Monday, October 16, 2017

Optimism vs. pessimism on addressing Climate Change: does it matter?

Is it possible that much of the Climate Change news that optimists characterize as pessimism is simply realism? Independent of human sentiment, the Arctic is melting, the parts-per-million of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere is steadily going up, and our oceans are absorbing much of the human-caused heat buildup —causing rising seas and more acidity. As scientists monitor and study the effects of greenhouse gas emissions being pumped into our climate system, the experts are finding that it is increasingly likely that our everyday weather, extreme weather events, our ecosystems, wildlife, and humanity itself are being negatively influenced by Climate Change. Scientists aren’t being pessimistic when they seek to unravel the consequences of Climate Change; they are reporting to humanity about a vital issue.

According to Google, optimism is “hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something” and pessimism is its antonym. That is to say, both optimism and pessimism are human emotions. They are important, but they are not facts.  It is with this observation that I mention this article on how humanity feels about addressing Climate Change at this point in time:  

NEW SURVEY FINDS THAT A MAJORITY OF PEOPLE GLOBALLY ARE OPTIMISTIC ABOUT OUR ABILITY TO ADDRESS CLIMATE CHANGE Climate Week NYC 2017 Opening Ceremony, New York, September 18: A new survey finds that a majority of people globally are optimistic about our ability to address climate change, with 64% of global citizens believing we can address climate change if we take action now. Overall, 33% strongly agree this is the case, and 32% tend to agree. Only 11% disagree that we can address climate change if we take action now. The survey, conducted by global market research firm Ipsos on behalf of non-profit organization The Climate Group and change agency Futerra, polled online adults aged 16-64 in 26 countries and is at the heart of a new campaign, #ClimateOptimist, launched today to change the dominant narrative on climate change. The campaign’s partners include Mars, VF Corp, Interface, Ashden and the DivestInvest movement. The survey found that people in emerging economies are especially likely to feel positive about solving climate change, with 71% of these respondents believing we can address it if we take action now, compared to only 59% in established economies. Countries with high numbers of optimists include Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, Mexico, India, Peru and South Africa. (September 18, 2017) Climate Week NYC [more on Climate Change in our area]

It's problematic as to whether humanity is actually optimistic or pessimistic about addressing Climate Change because these kinds of studies are limited and even the people questioned may change their minds from day to day. So instead of trying to nail down whether the study above accurately sums up humanity’s opinion, I want to address a more interesting statement in the article:

“Solving climate change starts with the belief that we can, so on the one hand it is thrilling to learn that Climate Optimists already far outweigh Pessimists globally,” said Solitaire Townsend, Co-founder of Futerra, speaking at the launch.

It seems self-evident that to solve Climate Change we must believe that we can. But is it? Further, is it even possible to solve Climate Change and if so what does that mean?

I’ll comment on the second question first. If by ‘solving Climate Change’ we mean that we’ll be able to cut greenhouse gases so we can return to our way of life soon, that is unlikely. That’s not being pessimistic, it’s being realistic about the nature of Climate Change. This Climate Change, unlike those climatic changes before, involves over seven billion people together with the critical infrastructure necessary to their (our) survival. And it involves the accumulated environmental abuses—species extinctions, the proliferation of invasive species, pollution, and much more—that must be addressed even if we stop emitting more greenhouse gases right now. Of course, in my opinion, we aren’t going to stop emitting greenhouse gases right now, and we’re probably not going to bring them down to a safe level for a long time. This means we’ll have to adapt to a lot more extremes emanating from what we have stored in our atmosphere and oceans.

At best we might be able to manage the environmental problems ahead and adapt. But our way of life will have to be different. It’s quite a leap of faith to believe that we can or must remain optimistic about preserving a way of life that brought us to this crisis—especially in the face of a Trump administration back-peddling on all our environmental protections and a world distracted by everything else. Humanity is far from setting Climate Change as its top priority, which is what it will take to manage our warming world.   

Second question (slightly altered): Do we need to believe that we can manage Climate Change in order to address it? No. As in any disaster you don’t need to believe you’ll survive it in order to get moving. Ask anyone running from a fire if they only ran because they believed they could outrun the fire. If a fire, a hungry lion, or an avalanche is at your back, you run. It’s what we do, those who survive that is.

The problem with addressing Climate Change is not whether we feel optimistic or pessimistic about the outcome; the problem is recognizing the kind of problem it is. We should not be avoiding the information, dismal as it is, from scientists who are continually fine-tuning what kind of danger we are in.

Regardless of whether we feel optimistic or pessimistic, once humanity realizes that Climate Change constitutes the same kind of danger a hungry lion presents, an existential danger, we’ll get moving.

The question is whether we’ll address Climate Change on a scale and timeframe that will matter.

Time passes. 

Monday, October 09, 2017

Back to Paris Accord should be top Climate Change priority for US

As we go further into Climate Change, a wormhole of environmental impacts from which we may not emerge, our priorities are going to change. However, ultimately, we will be striving for a sustainable future. The Holy Grail, as it were, for addressing Climate Change is to quickly change our collective behavior towards our planet so that life for our species goes on as long as possible. Along the way through the wormhole, we will continually have to adjust our priorities and cut our losses to achieve our ultimate goal.

I don’t know if all people agree with this goal, but they should. Life loves life and does what it must to keep on living. Even when we develop artificial intelligence (AI), we are finding that if self-survival is not programed into the software it will either develop a form of self-preservation itself or we must do it if the artificial entity is going to achieve our goals. You cannot achieve any goals if you and those who were supposed to come after you are dead.

On the moral argument for addressing Climate Change

It’s senseless to argue about the moral imperative for the United States getting back in the Paris accord and leading universal efforts to address Climate Change, because there is no moral argument against it. No nation can thrive if all are overwhelmed by Climate Change. The US (along with other developed nations), which emitted most of the greenhouse gases that are now causing climate disruptions, has the economic and military might to lead. That infers a profound moral obligation.

