Saturday, May 30, 2015
Sunday, May 24, 2015
Mothers Out Front and People of Albany United for Safe Energy (PAUSE) hosted an informative meeting Sunday (5/16/2015) on the dangers of Bomb Trains (railroad’s term not ours) that included a litany of explosive oil train derailments (9 since July of 2013) that have already caused much damage and some loss of life. One of the things we learned about the oil trains passing through Rochester is that we are going to need evacuation plans here and elsewhere.
These trains detonate (they truly explode in a spectacular fire ball) because in order to get this thick crude oil into the trains the goo is pressurized with volatile gases. It doesn’t take much to set them off. When they do explode into massive fireballs that rise spectacularly into the sky, emergency crews’ attempts to rescue folks and decouple the cars to prevent even greater explosions is severely hampered by scorching heat and deadly fumes. And because our railroads are riddled with old rails and deteriorating bridges that are not equipped to hold these heavy loads, these Bomb Trains are more prone to derailments.
Actually, considering that travel loads of liquid fuels have increased dramatically, and that our roads, highways, rails, and bridges are getting worse, it’s only a matter of time before this transportation system breaks down altogether. No one wants to pay the cost for maintaining this old infrastructure and so it deteriorates. Exploding Bomb Trains are simply the most remarkably insane component of this continual descent into a hole of negligence caused by our addiction to a fossil fuels. We have a problem.
Report: Rural bridges in NY among worst in U.S. A new report finds rural bridges in New York State are the 15th worst in the country. This comes from TRIP, a national transportation research group. (May 20, 2015) WHEC Rochester
This is all to say that these trains carrying Bakken crude from North Dakota through Buffalo and Rochester and Syracuse to Albany (where a great big fossil fuel hub is being created) are a clear and present danger to our communities. When these trains detonate, our communities are going to have to be able to evacuate immediately. Not only can these explosions keep burning through these unit trains (bomb trains all hitched together) where more and more of them explode, the toxic air from the explosions is too lethal to breathe.
Even if the proposed regulations for more robust train cars and more safety regulations were implemented, it probably won’t do much good because some past derailments already had these retrofits:
“Tougher tankers, though, are not a cure-all either. The tankers involved in Monday’s derailment in West Virginia were not DOT-111s but the more modern CPC-1232 model. The supposedly more robust tankers still ruptured and exploded.” onEarth
What are area plans to quickly remove a lot of folks (could be in the thousands) in our communities when these explosions occur? For, they are going to occur. You can bet your bottom dollar. Federal Rail Administration official Karl Alexy has noted publicly that “[a]t train speeds of 30 to 40 mph, you cannot build a tank car robust enough to withstand puncture in unit train derailments.” (“Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration”, September 30, 2014)
Local groups are challenging the logic of putting our citizens in danger by transporting these Bomb Trains through our communities.
Mothers talk about oil train dangers At least 24 oil trains have been involved in major fires or derailments over the past decade in the U.S. and Canada. It’s a topic of concern for the group Mothers Out Front. They met on Sunday in Brighton to discuss the issue of how oil is transported. In Monroe County, dozens of trains carrying crude oil pass through our communities. Recently, federal regulators set new guidelines for the railroad industry, but some environmental groups say the new rules don’t go far enough. (May 18, 2015)WHAM
But why isn’t everyone protesting these dangerous Bomb Trains? Who in their right mind would find this situation where these potentially explosive trains run through our towns and near our public schools acceptable? And, why aren’t we focusing on renewable energy instead of Bomb Trains after New York finally rid itself of Fracking in a time of Climate Change?
