Monday, June 24, 2019

Achieving the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act in New York State

New York State’s new climate bill, while not perfect and still leaves the disadvantaged in limbo, is only ambitious if you think not addressing Climate Change on a scale and time frame that matters is an option. Anything less than addressing this Climate Change crisis as a crisis is a crisis.

New York Passes Ambitious Climate Bill, Aiming to Meet Paris Targets The state legislation drew widespread praise for its goals, but also concerns that it fell short on support for disadvantaged communities New York lawmakers approved one of the most aggressive climate policies in the world early Thursday, requiring net zero emissions for all sectors of the state's economy by mid-century. The Climate Leadership and Communities Protection Act requires New York to get all of its electricity from carbon-free energy sources by 2040 and then reach net zero emissions by 2050. The final version of the bill, if signed by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo as expected, would make the state one of the few major jurisdictions globally with legally binding emissions reduction targets that meet goals set by the Paris climate agreement. "It clearly puts New York among the frontrunners both in the United States and globally in terms of climate policy ambitions," said Jesse Jenkins, a researcher at Harvard University's Center for the Environment. (June 20, 2019) Inside Climate News [more on Climate Change in our area]

We should be proud to live in a state that is making such headway to address Climate Change, while our federal government takes a stance against this crisis.

Yes, many climate deniers will carp about addressing a crisis they still don’t believe exists—and the possible inconvenience to their lives this new law may cause them. It a shame that so many people haven’t bothered to do their homework on the existential crisis of our age. And many environmental groups did not get all they asked for, politics being what it is.

But here we are: “New York to Approve One of the World’s Most Ambitious Climate Plans” (June 18, 2019 The New York Times). Take a deep breath and run your mind back a couple of decades over the journey it has taken for New York to arrive at this place. Much has happened to our environment and changed in people’s attitudes toward our environment.

It took a lot of people (I myself took a bus to Albany with many others to push this legislation through the NYS Assembly) and a lot of time. From one point of view, it’s an amazing achievement given the craven efforts by so many to deny what we’ve been doing to our climate. From another point of view, given what is needed to bring down greenhouse gas emission on a scale and timeframe that will matter, the new NYS climate bill is pretty milquetoast. It’s not enough, it’s late, and New York is only one state in a world with many states and nations—but at least we are waking up. 

To make sure that this bill is as good as it can get, get involved. How? Well, for starters the new NYS climate bill gives you a chance to weigh in on how your state manages our future: “Once the state council is set, it will be required to hold six public hearings — three downstate, three upstate — before issuing a draft plan.” 

What New York's new climate change law means for you New York is poised to set some of the nation's most-aggressive benchmarks to cut down on climate change as part a wide-ranging bill lawmakers approved this week. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has vowed to sign the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act into law, which would set a statewide goal to reach net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050. On Thursday, Cuomo called climate change the "issue of our generation," praising the bill as a bona fide plan to go green. "It's not a goal," Cuomo said on WAMC-FM in Albany. "It's a goal plus an action plan based in reality that we are implementing today." Critics say the ambitious climate bill could lead to higher costs and negatively impact businesses who have to compete against those who don't face stringent climate mandates. "We need to get this right to avoid a potential shipwreck," said Darren Suarez, senior director of government affairs for the state Business Council. (June 20, 2019) Democrat and Chronicle [more on Climate Change in our area]

The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act is but another step in a process towards addressing a worldwide crisis of our own making. We will either move away from life or towards it. We’ll either act sufficiently or we won’t and then we’ll have to try and adapt to the consequences.
If the consensus view is that the state is overstepping its authority and negatively meddling with our lives, then maybe there will be a big political backlash against this law, and we’ll get our own Trump. Then, we’ll see how fast Climate Change can overwhelm us.

Check out this excellent local discussion of the merits and flaws of this new law:

Connections: Discussing New York's Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act New York State passed a climate action bill this week, much to the surprise of some advocates who had feared that it would stall. So what’s in it? Our guests discuss the surprise success of the bill, and what New Yorkers can expect from the most aggressive anti-carbon plan in the country. (June 22, 2019) Connections [more on Climate Change in our area]

Time passes.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Is Rochester, NY ready for Climate Change?

Because of lag time (climate inertia) in our climate system, planning is critical to addressing Climate Change. It takes a long time for the energy built up by human-caused greenhouse gas emissions to fully play out in our climate system—and CO2 stays in our atmosphere for a century or more. So, waiting for the last minute to address massive flooding, heat waves, and an increase in vector-driven diseases would be foolhardy because we’d quickly become overwhelmed. The City’s “Rochester 2034 - A Comprehensive Plan for the City”—along with its related Climate Action Plan, and its Climate Change Resilience Planprovides a pretty good picture of how our Rochester views the conditions ahead and many of the actions considered.

