Monday, March 27, 2017

With so many Trump-inflicted horrors, why prioritize Climate Change?

It’s hard to keep your eyes on the ball when everyone starts throwing hundreds of balls on to the court. It’s hard to prioritize addressing Climate Change when the GOP and Trump are lobbing grenades each day onto the headlines. Our most cherished values are under attack and they all must be addressed: immigration, science, food programs, education, war against the media, our international reputation, the sanctity of the office of the Presidency, and who knows what else lurks in the heart of these clowns.  

But even these every-freaking-day assaults must be viewed through the lens of Climate Change. For if we allow our attention to be diverted from addressing Climate Change, all other issues will be exacerbated or eliminated altogether because our life support system will be breaking down. Climate Change is an existential crisis requiring that we make massive shifts in the way we live, how we get energy, and how we treat our environment.

Climate denial is a backfire-effect (when proven wrong, you dig your heels in harder) against the fact of Climate Change.  It is also most likely the cause of this hyper-divide in our country, which is threatening to take us all down a deep dark hole.

Climate denial is a stance. It is not science but a position many folks have taken. It deduces from its own self-centered ideology that any fact or argument that does not fit into its belief system is incorrect.

Science is a methodology based on a strict attention to evidence and testable results. Science is not common sense; it is a hard-fought achievement that can challenge our common sense and put our collective opinions about reality through an objective set of rigorous standards to find out if they are really true—not just some bullshit we are feeding ourselves. Check out this great podcast on common sense:

“Your common sense is informed by imperfect inputs decoded through biases and heuristics defended by logical fallacies stored in corrupted memories that are unpacked through self-serving narratives. Native good judgment? Well, sure, sometimes, but there’s a reason why we had to invent the scientific method. Native judgment is pretty unreliable.” (YANSS Podcast – Episode Seven – The Psychology of Common Sense July 22, 2013)

This brings us to the recently released WMO Statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2016. It is only 28 pages. But it’s thorough and dramatic. It’s about as concise a picture of where we are on Climate Change at the moment as the public is likely to get. This report is the result of scientific research that has been accepted around the world.

At the risk of losing your attention altogether, I’m going to post the complete list of contributors to this report to give you a sense of the diverse expertize that brought this about. Take a moment to skim this material to get a sense of the nations and organizations who are not in climate denial and feel a great sense of urgency about the state of our life support system.

This publication was issued in collaboration with the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), United Kingdom; Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA); Met Office Hadley Centre, United Kingdom; Climatic Research Unit (CRU), University of East Anglia, United Kingdom; Climate Prediction Center (CPC), the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) and the National Hurricane Center (NHC) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), United States of America; National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Goddard Institute for Space Studies (NASA GISS), United States of America; Global Precipitation Climatology Centre (GPCC), Germany; National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), United States of America; Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) Marine and Atmospheric Research, Australia; Global Snow Lab, Rutgers University, United States of America; Regional Climate Centre for Regional Association VI, Climate Monitoring, Germany; Beijing Climate Centre, China; Tokyo Climate Centre, Japan; International Research Centre on El Niño (CIIFEN), Ecuador; Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology, Bridgetown, Barbados; Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI), Netherlands; Institute on Global Climate and Ecology (IGCE), Russian Federation; All-Russian Research Institute for Hydrometeorological Information-World Data Center (ARIHMI-WDC), Russian Federation; Global Atmospheric Watch Station Information System(GAWSIS), MeteoSwiss, Switzerland; World Data Centre for Greenhouse Gases (WDCGG), Japan Meteorological Agency, Japan; World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS), Switzerland; World Ozone and UV Radiation Data Centre (WOUDC), Environment and Climate Change, Canada; Niger Basin Authority, Niger. Other contributors are the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services or equivalent of: Argentina; Armenia; Australia; Austria; Azerbaijan; Bahrain; Belarus; Belgium; Bolivia (Plurinational State of), Bosnia and Herzegovina; Brazil; Brunei Darussalam; Burkina Faso; Canada; Chile; China; Colombia; Costa Rica; Croatia; Cyprus; Czech Republic; Democratic People’s Republic of Korea; Denmark; Egypt; Estonia; Fiji; Finland; France; Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; Gambia; Georgia; Germany; Greece; Hong Kong, China; Hungary; Iceland; India; Indonesia; Iran, Islamic Republic of; Ireland; Israel; Italy, Jamaica; Japan; Jordan; Latvia; Libya; Luxembourg; Madagascar; Malawi; Malaysia; Mali; Mauritius; Mexico; Moldova; Montenegro; Morocco; Netherlands; New Zealand; Niger; Norway; Pakistan; Papua New Guinea; Paraguay; Peru; Poland; Portugal; Republic of Korea; Republic of Moldova; Romania; Russian Federation; Samoa; Serbia; Singapore; Slovakia; Slovenia; Solomon Islands; South Africa; Spain; Swaziland; Sweden; Switzerland; Thailand; Tonga, Tunisia; Turkey; Ukraine; United Kingdom; United Republic of Tanzania; United States of America; Uruguay and Vanuatu. Contributions from international organizations were made available, including the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium; United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); International Monetary Fund (IMF); International Organization for Migration (IOM); United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); World Food Programme (WFP) and World Health Organization (WHO). (WMO Statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2016)

If you don’t have time to read the entire document, here’s a good overview:

State of the Warming Climate in 2016: 'Truly Uncharted Territory' World Meteorological Organization reveals extent of global warming's impacts last year, including epic Arctic melting, drought and extreme weather. Arctic ice melted to new lows in 2016, temperatures soared to scorching highs and extreme weather rocked all parts of the planet. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) released its annual State of Global Climate report on Tuesday, noting a year of broken records and extreme weather events—climate change trends that are continuing into 2017. "This report confirms that the year 2016 was the warmest on record—a remarkable 1.1 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial period," said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. That temperature rise marks a 0.06 degrees Celsius increase over the record set in 2015. The Paris climate agreement commits the world's nations to holding the atmospheric temperature increase to below 2 degrees Celsius, to try to stave off potentially catastrophic global warming.(March 21, 2017) Inside Climate News [more on Climate Change in our area]

The take home message is that however dazzled and horrified we are at the circus going on at the White House and Congress, we cannot afford to let our attention stray from Climate Change. For decades we have kicked the can down the road, allowing Climate Change indicators to build up to dangerous levels and allowed those who find this truth very inconvenient to take over the helm of our government. The result is that we have ratcheted up this crisis to “uncharted territory”.

Here’s what you can do: 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.


Time passes. 

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.