Monday, June 27, 2016

Your city can dramatically amplify your ability to address Climate Change

Climate Change has grown so ominous that individuals cannot have much of an impact on necessary solutions. (I know, this is environmental heresy.) However much a single person dedicates their lives to living sustainably, he or she cannot effect addressing this particular crisis unless a large percent of the population is also engaged. With seven billion people (9 billion by 2050) who need food, energy, transportation, and waste removal, a relative few are not going to change the environmental footprint of humanity’s effect on Climate Change on a level and speed that will matter. We have squandered too much time dragging our feet, too much time listening to folks offering to make the Climate Change crisis magically disappear with lies and denial.

But collectively in the form of cities around the world we can play an important role in what Michael Bloomberg describes as an alliance of cities.

Our new alliance unites 600m city dwellers in fight against climate change Cities are huge carbon emitters but are ideally placed to tackle climate change. When it comes to confronting climate change, the world’s cities are proving that there’s strength in unity. The historic climate agreement reached in Paris in December, which was approved by nearly all of the world’s nations, was made possible in part by the progress that cities have made by working together. Today, the two biggest coalitions of cities in the world – the EU-based Covenant of Mayors and the UN-backed Compact of Mayors – are forming an alliance to link more than 600 million city dwellers in the fight against climate change. (June 22, 2016) The Guardian

A city exists in much the way a single individual exists in our environment, though on a much larger scale. By the 2050 most of the world’s population are going to reside in our cities offering both great challenges and opportunities for dealing with Climate Change. Check out this incredible video (see below) of humanity’s move to cities over the millennia.

Watch 6,000 years of people moving to cities Humans have been building and living in cities for thousands of years. But only very recently — in the past few years — did the scales tip to more of us choosing to settle in cities than in rural areas. According to the United Nations, 54 percent of the world's population now lives in urban areas. That figure was 30 percent in 1950 and is expected to rise to 66 percent by 2050. In the video below, you can watch the stunning rise of human cities, from their humble origin in the Fertile Crescent in the year 3700 BC to the boom of the past century. (June 19, 2016) VOX

Each city around the world impacts our environment in similar ways—bringing in water, taking out waste, providing infrastructures, setting codes, and enforcing laws—acting more or less like huge living beings whose behavior towards our life support system matters a lot. The city you live in amplifies every impact you have on our environment. If your city is curbing its greenhouse gas emissions and recycling its waste so are you. In short, if your city is existing sustainably you are a part of that.

Each of us can significantly increase our effect on our world environment by becoming an integral part of our city’s efforts in addressing Climate Change.

Hundreds of Cities Commit to Emissions Limits Cities today host more than half of the Earth’s human beings and account for about 70 percent of global energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Now, 228 cities around the world are taking the lead on climate action, setting greenhouse gas reduction goals or targets. Action in these cities, with a combined population of 439 million people, could ensure that countries meet their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), the national greenhouse gas reduction pledges embodied in the Paris Climate Agreement. At the UN’s annual climate conference in December 2015 in Paris, 195 countries adopted the world’s first universal, legally binding global climate deal. (June 9, 2016) Environmental News Service 

However, cities can and should do much more than provide mechanisms to bring down greenhouse gas emissions. Much of the way we adapt to Climate Change, which will require emergency personnel to address extreme weather catastrophes and making our infrastructures more resilient, can only be accomplished by our local governments.

But our city governments can only do so much to address Climate Change. They must have their citizens engaged to be effective. They need the public’s attention for support and feedback on any climate actions cities take. But how do cities communicate the urgency behind Climate Change locally and get the public onboard? Oddly enough, city governments seem to have just as much trouble reaching the public as other well-meaning organizations. Either a lot of money or attention-grabbing theatrics are needed to wake the media up. Which is to say, our media is of limited use in Communication because their priority is making money, not informing the public of important stuff. That’s why our media has so much sports and pets and other such pander-mongering stuff on their front page instead of important information. Essentially, the media, as it presently functions, does not participate in helping communities address Climate Change because they still see the health of our continual existence as an issue outside of their bailiwick. 

Yet, there are still many ways city governments can increase their effectiveness at communicating their critical role in addressing Climate Change to their citizens. Cites do get in the news, of course, with emergencies and press releases. They can do news spots—but often the media won’t show up unless there is something spectacularly exciting mixed in. They can create pamphlets and send out letters. That’s expensive so they don’t do a lot of that. They can go to public places like the public market or local zoos and hope people stop by their booth. Though, I suspect booths on Climate Change at public markets are not heavily attended.

A certain amount of gentle persuasion is needed to be get the media to pay attention to a city’s attempt to orchestrate Climate Change efforts. Public service announcements (“messages in the public interest disseminated by the media without charge”, Wikipedia) at prime-time media viewing would be helpful.

Also, there is a strategy the city of Rochester is already using to communicate with its citizens that could be increased dramatically: neighborhood associations (NAs). Much of how the City must address Climate Change can be messaged to the public via NA’s. Working with neighborhood associations are a major vehicle for the City to speak to all the city’s constituents. In my neighborhood association we meet with the police, City representatives, firemen, and businesses, and any group having a local impact. It doesn’t cost the City to have their officials meet regularity with neighborhood associations to explain what they are doing and listen for feedback. It’s kinda like extracurricular activities for them.

Neighborhood associations have the ability to reach most of the folks in their neighborhood by email lists, web sites, events, programs, and (if need be) going door-to-door campaigning. There are thirty-three neighborhoods in our City but not all of them have associations. The City could find ways to increase NAs with a variety of volunteer programs.

Just one more thing, in Rochester, NY, our county (Monroe County) has a bigger footprint than the City. (The reverse is the case with Portland, Oregon.) This means, for example, the City’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) must not only become the leader in addressing Climate Change for its continents, the City’s CAP must also be a stimulus for kicking our sluggish county into gear.

There’s no way around it, size matters when addressing Climate Change. The time when ad hock individual efforts can bring down our planet’s temperature are over. Humanity must act as a single entity to make a dramatic shift from business as usual. Cities are local institutions already in place that are responsible for our collective wellbeing. That makes cities crucial in our efforts to address Climate Change.

Time passes.

   

Monday, June 20, 2016

Remembrance of Climate Change possibilities

Nostalgia is the remembrance of what was once possible. But I don’t feel nostalgic about not addressing Climate Change earlier. I feel impatient. We have wasted valuable time prevaricating on Climate Change action. This crisis has gotten significantly worse. We are hurtling dangerously close to our inability to avoid the worse consequences of planetary warming and I suspect we will be held in contempt by those who come after us much like those who either ignored or in some way contributed to slavery. The Civil War could have been avoided had important warnings been heeded.

30 years ago scientists warned Congress on global warming. What they said sounds eerily familiar It was such a different time — and yet, the message was so similar. Thirty years ago, on June 10 and 11 of 1986, the U.S. Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works commenced two days of hearings, convened by Sen. John H. Chafee (R-R.I.), on the subject of “Ozone Depletion, the Greenhouse Effect, and Climate Change.” “This is not a matter of Chicken Little telling us the sky is falling,” Chafee said at the hearing. “The scientific evidence … is telling us we have a problem, a serious problem.” The hearings garnered considerable media coverage, including on the front page of The Washington Post (see below). (June 11, 2016) The Washington Post

For many places on Earth the time when carbon dioxide levels will drop below 400 parts per million (ppm) is gone. Considering that our species thrived for 10,000 years, up to the mid-1800’s with a very stable 280ppm climate, our present climate disruption is a case of jaw-dropping irresponsibility. The Antarctic is now experiencing this incredible benchmark: “Antarctic CO2 Hit 400 PPM For First Time in 4 Million Years” (6/15/2016 Climate Central). We could have prevented this.

