Monday, March 26, 2018

When will humanity turnaround Climate Change?

Despite a growing awareness of Climate Change by the public and increases in renewable energy, fossil fuels are back on the rise and continuing to threaten our future. [See: Global carbon emissions hit record high in 2017, March 22, Reuters.] The delusion that the rise in renewable energy would mean a decline in the use of fossil fuels is over.

Last year dashed hopes for a climate change turnaround After three flat years that had hinted at a possible environmental breakthrough, carbon dioxide emissions from the use of energy rose again by 1.4 percent in 2017, according to new data released by the International Energy Agency on Wednesday. The increase in emissions of the all-important greenhouse gas came as global energy demand itself increased thanks to strong economic growth — and that demand was sated by all types of energy, including renewables but also oil, coal and natural gas.” (Last year dashed hopes for a climate change turnaround, 3/21/2018 The Washington Post)

It looks like we aren’t going to magically address Climate Change via the free market economy. We’re going to have to work at stopping fossil fuels infrastructures.

And remember, bringing down our greenhouse gases is but one part of the Climate Change crisis. The other parts are adapting to the warming we have already put into our climate system and the accumulated environmental abuses of our past—pollution, loss of biodiversity, and the over-consumption of our natural resources.  

Humanity will turnaround Climate Change when we realize that we caused this planetary warming and we are willing to take responsibility for this crisis. Assuming that our economy, which is largely responsible for our Climate Change crisis, is going to solve it too doesn’t make sense.

Time passes. 

Monday, March 19, 2018

Protecting our public health, our environment, and addressing Climate Change must be at the core of Rochester’s ‘ROC the Riverway Project’

Rochester, NY’s ‘ROC the Riverway Program’ offers our community an incredible opportunity to take our Climate Action Plan (CAP) to the next step. Not only does the ROC the Riverway Program incorporate many of aspects of the CAP’s Land Use policies—Coordinated Land Use and Transportation, Transit-oriented and Mixed-Use Development (TDD), Redevelopment of Brownfields and vacant or underutilized properties, Urban Agriculture, EcoDistricts, and Parks and Open Space Planning—it presents the City with a concrete example to encourage other communities to do more to address and mitigate Climate Change in their regions.

To achieve the goal of reducing GHG emissions, transportation-related reductions can be achieved through coordinated land use policies. In addition, there are multiple co-benefits associated with land use planning, including improved environmental health, public health, and economic vibrancy. In the context of adaptation, land use policy is critical to improving the community’s resiliency and ability to adapt to the effects of climate change. Land use policy is critical to improving the community’s resiliency and ability to adapt to the effects of climate change. (Page 48, Climate Action Plan)

Within the scope of the ROC the River Project—South River, Downtown, and High Falls--are many past, present, and future environmental issues that must be addressed. Cleaning up both the Genesee River (in conjunction with the City’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP)) and the old Vacuum Oil Brownfield site (Vacuum Oil Brownfield Cleanup Program, with the highest level of cleanup), must be included in the City’s vision.

Resuscitating these places of historical environmental misuse and reinvigorating them will make our community more healthy and better able to adapt to Climate Change. And, with the many attractions suggested by the ROC the Riverway Project, tourists are more likely to enjoy and learn from this project.

Repairing and updating the bike trails, bridges, and pedestrian walks throughout the ROC program will ensure that this active transportation (walking and bicycling) corridor enhances the beauty and helps mitigate the effects of greenhouse gas emissions. If more people are able to walk and bike through our downtown hub, it is more likely they’ll live a healthier lifestyle and choose this section of the City to live, work, and play.

Not only should ROC the Riverway be developed with Climate Change in mind, the project should be a showcase for adapting and mitigating Climate Change as an inspiration for other communities. That is, Climate Change should be communicated as this project’s priority. In no way should this be a ‘no-regrets project’, where even if you think Climate Change is a hoax, it’s still good. It should be presented as a Climate Change opportunity. Promoted as a Climate Change demonstration, ROC the Riverway would get worldwide attention.

Please consider making comment on this City project soon, with your own vision that includes a healthy viable Rochester: Go here to learn about the plan online. Go here to submit your input. Go here to join an email distribution list for news and announcements regarding this initiative.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Climate scientists should not be our politicians

Scientists shouldn’t feel compelled to run for political office to save science. Politics in the United States has dipped so low that every time an environmental issue comes up in the media science must be defended. Science (especially climate science) is being undermined in our political arena by people whose political and financial agenda includes keeping everyone on the doomsday path of fossil fuel use for energy. But it isn’t, nor should it be, the job of our scientists to fix our present dysfunctional political system.  

2018 is the year of scientists running for Congress The rising activism among scientists is a turnaround for a group that has traditionally seen politics as “grimy and grubby,” said G. Terry Madonna, a professor of public affairs at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. Many of these candidates have been recruited by 314 Action, a political action committee founded in 2016 to support policymakers who have scientific or technical backgrounds. Named for the first three digits of pi, 314 Action describes itself as the vanguard of “the pro-science resistance.” The group’s founder, Shaughnessy Naughton, said 7,000 people have responded to the group’s call to run for office. The group has also assembled a network of about 400,000 donors eager to support candidates who back science-based policies. (March 4, 2018) The Washington Post

Not that scientists wouldn’t be exceptional as politicians or communicators. Climate scientists have become very good at communicating the complexities of Climate Change. (Check out: “The Debunking Handbook, a guide to debunking misinformation, is now freely available to download ” from Skeptical Science)

But society would be better off if scientists spent more time at what they do best. Because of their work, much is now known about Climate Change (it’s happening quickly and it’s us). Much more needs to be researched so our climate models will be more accurate and more predictive of what’s coming. That is to say, we cannot spare our scientists. We need more expert information on how to slow down global warming and adapt.