If nations are not persuaded by the moral imperative for the world to act as one on this crisis, they probably never will. Presently we are seeing a last-ditch stance against life itself in favor of some irresponsible freedoms—like free-speech for climate denial and gun ownership--as our country is reeling from record-breaking hurricanes and the recent massacre in Las Vegas.

The moral arguments for addressing Climate Change and gun control are already obvious. We just don’t want to be held to these obligations. They are being ignored and still disputed despite overwhelming evidence. Pope Francis already made some of the clearest arguments for addressing Climate Change in his Laudato Si in 2015. More delay will probably not bear fruit. Humanity must decide if we are to be bound by the moral imperatives of addressing Climate Change, and not only because it’s the right thing to do. If we do not, we are likely to perish.

Violence and punishment, as our species has traditionally used to enforce moral dictates, will not work against those who would have their way regardless. (Not to mention that violence against those who disagree with us is itself immoral.) It would take only a few bad players, players who can achieve their selfish goals and poison our life support system in secret, to destroy the efforts of all. Market forces, which caused Climate Change, won’t solve this crisis either because many of the problems (like ecosystems collapse) cannot be priced adequately.

Why the Paris Accord must be our top priority right now

Much of the rational debates and discussions about Climate Change are about how to get to our ultimate goal on a scale and timeframe that will matter—to us. (Life in some form may well go on after we trash the place and we pay the ultimate price, but it won’t matter to us—because we’ll be gone.)

Trump, working his darndest to dismantle President Obama’s efforts to address Climate Change, and pulling out of the Paris Accord, has produced a flurry of climate activism. Cities (like Rochester, NY), states (like New York and California), environmental groups, and many businesses are doubling down on their efforts to adhere to the Paris recommendations: keeping humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions down, updating our infrastructures, and trying to get renewable energy to replace fossil fuels. So much is being done by these groups trying to shift the market forces towards favoring renewable energy, that these heroic efforts have spawned the belief that what Trump or the federal government does or doesn’t do about Climate Change doesn’t much matter. This attitude is mistaken. Further, the US pulling out of the Paris Accord would be a major blunder by our climate-denying president that humanity may not be able to recover from.

It is unlikely we will be able to work around a leader hell-bent on continuing an anti-environment, pro-fossil fuel agenda:

  •  THE TRUMP EFFECT, Tracking the impact of the president’s policies | Paris Climate Agreement, Trump announced in June that the United States would withdraw from the Paris accord, dealing a blow to international efforts tackling dangers for the planet posed by global warming. (Reuters)
  • 48 Environmental Rules on the Way Out Under Trump (10/05/2017, New York Times)
  • International concern as US moves to end clean power plan The Trump administration plans to repeal and replace landmark policy that underpinned US commitment to Paris Agreement and a key climate deal with China News that the Trump administration will move to repeal and replace the clean power plan (CPP) – a major initiative to cut emissions from the US electricity sector – has been met with concern overseas. On Wednesday, the Reuters news agency reported on a document leaked from the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) outlining a plan to scrap the Obama-era measure. It also called for input on a replacement policy that would reduce carbon emissions in fossil fuel power plants. Industry is reportedly lobbying for a weaker rule. (October 4, 2017) Climate Home

First, Climate Change is a human-caused phenomenon that has no single remedy. Climate Change, though about warming our planet, includes a long history of human abuse to our life support system that will have to be addressed along with the great warming and our propensity to continually enlarge our numbers and needs on a finite planet.

Renewable energy use is growing in leaps and bounds. It may, as many proponents suggest, bypass fossil fuel simply because it’s doing better in the market. But this crisis involves more than switching to a non-polluting form of energy soon. We will still have to adapt to a lot of heat stored up in our atmosphere and our oceans.

Despite all the talk of cities and states binding together to address Climate Change and how compelling the market is for renewable energy, there is no substitute for all the nations of the world having a platform from which to share information and work on strategies for addressing Climate Change. Governments of the world must work together on Climate Change because there is no substitute for nations ratifying treaties, leading the public and business, governing their own nations, and making sure nations don’t thwart each other’s actions.

Science must be the guide to address Climate Change because it is a universal discipline that all nations respect—however dicey that may seem in the US at the moment. Tailoring or pandering our language so “hope” can shine through is problematic because there are so many ways hope can create delusional efforts, ones that don’t match the scale and scope of the problem. A respect for science is the only way we can ensure that our selfishness and our ideologies don’t take over. Science, with more scientists and their wonderful instruments, are the quickest way humanity can get in sync with nature. Anything else, like preserving our way of living on fossil fuels, is not likely to work on any time scale.

Nations of the world all share the same ultimate goal: to survive. They cannot do this by circumventing working together on the world stage. Many are thinking that it’s a given that the United States will completely withdraw from the Paris Accord, and therefore everyone who is not the federal government must work around the Trump administration -- businesses and individuals, cities, and states.

But there isn’t a work-around; there is the Paris Accord or there are ad hoc efforts that won’t be sufficient. All options are not on the table anymore and our options will get fewer as we drag our feet ever longer.

There are those who are putting their faith in human technology, the human spirit, and even super-smart AI. We’ve long known about the possible Climate Change scenarios, and even seen them played out in the recent record-breaking hurricanes. Yet, massive damage to people and their infrastructures are accompanied by a constant yammer that ‘this isn’t the time to talk about Climate Change.”

That is to say, being smart and knowing what to do are not enough. We must summon the collective will to survive in a warming world, which is different than what our traditional threats have been. We must become the world’s steward now, not at some hopeful time in the future. And what’s even stickier for us violent-prone people is that we cannot force the necessary change on an unwilling populace, like religious wars of the past. We must want to get through the wormhole, all of us.

Somehow, we must convince our world leaders that we work together or we perish separately. We cannot thrive anymore if our environment, our life support system, is not everyone’s top priority.

Time passes.

Monday, October 02, 2017

How will Climate Change impact Rochester, NY and what do we plan to do about it?