About the Comprehensive Plan Rochester 2034 is a 15-year comprehensive plan to improve our community leading up to our 200th birthday. The Plan covers a wide variety of topics, from housing and transportation to economic growth and historic preservation. Each topic includes Goals and Strategies that are aligned with an overarching community Vision and set of Guiding Principles. Overall, the Plan presents a blueprint for growth and development, with three main themes carried throughout - positioning Rochester for growth, placemaking, and social and economic equity. (City of Rochester, NY)

What’s missing from this picture is how the county surrounding our City views our future in similar plans that include Climate Change. This is an important gap in our knowledge because our county contains much of our immediate environment (trees, parks, water, and soil) and the authority over many of our critical infrastructures—including water, waste stream, recycling, and transportation. Monroe County Sustainability Team does outline many of the plans which are similar and inclusive of the City’s efforts at sustainability. But without prioritizing Climate Change, the county’s plans fall short providing the public with how the impacts of this worldwide crisis will affect us and how we are most likely to address them.

A comprehensive plan should be comprehensive, that is, accurately characterize the future we are going into—not plans built on the past issues we have experienced. In this future we are considering is the closing window of opportunity to address Climate Change on a scale and time frame that will matter, meaning we have a limited time to get our greenhouse gases down. The 2034 plan should be much more aggressive in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions as our industrial region put a lot of the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere that are now warming the entire planet.

Because the 2034 plan is largely aspirational—what we’d like Rochester to be—we cannot expect all the actions in the plan to be accomplished by 2034, or further into the future. But we should expect that the plan includes what we must do to adapt to the quickly warming planet we now live on. Much in the City’s plan does address most of the issues we are likely to be confronted in the near future—as far as we know.

How successfully we will be in finding the money and the partners (including Monroe County) should be a major concern of all residents in this region as they read through the plan’s draft. When commenting on the plan (Submit your comments here), Climate Change should be foremost on your mind because if we falter in our attempts to live our Rochester’s dream because we haven’t adapted to the consequences coming to our region—we will have suicidality deluded ourselves.

We do not know how local residents and our leaders will respond as the consequences of Climate Change—more heat waves, more flooding, more drought, more vector-driven disease like Lyme disease—become more dire. We do not know how the accumulated effects of our pollution, extinction of wildlife and plant life, our species vastly increasing numbers, and social unrest will affect the plans we have made.  

And we don’t know how well the present predictions of Climate Change studies in our region will pan out. Each day there are more studies on the relationships of Climate Change on our environment, our economics, and our health. So even the best of plans need to be adjusted—adjusted so we can adapt to the warmer climate.  (Because we have waited so long to take strong action on Climate Change thus far, the low and moderate scenarios of most climate studies are more likely now to morph dangerously into the worst-case scenarios.)

At present, the City is putting out a great effort to communicate about the “Rochester 2034 - A Comprehensive Plan for the City” to all sectors of our local population. It would be extremely helpful if everyone made it clear that whatever visions we have about our City they fix themselves around the priority of addressing Climate Change.

The first principle of any good plan for the future is that it has no false stances before it. Basing our plans on an incorrect model of reality would be a disaster.

Time passes.

Monday, June 03, 2019

Seeing health care through Climate Change

At Tuesday’s New York Health Act hearing (#NYHealthAct) in Albany this week, I found myself musing about the importance of a single-payer health care in New York State as we go further into Climate Change. Because of all the consequences of Climate Change on our public health, New York (and all our states and nations, for that matter) should switch to a system that is all-inclusive and affordable for all.

Humanity can and should design a health care system that ensures the fitness of our species especially as the challenges of a quickly warming environment press upon us. Leaving some peoples out in the heat threatens us all. (Not to mention it’s immoral to deny health coverage when we are capable of providing it.)

I know, such talk brings visions of financial revulsion for those convinced that we how organize our economics is more important than protecting humans and environmental health. I understand the arguments (which, I suspect, will go on even while they perish us from the earth). From an economic standpoint, a single-payer plan could (in theory) lower the public’s health payments because many institutions (think of auto insurance and employer health benefits) could be covered by this plan. Many other living expenses could significantly diminish if they are aligned with a single-payer architecture.

Anyway …, Climate Change. Many diseases like Lyme disease and West Nile Virus are migrating northwards because the vectors (bugs) of these diseases, and thus are now able to survive our warmer winters. Heatwaves, one of our species biggest killers, are going to increase also.    

LIFE AND DEATH UNDER THE DOME During the heat wave, hospitalizations almost doubled and deaths outside hospitals more than tripled. Public-health officials recorded almost 6,000 ambulance calls and 66 heat-related deaths. Fewer than 200 kilometres away, in Ottawa, the weather was almost identical. The heat and humidity were just as brutal and lasted just as long. But according to the provincial coroner, no one died. How could it be that so many died in Quebec, while there was not one heat-related death in Ontario? (May 23, 2019) The Star [more on Climate Change and Environmental Health in our area]

The interesting thing about heatwaves and human death is that it’s not as easy to find the links between the two—unless you’re proactively looking for them. People dying of heart attacks and many other ailments might not have died had they not been baking in their apartments without air conditioning. If you don’t want your economic system challenged by actively seeking all the causal relationships of heating up a planet with greenhouse gases, you’re unlikely to find all the misery associated with this Climate Change crisis.

