Monday, May 30, 2016

Using the past to guide us through Climate Change

Given the planetary impact of dangerously quick climate temperatures rising around the world due to human machinations, I suspect there are precious few examples in the past to guide us forward. We are in trouble in a way we never have been before. Civilizations have come and gone over the span of human existence but the entire species and all other species on the planet haven’t before been placed in jeopardy by humanity’s collective attitudes towards our life support system. (Of course, we are always under the threat of mass annihilation by nuclear proliferation but that crisis is not due to the behavior of everyone—just some bad players and some crazy national policies.) Furthermore, we will have to address all our major existential problems—nuclear proliferation, Climate Change, pollution, overpopulation, overconsumption, the loss of biodiversity and much more—at the same time. This is why Climate Change is the mother of all problems.

Toffler’s 1970 book Future Shock talked about modernization moving so quickly that it will be increasingly more difficult to use the past as a guide for the future. This is certainly true with Climate Change. Naturally, we have science as a guide as to what is going on. But science and climatologists’ rushing to fill our knowledge gaps about Climate Change won’t teach us how seven billion people will adjust to the “inconvenience” of a warming planet, where the catastrophic consequences are far more likely to impact those who didn’t cause this crisis than those who did. Also, fairness must be baked into addressing Climate Change, or else social unrest will compound this crisis by multitudes of factors.

We do have examples in history of visionaries who were able to get the measure of the critical issues of their times and arriving at insights that we, in their future, find enlightened and forever attitude altering. These special individuals knew then what we know now. Examples include Samuel Adams and the idea that a colony of a great power should and could break free when their unfair treatment becomes intolerable. Jefferson’s notion that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” (though he himself didn’t practiced what he preached.). Stanton’s and Anthony’s position that women must have the right to vote. Alexander Von Humboldt’s vision that science should develop and flourish beyond national boundaries and ideologies. And a lot more individuals throughout our history who saw ahead of their contemporaries about what people could become by turning the great ship of humanity towards those ends.  

One such visionary whose views might be instructive in our current Climate Change crisis is William Lloyd Garrison’s position on slavery in the United States.

Garrison, publisher of The Liberator, an (the) abolitionist newspaper started in 1831, compelled race equality into the US Constitution. In the 1830's most abolitionists, politicians, newspapers, and just about everyone North and South believed that slavery should and would end eventually. But for even moral heroes like Lincoln that meant holding to the Constitution, where slavery was legalized, and Colonization by sending freed slaves to another place (Liberia), and allowing time to take its course. Garrison changed everything as he upheld immediacy, no Colonization, and total equality. No if’s, and’s, or but’s.

What we think of as abolitionism today is the result of Garrison’s life work.

"It comes as a surprise to realize that of all the antebellum political conceptions about slavery that contended for supremacy--states' rights, three-fifths clause, Missouri Compromise, toleration but nonextension, popular sovereignty--it was Garrison's program of immediate emancipation through the repudiation of the proslavery constitutional compromises and a union dissolved and reconstructed that prevailed." (Page XV, All On Fire)

Emphatic on abolishing slavery, Garrison succeeded in convincing just enough groups and key individuals that anything less that immediate and total equality, regardless of the Constitution, was the only morally acceptable solution to slavery. Almost everyone but Fredrick Douglas thought Garrison was an intolerant ideologue bent on destroying the union.

Sure, most antebellum folks thought Garrison incapable of compromise and reason—though now we see that he was quite reasonable. So too will be those who hold to the proposition that Climate Change must be addressed now before it gets worse. There are innumerable solutions being entertained right now that attempt to address Climate Change but so far they are not equal to the task. Just buying an electric car, or creating a carbon tax, or shifting to organics, or other single actions won’t save the planet. Nothing but the immediate relief from manmade greenhouse gas emissions will save our life support system. There are no concessions to physics possible, no slow and gradual options for keeping fossil fuel energy use alive, and no transporting this problem to the future. We are nearing the danger zone on Climate Change, a point where natural and built environments break down from overheating and social unrest.    

