Monday, October 31, 2016

Connecting the dots between Rochester’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) and our disadvantaged communities

On Wednesday, November 9, 2016, 6 - 8 pm, at the City Hall Atrium, Second Floor, 30 Church St, Rochester, NY 14614, the City of Rochester will unveil the latest progress in its Climate Action Plan (CAP). You can drop in anytime during these hours and engage the City on its CAP before this plan is submitted for approval.

This meeting gives the Rochester public a chance to explore the myriad ways the CAP can address the local threats from Climate Change. Our region is already experiencing more extreme weather in the form of heavy precipitation events—71% since 1958. There will also be more heatwaves, droughts, public health issues and continual disruptions to our infrastructures-- water, waste, transportation, energy, and telecommunications.  For a more comprehensive list of how Climate Change is already affecting our region check here and for a list the likely of consequences coming, check here. These disruptions will affect all of us but they will affect disadvantaged communities first and worst.

According to ACT Rochester, “Poverty within the City of Rochester continues to be extraordinary, with a rate of 33.8% (up from 31.1% in the first report).” Much of the misery and stress of being poor is the lack of jobs, the means to get to them, adequate health coverage, and affordable housing that is properly heated or cooled for the vagaries of our Northern climate. During and after extreme weather events (like Hurricane Sandy and Katrina), disadvantaged communities not only get less help and less protection by their governments, they receive less (if any) of the recovery aid and the means to relocate. (This is one of the reason why our poorest areas also are the most polluted from abandoned Brownfields—folks who could get up and move already did that.) Climate Change amplifies and accelerates most of the stress by those without the financial resiliency to bounce back from tragedy.

Too often Climate Change has been viewed by the public and our officials as just another of the many serious problems we must address. But Climate Change isn’t going to be added on to the problems in your life, it’s going to be the new normal that you will be living in. Like a fish put into your aquarium, it’s not ever going back to its old home. When viewed this way, the solutions for many of our social and health problems can be tackled as we address Climate Change locally. As we improve the lives of our least fortunate in a warming environment, we raise the security and quality of life for everyone—regardless of race and economic circumstances—in our Rochester region.

Appropriately, the City’s Climate Action Plan is part of its Comprehensive Plan Update – Rochester 4.0 because plans for our future absolutely must be part of the all-inclusive challenges Climate Change presents.  

The main elements of the City’s CAP--energy use and supply, transportation, waste and materials management, clean water, and land use—contain both the climate pressures to our area and the potential answers for a sustainable future. Plans in the CAP include the retrofitting of local buildings to heat more efficiently and lowering heating costs. Better public transportation and increased safety for active transportation (walking and bicycling) will offer low-cost solutions for getting to essential destinations, like jobs and groceries. Protecting our water and making sure that it’s clean and plentiful before and after climate disruptions will help ensure continued public health. And making sure our urban parks and local infrastructures are resilient and robust enough to withstand the rocky road ahead protects the vital interests of all the people in Rochester.  

Cities like Rochester are at the forefront of lowering greenhouse gas emissions by providing an existing political framework for common actions. The Climate Change challenge may well be ‘won or lost in cities’.

With more than half the human population already living in cities, urban areas are now disproportionately responsible for the planet’s emissions. While they cover less than 2 percent of the Earth’s surface, they consume 78 percent of its energy and produce 60 percent of its CO2 emissions. (“Why world's climate response 'will be won or lost in cities'”, 10/17/2016, Christian Science Monitor)


Many local groups and organizations, like the Rochester People’s Climate Coalition, have participated in the City’s CAP outreach program for the last year working to tailor this plan and make it sensitive to the needs of our city. I encourage community leaders, especially those in disadvantaged communities, to bring their constituents to this important public meeting at City Hall and be an integral part of the City’s plans. Many jobs, better public health, more accommodating public transportation can be realized if the voices who have hitherto been quiet on Climate Change speak up so that their city hears them.  

