Monday, January 28, 2019

In what way do Americans care about Climate Change?

It’s really nice that poll results show that American think “Disasters influence thinking on climate change”. However, it would be more helpful if Americans acted on this thinking in a way that will matter. Our grandchildren won’t be pleased if all we did was think about the crisis we put them in.

AP-NORC Poll: Disasters influence thinking on climate change When it comes to their views on climate change, Americans are looking at natural disasters and their local weather, according to a new poll. Lately, that means record deadly wildfires in California, rainfall by the foot in Houston when Hurricane Harvey hit and the dome of smog over Salt Lake City that engineer Caleb Gregg steps into when he walks out his door in winter. “I look at it every day,” Gregg said from Salt Lake City, where winter days with some of the country’s worst air starting a few years ago dinged the city’s reputation as a pristine sports city and spurred state leaders to ramp up clean-air initiatives. “You look out and see pollution just sitting over the valley.” “I’ve never really doubted climate change - in the last five-ish years it’s become even more evident, just by seeing the weather,” the 25-year-old said. “We know we’re polluting, and we know pollution is having an effect on the environment.” The poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago finds 74 percent of Americans say extreme weather in the past five years — hurricanes, droughts, floods and heat waves — has influenced their opinions about climate change. That includes half of Americans who say these recent events have influenced their thinking a great deal or a lot. (January 22, 2019) AP News [more on Climate Change in our area] 

Decades ago, many of us thought that once the obvious consequences of Climate Change kicked in, we’d not only see a major shift in public opinion on this crisis, we’d also see an end of inaction. Admittedly, in many ways, we are seeing a rise in climate action from environmental groups, communities, states, and some nations. But we’re not seeing massive changes in voting habits, pressing our leaders to adapt to the changes, and we even haven’t rid ourselves of the climate denial meme running like a virulent virus through our life support system.

The City of Rochester is upping its game. Improving building energy efficiency is one of Rochester’s ways of implementing climate mitigation strategies through its Climate Action Plan. (I implore everyone to read the City’s plan to deal with Climate Change.) This makes the Sustainable Homes Rochester program an important component of addressing Climate Change in our region. Our buildings and homes are leaking a lot of fossil-fuel heat causing a substantial part of our greenhouse gas emissions problem. Learn more from this new City program to stop heat leaks and warm your house efficiently from one of the many Sustainable Homes Rochester Information events near you.

SUSTAINABLE HOMES ROCHESTER “Sustainable Homes Rochester (SHR) is a community campaign designed to encourage residents to install clean heating and cooling (CH&C) technologies and improve home energy efficiency. The City of Rochester received a $150,000 grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to launch the SHR campaign in partnership with PathStone Corporation Home Rehabilitation and Energy Services (PathStone) and the Rochester People’s Climate Coalition (RPCC).” (City of Rochester, NY)

We have a long way to go in a very short amount of time. One author thinks we’re out of time altogether: see Learning to Die in the Anthropocene | Reflections on the End of a Civilization, by Roy Scranton. I’m still reading this book, but I’ll let you know how it turns out (probably not well).

(As I’m writing this essay, I’m overhearing a conversation about Climate Change in a local coffee shop. It’s mostly climate denial, a rambling litany of self-justifying talk about climate myths that seem quite true to the two guys who obviously have been avoiding all the recent climate studies described in most mainstream media recently. Nevertheless, they think some kind of climate change is happening. Their conversation makes me think of a lecture by philosopher Daniel Dennett’s on “The Magic of Consciousness” I watched recently on YouTube. The human mind, our consciousness, has an amazing ability to fill in the gaps when presented only partial information about reality. With only an incomplete hold of the facts, our brains have the “magical” ability to fill in the blanks based on what we expect. It all makes me think that we need to know a lot more about ourselves as we go further into the Climate Change Bottleneck. How do we think? How do most people come to their most fervently held convictions—even though they are desperately short of facts? Why, if we are such a ‘wise man’ species, are we plunging headlong into a demise of our own making?)

Anyway, as far as addressing Climate Change is concerned, our environment only understands actions—trees falling, greenhouse gases accumulating, not thoughts. If we don’t act to bring down greenhouse gases and adapt to the warmup that’s already baked into our climate system, we’ll get no pity from nature. Nature doesn’t care what we think. It just responds to actions—not prayers, hopes, or half-baked rationalizations.

Time passes. 

Monday, January 21, 2019

Before we dismissed Climate Change adaptation, perhaps we should have considered whether we could

Addressing Climate Change means both adapting to the changing conditions and mitigating the damage, i.e. bringing down the planet’s temperature as quickly as possible. According to the article below and my own observations, most climate activists’ efforts have leaned heavily towards mitigation—and ignored the problem of adaptation.

“As early as the 1990s, and then in climate-treaty talks in 2002, there was talk of the need to adapt to a changing climate even as nations struggled to curb emissions. But what some called the “A” word was anathema to many global warming campaigners, who saw efforts to adapt to climate extremes as capitulation and a distraction from the need to curb emissions from fossil-fueled smokestacks and tailpipes, cattle pens, cement factories, and felled forests.” (January 9, 2019) Once derided, ways of adapting to climate change are gaining steam  National Geographic [more on Climate Change in our area]

While it is crucial that we drop greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions significantly and quickly, we must at the same time adapt to the changes planetary warming brings. Discovering that your ship is slowly sinking in a sea of ice means you must act quickly to both stop the leak and keep from drowning while you do so.

One of the assumptions that those who think we should focus exclusively on mitigation must be that we’ll have time to adapt later. Put all our energies into mitigation, then we’ll worry about adapting. But this assumption ignores many absolutely essential aspects of adaptation.

You must make sure that while you’re changing the energy system the public doesn’t freak out (major social unrest) when faced with more floods, heat, lack of food, infrastructure damage, or economic collapse in the meantime.

Climate Change’s Giant Impact on the Economy: 4 Key Issues Many of the big economic questions in coming decades will come down to just how extreme the weather will be, and how to value the future versus the present. By now, it’s clear that climate change poses environmental risks beyond anything seen in the modern age. But we’re only starting to come to grips with the potential economic effects. Using increasingly sophisticated modeling, researchers are calculating how each tenth of a degree of global warming is likely to play out in economic terms. Their projections carry large bands of uncertainty, because of the vagaries of human behavior and the remaining questions about how quickly the planet will respond to the buildup of greenhouse gases. A government report in November raised the prospect that a warmer planet could mean a big hit to G.D.P. in the coming decades. (January 17, 2019) The New York Times [more on Climate Change in our area]

Adapting or preparing the world that now holds over seven billion people and their infrastructure takes time. It takes time for the public to back their leaders for the necessary changes; it takes time to change the millions of structures and services our species cannot live without—transportation, for one. If you wait until you’ve brought our emissions down to a level our species can thrive in, humanity may be too overwhelmed by the changes to tackle adaptation. Especially when you consider that even if we brought down our planet’s temperature tomorrow, we’ll have decades (probably centuries) before the consequences of the energy (heat) we have already put into our climate system plays out and stabilizes at an endurable level.

Our reluctance to highlight the importance of adapting to Climate Change has squandered valuable opportunities to inform the public that Climate Change is already happening. Knowing this early on would have helped the public prioritize this crisis when choosing their leaders. We are now dramatically increasing our GHG emissions, breaking down our ability to work with other nations on this planetary problem, and forfeiting our environmental health by electing leaders who don’t have a clue about what Climate Change actually means.

If you’re focused only on mitigation, you’re missing the daily updates about how our environment is changing due to this rapid warming, which will determine how and where we should place our efforts.

To me, adapting to Climate Change has been the most obvious mandate for addressing this crisis. Decades ago since I first became familiar with this existential threat, I have thought that humanity should mitigate Climate Change because it is a moral issue and because it will cause catastrophic damage soon, I nevertheless thought the public must (meaning they would have to whether they wanted to or not) adapt to Climate Change because any living being that wanted to survive would have to. Those billions upon billions of creatures in our planet’s past that no longer exist are not around because they didn’t adapt to existing conditions. We are not that exceptional; in fact, we are displaying an appalling disposition towards planetary ecocide.

So it is with increasing wonder that I view humanity’s response to this crisis; we still seem oblivious to the importance of adapting—as if keeping your kid healthy and safe were second to saving for their college education.

Time passes.

My articles on Climate Change adaptation:

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.