Monday, September 24, 2018

Are we responding to Climate Change sensibly?

Humans, despite being the brainiest species ever to have lived, have an amazing penchant for getting bored by the very information that would keep them alive. Dismissing Climate Change warnings by climate scientists is like deer getting sick and tired of hearing wolves howling in the night and deciding to ignore the disturbing sounds altogether.

Yet the numbers—the number of carbon dioxide molecules in our atmosphere in parts per million (as of today it’s 409) and the number of inches our oceans are rising—keep climbing and most people still continue business as usual.

Climate Change presents some of the most intractable problems we face and some of these problems will be made insoluble if we don’t prioritize them. For example, if we keep responding to extreme weather in the same way we’ve done historically, we are never going to rebuild our homes in the aftermath of a deluge, and we’ll probably go broke trying.

As we go further into the Climate Change Bottleneck, where our past environmental abuses get cooked on a warming planet, insurance for flooding and the other consequences of Climate Change will become unsustainable. NOT planning for Climate Change is getting too expensive.

Only 10 percent have flood insurance on hard-hit Carolina coast People without flood insurance will lose their homes or have to try to rebuild on FEMA aid that is often less than $5,000. As Americans in North and South Carolina make it out of the Florence floodwaters, they face another daunting task: figuring out whether they can afford to rebuild. Few have flood insurance in the areas with the worst destruction. Home insurance does not typically cover flooding, a fact many realize the hard way. People have to purchase a separate flood insurance policy at least a month in advance of a major storm to be eligible for reimbursement. Only about one in 10 homes has flood insurance in the counties hit by Florence, according to a Washington Post analysis comparing the number of policies in National Flood Insurance Program data with the number of housing units in counties hit by the storm. Milliman, an actuarial firm, found similar results. (September 17, 2018) The Washington Post [more on Climate Change in our area]

Also, trying to escape regions that are continually experiencing extreme weather and not able to adapt is going to be problematic. Not every place is as inviting and relatively safe from the worst of a quickly warming planet as Rochester:

A year after Hurricane Maria, thousands of Puerto Ricans rebuild their lives in Rochester Sonia Burgos remembers her first few days working in the midst of hundreds of families who came to Monroe County with nothing. Burgos, a retired Rochester resident who came to the U.S. from Puerto Rico with her family at age 3, walked into the Ibero-American Action League headquarters last fall to see a mass of humanity. Puerto Rican families who fled an unprecedented island-wide disaster were now looking for basic necessities like clothing, bedding or household goods in a city miles from home. They’d come from neighborhoods either destroyed or maimed by Hurricane Maria, and many had been living in Puerto Rico without running water or electricity for months before deciding to leave. Some had family in Rochester, others did not. Most came with essentially their clothes on their backs. (September 20, 2018) Democrat and Chronicle [more on Climate Change in our area]

It is more likely that the ‘new reality’ of Climate Change will not be as onerous if we plan wisely, adapt, and prevent more warming than if we continue business as usual. Humanity can change; we don’t have to keep doing the same things that don’t work.

 ‘It’s Back’: Underwater Yet Again, the Carolinas Face a New Reality After Hurricane Matthew stomped into his trailer home and pulped his floors, walls and cabinets two years ago, Bobby Barnes Jr. spent $90,000 to rebuild and protect himself from another flood. He raised the house two feet onto brick pilings, bought $1,300 worth of flood fencing and said he complied with every federal recommendation. But on Tuesday morning, his family was underwater again. The Black River, 10 feet above flood stage and still rising, was now a lake that had swallowed farm fields around the Barnes’s house. The water lapped at their front door and sloshed around the newly laid floors. “It’s back,” Mr. Barnes said. “Same nightmare.” It was the kind of tragic, expensive, depressing rerun that played out across much of the Carolinas this week, not only on the coast, but in inland communities like this one in Sampson County, blessed with tobacco and turkeys, not sea and sand. (September 18, 2018) The New York Times [more on Climate Change in our area]

Time passes.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Do local media reporters get Climate Change training?

Presently, in the USA there are many occasions “… where contrarians and sceptics should be included within climate change and sustainability debates”(1) because an appalling amount of US Climate Change news stems from a federal government dominated by contrarians and sceptics. So, if your American media has a crib sheet for its reporters on their editorial policy towards Climate Change, it’s going to read differently than, say, the UK’s.