There are some craven arguments that the reason for these Bomb Trains is that environmentalists keep stopping pipelines, which are much safer. Please. Check here for a list of hundreds of oil spills this century, and, of course there was this one this week:
Wildlife, pristine beaches focus of 'aggressive' oil spill cleanup Oil pipeline company officials said Wednesday that as many as 105,000 gallons of crude oil may have spilled from a ruptured pipeline on the California coast. The 24-inch pipeline ruptured along the Santa Barbara coast, leaking the oil near Refugio State Beach, a protected state park, just before Memorial Day weekend marks the start of the summer tourist season. Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline based the estimate -- what it called a worst-case scenario -- on the typical flow rate of oil and the elevation of the pipeline, said Rick McMichael, the company's director of pipeline operations. (May 20, 2015) CNN
Saturday, May 16, 2015
I’ve been skimming through the 2015 Climate Action Plan (actually a comment draft) for Portland, Oregon. It’s very readable—full of photos and graphs and bullet points—easy to skim and get the gist: these folks are freaking serious about addressing Climate Change. It’s no wonder; Portland has been at this sort of thing for some time:
“In 1993, Portland was the first U.S. city to create a local action plan for cutting carbon. Portland’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) is a strategy to put Portland and Multnomah County on a path to achieve a 40 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050 (compared to 1990 levels). The plan builds upon a legacy of forward-thinking climate protection initiatives by the City of Portland and Multnomah County that have resulted in significant total and per person reductions in local carbon emissions.” The City of Portland, Oregon Climate Action Plan
Increasingly, those who have been keeping up with the worldwide Climate Change disaster are realizing that individual actions won’t matter much if they are not organized and guided from a top-down approach. Left to their own, individuals in the aggregate tend not to do the right thing unless it is profitable, convenient, or regulated. I know, this kind of thinking puts libertarians (a strain of selfishness writ large) into a tizzy. But there is so much historical evidence that the unfettered quenching of desires without limits is suicidal on a finite planet that it’s not even funny.
What Portland’s plan does is put their efforts in a historical context, so they can measure their progress. The 2015 plan is one among many. The plan works with state, federal, and worldwide efforts. The plan also demonstrates the need for communities to work together to combat Climate Change, so they are not working against each other—stepping on each other’s efforts.
At the local level, Portland focuses on many of the challenges Climate Change brings to a community:
“Understanding Portland’s Carbon Emissions | Climate Action through Equity |A More Prosperous, Healthy and Equitable Portland |Buildings and Energy |Urban Form and Transportation |Consumption and Solid Waste |Food and Agriculture | Urban Forest, Natural Systems and Carbon Sequestration | Climate Change Preparation |Community Engagement, Outreach and Education |Local Government Operations | Implementation |Climate Action Plan Development Process” 2015 Climate Action Plan Chapters
The most salient points that caught my eye are the need to engage the poor and minority groups who contribute less to the problem, suffer most of the consequences, and are least able to deal with them; the role that transportation and buildings have in spewing out most of the greenhouse gas emissions (which allows for very measureable solutions); the importance of providing more canopy cover and carbon sinks with urban forests; creating a job Mecca with new green technology; and how recycling and solid waste figure into the Climate Change equations. But most important of all is how all these elements of Climate Change fit together and provide a circle of concerns and solutions that connect everyone in the community. You cannot solve Climate Change alone, but you can if everyone is pitching in with you and working from the same plan.
Lovely Warren, Rochester, NY’s mayor, recently announced the finishing up of our Climate Change action plan. Our first. We praise Mayor Warren for planning for this worldwide crisis.
City eyes plan to curb climate change Rochester officials want a concrete plan for the city to have less of an impact on the planet's changing climate. Mayor Lovely Warren submitted legislation to City Council last week to tap a $100,000 state grant and $9,000 in city funds to hire architectural and engineering design firm Bergmann Associates develop a city-wide plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The finished climate action plan would set a target to reduce emissions in Rochester over time and lay out specific ways to meet that goal. (May 1, 2015) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
We encourage the mayor to be bold. Besides hiring firms to design and engineer adaptation strategies, we call on the mayor to engage the entire community in this effort to address Climate Change.
We ask the mayor to invite many other groups to the table, including local community leaders, faith leaders, active transportation groups, the media, university leaders, and environmental leaders—who, by the way, just brought in world renowned climate scientist Dr. Hansen to speak to our community during Earth Week 2015 about the certainty of science on the Climate Change crisis.
There is much to be done to get Rochester ready for adaptation to Climate Change and helping to be a part of this worldwide effort. If the public is brought into these climate action discussions, there is a far better chance that an informed and engaged public will support the mayor in most of her efforts to make Rochester climate-change-ready. There’s a far better chance that volunteers will volunteer (like they do for Clean Sweep) knowing their individual efforts are a part of a very big effort.
Getting Rochester’s public transportation and our entire transportation system fixed so it can accommodate more pedestrians, more bicyclists, and more folks on our buses, has a more likely chance to succeed if the public is made a partner in the climate solutions—instead of outsourcing efforts to a small group of experts. (How about selling off the tragedy that is our new transit center and using the proceeds for more bus shelters that are heated, lit, go to all points in the city and county without unnecessarily going downtown?)
