Saturday, March 28, 2015

Rochester’s transportation system light-years away from Climate Change solutions

 

CCRoadsSThose infuriating potholes that jangle your mind and damage your vehicle aren’t the half of our transportation issues as we drive into Climate Change. First, we have an old system of roads and bridges that are in deep disrepair. According to TRIP, 9% of Rochester’s bridges are structurally deficient and 33% are functionally obsolete. CONDITIONS AND SAFETY OF NEW YORK’S ROADS AND BRIDGES (March 2015, TRIP a national transportation research group)

It’s absurd to have to explain to the public why our transportation system has to be properly maintained. And yet we do.

Transportation Group Says 1/3 Of Rochester Area Roads In Poor Or Mediocre Condition A transportation organization that pushes for more money for roads and bridges says that the Rochester area's infrastructure needs a lot of work. The group called "TRIP," consists of people involved in the highway and construction industry, related unions and other organizations. But its director of Research and Policy, Rocky Moretti, says they pull their data from information available from state and local governments. (March 15, 2015) WXXI News

It’s not only absurd that we have a massive transportation system that is not being maintained; we haven’t even begun to discuss the very expensive and unpopular adaptations required to keep this system functioning as Climate Change produces more extreme weather and heat. Just to get your heads around what Climate Change has already dumped (think flooding) on our roads, this map [See Figure 2.18: Observed Change in Very Heavy Precipitation] shows that the Northeast has experienced a 71% percent increase in the amount of precipitation falling in very heavy events from 1958 to 2012. In other words, this deluge is the change we have already observed. This also means that all our infrastructures—transportation, water, wastewater, telecommunications (think telephone poles)—are already being challenged by Climate Change.

According New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA)’s ClimAid report, this is what our region needs to do to get our transportation system prepared, that is, made ready for Climate Change that’s beyond mere routine maintenance.

“Examples of adaptation strategies for the Transportation sector described in Chapter 9 relate to coastal hazards, heat hazards, precipitation hazards, and winter storms including snow and ice. Strategies explored include raising the level of new critical infrastructure and essential service sites; including climate change adaptation knowledge when retrofitting older infrastructure; switching to more durable materials; changing land-use planning mechanisms; and creating increased resilience through flexible adaptation pathways in operations, management, and policy decisions.”(Page 11, Responding to Climate Change in New York State (ClimAID) [full report]

To be fair, our local transportation authorities know about this and what needs to be done.

The Impacts of Climate Change: Mitigation and Adaptation | Independent of mitigating climate change, adapting transportation facilities and programs to be more resistant and resilient is equally if not more important. Adaptation activities as they relate to transportation are clearly a public responsibility given that the vast majority of associated infrastructure and services are provided by government entities. Accordingly, evaluation of the vulnerability of critical infrastructure to impacts resulting from more severe and intense weather events, including storms and corresponding flooding, needs to be conducted so that the reconstruction and replacement of these facilities includes design features and operations and management capabilities that account for these impacts.” (Long Range Transportation Plan 2035, Genesee Transportation Council)

But what chance do we have to get our transportation system ready for more Climate Change when we cannot even agree on how to fund our existing system as it crumbles under our tires?

Because the public is not being educated on the links between our transportation system and Climate Change, imagine trying to talk to an unprepared public about pouring millions of more tax dollars into our transportation system for a crisis they don’t care about.

We are light-years from actually implementing what we know has to be done in order to adapt our transportation system for Climate Change. This gap between facts and necessary action highlights how far behind we are from actually addressing the mother of all problems.

Time passes.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Rochester’s answer for wildlife during Climate Change: a better zoo

 

CCZooSOne of the greatest challenges during Climate Change is not merely saving our wildlife, whose environment is changing far faster than they can adapt, but primarily saving their habitats. Humanity tends to view wildlife as labor saving devices, game for ‘harvesting’, pets, lab rats for testing products, food (of course), resources (leather), and increasing as creatures who share many of our best traits. But it is their role in our environment that ultimately matters most to our survival. In this way (and many others) Climate Change is challenging our survival.

