Sunday, January 31, 2016

Why Climate Action Plans (CAP) are so important for every community

An increasing number of US cities have adopted a Climate Action Plan (CAP). Just to name a few: Portland, Oregon; Chicago, Illinois; Boston, Massachusetts; and Minneapolis, Minnesota have adopted rigorous plans that define the threats Climate Change poses to their cities and how they plan to approach these issues.

Although Climate Change is going to warm our planet’s entire atmosphere, it’s going to affect each community differently. Increasingly, cities will experience some combination of water shortages, more flooding, more public health issues due to their particular geography, finances, populations, and infrastructures.  So every community should have their own CAP.  

A CAP isn’t just a sustainability plan that includes Climate Change; it’s a climate action plan that defines how sustainability must be viewed through the lens of Climate Change. For example, existing infrastructures—highways, water pipes—must not only be maintained, they must be made more resilient for the challenges coming.

A CAP is an official acknowledgement that our collective attempts at sustainability must be tailored to a quickly warming world, not simply carrying on in the previous world where the prevailing opinion was that humanity’s actions didn’t disrupt our environment (our life support system) much.

A CAP should identify sources of a community’s greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions, which makes it more likely we will find solutions for reducing a community’s carbon footprint.

A CAP should identify those members of the community who are most vulnerable to the local effects of Climate Change. For example, in a heat wave it is critical that there is a system in place to identify and inform isolated folks who need to get relief from the heat. 

A CAP can bring to the local public’s attention the specific ways this worldwide crisis affects them. This increases the likelihood that climate disruptions around the world will bring humanity together under a common threat, making solutions possible when we work together.

A CAP provides an opportunity for various elements in our society to make their voices heard, their vulnerabilities known, and their actions inclusive. For example, folks in a poor neighborhood should have representation in a CAP to facilitate actions by the larger community that will actually work for all on a level and time frame that will matter.

A CAP represents to the local media a way to measure the actions of our public officials against the plans in place to address Climate Change. A CAP would also alert the local media that connecting the dots between Climate Change and local climate disruptions are now a continual part of their job description.

A CAP closes the door on climate denial. For example, a CAP sends a message to the public that their leaders understand the science behind this worldwide crisis and are ready to act in the public’s interests. Climate denial then becomes the pariah message that it is, allowing peer pressure to stop it altogether.

A CAP connects one community to another with solutions that may be accelerated and fortified by sharing tactics and strategies. For example, solar power is understood as a wonderful energy option that will provide many jobs and significantly reduce GHG emissions. But many local codes and large utilities hamper efforts for this decentralized energy option. A CAP could level the playing field for renewable energy options and help clear away obstacles thrown down by those who want fossil-fueled business as usual.

A CAP sends a message to the public that many long-term projects to maintain and fortify their infrastructures for more extreme conditions will require their understanding, patience, and support for adequate adaptation.

A CAP sets the stage for the business community that makes environmental regulations and practices predictable. A CAP can also suggest to many new businesses the proper direction for new products that will help a community adapt.  

A CAP helps the public understand that many of their activities—what they buy, what they eat, and how they travel—are integrally related to our communal effort to address Climate Change. 

A CAP, however, is just a piece of paper with no legal authority.

But then so is the Declaration of Independence.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Rochester People’s Climate Coalition (RPCC) is addressing Climate Change in Rochester, NY

Something extraordinary is happening in Rochester, NY. As group of folks tried to get some media attention about sending two busloads of Rochesterians to the September 21, 2014 People’s Climate March in New York City, a rapidly growing umbrella organization formed to address Climate Change. 

The Rochester People’s Climate Coalition (RPCC) was formed in September 2014 to mobilize our community to attend the People’s Climate March in New York City.  Within a few weeks, 30+ member organizations joined the coalition, including businesses, churches, political offices, environmental groups, and other nonprofits.  The RPCC continues to grow, collaborate, and build political power.  For a full list of member organizations and information on how to join the coalition, see here.”

