For about twenty years, the ’s Earth Day forum has been a yearly opportunity to engage with the public on environmental issues. We’ve hosted local and state public officials responsible for our environment, local reporters, prominent speakers on protecting our Great Lake’s waters, and other issues like local food options. Our most attended forum was when Dr. Hansen talked to about 800 people on April 21. 2015 at Monroe County Community College. [Watch the entire speech, with an introduction by Dr. Susan Spencer. Very high-quality .]
Clearly, who we invite to speak makes a difference. But we only have so many recourses at our disposal.
Each year we try to figure out the most important environmental issue that is most likely to attract a large audience. (What’s the point of trying to communicate with the public, if they don’t show up?) I’ve beenabout the journey to Earth Day each year for quite a while, trying to build momentum for the public to show up and demonstrate their environmental concerns and willingness to act. For example, when the City, county and state does have a transportation public meeting on say, , the public can immediately prioritize Climate Change with useful information gotten from our forums.
In recent years other environmental groups have helped the Sierra Club by tabling and even building their own events around the main Earth Day program, like the Rochester People’s Climate Coalition’s (RPCC)that helped “participants with a variety of opportunities to take action on climate.”
This year our fellow environmentalists are joining together at the beginning of the process to choose the program for the forum and other smaller programs built around a central theme. At this point, we don’t know who will be speaking or what the focus will be. The process is very Zen because our forum committee cannot ‘see’ into the public’s mind to understand what programs will attract the most attention—especially since the main environmental priority, Climate Change, has become so politicized that trying to please one segment of society will invariably alienate others.
Even as the Climate Change grows in severity and certainty, only a small part of our local population is engaged on this issue. One of the assumptions we make here in Rochester, NY is that Climate Change won’t hit us as hard as other regions. However, in 1972 Hurricane Agnes almost topped Mount Morris Dam and flooded our city. Since 1958 heavy precipitation has increased by 71% in the Northeast according to the Figure 2.18] “In New York, the Olean, Elmira and Corning areas were the most severely flooded. Rochester was spared the worst of the storm because of the Mount Morris Dam, completed in 1954. The floodwaters of the Genesee River reached the upper brim of the dam and prevented massive flooding from covering the greater Rochester area.” (See below.). Are we ready? [See figure
We, that is our committee for the forum in 2019, know we must focus on Climate Change, for it is now the lens through which we must view all environmental issues. At this point, we are asking ourselves, should we have:
- · A noted climate scientist, maybe a scientist who worked on the latest IPPC special report-- ?
- · A speaker who can inspire Rochesterians to act on Climate Change and get people to come in large numbers?
- · A charismatic figure who can play down the controversy over Climate Change and spell out the solutions we can all be working on now?
- · A government official who can describe how our City, state, or federal government understands the risks of Climate Change and what they are doing?
- · A worldwide figure who can educate Rochester how the rest of the world perceives the Climate Change crisis.
- · A panel of local experts on various aspects of our environment to talk about how our region should respond to Climate Change?
- · An expert psychologist, sociologist or communicator to help us frame how we should talk about Climate Change?
- · A former congressperson who can characterize how addressing Climate Change might get through or around the madness going on at the federal level.
Rather than fear and hopelessness, the message we wish to covey from the IPCC (#SR15) is one of urgency. We don’t want the public to give up before they’ve even started.
What we do know about Earth Day 2019 is that no matter how the mid-term elections turnout, Climate Change is going to be more politicized than ever. Short of an extreme weather event that envelops all the developed nations at the same time, we aren’t likely to turn this slow (it’s actually blazingly fast for a climate change phenomenon) appearing disaster into a major attention getter.
So, if you have an idea who will bring into our local community to talk about the crisis of our age, please let me know: