Monday, May 29, 2017

Controversy over Plan 2014 is a Climate Change adaptation issue

(This essay is a continuation of my essay “Climate Change and the Butterfly Effect”)

This brave and comprehensive article from Rochester City Newspaper (see below) demonstrates the complexity of addressing Climate Change now—before things get impossible to solve.

The water will win A very wet spring means that bodies of water across Upstate New York are spilling over their banks. Wetlands and swamps are full. And so is Lake Ontario, which is what the other water would normally drain into. For the home and business owners on Lake Ontario's southern shore, the flooding has been a slow-moving nightmare. Water – pushed some days by high winds – has been clawing into beachfronts and lawns, shifting sand, flooding buildings, closing roads. Docks at marinas are under water. Businesses have been closed. Homeowners have been piling up sandbags, trying to stave off the lake. And many of the lakefront landowners and the elected officials who represent them are furious, blaming the loss of property and revenue on new regulations that control the flow of water out of Lake Ontario into the St. Lawrence River. (May 25, 2017) Rochester City Newspaper [more on Climate Change and Water Quality and Great lakes in our area]

On the face of it, this lake level controversy is an easy one for politicians to take advantage of, the public (who haven’t been directly affected by the damaging waters) to ignore, and the media to leverage for sensationalism.

Town of Greece wants the county to pursue possible legal action over Lake Ontario flooding The Greece Town Board on Wednesday passed a resolution to ask Monroe County to explore possible legal action regarding the high levels in Lake Ontario. Property owners in Greece are among those along the lakeshore who have been hit by flooding in recent weeks, and the resolution passed by the town board makes reference to changes brought about by Plan 2014. That’s a plan that changes the way water levels are regulated on Lake Ontario. However the International Joint Commission, which approved the plan, has maintained that the plan is not responsible for the flooding, saying it was the very wet Spring that lead to this year’s high levels on Lake Ontario. (May 24. 2017) WXXI News [more on Climate Change

Lake Ontario St. Lawrence River Plan 2014 (Plan 2014) is an attempt to contain the larger climate crisis but it is falling victim to our complacency towards science and its implications. For quite some time now, the National Climate Assessment has verified that heavy downpours are increasing for our Northeast region -- by 71% since 1958. This means that it is more likely homes and our infrastructures are going to be affected in just the way we are seeing now. Until Climate Change is dealt with and planned for on the scale and time frame that will matter, we will continue to blame the messenger and squander our resources until they are no more.

It’s instructive to note that trying to re-adjust the Lake Ontario water levels is an adaptation issue. The efforts to reduce fossil fuels emission by increasing renewable energy is a Climate Change mitigation issue. We should mitigate Climate Change because it’s the moral thing to do (saving our future), but we absolutely must adapt quickly to increased warming in order to survive right now. See my 2014 essay: “Climate Change mitigation (People’s Climate March ==> Paris 2015) & adaptation: what’s the diff?

Because Climate Change has become very divisive, many are disinclined to speak about Climate Change when discussing local environmental concerns. While this tactic might quell many family feuds and make for calmer political campaigns, climate silence is a disastrous strategy for future survival. You cannot cure a cancer without addressing the cancer, nor can you address Great Lakes problems (including invasive species, harmful algae outbreaks, and water quality) without addressing Climate Change. In fact, if we don’t understand the priority of Climate Change in our present environmental issues, if we don’t view our present and future environmental issue through the lens of Climate Change, we are very unlikely to address them. This quick warming is amplifying and accelerating all environmental issues and trying to solve all of them without talking about Climate Change is unscientific--undoable.  

The key reason Climate Change is so divisive is because addressing Climate Change is very inconvenient to many powerful people. For those not willing to see the bigger picture, that we are fundamentally disrupting our climate, it means higher taxes, bigger government, more environmental regulations, political and economic intransigence. But even if these repercussions are more likely to be felt if we start seriously addressing Climate Change, that doesn’t make the science behind Climate Change any less true. It is as irrational and depraved as saying “I don’t need to feed my family because to do so would cost too much money”. Further, the scenarios people fear most are more likely to occur the longer we drag our feet. (See my 2013 essay: “Why Climate Change means big, really big government”.

With the heavy flooding around Lake Ontario, the Rochester region is now experiencing one dramatic impact of Climate Change. Shoreline property owners are understandably upset. But the answer to their plight is ultimately contained in addressing the Climate Change crisis at large, not in attacking the Plan 2014 that was designed to make our Great Lakes basin habitable to all.

Time passes. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

No climate deniers in a raging storm

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drenched our teeples, drowned the cocks!
You sulphurour and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Strike flat the thick rotundity o' the world!
Crack nature's molds, all germens spill at once
That make ingrateful man!―
 William Shakespeare, King Lear

Most people tend to think of Climate Change as a slow and gradual climate disruption occurring sometime in the future. Even if that is true, and scientists have overestimated as to when the most dire consequences of this crisis may transpire, you should still consider what it is we are unleashing on our children. (Actually, most evidence seems to be leaning towards the conclusion that Climate Change is happening far more quickly than scientists predicted.)

Anyone who has experienced a major storm must have had at least one moment when they wondered if the great forces that brought life on our planet had suddenly turned and threatened to extinguish it. Few things in our existence can trigger such a profound sense of peril as one’s world being turned upside down by a major storm.

Yet, even though this response is hard-wired (via evolution, of course) and provokes our keenest sense of dread, we seem to quickly forget this terror once it passes and carry on heedless of the future.

When her doctor tells us that the small growth on our child’s brain is malignant, we do not respond by saying, “My daughter looks just fine and besides her cancer treatments would be very expensive.”

But this is how Trump and climate deniers are responding to Climate Change. They toss a snowball into the Senate chambers (supposedly proving it cannot be warming if we can still make snowballs) and rail about how the liberals are trying to take over the country by increasing government to address this ‘hoax’.

Parents often respond immediately to an unseen growth in their child’s brain with denial but quickly come to their senses knowing that every minute counts. We too must get over our disinclination to put off future threats and deal with them on a scale and time frame that will matter.

The melting of the ice and permafrost in the Arctic and the glaciers calving in the Antarctic are an indication of an unstoppable catastrophe unless dealt with immediately, just like a cancer.

That all-shaking thunder of a storm should remind us of that we have the power now to help our children adapt and maybe lessen the consequences of Climate Change.

Time passes.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Climate Change and the Butterfly Effect

And the way that I look at a lot of climate change things is, at a certain point, you have nice, friendly oscillations in the weather cycle, globally. And, at a certain point, the string on your pendulum breaks and things go flying off. Or another way to think of it is, things are pretty steady state, up until the point when you tip the system such that your state slides down.” Dr. Pamela Gay (January 10, 2017, Ep. 435: The Butterfly Effect, Astronomy Cast.) 

If we understood Climate Change properly, we would appreciate that the time for emergency measures for protecting our infrastructures is now, if not sooner. The Butterfly Effect relates to Climate Change, resulting from the dramatic increase in greenhouse gas emissions starting with the industrial revolutions around 200 years ago, and having already led to many local consequences. Temperature increases and ocean acidification have already begun a chain of effects, some perhaps unstoppable. One of the local consequences is the increase in heavy precipitation. The pre-Pruitt EPA explained how our state’s precipitation patterns have been changed by Climate Change:

Increasing Temperature and Changing Precipitation Patterns Rising temperatures and shifting rainfall patterns are likely to increase the intensity of both floods and droughts. Average annual precipitation in the Northeast has increased 10 percent since 1895, and precipitation from extremely heavy storms has increased 70 percent since 1958. During the next century, annual precipitation and the frequency of heavy downpours are likely to keep rising. Precipitation is likely to increase during winter and spring, but not change significantly during summer and fall. Rising temperatures will melt snow earlier in spring and increase evaporation, and thereby dry the soil during summer and fall. As a result, changing the climate is likely to intensify flooding during winter and spring, and drought during summer and fall (What Climate Change Means for New York, August 2016, EPA)

