Monday, March 28, 2016

Rochester’s environment in 2050 will prosper—if…

Bleak though the prospects for our planet’s environment may because of Climate Change
Rochester could be set to prosper for a while. By 2050 the planet and our Rochester, NY region will be a much warmer place (on average).

There will be more heavy rainfall events (which means more flooding), more tropical disease threats, more damage to our trees as invasive species are able to tolerate our winters, and, of course, more heat. Our local climate will suddenly feel like Virginia’s after it’s been put through a blender (abnormal will be the new normal).

Unpleasant as most of Climate Change’s consequences are, Rochester is not, and probably will not be for a while, experiencing the worst of the disastrous storms, sea level rises, droughts, and life-threatening heat waves already occurring around the world.  
If Rochester acknowledges the threat from Climate Change and begins intense planning, we will be ready for the influx of climate refugees looking for a place with a lot of good water and healthy soil to produce food.

If we re-adapt our energy sources to accommodate renewables (wind and solar power), Rochester’s air will be cleaner and there would be more jobs.

If we use Climate Change as an opportunity to address many of our past environmental abuses, our environment will be in better shape for the vicissitudes of a warmer world.

If we address Climate Change justly, all Rochesterians will prosper.

If our local media connects the dots with the local consequences of Climate Change, the public will be more supportive of their leaders and businesses trying to address this crisis.

If we make it easy and inexpensive to update our old buildings so that they are energy efficient, we’ll have happier and healthier homeowners.

If we update our transportation infrastructures so that they are more robust and resilient, more folks will get to all the new jobs that come with proper planning.

If we pay attention to this worldwide crisis as we did with women’s rights and abolishing slavery, by 2050 Rochester will again be a beacon of hope. 


Sunday, March 20, 2016

Ground rules for deciding on large-scale wind farm placement

Large-scale wind farms (LSWF) in the Great Lakes region are integral to adapting to Climate Change but there is still much local opposition to specific projects. When the NY State Power Authority (NYPA) tried to implement their Great Lakes Offshore Wind (GLOW) program in 2009, they were met with stiff resistance from many effective shoreline property owners. Eventually, NYPA gave up: “NY Power Authority Trustees Vote to End Proposed Great Lakes Offshore Wind Project”. (True, the failure of GLOW may not have hinged on local opposition but there was major resistance. Also, many folks may have forgotten about GLOW because the public’s attention on this renewable energy program was completely hijacked by six-long years of the New York State Fracking fight.)

Things don’t seem to have changed much as opposition mounts against the Apex Clean Energy’s wind power project in Somerset and Yates—Lighthouse Wind. This is particular wind project is an on-land wind project that promises to produce about 200 megawatts of electricity, which is enough to power up to 53,000 homes. The resistance by locals to wind farms isn’t unique to our region; it’s prevalent nationwide. A search for “opposition to wind Power” brings up innumerable articles and anti-wind groups. This article by The Seattle Times presents a good overview of the issue: “As wind power surges, opposition grows”.

These ongoing conflicts present a great conundrum for addressing Climate Change in New York State because there is no doubt that renewable energy (of which LSWF’s are vital) is a critical component. In fact, Governor Cuomo’s green energy plan, Reforming the Energy Vision (REV), includes the Lighthouse Wind project (see Find a REV Project Near You). The Solutions Project for New York, hailed by many environmentalists because it provides a map to 100 % renewable energy by 2030, is highly dependent on LSWF’s. This is a quote from the study from which the Solutions Project is based on:

“Year 2050 end-use U.S. all-purpose load would be met with ~30.9% onshore wind, ~19.1% offshore wind, ~30.7% utility-scale photovoltaics (PV), ~7.2% rooftop PV, ~7.3% concentrated solar power (CSP) with storage, ~1.25% geothermal power, ~0.37% wave power, ~0.14% tidal power, and ~3.01% hydroelectric power. (100% clean and renewable wind, water, and sunlight (WWS) all-sector energy roadmaps for the 50 United States† Mark Z. Jacobson,*a Mark A. Delucchi,b Guillaume Bazouin,a Zack A. F. Bauer,a Christa C. Heavey,a Emma Fisher,a Sean B. Morris,a Diniana J. Y. Piekutowski,a Taylor A. Vencilla and Tim W. Yeskoo)

A business and social movement in New York, NY RENEWS, advocates for “100% clean energy of accessible and affordable 100% clean energy by 2050 with a benchmark goal of 50% by 2030.” Wind power is an important component of this movement to get jobs and energy that won’t warm the planet.