When you search online for Wildlife at the EPA you get this:

Climate Impacts on Ecosystem: Climate is an important environmental influence on ecosystems. Climate changes and the impacts of climate change affect ecosystems in a variety of ways. For instance, warming could force species to migrate to higher latitudes or higher elevations where temperatures are more conducive to their survival. Similarly, as sea level rises, saltwater intrusion into a freshwater system may force some key species to relocate or die, thus removing predators or prey that were critical in the existing food chain. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

The Holocene environment, where humanity thrived, evolved in lock-step for hundreds of thousands of years with our endemic wildlife. A threat to them is a threat to our life support system because the balance of Nature doesn’t just include our food chain but the great chain of our being alive. More and more we are understanding how the activities of wildlife (watch “How Wolves Change Rivers”) affect something so seemingly unrelated as the ecology of a river. Because Climate Change will affect all our endemic wildlife, and because we need these species for a healthy environment, you’d think that our state and county would focus on the climate connection.

You don’t learn a lot about this oneness of our environment and wildlife in a zoo (not to mention Climate Change); so it’s interesting that Rochester (actually it’s a Monroe County facility) still focuses on a better zoo in a time of Climate Change.

Building a better zoo The Monroe County Parks Department is developing a new master plan -- a guide for development and growth -- for the Seneca Park Zoo. (March 13, 2015) Rochester City Newspaper

Our state’s environmental agency understands the critical link between our wildlife and Climate Change:

Commissioner's Policy - Climate Change and DEC Action Based on overwhelming scientific evidence, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation ("Department" or "DEC") recognizes that New York State's ("State") air and water quality, forests, fish and wildlife habitats, and people and communities, are at risk from climate change. In order to perform its core mission of conserving, improving, and protecting the State's natural resources and environment, DEC must incorporate climate change considerations into all aspects of its activities, including but not limited to decision-making, planning, permitting, remediation, rulemaking, grants administration, natural resource management, enforcement, land stewardship and facilities management, internal operations, contracting, procurement, and public outreach and education. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)

Yet, when you go to their wildlife page (Wildlife Health) there is nothing about Climate Change. (There is some stuff about your pet’s health. But, of course, your pet is not wild. Your dog is really neat and its health is important to you, but your dog is not part of any state-wide eco-region.) In the DEC’s latest WILDLIFE HEALTH PROGRAM STRATEGIC PLAN, Climate Change is only mentioned three times, and then only embedded in a laundry list of challenges for our wildlife—not a plan that is orchestrated around Climate Change as it must.

One of the problems with focusing on a better zoo in Rochester (or anywhere for that matter) are zoo priorities:

“The Zoo focuses on species of plants and animals native to New York State that are threatened or endangered in their natural ranges. A variety of local organizations and colleges have partnered with the Zoo to study threats and work on recovery and restoration plans for these species. We also work with national organizations to raise conservation awareness through education programs and field studies in places like Madagascar and Canada” Seneca Park Zoo/Priorities

This would be an excellent set of priorities if Climate Change wasn’t occurring. But it is. A zoo tends to focus on entertaining the public, saving individuals of rare species, not the ecologies that keep both the species and ourselves alive. A zoo tends not to focus on Climate Change, though I’m sure it considers it as part of the mix.

We should be asking ourselves some important questions about wildlife before continuing business as usual. First, why do we need zoos in the first place? They are a medieval entertainment frivolity that constantly needs to justify itself in the modern world. When you take wildlife, those creatures who helped define their/our environment, and stick them in a zoo, they become mere living artifacts. What is a polar bear without the Arctic? Why are we trying to save instances of species that will never be able to return to their environment because Climate Change is changing that environment, maybe forever?

Surely a nature program would be at least as educational as observing animals caged in prisons, totally out of their element? At least a nature program can connect the dots between wildlife and their environment and Climate Change in situ. Why don’t we put our efforts into saving the Arctic (which is disappearing very quickly) and many other environments around the world that are in extreme danger?  Why can’t field conservation work be done via the DEC supported by tax dollars allocated for adapting to and mitigating Climate Change instead of the DEC getting funded by folks paying for licenses to ‘harvest’ and fish our wildlife? (‘Harvest’ is a wonderful euphemism for killing things dead with a bullet. Imagine if the media adopted this word when talking about terrorism and war.)

We are at a crucial point in saving wildlife, as Climate Change is already changing our wildlife’s environment. The answer is not a better zoo. The answer is to address wildlife issues under a comprehensive plan to address Climate Change. Should our tax dollars go to medieval forms of hospice or for actually helping those creatures who defined our environment so that they can continue to do so?

Saving our wildlife does not and should not have to be orchestrated from our zoos. Our efforts should be directed from our state and federal environmental agencies who should be giving top priority to protecting our wildlife/ecologies in a time of warming. But this vital connection is still getting buried by our present desire for wildlife as entertainment. Our tax dollars would be better spent protecting our environment so we don’t feel compelled to place our wildlife in sanctuaries, where there is no place for them to go when they get out.