A year later, RPCC has grown to over 60 coalition organizations with a proud list of accomplishments:

  • ·         Candidate Forum 2015: While much of our local media ignored the connections that Climate Change has on our candidates for public office, the RPCC hosted a widely-attended forum that compelled our potential leaders to defend their positions on Climate Change.
  • ·         Rochester March for Global Climate Action: The RPCC joined a worldwide effort to support strong leadership at the COP21 Paris Climate Conference, which resulted in the Paris Agreement. To get a sense of the energy and passion behind this effort that got over 500 people in Rochester into their streets, check out the event’s Facebook page.  
  • ·      Twelve Days of Climate: While the Paris negotiations were going on, the RPCC conducted 12 days of local action programs to keep local attention on the historic Paris meeting.

Much more, of course, has happened in the background as the group of dedicated and effective RPCC leaders quickly built a coalition that seeks to accelerate and make more effective all local actions on Climate Change. Those efforts are being noticed:

"Rochester was a center of the industrial revolution, and now is becoming a leader in the 21st century drive for a clean energy future. Thanks to the Rochester Peoples Climate Coalition for being out in front!" - Bill McKibben, co-founder, [1]

Coming up this year are myriad events in the Rochester area for Earth Week in an effort to keep the focus on the energy coming out of Paris. While not a perfect deal, the Paris Agreement does provide a lasting formula for all nations of the world to address Climate Change. The RPCC is helping its member groups promote their Earth Day events to engage everyone in our region, so that addressing Climate Change can occur on a level and scale that will actually matter. To keep up on all that the RPCC is doing check their website and Facebook page.  
It matters that the RPCC exists and continues to grow. Just this week, Earth just got another wake-up call on Climate Change.

NASA, NOAA Analyses Reveal Record-Shattering Global Warm Temperatures in 2015 Earth’s 2015 surface temperatures were the warmest since modern record keeping began in 1880, according to independent analyses by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Globally-averaged temperatures in 2015 shattered the previous mark set in 2014 by 0.23 degrees Fahrenheit (0.13 Celsius). Only once before, in 1998, has the new record been greater than the old record by this much. The 2015 temperatures continue a long-term warming trend, according to analyses by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York (GISTEMP). NOAA scientists concur with the finding that 2015 was the warmest year on record based on separate, independent analyses of the data. Because weather station locations and measurements change over time, there is some uncertainty in the individual values in the GISTEMP index. Taking this into account, NASA analysis estimates 2015 was the warmest year with 94 percent certainty. (January 20, 2016) The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Monday, January 18, 2016

Why this Climate Change should be capitalized

In order to prevent confusion between past climate changes and this Climate Change, I humbly suggest that we capitalize this one. There’s something special about today’s Climate Change. It’s not like the other major climate changes, which have occurred throughout our planet’s history. So, for clarification, we should capitalize this manmade, unprecedented climate change event that has warmed the planet since about the mid 1800’s and continues to jeopardize our future.

We often capitalize events that stand out as extraordinary—The Great Depression, the Middle Ages, the McCarthy Era, etc.—where we differentiate the specific from the common, so this wouldn’t really violate grammatical protocol or precedence.

Of course we shouldn’t arbitrarily capitalize words willy-nilly according to our predilections or the whole idea of capitalization will lose its meaning. Reading old texts before the 1800’s can seem like a minefield of Attention-Getting words that no longer have the Impact they had on their Authors, making these old texts not only Difficult to read but oftentimes seeming to border on Hysteria.

However when Climate Change is not capitalized, it loses its special designation and becomes blurred in many people’s mind with events in the distant past. Granted, many deniers purposely confuse this Climate Change with the others, which have been occurring since Earth’s early bacteria generated an atmosphere.  

But this climate change is different, different in a moral and practical way that makes it critical that we don’t confuse it with past climate disruptions, which mostly occurred before humanity graced this planet. We caused this Climate Change. We need to take responsibility for it. And we need to understand it because we won’t discover solutions if we don’t accept the causes. Nor can we talk about sustainability unless we factor in all that Climate Change contains. We didn’t purposely set out to cause this climatic disruption. But the recent Paris Agreement, a worldwide acknowledgement of Climate Change’s importance, elevates this climate change crisis out of the ordinary. 