The fossil fuel industry actively campaigned against acting on Climate Change when their own studies revealed the impact of the continued use their products on our climate. [See: “EXXON: The Road Not Taken” Imagine, as writer, activist, and creator of 350.org, often does if EXXON did the right thing way back then.

In the years ahead we won’t have much time to reflect on what could have been because we’ll be too busy scrambling to save critical infrastructures, vital ecosystems, and people. Lots and lots of people whose ability to feed themselves and escape the heat will be placed in jeopardy because of our inaction.

There’s this peculiar relationship we have with our own history. For instead of using history to learn from our mistakes, we often tend to see our past mistakes as inevitable. Wars, famine, accidents were meant to be. Perhaps tragedies seem more bearable if we view them as something far beyond our control.

But.

Nothing was meant to be. If the worst of Climate Change comes to be, it’s because we allowed it to happen.

This is where we are now:

“May was the 13th month in a row to break temperature records according to figures published this week that are the latest in 2016’s string of incredible climate records which scientists have described as a bombshell and an emergency.” Shattered records show climate change is an emergency today, scientists warn” (6/17/2016, The Guardian)


Time passes. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

To rally or not to rally on Climate Change

I have joined many rallies* on Climate Change, including the greatest yet, the People’s Climate March in NYC in 2014. I’ve experienced them all as warm and welcoming, but also extremely passionate displays of concern.  I have helped put together a number of these rallies. But over time I’ve come to question the usefulness of rallies on Climate Change as a worthwhile vehicle for engaging the public on this existential issue. The downside of making a lot of noise on divisive issues is that the silent majority tends to feel alienated from the rowdy-looking crowds, plus it encourages the media’s tendency to only frame important issues through adversity or public spectacles. Neither our economy nor our media seem capable of properly framing Climate Change so the public actually understands what’s coming at them.

Traditionally, rallies have been very effective vehicles for change. Women’s rights were greatly advanced by rallies. The abolitionist movement, LGBT rights, and many more social issues have been advanced by rallies when these issues would have otherwise languished in a moral limbo due to humanity’s tendency towards social inertia. 

Certainly those folks who march with us about the urgent need to address and mitigate Climate Change understand what we are attempting. They get energized to do more. But what about those people who are watching from the sidelines? Those people watching through their media? Or, those folks we have failed to reach through the media either from our own ineptitude or mass media indifference?

If we are alienating the majority with rallies, how do you engage all of humanity in the kind of change Climate Change will require? Like it or not, there are no humans on the sidelines of Climate Change. Even the superrich will run out of money trying to save themselves. We can certainly go after the bad players, like fossil fuel industry representatives who lied to us about what they knew about their industry’s effect on our climate, and who will to continue doing business as usual regardless. We can rally against those would-be politicians, like Donald Trump, who shift their positions on Climate Change to push their own agenda.

However, at the end of the day, it is all of our collective selves who must change in order to insure that all of our collective existences—even those in our would-be future—get a chance to survive. A few cannot do it and we cannot drag along those who work against us because their accumulated damages might well bring us all down. We have come to the point in our history where we have so challenged our life support system with pollution, the loss of biodiversity, and global warming that our own sustainability continually teeters on the brink of collapse.  We’ve destroyed the environment’s resiliency, its ability to absorb our mistakes. Like running a nuclear power plant, there’s no longer any room for error.

Solving this dilemma about messaging Climate Change for full effect is like recruiting absolutely everyone at a football game—both teams, all the people on the bleachers, the people running the concession stands, the plant and wildlife around the stadium and everyone and everything that would show up for the next football game. Another metaphor to capture this unparalleled crisis perhaps: It’s like talking to our own physical selves, the collection of billions of cells that make up who we are, and getting the host of these biological microorganisms, us, to make a decision. We don’t decide to go to a football game thinking our liver or some of our brain cells can stay home and watch it on TV. We are all sharing Climate Change: When Earth cooks we are all stew.