Many now are realizing that Climate Change is an existential problem but are still holding that the solution must come gradually so as not to disrupt the 'harmony' of our fossil-fuel driven existence or threaten our present economy.

Garrison was able to see the clear and unambiguous nature of slavery. It was evil. That the numerous attempts to make chattel slavery a morally justified institution, thereby avoiding the obvious trajectory, were only making it more likely for all to end in a great conflagration. True, ending slavery with the Civil War and the Thirteenth Amendment did not end the brutality against folks with dark skin and yes, Reconstruction was a disaster; nevertheless, slave auctions and the selling of people in the US is no more.

Even more compelling than the moral arguments against slavery are the hard scientific realities behind Climate Change. Climate Change is the moral problem of our day. But it is not a moral problem in the way slavery was. Climate Change is beyond morality in the sense that while it is certainly a moral issue, it is our behavior, however motivated, that will matter. Though terrible and evil, slavery was not threatening the existence of every living being on this planet. Garrison’s goal was to prove to the public that slavery was evil and that humanity must change their attitudes immediately. Garrison struggled to change humanity by appealing to everyone’s sense of Christian morality. Garrison didn’t want to change Christianity to change everyone; he wanted everyone to actually practice Christianity.

With Climate Change, humanity must change their behavior so that our actions render our environment sustainable. If appealing to humanity’s sense of morality will do the trick, then we should do that. But it alone probably won’t on a scale and time that will matter. If morality had that power, it would have already worked. It’s not working; world temperatures and concentrations of greenhouse gases are going up, not down. Climate Change isn’t just morally wrong, it will be the end of us if we don’t become another kind of being—a non-selfish being willing to share the planet with others. Dramatic actions along with a keen sense of moral outrage will probably have to occur before the kind of change needed will happen. Actions like Break Free From Fossil Fuels are an indication, like abolitionism, that some are willing to stand up against the social inertial that is plummeting us into an unsustainable future.  

The value of learning about Garrison and other visionaries is that there are past examples of how someone understood the core problem of their age and became the vehicle of change. Garrison understood that the only solution to ending slavery was changing the public’s attitudes about slavery. Not ballot box morality (continually electing pro-slavery politicians to avert war sure didn’t work), not making concession with the other side, not continuing business as usual, and not thinking some states could have slavery and some could not; none of these provided the solution. Was Garrison right about slavery? Yes, and the Thirteenth Amendment proved him right.

Garrison can help teach us to understand the core problem of our age: that our environment must above all be healthy or no one survives. No human contrivance can work quickly enough to solve this problem of Climate Change for it is we who must change.

The difference between those who would continue slavery in the yesteryears and those in our day who procrastinate on Climate Change is that the former would burn in Hell and the latter will burn right here on Earth, along with everyone else.

Time passes.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Rochester, NY’s Climate Action Plan survey

Consider completing Rochester, NY’s Climate Change Action Plan survey. This plan will affect how our local government addresses Climate Change. Your input into this process is vital.
Critical to addressing Climate Change are our local community governments because they set the rules, enforce the rules, maintain our infrastructures, educate the public on issues vital to our way of life, and prepare the public for clear and present dangers. The City has been working on shoring up its own clean energy and transportation in the first phase of addressing Climate Change and now it’s moving to the second phase: Our community’s role.

Many local groups have been a part of the process to complete the second phase where much is being planned to address the local consequences of Climate Change and engage the public on this issue. Climate Change is affecting our lives now and it will increasingly affect our children’s lives.
Please take a moment and fill out this survey on the Climate Action Plan which will demonstrate to the City that you want this worldwide crisis addressed here in Rochester too.