Exclusive: BBC issues internal guidance on how to report climate change The BBC, one of the world’s largest and most respected news organisations, has issued formal guidance to its journalists on how to report climate change. Carbon Brief has obtained the internal four-page “crib sheet” sent yesterday to BBC journalists via an email from Fran Unsworth, the BBC’s director of news and current affairs. The crib sheet includes the BBC’s “editorial policy” and “position” on climate change. All of the BBC’s editorial staff have also been invited to sign up for a one-hour “training course on reporting climate change”. Carbon Brief understands this is the first time that the BBC has issued formal reporting guidance to its staff on this topic. The move follows a ruling earlier this year by Ofcom, the UK’s broadcasting regulator, which found that BBC Radio 4’s flagship current-affairs programme Today had breached broadcasting rules by “not sufficiently challenging” Lord Lawson, the former Conservative chancellor. (September 7, 2018) Carbon Brief [more on Climate Change in our area]

Overall though, this is a good question to ask at this moment in time (in a quickly warming world): Is your media training its reporters on Climate Change reporting? If they are, what priority does your media give Climate Change? The BBC policy mentioned above is a good start and a quick guideline for mainstream media, but what about local media?

How much of local reporting on Climate Change is influenced by the political landscape? In other words, is mentioning Climate Change held back because it might offend a portion of their readership not comfortable (or hostile to) this worldwide warming?

Does local media receive feedback one way or the other on Climate Change—or, when they occasionally do a news story in Climate Change, is it an issue their readership doesn’t show any apparent interest in?

How often does a local media outlet (radio, TV, newsprint, podcast) do investigative reporting on Climate Change in their region? Do they understand the possible connection between the increase in heavy precipitation in our region, the increase of harmful algae outbreaks in our lakes, and diseases like Lyme disease and Climate Change in our region?

Does our local media feel compelled to report about Climate Change only when environmentalists, or widely published studies, or a national media mentions it against a backdrop of increased wildfires, flooding, extreme weather, or other outside references?

Although our local media feels compelled to report on many national and international events (especially sports), why haven’t they felt compelled to mention anything about the Global Climate Action Summit in California this week? It’s ironic that the most important get-together on addressing Climate Change on one side of our country is occurring at the same time a ‘monstrous’ extreme weather storm is thrashing the other side of our continent without even a suggestion by our local media that the one major event might be connected to the other. [See: Here’s How Climate Change Put Hurricane Florence On Steroids (September 13, 2018, BuzzFeed)] The Global Climate Action Summit should get attention in our local media, like it does in mainstream media:

Global Climate Action Summit puts stress on action This has been a big week for advocates who fight climate change. Business leaders, mayors, governors and activists from around the world rallied in San Francisco at the Global Climate Action Summit to advance their agenda in the face of a defiant White House. California Gov. Jerry Brown issued an order Monday announcing the goal to eliminate carbon emissions in the state within 27 years. He also just signed a bill into law, making the state's electricity completely emissions-free by 2045. Brown signed as the White House reportedly enacted another policy to stymie such efforts, this time by relaxing methane emission regulations. (September 14, 2018) CBS News [more on Climate Change in our area]

Wouldn’t it be interesting to see all American media, local and national, post a story about their media’s position on Climate Change and maybe a statement about their commitment to inform the public about this worldwide crisis?

In retrospect, if our future affords the opportunity, it will be interesting to see how today’s media coverage of Climate Change will be assessed a century from now. Will our great-grandchildren say our media did a good job, or just concede that there just wasn’t enough interest or exact enough science to make a strong, urgent, and continual case for action? I’m thinking they’ll be pissed.   

Time passes. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Rochester’s part in the Global Action Climate Summit

The Global Climate Action Summit starts on September 12th and runs through the 14th in San Francisco, California. It is a “is a gathering of mayors & local governments, business and civil society … ” “… to showcase climate action taking place around the world, and inspire deeper commitments from each other and from national governments.”(Global Climate Action Summit)

To raise awareness and enthusiasm for this summit, communities around the country and the world participated in many #RiseForClimate events. In Rochester, we just completed an amazing event, Rise For a Resilient Rochester, where ten area residents explained to an audience of over 100 how Climate Change was affecting their lives—now. Area leaders, including business, faith, and political leaders, also listened as the speakers told amazing personal stories. Evidence of living in a quickly warming world.  