The urgency of addressing Climate Change by reducing greenhouse gases is clear. This from the recently agreed upon Paris Agreement says:

“Recognizing that climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet and thus requires the widest possible cooperation by all countries, and their participation in an effective and appropriate international response, with a view to accelerating the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions,” (Paris Agreement, the United Nations)

It’s doubtful that any real reduction in greenhouse gases can be accomplished without large scale wind projects.

Clean energy is win-win for the US Simply implementing its Paris climate conference commitments on reducing greenhouse gas emissions could save the US billions of dollars – and save hundreds of thousands of lives. Scientists have worked out how the US could save as many as 300,000 lives by 2030, and get a tenfold return on its investments at the same time. It’s simple. All the nation has to do is what it promised to do at the Paris climate conference last December − launch clean energy and transport policies, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds or more, and pursue the international goal of keeping global warming to below 2°C. (March 13, 2016) Climate News Network

Given the critical importance of LSWF’s in addressing Climate Change on a scale that will matter, you’d think the public and environmental groups would have devised a way to make their peace with clean energy. Instead, the battles rage on.

Shouldn’t there be a way for the majority’s desire for clean energy, which includes LSWF’s, to result in actual local implementation?

I suggest baking in some ground rules for the public debate about the local implementation of LSWF’s so that the debates don’t devolve into the same not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) strategies that killed many a fossil-fuel (brown energy) infrastructure. Yes, NIMBY concerns have been important in stopping the historical environmental abuse of projects that impose undue burdens on local residents and businesses for energy options no longer viable on planet that is quickly warming. But how do we transition NIMBY effectiveness so that we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, that is, how do we prioritize renewable energy so that grassroots action can be leveraged toward addressing Climate Change?

These are my proposed ground rules, guidelines that we should all agree upon so we can move forward and ultimately make our way of life sustainable. We accept that:

  • ·         Climate change is real and humans are causing it.
  • ·         100% renewables is key to Climate Change mitigation and large-scale wind projects (on-shore and off-shore) are a necessary component if Western New York State is to achieve anything close to this goal.
  • ·         The Paris Agreement puts a sense of great urgency behind renewable energy production.
  • ·         There is a moral imperative for those regions (developed nations) that were most responsible for producing and using brown energy to now be a major player in producing green energy.

If these ground rules are not accepted by developed countries for addressing for LSWP placement, we are lost. There are two compelling reasons why these ground rules should be accepted: Continual resistance to LSWP’s will dramatically slow down our ability to provide sufficient clean energy for a growing population and at some point governments will inevitably institute more powerful rules for LSWP placement. Our need to adapt to Climate Change will force our governments’ hands. Already, our government uses Eminent domain to take over private property for the public good. As the consequences of Climate Change become more dear, government policies to protect the public are more likely to reflect that urgency.

It’s also important to note that the National Audubon Society, arguably the strongest advocate group for healthy bird populations, understands that that the ultimate threat to birds is not wind turbines but Climate Change:

Audubon's Position on Wind Power “Audubon strongly supports properly sited wind power as a renewable energy source that helps reduce the threat posed to birds and people by climate change. However, we also advocate that wind power facilities should be planned, sited, and operated in ways that minimize harm to birds and other wildlife, and we advocate that wildlife agencies should ensure strong enforcement of the laws that protect birds and other wildlife.” (Audubon)

The moral imperative for wind placement in our area comes about as a simple case of fairness. It’s getting hot but not evenly all over the world. The countries most responsible for the heating are not reaping the worst consequences. Human conflict will increase as the temperatures rise and the human body has a limit to how much heat it can tolerate. Anthropogenic CO2 emissions are the cause of Climate Change and the low latitudes will soon become inhospitable if we continue business as usual. In this article by Dr. James Hansen, one of our greatest climate scientists provides his most pithy and cogent arguments on the need for Climate Change action, detailing the inherent unfairness: 

Regional Climate Change and National Responsibilities Global warming of about 1°F (0.6°C) over the past several decades now "loads the climate dice." Fig. 1 updates the "bell curve" analysis of our 2012 paper for Northern Hemisphere land, which showed that extreme hot summers now occur noticeably more often than they did 50 years ago. Our new paper shows that there are strong regional variations in this bell curve shift, and that the largest effects occur in nations least responsible for causing climate change. In the United States the bell curve shift is just over one standard deviation in summer and less than half a standard deviation in winter (Fig. 2). Measured in units of °F (or °C) the warming is similar in summer and winter in the U.S., but the practical implication of Fig. 2 is that the public in the U.S. should notice that summers are becoming hotter but is less likely to notice the change in winter. Summers cooler than the average 1951-1980 summer still occur, but only ~19% of the time. Extreme summer heat, defined as 3 standard deviations or more warmer than 1951-1980 average, which almost never occurred 50 years ago, now occur with frequency about 7%. (March 2, 2016) The Huffington Post 

Having said all this, I am not arguing for or against any particular LSWF project. There are many ways that LSWP can be made more accommodating to locals. Germany and other countries that have successfully implemented LSWP’s have used a variety of financial incentives including community choice aggregation (public utilities) that don’t result in a single, large industrial company taking charge.