Local impacts of Climate Change

One of the ways a community gathers information about how Climate Change will impact them and how they will address the consequences is through a Climate Action Plan (CAP). It takes years of data gathering and collaboration to produce a CAP that diverse groups can sign on to. But it’s all worth it.

The disaster occurring now in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria highlights why Climate Action Plans are critical. In major extreme weather disasters, public health, insurance issues, infrastructure (transportation, water, wastewater, telecommunications) all reach a tipping point if communities are not ready for the worse. You really understand the vital connections between our infrastructures and Climate Change when you consider Puerto Rico’s power grid plight.
Why Puerto Rico faces a monumental recovery effort Almost a week after Hurricane Maria pounded its way across Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm with sustained winds of 155 mph, the outlook for anything but a long and arduous recovery is bleak. FEMA reported Tuesday that only 11 of 69 hospitals had power, and Gov. Ricardo Rossell├│ said only about 5% of the island's power grid was operational. Less than half the population had potable water. Cell service was out in 95% of the territory, FEMA said. More than 11,000 people remained in shelters. President Trump will wait until next week to visit, saying he didn't want to disrupt the efforts of first-responders still saving lives on the storm-battered island. "The island was hit as hard as you could hit," Trump said. "The island is devastated." Several factors are slowing the recovery effort. Here are some of them: (September 27, 2017) USA Today

The City’s CAP explains that the following local impacts of Climate Change are coming: increasing temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, impacts to the Great Lakes, reduced winter recreation, impacts to agriculture, and impacts to human health and equity. (Page 4, CAP). Each category has its own section in the CAP, but the following description of the public health issue gives a sense of how complex each impact can be. 

Climate change will have a variety of public health consequences, including heat-related illnesses, allergies, asthma, water and food borne illnesses, cardiovascular disease, and others. While climate change will affect the health of the entire community, some groups will be disproportionately more affected than others. For instance, low-income populations and the elderly may lack access to cooled spaces during hot weather--and those with respiratory illness may be more vulnerable to air pollution.

Not all Climate Change impacts are dire, immediate threats, like those in Hurricane Alley. Most impacts in our region are subtle but involve profound changes that alter our environment from one that was relatively stable for 10, 000 years to one whose trajectory is a threat to our future. These seemingly slow-moving threats are no less urgent because addressing them in time to matter usually means getting started years or decades before they become noticeable. For example, it’s the dickens trying to restore a complex ecosystem after it has crashed.

Through my own readings of climate studies that include impacts to our region,  the following are already occurring: annual temperatures increases, increase in intensive precipitation events, bird population shifts, reduced snowpack and earlier ice break up, increases in lake effect snowfall, increased plant frost damage, changes to plant growth and decomposition rates, species migration, streamflow changes, amphibians responding to Climate Change, invasive species thriving, wildlife affected by Climate Change, declining lake ice cover, increases in heat-related illnesses, increased incidents of ground-level ozone, livestock heat stress, changes to timing of seasons, northeast US extreme weather increases, which drives up liability claims, NYS coastal sea level rising, Climate Change causing plants to shift, and forest pests increasing. (For a fuller description of each item and resources, go here.)

The most immediate problems with Climate Change in our region are sewer overflows that threaten our water quality; toxic blue-green algae blooms that are increasingly showing up in our lakes, and our shoreline flooding. These issues are not covered by the Rochester’s CAP because they are outside of the City’s jurisdiction, not to mention Climate Change is a bigger problem than any one community can address.

What does Climate Change mean?

Many environmental, transportation, anti-poverty, and public health groups are making important inroads towards addressing Climate Change in our area, but often not under the name of Climate Change. It matters that we view our future as one that is warming because it will be impossible to manage our environment if we only do so by looking backwards. Over the years I’ve become philosophical about this crisis in the sense that our world has changed from a stable climate to one that may someday spiral beyond our ability to adapt. We must find out if Climate Change is truly an existential threat, one that will end our time on this planet. Despite the increasing clarity brought to this issue by science, it is more muddled than ever in the public’s mind by our politics.

We not only need sound data, like that provided by New York Climate Change Science Clearinghouse (NYCCSC), we need to view Climate Change as an extraordinary crisis for humanity. I see Climate Change as a moral, physical, and existential problem. We are entering a tumultuous time when the accumulated effects of past environmental damages are mixing with the consequences of a quickly warming planet filled with 7 billion people and their infrastructures (which are now an integral part of our collective existence). This means there may not be any ‘solutions’ to Climate Change. Instead, we must learn to manage the myriad consequences of Climate Change so we can make our life support systems sustainable for us. To manage all this, we must constantly be aware of the climate indicators that will give us objective feedback on whether we are actually moving in the right direction.

Too often, too many are relying on opinions, stances, and ideology for answers to a scientific/biological problem and coming up with delusional solutions. During this extraordinary time, when the consequences of Climate Change are exploding, we are losing our respect for science. (Indeed, when I marched with tens of thousands to support science in the March for Science in Washington, DC in April, it was an out-of-anything-remotely-normal experience.) Living in a time when science itself needs to be restored is beyond sad. Without science baked into Climate Change communications, everyone’s arguments, even the most specious, are considered equally, which fuels doubt, inaction, and communication blockage.

The City of Rochester views Climate Change solutions in terms of targets. Emission Reduction Targets (Page 32, CAP):

1. Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% from 2010 levels by 2020, and
2. Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% from 2010 levels by 2030.

While these targets may be attainable politically, science is telling us we need to stop putting any more greenhouse gases into our atmosphere and waters right now. In fact, as the name describes, the organization suggests we reset our carbon dioxide concentration back to a time where our species thrived. CO2 concentration is now over 400ppm and likely not to go below that in any of our lifetimes.  

City’s Climate Change solutions are inherently limited.