Because of Climate Change, emergency responses to infrastructure damage will likely occur more often unless we finally start planning and getting ahead of them. We’ve known for some time now that our infrastructure, the bloodlines of our way of existence, are going to be under tremendous strain due to more extreme weather, warming, and a history of their not getting maintained. 

We won’t fix our infrastructure by frantically looking for emergency solutions every time something disastrous happens. Unless we plan for Climate Change on a massive scale, we are soon going to be overwhelmed. (I know, this is what scares the bejesus out of the proponents of small government, free market fundamentalism, and climate deniers. But as the local consequences of Climate Change get worse, we’ll be forced to look to our governments for a strategic plan to deal with all of this.)  

Expediting state aid for municipalities for water infrastructure Lawmakers gathered Thursday in a flooded area of a Webster tavern to announce legislation that would expedite emergency funding for counties and towns dealing with water infrastructure issues. The entertainment area and rear docks of the Bayside Pub on Irondequoit Bay are submerged. State officials used that as a backdrop to announce that legislation which would provide emergency assistance immediately for municipalities has passed the Senate and is now in the Assembly. (May 11, 2017) WXXI News [more on Climate Change in our area] 

Not only has this recent spate of heavy rainfall in our area been predicted by climate studies, some media are reporting on this responsibly:

Historic flooding in Quebec probably linked to climate change: experts Some may blame the gods, Hydro-Qu├ębec or their own bad luck, but climate change scientists say the heavy rains and terrible flooding plaguing Quebec this spring are almost certainly caused by global warming. “There is a very clear picture emerging that we’ve changed the chemistry of the atmosphere with our greenhouse gases and we are really seeing the consequences now,” Paul Beckwith, a climate systems scientist who teaches at the University of Ottawa and Carleton University, told the Montreal Gazette in an interview Tuesday. Record amounts of rain this spring in Quebec and Ontario have meant the soil is saturated and can’t absorb any more water. The run-off adds to the water levels in already bloated rivers and streams. Lake Ontario has now hit its highest recorded level since 1880, when record-keeping began. The St. Lawrence River is about 1.2 meters higher than it normally is this time of year. (May 9, 2017) Montreal Gazette [more on Great Lakes, Water Quality, and Climate Change in our area]

xperts link the present major flooding around Lake Ontario to Climate Change. Our local media should start to reflect this reality. But nary a word in our Rochester local news about this connection. They have not even mentioned a possibility of a connection between the very hard flooding in our area and Climate Change—though it has been predicted in many climate models.

There is a reason why people still continue to vote for climate deniers, and one of them is media’s unwillingness to report current events as the local consequences of Climate Change. The public needs to see how Climate Change is already dramatically affecting our lives—not some nebulous time in the future as is now in fashion. We need to plan for the future, which in our region is a lot more heavy precipitation, which means our homes and infrastructure need to be made more resilient and robust.

The Butterfly Effect in Climate Change also means that at some point our relatively stable climate can suddenly become very chaotic. Ignoring this possibility means emergency responses won’t be nearly enough.

Time passes.

Check out: “Heat waves, heavy downpours, and sea level rise pose growing challenges to many aspects of life in the Northeast. Infrastructure, agriculture, fisheries, and ecosystems will be increasingly compromised. Many states and cities are beginning to incorporate climate change into their planning.”(Northeast, National Climate Assessment)

Check out: “Heavy rainfall has increased over the last 50 years, Trend projected to continue Localized flash flooding. Flooding has the potential to increase water pollution Water treatment plants mainly on floodplains” from Hell and High Water: Climate Change Effects in the Empire State 

Check this out from Climate Change in New York State Refined and Updated Projections “Projections for New York State Updated climate models and methods have helped scientists refine their previous projections for higher average temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and sea level rise in New York State. Scientists also project an increase in the frequency of extreme events, such as heat waves, heavy downpours, and coastal flooding.” Climate Change in New York State Refined and Updated Projections 

Monday, May 08, 2017

The marches in Washington DC to change our future

In between marching at the March for Science on Earth Day and the People’s Climate March on April 29th in Washington, DC, I visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The museum reminds us of the unimaginable evil that can be unleashed from within ourselves when we fail to keep our lesser angels in check. Much of the journey through the museum described events that led up to the Holocaust and the systematic slaughtering of six million Jews.  Its purpose was not to provide an excuse for this great human failure, but rather to put us on notice of where our future can stray when we don’t get our priorities straight.

An excellent description of this kind of ethical problem is pithily examined in an essay by a local ethics expert, Lawrence Torcello, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Rochester Institute of Technology:

“There can be no greater crime against humanity than the foreseeable, and methodical, destruction of conditions that make human life possible. Hindsight isn’t necessary.” (Yes, I am a climate alarmist. Global warming is a crime against humanity, (April 29, 2017, The Guardian)

We should be alarmed by Climate Change now because if we don’t, there won’t be enough healthy people to build a museum to our nostalgic collective disinclination to act on this crisis.

Before I went to DC for the marches, I attended the Rochester Regional Group of the Sierra Club’s 19th forum with keynote speaker Sierra Club President Aaron Mair. This set the tone for my week-long trip because it signaled a major change in direction on how to address Climate Change. Many failures in our elections and climate talks have awakened minorities, the poor, and the disadvantaged that they are most likely to be hit first and worst by radical changes in our climate. Aaron’s talk, both at the forum and on WXXI’s Connections, provided ri,veting examples of how quickly environmentalism of the past must shift to environmentalism for the future by working with many disparate groups—many not historically focused on our environment.

National Sierra Club President Aaron Mair Discusses Climate Change Movement: It’s Ineffective Without Diversity National Sierra Club President Aaron Mair spoke in Rochester Thursday on the importance of diversity in the climate movement, without which he said would lead to an ineffective climate movement. He spent the evening showing a clear connection between the environment and race, discussing his work in Albany, NY shutting down a state-run incinerator and agency, or people of color’s ability to make the change they want to see. “At the end of the day, the key point is at what stage things get settled,” he said, referencing the fight for voting rights. “This is an important piece because a lot of folks when I start to take them on a journey…they say ‘that’s not environmentalism.’ Why protecting voting rights is critical to saving the environment, ‘well that’s civil rights. That’s not environmentalism.’ When I talk about the human condition and the human condition being a function of the environment ‘well, that’s not environment’…’So you mean I have a civil right to environment?’ Yes you do.” (April 21, 2017 Open Mic)

The March for Science

On Earth Day, in the drenching rain, we marched through DC trying to explain to an administration that doesn’t respect science how incredibly batshit crazy that is. I’m not a scientist but I do understand how difficult it has been for humanity to finally develop a way of thinking, testing, and coming to conclusions on important matters free of prejudice, ideology, and ignorance. So I can only imagine how those who have devoted their lives to science how they feel about having a real estate mogul who has flagrantly disregarded environmental regulations for most of his career telling them to forget what they know and let an angry and selfish belief system rule the day.

Did we change the Trump administration’s mind about science? Probably not. What is more likely is that we convinced each other (about 100,000) that we were ready to stand up to his bullying madness. Similar science marches around the country and other countries convinced us too. We likely made it clear to our representatives in Congress and in local governments, that there will be consequences for those representative who don’t respect science. And, it is quite likely that scientists, college students, and others who never, ever, would have considered getting into politics will now do so. 