As with the Chernobyl nuclear accident, if it is your goal to downplay the seriousness of a catastrophe because it will cost a lot of money and disturbance, you are going to miss a lot of the data (or actually make sure it goes missing). You’re going to focus on what you think are the most salient aspects of a disaster and not see the more subtle effects—like an increase in health problems and early deaths due to radiation entering the food system and eaten over a long period of time. [See Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future, by Kate Brown.]

So, you’re more likely to think our present health system is sufficient, leaving many without health care and those with health care only a major health problem away from insolvency if it’s in your immediate self-interest to do so.

But if you don’t see public health through the eyes of Climate Change, you’re going to mistakenly think our present dysfunctional system can handle the myriad ways our bodies will be impacted. You won’t be following the threads of science to all the ramifications of Climate Change or all the ways your life will be challenged by those of us left out in the heat.

Time passes.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Reinventing Climate Change communications?

Communicating Climate Change to the public has always been tough. The science behind climate science tends to be wonky and seemingly unrelated to most people’s daily lives. But we were making headway for a while.

Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change It tracks the efforts of a small group of American scientists, activists and politicians to raise the alarm and stave off catastrophe. It will come as a revelation to many readers — an agonizing revelation — to understand how thoroughly they grasped the problem and how close they came to solving it. (August 1, 2018 The New York Times)

Climate scientists back in the middle 1980s were beginning to confirm that the rise in greenhouse gases since the Industrial Revolution was due to human activity—especially burning fossil fuels for energy.

Global Warming Has Begun, Expert Tells Senate The earth has been warmer in the first five months of this year than in any comparable period since measurements began 130 years ago, and the higher temperatures can now be attributed to a long-expected global warming trend linked to pollution, a space agency scientist reported today. (June 24, 1988 The New York Times)

Thinking that his job was done, climate scientist Dr. Hansen left it to the communications experts to explain the situation to the public and their leaders. But things got screwed up. The fossil fuel industry, which produced a lot of the data for the human-related Climate Change crisis, decided that it would seriously harm their finances if there was a major switch to renewable energy and so they did everything in their power to instill doubt into the science and discourage politicians to act.

So now, as Climate Change brings us to the brink of extinction, where the communications have been so infused with falsity, purposeful doubt, and anger, it looks like we must re-invent how we communicate this worldwide crisis. However, even though Climate Change communication has had a “messaging problem,” we shouldn’t simply kill the messengers. Our climate scientists were telling the truth and we activist were trying to break through public inertia. Much of the blame should be on the public who have conveniently been playing dumb on this crisis for a long time. Our media, our public leaders, the fossil fuel industry, and especially we ourselves have been complicit in this failure to communicate this existential emergency effectively.

These Days, It’s Not About the Polar Bears Climate science has struggled mightily with a messaging problem. The well-worn tactic of hitting people over the head with scary climate change facts has proved inadequate at changing behavior or policies in ways big enough to alter the course of global warming. While Europe has made some headway, the largest obstacles to change remain in the United States, which has historically been responsible for more emissions than any other country. And perhaps most important, climate change denial has secured a perch in the Trump administration and across the Republican Party. (May 12, 2019) The New York Times [more on Climate Change in our area]  

Maybe the “social scientists in fields like psychology, political science, sociology and communications studies” will be able to help climate messaging on a dramatic scale, but we should remember some things. First, those trying to alert everyone about Climate Change did not fail, what successes they’ve had in changing people’s behaviors and vastly increasing renewable energy is in part a result of these early efforts.

Communicating fear about what Climate Change portends shouldn’t be underestimated—not everyone puts their heads in the sand at bad news. “Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” ― Samuel Johnson, The Life of Samuel Johnson LL.D. Vol 3 (1)

Second, what will be the measure of success for the social sciences? Success isn’t simply poll data. If 90% of those polled after undergoing new communication techniques say they understand Climate 
Change, but still vote in climate deniers, still make no changes in their lives to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and still act as if this crisis is only about them—then these new communications tools aren’t much good. Maybe even dangerously delusional.

The real measure of whether a new approach to climate communications is bringing down greenhouse gas emissions to a sustainable level is the desired result. Everything else is, well, everything else.

All the help from the social sciences are appreciated—the use of images, personal stories, etc.—as long as they don’t oversimplify this worldwide crisis, making it look like Climate Change is only as important as it affects people in their own lives. This is misleading and it could cause a lot of damage if local solutions don’t add up, waste valuable time, or step on large-scale, worldwide effective sustainable measures. Many solutions to climate change at the local level may be counter-productive when the dots are not connected worldwide.