CLIMATE ACTION PLAN "We want to hear from you!  Take our community-wide Climate Action Plan survey. What is a Climate Action Plan? Climate Action Plans (CAP) are comprehensive roadmaps that outline the community-wide efforts that will be taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. CAPs build upon the information gathered by greenhouse gas inventories and generally focus on those activities that can achieve the relatively greatest emission reductions in the most cost-effective manner.  CAPs typically focus on quantifying existing and projected community-wide greenhouse gas emissions; establishing greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets; identifying and analyzing future greenhouse gas emissions; identifying specific measures that will achieve the emissions targets; and establishing a mechanism to monitor the plan's progress. ”City of Rochester, NY

The urgency and importance of helping Rochester by filling out this survey can be expressed more emphatically by appreciating the backdrop from which the request is made: It’s getting hotter.
If the Paris Agreement is going to work, it had better do so quickly. Earth's thermostat is still going up dramatically. It is in this way that Climate Change is quite simple to understand; when we overheat we’re going to cook. What we have done thus far to bring temperatures down has not worked. Just doing something is not enough. Just getting a little more environmentally friendly doesn’t cut it anymore. What we do must actually fix the problem.

Far From Turning a Corner, Global CO2 Emissions Still Accelerating The latest greenhouse gas inventory from NOAA shows CO2 and methane 'going completely in the wrong direction.' The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is not just rising, it's accelerating, and another potent greenhouse gas, methane showed a big spike last year, according to the latest annual greenhouse gas index released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. CO2 emissions totaled between 35 and 40 billion tons in 2015, according to several agencies. Some of that is absorbed by forests and oceans, but those natural systems are being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of new CO2. As a result, the inventory shows, the average global concentration increased to 399 parts per million in 2015, a record jump of almost 3 ppm from the year before. (May 19, 2016) Inside Climate News

Though many may still view Climate Change as political, trust me, whatever your political persuasion, frequent extreme weather events will ruin your day, your economy, and your future.  

It’s important to give the City of Rochester feedback about what their citizens expect from their government on Climate Change. Of course, filling out this five-minute survey is only one way to get engaged on Climate Change. There are many other things you can do also, including using active transportation (walking and bicycling) for short distances, adopting a carbon fee, protesting against more fossil fuel infrastructures, driving an eco-efficient vehicle, or fixing those heating leaks in your house. But in order to act on a scale and speed that will actually matter we’re going to have to think and act on a global scale. We must join and help accelerate our local government’s efforts to bring together all our efforts to address this issue.

Without your input governments are put in a hard place. Although Climate Change includes all the issues a government is under an obligation to their constituents for, many, if not most folks still don’t perceive Climate Change as a threat that their governments, and their tax dollars, should be putting on top of their priority list. That means the government doesn’t get your support or tax dollars to plan and adapt to the assaults on our way of life that Climate Change presents. Government are the only institutions that can protect it citizens from Climate Change. Governments are the only institutions that must protect their citizens from Climate Change.

Indians demand government action after temperatures hit 51C Hospitals struggle to cope as patient numbers soar and cold water in short supply after hottest day (May 20, 2016 The Guardian)

The private sector can do a lot of specific measures, like building gas efficient or electric cars, but the private sector cannot do what a government does. Here’s a hundred things that your government does: WHAT DOES OUR GOVERNMENT DO? Think about them as Climate Change bears down on us, not on what climate deniers think about the realities that contradict their world view.

Be neat if we could get thousands of Rochesterians to sign this five-minute survey and learn about our city’s Climate Action Plan.  Please thinks of filling out the survey and then sending it on to your contact lists and so on until everyone gets a chance to pipe in.   

Time passes. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

#BreakFree2016, saying No! to an unsustainable future

After twenty some years, the Paris Agreement finally created a framework in which most of the world leaders agreed that Climate Change is human-caused, it’s happening, and our global temperatures must be kept to a 1.5C increase over pre-industrial averages. But the Paris Agreement isn’t official yet and it doesn’t have much legal teeth. What we have is a bottom-up (voluntary) mechanism to address Climate Change and if we squander this time by continuing business as usual we are lost.  A 4C or 6C world would be unendurable.

To jumpstart Paris activists created Break Free to increase the pressure to address Climate Change and engage the public. Break Free is a series of 23 mass actions demanding to keep fossil fuels in the ground (#KeepItInTheGround) in 12 countries on 6 continents. Actions have already started all across the globe. 