Many communities (like Portland, Oregon) have long since passed and pro-actively set their CAP in motion—where one of the benefits is to have established benchmarks so that present efforts can be measured against past data. As I have long encouraged the adoption of a Rochester CAP, I don’t want to downplay the efforts put towards Rochester’s achievement that made it happen—or the quality of insights and solutions.  Rochester’s CAP is aware of the scope of the problem and is trying to work with local groups, businesses, Monroe County, New York State, and the federal government to address Climate Change.

But Rochester is late to the game. And, outside the CAP document itself, Rochester still has a ‘no regrets’ attitude towards Climate Change. Our leaders probably believe in the science behind Climate Change and believe that their policies will help make our infrastructures (like our transportation systems) more resilient to weather extremes and fair to all who need to get around. But our political leaders are not so willing to step up and publicly announce that they are trying to adapt to and mitigate Climate Change. Our leaders probably see this as the role of climate activists. The problem with that strategy is it encourages the notion in the public and our media that Climate Change is still a special interest for just a few.

The City’s Climate Change solutions (discussed in depth in “Chapter 4: How Do We Get There?” -- page 43) are detailed but aspirational and limited. Even if wildly successful, Rochester is only one community among hundreds of thousands around the world.    

The CAP talks about various infrastructures and the need to protect them. But even with water, gas, communications, and other conduits passing through it, the City can only do so much. Each infrastructure crosses many judications, properties, and enforcement. Take bus transportation, for example: The City sits on the board of Rochester Transit System (RTS) but cannot even force RTS to keep bus stops cleared of snow so folks with wheelchairs can use this system in the winter—which makes living on their own a great challenge.

Rochester can advise on how to treat local wildlife, but the authority to help wildlife adapt to Climate Change is not part of its purview. Rochester can help develop codes for how much greenhouse gases its own municipality can put into our air, but our air covers the entire planet. Our water comes, in part, from Lake Ontario, whose control is under the jurisdiction of several states and Canada.

In other words, there are many climate indicators missing in the CAP because of the inherent limitation of the City’s physical and legal influence. We can and are building partnerships locally, with other cities, states, and even nations. But there’s not much about ecosystem health, about addressing industrial agriculture (though the City can and is incorporating urban agriculture into its plan), and sequestering CO2 in our soil. Rochester can and is encouraging renewable electricity, and that will have ripple-effects through the private and public sectors. But, like with buildings’ energy efficiency, trying to solve even local stuff is incredibly thorny as the City authority is trumped by our major utilities and the government dare not get too pushy with private property owners, landlords, and tenants. 

These are the major venues through which Climate solutions are recommended by the CAP: (from Page 34, Overview, CAP)

  • ·         Energy and Supply includes stationary energy uses such as residential electricity and natural gas consumption. Strategies include increasing energy efficiency, implementing renewable energy, and fuel switching.
  • ·         Transportation includes all on-road transportation such as residents’ motor vehicles, commercial vehicles, and mass transit. Strategies include, promoting multimodal travel and adopting alternative fuel vehicles.
  • ·         Waste/Materials Management includes emissions from the breakdown of organic material in solid waste. Strategies include solid waste reduction and diversion.
  • ·         Clean Water includes all emissions associated with potable water production and delivery, as well as those associated with wastewater treatment and disposal.
  • ·         Land Use includes the emissions and sequestration ability associated with changing land use patterns. The CAP does not include specific mitigation strategies for this focus area because direct land use related GHG emissions were not measured as part of the CAP baseline inventory. However, the Land Use focus area includes actions intended to improve the community’s ability to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Rochester cannot address Climate Change alone

We in Rochester cannot address Climate Change without understanding the full implications of this crisis and working with the world community. To do that we need a local media that continually informs the public about Climate Change with reference to the CAP.

One of the more hopeful signs is that a now major organization, the Rochester People’s Climate Coalition (RPCC) with over 125-member organizations, is adopting the solutions strategies from the CAP.  The RPCC, a voluntary group, has even stepped up to the plate as one of the work groups for solutions.  

Finally, while “Monroe County and the City of Rochester have been proactive in addressing flooding problems.” (PEER-TO-PEER CASE STUDY: MONROE COUNTY, NEW YORK Designing Green Infrastructure Standards For Retrofits) they are not doing so under the rubric of Climate Change. For our region to play an important role in addressing Climate Change locally, we need all of Monroe County on board.

Rochester is now a part of the worldwide solution to Climate Change but we can only be effective if we’re part of a concerted effort involving every community.

Time passes. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

The rapid rise in a likely Climate Change indicator around Rochester

While not labeled a climate indicator by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the steady increase in the number of lakes in our Rochester, NY region getting nailed by blue-green algae blooms spells Climate Change. More nutrients mixing with warmer waters, and heavy precipitation (which is on the EPA’s indicator list) are a likely sign of Climate Change in our region. Over the last few years, there’s been an astonishing increase in blue-green algae blooms and this problem isn’t going to go away by ignoring Climate Change.  

Blue-green algae blooms reported in 7 Finger Lakes, including Skaneateles It's been a bad week for the Finger Lakes and blue-green algae — a very bad week indeed. Canandaigua, Keuka, Cayuga, Conesus, Honeoye and Owasco, all Finger Lakes, appear on the NYS DEC harmful algal bloom notification list that was updated this afternoon. Joining them is a real eye-opener: Skaneateles Lake, which reported a bloom this week for the first time since public tracking of them began in 2009. The discovery set off alarm bells in Syracuse, which draws unfiltered drinking water from the lake. Until now, many had thought it all but impossible for blue-green algae to bloom to any great degree in Skaneateles, one of the cleanest of the Finger Lakes. (September 15, 2017) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle [more on Climate Change and Water Quality and Finger Lakes in our area]

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation counts over 50 waterbodies statewide with confirmed or suspicious harmful algae outbreaks this year: Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) Notifications Page

Our drinking water, our shoreline property values, and the invaluable ecosystems that are our lakes are under threat and we must address this.

