Monday, August 14, 2017

Greenhouse Gas Inventory results in Rochester, NY and beyond

Greenhouse Gas Inventory Results | The inventoried emissions within the City of Rochester jurisdictional boundaries for all activities and sources listed above totaled 2.8 million MTCO2e in 2014. For purposes of the CAP, large emitters, other fuels, and airline travel emissions were removed from the inventory due to the limited opportunity to be easily impacted or directly influenced through traditional community climate action strategies. (Large emitters are facilities that emit more than 25,000 MTCO2e per year; these facilities report to the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program3.) After this adjustment, the City of Rochester total GHG emissions were 1.8 million MTCO2e in 2014, which is the factor used throughout the CAP for goal setting and development of strategies. This is equivalent to 380,000 passenger vehicles being driven in any given year or the energy used by 190,000 homes for one year4. (Page 20, Rochester Climate Action Plan)

Figuring out how much greenhouse gasses (GHGs) a community like Rochester emits into our atmosphere is no easy task. Everyone in the community, including governmental operations (vehicles, buildings, etc.), businesses, schools, individuals, and even Nature itself is spewing what is now too much of a good thing.

How do you tally all that up? How do you distinguish natural GHG emissions from manmade ones (read on)? How does the government itself monitor and control their GHGs? How do you get businesses to record all their GHGs, not just the ones they will agree to publicize? How do you get the public to send their data to a place where their GHG emissions can be recorded? (Spoiler alert, except through some voluntary apps, this scenario is very unlikely to happen.)  And how, for goodness sake, do you get the Trump administration to even acknowledge the emissions from hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are “about 1,000 to 12,000 times as potent as carbon dioxide, depending on the specific chemicals used to make HFCs.” (Court Scuttles Rule Cutting Potent Greenhouse Gas, August 9, 2017 Climate Central)

Much of how data was compiled for Rochester’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) is explained in the plan and much of that is ‘based on available data’. This is normal, especially for a city like Rochester that is just starting its CAP. For places like Portland, Oregon, who’ve been working on their CAP for over twenty years, they have lots of historical data.

On a world scale, accumulating comprehensive and accurate GHG data is complicated indeed:

'Dodgy' greenhouse gas data threatens Paris accord Potent, climate-warming gases are being emitted into the atmosphere but are not being recorded in official inventories, a BBC investigation has found. (August 8, 2017, BBC News)

There are more sources for GHGs and even more kinds of them than we ever thought. For example, these new HFC refrigerants (mentioned above) are thousands of times more potent than good ole carbon dioxide.

As noted, some experts are concerned that data collection itself is so haphazard that it might undermine the Paris Accord—even more than Trump has undermined it. (That would be a nice excuse for Trump pulling out of the accord wouldn’t it?)

So, what to do? The world really does need a way to verify what has been promised in the Paris Accord (not to mention actually lowering all GHG emissions); therefore, we need a way to do the collecting. In developing nations, they often do not have the equipment or know-how to access all their GHG emissions. In developed nations (like the US) there may not be a desire to share all that information.

But science offers a way around many of the political and ideological hindrances for a more complete and accurate monitoring of global GHGs. 

Inside the Quest to Monitor Countries’ CO2 Emissions The world needs a way to verify that nations have made their promised carbon cuts in order to make the Paris agreement effective (February 28, 2017, Scientific American)

Imagine a thought experiment where scientists have developed a satellite system that would monitor GHG emissions from every source on earth—and distinguish between natural and manmade emissions. (See below.)

“As a graduate student in 1978, [we] helped develop a breakthrough that could allow verification to happen. It involves a tracer, a carbon isotope called C-14, that is present in natural emissions of CO2 from plants and animals. It is not present in emissions that result from the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil products and natural gas, that have been stored underground for millions of years. Tests of air samples collected regularly from sensors on commercial aircraft would provide accurate measures of any depletion of C-14 caused by recent emissions from fossil fuels.” (February 28, 2017, Scientific American)

Such an eye-in-the-sky monitoring system could provide humanity with critical feedback on how our efforts at curbing GHGs are going. You couldn’t cheat, or lie, or hide, or fudge the data because a system of worldwide data would measure exactly what was entering our atmosphere from every single location. Probably even locations and sources we haven’t discovered yet.

Humanity has been focusing on the large GHGs emitters but our rising temperatures may also be caused by the accumulated emissions from myriad small sources who don’t have to report their emissions, from secret, illegal operations our authorities cannot catch, and even from something so ubiquitous and seemingly innocuous as our backyard barbeques.  

Of course, even if my thought experiment were possible, it would not be simple to gather all GHG emissions. Nations, businesses, and individuals would create such a hue and cry over this invasive technology that it would probably never get off the ground. Much of the problem with addressing Climate Change is that we know what to do but we don’t want to do it. A large part of push against addressing Climate Change has been orchestrated by those who know the scale and urgency at which we need to change business as usual and don’t want that to happen. Bad players protecting their own immediate self-interests in the face of an existential crisis has presented the rest of us our most difficult challenge for a sustainable future.

This doesn’t mean it wouldn’t eventually happen, though. Humanity isn’t very good at suppressing the use of knowledge or technology once we’ve acquired it. (The nuclear genie is not going back in the box. Drones, however obnoxious and dangerous, aren’t going away either.)

Because we will be seeing more efforts to curb our GHGs and at the same time noticing that our concentrations are still continuing to climb, it is more likely as time goes on that we’ll eventually adopt some version of this satellite program. When things get really hot, we’ll not be so squeamish about exposing each other’s GHG emissions. When things get really hot, we are going to abandon many of our cherished ideas about the good life because we’ll be scrambling just to survive. But, given our inertia on Climate Change, it is also likely that by the time we get to this point, it may be too late to stop many of the worst consequences of Climate Change.

Time passes. 

Monday, August 07, 2017

How sensitive is Rochester to Climate Change?

“The best available climate science and supporting research indicate that the key climate stressors for Rochester are warmer summers, increasing storms, warmer waters, colder winters, and increasing drought.” (Page 24, Rochester’s Climate Action Plan)

Scientists have been telling us for some time now that our climate system is very sensitive to energy input. Trapping more energy (heat) from the sun with our greenhouse gas emissions from the mid-1800’s has already produced unprecedented wildfires, floods, and extreme weather around the world. Even if we stop emitting more of these emissions right now, we are still likely to overshoot the Paris Accord goal of 2C by the end of this century. This will make us very vulnerable.

EARTH WILL WARM TWO DEGREES THIS CENTURY, SCIENTISTS PREDICT Researchers have confirmed that Earth is likely to warm by more than 2 degrees by the end of the century, an increase often cited as a “tipping point” by climate scientists—and one that people should try to avoid by limiting greenhouse gas emissions. In findings published Monday in Nature Climate Change, University of Washington researchers show a 90 percent chance that temperatures will have increased by 3.6 to 8.8 degrees Fahrenheit (2.0 to 4.9 degrees Celsius) by the end of the 21st century. Using statistical projections based on 50 years’ worth of past data in countries around the world, they found just a 5 percent chance that Earth will warm by 2 degrees or less in the next eight decades. As far as staying within the target set by the 2016 Paris agreement—an increase of 1.5 degrees or less—the researchers put the chances of that becoming a reality at a mere 1 percent. (July 31, 2017) Newsweek [more on Climate Change in our area]  

Like our planet, our bodies are sensitive to heat, making us vulnerable outside a relatively narrow range of temperatures. Although over the span of our specie’s existence we have learned to tolerate an incredible range of discomfort due to the weather through clothing and shelter, mostly we don’t tolerate temperatures that are too hot or too cold.

As we encounter Climate Change, we are learning that we may have actual limits on how much heat our body’s air conditioning system can handle. It looks as though 95F at 90% humidity might be our limit. (Or, because it’s a sliding scale, 100F at 85%.) This means that even if you’re fit, shaded, and in an area well ventilated, heat can kill.

Heat Waves Creeping Toward Deadly Heat-Humidity Threshold As global temperatures rise, river valleys in South Asia will face the highest risk of heat waves that reach the limits of human survivability, a new study shows. If global warming continues on its current pace, heat waves in South Asia will begin to create conditions so hot and humid that humans cannot survive outdoors for long, a new study shows. The deadly heat would threaten millions of vulnerable people in some of the world's most densely populated regions in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh—low-lying river valleys that produce most of the region's food. About 1.5 billion people live in the crescent-shaped region identified as the highest-risk area in a new study by scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. The researchers combined global and detailed regional climate models to show where the most extreme conditions are expected by the end of this century. The researchers focused on a key human survivability threshold first identified in a 2010 study, when U.S. and Australian researchers showed there is an upper limit to humans' capacity to adapt to global warming. That limit is expressed as a wet-bulb temperature, which measures the combination of heat and humidity for an index of physical human misery. When the wet-bulb temperature goes above 35 degrees Celsius, the body can't cool itself and humans can only survive for a few hours, the exact length of time being determined by individual physiology. (August 2, 2017) Inside Climate News[more on Climate Change in our area]

For those of us living in Rochester, we are unlikely to be experiencing these kinds of temperatures soon. But what about the future?

Measuring Rochester’s sensitivity to Climate Change

Rochester’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) explains how we measure our sensitivity to various Climate Change scenarios and the degree to which various situations leave us vulnerable.

If an exposure is determined to have a high sensitivity and a low adaptive capacity, the vulnerability for that exposure would be high .... Whereas, if the adaptive capacity for that same exposure were to have a high sensitivity but low adaptive capacity, the vulnerability would be high. (See Table 3: Climate Vulnerabilities for City of Rochester, page 25 CAP)

The city of Rochester’s vulnerability is high if the Climate Change impact is increased infrastructure maintenance, increased infrastructure disruptions due to extreme weather events, decreased food production, increased crop loss, higher intensity of heating and cooling degree days, increased diseased concerns, air quality impacts on health, and loss of winter recreation activities. Our vulnerability is low if we only experience increased water demand and cost, increased pollutant toxicity, and a longer composing season. (Page 25, CAP)

Caution: level of vulnerability matrixes includes inherent moral hazards

While it is necessary for our authorities and institutions to present their stakeholders (other groups and even the public) with possible climate vulnerabilities, there is an inherent moral hazard when we try to quantify environmental service cost/benefits, in general or in the specific case of Rochester. First, the public (who has not examined this crisis in depth) tend to think that the list of vulnerabilities is exhaustive. That is, because we need actionable items that aren’t overwhelming (financially and psychologically), we tend to act as if we’ve captured all the possible vulnerabilities that warming up our climate will have on our region. As a result, we decide which on the list to worry about and act accordingly. But we might have missed many of the things that put us at risk. Many times, we miss vulnerabilities because we don’t know how to quantify them—for example, soil degradation and ecosystem health -- so we leave them off. In other words, there’s an inherent moral hazard with vulnerability matrixes because we may be deluding ourselves into a dangerous complacency. Just because we don’t have data on environmental problems doesn’t mean they don’t exist.  