The Media and Climate Change

During my week in DC, I also visited the Newseum. The thought running through my head as I made my way around this trophy to our First Amendment was not the usual stuff about freedom of the press, freedom to assemble, freedom to petition, freedom of religion, nor freedom of speech. It was this: How are we going to move our historical notion of the media into a medium that can effectively communicate Climate Change now? How are we going to free climate denial from our collective need to address Climate Change? Or, how can we have our cake and eat it too, that is, how can we keep all these First Amendment freedoms and at the same time focus on a long-term ethical and existential crisis that is Climate Change? Will our media continue to descend into myriad silos of self-absorbing ideologies, or will this medium finally be able to focus on the priorities inherent to this issue on a scale and in a timeframe that will matter?

It doesn’t look good. While the news is very good at obsessive reductionist tendencies toward the spectacular, it seems incapable of communicating a seemingly slow-moving physical disaster persistently and free of divisiveness. Our media still doesn’t respect science and this has created bedlam for the First Amendment. (For example, how do we stop climate deniers from sowing doubt about the science behind Climate Change so we can address this crisis in time? Do we value Freedom of the Press over existence itself?)

Press conference and a red line

After checking out the American Indian Museum and the Air and Space museum, I had a chance to attend a press conference outside Congress with Senator Merkley, Senator Sanders, Senator Markey, and Bill McKibben:

100% Clean Energy Bill Launched by Senators and Movement Leaders Legislation comes ahead of Peoples Climate March on April 29th WASHINGTON - Ahead of the Peoples Climate March, Senator Jeff Merkley, Senator Bernie Sanders, and Senator Ed Markey stood beside movement leaders to introduce legislation that will completely phase out fossil fuel use by 2050. The “100 by ‘50 Act” outlines a bold plan to support workers and to prioritize low-income communities while replacing oil, coal and gas with clean energy sources like wind and solar. (April 27, 2017) Common Dreams)

If you can, check out some of my videos of the press conference--Senator Sanders and Bill McKibben—because although there seemed to be a lot media there, it is the dickens to find coverage of this event in the media. This bold energy plan obviously isn’t of the same eye-catching theatre as a bug-eyed Trump rant for the media.

Just after that press conference, more dramatic but even less covered by the media, was the Takes Roots Red Line Action where I joined in a passionate march for those who are going to are already getting nailed by Climate Change. I doubt you can find much media coverage about this dramatic event, even though hundreds of us (most dressed in red) circled the freaking Capital building with full police escort. Check out some clips I shot of the event (Clip One and Clip Two) because our media just covers events that fit in their agenda. This event, Mother Earth’s RED LINE, clearly did not fit their agenda.

Grassroots Global Justice (GGJ) is a national alliance of US-based grassroots organizing (GRO) groups organizing to build an agenda for power for working and poor people and communities of color. We understand that there are important connections between the local issues we work on and the global context, and we see ourselves as part of an international movement for global justice. (About Grassroots Global Justice)

The People’s Climate March

An event that did reach the media was the 200,000 strong march to address Climate Change. Though only about half as large as the People’s Climate March in New York City in 2014, we marchers exhibited no less enthusiasm. For the best press coverage of the march in DC, I recommend DemocracyNow! which spent five hours interviewing and looking into our concerns in depth:

Watch: Democracy Now! Special Broadcast from the 2017 People's Climate March On Saturday, April 29, Democracy Now! will provide special live coverage of the People’s Climate March in Washington, D.C., organized to protest the Trump administration’s climate change-denying agenda. (April 29, 2017 DemocracyNow!) 

Loud and numerous though we were, I doubt most of the public had more than a fleeting view of the march in the media because the Trump Show is endlessly diverting and distracting. Though the consequences of Climate Change are clearly upon us, our generation, like other generations, still has not sifted through our priorities and found that singular issue, which after many, many years will define our age. Something we would someday be likely to create a museum in DC for, wondering how, after all the blood and tears, we could have missed it.  

Time passes.