Monday, October 24, 2016

Can dinosaurs save us from Climate Change?

One of the recent developments in paleontology is the possible resurrection of the dinosaurs. As fascinating as realizing a Jurassic-Park scenario may be, I’m not so sure spending our time and money on such an ‘accomplishment’ is such a good idea. As our world quickly and disastrously warms, our best and brightest should be finding out exactly how Climate Change is most likely to unfold and how we can adapt to that. Stopping and maybe even reversing Climate Change would be good too.

This notion of bringing back dinosaurs isn’t as fantastic as you might think. Soft Tyrannosaurus Rex tissue has been discovered and may include some of ancient DNA we may use for reconstruction. Check this out:  

Dinosaurs: The Hunt for Life The hunt for life within the long-dead bones of dinosaurs may sound like the stuff of Hollywood fantasy, but one woman has found traces of life within the fossilised bones of a T rex. Dr Mary Schweitzer has seen the remains of red blood cells and touched the soft tissue of an animal that died 68 million years ago. Most excitingly of all, she believes she may just have found signs of DNA. Her work is revolutionising our understanding of these iconic beasts. (2013-14, BBC)

Besides being a mob of rapacious creatures that kept our ancestors rat-sized for millions of years, T-rex and the whole family of dinosaurs (actually of the clade Dinosauria) were victims themselves of a climate change. They didn’t adapt to the climatic changes that came as a result of a 10-mile asteroid plunging into our planet, blanketing the skies with sun-blocking soot. They died off wholesale. If anything, bringing the dinosaurs back to a world we are warming up would most likely make the world better fit for them, not us.  

This idea (albeit a remote one) of bringing back dinosaurs reminds me of the present attempts to bring back another fossil of sorts, a living fossil. In places like Rochester and around the state there is a concerted effort to bring back the large populations of lake sturgeons we used to have.

Comeback of lake sturgeon continues When determining water quality, scientists can study samples for things such as temperature, bacteria, dissolved oxygen, nutrients and toxic substances. Or they can just see how the sturgeon are doing. Dubbed “living fossils,’’ lake sturgeon with their bony backs and side plates are an ancient bottom feeding fish that once supported a robust commercial fishing industry in the Great Lakes into the early 1900s. Overfishing, pollution and loss of habitat led to a drastic population decline and extirpation from many bodies of water. But what man ruined, man is fixing. (October 21, 2016) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Our state’s environmental officials are attempting to preserve and increase the Lake Sturgeon that can grow as large as “7+ feet and 300+ pounds.” This primitive fish is listed as ‘threatened.’

Lake Sturgeon Fact Sheet: The American Fisheries Society has listed the lake sturgeon as threatened in all the states where it occurs. Although it is difficult to determine the specific causes of lake sturgeon population declines, several factors have been blamed, including: over exploitation of stocks due to high demand for their eggs (caviar) and smoked flesh; construction of dams that cut off spawning and nursery areas; and possibly byproducts of urban and rural development such as pollution and channelization that caused degradation of habitat.” (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation)

I suppose it’s comforting to believe we can bring back the lake sturgeon in large numbers. However, is it even possible with Climate Change? Are we wasting our time trying to reestablish a creature that probably won’t survive very long anyway? Here’s what the National Wildlife Federation says: 

“Climate change is expected to further threaten this fish as rising water temperatures greatly decrease the quality and quantity of spawning and nursery habitats. Climatic variability could also disrupt the timing of sturgeon reproduction and length of optimal fish growth periods as environmental cues shift and warming waters affect stream ecological processes and ecosystem health. Lake sturgeon are also vulnerable to changes in water levels and increased runoff associated with extreme weather and climate change.” (Global Warming and the Lake Sturgeon)

And another thing, shouldn’t our media tell the whole story about reintroducing wildlife into our environment, an environment that is getting warmer and perhaps not suited for some species that used to thrive in our past environment?

