Monday, March 20, 2017

Was Rochester prepared for the consequences of Climate Change?

Our recent spate of hard storms and the public’s reaction to the government and power company response provides an interesting learning moment about the public’s expectation of preparedness in a time of Climate Change.

Was Rochester Gas and Electric prepared for storms? Questions persist about whether the Rochester region's largest electric utility was prepared for the fury nature unleashed the past few weeks. Yet complete answers could be a long time coming for customers and citizens whose lives were upended by the storms and power outages. And while Rochester Gas and Electric's handling of the crisis is of immediate concern to many, more troubling may be questions about long-term preparation, including maintenance of the local electrical system. (March 17, 2017) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle)

Many in the Rochester area were not happy with the response time or the infrastructure vulnerabilities revealed by these recent storms. Were our authorities ready? Were our infrastructures (telephone poles, etc.) ready for these assaults? Were our leaders prepared to protect us from these clear and present dangers—as their jobs require?

The blame game begins and judgement day looms, when everyone gets a chance to review all the details and decide whether everyone responsible planned properly and responded satisfactorily. Heads may roll, as they say.

This is all interesting because Climate Change presents itself as a unique disaster scenario, more drawn out with many extreme weather events, and a more biblical kind of Judgement Day.

Being entirely prepared for the recent storms, after a long and lulling warm spell in February, would have meant that the City and RG&E could check the integrity of all their telephone poles, immediately summon emergency crews and subcontractors, suspend vacations, and warn the public about dire winter conditions at the end of March. However, not only would the public have scoffed at such preparations, they would have been highly incensed that the City and RG&E had started throwing their money towards such an unlikely scenario.  

This says something about preparedness.

Too often, after (let me repeat ‘after’) a calamity the public gets energized about preparation. Before last week’s wind and snow storms, the public probably assumed their local governments and power companies had prepared them for the worst. And, given the low probabilities of an 80-mile-an-hour windstorm and a mega-March snowstorm coming back to back at this time, our authorities were most likely prepared. They were prepared in the sense that they were probably prepared for the usual weather expectations for a late March, but not entirely ready for what actually happened.  
Climate Change is going to require a lot of preparation and with the recent turn of political events they are unlikely to be adequate.

“As to climate change, I think the president was fairly straightforward: We’re not spending money on that anymore,” Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, said at a White House briefing on Thursday. “We consider that to be a waste of your money to go out and do that.”1.

Preparations for disasters always seems like a “waste of money to go out and do that” before disaster strikes. And to be fair, there are times when disasters are certain only in hindsight. Most of the time you have to plan in such a way that the public is ready to front the costs of preparations with increased taxes and bills. You have to rely on experts and take a chance that your decisions on the level of risk and the cost of preparation are all worth it.

Even with such caveats, you have to appreciate the breathtaking audacity and cravenness of the Trump administration’s attacks on the very discipline (Science) which forms the bulwark of Climate Change information on preparation.

Scientists Bristle at Trump Budget’s Cuts to Research Before he became president, Donald J. Trump called climate change a hoax, questioned the safety of vaccines and mocked renewable energy as a plaything of “tree-huggers.” So perhaps it is no surprise that Mr. Trump’s first budget took direct aim at basic scientific and medical research. Still, the extent of the cuts in the proposed budget unveiled early Thursday shocked scientists, researchers and program administrators. The reductions include $5.8 billion, or 18 percent, from the National Institutes of Health, which fund thousands of researchers working on cancer and other diseases, and $900 million, or a little less than 20 percent, from the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which funds the national laboratories, considered among the crown jewels of basic research in the world. (March 16, 2017) March 16, 2017) New York Times

At this point, many in the public are stunned by this reckless disregard for predictions based on accurate scientific information. How could anyone have imagined such a blatant affront to our accumulated knowledge about how our environment actually works? Scientists are not just important in a world of Climate Change, they are absolutely necessary in the way someone operating on your heart must be a heart surgeon. You wouldn’t want a climate denier preparing you for Climate Change any more that you would want a Valentine card designer opening up your chest to get at your heart.

We are not going to be prepared for Climate Change if Trump’s attack on science and the EPA are allowed to continue. The public needs to get out and march in the streets; they need to contact their government representatives and make them accountable now; and the public needs to get engaged in this crisis before disasters strike.

Blaming our governmental officials if they don’t prepare us for Climate Change will be absurdly pointless after the fact, as we’ll be too busy struggling for our lives and our future.


Time passes.   

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