At Saturday's session, held at Asbury First United Methodist Church, the true target audience sat right in front: Roughly 25 elected officials and candidates for office, and representatives of government agencies, colleges and business groups. The purpose of the meeting, and several thousand others like it that were held Saturday on every continent but Antarctica, was to urge the decision-makers at large institutions to act on climate change. (Local people talk about how climate change touched their lives, September 8, 2018 Democrat and Chronicle)

A high school student explained how his generation doesn’t have the luxury of avoiding the Climate Change crisis because it’s their future. A Rochester resident talked about how grateful she was to be able to access grants to improve the energy efficiency of her home. An advocate for disability rights described how extreme weather, including heatwaves, storms, and emergencies (which will come more often during Climate Change) were already making the lives of the disabled more difficult. A victim of Lyme disease related her struggle to deal with a debilitating disease that comes with tick bites that are becoming more frequent because our warmer winters make it possible for disease-carrying insects to survive longer. A community leader told the audience about his neighborhood’s struggle to get a major Brownfield cleaned up so the increased flooding that comes with Climate Change won’t further endanger his residents with toxic chemicals. A Rochester resident with relatives in Puerto Rico told of the harrowing scenes helping relatives in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. And more …

This all matters because Climate Change is already affecting our Rochester, New York region with annual temperatures increasing, an Increase in extreme precipitation events, reduced snowpack, earlier ice breakup, Spring beginning a week earlier than it did a few decades ago, bird population shifts, other wildlife affected by Climate Change, declining lake-ice cover, an increase in lake effect snowfall, invasive species thriving, increasing at-risk species in New York due to Climate Change, and impacts on Northeast agriculture.

The Global Climate Action Summit, which so many communities rose up yesterday for, needs and is getting our attention:

·         Rise for Climate: thousands march across US to protest environment crisis Tens of thousands of people took part in marches and other events across the US on Saturday, calling for a swift transition to renewable energy in order to stave off the various perils of climate change. (September 8, 2018) The Guardian [more on Climate Change in our area]
·         Thousands march in Rise for Climate demonstration in San Francisco Thousands of climate justice advocates, community organizers and Bay Area residents took to the streets Saturday in a 2-mile march from Embarcadero Plaza to the Civic Center as part of a worldwide demonstration known as the Rise for Climate, Jobs and Justice. The march mirrored more than 800 demonstrations in roughly 90 countries around the world, with protesters demanding that political leaders shift away from using fossil fuels and make the transition to renewable energy. (September 8, 2018 [more on Climate Change in our area]
·         Around the World, a Rise for Climate The march was international, but the message was the same The Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice march was a reminder that, despite all our differences, people around the world want clean air, clean water, and a non-apocalyptic future for ourselves and our children. Here are just a few of the protests, gatherings, and art events that occurred at #RiseforClimate around the world. We'll keep adding more as they come in. (September 8, 2018) Sierra The national magazine of the Sierra Club [more on Climate Change in our area]

Business as usual—burning fossil fuels for energy, downplaying the climate crisis, and ignoring the plights of our first and hardest hit victims—must change. Otherwise, even Rochester won’t be able to contain all the climate refugees fleeing from the worst and most immediate consequences of Climate Change around the world.

Time passes. 

Monday, September 03, 2018

Climate Change and our media, an update

Mainstream media is doing much better on communicating the urgency of Climate Change, but local media coverage is still spotty. At the risk of sounding Trumpian (Fake News!) when criticizing the media, there’s reason to press the press on their role in this crisis. I’ve been pondering the role of mainstream media for some time now in a slew of essays, wondering why our mass media have been so hesitant to inform the public completely about this unprecedented crisis unfolding during our lifetime.

You’d think a quickly warming planet, not just any planet, but our planet, would garner more concern and action than it has. Even if we (miraculously) adhere to the Paris Accord, we are still going to reach over 3C by 2100. Our grandchildren will be fighting tooth and nail for their existence on a very hot world.   

Whatever one thinks of the media in these crazy political times, in the information age the public gets their sense of reality in the aggregate of information speeding around the world. That is to say, there are too many of us and too many things going on at any one time for anyone of us to trust our own limited perspective. We need to know the weather; sticking our heads out the window is no longer enough. We must have a sense of our economic health before we start spending our hard-earned money on major purchases—like a car, a house, or a college education. We need to know if there are health issues sweeping in from afar—heatwaves, infectious diseases, sewage overflows, you-name-it. 
We need to know the health of our life support system, our environment, for long term planning. We need to know a lot of more information than we can obtain from our own surroundings to live and thrive in our present world. We need a healthy, free press, uncluttered by ideology and anchored solidly in science. 