Scientists predict that climate change will have many effects on freshwater and marine environments. These effects, along with nutrient pollution, might cause harmful algal blooms to occur more often, in more waterbodies and to be more intense.  Algal blooms endanger human health, the environment and economies across the United States. (Climate Change and Harmful Algal Blooms, Environmental Protection Agency)

It is less likely we’ll be able to address what will likely be more algal blooms if we fail to understand the Climate Change component. We are cooking our lakes and streams with everything we and Nature have put into them, which makes solutions for their sustainability impossible without dealing with the heat.   

Time passes.


Monday, September 18, 2017

Past time to talk about Climate Change

When is the best time to talk about Climate Change? Now, after record-breaking hurricanes, before our elections, in elementary school where we start to learn about the sciences, at Thanksgiving or Christmas family gatherings, at community gatherings, over a drink at the local tavern, on social media, while driving and connected to our Smartphones, only when taking a college course on Climate Change, at a meeting where people already agree on addressing this crisis, while on a vacation or a long bike ride, at a bus stop while waiting for a bus, during a doctor visit, while walking the dog, on a date, jogging down the street with a friend, intermission at a movie or basketball game, or after every environmental emergency, every appointment, while watching a sports event, TV show, or only after every other thing has been exhausted and there’s nothing left to talk about (and even then just keeping quiet about Climate Change would be preferable)? My guess, after watching this issue unfold over the decades, is that NEVER is the answer most people would like. Of course, that would be suicidal for us and our children.

Did your media mention the Climate Change connection to Hurricanes Harvey or Irma? If not, why not? Too divisive, too much info, too boring, too wonky, too scary? (What else is your media keeping from you?)

To solve Climate Change, to plan for our future in a time frame and scale that will matter, the public needs to be engaged with this crisis. That is going to be more unlikely to happen when their media is not reporting fully on extreme weather, why these storms are getting so big, causing so much damage, and what can be done to adapt to them in a warmer world.

A Storm of Silence: Study Finds Media Is Largely Ignoring Link Between Hurricanes and Climate Change "A Storm of Silence." That’s the title of a new report by the watchdog group Public Citizen that looks at the media’s failure to discuss climate change in its wall-to-wall hurricane coverage. While all the television networks commented on the magnitude of Hurricane Harvey and "extreme weather," virtually none explained how warmer ocean temperatures lead to heavier winds, warmer air causes more precipitation, and higher sea levels exacerbate storm surges. The report examined 18 media sources’ coverage of Hurricane Harvey—looking at 10 major newspapers, three weekly news magazines and national programming from ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and Fox News over the course of eight days’ worth of Hurricane Harvey coverage. The report concludes, "Many failed to discuss the issue [of climate change] much or failed to cover important aspects of it. ... Two of the three major broadcast networks, ABC and NBC, did not mention climate change at all in the context of Hurricane Harvey." We speak to David Arkush, managing director of Public Citizen’s Climate Program. (September 12, 2017) Democracy Now! [more on Climate Change in our area]

The Miami Herald pushed back only a teeny-weeny bit against the Trump version of science (‘We’ve had bigger storms than this”) when they said,

However, some scientists have found that the effects of global warming — namely warmer oceans and hotter air — can intensify hurricane formation and result in higher rainfall, though just how much those factors might affect the storms remains uncertain. Higher sea levels can contribute to more devastating storm surge. (Irma doesn’t persuade Trump on climate change: ‘We’ve had bigger storms than this’, September 14, 2017) Miami Herald [more on Climate Change in our area]

“Some scientists”? Really? Does the characterization of 98% of the world’s scientists constitute “some scientists”? Could the Miami Herald sound more equivocal on the science behind Climate Change?

Would our media have covered the recent record-breaking hurricanes and the Climate Change connection better if we had not plunked a climate denier into the top office? If we had voted into office a responsible leader who acknowledged the importance of science, would the US mainstream media have stood up against climate denial? We’ll never know because some things cannot be undone and time is running out on addressing Climate Change.  

We Americans tried silence on the slavery issue, where only the very brave spoke up against greatest evil our country ever perpetrated. But by 1861 the awful quiet that condemned millions to a horrific existence became impossible. The actions of those who thought slavery evil and the reactions of those who thought it was a good idea grew more hostile until a great (not in a good way) Civil War broke out.

What if our forefathers had decided that indeed “… all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”? We hushed the prospects of a real discussion on Freedom because we thought we couldn’t form a country without the evil silence. If we knew what would ensue, would we have tried something other than silence?

Being silent on slavery and Climate Change are both morally reprehensible. But Climate Change has the added punch of dire physical consequences if we don’t act. Silence ruined millions of lives with slavery. Climate Change may tip our environment past our ability to right it.

What will be the most likely outcomes of climate silence?
  • Untold billions of lives lost and ruined because a planet allowed to get too hot
  • We’ll put more climate deniers into top political offices because we won’t challenge their science, making it less likely we’ll adapt
  • The public will be lulled into thinking there are other priorities more important than this existential crisis and so we will continue to kick the can down the road
  • We’ll keep developing and redeveloping destroyed property from extreme weather until our insurance companies and the insurer of last resort (our federal government) can no longer afford it.
  • Our media will really become ‘fake media’ as it distances itself from science.
  • Perhaps, like with slavery, the tensions between those who think we must address Climate Change and those who don’t want to talk about it will escalate. But, unlike the differences between the slave states and the non-slave states, we won’t be able to cordon ourselves off from each other. We may not be one on Climate Change, but Earth is one life system that affects us all.

We’re going to address Climate Change in time or not.  

This statement by the Miami mayor seems a reasonable response to the recent spate of record-breaking hurricanes in the USA:

Miami Mayor To Donald Trump: It’s Time To Talk About Climate Change As Hurricane Irma forces millions to evacuate, Mayor Tom├ís Regalado says: “If this isn’t climate change, I don’t know what is.” (September 9, 2017, Huffington Post)

Time passes. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Is Rochester ready for Harvey?