Allowing vacant City buildings to be used by volunteers and provide them books, programs, and pamphlets to educate the public on Climate Change adaptation strategies would help the mayor inform a great number of folks who our local media has not reached. Many of the problems Rochester is facing can be not only alleviated, but actually healed, by choreographing much of our efforts towards poverty, jobs, public health, clean water, transportation upgrades, clean air, energy efficiency, and clean energy through the lens of Climate Change—much in the way that Portland has done.
The public must see the City of Rochester addressing Climate Change and that our community is an integral part of the solutions. On Climate Change, leadership is crucial.
Sunday, May 10, 2015
Recently, we (humanity) has just dallied past a crucial benchmark where the new normal for our atmosphere is 400ppm of C02. The last time CO2 levels reached this figure was 650,000 years ago.
“The 400 parts per million CO2 threshold was already passed at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Observatory in 2013. But this is the first time that the global average crossed the symbolic milestone.” from (New GLOBAL Record for CO2 Concentration 400ppm Red Line Crossed in March (May 7th, 2015, UN Climate Change Newsroom.)
I mention this benchmark because recently a reader complained of my condescending attitude in my essays towards humanity’s inaction on Climate Change. She encouraged me to offer hope and solutions, instead of complaining. I’ll admit I do find humanity’s attitude towards this unprecedented crisis baffling, oftentimes wondering if we are really the brainy species we continually claim to be as we continually warm a burning planet. As for hope, what would that be based on?
Bomb trains continue to explode and yet we keep searching for ways to make that fossil fuel infrastructure work. Public transportation, one of our most effective ways of moving folks with less GHG emissions, is getting worse, not better in Rochester. Pope Francis talks of the moral imperative of making the next climate talk work while US conservatives push back. We try to increase bicycling in Rochester but we must not say why that’s important other than it’s fun. (The answer is that it can dramatically lower GHG emissions.) We attempt to update our local parks, but don’t ‘balance’ all the interests with Climate Change, which will alter all the natural elements of the park. We’re still focused on biogas (a fossil fuel), instead of composting and replenishing our soil—seemingly far happier with manmade fertilizers that aggravate water pollution, create more harmful algae blooms, and warm the planet with nitric oxide. The Arctic is warming because of Climate Change far faster than climate scientists anticipated and all we want to do is drill for more fossil fuels. Humans. Ya gotta laugh.
I have offered solutions for individuals on addressing Climate Change for almost twenty years. In my essay (an exuberant piece I wrote after my return from the People’s Climate March in September), “After the People’s Climate March, a Rochester manifesto”, I offered about 20 specific activities individuals should be doing on a level and speed that will really help address Climate Change. Granted, these actions are not the usual stuff, as they are based on what I think might actually make a difference instead of what is politically correct. Politically correct actions on Climate Change are framed as special interests; the individual is encouraged to go off someplace and do their own thing and not bother the grownups.
But treating Climate Change as a special interest, where individuals do just what that they like, hasn’t worked. As a matter of fact, because individual actions haven’t worked, the idea of what an individual can do to address Climate Change is changing rapidly.
For all practical purposes, if our government (at all levels) and businesses are not addressing Climate Change, we are not addressing climate change. You cannot fix our transportation system, our air, our water, our land, our media, our infrastructures, our environmental laws, our wildlife, or anything pertaining to Climate Change on a scale and timeframe that will matter. It’s too late. It’s not too late to address Climate Change, it’s just too late to think you and your group can adapt to and mitigate this worldwide crisis without a wholesale change to all of the above with everyone onboard.
I’m not the only one saying individual actions on Climate Change must be transformative. Despite the continual dreary facts from our climate scientists and all the ink being spilled on this subject, we are getting no closer to a solution. Paris looms in December and most individuals in Rochester don’t even know of this conference much less the climate treaty’s significance—or the argument raging about the 2C limit.
Here’s Bill McKibben (writer, activist, and creator of 350.org) speaking recently:
“So, environmentalists have spent, maybe wasted, a lot of time on individual action in the last few years. It's not that they're not important. My house is covered in solar panels and I drive an electric car and eat locally and all of that. But I try not to fool myself that it's changing the outcome here. This is a structural and systemic problem, and so its answer will be structural and systemic. That means that as an individual, the most important thing you can do is not be an individual. It means we need to join with each other in movements. That's why we set up things like 350.org, to give people easy on-ramps into becoming part of this fight because it is a fight.” (Bill McKibben on Earth Day and the Power of Protest April 10, 2015) Living On Earth)
The most important thing you can do is not be an individual?