When we rally to get the public’s attention on Climate Change, eyes roll, TV‘s get shut off, attention wanders, and many get upset. When we rally, mainstream media gets bored and refuses to cover our events unless we bake in something exotic. But if we don’t rally, we encourage the absurd notion that physics has conveniently avoided this issue. Shutting up about Climate Change won’t make it go away; it will make it far worse because nobody will be ready.    

Of course, we will continue to rally because it has worked many, many times before. Sometimes rallying is a way to gather people’s attention beyond the ability of the media’s ability to frame it their way. In repressive regimes, taking to the streets reaches people where they are. Social media and the Internet have allowed climate activists to become their own media—to some degree anyways—and reach a wider audience. Most likely, we rally because we don’t know what else to do to immediately grab the public’s attention. It should have been enough for the world to recognize that the vast majority of climate scientists say we need to stop putting more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. But it isn’t working quickly enough.

For a while longer it is quite likely that the majority of humanity will continue to stand on the sidelines on Climate Change, rallies or no rallies. But increasingly all our lives will be uprooted by extreme weather events, social unrest, and public health issues that will overwhelm our health systems. Our governments, those institutions we’ve been criticizing for wasting our tax dollars, will rush in and try to save use. Those who have chosen not to engage themselves in the crisis of our age will desperately join those who have been warning them for decades to get moving. Except, as in slavery where millions of lives were squandered by inaction, billions of lives may be squandered because the chances to act in a way that would have mattered would have passed.

So, I guess until the day when temperatures start coming down precipitously, there will be rallies in the hope that they will produce different results. I know, change takes time. But time is what we ain’t got anymore.

Times passes.


* For the purposes of this essay I’m throwing marches, protests, demonstration, rallies, all under the rubric of ‘rallies’. 

Monday, June 06, 2016

Rumblings of #NYRENEWS in New York’s Capitol

On Wednesday June 1st, folks from all over New York State came together in Albany to insist that our legislators get with the Climate Change program. While a couple of us were waiting to speak to our state senators on the fourth floor, hundreds of activists were thundering through the halls of the state capitol building demonstrating for the New York State Climate and Community Protection Act on the third floor. From our perspective, the rumblings below portended a profound escalation in the public’s resolve to get their representatives to vote for “Good jobs, frontline justice, and healthy communities through 100% clean renewable energy”. (NYRENEWS.org)  

At that moment (about 3PM) none of us knew whether the NYS Assembly would pass A10342, the purpose of which is “…is to enact the "New York State Climate and Community Protection Act" to address and mitigate the impacts of climate change in New York.” (1). So a few of us wandered over to the Assembly Chamber where members were filing in for the vote. Despite the continual clanging of an urgent-sounding bell throughout the humongous building to alert representatives that is was voting time, our representatives made their way leisurely to their seats. But our little group had to leave in order to catch our bus back to Rochester before we found out about the results of this historic vote. Only the next day did we find out:

New York Assembly Approves Climate Bill That Would Cut Emissions to Zero The bill, endorsed by a broad coalition, is also notable for its emphasis on environmental and economic justice, advocates say. This story was updated at 1:15 am ET on May 2, 2016, to reflect the state assembly's vote on the climate bill. The New York State Assembly approved the nation's most ambitious climate change bill Wednesday. The vote came hours after a broad coalition of environmental justice, climate activist, conservation and labor groups took to the State Capitol in Albany urging lawmakers to swiftly pass the bill before the legislative session ends on June 16. The legislation requires the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from major sources to zero by 2050. That would demand a near total decarbonization of its economy, and it would put New York among the world's leaders on forceful climate action. To achieve it, the bill gives the state until 2030 to get at least 50 percent of its electricity from clean energy. (June 1, 2016) Inside Climate News

Pretty heady stuff. I’ve attended many a Climate Change rally, and it’s not often that a decision gets made in our favor immediately after our demands are made. Instant gratification is not the usual fare when protesting against a fossil-fuel world and trying to herald in a renewable and sustainable existence. In fact, we are a long way from getting even this bill passed that would make NYS a leader in addressing Climate Change; first, a similar bill has to get though the more challenging state senate and even then, the governor would have to sign it.