There are unpleasant truths about Climate Change that need to be communicated and not avoided because they conflict with people’s worldview or comfort zone. Trying to fit the climate messages so they increase lip service to this crisis must not avoid the particulars: Our biological cooling system can only work within certain heat/humid temperature constraints. Our oceans are absorbing most of the heat and CO2, which means that we cannot suddenly turn off Climate Change and there will be a lot of damage—regardless of how quickly we switch to renewable energy. Social unrest, due to unequal exposure to this crisis and the historical gap between rich and poor, is probably going to be the first and most dramatic result of a quickly warming planet with over 7 billion souls.

Also, it may be impossible to predict exactly who will be affected by climate change in the short term because of disruptions in our modern way of life—stock market crashes, resources depletions, and infrastructure damage can fall anywhere around the world and in the social hegemony. In the long term, if we don’t act in time, we are all screwed.

Communicating the urgency to address Climate Change to the public and their leaders who are still largely indifferent will be more challenging even as things get worse. There are many emerging tactics and strategies, but I hadn’t heard that swearing was one of them. Might work, though.

'The planet is on fire': Bill Nye driven to F-bomb rant by climate change The beloved science educator and children’s show host appeared on Last Week Tonight to help explain carbon-pricing Bill Nye is done messing around. Look out, because while you might not typically associate angry talk with the normally-mild-mannered “Science Guy” Nye, when it comes to the threat of global climate change, he has – understandably, perhaps – lost his patience. And how. The beloved science educator and television personality, best known for his children’s program Bill Nye the Science Guy, appeared on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on Sunday in a segment on the plan to fight climate change, and started throwing the F-word about – a lot. (The plan is sponsored by the US House of Representatives’ Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the longtime environmental advocate and Senator Ed Markey, and is known as the Green New Deal.) (May 14, 2019) The Guardian [more on Climate Change in our area]

Time passes.   

Monday, May 06, 2019

On a quickly warming world, what should we be looking at?

Once again: We keep talking about Climate Change and that we need to get our greenhouse gas emissions down, but we don’t. “Half of all emissions produced from fossil fuels have come in the last 30 years.” (David Wallace Wells) That is, ever since we knew Climate Change was a major problem we’ve acted in the worse possible way to put off this disaster.

One of the issues that the Climate Change crisis highlights is our species’ inability to maintain a high level of alert on a long-term crisis. Large predators making their way towards us, that we get; Climate Change, not so much. To help address this critical shortcoming in our critical faculties, we should create a Climate Change monitoring process that would continually be seen by everyone. Everyone needs to ‘see’ Climate Change so that we are forever mindful of this existential threat.

Every vehicle on the road has a fuel (or battery) gauge that lets you know how much further you can go. You don’t have to look at the gauge every moment but your lack of attention to this issue could result in running out of juice in some very inconvenient places.
Humanity is in danger of losing our attention to the most important part of Climate Change—our emissions curve.

‘You did not act in time’: Greta Thunberg’s full speech to MPs “People always tell me and the other millions of school strikers that we should be proud of ourselves for what we have accomplished. But the only thing that we need to look at is the emission curve. And I’m sorry, but it’s still rising. That curve is the only thing we should look at.” (April 23, 2019) The Guardian  (more on Climate Change in our area]

So, what is this emissions curve and how would we put it in our face so that whatever we’re doing or not doing to address Climate Change, we’d be able to see if life on Earth is running out of time?

For a quick look at the emissions curve, you can go here: Graphic: The relentless rise of carbon dioxide, by NASA Global Climate Change. Or, you can get a more up-to-date reading by going to the NASA Global Climate Change web page where today’s (May 2, 2019) atmospheric concentration of CO2 is 410ppm. To put this figure in perspective, according to Climate Central, “The last time CO2 levels were this high, trees grew near the South Pole and sea levels were 50 to 65 feet higher than today.”

CO2 Concentrations Rising Past 400 Parts Per Million As May begins, we are nearing the annual peak atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) — the greenhouse gas that contributes most to human-caused climate change. CO2 does vary seasonally, peaking in May as the Northern Hemisphere’s plants blossom and breathe in more CO2 during the summer. Still, the year-to-year increase in CO2 is unmistakable. When this year’s peak is announced (see here for daily updates), it will be the highest level in at least two million years. The last time CO2 levels were this high, trees grew near the South Pole and sea levels were 50 to 65 feet higher than today. (May 1, 2019) Climate Central [more on Climate Change in our area]

We must have a universal and continual way to report on increases or decreases of greenhouse gas emissions so we can monitor the effects without deluding ourselves. But, because of lag time in our climate system and many other factors we aren’t going to see a quid pro quo relationship between things we do now and its eventual results—unless a major volcano goes off or we set off a series of nuclear bombs. It’s complicated information that must be boiled down to something very easy for every media to place prominently, and relevant to our actual predicament, not our current perception of it.

Of course, we'd like to see a very robust form of monitoring so that we can get a very precise model of how our efforts to address Climate Change are going. But this kind of detail is not going to attract much attention from the public--though with hyperlinks anyone can drill down deeply into any of the particulars. I'm thinking of an info-box on a media that displays our greenhouse gas emissions so we can monitor our progress. But even this can be delusional because if we are destroying forests, we are taking away carbon sinks even if we are reducing fossil fuel emissions, increasing renewable energy, and increasing energy efficiency. All the numbers have to add up to planetary health.