What’s happening now is very corrosive because, in their efforts to stop LSWPs, locals are injecting climate denial rhetoric into their campaigns, thereby encouraging more fossil fuel use and infrastructure. The argument that we want green energy but not in our backyard must change soon if we intend to adapt to a warmer world.  

Time passes. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Media often misses Climate Change in Great Lakes ice coverage

Starting around 1970 Great Lakes ice coverage began decreasing because of Climate Change. Then ice coverage spiked upwards in the winters of 2013/2014 and 2014/2015. There has been less ice coverage this winter, harking back to the overall trend towards less ice on the Great Lakes. You wouldn’t know this if you only paid attention to some local news whose weather myopia blinds their readers to the big picture.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

Great Lakes ice cover: See the dramatic difference a year makes What a difference a year can make when it comes to weather on the Great Lakes. That also means ice cover can vary greatly. There is a vast difference in the amount of ice on the Great Lakes now compared to this time last year. Currently, the Great Lakes in total are covered with only 9.7 percent ice. This time last year the Great Lakes were 83.2 percent covered with ice. This means there was 70,300 square miles more ice at this time last year. (March 8, 2016) Michigan Live

While it is true that “ice cover can vary greatly,” this article is very misleading because the article only focuses on last winter and this winter.

Here’s another example of short-sighted ice coverage by the media; this time back in 2014 when ice cover shifted dramatically upwards. The article obsesses about the almost record high but doesn’t put this anomaly in perspective.

Freeze pushes Great Lakes ice cover toward '79 record The Great Lakes are on the cusp of a record for ice cover - but if the record does stand another winter we can blame Lake Ontario.” “The ice cover on other lakes, including Lake Superior, Huron and Michigan, though, has increased from 79.7% to 88.4% just in the past week, putting the region close to the record of almost 95% set in February 1979, according to data compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor.” (February 14, 2014 Rochester Democrat and Chronicle)

Not all media get it wrong. This article appeared before the 2013/2014 hard winter. 

Shrinking ice worries Great Lakes scientists Winter ice cover has decreased 70% since 1970s. Why? Great Lakes ice is shrinking. Ice cover has decreased nearly 70% on the five Great Lakes since the early 1970s, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The five Great Lakes hold 20% of the world's fresh water and have more than 11,000 miles of shoreline. Every one of the lakes has endured the winter meltdown: Lake Ontario saw the most dramatic decrease with an 88% drop in ice coverage. Lake Superior lost 76% of its ice. Lake Michigan saw a decrease of 77%. Lake Huron's ice has decreased 62%. Lake Erie, the shallowest of the lakes and therefore the first to freeze every year, lost half of its ice cover. Scientists blame global warming. Hotter days mean warmer water. (March 7, 2013) USA Today)

Information from the experts on Great Lakes ice coverage is not misleading at all. It’s very clear where the trend is going. But the general public doesn’t read climate experts’ data, they attend to the mass media. Here’s the information about Great Lakes ice coverage from just one expert group:  

Great Lakes Ice Coverage From 1973 to 2010, annual average ice coverage on the Great Lakes declined by 71%. From 1975 through 2004, the number of days with land snow cover decreased by 15 days, and the average snow depth decreased by 2 inches (5.1 cm). Snow and ice levels on the Great Lakes and on land will likely continue to decrease. Reduced lake freezing will result in more exposed water that could increase lake-effect precipitation. Ice coverage declined by 71% overall on all five Great Lakes and Lake St. Clair since from 1973-2010. Total losses of annual lake ice coverage varied from lake to lake, ranging from 37% in Lake St. Clair and 50% in Lake Erie to 88% in Lake Ontario. Though the long-term trend has been downward, high ice winters, such as 2013-2014 and 2014-2015, can still occur and illustrate the complexity of this system. (The Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments Program (GLISA))

Great Lakes ice coverage presents the media with an excellent opportunity to educate the public about the seemingly confusing yearly weather trends against the backdrop of Climate Change. A melting Arctic, which often pushes jet streams into our region, can make it appear as if our winter temperatures and ice cover are bouncing all over the place. A step back in perspective clearly shows that the trend in our weather is matching the predictions of Climate Change. A media that properly characterizes what’s going on with our wacky weather will better inform the public (and businesses) so they can make better choices in a warming world. 

