Monday, September 25, 2017

The rapid rise in a likely Climate Change indicator around Rochester

While not labeled a climate indicator by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the steady increase in the number of lakes in our Rochester, NY region getting nailed by blue-green algae blooms spells Climate Change. More nutrients mixing with warmer waters, and heavy precipitation (which is on the EPA’s indicator list) are a likely sign of Climate Change in our region. Over the last few years, there’s been an astonishing increase in blue-green algae blooms and this problem isn’t going to go away by ignoring Climate Change.  

Blue-green algae blooms reported in 7 Finger Lakes, including Skaneateles It's been a bad week for the Finger Lakes and blue-green algae — a very bad week indeed. Canandaigua, Keuka, Cayuga, Conesus, Honeoye and Owasco, all Finger Lakes, appear on the NYS DEC harmful algal bloom notification list that was updated this afternoon. Joining them is a real eye-opener: Skaneateles Lake, which reported a bloom this week for the first time since public tracking of them began in 2009. The discovery set off alarm bells in Syracuse, which draws unfiltered drinking water from the lake. Until now, many had thought it all but impossible for blue-green algae to bloom to any great degree in Skaneateles, one of the cleanest of the Finger Lakes. (September 15, 2017) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle [more on Climate Change and Water Quality and Finger Lakes in our area]

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation counts over 50 waterbodies statewide with confirmed or suspicious harmful algae outbreaks this year: Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) Notifications Page

Our drinking water, our shoreline property values, and the invaluable ecosystems that are our lakes are under threat and we must address this.

Scientists predict that climate change will have many effects on freshwater and marine environments. These effects, along with nutrient pollution, might cause harmful algal blooms to occur more often, in more waterbodies and to be more intense.  Algal blooms endanger human health, the environment and economies across the United States. (Climate Change and Harmful Algal Blooms, Environmental Protection Agency)

It is less likely we’ll be able to address what will likely be more algal blooms if we fail to understand the Climate Change component. We are cooking our lakes and streams with everything we and Nature have put into them, which makes solutions for their sustainability impossible without dealing with the heat.   

Time passes.


Monday, September 18, 2017

Past time to talk about Climate Change

When is the best time to talk about Climate Change? Now, after record-breaking hurricanes, before our elections, in elementary school where we start to learn about the sciences, at Thanksgiving or Christmas family gatherings, at community gatherings, over a drink at the local tavern, on social media, while driving and connected to our Smartphones, only when taking a college course on Climate Change, at a meeting where people already agree on addressing this crisis, while on a vacation or a long bike ride, at a bus stop while waiting for a bus, during a doctor visit, while walking the dog, on a date, jogging down the street with a friend, intermission at a movie or basketball game, or after every environmental emergency, every appointment, while watching a sports event, TV show, or only after every other thing has been exhausted and there’s nothing left to talk about (and even then just keeping quiet about Climate Change would be preferable)? My guess, after watching this issue unfold over the decades, is that NEVER is the answer most people would like. Of course, that would be suicidal for us and our children.

Did your media mention the Climate Change connection to Hurricanes Harvey or Irma? If not, why not? Too divisive, too much info, too boring, too wonky, too scary? (What else is your media keeping from you?)

To solve Climate Change, to plan for our future in a time frame and scale that will matter, the public needs to be engaged with this crisis. That is going to be more unlikely to happen when their media is not reporting fully on extreme weather, why these storms are getting so big, causing so much damage, and what can be done to adapt to them in a warmer world.

A Storm of Silence: Study Finds Media Is Largely Ignoring Link Between Hurricanes and Climate Change "A Storm of Silence." That’s the title of a new report by the watchdog group Public Citizen that looks at the media’s failure to discuss climate change in its wall-to-wall hurricane coverage. While all the television networks commented on the magnitude of Hurricane Harvey and "extreme weather," virtually none explained how warmer ocean temperatures lead to heavier winds, warmer air causes more precipitation, and higher sea levels exacerbate storm surges. The report examined 18 media sources’ coverage of Hurricane Harvey—looking at 10 major newspapers, three weekly news magazines and national programming from ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and Fox News over the course of eight days’ worth of Hurricane Harvey coverage. The report concludes, "Many failed to discuss the issue [of climate change] much or failed to cover important aspects of it. ... Two of the three major broadcast networks, ABC and NBC, did not mention climate change at all in the context of Hurricane Harvey." We speak to David Arkush, managing director of Public Citizen’s Climate Program. (September 12, 2017) Democracy Now! [more on Climate Change in our area]

