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.   

Monday, March 13, 2017

Declaration of Independence from climate denial

According to Carbonify.com, the atmospheric carbon dioxide level was 365.26ppm in 1998 when I began RochesterEnvironment.com. Today it’s 406.13ppm. In some places it’s projected to soon hit 410ppm. We have known for quite some time now that we are quickly warming up our planet, which is and will continue to affect all life on Earth, while increasingly making it problematic as to whether we can adapt.

For ten thousand years of the Holocene, during which humanity thrived, our carbon dioxide concentration levels hovered around 280ppm. Then in the mid-1800’s our planet’s temperature took off.

There is much about Climate Change that folks are debating and denying, but these figures on the concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere are pretty clear. Hard to squirm away from the math.

Carbon Dioxide Could Reach 410 PPM This Month A never-ending stream of carbon pollution ensures that each year the world continues to break records for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This year will be no different. Like a rite of spring, carbon dioxide is poised to cruise pass the previous mark set last year and reach heights unseen in human history. In the coming weeks, carbon dioxide will start to breach the 410 parts per million threshold on a daily basis at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. The monthly average for May could come close to topping 410 ppm, too, according to the U.K. Met Office’s inaugural carbon dioxide forecast, released last week. (March 6, 2017) Climate Central [more on Climate Change in our area]

The New York Times recently headlined the news that spring comes earlier each year (see below). I’m sure there is a vast swath of our U.S. citizens who won’t read the New York Times—which is odd because it’s the largest selling newspaper in the world.

Spring Came Early. Scientists Say Climate Change Is a Culprit. After a mild winter across much of the United States, February brought abnormally high temperatures, especially east of the Rockies. Spring weather arrived more than three weeks earlier than usual in some places, and new research released Wednesday shows a strong link to climate change. By the 2017 calendar, the first day of spring is March 20. But spring leaves arrived in mid-January in some parts of the South, and spread northward like a wave. The map above plots the date of “first leaf,” a temperature-based calculation of when vegetation that has been dormant starts to show signs of life. This year, with the exception of a few small areas, the wave has arrived much earlier than the 30-year average. (March 8, 2017) New York Times [more on Climate Change in our area]

Science tells us more of our greenhouse gas emissions are getting into our atmosphere each year. Our media (some of them anyway) explains what that means for our way of life.

Yet, we put a climate denier into the top office of our country: “To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world” (The Declaration of Independence, 1776):


It’s now time to Declare our independence from climate denial.

We, therefore, the people of the united States of America, in general, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these United States, solemnly publish and declare, That these United States are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent of climate denial, that they are Absolved from all anti-science and Climate Injustice, and that all political connection between them and climate denial, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent peoples, they have full Power to support science, work with other nations around the world to address Climate Change.— And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

We shall not be denied a future:

Rather than the trajectory of a future riven with pollution, disease, and a vast inequality of wealth and resources brought on by climate denial, we aspire to an Attractive Future possible to all of us by addressing Climate Change immediately, which will ensure better city designs, more Equality, and a healthy and sustainable environment from which all Peoples, Business, and Life can flourish. 

Inspiration to Act:

            "90% is just showing up” short video by Paul Flansburg pflansburg@hotmail.com
Overwhelmed about what to do in a world that is warming and not enough folks seem to care? Need some real inspiration in four minutes from someone who is walking the rallies? Paul Flansburg has put together an amazing personal story about why and how to care about our planet—especially at this incredible moment in history. Powerful. Incredible.

Action Opportunities:

·         March for Science on Earth Day, here in Rochester, NY or in Washington, DC.
·         Join the People’s Climate Movement this April 29th here in Rochester, NY or in Washington, DC.
·         Retweet, share on Facebook, and/or copy to your contacts or social media this article.

Time passes.


#StandUpForScience #climatechangeshealth #ClimateFacts #MarchForScience #ScienceMatters 

Monday, March 06, 2017

EPA getting gutted. Sad.

Ever since humanity began large-scale industry, business folks have been duking it out with nature lovers.

It would be convenient to entirely blame Pruitt and President Trump for attempting to gut the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But this present crisis, where the EPA is getting eviscerated, where decades of good work by our top environmental agency is getting attacked by the Trump administration, is but a dramatic point along a continuum of our collective compliancy towards our life support system.

For most of humanity’s existence, we have fought for our place in our environment among dangerous predators and hostile climates. Some time ago, our numbers grew and our ability to dominate and even subdue nature allowed our species to thrive. We discovered how to exploit the bounties of our environment and didn’t think much about replacing or compensating important components (think, forests) because it didn’t even occur to us until centuries ago that our resources were finite.
Several hundred years ago, many naturalists and thinkers began warning humanity that the way we were treating our environment was causing problems. Serious water-polluting, soil-decimating, and other large-scale problems became so bad that communities and even civilizations perished. The push for more land was driven in part because good agricultural regions were used up by bad farming practices. We over-hunted, over-fished, and developed beyond our environment’s ability to recuperate from our abuse. We ignored the warnings of those—Thoreau, Muir, Humboldt, Marsh, and many others--whose message was to step more lightly on our planet’s bounty. They were not against growth; they were against wasteful and destructive practices that were destroying the potential of our natural resources.