Climate Change is complicated. It can and does contain so many consequences (some known and who knows how many unknowns?) that we won’t be able to prepare for all of them. This tragic case is further exasperated by the climate denial meme that turns our innate ability to imagine adaptation solutions upside-down. Instead of doing what our species does best, adapt to changing conditions, and maybe in the process become a better and more just species, we are still pushing back against the very science that proves Climate Change.

What’s been normal for humanity is to try and understand the nature of disasters and plan for avoiding or dealing with them. To do so in this worldwide crisis, we need as much information as possible and many minds engaged in working out just what this man-made climate change means.  

Climate Change is more than protecting ourselves against the most striking forms of this change, flooding, and wildfires. It is the infinite vicissitudes that come with the interactions among Earth’s natural ecosystems, man’s built environment, past environmental pollution, and the rapid introduction of all that trapped energy from the Sun. Granted, we cannot prepare for every climate scenario, including stuff we don’t know about yet, but we should be able to prepare for the most obvious and the worse.

As many climate activists watch the tragedy playing out in Houston, we are reminded of similar disasters in the USA: Hurricanes Katrine and Sandy. They were most likely amplified by warming waters fueling more violent storms in heavily populated regions.

Hurricane Harvey, the latest US climate disaster, is playing out as one would expect in the presence of rampant sprawl, inadequate infrastructure preparation, and decades of insufficient climate action caused by climate denial. Even now, with the climate-denying Trump administration providing federal emergency help in Houston, the public is getting a mixed message. The message that this disaster was Climate-Change related and begs for adequate planning in all our vulnerable regions is scorned by this administration.  

Besides pulling the rug from under the National Climate Assessment, Trump’s wrong-headed ideology is quietly at work undermining our ability to adapt to Climate Change:

Trump reversed regulations to protect infrastructure against flooding just days before Hurricane Harvey Ten days before Hurricane Harvey descended upon Texas on Friday, wreaking havoc and causing widespread flooding, President Donald Trump signed an executive order revoking a set of regulations that would have made federally funded infrastructure less vulnerable to flooding. The Obama-era rules, which had not yet gone into effect, would have required the federal government to take into account the risk of flooding and sea-level rise as a result of climate change when constructing new infrastructure and rebuilding after disasters. Experts are predicting that Harvey — the most powerful storm to hit the US since 2004 — will cost Texas between $30 billion and $100 billion in damage. (August 28, 2017) Business Insider [more on Climate Change in our area]

We must ask ourselves: was Houston’s infrastructure adequately prepared for the predictions of climate science? In a region that gets large hurricanes and with Climate Change amplifying those storms, it would have been prudent to prepared the public and their infrastructures for the kind of deluge Hurricane Harvey brought.

Rochester’s rainfall is nowhere near the amount that Houston gets, but still, remembering last spring, we can get a lot of heavy rainfall that causes a lot of flooding—causing shoreline property damage and health problems when waste water treatment plants overflow. For us, this kind of rainfall is the most obvious consequence of Climate Change—though there are many others that affect us here.

Towards adapting to more heavy rains in our region, I found this joint effort by Monroe County and the City to contain our storm waters in the City’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) hopeful:

(NOAA) partnered to develop a Green Infrastructure Retrofit Manual, which focuses on green infrastructure design in our region that addresses water quality, flood prevention, air quality, habitat and wildlife, health and wellness, as well as climate resiliency. The manual will include guidance for design, construction, operation and maintenance of green infrastructure retrofit techniques. Design standards for green infrastructure practices include tree planting, porous pavement, bioretention facilities, rain gardens, green roofs, and retrofits for existing nongreen infrastructure facilities (such as drainage ponds). Operation and maintenance guidance will address inspection techniques, schedules, and performance monitoring. (page 47, CAP)

Check out this level of cooperation in the Green Infrastructure Retrofit Manual on a mutual problem that relates to Climate Change adaptation in our region:

Monroe County and the City of Rochester have been proactive in addressing flooding problems. Officials employed nature-based solutions, including bioswales, permeable sidewalks, and green roofs, using these projects as opportunities to test techniques, build skills, and get buy-in to support more use of green infrastructure. (PEER-TO-PEER CASE STUDY: MONROE COUNTY, NEW YORK Designing Green Infrastructure Standards For Retrofits)

This joint effort to prevent flooding problems is just one hopeful sign that we are finally acknowledging the problem of heavy rainfall (though Monroe County still has trouble saying, ‘Climate Change’). But there’s a lot more we need to do to educate the public and get all the communities around the Great Lakes Basin to prevent raw sewage overflows into the same ecosystem where we get our drinking water. And there are many more likely changes coming to our region because of Climate Change that will we have to address soon enough.
Because we have dragged our feet so long on addressing Climate Change, we have stored up a lot of heat (energy) in our atmosphere and oceans. All that must play out in the coming years, where we will have to adapt even if we go 100% renewable energy and stop all further manmade greenhouse gas emissions. A species adapts or perishes, as billions before us have done for billions of years.

We have a lot to do and a lot to learn about what Climate Change actually means to us and the planet we live on. The least we should expect from ourselves and our government, even as we continue to argue about or ignore the hard science behind this self-inflicted crisis, is that we prepare for the most obvious disasters. Containing our waters as they increase and threaten our water quality and our now critical infrastructures is first and foremost for our region.
In the near future, we will have to prepare for events humanity has never experienced before (like what’s happening in the Caribbean “Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 Hurricane, Makes Landfall in Caribbean”, (9/6/2017 New York Times).  

If your community (like Rochester, Irondequoit, Brighton, and Brockport in Monroe County) is part of New York State’s Climate Smart Communities program, they’d be getting more information how to prevent local flooding in a time of Climate Change.