This is to say we’ve come to a point where Climate Change cannot be solved by just changing your driving, eating, washing, shopping, and all the rest of your habits. It does not mean that what you do doesn’t matter. As a matter of fact everything thing you do matters—practically and morally. But to solve Climate Change at this late date our actions must be supercharged, super-connected, and science-based. However good you may feel about what you are doing to address Climate Change, if your actions are not part of a set of worldwide actions to bring down greenhouse gas emission on a massive scale, then your actions will have no more effect than waving away air pollution with a hand-fan.
Individuals must come together on Climate Change. As Ben Franklin said, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
Saturday, May 02, 2015
800 folks in Rochester, including many of our local leaders, attended the Sierra Club’s forum on ClimatParis matters to Rochester e Change with world-renowned climate scientist Dr. Hansen. This event, one of many during Rochester’s Earth Week 2015, gave a lot of press coverage to the absolute certainty of the dramatic warming that is occurring worldwide. Including: “Summers in particular will be scorching.”
James Hansen's Earth Eve message: Get busy Hansen, now in his mid-70s, has become one of the world's best-known scholars of global warming and a forceful advocate for action. He quit his NASA post two years ago so he could speak out more aggressively against government inaction. He proved a huge draw here. As many as 800 people packed a theater and two overflow rooms at Monroe Community College Tuesday night -- Earth Eve, if you will -- to hear Hansen speak. His message was, in part, very similar to his testimony in 1988, except his one-percent uncertainty is long gone. The global climate is being warmed by the accumulation of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that have been released into the atmosphere, Hansen said. Last year was the warmest year globally on record. This year will be hotter still, he promised. Summers in particular will be scorching. (April 22, 2015) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
On April 14th at the Mauna Loa Observatory, CO2 levels hit 404.67ppm. It’s been a million years since our planet has endured these levels. (Today ((Friday, May 1st) this level is at 400.06ppm of CO2, the highest level in 650,000 years. These levels fluctuate due to our planet’s seasonal ‘breathing’ CO2 in and out, but they are continually arching over 400ppm and getting higher each year.)) If we were truly prioritizing Climate Change, this number would be appearing every day in our local media headlines. Remember: 350ppm is safe, although actually it was 280ppm in the mid-1800’s and for the ten thousand years before that when our species flourished. So this crisis isn’t just about the heat; it’s also about the speed. If you aren’t watching anything else about the Climate Change issue, you might want to watch this part per million of carbon dioxide figure that is the true measure of our climate mitigation. If this figure does not come down soon, nothing else will really matter. It is in this way that Climate Change is the mother of all problems.
A Fearful Glance at the Global Carbon Stores — Weekly CO2 Values Hit 404 Parts Per Million a Little Too Soon (Big jump in weekly CO2 averages during second week of April bring 2015 concentrations into the range of 404 parts per million a month earlier than expected. Image source: The Keeling Curve.) Over the past decade, annual rates of atmospheric CO2 increase have remained in a range of around 2.2 parts per million (ppm) each year. It’s a geologically blinding pace of increase driven by a human carbon emission on the order of around 11 billion tons each and every year. Primarily driven by fossil fuel burning, this massive dumping of carbon into the atmosphere is steadily filling up a number of the world’s key carbon stores. (April 14, 20150 RobertScribbler
Even those who have been responsible for predicting our weather (but dragging their feet for years on Climate Change) are finally getting it: Weathercasters See the Light on Climate Change (April 22, 2015) Pacific Standard.
This brings us to Paris and why Rochester needs to pay attention. Paris, or the COP21 Paris Conference in December, may well be humanity’s last chance to bring our CO2 to sustainable levels.
But rarely, even during this Earth Day in Rochester, has the importance of Paris been mentioned in our media, by local environmental groups, or our government. Why? Why is this monumental tipping point for humanity being ignored at the local level—even though it will have major consequences for everything we will do and hope to do in the future? Why is it that only solutions—driving less, a carbon fee or tax, more solar power—are mentioned without mentioning the very worldwide political structure that will have to succeed if any of those solutions have a prayer of working?