Time passes.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Can Rochester journalism dare speak the name ‘Climate Change’?

 

CCNameSThe question is NOT why The Guardian (one of the largest media in the world) is putting Climate Change front and center; It’s why aren’t all the other media doing so also? The media industry is bemoaning the loss of journalism as a career, but the reason journalism is tanking is that most journalism has devolved into a lapdog for businesses, sports, politicians, and pet owners, instead of ferreting out the most important news the public needs to know: Climate Change.

Climate change: why the Guardian is putting threat to Earth front and centre As global warming argument moves on to politics and business, Alan Rusbridger explains the thinking behind our major series on the climate crisis Journalism tends to be a rear-view mirror. We prefer to deal with what has happened, not what lies ahead. We favour what is exceptional and in full view over what is ordinary and hidden. Famously, as a tribe, we are more interested in the man who bites a dog than the other way round. But even when a dog does plant its teeth in a man, there is at least something new to report, even if it is not very remarkable or important. There may be other extraordinary and significant things happening – but they may be occurring too slowly or invisibly for the impatient tick-tock of the newsroom or to snatch the attention of a harassed reader on the way to work. (March 6, 2015) The Guardian

The tick-tock of Climate Change is moving relentless on even in Rochester. But you would be hard- pressed to discover what that means here. What does Climate Change portend here, how do we adapt to it, and how do we act on a scale and speed that will matter? What are the changes already observed here, what are the changes coming locally, what are we doing about it, what can we do about it, how does this mother of all problems influence our politics, our infrastructure, wildlife, poverty, and public health?  Like Florida, where there’s a ban on officials mentioning this powerful word, other communities like Rochester are OK with dealing with the symptoms of this warming (as they must) but not its causes. Because our media has been unable or unwilling to tackle Climate Change, this term, like many other terms, has taken on mythical powers that get in the way of solutions:

What Voldemort and Climate Change Have in Common At Hogwarts and in Florida, respectively, the threatening phenomena must not be named. For Oscar Wilde and his fellow aesthetes of Victorian England, there was the love that dare not speak its name. For the wary wizards and witches of Harry Potter’s world, there was he-who-must-not-be-named. And for Florida bureaucrats, there is the phenomenon that cannot be named, in spite of the fact many of them are attempting to prepare for its inevitable effects on the low-lying land. An in-depth report by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, published Sunday in the Miami Herald, reports officials in the state’s Department of Environmental Protection “have been ordered not to use the term ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’ in any communications, e-mails, or reports.” (March 10, 2015) Pacific Standard

You’ll have to go somewhere other than Rochester’s media to find about Climate Change because our media dares not say the name of Climate Change. (Warning: blatant self-serving mention coming!) You can go to my site, RochesterEnvironment.com, which has connected the dots on this issue since 1998. You can take a free online course, like I am, “Changing Weather and Climate in the Great Lakes Region” by University of Wisconsin–Madison on Coursera. Not only do you get the facts and data about our region’s weather and climate, you get a great opportunity to converse with folks all over the world on how this issue is being experienced and addressed in their neck of the woods. You can read Climate Change briefs so you can get the basics about this worldwide crisis--check out the National Academics’ “Climate Change: Evidence, Impacts, and Choices.” You can read all these Climate Change studies and go to all these media around the world, but alas you will be stymied if you want to get informed about it from your local media.

Climate Change should come home to Rochester so we can address it in situ. Local journalists should actually be our ‘watch dogs, search through mounds of data, identify problems in our community, and hold our public officials accountable’.

Introducing our new NYDatabases website This weekend we're launching a new website called NYDatabases.com, a collaboration among journalists at Gannett news outlets across New York state and our news bureau in Albany. It's an expansion of the work we started in Rochester more than five years ago, a website called RocDocs, which housed searchable collections of information related to local events. This new site will help us expand those efforts statewide, and help our team of watchdog reporters work together to bring you enhanced coverage of statewide issues. As journalists, we work with mountains of data to help us spot trends, identify problems in our community and to hold public officials accountable. We've been publishing these sorts of data sets to enable readers to dive deeper into subjects of interest. (March 13, 2015) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

They aren’t. Rare is the day a public official gets asked by local media what they are doing to combat Climate Change. I doubt our politicians, even within their own parties, will say the word amongst themselves. No one is pressing them to do so. Never does our media connect the dots between local efforts to address Climate Change and worldwide efforts. In fact, go to the database mentioned above [NYDatabases.com] and type in “Climate Change” or even “Climate”. Nothing. This new database dares not mention the name.

