Monday, January 14, 2019

Climate Change is provincial, and it isn’t

Island nations already experiencing catastrophic extreme weather and regions where food production is in jeopardy because of Climate Change may take umbrage at the news that experts think “Oswego County could be ground zero for climate change harm” (see below). There are many very vulnerable regions around the world, including Eastern coastal cities, where Climate Change harm is and will be for quite some time far greater than central New York.

Experts: Oswego County could be ground zero for climate change harm OSWEGO — Scientists say warmer temperatures and heavier rainfall could be coming to the region sooner than previously thought and without significant investment in mitigation and precautionary measures, the area could be caught “flatfooted.” The Fourth National Climate Assessment, released late last year by federal officials, describes the future climate of the Northeast region of the United States as one with increased rainfall intensity and escalating average temperatures. Scientists warn the changing climate could have a dramatic effect on agriculture and recreation and note significant preventative measures and improvements to infrastructure are needed. Cornell University Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Professor Art DeGaetano said in many cases what the national climate assessment says for the Northeast region could be an indication of what central New York or the Great Lakes Region should expect to experience in the coming years. (January 7, 2018) Oswego County News Now[more on Climate Change in our area]

It's important that our media bring home Climate Change so that locals realize that there are many subtle and dramatic changes coming to their region that need to be planned for and addressed. At the same time this crisis is a worldwide problem, it is also a provincial issue. Hyperbolic headline aside, the article above does a fantastic job in presenting a comprehensive look at how Climate Change will affect Oswego, Central New York, and much of America’s Northeast. It really nails the urgency to get our public and our infrastructure prepared, so we aren’t caught ‘flatfooted’ when the accumulated problems begin to overwhelm us.

I like that the article references former Governor David Patterson, who has not been given enough credit for his role in putting a moratorium on Fracking in New York State while we took time to think about it.  His climate study captured this critical issue well before Cuomo took office. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) still uses Governor Patterson’s Climate Action Plan Interim Report published in 2010. (It should be updated.) Governor Patterson’s role helped legitimize the Climate Change issue, showing that we have known about it for quite some time now and reporting what we should have been doing about it.

In our attempt to get the message home and gain the attention of the public, our journalists should use caution—so they don’t mislead. Central New York is not ground zero for Climate Change harm. It might be more appropriate to say that the Arctic is ground zero, as this region of the world is warming the fastest and could experience the most dramatic change—no ice in the summer within decades (thereby impacting our weather due to changes in the jet stream), opening up a pristine region of the world to oil drilling and a massive increase in shipping traffic.

Further, there are very densely populated regions where millions of people may have to move or die because it will be too hot to work and too dry to grow food. That won’t be Western New York or Central New York.

“Last June, temperatures in Iran and Pakistan soared above 129 degrees. As climate change continues, one study suggests that parts of the Middle East and North Africa will suffer heat waves so intense that they could become uninhabitable. Indonesia is sinking as the sea level rises, making disasters like the 2018 tsunami deadlier. As sea level rise increases flooding and threatens freshwater supplies in some island nations, they could be uninhabitable by the middle of the century.” (How soon will climate change force you to move?  (January 8, 2019) Fast Company )

As a matter of fact, we may see a great influx of people in our neck of the woods due to regions (for example South and West USA, who’ll be running out of water). Because we won’t be harmed as much as many places around our country and the world, we should be preparing for new arrivals and upgrading our infrastructures—transportation, wastewater, water, electricity, and telecommunications that our vast human populations cannot live without. 

That said, other than the error of overstating who gets to be called “ground zero” on Climate Change in order to draw attention, the above article is one of the best encapsulations by a local media of the threats we need to address in our region. 

Time passes. 

Monday, January 07, 2019

Rarely do environmental pollution problems have an ‘easy solution’

Beware when the media suggests that “there might be an easy solution” to a major environmental problem. The recently discovered proliferation of microfibers in the Great Lakes is unlikely to be solved with a simple solution because (for one) the ‘solution’ won’t remove the microfibers already in our waters.

The Great Lakes are full of microfibres — but there might be an easy solution A new study will put filters on about 100 washing machines in Parry Sound to catch the plastic particles A new study is taking the fight against microfibres in the Great Lakes back to the source: washing machines. The tiny particles of plastic are shed by synthetic fabrics like nylon and fleece when they're washed, slipping through water treatment plants and into the lakes. To stem the flow, researchers will install about 100 special filters on washing machines in Parry Sound, Ont. to see if they reduce the amount of plastic particles that show up at the town's water treatment plant. "We think that because Parry Sound is small, there might be a noticeable decrease," explained Lisa Erdle, a PhD student at the University of Toronto's Rochman Lab, who is leading the project. (January 2, 2019) CBC News [more on Water Quality and Great Lakes in our area]

Presumably, there’s a lot of microfibers in the Great Lakes, a condition that’s been known for a couple of years. Which is to say, this sort of pollution has probably gone on a lot longer than we first observed it.

ARE YOU EATING YOUR FLEECE? The I-Team has uncovered hair-like plastics in our water and they are connected to the clothing we wear and wash. Scientists looking into the clothing dilemma are asking, "are we consuming our fleece?" These tiny plastic particles hidden in our water systems could end up in the food we eat and what we drink. According to researchers, the newly discovered strands are even smaller than tiny beads of plastic in toothpaste and personal products that the I-Team has previously reported. The tiny microspheres of plastic in toothpaste and facial scrubs are officially banned in the U.S., but the problem of microplastic pollution is far from solved. The newest plastic threat, according to new and convincing research, is microfibers: miniscule filaments of plastic showing up where they shouldn't; inside fish and seafood, bugs and even some beer and sea salt. (May 8, 2017) ABC News [more on Water Quality in our area]

Another reason why the microfiber pollution issue is not likely to be solved easily is because microfibers, which are teeny-weeny plastics, come from a variety of manmade products, including cigarette butts, probably litter in the form of plastics (bags and other stuff) that have been broken up by weather and heat from the sun.

And they are more than annoying:

“Sherri Mason, a chemistry professor at the State University of New York at Fredonia, says “microfibers are not as easily excreted as other plastic fragments. Each fiber that makes its way into the environment is a poison pill that can absorb chemicals and make its way into a fish.” (Microfibers emerging as new environmental threat as Canada moves toward banning microbeads (November 13, 2016) The National Post [more on Water Quality and Recycling in our area]

The media should not be focused on this incredibly sticky problem with a cheery solution that most certainly isn’t. The media tends to frame some environmental issues as ‘new’ and ‘easy’ to solve once you read their article. This is more journalistic rhetoric than how our environment deals with pollution. Because mostly, when we discover pollution in our environment, we notice it’s just the tip of something deep and ominous.  

Microfibers in our freshwater system have probably been a threat for a long time; it’s going to be very hard to solve because the threat is coming from a large variety of sources, and it’s going to be expensive. Somehow, we are going to have to filter our wastewater better, filter our drinking water more thoroughly, and get folks to stop trashing our beaches. A relatively few people who are willing to change their laundry habits will not likely address the microfiber problem and a warm and fuzzy article to this effect does not help. It borders on irresponsible.

Time passes.