Another issue with attempts to quantify Climate Change vulnerabilities is that our environmental records don’t go back very far. When our ancestors came to this region, they did not do a baseline study of what an undisturbed environment looks like—before they started changing it. They did not understand ecological health as they ‘tamed’ our lands and seas in their pursuit of progress. Some of our oldest records are with ice coverage dates on some lakes—how early the ice came and how long it stayed before melting in the spring. But even these aren’t very old. This is to say, even our most comprehensive plans to assess our sensitivity to Climate Change disruptions is probably going to be missing critical information. (We tend see our environment as it serves our needs, not how it operates independently of us.)

Also, because these matrixes are worked up for specific regions, we tend to forget how the actions or inactions of other communities, nearby or further flung, will impact our ability to measure our own vulnerabilities. (For example, if everyone in Rochester dramatically reduced their greenhouse gas emissions and the surrounding Monroe County resumes business as usual, what we do may not have much overall effect.) Our political boundaries may be specific, but our environmental boundaries are always planet-wide.  

This doesn’t mean that it’s hopeless working with local vulnerability matrixes; it means we need to get Monroe County, all of New York’s Counties, our nation, and other nations working together if we are going to characterize this crisis correctly.  

We don’t really know how sensitive Rochester is to Climate Change

We’ve never been through a phenomenon like Climate Change. Although we may not know exactly how sensitive Rochester is to Climate Change, we know enough to know that it’s important that we get moving. Addressing Climate Change is likely to be more challenging than our best laid plans predict. But, given our capacity for adaptation, we are more likely to rise to those challenges once we begin the journey towards a sustainable future.

One thing is for sure. If we ignore responsible community action plans like Rochester’s CAP and continue business as usual, all those other things we want for ourselves and our children probably won’t happen.

Time passes.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Electric buses and bike share help Rochester address Climate Change

Studies have shown that climate action leads to economic opportunity. In fact, 91 percent of the 110 global cities tracked by the Carbon Disclosure Project and the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group state that climate action created economic opportunities, thus making cities more attractive for businesses, largely in the sectors related to energy efficiency and the development of non-motorized transportation infrastructure. (Page 6, Rochester, NY’s Climate Action Plan)

At the national level, transportation accounts for 27% of our greenhouse gas emissions. At the local level (Rochester, NY), it’s at 24%, which is a drop of 7% since 2010, where “this decrease is correlated with a reduction in employment in the region (and attributed, in part, to improved vehicle efficiency.” (Page 21, Rochester, NY’s Climate Action Plan)

We are seeing two opportunities to advance clean transportation in Rochester:

Rochester, NY is getting five electric buses. This “puts Rochester in the lead on electric buses in New York” (see below). This will help curb greenhouse gas emissions especially when our grid goes green.

RTS adding electric buses to its fleet The half-rumbling, half-whirring grind of a diesel bus is unmistakable. For a lot of Rochesterians, it’s the sound of public transit. But the next era of RTS buses could be much quieter and cleaner. The transit agency plans to begin a process for buying five electric buses in the late summer or early fall, says spokesperson Tom Brede. RTS received a $5 million award from the state in April to help pay for the vehicles, which would could be in service by the end of 2019 and would replace diesel buses. RTS will also have to install charging stations to serve the buses. (July 26, 2017) Rochester City Newspaper [more on Transportation in our area]

We are also making a big jump on bike-sharing. “…with about 340 bikes at 46 stations”, the City’s ROCHESTER BIKE SHARE is no small thing:

Curious about Rochester bike-sharing? Here's our review It's been less than a week since Rochester's bicycle-sharing program, via a partnership with the company Zagster, was opened to the public. It works basically the same here as similar programsin dozens of other cities: bikes are stored at pick-up stations around town. Once you're there, you go through the check-out procedure and have a simple but reliable bicycle at your disposal. I do a lot of cycling, both recreationally and commuting to work, and I've used bike-share programs elsewhere, so I was interested to see how it worked here. Videographer Olivia Lopez and I spent Monday morning on the roads, testing the bikes, the Zagster app and the city's biking infrastructure. (July 24, 2017) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle [more on Transportation in our area]

There are many advantages to increasing bicycling and electric buses in Rochester. Active transportation (walking and bicycling) improvements will make us healthier, and electric buses are quieter and emit none of those smelly fumes we often associate with public transportation. 

But, it is also important to frame these advances in local transportation in the context of Climate Change. My experience (former chair of Rochester Sierra Club’s transportation committee) is that those advocating active transportation and better public transportation tend to downplay the role of Climate Change, when it should be the overarching priority. In previous years, many people were concerned that discussing Climate Change when encouraging the public to walk, bike, and use public transportation for short distances would decrease the likelihood that the public would show up to our demonstration rides or programs. I guess active transit promoters believe that mentioning Climate Change in any context is a turnoff. Advocates would rather highlight all the other advantages of these green transportation options (they’re fun, they’re inexpensive, they’re healthy, they’re what younger and older generations want now, and they’re a great way to socialize), than raise the specter of Climate Change.  Instead, advocates seem compelled to raise the public’s enthusiasm for the really exciting possibilities of our new transportation options, including electric cars, high-speed rail, trollies, bus rapid transit, and those beer-drinking-peddling-tavern whatchamacallits roaming around our city.

Wrong strategy

Messaging better transportation options by ignoring the elephant in the room is the wrong strategy. One of the consequences of this approach is landing a climate denier in the oval office. Communicators failed to bake in a warming world when talking about our future with the public.
Too many people are still trying to frame Climate Change so it won’t appear dire or inconvenient. The message seems to be that addressing Climate Change will just be a hopeful time of transition along the way to prosperity.

But we won’t prosper, or survive for that matter, if we don’t prioritize addressing Climate Change on a scale and timeframe that will matter. Part of the problem in communicating Climate Change is correctly characterizing what it is. It isn’t just a new warming trend that we’ve created where some folks will get warmer. It is a situation where we have amplified all our past environmental problems—pollution, overconsumption, ecosystems degradation, loss of biodiversity—and accelerated the pace of catastrophic collapse. We will not overcome this crisis with business as usual but just a little better and efficient than before. Every aspect of Climate Change must be communicated to the public—including the awful stuff. Not to frighten, but to warn against inaction during a time when the window of opportunity is closing.

Right strategy

We should be understanding our future transportation needs through the lens of Climate Change. Not just quietly mentioning that, oh, by the way, another plus of our new transportation options will be to reduce greenhouse gases, secretly hoping the public becomes informed about the importance of updating our transportation infrastructures that help us address Climate Change.
Our transportation choices must be orchestrated within our collective need to address Climate Change; the way we move about both causes warming and provides a real solution for this crisis. The City’s Climate Action Plan, and many other communities’ plans, (including the federal government before Trump), communicated this effectively without pandering to the public’s will not to believe.

At some point along this continuum of man-made warming, there will be a much sharper focus on transportation because we will be scrambling for ways to cut our losses. Getting us out of our gas-guzzlers and the fossil-fuel based infrastructures they depend on, could go far in quickly making our way of life sustainable.

What must become abundantly clear at this point in time is that we aren’t going to address Climate Change without public support. We can no longer put climate deniers into office. We cannot simply push a marketplace mentality, which got us in this mess in the first place. We cannot talk about Climate Change without making people uncomfortable—any more than we could stop slavery back in the day without people getting upset. We are either going to change our behavior soon or we are going to further threaten our own survival as a consequence of an ideological stance towards our life support system.

#ScienceMatters. It really does.

Hope must be based on reason and reason demands that we include a full discussion about Climate Change when addressing our future.

Time passes.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Just how urgent is addressing Climate Change?

Some say Climate Change is all a hoax; some say it’s too late; some say it’s very urgent but not hopeless.

Carbon dioxide must be removed from the atmosphere to avoid extreme climate change, say scientists One of the first scientists to warn of the dangers of climate change, Professor Jim Hansen, warns the 's*** is hitting the fan' Humans must start removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as soon as possible to avoid saddling future generations with a choice between extreme climate change or spending hundreds of trillions of dollars to avoid it, according to new research. An international team of researchers – led by Professor Jim Hansen, Nasa’s former climate science chief – said their conclusion that the world had already overshot targets to limit global warming to within acceptable levels was “sufficiently grim” to force them to urge “rapid emission reductions”. But they warned this would not be enough and efforts would need to be made to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by about 12.5 per cent. (July 19, 2017) Independent [more on Climate Change in our area]

I suspect communicating Climate Change is going to change as it becomes warmer and one’s audience changes. (You probably don’t want to tell a class of 6th graders that “the 's*** is hitting the fan'”.) 

Four recent articles suggest where communicating this crisis messaging might be going:

Climate Change isn’t an issue, it’s our reality

I don’t think anyone has a real handle on the best way to communicate Climate Change because it’s so complicated and divisive. Predictions (educated guesses) are necessary because we need to plan, but they can be very bleak. And, with the election of Trump, climate denial has been given a new (monstrous) life that must be resisted at every unsustainable twist.

Climate Change communicators should bake indicators (like the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere) and other climate gages into their messaging. Keeping the public on track that Climate Change isn’t an issue, but our new reality, can be consistently validated with the latest objective information on where we are at any given point in this crisis.  

The EPA in 2016, just before Pruitt arrived on the scene, published their most recent report “Climate Change Indicators in the United States”. (It still looks valid.) Other governments and organizations are probably publishing their Climate Change indicators too. We need all the environmental feedback we can get.

Rather than prioritizing optimism or pessimism, it would be more useful for communicators to keep humanity informed on how our planet is actually responding to the warming.

If we don’t keep exact track of the indicators of Climate Change, many of our efforts will be delusional—making our efforts to communicate this crisis delusional as well.

Time passes. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Rochester, NY passes Climate Action Plan, Part Two

[Click here to read part one of “Rochester, NY passes Climate Action Plan”.]

Much has taken place in our country involving Climate Change since November’s election—Donald Trump, the Pruitt EPA running amuck on our environment, our country pulling out of the Paris Accord, Rochester joining the Mayors National Climate Change Agenda, and the passage of the City’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) on May, 23rd. Not to mention that an ice sheet in Antarctica the size of Delaware slipped into the ocean and is now afloat, freeing up some weighty glaciers so they can slip into the ocean—which will raise water levels. (I know, climate scientists are still not sure whether Climate Change is responsible for unleashing this colossus, but still… it’s gotta make you wonder.)   

The passage of Rochester’s CAP means it’s not a draft anymore, it’s in force. But what does that mean? How is the City going to achieve the goals of the CAP? How much is Climate Change going to enter into the up-and-coming elections in Rochester now that we have a CAP? How much effort is the City going to spend on getting the findings and goals of the CAP to the public—including reaching out to neighborhoods, businesses, and the media?

The passage of the CAP can stimulate a profound change in how local environmentalists approach local issues around Climate Change—climate justice, energy use and supply, transportation, waste and materials management, clean water, land use, public health, and our future priorities.

We now have a document in which to connect the dots between Climate Change and measure our progress in addressing it. Listen online to this recent discussion about the City’s CAP since its passage by City Council:

Connections: Understanding Rochester's Climate Action Plan Rochester City Council endorsed the city’s Climate Action Plan in May. The plan’s goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% from 2010 levels by 2030. We discussed the draft plan in November when the document was available for public comment. Now that the plan has been approved, members of local climate action groups say their input was not taken into full consideration. They want more information about how the plan will be enacted: How will programs be funded? Will the plan create jobs? Will it impact the city’s poverty issues? Last month, Mayor Lovely Warren joined the Mayors National Climate Change Agenda, which has pledged to strengthen local efforts to protect the environment. We discuss how the Climate Action Plan fits in with this goal and if proposed efforts will have enough of an impact on combating climate change. (July 14, 2017) WXXI's Connections [more on Climate Change in our area]

The CAP isn’t a law, it’s a plan. There are many benefits for each community that has a CAP, as I wrote  about in early 2016: Why Climate Action Plans (CAP) are so important for every community.
Here are some of the opportunities for environmental groups and business to leverage the CAP so that all segments of our local community benefit are manifold:

  • Increase active transportation (walking and bicycling): This has the advantage of being a relatively inexpensive contribution to lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, plus making a profound difference in the daily lives of our citizens. 
  • Reinforces the advantages of programs like those that NYSERDA offers, which assist low-income families to make their homes and businesses more energy efficient, which in turn will lessen fossil fuels use and emit less GHGs.
  • Support the City in getting our transportation authorities—Genesee Transportation Council, Rochester Transit Authority, and the New York State Department of Transportation—to increase the safety and viability of public transportation for everyone. Robust public transit not only reduces greenhouse gas emissions (transportation accounts for a large proportion of our emissions), it is a key ingredient in addressing poverty.   
  • Connect the dots between local actions that address Climate Change and information and proposals in the CAP so that such efforts are better coordinated among stakeholders.

  • Businesses can use the CAP to understand the logic behind the City’s efforts (like promoting renewable energy) to address Climate Change and predict where local government regulations and enforcement are heading. (Note the havoc created by the Trump administration’s back-peddling on all our environmental protections and the horrific confusion over how the science behind Climate Change will be implemented.)
  • Increase the likelihood that the media will connect the dots between the local consequences of Climate Change—more heavy precipitation, more harmful algae outbreaks in our lakes, and more incidents of West Nile Virus and Lyme disease (vector-driven diseases)—so the public becomes more aware that Climate Change is happening now and not at some nebulous point in the future. 
  • The CAP provides an onramp for Monroe County to join the City in an official capacity to address Climate Change. (After all, the lion’s share of our region’s environmental impact occurs within our county outside the city.)

I applaud WXXI’s Connections for airing the news about the CAP’s passage and facilitating a conversation about the CAPs merits with a top City official and members of the Rochester People’s Climate Coalition. The rest of Rochester’s media ignored this news, which is very disturbing because the public is not getting this very real news that will profoundly impact their lives. The CAP validates the science behind Climate Change, informs the public about the local consequences of this crisis, and offers a plan that is tailored for our region to adapt to the unavoidable changes coming.

The CAP isn’t perfect. It’s largely aspirational, and needs some way to enforce some of its recommendations as the consequences of warming in our region become more dire. None of this will happen if the public doesn’t even know this that precious document exists.

The City is trying to get out the message about the CAP—tabling at local events, updating its web page on the CAP, and making sure they explore opportunities when they come up like Connections. 
This isn’t enough. The CAP needs extensive media coverage so we are all on the same page during this global crisis. If you and your organization have channels through which to reach a lot of local people, please consider pointing your members to the CAP and get them to read it.   

Time passes. 

Monday, July 03, 2017

Rochester, NY passes Climate Action Plan

Rochester, NY enters the ranks of other responsible communities actively planning for Climate Change like Portland, Oregon; Chicago, Illinois; Boston, Massachusetts; and Minneapolis, Minnesota.

On May 23, 2017, Rochester City Council passed the City’s Climate Action Plan (CAP):

“City’s Office of Energy and Sustainability, working with consultants it engaged for that purpose, has developed the Rochester Climate Action Plan (CAP), which proposes a community-wide target greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal of 40% from the baseline year of 2010 by the year 2030 and provides an implementation framework consisting of strategies and actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions” (page 92, Resolution No. 2017-13 Resolution endorsing the Rochester Climate Action Plan Council Legislation Passed May 23, 2017, Certified Ordinances passed.)

Rochester’s climate action efforts are not just part of an explosion of US states and cities stepping in to fill the leadership void on Climate Change since the Trump administration has turned a blind eye to this crisis. Our City has been working on its Climate Action Plan for quite a while beginning by tending to its own carbon footprint with the municipal operations Climate Action Plan in 2013. The CAP will eventually be included in Rochester’s Comprehensive Master Plan, whose purpose is “a means to promote and protect the general health, safety and welfare of the people and to lay out a course of action for the future social, physical and political development of the community”.
Our leaders don’t have the luxury of denying clear and present dangers to their constituents. In the CAP, Mayor Warren says,

“The people of Rochester understand the sense of urgency that must be brought to bear against increasingly damaging impacts of climate change. By taking steps to protect Rochester’s environment, we are creating a healthier, more vibrant and livable community for all of our citizens. This is why Rochester is working toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions. By sharing our success with other cities across the nation, we expect our local efforts to have a global impact.” (Page 3, Mayor Warren, Rochester Climate Action Plan)

There are many benefits for each community having a CAP and I talked about that in the beginning of 2016: Why Climate Action Plans (CAP) are so important for every community.