The Miami Herald pushed back only a teeny-weeny bit against the Trump version of science (‘We’ve had bigger storms than this”) when they said,

However, some scientists have found that the effects of global warming — namely warmer oceans and hotter air — can intensify hurricane formation and result in higher rainfall, though just how much those factors might affect the storms remains uncertain. Higher sea levels can contribute to more devastating storm surge. (Irma doesn’t persuade Trump on climate change: ‘We’ve had bigger storms than this’, September 14, 2017) Miami Herald [more on Climate Change in our area]

“Some scientists”? Really? Does the characterization of 98% of the world’s scientists constitute “some scientists”? Could the Miami Herald sound more equivocal on the science behind Climate Change?

Would our media have covered the recent record-breaking hurricanes and the Climate Change connection better if we had not plunked a climate denier into the top office? If we had voted into office a responsible leader who acknowledged the importance of science, would the US mainstream media have stood up against climate denial? We’ll never know because some things cannot be undone and time is running out on addressing Climate Change.  

We Americans tried silence on the slavery issue, where only the very brave spoke up against greatest evil our country ever perpetrated. But by 1861 the awful quiet that condemned millions to a horrific existence became impossible. The actions of those who thought slavery evil and the reactions of those who thought it was a good idea grew more hostile until a great (not in a good way) Civil War broke out.

What if our forefathers had decided that indeed “… all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”? We hushed the prospects of a real discussion on Freedom because we thought we couldn’t form a country without the evil silence. If we knew what would ensue, would we have tried something other than silence?

Being silent on slavery and Climate Change are both morally reprehensible. But Climate Change has the added punch of dire physical consequences if we don’t act. Silence ruined millions of lives with slavery. Climate Change may tip our environment past our ability to right it.

What will be the most likely outcomes of climate silence?
  • Untold billions of lives lost and ruined because a planet allowed to get too hot
  • We’ll put more climate deniers into top political offices because we won’t challenge their science, making it less likely we’ll adapt
  • The public will be lulled into thinking there are other priorities more important than this existential crisis and so we will continue to kick the can down the road
  • We’ll keep developing and redeveloping destroyed property from extreme weather until our insurance companies and the insurer of last resort (our federal government) can no longer afford it.
  • Our media will really become ‘fake media’ as it distances itself from science.
  • Perhaps, like with slavery, the tensions between those who think we must address Climate Change and those who don’t want to talk about it will escalate. But, unlike the differences between the slave states and the non-slave states, we won’t be able to cordon ourselves off from each other. We may not be one on Climate Change, but Earth is one life system that affects us all.

We’re going to address Climate Change in time or not.  

This statement by the Miami mayor seems a reasonable response to the recent spate of record-breaking hurricanes in the USA:

Miami Mayor To Donald Trump: It’s Time To Talk About Climate Change As Hurricane Irma forces millions to evacuate, Mayor Tom├ís Regalado says: “If this isn’t climate change, I don’t know what is.” (September 9, 2017, Huffington Post)

Time passes. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Is Rochester ready for Harvey?

Climate Change is complicated. It can and does contain so many consequences (some known and who knows how many unknowns?) that we won’t be able to prepare for all of them. This tragic case is further exasperated by the climate denial meme that turns our innate ability to imagine adaptation solutions upside-down. Instead of doing what our species does best, adapt to changing conditions, and maybe in the process become a better and more just species, we are still pushing back against the very science that proves Climate Change.

What’s been normal for humanity is to try and understand the nature of disasters and plan for avoiding or dealing with them. To do so in this worldwide crisis, we need as much information as possible and many minds engaged in working out just what this man-made climate change means.  

