Monday, December 25, 2017

Is Climate Change an immediate threat?

Climate Change is an immediate threat in the sense that we are experiencing the consequences of Climate Change now and we must adapt to them. Our military has expressed many times the nature of Climate Change as a threat amplifier; so, I don’t know how the Trump and our military are going to reconcile the absurdity of climate denial as a federal policy. [See Climate Security is National Security from the  AMERICAN SECURITY PROJECT and learn the myriad ways our military understands how it will be impacted by Climate Change.]

Trump confused on climate’s security threat The new US national defence strategy appears to leave President Trump in two minds on the risk from climate’s security threat. Confused about climate’s security threat? Don’t worry – you’re not the only one. Donald Trump seems to be having great difficulty in knowing what to make of it too. He’s even explicitly contradicted a senior colleague – and himself. And he’s prompted suggestions from retired military officers that America’s armed forces will continue to prepare for the reality of climate change undeterred. The Trump administration has dropped climate change from a list of global threats in a new National Security Strategy the president has launched. Instead, President Trump’s NSS emphasises the need for the US to regain its economic competitiveness in the world, with his “America First” plan focussing on four themes surrounding economic security for the US. (December 19, 2017)Climate News Network [more on Climate Change in our area]

Meanwhile, many individuals, businesses, communities, states, and nations are trying desperately to address Climate Change knowing that the Trump administration is making adaptation and mitigation more difficult.

This latest step, where Trump couldn’t wait to address the world with his removal of Climate Change as a national security threat, seems especially sad, horrible, alarming, ideological, non-scientific, mean, delusional, dangerous, ignorant, vulnerable, wrong, hopeless, dismissive, arrogant, belligerent, spiteful, and uninformed.

Trump drops climate change from US national security strategy President outlined new approach in unprecedented White House speech Obama administration added climate to list of threats to US interests The Trump administration has dropped climate change from a list of global threats in a new national security strategy the president unveiled on Monday.  Instead, Trump’s NSS paper emphasised the need for the US to regain its economic competitiveness in the world. That stance represents a sharp change from the Obama administration’s NSS, which placed climate change as one of the main dangers facing the nation and made building international consensus on containing global warming a national security priority. (December 18, 2017) The Guardian [more on Climate Change in our area]

Trump’s decision takes our eye off the ball in many important ways—one of which is that although the Trump administration doesn’t perceive Climate Change as an immediate threat, our military and many nations and business around the world do.

In the wild ("Nature, red in tooth and claw"), fear is often expressed as aggression. If a mother bear feels threated by strangers near her cubs, she attacks. We are probably witnessing this phenomenon in North Korea’s nuclear belligerence, a great national terror that its leadership might be threatened.
Sowing confusion on critical matters like Climate Change and nuclear war isn’t a sound political strategy—it’s the lack of one.  And a dangerous one at that.

Time passes. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Human inertia on Climate Change may kill advantages of farming in a warming Northeast

Whatever advantages one might envision for farming in the Northeast as our region warms—ability to grow new crops, longer growing season, greenhouse gas effect on plants, and more rainfall—seem to be offset by the disadvantages.

The disadvantages are numerous: more spring flooding (soil erosion), more episodes of summer drought, more plant diseases, more crop pests, more volatility in frost/freeze events, and a whole lot more.   

A recently released study examines all these variables, trying to give farmers a heads up on what’s coming their way:

Unique challenges and opportunities for northeastern US crop production in a changing climate Climate change may both exacerbate the vulnerabilities and open up new opportunities for farming in the Northeastern USA. Among the opportunities are double-cropping and new crop options that may come with warmer temperatures and a longer frost-free period. However, prolonged periods of spring rains in recent years have delayed planting and offset the potentially beneficial longer frost-free period. Water management will be a serious challenge for Northeast farmers in the future, with projections for increased frequency of heavy rainfall events, as well as projections for more frequent summer water deficits than this historically humid region has experienced in the past. (Wolfe, D.W., DeGaetano, A.T., Peck, G.M. et al. Climatic Change (2017).

But still, the study concludes that, despite the disadvantages, it may not be so bad:

“On the other hand, adaptation strategies that involve diversifying production systems to cope with climate uncertainty and building resilience to rainfall uncertainty by improving soil health, and improving IPM strategies to cope with new pest and weed dynamics could have an overall positive environmental impact.” (ibid)

True, farmers can do a lot to address this crisis, as described in the study. But. One of the disadvantages not mentioned in the study is the problem of human inertia on Climate Change. Too many in the public don’t openly support the science behind Climate Change, which means it’s less likely we’ll vote for leaders based on this crisis, less likely to prioritize renewable energy over fossil fuels (which will warm the planet more), and more likely we all will be overwhelmed by the disadvantages (consequences).

For example, the study recommends that farmers use less pesticides and herbicides for the health of our waters and soil. But farming, like any other business, is more likely to address their immediate problems producing food with the most efficient and least expensive options available. Pesticide and herbicide use are usually favored over the other methods of controlling crop pests because these risky chemical fixes are easier, cheaper, and quicker than conforming to sustainable methods that don’t degrade our soil and compromise our environment. Otherwise, organic farming would outweigh traditional farming in the marketplace, which it doesn’t.