When our media fails to adequately present the new normal of Climate Change and falls back into shifting baseline syndrome  (a sort of environmental amnesia), the public will think Climate Change is true every time it gets warm and false every time it gets cold.

Climate Change is a complicated issue and one that needs public knowledge and support for any real actions to address this worldwide crisis. Our media is the way our public understands the world around them and only an accurate portrayal of reality will do. 

Monday, March 07, 2016

Viewing local transportation plans through the lens of Climate Change

When asked most folks in the Rochester region would not give up their personal vehicles regardless: “Nothing will replace my car as my main mode of transportation.”(Page 11, Long Range Transportation Plan 2040 (LRTP)). And while public input is important for Genesee Transportation Council’s (GTC)’s plan, the LRTP is funded by the federal government. This is not to suggest that what the public wants right now from its transportation system is much different from the goals of the LRTP, only that the federal government rules:

“Absent a change in priorities at the Federal and State levels, fiscal constraint dictates that we maintain the existing condition and performance of our most crucial assets as best we can, manage the decline of less critical assets and structures without compromising safety, and implement limited expansions whenever feasible.” (Page 5, LRTP)

‘Existing condition’ above is meant to mean our present transportation system—thousands of miles of asphalt/concrete roads and bridges. All created and driven by fossil fuels. But by 2040 our present transportation system could be under a great threat by Climate Change. There will be more flooding, more traffic, and more frequent congestion due to more extreme weather, which in turn will be due to probable increases in lake-effect snowstorms caused by Climate Change. Cold, moist air crossing warmer water from an ice-free Great Lakes will probably produce more stormageddons. In fairness to the present LRTP, the consequences of Climate Change are already baked into the planning.

“In addition, these opportunities represent the ability of the transportation system to meet the challenges of sustainability and climate change adaptation through the use of new materials and design elements that were not available when the facilities were first built or last reconstructed.” (Page 19, LRTP)

However, in a time of Climate Change we must reconsider our priorities. Maybe we ought to think about changing our priorities so that our long-range transportation plans are in sync with a rapidly changing climate. Because Climate Change at the core is a problem of physics, adapting and mitigating to this human-caused new normal in our climate will increasingly rise to the top of our concerns. Extreme damages caused by more frequently occurring extreme weather will quickly overcome our ability to cope. This means we may have to rapidly view all of our planning through the lens of Climate Change. That includes our transportation system.

One of the problems with the LRTP is that it continually sets the table for our present transportation system at the exclusion of other possible transportation alternatives. (It’s not their fault; it’s their mandate at this point.) This means that when we focus our finances and infrastructures on a system that is heavily indebted to fossil fuels, we threaten our ability to shift quickly to another system that isn’t going to warm our planet. Throwing millions, perhaps billions, of dollars into fixing old roads and bridges in order to make them more resilient to extreme weather means you don’t have the means to create a new, more adaptable system, nor an inclination to do so. 

Let me put this another way. This is a quote from the same folks providing money for our region’s long-term planning, our federal government.

Besides being affected by climate changes, transportation systems also contribute to changes in the climate through emissions. In 2010, the U.S. transportation sector accounted for 27% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, with cars and trucks accounting for 65% of that total. Petroleum accounts for 93% of the nation’s transportation energy use. This means that policies and behavioral changes aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions will have significant implications for the various components of the transportation sector. (National Climate Assessment: Transportation.

Our present transportation system is a major cause of Climate Change and at the same time will be greatly threaten by Climate Change. We have a tiger by the tail. We have latched on to a transportation system that will do us in if we don’t find a way to get off it.

If we look at our present transportation system through the lens of Climate Change, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to be doubling-down on a system that is doomed and dangerous to our collective existence. If we put all our eggs into one basket, that is, if we put all our monies and efforts into preserving this transportation system, we do so at the exclusion of developing a more climate-friendly system. That is because we’ll run out of time and money to revamp the entire system on a scale necessary to adapt. Remember, we aren’t even properly maintaining the system we have, let alone trying to develop another system that will be in compliance with what we predict about our climate.

Report gives NY's roads, bridges poor grades A C-minus grade is nothing to brag about. But that's the overall assessment earned by New York's infrastructure systems — sewers, bridges and roads, public parks and solid waste — according to the state chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers. The group released its inaugural Infrastructure Report Card during a press conference Tuesday at the Blue Cross Arena. "One-third of New York's major highways are considered to be in poor or fair condition ... creating crippling congestion and climbing operating costs," according to the report card, which gave the state's road network a D-minus. "New York City-area drivers, accounting for half the state's population, each waste 53 hours per year just sitting in traffic." The organization gave New York Ds for its bridges, roads and wastewater. The state's aviation, drinking water, dams and transit systems earned Cs, and its parks and solid waste systems earned Bs. (September 30, 2015) Rochester Democrat and Climate Change

If our present transportation infrastructure is so bad, what other system could we develop? Good question because there is no easy answer. In our present system, even if you choose to bike, or use an electric car that uses renewable energy to charge your batteries, you still need millions of miles of asphalt (fossil-fuel created) roads.