Again, it's complicated. We need to make a sort of Climate Change gauge simple and that is difficult. We will need trusted folks simplifying the method so that we aren’t fooled by those pushing some kind of agenda. We are apt to be deceived by peer pressure and adulation when we are actually not moving the needle in the right direction. We need something we can trust the way we used to trust our senses--which we now know are finely tuned by evolution to be honed on the kind of reality our species evolved on—not the quickly warming planet we now live on.

We have a much better understanding of the ways our senses can be fooled, and we have ways to correct our senses so that our model of reality is more correct. Now we need to know if we are going to get through the Climate Change Bottleneck, where our past environmental abuses get cooked on a warming planet. That is going to take everything we’ve got, probably including machine-learning artificial intelligence that can think in ways we cannot overcome what seems to be insurmountable challenges—like how to capture carbon quickly enough and at a sufficient scale to bring down greenhouse gas concentrations around the world.

We’re getting close. Soon, NASA is going to get really good at knowing Earth’s carbon cycle in detail.

OCO-3 Ready to Extend NASA's Study of Carbon When the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3, OCO-3, heads to the International Space Station, it will bring a new view - literally - to studies of Earth's carbon cycle. From its perch on the space station, OCO-3 will observe near-global measurements of carbon dioxide on land and sea, from just after sunrise to just before sunset. That makes it far more versatile and powerful than its predecessor, OCO-2. "OCO-2 revisits areas on Earth at roughly the same time of day due to its sun-synchronous orbit," said Matt Bennett, OCO-3's project systems engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "OCO-3 will expand the time period of that coverage and observe the presence of carbon dioxide at varying times of day." (April 30, 2019) NASA Global Climate Change [more on Climate Change in our area]

The point I’m getting at is this: Scientists are getting better at monitoring greenhouse gas emissions with great precision. Providing this detail to the public on a continual basis would strip away the political fog surrounding Climate Change and give everyone a way to note our collective progress—or lack thereof—towards solutions. Imagine if every media posted this trusted, objective information continually.

I’m sure if a meteor were zooming in on us, media around the world would give continual updates of this natural missile’s progress and humanity’s efforts to avoid this kind of disaster.

Climate Change is also a phenomenon coming at us relentlessly and quickly. We all need to see it so we can work together to avoid it.

Time passes.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Can we have a consensus on Climate Change?

Honoring the results of the political debates regarding Climate Change sounds like a position a reasonable person should take. You fought the hard fight, you lost, now wait patiently (and honorably) to you get your turn again.

Can we bridge the divide of bitter partisanship? A “commitment to democracy” does not mean that politicians and voters should not make substantive (and vigorous) arguments on behalf of their views and agendas. But it means that they should do so in good faith and on the merits. And when their arguments (or political candidates) do not prevail, they should equanimously honor the results to avoid undermining faith in our democratic institutions. (April 19, 2019 Rochester Beacon)

But as this consensus paradigm pertains to the climate crisis, ‘honoring the results’ is not a reasonable position because it asks of you to allow those who don’t or won’t believe in the physics and science behind Climate Change to destroy our collective chances of survival.

Even kids around the world understand the repercussions of accepting the status quo on addressing Climate Change:

Climate protests this week caused major disruption. That was the point. Environmental activists across the globe took drastic measures this week to demand that their governments act to curb climate change. They glued themselves to trains. They blocked major landmarks. They poured fake blood onto the streets. More than 680 people were arrested in London, where the most prominent protests took place, police said on Friday evening. Yes, it was disruptive. That was the point. (April 20, 2019) CNN [more on Climate Change in our area]

In Rochester for Earth Day, many environmental groups spent half a year on efforts to put together a forum to reach across the political divide and engage those who don’t usually even talk about Climate Change. The speaker was a former Republican Congressperson representing a deep red district in S. Carolina promoting “A Free Enterprise Solution to Climate Change”. Many groups, including conservatives, helped promote this event for over a month—TV interviews, articles, flyers, radio talk shows, a blizzard of social media, you-name-it. We built a field, as it were, but conservatives did not come.

However the sad truth is that reaching across the political aisle, bipartisanship, finding consensus on Climate Change, doesn’t work in today’s political landscape. Even when it works, it doesn’t work because conservatives will only consider solutions under the constraints of a free-market system—the system that created this debacle in the first place. Carbon pricing gets a nod from all sides (depending on how it’s done), some nice words sometimes, and some renewable energy projects, but not much else.

There isn’t a plan to follow up with all the conservatives who attended the forum and were willing to talk to us about Climate Change because they didn’t come. They didn’t have to, they’re in power, and for the time being their denial is working for them.

How can we honor the results of a system that panders to big money and big influence by a political party that is far more interested in having it all their way—no matter how far it strays from the laws of physics and human decency?