Even if farmers take advantage of all the new technology being made available to them, they must try to keep back the floods released by a culture mostly indifferent to the urgency behind this crisis.

The take-home message from this new study for me is that farming in our region is increasingly going to find historical data and practices less useful. We’ll be farming on a warmer world. We all will be living in a warmer place. The study above (along with many others) should be a wake-up call that we in the Northeast are going to have to adapt quickly to the changes warming will bring.

Scientists can help predict what problem businesses, like farming, can expect with Climate Change and even present a variety of tools and methods to deal with the changes. But scientists still haven’t figured out how to change the political climate so that we’ll act on a scale and time frame that will matter.

Hardy as they are, farmers are unlikely to address the problems of food production in a warmer Northeast on their own; they’re going to need everyone’s support to lower the speed of temperature rise in order to keep us fed. Farming, as just about everything else in our world, must be viewed through the lens of Climate Change.

Times passes.

Previous articles of mine on food and Climate Change

Monday, December 11, 2017

Brownfields and Climate Change, what’s the connection?

Like Climate Change, Brownfields don’t tend to get noticed by the public until the big picture is understood, experts examine the evidence, and someone’s best interests (including their health) gets compromised. Often this processing of ours takes a long time, as both Climate Change and too many Brownfields have languished without adequate action. 

As Climate Change progresses in our Rochester region with more heavy rainfall in the spring, it is more likely that Brownfields that have not been cleaned up will leach dangerous chemicals into our soil, our neighborhoods, and our waters. [See: ‘Figure 2.18: Observed Change in Very Heavy Precipitation’ in the National Climate Assessment’s “Heavy Downpours Increasing”.]

Even the new* Environmental Protection Agency understands the urgency of getting Brownfields cleaned up as a Climate Change adaptation strategy.

Why Mitigation and Adaptation Matter for Brownfield Communities | Many members of vulnerable populations, including children, the elderly, low-income communities of color and tribal communities, live close to brownfields and other blighted properties (EPA, 2015b). Brownfield redevelopment presents opportunities to reduce blight and improve the quality of life for vulnerable populations while mitigating the impacts of climate change. While all populations will be affected by climate change, vulnerable populations will be disproportionately affected as climate change continues to increase the burden they already experience. A report by the Centers for Disease Control National Center for Health Statistics found that heat- and cold-related deaths in the United States are highest among non-Hispanic black populations and low-income populations making less than $42,400 annually. This study also found that heat-and cold-related deaths are significantly greater among elderly individuals in the United States. (Page 7, Climate Smart Brownfields Manual)

In Rochester, we are still trying to deal with past industrial pollution, but few people realize this environmental health problem is also a Climate Change problem.

STUDENTS, PARENTS STAGE PROTEST OVER CHEMICALS DETECTED NEAR ROCHESTER PREP ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- A steady downpour of rain did not dampen the passion behind the voices of dozens of students who gathered for a demonstration outside of Rochester Prep Tuesday.  They were protesting over recent reports that traces of trichloroethylene (TCE), a carcinogenic chemical solvent from a former industrial site, remain near St. Paul Street and Martin Street. (December 5, 2017) Spectrum News Rochester [more on Brownfields in our area]

You can find out more about Brownfields in our state and even check out the progress of local cleanups by going to the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Environmental Restoration Program.

We go into Climate Change with the environment we have. If our environment (our life support system) is not as healthy and resilient as possible, trying to address this worldwide warming crisis will profoundly affect our ability to adapt.

Time passes.

* The ‘new’ EPA is that federal environmental protection agency now under Pruitt. Strangely, the old EPA exists as a parallel online entity that has been kept alive. The new EPA says of the old EPA “This website is historical material reflecting the EPA website as it existed on January 19, 2017. This website is no longer updated and links to external websites and some internal pages may not work.” (When you think about it, things over at the EPA have gotten very weird—not in a good way.) 

Monday, December 04, 2017

Does Climate Change matter to you?

As climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe points out in this recent webinar by The Security and Sustainability Forum (SSF)*, most people don’t have a problem with the science behind Climate Change. That science is the same science we use every day in the products we use and way we understand the workings of our world.

Astonishingly, the reason most people don’t think global warming** matters to them is because they don’t think it will harm them personally. See: “Estimated % of adults who think global warming will harm them personally 2016“ graph from Yale Climate Opinion Maps – U.S. 2016.

But it does, and it will. Hayhoe says in the webinar “We care about a changing climate because it exacerbates the risks we already face today.”

One of the ways we know that Climate Change is already happening here in the USA is through the official National Climate Assessment (NCA). Since 1990, our country has been required by law to provide this information about our changing climate to the public every four years. (I know, the math doesn’t work out here, we’ve been tardy sometimes.)