May 4-15, 2016: A global wave of mass actions will target the world’s most dangerous fossil fuel projects, in order to keep coal, oil and gas in the ground and accelerate the just transition to 100% renewable energy. Across the world, people are showing the courage to confront polluters where they are most powerful — from the halls of power to the wells and mines themselves. (Break Free From Fossil Fuels)

At Albany’s action last Saturday (#Albany2016, #BreakFree2016), a bus load of Rochesterians cosponsored by Rochester People’s Climate Coalition (RPCC), Mothers Out Front, and the Pachamama Alliance rallied at Liberty Park, marched a mile, and ended up at the railroad tracks at the Port of Albany where the Bomb Trains usually accumulated from around the country with dangerous crude oil. But the trains weren’t there on Saturday, only thousands of protesters.

  • ·         Protest Against Crude Oil Trains Brings Thousands to Capital Region ALBANY. N.Y. -- An international movement right here in the Capital City. Break Free 2016 is the global fight against fossil fuels and crude oil trains that lumber though our cities. "The kind of power we have comes with our voices, our spirits and our bodies," said event organizer Marla Marcum. "There's a lot of passion that people are bringing to this work and we need out elected leaders to listen." (May 14, 2016, Time Warner News Capital Region)
  • ·         More than 1,000 march to protest oil trains ALBANY -- More than 1,000 people marched to the Port of Albany on Saturday to protest against the shipment of oil that goes through the facility that is owned by Global Partners. The Albany demonstration was one of 20 taking place on six continents. Marla Marcum helped organize the Albany rally. "We are here to declare that we need to stop the "bomb trains" flowing into Albany and we need to keep the fossil fuel in the ground," Ms. Marcum said. After assembling in Lincoln Park the protestors marched in unison down Morton Avenue. One group ended up at the Port of Albany and the others made their way to the Ezra Prentice Homes. (May 14, 2016 6News WRGB Albany)
  • ·         Albany protest: 5 arrested after oil train delayed Hundreds oppose oil trains at the Port of Albany — A daylong effort to block crude oil trains brought hundreds of people near the Port of Albany, where they sat on train tracks and listened to speeches, sang and discussed nationwide and local environmental issues. The Albany event on Saturday, organized by the coalition Break Free From Fossil Fuels, was one of several around the country and world this month. More than 400 of the 1,500 people registered said they would be willing to be arrested for physically blocking the trains, a Break Free spokeswoman said. (May 14, 2016 Albany Times Union)

Unlike Rochester’s local mainstream media, where our past marches for action on Climate Change were unattended by them, Albany’s media gave full coverage of this historic event so as to engage the public with this worldwide crisis: The continued use of fossil fuels is driving our global temperatures into the danger zone.

My experiences at #Albany2016 were a kaleidoscope of images where folks held signs saying “No Fossil Fuels, Yes Renewable Energy”, “100% Renewable Energy for New York by 2030”, “Keep It In The Ground!”, “We Can Change Everything”, “Climate Justice”, “Oil Coal Gas = Climate Chaos”, “Protect our Climate, Water, and Health” and many, many more while talking to each other, that is, folks from New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and yes, even Michigan (a party of one, a native American comedian who gave a wonderfully articulate perspective of fossil fuel damage in his home lands and the need for all folks of all color and ages to join together in this great wave of change) and more images of folks laying across the Port of Albany railroad tracks, like that scene in Gone With The Wind, where thousands upon thousands of injured combatants lie in wait for the trains to take them away from a great conflagration that could have been avoided had humanity transformed itself and accepted equality, justice, and peace, though in this case, in Albany, we listened to great speeches by many leaders trying to engage the public on Climate Change amongst many who were lying on the tracks, resting, eating lunch, and talking and talking and talking and almost everyone taking photos and videos of this peaceful and wonderful spectacle to share them around the world on the Internet to give testimony of our efforts and to connect with others around the world trying to break free of a fossil fuel future that threatens all of our futures.

Break Free in Albany was a wonderful experience but also a reminder of many other such protests and marches I’ve joined to get our leaders to act and for the rest of the public to join with us in preventing our shared fate, an impossibly warm world. At some point, of which Break Free was an example, the public will say No! to an unsustainable future and Yes! to the uncomfortable and inconvenient changes our generations needs to make so that future generations can thrive and flourish.

Time passes.