Remember, we keep talking about Climate Change and that we need to get our greenhouse gas emission down, but we don’t. “Half of all emissions produced from fossil fuels have come in the last 30 years.” (David Wallace Wells) That is, ever since we knew Climate Change was a major problem we’ve acted in the worse possible way to put off this disaster.

Where are our priorities? If they aren’t on survival, we don’t get to.

Time passes.

Monday, April 22, 2019

We need renewable energy! But not here?

Although, climate experts around the world explain that we have only a short time to bring down our greenhouse gas emissions before catastrophic Climate Change consequences, we here in the Rust Belt (where much of the world’s industrial greenhouse gas emissions once spewed) fight large renewable energy projects tooth and nail.

Nothing in the media about these wind farm fights mention the specter of a grim climate forecast if we don’t shift quickly to renewable energy. Instead, their focus is on how disruptive these projects would be on the locals and their desire for an uncluttered environment (i.e. ugly wind turbines).
Also, nothing is mentioned about the impacts of Climate Change on our Great Lakes region even though much of the arguments against wind turbines are about disfiguring the local environment. [See my recent essay “The Great Lakes, Climate Change, and Rochester, NY” about the new report “THE IMPACTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE ON THE GREAT LAKES”.] You cannot preserve the quality of life around the Great Lakes, the health of migrating birds, and our environment without addressing Climate Change—and you cannot address that without a major uptake of renewable energy around the world. Why not support efforts to build large wind farms (the only real renewable energy competitor) where fossil fuel pants once stood? Why shouldn’t a region that has done so much to put greenhouse gases into our atmosphere support local efforts for energy options that significantly lower them?

Increasingly, our youth are realizing what’s at stake if we continually find excuses for not immediately stopping fossil fuel emissions. They don’t like it.

Extinction Rebellion keep control of major London sites into a third day Climate activists have kept control of four sites in London for a second night, with police saying they have caused “serious disruption” affecting half a million people in the city. After the Extinction Rebellion activist group threatened to disrupt the city’s public transport network on Wednesday, Transport for London disabled wifi on the underground at the request of the British Transport Police. Thousands of people have taken part in the civil disobedience protests since Monday, blockading four landmarks in the capital in an attempt to force the government to take action on the escalating climate crisis. (April 17, 2019 | The Guardian)

As we go further into the Climate Change Bottleneck, where our past environmental abuses get cooked on a warming planet, we’ll have to continually examine our priorities because our planet keeps getting warmer, and our youth want a future. #WeDontHaveTime

Time passes.

Monday, April 15, 2019

The Trump administration’s embrace of carbon capture proves they believe in Climate Change but as a solution, carbon capture isn’t

Politically (at present anyway), trying to promote carbon capture innovation over regulation sounds like a sophisticated solution to address Climate Change. However, carbon capture won’t work on a scale and timeframe that will matter. But what does matter is that the Trump administration and many conservatives finally admit human-caused Climate Change is happening.

White House will promote carbon capture technology in climate change fight The White House will begin promoting carbon capture and storage technology, two senior administration officials told McClatchy on Friday, in a rare acknowledgment from the Trump administration of the dangers of rising carbon dioxide emissions. Their embrace of the emerging technology is part of a nascent strategy by the Trump administration to promote innovation over regulation as a means of fighting climate change, and comes amid a bipartisan call from senators for an increase in federal funding for carbon capture development. Carbon capture is a technology that seeks to capture the majority of carbon-dioxide emissions produced by large fuel plants before they reach the atmosphere. (April 5, 2019) McClatchy [more on Climate Change in our area]

Before examining why carbon capture cannot be a comprehensive solution to addressing Climate Change, we should at first pause and consider that at long last many of the climate deniers really do believe in the science and the urgency of the climate crisis. This is breathtaking.

It has taken decades to get a sizeable portion of Americans to admit Climate Change is true—though what this means beyond a checkmark in a survey is unknowable. Does this mean we’ll vote in leaders who will address this issue? We’ll stop putting stances (like market-based solutions) before science? Or, that we’ll take responsibility for this crisis and help other nations get through it? 

The Unprecedented Surge in Fear About Climate Change The data are still striking, suggesting that U.S. concern about climate change has leapt by several points in just the past year. More than seven out of 10 Americans now say that global warming is “personally important” to them, an increase of nine points since March 2018, according to the Yale poll. More Americans than ever—29 percent—also say they are “very worried” about climate change, an eight-point increase. (January 23, 2019 The Atlantic)

The leap for carbon capture as a solution seems far more delusional than reality based. For one, none of the carbon capture techniques will help us adapt to the dramatic changes coming, except afforestation/reforestation and modifying our agricultural practices.