Sept.14 Webinar: Building Flood Resiliency at the Local Level Building Flood Resiliency at the Local Level A Climate Smart Communities Webinar, Thursday, September 14, 2017 at 10:30 AM - 12:00 PM,The frequency of heavy downpours in the Northeast U.S. increased by 71 percent between 1958 and 2012. The costs associated with flood damage are rising across the nation and in New York State. Local governments have a key role in protecting their communities against flooding. In this webinar, participants will learn about how one New York town lowered its flood insurance premium rates by participating in the federal Community Rating System. Speakers will also discuss community flood resiliency in general and a project in Monroe County that is seeking to reduce flood-related problems, in partnership with the Genesee/Finger Lakes Regional Planning Council and The Nature Conservancy. (September 7, 2017 New York State Department of Environmental Conservation)

Rochester may not have to prepare for a Hurricane Harvey anytime soon. But keeping our region healthy as our climate warms should be keeping us busy enough.

Time passes. 

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Rochester’s Climate Change political forums likely to be the new normal

Missed the “Candidates Talk Climate: Mayoral Primary Forum” that focused exclusively on Climate Change for Rochester NY? Go here Democratic Primary for Rochester Mayor Forum 2017 to see that August 30th forum. This event was sponsored by Rochester People's Climate Coalition (RPCC) and League of Women Voters. It was a historic moment where candidates for the mayor of Rochester answered only questions on how they would address Climate Change in our city.

A climate-only political forum is a rarity. The RPCC hosted a similar forum a couple of years ago, when one of the races included the Monroe County Executive race. But this kind of forum may turn out to be the new normal for political debates as our way of life becomes inundated by the consequences of Climate Change. Our society’s approach to Climate Change resembles the drug addict who, as their addiction mounts, finds that all their problems have become one great big unavoidable problem.

Someday the problems resulting from a warming world will be what our politicians and candidates will be talking about, regardless of the amount of dark money trying to steer public attention away from this issue, and regardless of how various ideologies want to frame this issue.  Like Hurricane Harvey, it will be in our face, in our water, and ever more relentlessly trying to wash us away.

What I got from this forum is a sense of accountability. It’s very refreshing to hear candidates having to shape their answers around the prevailing science of the day, instead of the insanely moronic political maneuverings shaped by the Trump administration in order to continue their business as usual.

Our local leaders must protect their citizens and our infrastructures from the local consequences of Climate Change. It’s their job. We must make sure that our leaders are preparing for the extreme weather that comes with quickly warming a planet—such as Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, and now Hurricane Harvey. (There are many more such events around the world, creating far more damage and loss of life, but unless you look for them in non-US media, you are unlikely to hear about them.)

At the forum, it was great to hear so many questions (many of them stimulated by the City’s Climate Action Plan) about a matter that hasn’t receive the respect it deserves. We still aren’t at the point where we choose our leaders based on their positions on addressing Climate Change. Ironically, our reluctance to do so makes it all the more likely that we’ll be prioritizing this issue sooner rather than later. Science has a way of being right however infuriating that is.

Great praise is in order for both the RPCC and the League of Women Voters for hosting this forum.

Out of the many possibilities that our future affords us, there are none where our planet doesn’t warm and greatly influence our lives. The sooner we get our politics in line with reality, the better prepared we’ll be.

Time passes. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Delusional approaches to solving Climate Change problems in the Rochester region

Impacts to the Great Lakes. Lake ecosystems will also be affected by the changing climate. Warmer temperatures may cause more algal blooms, which can harm fish and degrade water quality. If severe storms become more frequent, then sewer overflows will become more frequent, and more pollutants are likely to run off from the land into the Great Lakes, which could threaten water supplies and require recreational beaches to be closed more often for health reasons (Page, 4, What Climate Change Means for Upstate New York, Rochester’s Climate Action Plan)

It isn’t just the flooding

Some of us in the Northeast are often astonished when we read stories about continual flooding in Southeast coastal cities and, despite all evidence, state agencies are discouraged from using ‘Climate Change’ when planning for damaging sea level rise.

The Republican-controlled state legislature drew ridicule in 2012 for attempting to “outlaw” climate change by prohibiting state agencies from planning for sea-level rise. In this year’s election, which includes a close governor’s race, the subject is so contentious that climate change barely comes up, if at all. (Scientist Goes It Alone on Climate Change to Save His State, 10/28/2016 National Geographic)

This thinking is befuddling and creates delusional planning because the oceans are rising, our water quality is diminishing, and flooding is occurring faster than ever before.

Flooding of Coast, Caused by Global Warming, Has Already Begun Scientists’ warnings that the rise of the sea would eventually imperil the United States’ coastline are no longer theoretical. Yet Congress has largely ignored these pleas, and has even tried to block plans by the military to head off future problems at the numerous bases imperiled by a rising sea. A Republican congressman from Colorado, Ken Buck, recently called one military proposal part of a “radical climate change agenda. ”The gridlock in Washington means the United States lacks not only a broad national policy on sea-level rise, it has something close to the opposite: The federal government spends billions of taxpayer dollars in ways that add to the risks, by subsidizing local governments and homeowners who build in imperiled locations along the coast. (September 3, 2016 New York Times)

The same kind of denial is happening here in the Rochester area with the rise of flooding (71% since 1958) and untreated sewage releases, while more lakes are producing harmful algae blooms. Even so, these issues are not being characterized in the media, which is to say communicated to the public, as the consequences of Climate Change. If Climate Change was mentioned at this meeting on the proliferation of blue green algae in “the list of now 60 waterways” the press didn’t mention it.  

Pooling resources against algae An event Wednesday in Geneva focused on protecting water quality from blue green algae Keuka Lake became one of the latest Finger Lakes this summer to fall victim to harmful blue green algae. While some beaches on that lake were reopened within a few days, on Aug. 9, after health officials deemed them safe, the threat remains on Keuka and other waterways statewide. So far this summer, Canandaigua hasn’t joined the list of now 60 waterways — including Honeoye Lake — affected statewide by blue green algae. Harmful algae blooms can be deadly to animals and harmful to humans, causing vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, allergic reactions or difficulty breathing. (August 10, 2017) Daily Messenger [more on Water Quality in our area]

You cannot solve sewage problems, algae problems, or flooding problems if you are constantly having to convince yourself that Climate Change is a hoax. We are squandering away too much time and energy trying to appease climate deniers.  As a result, we are trying to address Climate Change problems by focusing only on the symptoms. It’s delusional. It’s like trying to stop lung cancer with a cough suppressant.