Climate Change is more than protecting ourselves against the most striking forms of this change, flooding, and wildfires. It is the infinite vicissitudes that come with the interactions among Earth’s natural ecosystems, man’s built environment, past environmental pollution, and the rapid introduction of all that trapped energy from the Sun. Granted, we cannot prepare for every climate scenario, including stuff we don’t know about yet, but we should be able to prepare for the most obvious and the worse.

As many climate activists watch the tragedy playing out in Houston, we are reminded of similar disasters in the USA: Hurricanes Katrine and Sandy. They were most likely amplified by warming waters fueling more violent storms in heavily populated regions.

Hurricane Harvey, the latest US climate disaster, is playing out as one would expect in the presence of rampant sprawl, inadequate infrastructure preparation, and decades of insufficient climate action caused by climate denial. Even now, with the climate-denying Trump administration providing federal emergency help in Houston, the public is getting a mixed message. The message that this disaster was Climate-Change related and begs for adequate planning in all our vulnerable regions is scorned by this administration.  

Besides pulling the rug from under the National Climate Assessment, Trump’s wrong-headed ideology is quietly at work undermining our ability to adapt to Climate Change:

Trump reversed regulations to protect infrastructure against flooding just days before Hurricane Harvey Ten days before Hurricane Harvey descended upon Texas on Friday, wreaking havoc and causing widespread flooding, President Donald Trump signed an executive order revoking a set of regulations that would have made federally funded infrastructure less vulnerable to flooding. The Obama-era rules, which had not yet gone into effect, would have required the federal government to take into account the risk of flooding and sea-level rise as a result of climate change when constructing new infrastructure and rebuilding after disasters. Experts are predicting that Harvey — the most powerful storm to hit the US since 2004 — will cost Texas between $30 billion and $100 billion in damage. (August 28, 2017) Business Insider [more on Climate Change in our area]

We must ask ourselves: was Houston’s infrastructure adequately prepared for the predictions of climate science? In a region that gets large hurricanes and with Climate Change amplifying those storms, it would have been prudent to prepared the public and their infrastructures for the kind of deluge Hurricane Harvey brought.

Rochester’s rainfall is nowhere near the amount that Houston gets, but still, remembering last spring, we can get a lot of heavy rainfall that causes a lot of flooding—causing shoreline property damage and health problems when waste water treatment plants overflow. For us, this kind of rainfall is the most obvious consequence of Climate Change—though there are many others that affect us here.

Towards adapting to more heavy rains in our region, I found this joint effort by Monroe County and the City to contain our storm waters in the City’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) hopeful:

(NOAA) partnered to develop a Green Infrastructure Retrofit Manual, which focuses on green infrastructure design in our region that addresses water quality, flood prevention, air quality, habitat and wildlife, health and wellness, as well as climate resiliency. The manual will include guidance for design, construction, operation and maintenance of green infrastructure retrofit techniques. Design standards for green infrastructure practices include tree planting, porous pavement, bioretention facilities, rain gardens, green roofs, and retrofits for existing nongreen infrastructure facilities (such as drainage ponds). Operation and maintenance guidance will address inspection techniques, schedules, and performance monitoring. (page 47, CAP)

Check out this level of cooperation in the Green Infrastructure Retrofit Manual on a mutual problem that relates to Climate Change adaptation in our region:

Monroe County and the City of Rochester have been proactive in addressing flooding problems. Officials employed nature-based solutions, including bioswales, permeable sidewalks, and green roofs, using these projects as opportunities to test techniques, build skills, and get buy-in to support more use of green infrastructure. (PEER-TO-PEER CASE STUDY: MONROE COUNTY, NEW YORK Designing Green Infrastructure Standards For Retrofits)

This joint effort to prevent flooding problems is just one hopeful sign that we are finally acknowledging the problem of heavy rainfall (though Monroe County still has trouble saying, ‘Climate Change’). But there’s a lot more we need to do to educate the public and get all the communities around the Great Lakes Basin to prevent raw sewage overflows into the same ecosystem where we get our drinking water. And there are many more likely changes coming to our region because of Climate Change that will we have to address soon enough.
Because we have dragged our feet so long on addressing Climate Change, we have stored up a lot of heat (energy) in our atmosphere and oceans. All that must play out in the coming years, where we will have to adapt even if we go 100% renewable energy and stop all further manmade greenhouse gas emissions. A species adapts or perishes, as billions before us have done for billions of years.