Rochester’s CAP

The CAP starts out (as do all other community’s climate action plans) highlighting and emphasizing the science behind Climate Change. Then it describes “What Climate Change Means for Upstate New York”: Increasing temperature and changing precipitation patterns, impacts to the Great Lakes, reduced winter recreation, impacts to agriculture, and impacts to human health and equity.

The CAP then proceeds to describe why Rochester needs a climate plan at all. The plan builds on a previous effort the City itself has initiated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. With the development of this present CAP, the City widens its scope of the plan so that it’s part of a state and nationwide strategic plan to address Climate Change.

Throughout this plan, area residents are reminded how addressing this crisis goes hand-in-hand with making Rochester a modern, thriving community. The plan focuses our view of local issues through the lens of Climate Change: The Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP), The Harbor Management Plan, Rochester Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative, and the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).

By providing many benchmarks in population, greenhouse gas emissions, housing, energy use, and human health, our community will be able to measure our progress on these issues. This will allow Rochesterians to adjust our goals so that we are actually moving on a scale and timeframe that will matter.


For Rochester, in particular, there is a real opportunity to thrive despite a warm and disruptive future (for a while anyway.) Every community everywhere is going to warm up but we in Rochester are not going to warm up as much or as quickly as many places around the world, including our southern cities. It’s not that Rochester and other rust belt cities are better prepared for Climate Change right now. It’s because our temperate location offers us an occasional respite from the heat. This is to say, we aren’t going to be nailed as hard and as soon with dangerous heat, water shortages, and sea level rise as many other cities in our country and around the world.

Extreme Heat Waves Will Change How We Live. We’re Not Ready Extreme heat struck across the Southwest U.S. this week, sending temperatures in Phoenix soaring to near 120°F and grounding airplanes that were unable to operate in such warm weather. Heat waves are nothing new, but they have increased in frequency and severity in recent decades as a result of climate change. And each extreme heat event reveals another way our society simply isn't built for such high temperatures, from our transport systems to the agriculture industry. "We’ve built entire infrastructures with particular temperatures in mind," says Matthew T. Huber, an associate professor of geography at Syracuse University. "When temperatures get really high, we don’t have the material capacity to deal with that." (June 23, 2017) Time [more on Climate Change in our area]

This opportunity shouldn’t be lost, an auspicious opening that includes rapidly ramping up the resilience of our infrastructures, not only for oncoming extreme weather, but for a great influx of climate refugees. In order to capitalize on this advantage, we need to plan. We need to envision a healthy, sustainable future, a time beyond today. All other creatures on this planet exist within an immediacy; only we Homo sapiens can think ahead of Now. (Sure Fido starts getting anxious and runs about the house even before you get home from work. But your dog isn’t thinking and planning for you in the sense that we humans would. (Sorry, I don’t mean to denigrate Fido or in any way heap scorn on his wonderful species.))

Our hope is that the City’s CAP motivates Monroe County to work with Rochester and develop a more expansive plan. Sadly, Monroe County (where Rochester is only one community) is still languishing in Climate Silence.

Soon, the City’s CAP must be integrated into a complete, national, and even international plan. Climate Change is a planetary crisis and needs to be addressed on that scale. This urgent need for national and global connectivity also highlights why it is so tragic that the US pulled out of the Paris Accord. Rochester’s CAP can do a lot. But it remains somewhat isolated and disjointed when it is not part of a planetary plan.

It’s worse than sad that we now must continually push back against the present Trump administration’s anti-science, anti-environment, and anti-Climate Change agenda at a time when the window of opportunity is quickly closing.

Time passes. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Remember, no matter how divisive Climate Change is… there’s the heat.

“A Diſpute once aroſe betwixt the North-Wind and the Sun, about the ſuperiority of their power; and they agreed to try their ſtrength upon a traveller, which ſhould be able to get his cloak off firſt. The North-Wind began, and blew a very cold blaſt, accompanied with a ſharp driving ſhower: But this, and whatever elſe he could do, inſtead of making the man quit his cloak, obliged him to gird it about his body as cloſe as poſſible. Next came the Sun, who, breaking out from a thick watery cloud, drove away the cold vapours from the ſky, and darted his warm ſultry beams upon the head of the poor weather beaten traveller. The man growing faint with the heat, and unable to endure it any longer, firſt throws off his heavy cloak, and then flies for protection to the ſhade of a neighbouring grove.” (Page 68, FABLE XLI. The WIND and the SUN, The Fables of Aesop and Others By Samuel Croxall, D. D.: London: Printed for A. Millar, W. Law, and R. Cater; and for Wilson, Spence, and Mawman, York, M, DCC, XCII, (1792))

·         Even if you and your family and friends don’t want to talk about Climate Change, there’s the heat.
·         Even if you think your one geoengineering or tax solution will fix it all, there’s the heat.
·         Even you don’t believe in Climate Change, there’s the heat.
·         Even if you don’t believe humanity has the moral or physical capacity to transition to another energy source that doesn’t warm the planet, there’s the heat.
·         Even if you think there are more important issues than Climate Change, there’s the heat.
·         Even if you think your enemies are using Climate Change to set their outlandish agenda, there’s the heat.
·         Even if you thought the Paris Accord and the previous twenty climate talks were a waste of time, there’s the heat.
·         Even if you think you’re so well off you won’t get the worst of Climate Change, there’s the heat.
·         Even if you don’t care about other people in other nations and future generations, there’s the heat.
·         Even if you think those people demonstrating in the streets with all their crazy signs about the urgency of addressing Climate Change are silly, there’s the heat.
·         Even if you think there have been many other climate changes and our own species were made stronger by these changes, there’s the heat.
·         Even if you believe in the science behind Climate Change is real but don’t think it will be that bad, there’s the heat. 
There’s the heat (energy) building up in our climate system and if we don’t stop dragging our feet it’s going to get hotter than hell.
95-Degree Days: How Extreme Heat Could Spread Across the World Extremely hot days, when temperatures soar to 95 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, can be miserable. Crops wilt in the fields. Electric grids strain to keep pace with demand. People are at greater risk of dying. And those hot temperatures are expected to be much more frequent in the coming decades. The map above, based on a new analysis from the Climate Impact Lab, shows how 95-degree days (35 degrees Celsius) are expected to multiply this century if countries take moderate climate action. In this scenario, countries would take some measures, but not drastic ones, to curb emissions — roughly the trajectory of the current pledges under the Paris climate agreement. The resulting global warming would still cause significant shifts for many cities” (June 22, 2017) New York Times

Time passes.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Pruitt’s EPA trying to adapt to a fantasy world

The problem of trying to make science political is that a tortuous joining of facts and fantasy only works politically, until it’s exposed as boloney. Then it often creates terrible collateral damage. Social Darwinism and Lysenkoism are two examples where politically motivated pseudoscience crusades ended up in the trash bin of history. Rightly so because both were nonsense on stilts, quite immoral, and wreaked bloody havoc.

Pruitt, the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has been working furiously to get the EPA “Back To Basics”, which is to say turning our environmental protection agency upside down so that it views environmental problems through the lens of businesses’ priorities. This stance is ridiculous because most businesses want good stable environmental regulations from which to operate, not cherry-picked, politically-derived rules that simply remove obstacles to pollute. To accomplish his fantasy objectives, Pruitt seems hell-bent on gutting the EPA by asking Congress for a 31% budget cut.

But Congress said, NO!

Congress to Pruitt: We’re Not Cutting EPA Budget to Trump’s Levels House Republicans say they’ll protect programs that affect their districts. That’s a lot of the EPA’s work. Members of the congressional committee responsible for the Environmental Protection Agency's budget—Republican and Democrat alike—made clear Thursday they have no intention of approving the White House's proposal to slash the agency's spending. In a hearing, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt defended the Trump administration's budget plan for the first time on Capitol Hill, insisting that the agency he leads could fulfill its mission under a plan that cuts its budget more than any other federal agency's. (June 15, 2017) Inside Climate News)

However, trying to stop Pruitt from taking away our environmental protections with the power of the purse is not exactly a resolution of the problem. Congress can force Pruitt to take money for EPA, but they cannot make him do his job. Those looking for a silver lining with Pruitt in charge of the EPA should be considering the situation of an impotent EPA from a larger perspective. An environmental agency trying harder to fit their agenda to our life support system does not a sustainable existence make.

The same Congress who could sit on their hands while the Trump administration pulled us out of the Paris Accord is the same body that dare not let go of the environmental protections their constituents have come to expect. While this might seem like a nice compromise politically, it doesn’t solve the problem of stopping our environmental crisis any more than the Compromise of 1850 stopped slavery or war. Rather, trying to quell the storm between contending factions by trying to accommodate the irreconcilable truths of reality (science) with shoddy political scaffolding makes the eventual collapse of our political and environmental problems more inevitable.

Time passes. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Should we thank Trump for galvanizing the US and the world into Climate Change Action?

Thanking Trump for pulling the US out of the Paris Accord because his administration’s anti-environmental policies have galvanized the US and the world to address Climate Change would be like wheel-chairing over to the guy who ran over you with his truck and giving him a bouquet of flowers because your being crippled by what he did spurred you to write the great American novel.

Although the Trump administration’s anti-environmental actions, including ditching the Paris Accord, have crystalized the extremes these people will go to push their insensitive ideology upon the world, there’s absolutely no reason to believe we can, however exercised, overcome the blow of a crippled worldwide agreement. The players in the Trump administration have proven that they will plow through anything to hold on to their power and wealth created from an energy option now proven to be lethal to our life support system. What has not been proven (nor can it) is whether we can overcome the Trump administration’s foot dragging and achieve a sustainable environment.   
Since Trump dumped the Paris Accord, many cities, states, and nations are now stepping up to the plate to address Climate Change. It remains to be seen just how Trump is actually going to accomplish leaving this deal, or whether he can. But the line has been drawn and the world now knows that the US leadership is not on board with the science, justice, and moral issues embedded in Climate Change.

Despite the initial despair of having worked so hard and for so long to get a worldwide binding agreement to address Climate Change only to see it seemingly dumped in an instant, many are finding hope in the recent resolutions by many organizations working an end run around US leadership.