Wouldn’t it be wiser to help the species we need to foster critical ecosystems by prioritizing efforts to provide passageways through our urban areas and infrastructures, so that they (and we) can adapt to Climate Change?

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to disparage either dinosaurs or sturgeons. They were very cool in their day. We can learn a lot about adaptation from these creatures, but our focus should be on the creatures we need to survive the great warming we have created. 


Time passes. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Terrible ticking of the Climate Change clock goes on despite US elections

One of the more maddening characteristics of being human is that we don’t usually get our priorities straight until we’re past the age where we could have prevented the worst consequences of our actions. Youth is wasted on the young and all that. In my case, it took me too long to realize that it was far more important to lift barbells correctly rather than adding weights quickly. I’d like to go back and tell my younger self that keeping my back safe should have been my priority. Not how much weight I could lift in the shortest possible time.

Likewise, I suspect we will look back on this presidential election and wonder why we got our priorities so screwed up. Why wasn’t Climate Change the top priority? Many of those who will live to 2050, when there will be nine billion of us trying to thrive on a rapidly warming planet, will be wishing we could change the outcome of one of the last times in our history when we could have pivoted and saved ourselves from the worst consequences of Climate Change. One of those last moments would be now, 2016, as someone takes the helm from President Obama just as the Paris Agreement goes into effect.  

While our elections churn on in the most distracting and godawful way, the terrible ticking of the Climate Change clock goes on. We’ve reached the point (400ppm) where the lowest concentrations of carbon dioxide each coming year are the highest we have ever experienced. The glaciers are melting from above and below in ways our experts don’t completely understand, which may cause a devastating sea level rise much quicker than expected. And the closer we get to a price on carbon emissions, the less likely it will be nearly enough to address the problem. [See: Why We Need a Carbon Tax,  And Why It Won’t Be Enough by Bill McKibben]

Key in shifting our attention and actions to address Climate Change is leadership by the most powerful office in the world, the President of the United States.

But the opportunity to focus on Climate Change during this election season has been completely hijacked by the specter of placing a person in the highest office who lacks the basic standards of human decency. First Lady Michelle Obama totally nails this crisis and why it must be addressed now:
Michelle Obama Gives Powerful Speech Roasting Trump For Predatory Comments (VIDEO) "The fact is that in this election, we have a candidate for president of the United States who, over the course of his lifetime and the course of this campaign has said things about women that are so shocking. So demeaning," she said. "I simply will not repeat anything here today. And last week we saw this candidate actually bragging about sexually assaulting women. And I can't believe that I'm saying that." (October 13, 2016, TalkPointsMemo.com)

When something truly awful transpires (what if Hurricane Mathew had remained a level 5 all the way up the US eastern coast?) and bankrupts our government’s ability to recover, many will finally understand why years before this terrible calamity we should have put addressing Climate Change front and center of this particular election.  

As things get worse, ‘shoulda woulda coulda’ may be the epitaph chiseled on humanity’s gravestone.

Time passes.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Take note: Earth’s environment experiences our existence via our infrastructures

Humanity is frantically updating and building its infrastructures during Climate Change but not necessarily the right ones. Infrastructure—gas and oil pipelines, telecommunication networks, water pipes, roads and bridges, waste treatment lines, buildings etc.—is a boring term that describes human built systems that supply 7 billion of us with vital life-sustaining elements. Cave men and women didn’t need gasoline pumps, electric outlets, Internet connections, toilets, a kitchen sink with hot and cold running water, but now humanity does. However, despite the message from climate scientists and the Paris Agreement, we are still putting too much of our time and money into the very infrastructures that got us in this climate mess.

Our survival requires that we shift gears on infrastructure development immediately—if not yesterday.