Even if we were to move to another system not dependent on our present roads and bridges, we would still have to maintain our present system until we are ready to shift to another system. We still need to get around the way we are now until we can get around in some other fashion.

OK, you’re waiting for my magical solution that will solve our transportation/climate issues but..., I don’t have one. Sorry, I know, it’s not fashionable to present a major problem without coming up with a major solution.

Even if I did have a solution, most folks would resist it anyway because they have no intention of giving up their vehicles. They are going to expect that the system that keeps their vehicles moving now to be maintained by their government.

If we move quickly and dramatically to a public transportation system—more buses, high speed rail, light rail, and the like—all this will do is decrease the amount of traffic on our existing roads and bridges. This more favorable than business as usual but it won’t solve the fundamental problem. This, of course, is because these transportation options do not arrive at your home—or anybody else’s. We would still need to be able to walk and bike on something from our homes to whatever system we developed. These measures to lessen our impact on our existing system will buy us time. But if we are honest with ourselves, we are already doing these things with minimal effect on greenhouse gas emissions.

Back in the 1950’s some folks were thinking everyone would have helicopters instead of road vehicles. This might work if helicopters weren’t out of the price range of all but the very rich, and if our air traffic issues wouldn’t soon overwhelm us. Drones aren’t going to work either. However smart and cheap we make them, they are still going to fill our skies if everyone has one. 

Many experts say we can do a lot more to make our present transportation system less vulnerable to Climate Change and less likely to contribute to this warming crisis. We can use active transportation (walking and bicycling) for short distances—about 6.5 miles, which constitutes most of our personal driving. We could increase fuel efficiency; increase gasoline taxes, increase public transportation, decrease building in the suburbs, car pool, and many other things to lighten the carbon footprint of our present transportation system. It is possible that we could change our attitudes about traveling, like conducting online meet-ups instead of meeting in person. Maybe we could send our transportation system deep underground, a newfangled subway or something, where its carbon emissions and environmental disruptions could be better controlled. 

But remember (again), when given a choice most folks will drive their own vehicles, thank you very much. While in Portland, Oregon recently I couldn’t help noticing how many cars clogged the streets in a city that represents one of our country’s most advanced public and active transportation options. Although a lot of folks in Portland could live without a car, they don’t.  

This would seem to settle the case: we have the transportation system we have and so we just have to make this one work as well as we can in a warming world. It’s probably what we will do given our penchant for Freedom at any cost. Even if that’s suicidal.  

But we should ask ourselves, if we properly viewed our future through the lens of Climate Change, instead of the way we would like things to be, how would we plan our transportation system? Just maintaining and making our existing transportation system more resilient seems more like someone making due with a house that keeps blowing over in a windstorm than actually dealing with the problem.

Some guidelines on making a dramatic transformation in transportation might be useful. As developing nations develop, the developed nations could help developing nations leapfrog over our transportation system—like cellphones have eliminated the need for telephone poles and other telecommunications infrastructures. This would curb the worldwide contribution of more carbon emissions from transportation and encourage new enterprises without having to tear down an old system. We could build our cities so that they better accommodate active transportation instead of gas-guzzlers.

We could do a lot of things if we were ready to give up our vehicles, or at least entertain the idea if viable solutions came up. We should at least be willing to lessen the impact of our transportation system on our fragile, troubled planet.

BTW: You have until March 18th to send your comments on how to make our present transportation system safer and more efficient. Please consider mentioning your ideas on transportation in the light of a warmer world, a world where 2040 shouldn’t bring all our present infrastructures to a grinding halt. 

Long Range Transportation Plan 2040 A safe, efficient, reliable transportation system isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity. Making the most of the limited resources we have requires thoughtful planning. The Long Range Transportation Plan for the Genesee-Finger Lakes Region 2040 (LRTP 2040) will identify the direction for the region’s transportation system and serve as the framework for future planning and investment through 2040.   The LRTP 2040 Public Review Document provides an introduction to the LRTP 2040 planning processes, includes a summary of customer engagement feedback, a financial analysis with revenues and costs, and draft recommendations based on regional needs and customer feedback. Genesee Transportation Council