Why we can’t reverse climate change with ‘negative emissions’ technologies “In a much-anticipated report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said the world will need to take dramatic and drastic steps to avoid the catastrophic effects of climate change. Featured prominently in the report is a discussion of a range of techniques for removing carbon dioxide from the air, called Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) technologies or negative emissions technologies (NETs). The IPCC said the world would need to rely significantly on these techniques to avoid increasing Earth’s temperatures above 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to pre-industrial levels. Given that the level of greenhouse gases continues to rise and the world’s efforts at lowering emissions are falling way short of targets climate scientists recommend, what contribution we can expect from NETs is becoming a critical question. Can they actually work at a big enough scale?” (October 9, 2019 The Conversation)

We should stop any more carbon from escaping into our atmosphere because of burning fossil fuels for energy. That includes old fossil fuel sources, meaning no more new ones. This is a case where carbon capture matters. We should go 100& renewable energy.

As for adaptation, which conservatives still have little political stomach for, it’s a necessity. In order to do that we’ll need a national climate information system—and integral part of the study Trump tried to squash.

Climate change group scrapped by Trump reassembles to issue warning Panel was disbanded after a Trump official voiced concerns that it did not have enough members ‘from industry’ A US government climate change advisory group scrapped by Donald Trump has reassembled independently to call for better adaptation to the floods, wildfires and other threats that increasingly loom over American communities. The Trump administration disbanded the 15-person Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment in August 2017. The group, formed under Barack Obama’s presidency, provided guidance to the government based on the National Climate Assessment, a major compendium of climate science released every four years. (April 4, 2019) The Guardian [more on Climate Change in our area]

As we go further into the Climate Change Bottleneck, where our past environmental abuses get cooked on a warming planet, it is more likely we’ll become more convinced of the science and less likely to act. That’s what the trajectory looks like anyways.

Time passes. 

Monday, April 08, 2019

New NYS plastic bag ban presents an elegant solution—the reusable bag.

The reaction to the new NYS plastic bag ban seems mostly negative—focusing mainly on the opt-in option for each county on a 5-cents paper tax. There seems very little attention in the media to the plastic pollution problem this new law is trying to ameliorate or that the new law gives us a year to shift to reusable bags. There is also much confusion around the possible paper tax (that is only collected if shoppers use a paper bag).

Monroe County plans to opt out of bag tax Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo says she is opting out of the state’s newly-announced tax on paper bags. This comes amid the passage of the 2019 state budget through the New York Legislature. The budget calls for a ban on plastic bags statewide beginning next year. The plan also allows for individual counties to impose a five-cent fee on paper bags. Dinolfo said in a statement Monday that Monroe County would not be taking part in this. “While environmental protection is a worthy priority, the State’s new ‘bag tax’ is an insult to every New York family,” the statement read, “which is why I will be opting Monroe County out.” Those sentiments were echoed Monday by County Clerk Adam Bello, who is running against Dinolfo in this November's election. (April 1, 2019) WHAM Rochester [more on Recycling in our area]

Let’s be clear: If you brought your own reusable bag when shopping, you wouldn’t need a paper bag, which is to say you’d be helping our environment (the intent of the new law) and there would be no fee.

Also, if a customer didn’t bring a reusable bag and got charged that 5-cents per bag: “Forty-percent of that money would support local programs to buy reusable bags for people with low or fixed incomes. The other 60% would go to the state's environmental protection fund.” (April 2, 2019, WKBW Buffalo)

Let’s focus on plastic pollution for a moment. It’s more than a litter problem, which is pretty freaking unsightly (riding to Buffalo last evening on the NYS Thruway was like driving through a tunnel of plastic debris):

·        Plastic bags do not biodegrade. When they finally do break down, they do not dissolve into benign substances: they just fracture into smaller and smaller bits called “microplastics.” (1.) Our Great Lakes are contaminated with microplastics which attract toxins and become part of the food chain—that is, little fish eat microplastics, medium-sized fish eat little fish, medium fish eat big fish, then we eat big fish.
·        Plastic bags harm wildlife by entrapping them and becoming pseudo food that has no food value.
·        Plastic bags clog our storm drains causing flooding, which becomes more critical as more heavy precipitation falls in our Northeast region due to global warming.
·        Plastic bags, when thrown into our recycling system, clog our Monroe County recycling machinery—costing money and time.
·        Plastic bags are made with non-renewable fossil fuels, which warm our planet more.

We go into the Climate Change crisis with the environment we have. Plastic pollution has grown swiftly into a major environmental threat, seriously compromising the health of our life support system. Instead of ignoring, dismissing, or downplaying the plastic problem the public and our media really need to understand the full implications of the problem. Check out this website:

Allowing their attention to be completely hijacked by the word ‘tax’ in the new plastic bag law, our media and our politicians have lost an opportunity to educate the public on the virtues of the reusable bag. This would be a good time to get the public onboard with doing the right thing for the environment—by pushing reusable bags, which could be made or purchased by individuals and groups and donated to those in need. Certainly, the state’s new ‘bag tax’ is not an insult to every New York family; it’s a warning of how drastic plastic pollution has become and an opportunity for everyone to act together on behalf of our environment.