As of today, the EPA has this factsheet posted: “Impacts of Climate Change on the Occurrence of Harmful Algal Blooms” (You should probably download and keep this document before the Pruitt EPA removes it. Just saying …)

Climate change is affecting everything in the Great Lakes basin

Climate Change is affecting every aspect of the Great Lakes, which means all communities in this largest of freshwater basins (which includes Rochester and Monroe County) must work together for solutions. Problems around rising surface temperatures, water quality, precipitation, extreme weather, harmful algae blooms, fish and wildlife, ice coverage, water levels, tourism, shipping and recreation, and much more are being amplified and accelerated by Climate Change. Our media, our politics and elections, our planning for the future, and our jobs should all reflect the relationship between Climate Change and the largest freshwater system in the world.

How is climate change affecting the Great Lakes? Across the globe, climate change is increasing temperatures, spurring on extreme weather, harming ecosystems and raising sea levels. But what does it mean for the Great Lakes? For the 30 million Americans and Canadians who live in the Great Lakes basin, climate change, primarily attributed to human activities increasing greenhouse gas emissions, is a real threat to the home of 84 percent of North America’s surface fresh water. Rising temperatures could lower water levels in the lakes, intensify harmful algal blooms and threaten fish and wildlife. Here’s what the research says about how the globe's shifting climate affects these vast bodies of water in terms of temperature, precipitation, extreme weather, water quality and harmful algal blooms, fish and wildlife, ice coverage, water levels, shipping, tourism and recreation. (August 15, 2017) [more on Great Lakes and Climate Change in our area]

Sewage into our drinking water

Climate Change in our Rochester region is bringing more heavy rains, which causes more flooding, and which in turn causes more raw sewage to flow into our waters. Our region and all communities in the Great Lakes basin must get together and help fortify all our sewage systems so that they don’t overflow raw sewage as more heavy rains come. And more flooding is coming. We must plan; we must plan together to address Climate Change. This sewage issue and flooding are the most salient ways we in this region are experiencing the consequences of Climate Change. We should not dismiss the climate denial in other regions, if we cannot face the problem ourselves.  

Spring rain caused severe sewage overflows in Lake Ontario This spring's heavy rains caused record-breaking flooding along Lake Ontario's shoreline. But what happened to the lake itself? New data from U.S. and Canadian cities shows that the rain pushed millions of gallons of raw sewage into the lake. This spring's heavy rain in the Lake Ontario region had quite an impact on homeowners, but it also affected the water offshore. The rainfall overwhelmed sewage systems in cities around the lake, and pushed millions of gallons of raw sewage into the water. Mike Garland is director of environmental services for Rochester and the rest of Monroe County, NY, which means he's in charge of showing off the county's wastewater treatment center. “It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it,” he says, as he walks through the center. Garland says this facility treats about 100 million gallons of sewage per day. Most days, everything works as it should, and no untreated sewage winds up in Lake Ontario. (August 14, 2017) North Country Public Radio [more on Climate Change, Water Quality and Great Lakes in our area]

Algae increasing

In a warmer world, we are likely to see a more 'perpetually toxic lake', which are the dickens to recover from. We need to address Climate Change now so our lakes don’t become toxic.

“Lake Neatahwanta illustrates the increasing frequency of blue-green algae in a warmer world, and how hard it is to get rid of harmful blooms once they're established. Local and state officials have been working on a multi-pronged plan since 1991 to clean up the lake and finally re-open a beach. It's a long, expensive process with no guarantee of success.” (Can a 'perpetually toxic lake' in Upstate NY be made swimmable again? (August 10, 2017) [more on Water Quality in our area]

Recently, there are troubling signs of algae in Rochester’s water supply:

Blue-green algae found again in Rochester water supply Potentially toxic blue-green algae turned up in one of the lakes that provide drinking water to the city of Rochester for the second time this summer. Like the first discovery, this one did not result in any impact whatsoever on city drinking water. But to be safe, the city is continuing enhanced surveillance of the two lakes from which it draws water. The bloom in Canadice Lake, discovered Aug. 1, released no toxin and dissipated later the same day it was found, city and New York state officials said. "Rochester water customers should have no concern," said Patricia Bedard, the city's manager of water production. (August 22, 2017) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle [more on Water Quality in our area]

(BTW: isn’t this code for Climate Change “With algal blooms becoming more and more commonplace in New York and other states …”)

Solutions that are not delusional

We are seeing Climate Change in our region, as in other regions. But because our media’s inconsistency in connecting effect to cause, too many people in our region don’t appreciate the certainty and the urgency behind this existential problem. It’s time for our media to explain how all regions of the world are warming up, our local environments in particular.  

There are solutions to addressing Climate Change in our region that aren’t delusional. They are based on how likely they are to address the problem; not how unlikely they are to inconvenience those in climate denial.
  • ·         Reduce the amount of water that runs into our sewers so they don’t overflow. This can be done with rain barrels, more green spaces, green roofs, and reducing impervious surfaces (like great big parking lots).  
  • ·         Work with other communities around the Great Lakes basin because we are all in this together—and with Rochester being at the end of the Great Lakes system, we get other communities’ waste too.
  • ·         Have discussions with our candidates about making sure they’re dealing with a warming world. Check this out: “Candidates Talk Climate: Mayoral Primary Forum” Wednesday, August 30 at 6:30 PM - 8 PM | Kate Gleason Auditorium, Central Library of Rochester, 115 South Ave. 14604.
  • ·         Contact your media and government officials and challenge them when they do not integrate Climate Change into information about increased sewage in our waters, more flooding, and more of our lakes getting nailed by blue-green algae.

Read the City’s Climate Action Plan (CAP). Talk about it with your family, friends, and groups you are associated with. Check out solutions in the CAP and see what you and your groups can do to help.  
Time passes.