Monday, January 02, 2017

19 years of RochesterEnvironment.com

When I began RochesterEnviornment.com almost two decades ago, my goal was to demonstrate that environmental news was just as important and occurred as frequently as other news. Only, our local and national media weren’t paying much attention to the condition of our life support system. The Internet, I thought then, could provide anyone with an opportunity to collect news and information from an incredible number of sources—including all local media, governmental agencies, universities, digital books, and similar sources from around the world—that would help reach everyone.

I focused my efforts on a single region—Rochester, NY—as an experiment to find out what effect providing every environmental resource available to the public, media, environmental groups, governments, businesses, and individuals.

I found over the years that there was an incredible amount of environmental information and news that our local media was not disseminating to the public. Finding environmental news in the public interest was slow at first during the late 1990’s but as major issues evolved such as plastics pollution, water quality issues, and Climate Change, it became more important to prioritize environmental news than post whatever I could find. Also, many institutions, official agencies, and environmental groups were increasingly providing news, online studies, all free. Climate studies, official reports, and data abound on the Internet, ready for public consumption.

My position on getting environmental information to the public grew as I saw environmental issues like Climate Change grow, while public interest and knowledge on these critical issues seem to waiver and then diminish. (Note that the election of Trump to President, who is filling top positions in science agencies with climate deniers, is a low point in the public’s environmental awareness. Last November’s elections weren’t entirely a fluke, as still too many Americans don’t appreciate the urgency of addressing Climate Change.) Which is to say, my efforts and a lot of others to get the public to appreciate the urgency and scope of Climate Change and other environmental problems has failed.

Protecting our environment, I’ve come to believe, requires a different kind of journalism, one that communicates to the public the potential of various environmental threats before these issues reach the front pages of our media in the traditional way. By the time oil spills, invasive species breakouts, and climate warming itself reach public attention, they are oftentimes at a stage in their development that makes it difficult if not impossible to address them.

During RochesterEnvironment.com’s existence, I’ve witnessed many positive developments that demonstrate a growing awareness of environmental concerns in our region:
  • The City of Rochester has developed and is ready to release its Climate Action Plan. This plan was a long-time coming and not only describes the threats coming to our region but governmental efforts to solve them. (When you think of the direction our nations is going, Rochester’s and other community’s efforts at this time are critical.)
  • The march last year on Nov 29th to support the UN’s Climate Change Conference, which produced the Paris Agreement, brought over 400 people into our streets. (Hundreds March To Support United Nation’s 2015 Climate Change Conference ROCHESTER, N.Y. (November 29, 2015) Time Warner Cable News 
  • Dr. Hansen’s talk in Rochester, NY on April 21st at Monroe County Community College. This event, sponsored in part by the Rochester Regional Group of the Sierra Club, brought together over 800 people. If you missed Dr. Hansen’s talk, check out this video.
  • For several years, Greentopia sponsored week-long festivals that brought in thousands of local people with activities focused on living sustainably. Greentopia still works towards making our community more environmentally friendly.   
  • The Center of Environmental Initiatives, now Genesee RiverWatch, has honed in on researching and cleaning up our Genesee River.
  • Back in 2008-2009 some inspired folks created ‘Climate Change Central’, a brick-and-mortar outlet for discussing and distributing information on Climate Change in the Park Avenue area. (I still think this concept is so great that efforts should be made to resurrect it.)
  • Monroe County passed the Neighborhood Notification Law, which protects children and pets from pesticide drift during pesticide applications. Our county also added 3-7 plastics in recycling, moved to single-stream recycling, and helps keep our parks clean with its yearly Pick-Up-The-Parks program.
  • Rochester’s Clean Sweep brings hundreds of volunteers to spruce up our gardens, streets, and remove litter. 
  • The inclusion of bicycle boulevards in the City Bicycle Master Plan and the pursuit of the Bicycle Friendly Awards keeps our city focused on active transportation (walking and bicycling), which will reduce greenhouse gas emission and make folks healthier.
  • In 2016 Rochester piled hundreds of folks onto buses, trains, and car pools heading to the People’s Climate March, helping to join with hundreds of thousands (about 400,000) to get a real climate deal. In the process of promoting Rochester’s commitment, the Rochester People’s Climate Coalition was formed and thrives today with over 100 member groups.
  • Started a couple of years ago, the Fast Forward Film festival encourages efforts by young folks to tell their story about our environment.


Much has happened in a positive direction, but not nearly enough.

The rise in social media and Smartphones over the years has been both a boon and bust. While it is great to get feedback and reach more people, what has also happened is that the silos of interest have become more narrow and entrenched. I use both Facebook and Twitter and they provide immediate feedback but they are also ephemeral. With social media it is possible to keep more of our base engaged while keeping that information completely invisible to anyone who does not understand or care to understand the role of our environment in our existence. 

By the close of 2016, the lack of environmental news and information is not as prevalent as the misunderstandings of it caused by bad players intent on sowing doubt where there really isn’t any. How environmental issues are framed, even by environmental groups, is now paramount in environmental communication. I don’t mean pandering to the public’s desire to see environmental issues tamped down to fit within our comfort zone. I mean properly framing environmental issues, especially Climate Change, as the existential threat that they are. Our past environmental abuses—pollution, loss of biodiversity, overconsumption—are going to make addressing Climate Change incredibly difficult. We are challenging our life support system beyond our ability to make it sustainable.

With the election of Trump the threat of less information coming from governmental sources seems more likely. (I hope our media is monitoring not only our environment but also whether our environmental agencies will be stripped of critical information.)

What has struck me in the last twenty years is that there is more breaking news on the state of our environment than I ever could have imagined: More oil pipeline ruptures, more Bomb Trains, more extreme weather events, more people in the streets sick and tired of allowing our environment to be trashed. This is not good because, as I have mentioned earlier, by the time environmental stories get to our headlines, they’ve probably become intractable.

The first UN Climate Change Conference was held in 1995 in Berlin, about the same time as RochesterEnvironment.com began. Since that time, the Paris Agreement, a result of the 21st climate talks, became official. The world understands the threat of Climate Change as well as conscious beings, who caused this climate change, can understand. Humanity no longer has any excuse not to address Climate Change.

Humanity has an obligation to protect its life support system.

Time passes.

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