As we go further into the Climate Change Bottleneck, where our past environmental abuses get cooked on a warming planet, much is going to be asked of the public to adapt to and mitigate Climate Change. Our way of life has caused this crisis. If we cannot find it within ourselves to support even this new plastic bag ban—what will we support?  

Time passes. 

Monday, April 01, 2019

The Great Lakes, Climate Change, and Rochester, NY

As Rochester, NY is one of the great communities in the Great Lakes Basin, we have a grave responsibility to understand how Climate Change is going to affect us, how we will adapt, and how we must protect the largest freshwater system in the world. The Great Lakes ecoregion is one of the great ecosystems of the world, which makes our region a critical component of addressing Climate Change at home and globally. This system isn’t just for us, it’s an integral part of Earth’s ecology—its carbon cycle, its hydrologic cycle, and more.

Great Lakes Basin warming faster than other parts of country, new study finds The Great Lakes Basin has warmed more over the last 30 years than the rest of the contiguous United States — and could warm dramatically more by the end of the 21st century, a new, first-of-its-kind study of how climate change has impacted the Great Lakes region finds. Among the study's other findings: The number of cold winter days that never reach a 32-degree high temperature could drop significantly — by almost two months under some scientifically modeled scenarios. (March 25, 2019) Democrat and Chronicle [more on Great Lakes and Climate Change in our area]

Great Lakes ice cover is decreasing due to Climate Change and this has profound impacts-- increases coastal erosion, increases extreme weather, less protection for the ecosystem, and increases bad algae over good algae.  

A new normal': decreasing ice cover on the Great Lakes The changes caused by declining ice cover on the Great Lakes are pretty bad, but it's not all doom and gloom. Ice cover on the Great Lakes has declined in the past 40 years with average ice coverage dropping up to 75 per cent, depending on the lake.  "We rely a lot on the Great Lakes for shipping ... so an ice-free Great Lake is not a barrier to shipping. But beyond that there are a lot of negatives associated," said Mike McKay, the executive director for the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research (GLIER), based at the University of Windsor. (March 29, 201) CBC News [more on Great Lakes and Climate Change in our area]

As we go further into the Climate Change Bottleneck, where our past environmental abuses get cooked on a warming planet, how we respond to changes in our local environment will matter greatly to ourselves and to the world’s efforts on this crisis. This new study (THE IMPACTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE ON THE GREAT LAKES by the Environmental Law and Policy Center) highlights how the quick warming of the Great Lakes basin will challenge our infrastructures, wildlife, agriculture, fishing, our public health and much more. Not to mention our weather is going to be different.

Also, the recently released progress report from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) describes how our various official authorities are working together to address many of the points brought up in the ‘impacts’ study. Check the DEC’s report, as it incorporates Climate Change into many restoration projects and what various local communities are doing.

DEC Releases 2016-2018 Great Lakes Program Progress Report People and Communities Are Benefitting from Collaborative Projects to Restore New York's Great Lakes Resources New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos today announced the release of the 2016-2018 progress report on the restoration and protection of New York's Great Lakes resources. The report, released to commemorate World Water Day, highlights New York's programs and projects in the Great Lakes watershed that are benefiting communities taking action to maintain and improve community uses of the lakes, surrounding lands and other waterways in the Great Lakes Basin. "The Great Lakes are a vital resource for New York and the nation's environment and economy. However, the growing absence of federal environmental leadership is putting the lakes' continued recovery at risk," said Commissioner Basil Seggos. "New York is committed to making investments to restore, protect, and enhance this critical watershed for the benefit of our state's environment, economy, and quality of life, and the Great Lakes Action Agenda is a strong blueprint to achieve our goals. This report showcases how New York's leadership is creating collaborative partnerships and implementing effective programs that build on progress underway." The 2016-2018 Great Lakes Report details how DEC and its partners are restoring environmental quality, conserving natural resources, promoting resilient communities, and supporting sustainable development. Key projects include Lake Ontario flood mapping, municipal sewage system upgrades, projects that help prevent beach closures, restore habitat, and wetlands, and projects that use native plants to stabilize shorelines at Sodus Bay, Sacketts Harbor, and Irondequoit Bay. Report highlights include: (March 22, 2019) Department of Environmental Conservation [more on the Great Lakes in our area]

As DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos suggests (“… the growing absence of federal environmental leadership is putting the lakes' continued recovery at risk,") our federal government, a critical player in keeping our Great Lakes healthy, is increasingly distracted by other concerns. With the feds missing action on prioritizing Climate Change, we are not working with the rest of the world on a comprehensive program where these lakes’ ecosystem plays an important part.   

With little help from the federal government, can we really protect the Great Lakes waters from diversion to places outside of the basin desperate for this invaluable resource? Without the feds working in conjunction with other states and Canada, do we have a fighting chance to stop invasive species like the Asian Carp from dramatically altering our local environment?

And, the $64, 000 question, if the US doesn’t join the rest of the world and bring our greenhouse gas emissions down soon, what role will the Great Lakes ecosystem play in a world spiraling out of control?

Time passes.