We are now coming up on the fourth iteration of this report: Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4). Part I of the NCA4 (Climate Science Special Report) was recently released to the public. The Trump administration released this part to the media and the public, but presumably didn’t read it themselves. (Or, the Trump administration thinks just quietly letting the NCA process continue, while continually putting on a fireworks show at the White House, is the best strategy for tamping down public attention on this crisis that Trump doesn’t believe in.)   

Read NCA4 Vol. I

This quip by The Guardian admonishes the Trump administration for not acting on our nation’s own information about how Climate Change is affecting US, while at the same time noting that the world has access to this important document. The world must be dumbfounded by the spectacular divide that exists between our present federal government and 13 of the agencies it comprises.  

American leaders should read their official climate science report The United States Global Change Research Program report paints a bleak picture of the consequences of climate denial The United States Global Change Research Program recently released a report on the science of climate change and its causes. The report is available for anyone to read; it was prepared by top scientists, and it gives an overview of the most up to date science.  If you want to understand climate change and a single document that summarizes what we know, this is your chance. This report is complete, readily understandable, and accessible. It discusses what we know, how we know it, how confident we are, and how likely certain events are to happen if we continue on our business-as-usual path.  To summarize, our Earth has warmed nearly 2°F (1°C) since the beginning of the 20th century. Today’s Earth is the warmest it has ever been in the history of modern civilization. (November 27, 2017) The Guardian 

Comment on NCA4 Vol. II

The NCA4 Vol. II has not been released yet, but you can read and comment on the draft.

“NCA4 Vol. II is a technical, scientific assessment of climate change impacts, risks, and adaptation across the United States. The assessment uses a risk-based framework in placing a strong emphasis on regional information, while also evaluating climate change impacts, risks, and adaptation on 17 national-level topics. Case studies are used to provide additional context and showcase community success stories. Like all USGCRP assessments, NCA4 Vol. II does not evaluate policy or make policy recommendations.” Call for Public Comment on the Draft Fourth National Climate Assessment (Vol. II)

To read and comment on NCA4 Vol. II go here; on the left side-bar click on “create new account”, create a user name, your own password, accept the conditions for commenting on the draft, then you can gain access to the draft. You can make comments on each section of the draft (until January 8, 2018) online. Easy-peasy.

Please consider (as a group, or as an individual) reading the NCA4 Vol. II draft and commenting. Those of us who do understand that Climate Change “exacerbates the risks we already face today” need to bring that message home to everyone. That’s what volume two does: “… placing a strong emphasis on regional information”.

The journey to reach the public on the science behind this crisis has been long and tortuous. We have written, educated, demonstrated, and some have even been jailed in an attempt to instill in the public a sense of urgency. Time to act on a scale and time frame that will matter is running out.

Sadly, we are finding that science isn’t enough to compel the public to act.  We need to bring our knowledge and concerns of a changing climate to where the public lives. Reading and making comment on how your region is and will be affected by Climate Change in the NCA4 II is another important step towards communicating this crisis effectively.

The NCA is an incredibly detailed and expert series of documents by our government about Climate Change. Consider doing everything you can to demonstrate that this scientific legacy of ours reflects our country’s position on Climate Change. It really does matter to us. 

Time passes. 

* “The Security and Sustainability Forum (SSF) convenes global experts to address the impacts to society from climate and other disruptions to natural systems.  Our main products are free webinars on energy, food and water security, public health, urban resilience, economic vitality, infrastructure, governance and other impacts that must be solved in meeting climate security challenges.”

** Sometimes it looks as though I am using ‘Climate Change’ and ‘global warming’ interchangeably but hopefully I’m not. This from NOAA: “Global warming refers only to the Earth’s rising surface temperature, while climate change includes warming and the “side effects” of warming—like melting glaciers, heavier rainstorms, or more frequent drought. Said another way, global warming is one symptom of the much larger problem of human-caused climate change.” (NOAA

Monday, November 27, 2017

Media coverage of a warming world

One of the notions kicking around philosophy these days is whether the idea of the ‘extended mind’ has merit.

The "extended mind" is an idea in the field of philosophy of mind, often called extended cognition, which holds that the reach of the mind need not end at the boundaries of skin and skull. Tools, instrument and other environmental props can under certain conditions also count as proper parts of our minds. Closely related topics often conjoined with the idea of "extended mind" are situated cognition, distributed cognition, and embodied cognition. (The Extended Mind, Wikipedia)

This idea is worthy of our consideration in the same sense that our infrastructures—water lines, gas pipes, energy, transportation, telecommunications—are now critically important because we as a species cannot survive without these extensions of our collective existence. Sure, some us can survive for long periods without water piped into our homes, homes that are heated via gas lines or solar panels. Some can live for long periods without access to a vehicle, a Smartphone, or even a proper toilet. But not seven billion of us. As we push our numbers towards nine billion by 2050, most of us will live in cities, and our infrastructures must be made resilient and robust for the challenges ahead. Increasingly, we need our infrastructure like our bodies need our arteries and veins.