We have a lot to do and a lot to learn about what Climate Change actually means to us and the planet we live on. The least we should expect from ourselves and our government, even as we continue to argue about or ignore the hard science behind this self-inflicted crisis, is that we prepare for the most obvious disasters. Containing our waters as they increase and threaten our water quality and our now critical infrastructures is first and foremost for our region.
In the near future, we will have to prepare for events humanity has never experienced before (like what’s happening in the Caribbean “Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 Hurricane, Makes Landfall in Caribbean”, (9/6/2017 New York Times).  

If your community (like Rochester, Irondequoit, Brighton, and Brockport in Monroe County) is part of New York State’s Climate Smart Communities program, they’d be getting more information how to prevent local flooding in a time of Climate Change.

Sept.14 Webinar: Building Flood Resiliency at the Local Level Building Flood Resiliency at the Local Level A Climate Smart Communities Webinar, Thursday, September 14, 2017 at 10:30 AM - 12:00 PM,The frequency of heavy downpours in the Northeast U.S. increased by 71 percent between 1958 and 2012. The costs associated with flood damage are rising across the nation and in New York State. Local governments have a key role in protecting their communities against flooding. In this webinar, participants will learn about how one New York town lowered its flood insurance premium rates by participating in the federal Community Rating System. Speakers will also discuss community flood resiliency in general and a project in Monroe County that is seeking to reduce flood-related problems, in partnership with the Genesee/Finger Lakes Regional Planning Council and The Nature Conservancy. (September 7, 2017 New York State Department of Environmental Conservation)

Rochester may not have to prepare for a Hurricane Harvey anytime soon. But keeping our region healthy as our climate warms should be keeping us busy enough.

Time passes. 

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Rochester’s Climate Change political forums likely to be the new normal

Missed the “Candidates Talk Climate: Mayoral Primary Forum” that focused exclusively on Climate Change for Rochester NY? Go here Democratic Primary for Rochester Mayor Forum 2017 to see that August 30th forum. This event was sponsored by Rochester People's Climate Coalition (RPCC) and League of Women Voters. It was a historic moment where candidates for the mayor of Rochester answered only questions on how they would address Climate Change in our city.

A climate-only political forum is a rarity. The RPCC hosted a similar forum a couple of years ago, when one of the races included the Monroe County Executive race. But this kind of forum may turn out to be the new normal for political debates as our way of life becomes inundated by the consequences of Climate Change. Our society’s approach to Climate Change resembles the drug addict who, as their addiction mounts, finds that all their problems have become one great big unavoidable problem.

Someday the problems resulting from a warming world will be what our politicians and candidates will be talking about, regardless of the amount of dark money trying to steer public attention away from this issue, and regardless of how various ideologies want to frame this issue.  Like Hurricane Harvey, it will be in our face, in our water, and ever more relentlessly trying to wash us away.

What I got from this forum is a sense of accountability. It’s very refreshing to hear candidates having to shape their answers around the prevailing science of the day, instead of the insanely moronic political maneuverings shaped by the Trump administration in order to continue their business as usual.

Our local leaders must protect their citizens and our infrastructures from the local consequences of Climate Change. It’s their job. We must make sure that our leaders are preparing for the extreme weather that comes with quickly warming a planet—such as Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, and now Hurricane Harvey. (There are many more such events around the world, creating far more damage and loss of life, but unless you look for them in non-US media, you are unlikely to hear about them.)

At the forum, it was great to hear so many questions (many of them stimulated by the City’s Climate Action Plan) about a matter that hasn’t receive the respect it deserves. We still aren’t at the point where we choose our leaders based on their positions on addressing Climate Change. Ironically, our reluctance to do so makes it all the more likely that we’ll be prioritizing this issue sooner rather than later. Science has a way of being right however infuriating that is.

Great praise is in order for both the RPCC and the League of Women Voters for hosting this forum.

Out of the many possibilities that our future affords us, there are none where our planet doesn’t warm and greatly influence our lives. The sooner we get our politics in line with reality, the better prepared we’ll be.

Time passes.