For those paying attention to this historic Paris meeting, some say the 2C (or 3.6F) above preindustrial averages that is the target for Paris is too high and we’ll bake even if we achieve this goal by 2100. Some say 2C is too difficult, that it’ll wreck our economies. Also, many are saying that if Paris fails and we put too much faith in this conference, the whole structure of the world climate talks will fall apart. (This is top US climate negotiator Todd Stern’s concern.) Maybe Paris should switch its measuring metric to parts per million of CO2 (instead of degrees) and shoot for 350, as Dr. Hansen suggests. Who knows?
But without the world coming together soon to address Climate Change, there is little chance for any scheme to fix this worldwide crisis. No carbon fee, tax, or cap will work if the world doesn’t agree to it in a timeframe that will matter. No renewable energy scheme will work unless all governments change the economic structure so that renewable energy will achieve the levels necessary and fossil fuels drop away. No public consensus on Climate Change will be achieved if the public sees their leader’s waffling on Climate Change. The COP21 Paris talks should be in the news every day, including a worldwide dialogue about this critical conference by the media, our government, the public, environmental groups—and how about some attention to this during our political races?
Climate change: Paris 'last chance' for action Scientists are calling on world leaders to sign up to an eight-point plan of action at landmark talks in Paris. The key element is the goal to limit global warming to below 2C by moving to zero carbon emissions by 2050. The UN meeting in December is "the last chance" to avert dangerous climate change, according to the Earth League. Scientific evidence shows this can be achieved, but only with bold action now, says an alliance of climate researchers from 17 institutions. (April 22, 2015) BBC News
Those who think Climate Change should only be addressed from the bottom up, or left to market-based solutions, are forgetting that many of the actions needed can only be provided by governments—including military involvement in the conflicts caused by the social instability that’s already baked into Climate Change. There are many other tasks—working with other countries, making laws, setting emission limits, and changing the economic playing field—that only governments can accomplish. So the COP21 Paris talks must not fail. For all the disparaging rhetoric about the Paris talks, there is no substitute for a successful treaty. The window of opportunity is closing.
Laurent Fabius: Our Climate Imperatives PARIS — Toward the end of this year, France will host the 21st United Nations climate conference. The aim? To reach a universal agreement that will limit the rise in average global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius, compared to the pre-industrial period, by the end of the century. There is real hope for success, but it is an enormous task. As the president of the conference, known as COP21, my role will be to facilitate an ambitious compromise between 195 states (196 parties when we include the European Union). In the negotiations, the differences among countries that are at distinct stages of development necessitate differences of approach. Yet strong common interests unite us. One example is the impact of climate change on our shared security. (April 24, 2015) New York Times
Even the 1.2 billion Catholics are stepping up the pressure for success in Paris, highlighting the moral imperative of addressing Climate Change. People shouldn’t let people perish from indifference.
Pope Francis forces the issue on climate change High-profile climate researchers, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and church officials will gather at the Vatican next week for a conference on climate change. It’s Pope Francis’s latest effort to raise the profile of the issue among churchgoers, and it’s sure to make some Catholics hot under the collar. Since taking the helm of the church in 2013, Pope Francis has stated repeatedly that Christians have a moral obligation to lower carbon emissions. He has spoken frankly about how global warming hits poor, marginalized communities hardest. And he’s announced his intentions to issue, as early as June, a teaching document known as an encyclical which is set to merge the science and theology of climate change. He’s done these things in spite of angry rhetoric from conservative-leaning Catholics. (April 24, 2015) Grist
However, our local Rochester media is mum on Paris and thus failing to inform our local public what humanity is actually accomplishing in this worldwide crisis. (This might explain why our public transportation system is falling apart and why we cannot even fund the proper maintenance of our existing transportation infrastructure—let alone prepare it for more extreme weather.) Our local media are not informing the public about progress on the road to Paris (the state of the Green Climate Fund, or tracking individual nations’ pledges (or INDCs)) which would enable the public to gage for themselves the impact and importance of Paris. Our media is not holding our public officials accountable for their local adaptation efforts. In other words, our local media mentions lowing greenhouse gases, mentions (finally) the crisis, reports on the growing fossil fuel infrastructure (increase of oil trains, gas storage at Seneca Lake) but doesn’t connect the dots on what part local efforts play in the worldwide efforts to adapt to and mitigate Climate Change.
Paris matters to Rochester because in order for our efforts to address Climate Change to matter, we must be part of a worldwide concerted effort—not a small, loose pack of groups who disagree on actions and cannot be held accountable.