Our media--how we get information about our communities, states, and the world—are now wrapped up in who we are as a species. Homo sapiens cannot survive as we began--hunter-gatherers who communicated quite effectively within their own clan and immediate surroundings (sure, individuals can survive for brief periods of time without communicating with other humans and not knowing what is going on in the outside world; it’s called solitary confinement).

At this point within the Climate Change wormhole, we need to know what is going on all the time, the weather, political and legal changes, whether the financial market is healthy or ready for a crash. 

If we are to improve the likelihood of our survival as a species, we continually need news from around the world. We need to know if a nuclear war is imminent, whether extreme weather has or will knock out our ability to receive critical goods, or whether major social unrest somewhere is going to spill over national boundaries and affect any one of the essentials that keep our way of life going. Say, food.

Questioning media’s agenda

In a warming world our existence is bound up with everyone on the planet, not just our particular community. This position flies in the face of local media’s parochial agenda. We are now on a quickly warming world. It doesn’t make sense to pretend any place on Earth will not be dramatically affected by this planetary phenomenon. If a major area of food production somewhere in the world becomes unstable because of a change in climate, suddenly millions may be on the move for food. Our grocery shelves may be short some important staples—wheat, rice, maize or soybean. This would not just be a major humanitarian problem, it would also be a social-unrest problem or a condition (long-term drought, continual wildfires) heralding environmental collapse.

Somehow, we must have a species-wide media network that gives us (meaning everyone, everywhere on this planet) important, science-based information that we can use to plan properly. Our species, as any species, has always needed accurate feedback from our environment, but we now need massive, accurate media that isn’t polluted like our environment. Bee Colony Collapse is thought to be a lethal collective condition where something has gone wrong in each bee’s information system making it unlikely that they would return to their hives. Bees need hives, hives need bees.

Weaponized media

We have a serious media problem with accusations of ‘fake media’, social media that produces zillions of communication silos (or echo chambers), local media trying to stay alive in a freewheeling digital world, and buyups by billionaires bent on pushing their own agenda. These problems are further exacerbated by bad players weaponizing our media, that is, invading our media (especially social media) using our own predilections against our own interests. [See “Putin’s Revenge,” Frontline.) These problems must be seen in the context of our need to transmit critical environmental feedback as our once stable climate suddenly shifts wildly to adjust to more greenhouse gases.

Currently, if you want this critical information you can get it from sources all over the world. But if you wish to avoid it, listen to news that isn’t actually news, or listen to no news at all, you can do that. This means we now have to consider media not just from a lifestyle perspective; we need to have an information system so we can function as a whole in a warming world.

Because Climate Change is an existential situation, like nuclear war where our collective end is possible, there are no winners. Climate deniers can prevent or slow down the rest of us trying to adapt and mitigate Climate Change. But they cannot change the facts or the physical threats that come with quickly boiling a planet. When the waters rise, we must all tread water as best we can.

Politics has so muddied our media that the scientific feedback we all need is being profoundly challenged. We know the Trump administration is quietly scrubbing environmental information and Climate Change facts from our federal websites. Blinding us. But how much, where, in what way? In these dire times when an ideology is purposely scouring the scientific truth from the media and the public, we have an obligation to those who come after us to keep the truth alive. Some are taking on that job, searching the media and focusing on what our federal government is doing to cloak the truth. 

Website Monitoring |EDGI is monitoring changes to tens of thousands of federal environmental agency web pages because the effects of proposed changes to federal environmental governance under the current administration could be sweeping and long-lasting. Our work here involves documenting and analyzing data that disappears from public view, and also monitoring and analyzing how data, information, and their presentation may change, sometimes in subtle but significant ways. (Environmental Data and Government Initiative)

What do we do? How do we keep one of our most precious freedoms, freedom of the press, clear-eyed on the prize when our innate need for information is being hijacked? Just as our information systems are being dramatically extended, giving our brains an unparalleled sense of reality our ancestors couldn’t have even dreamed of, we are paralyzed by many of our ancient urges that have also been greatly amplified and extended to every aspect of our lives.

Challenge your media:

Consider challenging your local media to communicate accurately about the world we now live in, a quickly warming world. For example, consider suggesting these guidelines for our local media. Our local media should:

  •       Consider the most immediate climate adaptation issues our region needs to address:

o   Harmful Algae blooms (HABs) are increasing in our region’s Finger Lakes and other small bodies of water, probably because of more nutrients and phosphorous mixing in warmer waters.
o   Extreme weather in the form of flooding, causing more sewage to be released from sewer overflows and water damage to shoreline property owners  
o   Extreme weather in for form of Lake effect snow that is affected by a melting Arctic and shifting jet streams. Also, snow is likely to shift to rain as time goes by. [see: Lake Effect Snow Season is Shifting and Contracting 11/15/2017 Climate Central)
  •          Consider the condition of our infrastructures and what needs to be done to make them resilient to extreme weather and heat:

o   Gas leaks causing more methane to leak into our atmosphere.
o   Water pipes, roads and bridges.
o   Updating waste-water treatment plants so they aren’t connected to storm runoffs and overflow during floods.
  •          Consider conveying a sense of urgency. Although many of the Climate Change indicators in our region don’t seem urgent (wildlife trying to adapt by moving), the time to avert major consequences is most likely long before disasters occur.
  •          Consider communicating what people in this region can do about Climate Change and where they can find that information:

o   The City’s Climate Action Plan is a quick summary of threats coming to our region and offers ways the community can join their government in helpful adaptation actions.
o   There are many groups in our region who are finding ways to help our region adapt. Groups like Reconnect Rochester, who are not traditional environmental groups, but are trying to reduce greenhouse gases by changing our transportation options. This is no small concern. [See: (Transportation is the Biggest Source of U.S. Emissions 11/21/2017 Climate Central)
  •          Consider characterizing our local weather in a more helpful big-picture way that puts every day’s weather in a warming world context. Too often our local media compares recent snow storms or flooding with past anomalies or recent trends, when longer trends indicate Climate Change. Too often local media expounds on a wonderful day of weather and doesn’t give its readers a glimpse that across the world, heat is causing wildfires, droughts, and extreme weather. Weather reports, when they are extreme or out of the ordinary, should include Climate Change projections to convey to the public that our weather has indeed changed.
  •          Consider the relationship between Climate Change indicators and adaptation with local news stories. For example, news on Water Quality, Transportation, Invasive Species, Energy, public health issues like West Nile Virus and Lyme disease), Wildlife (fauna), Plants (flora), Air Quality, Brownfields, Wetlands, and Recycling often demonstrate how close or distant we are from making our region sustainable in a warmer world.
  •          Consider connecting local news about the rising cost of home insurance as indicators of whether we can recover financially from damages due to more extreme weather.
  •          Consider communicating news about the environment as events in our life support system. No longer can we survive if we see our environment as something separate from our existence—an externality.
  •          Consider taking on the challenge of addressing Climate Change by continually exposing our collective will not be believe the science behind this existential threat as our greatest hurdle. When the media doesn’t report about Climate Change, the public is more apt to see related events as anomalies and react with ad hoc solutions, which do not address the basic problem and continues to waste precious time.
  •          Consider, in our Great Lakes region, reporting continually on the health of this incredible natural resource, the largest freshwater system in the world. Pollution, invasive species, plastic (bits, containers, and fibers) contamination, water temperatures, and lake levels are all indicators of how healthy this ecosystem will be going into Climate Change.  
  •          Consider having an environmental section as many major media around the world have.
  •          Consider freeing Climate Change from politics and reporting on it regardless of its political divisiveness.
  •          Consider holding our leaders accountable for adapting to Climate Change, as our media has finally gotten around to on their personal behavior.

For a glimpse of local responsible journalism on Climate Change, check out this this honest report on Climate Change from our friends just across Lake Ontario. No holds barred, no political squeamishness, and no disseminating. Just the truth. Not a big report screaming out from the headlines, but important local news nonetheless. Imagine if our local media reported like this continually about our plight. Climate change warning: We're on course for mass extinction event  (November 14, 2017) Toronto City News[more on Climate Change in our area] 

A responsibility to keep abreast of the truth

Some world-class media—New York Times, The Guardian, and Deutsche Welle—have made great strides in learning how to cover the difficult and unpopular Climate Change crisis. But too many media still wait for protesting environmentalists or a new climate study before they’ll connect the dots. Our media needs to be proactive, looking at the indicators of Climate Change and finding out how phenomena like more heavy precipitation are affecting local environments. Our media should be constantly monitoring the concentration of greenhouse gases and keep the public informed of what this benchmark means. (As I write, the daily average of carbon dioxide is 406.05 ppm.) Our media should be reporting that the fastest warming place on the planet is occurring at the North Pole, which is affecting our weather and climate. Our media needs to see in the climate crisis an immediacy, which they’ve always given to the weather, because the consequences of Climate Change are raining down on us far quicker than scientists ever thought it would happen.

We probably won’t stop the Arctic from melting no matter what we do. At best, we may be able to slow down some of the consequences of warming up the planet if we change to renewable energy quickly. But we must and will (despite ourselves) adapt to what’s coming at us. (It’s not complicated, we are programed by evolution to avoid ((fear)) death.) We need an information system that is willing to project out the logical consequences of baking more heat into our climate system and share that regularly with the public, so we aren’t overwhelmed and are able to act on a scale and time frame that will matter.

As we ask our media to continually cover Climate Change more often, we too should make a commitment to keep abreast of the truth about our life support system. We have a responsibility to make our information system work for us. Since life began on this planet, some three-and-a-half billion years ago, those creatures whose information system stopped reflecting their changing environment went extinct.

Time passes.   

Monday, November 20, 2017

Climate Change is not just an individual responsibility

This mostly wonderful essay by the Democrat and Chronicle Editorial Board about local efforts, including those of the Rochester People’s Climate Coalition (RPCC), gets at the heart of what folks in our region can do to address Climate Change.