There is no excuse for the dearth of Climate Change news locally. These folks from the Yale project on Climate Change Communication focus entirely on closing the gap between climate science and informing the public. If you don’t have time to check out the whole site or watch this informative video, here’s the very short version: “The Big Five facts of Climate Change: It’s real, it’s us, it’s bad, scientists agree, and there’s hope.” (From Anthony Leiserowitz on the public's perception of climate change - MIT Climate CoLab conference)

Getting back to The Guardian, let’s get a sense of the level of change in journalism that needs to happen.

Find a new way to tell the story' - how the Guardian launched its climate change campaign Climate change is the biggest story journalism has never successfully told. The Guardian’s editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger, has decided to change that. This podcast series follows Rusbridger and his team as they set out to find a new narrative on the greatest threat to humanity Climate change is the biggest threat to humanity. Yet journalism has struggled for two decades to tell a story that doesn’t leave the public feeling disheartened and disengaged. This podcast series lets you behind the scenes as the Guardian’s editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger, and team set out to find a new narrative. Recording as we go, you’ll hear what works, as well as our mistakes. Is there a new way to make the world care? (March 12, 2015) The Guardian

Journalism will thrive and flourish just fine once it gets relevant and starts focusing on the greatest threat to humanity. There are other mediums to express our enthusiasm over non-critical issues. But for local journalism to survive, it needs to speak the name of our greatest issue: Climate Change.

Time passes.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Rochester’s pets and our past, present, and future

 

CCNotFineSIf we thought like our pet dogs and cats, moment to moment, we’d be forgiven if we thought this winter snow will never melt. Our sidewalks will be forever clogged, our roofs will continually sag, and those darn ice dams would be a permanent fixture of our homes. But we know the days will get warmer, the snow will melt, and more than likely Earth Day (April 22nd) will be snow free. While we pine away for the prospects of a warm, green Earth Day in Rochester, we can find at least a few minutes to ponder our past, present, and future.

I know, this is taking on a lot for a short essay. So, I’ll just cover a few highlights. We are born, we live, and then we die. But that doesn’t really cover it. We live in the past, present, and future--in our minds. But actually, just like our pets, we only ‘live’ in the present. If anything goes wrong in the present, our past and future vanish. That’s why we invented planning. We use past knowledge to help us plan now for the future.

Our pets don’t plan (although they will merrily salivate at the prospect of food). If our world were to end tomorrow, our pets wouldn’t care today. They’d just continue to stare out the window at the cold and ice. We would care, though. One of our most basic assumptions that we all entertain, no matter what our beliefs, is that life here on Earth will go on after we die. Everything we do will carry on in a sense through our children, our books, our good works, etc. This assumption about our past, present and future makes our lives meaningful.

Climate Change may interrupt all this. If, as 97% of climate scientists warn, we don’t stop greenhouse gas emissions from increasing now and plan to adapt for the changes already coming in the future (because we didn’t deal with this in the past), all this mental time traveling will be over.

In our present, we are banning Fracking in New York State. Many of those who helped stop that bad energy option are now planning for better energy options that won’t warm up the planet. These folks are asking the question: Can those who assembled to stop something bad come together to start something good? Also in our present, bomb trains continue to detonate because too many of us are living only in the present. Note: In China’s present, they are trying to come to terms with having planned for their future using past development: “Chai Jing's review: Under the Dome – Investigating China’s Smog.”

In the future, the COP21 Paris Climate treaty will attempt to “achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world” (Wikipedia). Much from our past stands in the way of a happy treaty outcome in December. The accumulated attempts to force our past into our future (see “Merchants of Doubt” coming to a screen near you) and a whole lot of business as usual thinking will assure a bleak future indeed.

In Rochester’s immediate future (April 21), we’ll have Dr. Hansen, world-renowned climate scientist and activist, come and explain some of this: “Climate, Energy, and Intergenerational Justice.”

Our pets, wonderful creatures we designed (bred) to love us, will continue to ‘love’ us regardless of how we act in the present towards our future—even though they will share our destiny. Our children, those wonderful creatures who will be as capable of thinking in the past, present, and future as ourselves, may not be so understanding.

Time passes.