Outside on the Capitol steps (from about noon to 2PM), six or seven hundred of us listened to many incredible speeches by activists. Some were local politicians pleading for a viable future for their constituents, and some were union leaders describing a future with clean energy jobs. Many speakers talked about the poorest getting hit first and worst by Climate Change. One speech acknowledged the newfound association of many communities not historically linked with climate activism (as they have had many more immediate threats to their existence) and communicated a dawning realization about the new warming world we have entered: Addressing Climate Change is now the political and economic vehicle, whatever ones feelings about our environment, for a viable future. Many groups who have felt helpless getting their concerns addressed are realizing the importance of this new avenue for change. Contained in the often chanted maxim during the day, “The People United Will Never Be Divided!” is something those still attempting to block change through deceit and denial should be aware of: A people united is a force more powerful than money.

Throughout the speeches on the steps, many of the speakers floated seamlessly between English and Spanish.  One speech was rendered entirely in Hispanic. By this time, I was feeling a little stupid for only knowing one language—and some say that one not all that well.   

At around 10AM, on our way through the concourse from our bus to the Capitol, we bumped into one of our local senators. After an amiable exchange, where we all greeted each other as Rochester-centric cheerleaders, we suddenly pushed back on the senator’s characterization that NYS is doing enough already on Climate Change. We should be pounding China not New York on Climate Change, the senator implored.

Ok, that was weird, as if a very cheerful party has just been made uncomfortable by an unpleasant outburst. We pushed back again because China, as we all know, is not in New York State. China is a place where no NYS senator would have any effect. The senator was squirming now and suddenly thought of an engagement he needed to get to—which by the way was in the other direction he was headed before he met up with us.

I’ve heard the China syndrome used in the context of Climate Change before, but not by one of my senators actually talking to me. The argument, as I understand it is that, the Chinese are putting the most carbon emissions into the atmosphere and the activists should go after them. New York, which stopped Fracking in its tracks, should be given a break by the activists. We have done enough. 
There are many talking points one could have used on the senator had he been willing to stick around and listen to them. First, New York State, which was a major player in the Second Industrial Revolution, is partly responsible for most of the greenhouse gases that have already caused Climate Change disasters around the world. This fact probably would have gotten the senator’s eyes rolling big time. Moral arguments were not in the script. However, more to the point of the bill we want the state senate to consider, New York State can and should be a leader in addressing Climate Change by providing good solid jobs around a renewable infrastructure, and blocking new fossil fuel infrastructure like Bomb Trains snaking through our NYS communities or filling empty salt caverns near the Finger Lakes full of gas (see WeAreSenecaLake).

And, as a matter of politics, it was President Obama’s willingness to demonstrate to China that the US was willing to lead and make significant moves towards renewable energy that helped bring China to the table in Paris. China and the US made the Paris Agreement happen. New York can and should lead on renewable energy now that we’ve chased the specter of Fracking away.

Though it is often the nature of the beast, our legislatures shouldn’t be looking over their shoulders to see how their colleagues are voting before making their decisions on the crisis of our age. The NYS Senate is unlikely to vote favorably on the New York State Climate and Community Protection Act, we get that. But our representatives should be looking straight at their constituents, the facts of climate science, and past disasters like Hurricane Sandy for guidance on how they should vote.

The bill passed on Wednesday in the NYS Assembly but where do we go from here?

The bill was first introduced to the state Assembly on May 23 by Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D). There is currently no equivalent bill in the state Senate, and with only eight days left in the legislative session, it’s unclear whether the bill will make it to Cuomo’s desk for a signature before the legislative session ends. (June 2, 2016 – Climate Progress)

I don’t know yet. But I do know Climate Change is not waiting for the voting bell, and the temperatures are rising quickly.


Time passes.