Editorial: Climate change is everyone's problem While the United States is no longer leading the world against climate change, state and local efforts aimed at helping stabilize the earth’s temperature are building steam. While these initiatives are critical, they are also not enough. We must do more. Even New York state, which has set some of the nation’s most ambitious targets for lowering greenhouse gas emissions, is falling short according to a new report from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Economic researchers outlined a more dramatic clean energy investment plan that they say would “put the state on a true climate stabilization trajectory,” create jobs, and show the world what needs to be done. Now. The reason for urgency is obvious. A time series heat map created by NASA shows the average variation of global surface temperatures between 1884 and 2016. Cooler averages are marked in shades of blue. Warmer averages are colored red. Blue goes from being the overwhelmingly dominant color, to nearly disappearing off the map within the past 35 years. (November 15, 2017) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle [more on Climate Change in our area]

While I agree that Climate Change is everyone’s problem, I’m having a problem with the last sentence: “We do not need to be participating in this week’s United Nations climate talks in Bonn to increase our own knowledge about what needs to be done, and to take individual responsibility for helping change the world.” The statement is literally correct, but sidesteps the responsibility of all the players (including media, government, and businesses) involved in this crisis.

First, I’m not sure who the ‘we’ in this sentence refers to: the D&C newspaper, ‘we’ (as in the public), or ‘we’ as in the US federal government. If the “we” refers to the D&C, I think that this major print publication should be reporting to the local public what is going on at the COP23 climate talk in Bonn and why it is important that our government chose to pull out of the Paris Accord, but showed up anyways peddling more fossil fuel use. In this quickly warming world, we must be able to continually depend on our local major media to communicate accurately and effectively how this crisis will affect our ability to plan sustainably in this region. The media is our collective information system that we now depend on for a precise model of reality—a reality that is already changing with more harmful algae blooms, more flooding, and more disruptive winters due to a warming Arctic. [See Rochester, NY’s Climate Action Plan.]    

However, the federal government is also ‘we’, and its forfeiture of our responsibility is incredibly important, and should not be depicted as insignificant, as this editorial and many other recent pronouncements have implied. Efforts by other actors, such as New York State, California, Jerry Brown, and Michael Bloomberg are to be applauded. [See: ‘America’s Pledge’]

But these efforts are no replacement for a strong federal role. The United States needs to participate in the climate talks in a leadership and responsible role both for moral reasons (most of the greenhouse gas emissions that have already changed our climate are ours) and because only nations can enter into treaties, change a nation’s laws, and make sure public monies are directed towards the sciences that tell us Climate Change is a clear and present danger. In order to effect change on a scale and time frame that will matter, nations working together are the most likely (or perhaps only) actors who can make it work.

If left only to “individual responsibility”, this crisis is most likely to be ignored by the majority, or result in ad hoc, conflicting, and insufficient solutions until it’s too late.

Time passes. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

How can philosophy help us work through Climate Change?

One of my hopes during Climate Change is that philosophy will help us think through this situation rationally. Besides homing in on moral issues (which is a major component of Climate Change), one of the activities that philosophy offers us is well-thought-out guidelines on existence. What is the nature of reality and how should we respond to it now that we know that our life support system is warming rapidly?

Philosophy and the big picture

It is more likely that we’ll be able to address Climate Change when we all get an accurate picture of what’s going on. Philosophy can help us pull back and get a clearer picture of the whole, the big picture. The backdrop for Climate Change discussions is that we are living in a quickly warming world that threatens our existence. No longer are we living on a planet where we thrived for the last 10,000 years, that is, not a ‘normal’ world with a relatively stable climate. Climate Change isn’t simply an issue among many we need to address. If we don’t address Climate Change, it is quite likely we won’t be able to solve most of our other important problems.

When our leaders don’t or won’t comprehend the enormity of Climate Change, we are less likely to plan for our future on a scale and time frame that will matter.

Trump Ignores Climate Change. That’s Very Bad for Disaster Planners. When Hurricane Irma swept through the Florida Keys in September, it brought a vivid preview of the damage that climate change could inflict on the region in the decades ahead. The storm washed out two sections of the highway connecting the Keys, leaving residents stranded for days. With ocean levels rising around these low-lying islands, however, that interruption could end up seeming minor: By 2030, almost half the county’s roads could be affected by flooding. “We know that the water isn’t going away,” said Rhonda Haag, the sustainability director for Monroe County, which is preparing to elevate vulnerable roadways in the Keys. But the task is so costly, up to $7 million per mile of road, that the county may ultimately require outside help. (November 9, 2017) The New York Times [more on Climate Change in our area]

It is now becoming quite easy to locate expert analysis of the big picture on Climate Change. Briefly, our environment around the world will get warmer, ocean-front cities will be overwhelmed by rising seas, we’ll experience more extreme weather, some regions will have more drought, some more flooding, animals and plants (which are our ecosystems) will try desperately to adapt, and our public health will get worse. In a recent New York Times OP-ED, Radley Horton, Katharine Hayhoe, Robert Kopp and Sarah Doherty offer a brief overview of “The Climate Risks We Face”.

