverage of Rochester’s Global Climate March was Indymedia Rochester, NY

Getting adequate media coverage on Climate Change in Rochester, NY has been a long struggle. While not openly denying Climate Change, most local media fail to connect the dots between the local consequences of this worldwide crisis. This leads the public to think that Climate Change is not a local issue that needs public support for planning and a citizenry not engaged in the crisis of our age.

What may happen if mainstream media continues to bury this crisis as a separate silo of concern?  For one, these former leaders of the public communication networks may become null and void. The public will go elsewhere to find out about their reality of a warming world and leave the media that only panders to their prurient interests far behind.

This is what great news coverage of last Sunday’s downtown march, complete with police escort, looks like:

Rochester Rallys for Climate Justice Over 400 people attended the Rochester March for Global Climate Action on Sunday November 30 2015. The event coincided with  United Nations Climate Summit beginning that day in Paris, France.  President Obama and 140 other world leaders are attending the summit.  A large march in Paris had to be cancelled due to the recent armed terror attacks on November 13. But people turned out in solidarity in over 2200 cities around the world including Rochester. The event was organized by the Rochester People's Climate Coalition, formed in 2014. (December 2, 2015) INDY Media Rochester

Two events during the proceedings stand out in my mind: The City of Rochester’s Commissioner of Environmental Services spoke eloquently about how Rochester absolutely has to address Climate Change. Climate deniers have the luxury of carping about the inconvenience of Climate Change, but governmental officials do not. It’s the job of our public officials to protect us from clear and present dangers. This talk before the march gives great credibility to the importance that Climate Change plays in our present lives.

The other event was when the Rochester police, who helped guide our march, allowed 400 of us to take over one of the bridges downtown for a few minutes so we could take photos.
Granted there was some minimal coverage of the march by other media:

And there was valuable pre-march coverage that explained why we were marching, which went far in getting 400+ folks to the march.

I know, if our march was a sports event these numbers would look pathetic. But for local public concern about Climate Change, getting 400 folks out into the streets just after Thanksgiving on a cold day is amazing.

The problem with the coverage was its lack of prominence in our mainstream media. Our march not only didn’t appear above the fold in our major newsprint media, it didn’t appear anywhere. (Don’t you miss the old days in Rochester when we had competing print media?) Most of the TV stations didn’t show up, none of the radio stations, and our public media was not there. Which meant we marched alone—all four hundreds of us with no onlookers cheering us on to a successful Paris.
So, instead of engaging with the rest of the 700,000 folks in Monroe County, we were left in large measure to selfies, which by the way we did very well. Check out this incredible interaction on the event’s Facebook page.  

If mainstream media continues to ignore Climate Change, other media venues will pick up this crucial role. One of the more fascinating ways to reach the public has been social media, especially one social media that connects all Rochesterians in all our neighborhoods. is a wonderful way for neighbors to message neighbors about pending crimes, yard sales, finding specialized contractors, and even discussing local stuff. Later, after I posted the press release for our local march, an explosion of actual interactions on Climate Change took place amongst ordinary local folks. For a moment, lost cats and yard sales gave way to a local focus and discussion within a media that includes all neighbors who are concerned with all sorts of stuff. Although we discovered (in over 100 exchanges) that there is still deep cynicism about Climate Change locally we found many opportunities for enlightenment. We need to break through our silos and discuss Climate Change in all venues where local folks lives are concerned.  

They say (I know, Yogi said it best), it ain’t over until it’s over, and Paris still has many days to go. In Rochester you can stay focused locally on the Paris Climate Summit by checking out the rest of the 12 Days of Climate:

“Following our November 29th kick-off celebration at Rochester’s March for Global Climate Action, RPCC’s Twelve Days of Climate will span the length of the 21st UN Conference on Climate Change.  Twelve Days of Climate is a series of opportunities for Rochesterians to join the fight against climate change.  Each day highlights a distinct approach to solving the climate crisis, and actions you can take.  See the calendar here” (from Rochester People’s Climate Coalition)

Indymedia’s* coverage of the march was the best because they stayed with us. They videoed the speakers’ speeches and allowed the public to express their hopes and concerns as our warming planet gets warmer. When most of those media outlets who are supposed to be informing the public about important stuff were out shopping (or whatever they do on a ‘non-news day’), at least one media stayed with us for the long haul, the long dramatic struggle to get the rest of the public to pay attention to this worldwide crisis.

What has to jump out at you on the COP21 Climate Summit in Paris proceedings is the great silence from our local media at this historic moment. At the end of the COP21, we will be living on a different planet: one where its brainy inhabitants will curb their irresponsible energy use, or one will we will have given up on our collective ability to solve big problems—threatening the future for all. But still, despite all that has passed on Climate Change, our local media either doesn’t know how or is unwilling to report on something that will have profound impacts on every aspect of our lives—even in Rochester.

Time passes. 

* “… a non-commercial, democratic collective of Rochester area independent media makers and media outlets, and serves as the local organizing unit of the global Indymedia network.”