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.