More robust and backed by twenty years of intense scrutiny by 13 branches of our government is the Climate Science Special Report Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4), Volume I.  (Speculation abounds why Trump would allow such a profound study to be released when it so powerfully disagrees with his own inaccurate ideology, though the answer might be as simple as every president since Reagan has released these studies and Trump just didn’t want to look stupid.)

While the public must become aware of the big picture about Climate Change, we must also be aware that this big picture is not inevitable or static. It changes daily, though during our lifetimes it will lean more towards the worst-case scenarios described in climate studies the less we do to address it. What we once thought would be a slow and gradual process is turning out to be a rapidly evolving disaster. Benchmarks in warming are being passed far more frequently than experts thought—more extreme weather, dramatic changes at the poles, and yearly temperatures hotter than previous years. Included in this alarming litany is the human response to this crisis that ranges from realizing the need for urgent action to scornful dismissal and it’s all getting more divisive.

We must never lose sight that while opinions roil about Climate Change, this issue is like no other situation humanity has faced. (Our species has survived and even thrived in past climate changes but in our prehistoric past there weren’t 7 billion of us and our attendant infrastructures.) Even with nuclear war, someone needs to press a button to set things off. For humanity to succumb to Climate Change all we need do is nothing, just continue business as usual. 

Whatever stance, rhetoric, or discussion we choose to have about Climate Change, we are talking about it while our existence is being challenged. It’s like discussing where to go to dinner later while rolling downhill towards a steep cliff inside a barrel. At some point (soon I suspect) we should be trying to figure out how to stop the freaking barrel and get ourselves out of it.

Philosophy helping us focus on the details

Here’s a great discussion on fake scientific skepticism with a local Rochester, NY philosophy professor. It’s helpful to discuss and even argue about Climate Change because we need everyone engaged in
this crisis. But not all opinions are an honest discussion about the predicament of our age. How do you tell sense from nonsense? How do you distinguish between objective facts and sound bites pushing an anti-environmental agenda?

Climate Change Skepticism with Lawrence Torcello “How does corporate misinformation and partisan skepticism effect what we know about climate change? Lawrence Torcello is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the Rochester Institute of Philosophy. His research focuses on social and political philosophy, democratic theory, and climate justice.” (November 2, 2017 Why We Argue)

Also, philosophy can help us clarify the arguments surrounding this issue. Not the kind of arguments that some folks think are an opportunity for angry quarrels ending with people throwing stuff at each other. Rather arguments can and should be an honest exchange of strongly held opinions guided by a respect for each other and the facts. What elements are necessary for useful disagreements that offer solutions? For an interesting discussion with an expert on the value of good arguments and the destructiveness of bad arguments, check this out:

Good and bad arguments with Trudy Govier Trudy Govier is Emerita Professor of Philosophy at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada. Her research is focused on the nature of argumentation and questions concerning social trust, forgiveness, and reconciliation. She is also the author of a highly influential informal logic text, A Practical Study of Argument (7th edition, Cengage), as well as Forgiveness and Revenge (Routledge 2002) and Victims and Victimhood (Broadview 2015). (June 28, 2017 Why We Argue)

At this point in time

November 6th began the COP23 climate talks in Bonn, Germany. After twenty years of climate talks, we finally got to a point where almost all nations agreed that Climate Change is happening, and we need to address it.

Here’s an excellent encapsulation of the goals of the COP23 Climate Change summit in Bonn for those of us with challenged media only capable of pandering to the public’s immediate interests.

The COP23 climate change summit in Bonn and why it matters Halting dangerous global warming means putting the landmark Paris agreement into practice – without the US – and tackling the divisive issue of compensation What is happening? The world’s nations are meeting for the 23rd annual “conference of the parties”(COP) under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which aims to “prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”, ie halt global warming. It is taking place in Bonn, Germany from 6-17 November. Why does it matter? Climate change is already significantly increasing the likelihood of extreme weather, from heatwaves to floods. But without sharp cuts to global carbon emissions, we can expect “severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts” for billions of people and the natural world. The landmark Paris agreement at COP21in 2015 delivered the first truly global deal to tackle climate change, but national action needs to be significantly toughened to meet to goal of keeping global temperature rise to well below 2C, and 1.5C if possible. All the science, and the battering that extreme weather has inflicted this year from floods in India and Nigeria to hurricanes in the Caribbean and wildfires in the US and Europe, indicates that global emissions need to start falling urgently – in the next few years. The Paris agreement set out principles, but not the details, with one diplomat likening it to having a brilliant new smartphone but no operating system. The Bonn meeting will be vital in building the rules that will enable the Paris deal to work. (November 5, 2017) The Guardian [more on Climate Change in our area]

This week’s revelation that the US becomes the only holdout for working with the world to address Climate Change makes it more difficult to keep focused on the big picture. For, what is happening right now is likely to have profound effects on our ability to predict how Climate Change will unfold and how to adjust our response. What will be the repercussions—economically, politically, and environmentally—of the second largest polluter deciding to back out of the Paris Accord? What will be the outcome of efforts of those in the US who believe we should stay in the Paris Acord and are willing to put massive efforts and money behind their position? In other words, have US efforts to stay with the Paris Accord been trumped by climate deniers? Many think not.  