That a large portion of the public have closed their mind to the reality of Climate Change, refusing to attend to the few responsible media who are keeping us informed on this crisis, is more than sad. It’s suicidal.

But for the majority who understand the importance of science, it’s heartening to know that many of our mainstream media are catching up quickly on Climate Change, which seems simple at first but gets infinitely intricate as you contemplate the implications. Yes, manmade greenhouse gas emissions since the Industrial Revolution are warming up our planet. Yes, our planet has warmed up before. But not as quickly with so many of us, and with so much of our infrastructure being critical to our survival.

Climate Change is very complicated and gets more complicated as new information, new studies, and new consequences (extreme weather) come in each day. So, it’s very good that our mainstream media, the largest and most influential media, have come around.

As we go further into the Climate Change Bottleneck, where our past environmental abuses get cooked on a warming planet, ecosystem changes may be more than we can handle. Here’s an example of mainstream media doing their job in a time of a quickly warming planet, our freaking planet:

Climate change could render many of Earth’s ecosystems unrecognizable After the end of the last ice age — as sea levels rose, glaciers receded and global average temperatures soared as much as seven degrees Celsius — the Earth’s ecosystems were utterly transformed. Forests grew up out of what was once barren, ice-covered ground. Dark, cool stands of pine were replaced by thickets of hickory and oak. Woodlands gave way to scrub, and savanna turned to desert. The more temperatures increased in a particular landscape, the more dramatic the ecological shifts. It’s about to happen again, researchers are reporting Thursday in the journal Science. A sweeping survey of global fossil and temperature records from the past 20,000 years suggests that Earth’s terrestrial ecosystems are at risk of another, even faster transformation unless aggressive action is taken against climate change. (August 30, 2018) The Washington Post [more on Climate Change in our area]

At the local level, media coverage of Climate Change is lackluster, timid, milquetoast, unremarkable, and almost invisible. Continually, our local media avoids connecting the dots with the consequences of Climate Change in our region—more heatwaves, more harmful algae blooms, more heavy rains with sewer overflows, and much more. Here’s an example: This is code for Climate Change: “the cost of these increasingly common very heavy rains.” There will be more washed out infrastructures if the public doesn’t understand and support efforts to adapt to Climate Change and we need our media to communicate this. Heavy precipitation events since 1958 is the major expression of Climate Change in our Northeast region. Yet this (public) media doesn’t even mention Climate Change:

 When it rains, it pours on county roads and bridges Erie County is learning the cost of these increasingly common very heavy rains. The water has to go somewhere and if there isn't drainage, it might wash away a road or cause some other problem. Erie County has 290 bridges and 420 culverts. Those are either the large circular pipes carrying water under a road or a regular road bridge shorter than 20 feet. The county is expanding the size of its culverts, to let more water flow through and prevent roads from flooding - or worse. "A lot of these culverts that we're replacing, some of them were designed in the early 1900s, 1920-1930," said Public Works Commissioner Bill Geary, "so you can imagine what used to be just a little farm road that may now be a major thoroughfare or a feeder stream that is getting a lot of runoff from some new developments or things of that nature, and then the cycle of weather patterns we've been seeing the last five years or so." (August 22, 2018) WBFO Buffalo's NPR New Station [more on Climate Change in our area]

Local media outlets are where locals get a lot of their perspective on their environment. When locals get a survey call about what issues are most important to them, they don’t put Climate Change on their list at all because their local media doesn’t. Public officials have trouble getting the public to come learn about our climate vulnerabilities because local media doesn’t bother to inform. We missed the Rochester media recently at the City’s CLIMATE VULNERABILITY ASSESSMENT PUBLIC INPUT SESSION, where the public was informed about how Climate Change will impact our community. (If you missed this event and want to help shape local climate adaption you can still make comment on this project here.)

It would be nice if our local media was engaged on our City’s efforts to address Climate Change so that all the public, not just a few, would get involved.

From my perspective gained over the last couple of decades, mainstream media is changing for the better on Climate Change but not quickly enough. Local media needs constant prodding by local environmentalists before they will use their medium to inform the public.

If the media had been doing their job on Climate Change, we would not have elected climate deniers into high and local public offices.  (And yeah it matters: “Climate change: local efforts won't be enough to undo Trump's inaction, study says”) 

The fossil fuel industry didn’t just hold back and misinform about their industries’ contributions to the rapid rise in greenhouse gas emissions, they did so in a vacuum of comprehensive Climate Change media coverage with science at the core.    

Time passes.