Part of the problem with communicating Climate Change is that while the principle is simple (you emit more greenhouse gases and the place warms up) the repercussions are very complicated—and the possible solutions politically inconvenient. However good scientists may get at speaking to the public, what they are really good at is communicating with each other, often in wonky but tight, uncolorful language focused on accuracy--not storytelling or exuding warmth to the general public. 

We have other disciplines for reaching the public and those institutions (media and education) should up their game on communicating this crisis.

Granted, communicating Climate Change is still very tough, especially with the small but very vocal minority whose worldview is being threatened:

[From a transcript] Lewandowsky: Now if you then, as a researcher or communicator, present them with more evidence that climate science is real, then chances are that the recipients of the message are digging themselves deeper into their existing position and actually believe even more strongly that that is not the case. We have the experimental data to show that in a lot of different circumstances. It doesn’t just have to be climate science. It’s whenever people’s world-views are at stake, then presenting them with corrective information can have a so-called “backfire effect” of making them believe the mistaken information even more strongly. (Professor Stephen Lewandowsky, Moving past barriers to change (UQx DENIAL101x

More journalists should be trained in climate science and how to effectively communicate all that to the public. More politicians should listen to the science coming from our climate experts and then leading the public towards solutions, sooner rather than later.

In turn, it would be nice if the public themselves would stop thinking of themselves as passive customers of information and ideas, but instead as enlightened stewards of our planet. We are at an extraordinary point in history where public responsibility on our climate crisis may determine if we get to have a viable future.

Time passes. 

Monday, March 05, 2018

Springtime in Climate Change

Springtime is inherently whacky. (‘If March comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb’ and all that.) But within this wackiness there has been a certain amount of climate stability that wildlife, plants, and even we have become accustomed to. Our plants and animals in our Northeast region can endure some extremes in Spring with higher and lower temperatures--for a while. However, if the trajectory is continually outside the comfort zone of our plants and animals, they probably cannot adjust.

Springtime is a time of renewal. As a metaphor, spring embodies the human heart’s yearning for hope after a long wintry absence. We expect in spring the seeds to grow and the animals to wake up, so they can cycle through their life’s great wheel of events.

But what if Climate Change is no longer a harbinger of rebirth, no longer evidence that our existence and every other being’s presence is but part of an infinite continuum? What if Springs henceforth bring a ratcheting up of more heat and more weather extremes? Instead of hope, despair?  

In the Washington, DC area, Spring is coming sooner and sooner:

Spring is running 20 days early. It’s exactly what we expect, but it’s not good. For the second year in a row, spring has sprung early. In the Mid-Atlantic, cherry blossoms started to pop out of their buds in mid-February, and the crocuses have all but come and gone. Temperatures have dipped below freezing on only five mornings this February in the District, and nature is playing along — albeit, perhaps, grudgingly. As much as spring is welcome when it arrives, it seems to feel better after a long winter. This year, winter never really started. December and January both got off to a cold start, but that quickly changed through the end of those months. By mid-February, we saw March flowers pop out of the ground. Winter is dead. According to the National Phenology Network, spring is running 20 days or more ahead of schedule in parts of the Ohio River Valley and the Mid-Atlantic. That will soon be the case in the Midwest and the Northeast. (February 27, 2018) The Washington Post [more on Climate Change in our area] 

Here in New York, our experts say Spring is coming about a week sooner than usual:

“Since the 1960s, the growing season has lengthened by nearly a week, as evidenced by observations of earlier spring bloom dates for lilacs, apples, and grapes at agricultural research stations across the state.” (Page 3, New York’s Changing Climate, Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences)

Blooming early is not necessarily a good thing:

Fruit Trees Need Winter Chill for Spring Growth Apples, cherries, and peaches grown in the U.S. are worth more than $4 billion dollars annually. The trees that produce these and other fruits are increasingly at risk as winters warm from climate change. Fruit trees and certain bushes must go through a dormant period each winter in preparation for producing fruit the following spring and summer. This rest period, also known as a chilling period, is directly related to the temperature. For many varieties of trees, the most efficient temperature for chilling is 45°F, with little additional chilling effect at temperatures below 32°F. Brief warm spells in winter have a negative effect — temperatures above 70°F for four or more hours offset any chilling that happened in the previous 24-36 hours. (February 21, 2018) Climate Central [more on Plants, Food, and Climate Change in our area]

Climate Change is occurring far quicker than it ever has for a very long time—even faster than some great extinction events of the past—and we will have failed to act.  Without climate scientists, the public is not going to be able to separate the wackiness, or year-to-year noise, of Spring’s volatile weather and see the danger.

We need to act. We need more scientists. We need to fund more scientific research on how Climate Change will affect our future. We need more educators to communicate what climate scientists have discovered about our warming world.

Springtime in Climate Change will continue to crank around each year. Until it doesn’t. The time to fix Spring and our other seasons is now. 

Time passes.