There’s a New Way the U.S. Is Committing to Paris It’s been a week since President Trump announced he was pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement. In that time, a remarkable transformation has taken place. As the federal government abdicates its responsibility to address climate change, a groundswell of support has sprung up at the state, city and corporate levels. Those sub-national actors are making the case on the international stage that the U.S. will meet its Paris Agreement commitment That includes a first-of-its-kind effort called America’s Pledge, spearheaded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, that’s been dubbed a “societally nationally determined contribution.” States, cities and other groups can sign on to meet the U.S. pledge to the Paris Agreement of reducing carbon pollution 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.David Hart, a political scientist at George Mason University, said that the new initiative bears some similarity to the 1980s anti-nuclear movement when cities and states declared themselves “nuclear-free” zones, but it’s the only time he can recall sub-national action in the U.S. being linked to an international treaty. (June 8, 2017) Climate Central [more on Climate Change in our area]

Rochester addresses Climate Change

Mayor of Rochester, NY, Mayor Lovely A. Warren, joins with other mayors to ramp up addressing Climate Change after Trump dumps Paris. 

NEWS RELEASE - MAYOR WARREN JOINS CLIMATE MAYORS Mayor Lovely A. Warren announced today that she has joined the Mayors National Climate Change Agenda, a coalition of U.S. mayors who have vowed to work together to strengthen local efforts for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and support federal policies that combat climate change and protect the environment. “President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accords was reckless and short-sighted,” Mayor Warren said. “Future generations deserve to inherit a healthy planet, therefore I am proud to join with mayors from across the country to support this agenda. As Mayor, I am committed to reducing our city’s carbon footprint and protecting the environment.”  Mayor Warren also signed on to an open letter to President Trump regarding the roll back of U.S. Climate Actions. (June 5, 2017) City of Rochester, NY) [more on Climate Change in our area]

Rochester, NY recognized as a model city planning for Climate Change.

Governor Cuomo Recognizes Rochester as Model City for Actions to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Build Climate Resiliency Rochester Designated New York's 11th Certified Climate Smart Community and 50th Clean Energy Community Supports the Governor's Goal to Reduce Statewide Greenhouse Gas Emissions 40 Percent by 2030 Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today recognized the City of Rochester as a model municipality for the city's actions to strengthen resiliency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In recognition of this achievement, New York designated Rochester as the 11th Certified Climate Smart Community and the 50th Clean Energy Community in New York State. These achievements support the Governor's aggressive goals to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030 and reduce emissions 80 percent by 2050. "New York is leading the nation in reducing our carbon footprint, and thanks to Rochester's efforts in building green infrastructure and supporting a more resilient community, we are one step closer to achieving our aggressive climate goals," Governor Cuomo said. "As we continue to bolster our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the state, I commend Mayor Warren and the city of Rochester for transforming the Finger Lakes community into a clean energy city and encouraging all of New York's municipalities to become climate smart." (June 9, 2017) GOVERNOR ANDREW M. CUOMO

Also, word has it that the City’s Climate Action Plan will soon be passed. This will be an invaluable resource for the City, our local media, and environmental groups to motivate and relate individual initiatives to the overall strategy for addressing this crisis. (Check out my 2016 essay: “Why Climate Action Plans (CAP) are so important for every community”.

This month’s Rochester People’s Climate Coalition (RPCC) newsletter demonstrates how groups in our area are kicking into high gear since Trump abandoned us to the elements. The RPCC, which now has well over 100 local member organizations, is becoming a major player in our region’s efforts to adapt to and mitigate Climate Change. Some of those member groups, including Pachamama, the Rochester Regional Group of the Sierra Club, and Mothers Out Front are themselves ramping up their efforts. Since Sierra Club President Aaron Mair came to town during Earth Month, there is an increased focus on diversity and environmental justice within local environmental issues. Stay tuned, as I learn more. 

We have to go forward

On the one hand we have no choice but to move forward. Even if Trump wakes up for his morning Tweeting Hour and tweets, “Been so wrong on Climate change. From now on giving this issue top priority! Sad. I was bad!” we are running against the clock. Renewable energy businesses and supporters of a green economy have speeded up their efforts but so have the consequences of Climate Change—threating to spiraling out of our ability to adapt.

We are in a transition crisis, transitioning from one energy option to another, as we have over much of humanity’s history. (We don’t burn whale oil for lighting anymore and we ain’t going back.) This means we are not just compelled to move forward because of Climate Change; we are entering a new and exciting energy phase that is cheaper and more accommodating to our lifestyles. Check out this possible scenario by former Executive Director of the Sierra Club:

“I think the solar panels will be built in into the building when it’s built. And I think the heat pump will be built into the building when it’s built and the water recovery system will be part of the system and it'll be called the utility free building. And it'll be, yeah, you’ll be able to borrow more money for your mortgage because the bank will understand which banks have been very slow to understand that if you don't have a utility bill, you can pay for the mortgage and you're less likely to default. So I think it's gonna happen because the builders now, you know, right now they’re saying maybe it cost 7%, 8% more to get rid of the utility bill that's already paying for itself in three or four years. But in five years I think that margin will be much smaller. “(HOW CITIES CAN SOLVE THE CLIMATE CHALLENGE, May 4, 2017, Climate One) 

Unlike the previous transitions in economic development (ironically called creative destruction, where the losers lose all) this new transitions is using this crisis as an opportunity to retrain workers and work with instead of against our environment.  

There’s hope despite Trump’s headlong rampage towards digging up our past to forge our future. It would have been far better if Trump had kept the US in the Paris Accord and avoided making the US a pariah. Nevertheless, there’s still hope because many are exponentially ramping up their efforts to make up for Trump’s mistake. 

There’s no guarantee that we’ll succeed if we all put all our efforts into addressing Climate Change. But there is absolute certainty that we won’t if we don’t.

Time passes.