World needs $90tn infrastructure overhaul to avoid climate disaster, study finds Report by Global Commission on the Economy and Climate says world needs ‘urgent’ shift away from carbon-heavy infrastructure over the next 15 years A gigantic overhaul of the world’s buildings, public transport and energy infrastructure costing trillions of dollars is required if dangerous climate change is to be avoided, according to a major new report. The study by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, which is co-chaired by prominent climate economist Lord Nicholas Stern, found that the world is expected to invest about $90tn in infrastructure over the next 15 years, requiring an “urgent” shift to ensure that this money is spent on low-carbon, energy-efficient projects. Such smart investment over the next two or three years could help ameliorate the climate crisis, but “the window for making the right choices is narrow and closing fast”.  (October 6, 2016) The Guardian

This week the Paris Agreement got ratified and will go into effect soon. While not perfect, as it is not legally binding and it doesn’t press hard enough for realistic carbon emission limits, the treaty does demonstrate that the world is waking up to the existential threat posed by our use of fossil fuels. That is to say, we have a real chance now that the Paris Agreement officially puts climate denial to rest.

The Paris climate agreement is entering into force. Now comes the hard part. The European Parliament voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to ratify the Paris climate accord, a move that will make the sweeping international agreement a legal reality long before even those who negotiated it expected. “We made the deal in Europe, and we make it a reality in Europe,” Miguel Arias CaƱete, the E.U.’s climate and energy commissioner, said on Twitter after the vote. The Paris agreement enters into force when at least 55 countries, representing 55 percent of global emissions, have joined it. Before Tuesday, those numbers stood at 62 nations and just shy of 52 percent of emissions, thanks to ratification by India over the weekend. (October 4, 2016) The Washington Post 

Our infrastructures, a great serpentine extension to our existence, are our environmental footprints. We are a great beast upon the planet. We share in our environmental impacts via our built conduits as we drink in humongous amounts of water from our lakes, streams, and aquifers, then excrete back contamination. We breathe in the life-giving by-product of our planet’s flora and exhale dangerous pollution that is killing millions. Our transportation systems trample and bifurcate innumerable ecosystems so we can get around.  Thousands of miles of fossil fuel pipelines network through land and water, oftentimes bleeding their contents into their hosts and poisoning them.

At the same time, all these critical infrastructures are vulnerable to the very forces they unleash— ecosystem destruction, contamination, and warming. (If you’re having a hard time envisioning how our infrastructures are impacted by Climate Change, you need to look no further than Hurricane Mathew which is (as I write) chewing up communities, highways, homes, businesses, and farms.)

To sustain our existence, we need to quickly transform our infrastructures into benign systems that operate in harmony with life. Not in a warm fuzzy way but in a scientifically rigorous way.
In part, the Paris Agreement is an attempt to shift our energy infrastructures to renewable energy, ones that don’t heat up the planet. 

In Rochester last Thursday, there was a press conference, part of a state-wide effort to get Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign the Geothermal Tax Credit Bill A9925/S6249. It was an excellent opportunity to hear about the importance of this renewable energy option from an exceptional group of speakers—our representatives, installers, environmental leaders, and geothermal business people--who articulated the importance of this pivotal moment in saving a crucial part of our renewable energy mix in New York State.

But only one local media showed up so you might not have heard about this conference.

Call for tax credit bill to support the geothermal industry and jobs in New York There is a mandate in New York State to reduce greenhouse gases by 40 percent by Some New York State Senators, geothermal installers, and other supporters, are calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign a tax credit bill to support the geothermal industry and jobs in New York.    The group came together today at a building on Russell Street in Rochester. That building is being retrofitted with geothermal heating and cooling. (October 6, 2016 WROC Rochester) 

Heating your home or business with geothermal energy can be expensive if there isn’t a tax credit to help offset the costs of installation. After an installation you’re good to go on a very inexpensive, non-polluting, non-greenhouse gas producing, and non-controversial renewable energy source for years and years. Those trying to save geothermal businesses in New York are trying to reach the public but that’s going to be very difficult if the press doesn’t show up. Our present media is an infrastructure also, an eclectic system of message magnifiers who are supposed to amplify what we need to know, not what the media wants us to know.   

The fossil fuel industry still gets billions of dollars in yearly subsidies to continue an energy option that is warming up the planet, while the geothermal renewable energy option, which can alleviate much of the greenhouse gases emissions (up to 35% in NYS) that come from warming buildings with fossil fuel, are dangling from a precipice, struggling to survive.

Alliance for a Green Economy invites you to sign a postcard asking Gov. Cuomo to sign the bill for a geothermal heating & cooling tax credit: Postcard request: Geothermal Heating and Cooling tax credit for NYS

Our infrastructures are now the way our life support system experiences our existence. This great beast, extending so many tentacles into our planet’s life-giving systems, must not be allowed to kill the host.


Time passes. 

Monday, October 03, 2016

Rochester People’s Climate Coalition (RPCC) launches Writing Group to help members reach media

“The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.” ― James Madison

Loosely based on the Niagara Sierra Club’s successful Writing Group, the RPCC is starting a Writer’s Group of its own. This group will help all RPCC member organizations amplify and accelerate its mission by assisting them in working out the best possible language and strategies for reaching the mainstream media. We’ll also leverage all the possible social media aspects of the Internet to get our member’s message to the public.

When: Thursday, October 13th, at 7PM
Where: St. Thomas’ Church of Rochester, 2000 Highland Avenue, Rochester, NY 14618

This group will meet monthly to discuss how RPCC member organization are addressing Climate Change and talk about how to reach local media most effectively. While we wouldn’t be actually writing articles and press releases for our member groups, we will be assisting in all other aspects of shaping the message and getting it to the media—both print and digital media. Neither will the Writing Group be speaking for the RPCC, we are a service of the RPCC for our members. (BTW: If your group isn’t a member of the RPCC, sign up here.) 

With almost 100 member organizations, the RPCC is already reaching many folks though their membership and has become an effective vehicle to bring the crisis on Climate Change to the media’s attention.

“The Rochester People’s Climate Coalition unites local organizations to address the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, transition to a clean energy economy, and prepare for the impacts of global warming.  Through our coordinated, collaborative efforts, we will create a more environmentally just and sustainable community.”   

The Writing Group hopes to noodle through all the opportunities such a vast and diverse coalition can exploit to focus local media’s attention on RPCC’s actions, events, and positions on Climate Change.
Climate Change has metastasized past the point where only a few people can make a difference on this worldwide crisis; now it’s all hands on deck. Check out this recent article by Bill McKibben:

Recalculating the Climate Math The numbers on global warming are even scarier than we thought. The future of humanity depends on math. And the numbers in a new studyreleased Thursday are the most ominous yet. Those numbers spell out, in simple arithmetic, how much of the fossil fuel in the world’s existing coal mines and oil wells we can burn if we want to prevent global warming from cooking the planet. In other words, if our goal is to keep the Earth’s temperature from rising more than two degrees Celsius—the upper limit identified by the nations of the world—how much more new digging and drilling can we do? Here’s the answer: zero. (September 22, 2016) Bill McKibben New Republic [more on Climate Change in our area]

The Writing Group will host ongoing presentations on the nuts and bolts of writing articles, discussions by experts on how to get articles published, meetings with member groups on what they’d already learned about reaching the public via the local media, and discuss new ideas on how engage the public on the crisis of our age. If you have experience or interest in editing, writing, teaching, communication, social media, or web editor skills, come on over.

I’ll be hosting these monthly meetings and try to keep them lively and informative. I was communications chair of the Rochester Regional Group of the Sierra Club for many years, and for almost twenty years my website, RochesterEnvironment.com, has offered me an opportunity to focus my message around the urgency of environmental issues and Climate Change. Your thoughts and experiences are pivotal to the success of this group.


The Writing Group will be fun and useful.