Climate Change, though it may not prove to be as devastating as the previous five extinction events (which were either a result of a changing climate or caused one) is fundamentally different than all the others. Humanity has arbitrarily carved up our present environment by our various infrastructures—water, transportation, telecommunications, etc.—that are now critical to the lives of seven billion people. These infrastructures will be greatly impacted by Climate Change (more heat and flooding), and in turn these infrastructure breakdowns are going to compromise both our ability and all other living beings’ ability to adapt to this sudden warming. For example, there are precious few studies about how our highway systems have limited both plants’ and animals’ need to keep moving in order for them to retain the environmental conditions that they evolved with. Our predilection to divide up our environment for our purposes instead of following nature’s lead is going to severely constrict our ability to adapt.   

Our pollution of the air, water, and soil with industrial waste (much of which is comprised of compounds never before introduced into our life support system) now exists on an order of magnitude that may jeopardize the health of our environment. Our ubiquitous damming and rerouting of waterways further restricts nature’s ability to adjust to the warming. And we’ve unleashed so many invasive species into our ecosystems that there’s no telling how any adaptation scenario will play out. In other words, humanity would most likely have a major catastrophe coming even if we weren’t also baking this extraordinary mix with our greenhouse gas emissions.

This complexity surrounding Climate Change also explains why it’s difficult to pin down exactly what this Climate Change is and why there are no simple solutions. Climate Change is not your great, great, great, grandmother’s climate change. Giving Climate Change special emphasis by capitalizing it will go far in keeping this phenomenon from becoming buried in the humdrum of things we should care about and escalate it to something we absolutely have to address. 

Time passes.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Spaceship Earth is much more sensitive than we thought

You’ve been traveling around in space for a while and during that time you’ve noticed that the coating on the spaceship’s exterior has been peeling off. Not much. A little here and a little there. On occasions, when your crew wasn’t busy with its mission and keeping the spaceship in working order, someone went outside the ship and touched up the coating. Business as usual. Then, a meteor shoots through your air system and you need to get back to Earth quickly. When you go outside to assess the damage from the meteor you realize that not only has the space fragment torn a hole in the ship but there are a lot of places missing the outside coating that you and your crew haven’t kept up with. At the same time you realize the spaceship will burn up upon reentry if the protective layer isn’t fixed immediately. Now, patching the coating takes top priority, even though there are a lot of other preparations just as critical that need to be made for a safe landing.

One of the great big problems with Climate Change is that Murphy’s Law kicks in with a vengeance. ‘What can go wrong, will go wrong, and at the worst possible moment’ should be on everyone’s mind as they think through what rapidly warming our climate means. However much we do to improve the lives of humanity, if we don’t prioritize taking care of our planet’s protective coating, we are not going to be able to safeguard ourselves from the worst of Climate Change. 

Of course, there have been a lot of climate changes in Earth’s history. But this anthropogenic Climate Change is entirely different. We have caused this sudden warming; we thrived on a cooler planet; we’ve built massive infrastructures that are vulnerable to sudden extreme weather; there are now seven billion of us who depend on a very shaky food-producing, life-giving environment; and normal weather events and climate patterns like El NiƱo get amplified causing far more damage than they could have in the past climate changes.

Climate Chaos, Across the Map What is going on with the weather? With tornado outbreaks in the South, Christmas temperatures that sent trees into bloom in Central Park, drought in parts of Africa and historic floods drowning the old industrial cities of England, 2015 is closing with a string of weather anomalies all over the world. The year, expected to be the hottest on record, may be over at midnight Thursday, but the trouble will not be. Rain in the central United States has been so heavy that major floods are beginning along the Mississippi River and are likely to intensify in coming weeks. California may lurch from drought to flood by late winter. Most serious, millions of people could be threatened by a developing food shortage in southern Africa. (December 30, 2015) New York Times

We have unleashed a new climate paradigm upon our life support system that we barely understand. Two recent items in the news capture novel aspects of Climate Change besides the long list of things going wrong with our weather.