Advancing the U.S. Nonfederal Movement to Support the Paris Agreement Since the current U.S. administration announced its intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, state, local, and private-sector leaders across the United States have created a landscape of climate initiatives and alliances to demonstrate that the country remains largely committed to the global fight against climate change. To date, the U.S. nonfederal climate movement has focused on pledges to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to support the Paris Agreement. Given that the movement represents a significant percentage of the U.S. economy and population, these pledges have provided international assurance that the second-largest emitter will continue its pivot toward clean energy—even as the White House pursues an anti-climate agenda. (see text box for a taxonomy of the U.S. nonfederal climate movement) (November 6, 2017) Center for American Progress [more on Climate Change in our area]

But we don’t know if we are in a holding pattern, or if we have rendered it game over by insuring tipping points just as our window of opportunity to avoid the worse consequences of Climate Change closes. [See part of the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4), “Potential Surprises: Compound Extremes and Tipping Elements”]

The present discourse on Climate Change is dreadful given that our biggest impediment to addressing this crisis is our collective attitude. The technical, social, economic, psychological, political, and other solutions being offered by optimists might work if given a chance. Perhaps an honest argument, in the best sense of the term used by philosophy, would help us move towards adaptation and maybe even mitigation, where we tamp down greenhouse gas emissions to a level that doesn’t bake our future.

I believe philosophy’s role is to accurately describe our world and our place in it. Our world has changed radically since philosophy as a discipline began back in Greece. But philosophy has spawned science, fine-tuned religious thought, stimulated economic systems, and many more systems of thought over the millennia. It is now philosophy’s job to describe this new, warmer Climate Change world that threatens our ability to survive. What lessons can we pull from the ancients and present philosophers that will guide us through the wormhole of Climate Change, where we must get ourselves and our progeny though this existential crisis, so we can continue the other big ideas our species produced?

Time passes.

Monday, November 06, 2017

How long can we adapt to Climate Change?

It’s been a long while that scientists, doctors, other experts have warned us that a warming planet will probably increase the public health issues that come with hotter temperatures, more extreme weather, and disease carriers that can survive longer in what used to be colder regions.

Studies that have taken the time and expertise to tease out this probable connection between Climate Change and more public health issues are getting more strident.

Climate change fueling disasters, disease in ‘potentially irreversible’ ways, report warns Climate change significantly imperils public health globally, according to a new report that chronicles the many hazards and symptoms already being seen. The authors describe its manifestations as “unequivocal and potentially irreversible.” Heat waves are striking more people, disease-carrying mosquitoes are spreading and weather disasters are becoming more common, the authors note in the report published Monday by the British medical journal the Lancet. Climate change is a “threat multiplier,” they write, and its blows hit hardest in the most vulnerable communities, where people are suffering from poverty, water scarcity, inadequate housing or other crises. “We’ve been quite shocked and surprised by some of the results,” said Nick Watts, a fellow at University College London’s Institute for Global Health and executive director of the Lancet Countdown, a project aimed at examining the links between climate change and public health. (October 30, 2017)The Washington Post [more on Climate Change and Environmental Health in our area]  

The health warnings are becoming more clear that increasingly more people will suffer as a result of a poor response to this worldwide crisis.

Many, including myself, have long thought that our media should have been viewing the increase in extreme weather and health issues around the world through the lens of Climate Change—or at least suggesting the possibilities. Most media have taken a very timid approach to informing the public about Climate Change, fueling widespread doubt about climate science, which in turn fails to give this crisis the priority it deserves.

How much more aware of Climate Change and threats to their health might the public be now if our media had been more attentive to climate scientists’ predictions on this crisis? How could we in the USA have had a decade-long debate about health care without including the health consequences of Climate Change?

Now, with more record-breaking extreme weather events and wildfires, the public, inured by a complacent media, still finds ways to avoid this crisis and the need to plan. How long will this delusional state, where we think we can keep this planetary crisis in a communications silo, last?
Could a climate denier been put into the top office of this country if the media had been more engaged with the science behind Climate Change early on?  What will be the price for dragging our feet so long on addressing Climate Change?

Now that we know we are living on a warming planet (with almost no brakes being applied), what is the nature of our new existence (denial heaped on more denial?) and what should our actions now be based on? What kinds of thinking should be our guide as we go deeper into the wormhole of Climate Change, where we keep passing critical benchmarks like sea level rise and higher concentrations of greenhouse gases?

What if: “Some of the changes we’re talking about are so enormous, you can’t adapt your way out.” (See above The Washington Post article.)

Meanwhile: It may have to be acknowledged at the up-and-coming Bonn Climate Talks that the 2C goal is unattainable. 3C, which would be a catastrophe, is more likely. At the same time the Trump team will be trying to push the wildly unpopular (and irrational) position that more fossil fuels are best for our future.

Time passes.