After a long history of treating our environment as an infinite and magical spring of resources (as an externality), we shouldn’t be surprised when, in this latest and most horrific expression of environmental pushback, Trump says "the EPA’s regulators are putting people out of jobs by the hundreds of thousands.” (from What President Trump’s New Order Means for Clean Water, February 28, 2018, Time)

We should realize that this misguided harangue is but the most recent manifestation of a long-held attitude towards our environment from which humanity has not entirely freed itself. We’ve been treating our life support system badly for a long time.  

Shifting costs and degradation of our natural resources to tax payers

Trump’s clumsy attempts to revive old unsustainable business practices by gutting the EPA is really a throwback to how humanity used to conduct business by shifting costs and degradation of our natural resources to taxpayers. This is where business gets to use and pollute the commons—our water, land, and air—and shift the financial burden of their cleanup to the public. Meanwhile, the public suffers immeasurably in the form of bad health and in many cases, death. Too many business owners believe that it is the environmental regulations, not the loss of a healthy environment, which is causing their problems. So the EPA becomes a scapegoat for businesses unwilling to shift to sustainable practices.

Framing environmental concerns as ‘us vs. them’ is not sustainable. It never has been. In actuality, there haven’t been winners and losers in environmental fights between polluters and environmentalists. Victories have been a mirage, where polluters win the battles and we all lose the war. What has happened is a ratcheting up of environmental degradation. We are now at a place where 7 billion people are eking out an existence as we warm up the planet and extinct animal and plant species around the world on par with the other five great extinctions. This observation isn’t new and many, many businesses have come to recognize their responsibility in keeping our environment healthy. For quite a while now, responsible business have adopted sustainable business practices that are becoming standard business practices around the world—not merely as environmentally sound, but also financially profitable.

Why we need a healthy EPA

The EPA has many successes under its belt including the cleanup of thousands of industry-caused Brownfields, not to mention the countless times where the rules and the very existence of the EPA has prevented catastrophic environmental abuse. This environmental regulatory agency hasn’t led to the demise of businesses. Quite the opposite. Businesses need a level and stable playing field from which to operate. Think of the reintroduction of wolves in Yellow Stone National Park where the behavior of the elk and other animals changed dramatically when wolves were reintroduced into that ecosystem. Trees grew back and even the course of the rivers changed because elk and other herbivores couldn’t stand around all day chewing up every single plant with wolves around. Ecosystems thrive when the regulators are present.

If we again let free market fundamentalism rule, we will get the world as it was before the EPA—a very polluted environment. But things will be much worse because Climate Change is accelerating and amplifying all our other environmental issues. 

Why We Need the EPA Let’s not forget what America looked like before we had the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Our rivers caught on fire, our air was full of smog, and it stank (literally). “Restoring nature to its natural state is a cause beyond party and beyond factions,” said Richard Nixon, the founder of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in his 1970 State of the Union speech. If only. While there was clearly a time when support for environmental regulations transcended politics, the GOP’s broad support for EPA antagonist and Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt to head the agency he so maligns tells us that day has passed. (February 14, 2017) NRDC [more on Environmental Health in our area]

Focusing on just a single ecosystem, Lake Erie, demonstrates how gutting the EPA will be catastrophic. Everyone, including businesses and farmers who will not be able to thrive in a failing environment, should be encouraging Trump and the EPA to keep up their pivotal role in addressing Climate Change and all the complicated consequences coming with that.

Great Lakes Scientist says, “If We Lose The EPA, We Lose Lake Erie” At the 8th Binational Meeting of the Lake Erie Millennium Network, 125 scientists gathered at the University of Windsor in Ontario to hear experts weigh-in on the health of the southernmost, warmest and shallowest of the Great Lakes. They presented research on everything from climate change, water quality, phosphorous, agricultural run-off, cynobacteria (blue-green algae), hypoxia (deficiency in oxygen), cladophora (green algae) to ice, invasive species, sediment concentrations, and much, much more. Lake Erie is the smallest of the Great Lakes by volume, and yet it has the highest population living along it’s shorelines, which makes it more vulnerable to pollution and many other problems than the rest of the Great Lakes. (February 24, 2017) Great Lakes Now [more on Climate Change and Water Quality and Great Lakes in our area]

In our desire for progress (a Star Trekian utopia perhaps) some of us forget that our visions for humanity’s future are not necessarily inevitable. There are secondary consequences to development—pollution, the breakdown of our ecosystems, and Climate Change—that can end the best of dreams. In order to ratchet up the likelihood that ours will be a bright future, we must always be mindful of our environmental health. This will not include demolishing every hard-won environmental regulation we have achieved.


Time passes.