The first is an article by renowned climate scientist, Michael Mann, about how we went about choosing the wrong baseline for the Paris Agreement. In this article (below), Mann seriously challenges using the average between 1850 and 1900 as “an inappropriate baseline … for defining the “pre-industrial.”” Mann thinks a hundred years earlier is a more appropriate baseline from which to measure CO2 increases. An accurate baseline is important because anything else is delusional.

Michael Mann: How Close Are We to ‘Dangerous’ Planetary Warming? In the wake of the COP 21 UN climate summit in Paris, a number of important questions still remain unanswered. Take for example the commitment reached by the 197 participating nations to limit warming below the “dangerous” level of 2C relative to pre-industrial time (neglecting for the time being the aspirational goal of a substantially lower 1.5C limit acknowledged in recognition of the danger posed to low-lying island nations). The question immediately arises: How much time do we have until we reach the danger zone? How close are we to the 2C warming limit? It has been widely reported that 2015 will be the first year where temperatures climbed to 1C above the pre-industrial. That might make it seem like we’ve got quite a ways to go until we breach the 2C limit. But the claim is wrong. We exceeded 1C warming more than a decade ago. The problem is that here, and elsewhere, an inappropriate baseline has been invoked for defining the “pre-industrial.” The warming was measured relative to the average over the latter half of the 19th century (1850-1900). In other words, the base year implicitly used to define “pre-industrial” conditions is 1875, the mid-point of that interval. Yet the industrial revolution and the rise in atmospheric CO2 concentrations associated with it, began more than a century earlier. (December 24, 2015) EcoWatch

If we think we can continue to increase greenhouse gases because we have chosen the wrong baseline, no amount of human consensus can change the consequences. If you think you can drive to your grandmother’s house for Christmas from your sister’s house on a half tank of gas, but realize your sister’s house is not where you thought it was, then you’d better recalculate. You may run out of gas. Trying to establish the proper baseline for addressing Climate Change is going to be tricky because our climate models are getting better and we are continually learning more about how our climate responds to changes. So, thinking we can pick just any baseline and then assume we have an accurate window where we can keep plowing more greenhouse gases into our atmosphere is a very dangerous delusion indeed. We’d better get our science right—and then we should get our politicians and media to listen to our scientists.  

The other story is about how sensitive climate is to an increase in CO2.

Earth's climate more sensitive to CO2 than previously thought, study finds Ancient climates on Earth may have been more sensitive to carbon dioxide than was previously thought, according to new research from Binghamton University.  A team of Binghamton University researchers including geology PhD student Elliot A. Jagniecki and professors Tim Lowenstein, David Jenkins and Robert Demicco examined nahcolite crystals found in Colorado's Green River Formation, formed 50 million years old during a hothouse climate. They found that CO2 levels during this time may have been as low as 680 parts per million (ppm), nearly half the 1,125 ppm predicted by previous experiments. The new data suggests that past predictions significantly underestimate the impact of greenhouse warming and that Earth's climate may be more sensitive to increased carbon dioxide than was once thought, said Lowenstein. (November 16, 2015)

Climate Change has forced us to learn a lot more about how our planet responds to a sudden warming. Learning, for example, that Earth's climate is more sensitive to CO2 than previously thought after we have already warmed the planet considerably and not heeded decades of warnings means that we have to respond much quicker than we thought. This hammers home the question: Are we going to drive our efforts to address Climate Change by heeding scientific information? Or are we going to proceed regardless of the warnings and a continual indifference to new information?  If so, then we will only be able to chronicle our plight in hindsight because our chances to make the proper turns at the right times have passed us by.

What appears by many to be merely a dreary litany of disasters claimed to be Climate Change -related are actually indicators that our protective layer on Spaceship Earth is peeling away. And while these terrible events have been occurring, our greater understanding of Climate Change reveals that all along our planet has been much more sensitive to warming than we have anticipated.

It isn’t hopeless. But if our reactions to these indicators and new understandings of the problem continue to be chronic hopelessness and denial it may well get very miserable. 

Time passes.