Monday, April 04, 2016

Rochester’s Earth Week highlights Paris Agreement and agriculture omission

There have been many Earth Day’s since the first in 1970. Each has been important. Each has been a benchmark along the continuum of our environmental awareness and Climate Change has stoked that fire of concern dramatically. This Earth Day in Rochester, NY is going to be observed within ‘Earth Week 2016: A menu of Climate Actions to Suit Every Taste.’ The theme of food and how its consumption and production is related to Climate Change will showcase one of the historic Paris Agreement’s shortcomings. So, like all the other Earth Day’s, this isn’t just another Earth Day. It’s a reminder, a warning of sorts, that the window of opportunity to prevent catastrophic warming of our life support system is quickly closing and a plea for all to get involved. 

One of the successful parts of the Paris Agreement is a united focus on clean, renewable energy. Already, there are encouraging signs that our energy dependence on fossil fuels is shifting.

Wind and solar are growing at a stunning pace (just not enough to stop climate change) There's good news and sour news on climate change in this hefty new report on renewable energy from the UN and Bloomberg New Energy Finance. (March 24, 2016 VOX

And while this is very good news the increase in clean energy threatens to be too little too late. Good intentions on Climate Change are not enough. Warning: dismal alert -- You are not going to want to hear this:

“Just considering wind power, we found that it would take an annual installation of 485,000 5-megawatt wind turbines by 2028. The equivalent of about 13,000 were installed in 2015. That’s a 37-fold increase in the annual installation rate in only 13 years to achieve just the wind power goal,” Jones says. And similar expansion rates are needed for other renewable energy sources. (WHY ‘PARIS AGREEMENT’ TO LIMIT GLOBAL TEMPS IS DOOMED TO FAIL, March 25, 2016 Futurity)

This is to say we have much to do to make Paris work. First, we need to get the agreement signed and make it official. UN Secretary Ban Ki Moon has asked world leaders to come together this Earth Day and ratify the deal so it can become legally binding. We need 55 nations whose greenhouse gas emissions add up to 55% of the world’s total in order to ratify Paris; if that doesn’t happen this Earth Day, there’s still a year to do so. We can name and shame those who don’t keep their promises but there is no enforcement apparatus to hold nations to strict greenhouse gas emissions limits. However, what Paris does do (and this is really important) is provide a mechanism where every five years adjustments can be made on nations’ goals as the warming situation changes. In other words, the Paris Agreement can grow, evolve, and mature into a healthy adult treaty that can provide a future for our children.

To get to our goal (sustainability), we have to update Paris to make it a truly realistic mechanism for humanity to address Climate Change. Besides the issue of scalability of renewable energy, Paris needs to adequately deal with food and agriculture. This op-ed in The Washington Post nails the issue:

“Unfortunately, the world leaders who gathered in Paris this past week have paid little attention to the critical links between climate change and agriculture. That’s a huge mistake and a missed opportunity. Our unsustainable farming methods are a central contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change, quite simply, cannot be halted without fixing agriculture.” (A secret weapon to fight climate change: dirt, December 4, 2015 The Washington Post)

We have proven that humanity can feed 7 billion people (though millions still starve) but we haven’t acknowledged the cost our environment has paid. Our soil must be healthy, not reduced to a substance that has been ‘fortified’ with fertilizers and poisoned with herbicides and pesticides. Because we have landfilled a lot of our waste, including food waste, we have somehow come to believe that decomposition and other amazing (many still unknown) properties of our soil are insignificant. As we march towards 9 billion people in 2050 and perhaps as high as 12 billion people in 2100, we will desperately try to feed them all. It’s most likely that we will increasingly give top priority to that goal. But in that process we could render one of the most vital ingredients of our existence null and void. You cannot vote soil out of our existence. Not including agriculture in the Paris Agreement was a mistake that must be fixed. 

Mindful of this omission in the Paris Agreement, Rochester, NY seeks to highlight not only the treaty signing, but also the importance of agricultural practices during its Earth Week 2016 – A Menu of Climate Action to Suit Every Taste. This is a week-long series of events of actions and lectures on food and agriculture, culminating in an Earth Eve Climate March Forward.

Engaging the public on this worldwide crisis is still an uphill climb. We haven’t heard much about the ‘successful’ Paris Agreement lately in the media, which is odd considering the whole point of Paris was to get everyone galvanized and make Climate Change adaptation happen. Voluntarily.

Paris is a bottom-up, non-authoritarian approach that critics of the 20+ previous top-down approaches demanded. Now that the bottom-up strategy for addressing Climate Change is in play, those who fought against a top-down approach must realize that “unless the private sector gets involved in a substantive and meaningful manner”(see below), the new strategy will fail just as the window of opportunity is closing.

We have an agreement in Paris: So, what’s next for the private sector? It's been two months now since the historic climate change conference, COP21, wrapped up in Paris, concluding with 195 countries pledging to take actions to keep global warming to under 2 degrees Celsius. This is an unprecedented achievement in the long history of international climate policy.   Compared to past negotiations, there was a different atmosphere in Paris. The negotiators were determined to find common ground rather than draw insurmountable lines in the sand. Investors lined up with billions of dollars in new financial commitments in addition to the suggested roadmap for developed nations to contribute to the needed $100 billion annually for mitigation and adaptation efforts. (February 9, 2016) The World Bank

If folks think that the Paris Agreement was a great treaty and now we can all go back and continue business as usual, they’re going to have a rude awakening when they find out this is the worst possible scenario of all—ignoring this issue completely just when it matters most. Paris, a bottom-up approach to dealing with Climate Change, cannot work if the public, our media, businesses, and our governments don’t continually breathe life into it. Our life support system needs life support.

To that end, we ask that you demonstrate your commitment to addressing Climate Change in the Rochester area by joining one or more of the Earth Week activities, thus helping to get our media’s attention. This worldwide crisis will require all hands on board.

Time passes. 

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