Monday, November 12, 2018

Addressing Climate Change after the US midterms

The results of the US midterm elections, with the Democrats retaking the House and some governorships, are a victory in the sense that our country avoided falling into the abyss—a horrible place where our economics, our humanitarian values, and our politics run amuck. Supposedly, there will now be checks on Trump, his administration, and the GOP’s attempts to undermine our environmental health while trying to erase Climate Change from our nation’s responsibilities:

With Democratic Majority, Climate Change Is Back on U.S. House Agenda Fossil fuel supporters will still control the Senate, but the House will soon be able to turn a spotlight on climate change and Trump's retreat from responsibility. With their win of control of the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrats will now have the numbers to put climate change issues back on the congressional agenda. But the Republicans reinforced their firewall against any legislative efforts in the Senate by gaining at least two new members with poor records on confronting the climate crisis. (November 7, 2018) Inside Climate News [more on Climate Change for our area]

Still, we are poised on the precipice and will only back away from it when our country not only acts on Climate Change, but when we free the science of Climate Change from our politics altogether. In recent years, every US election seems to amplify our country’s ambiguity towards Climate change, instead of clarifying it.

Some suggest that the Democratic victory may yield little with regard to Climate Change action, that Democrats may muffle a strong Climate Change agenda because this issue is still so divisive that it may hinder party unity and prospects for more victories to come.

Dems damp down hopes for climate change agenda Democrats are unlikely to pursue major climate change legislation if they win the House majority, despite a growing body of evidence suggesting time is running out to address the issue. 10/17/2018 The Hill)

If we leave our efforts to address this crisis to our political convenience, it seems unlikely that we’ll make sufficient progress—even if the consequences of extreme weather, flooding, and the heat become more dire. Denier backlashes against catastrophes, or the latest refuge of climate denial – that it’s too late to do anything about it -- seem more likely to drive our politics awry on this crisis rather than a collective rational move towards it. All our other efforts—greening our businesses, honing the economics of renewable energy, and shaping our own lives to live more sustainably—are limited, perhaps prohibitively so, because of our political dysfunctionality.

In the New York Review of books “A Very Grim Forecast”, Bill McKibben, our foremost environmental writer and climate activist, provides a sober look at the background to the new IPCC’s report. It is, indeed, grim. But it’s important feedback at this critical stage that we aren’t doing remotely enough to address Climate Change. 

There are those messaging Climate Change who focus on humanity’s amazing ability to adapt—where we shouldn’t worry about the day-to-day seesaw of climate action and the resistance to that. This brand of human hubris goes something like this: We’re not only really good at adapting but excel when confronted by a climate change. Neandertals, a tough, cold-weather sister species (they weren’t our ancestors), perished during a long cold spell but our species met the challenge and prevailed. However, thinking that just because homo sapiens are able to disrupt an entire planet’s climate system doesn’t mean we have a clue on how to restore it to a livable world. It’s absurd. It’s like thinking because you have the ability to wreck something profoundly intricate, you can fix it. (Try that with your Smartphone.) How do we get 7+ billion people to quickly bring down our planet’s temperature and put back together the resiliency and robustness of our pre-industrial environment? How? Details, please?

However aware we are of the implications of Climate Change and despite the clarity coming from scientists on this crisis, we still don’t have a unified planetary response that will avoid a complete disaster—for humanity that is (Earth doesn’t really care if we’re around or not). The midterm elections can only be hopeful if whatever we gained are now pressed.

Democrats cannot be shy about pushing our country to address Climate Change and putting our fossil fuels legacy behind us. This includes not just winning battles but framing the problem so that the public understands its priority and urgency. It’s going to be far tougher than before the 2016 elections because the Trump/GOP debacle affords too many people the delusion that some could weather this existential crisis unscathed in a finite planet. They won’t. Because this crisis is a complete environmental breakdown, we will all get swept away eventually.   

Climate Change must rise to the top of our country’s concerns, where the US not only returns to the spirit of the Paris Accord, but leads this worldwide effort. Is this a mind-blowing fantasy? Not really. What is a mind-blowing fantasy is thinking we can fix this crisis with anything less. Remember, it’s not just the warming, it’s everything else too—justice, poverty, pollutions, loss of biodiversity, and centuries of humanity’s environmental abuse that are bottlenecking Climate Change into an emergency.

No half-hearted efforts, mixed messages, muted language on the full implications of Climate Change and what needs to be done to fix it will do. Politely giving in to those who want business as usual and pandering to the same political strategy that is only capable of moving one step forward and two steps backward will produce the very catastrophe that we must avoid. The planet will warm more, with us and our future cooking on it.

Time passes. 

Monday, November 05, 2018

What our youth know about Climate Change

It is hard to understand why those who deny Climate Change haven’t at least explored how this crisis will affect their kids. Because if they had, we’d all be making the necessary changes to protect our children. We know what to do, we just need the will to do it.

Kids’ Health and Climate Change Our changing environment—caused by carbon pollution from coal, oil, and gas—is already affecting children’s health and changing how they grow up. Many people are familiar with climate change impacts like flooding and sea-level rise, but rising temperatures and decreased air quality are already affecting kids: Increasing asthma attacks and allergies; Creating food insecurity; Mental health problems; Developmental delays; and Changes in their genetic makeup. Kids are not little adults. Their health is impacted more by climate change. Children’s immune systems and organs are still developing, and they eat and drink more for their size. They also breathe at a faster rate, increasing their exposure to dangerous air pollutants that can damage their lungs. Climate change is making heat waves hotter and longer, and more heat means more kids aren’t able to go outside and play. This is a critical issue because the number one health challenge facing our children today is obesity. When they do play outside, it can lead to heat stress and greater exposure to disease-carrying insects like ticks and mosquitoes. (October 17, 2018) C-CHANGE: THE HARVARD CENTER FOR CLIMATE, HEALTH AND THE GLOBAL ENVIRONMENT [more on Climate Change and Environmental Health in our area]

Our youth have already paid a heavy cost because the adults on our planet have refused to see our atmosphere for what it is: Life.

Polluted Air Affects More than 90% of Children A new report by the World Health Organization on air pollution and child health, launched on the occasion of their first Global Health Conference on Air Pollution and Health, shows that almost all of the word’s children are exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution. The report also finds that in an increasingly populated and warmer world, still heavily dependent on carbon-based technologies, the air we breathe has serious effects on our health, accounting for a third of deaths from stroke, lung cancer and heart disease. Air pollution is a major environmental health threat, and children are the most vulnerable to it. “Polluted air is poisoning millions of children and ruining their lives,” says Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “This is inexcusable. Every child should be able to breathe clean air so they can grow and fulfil their full potential.” Every day, around 93% of the world’s children under the age of 15 years (1.8 billion children) breathe air that is so polluted it puts their health and development at serious risk, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. Tragically, many of them die: WHO estimates that in 2016, 600,000 children died from acute lower respiratory infections caused by polluted air. (October 29, 2018) United Nations Climate Change [more on Climate Change in our area]

Here in the Rochester region, our youth hosted a #TrialoftheCentury rally. There wasn’t much press coverage but still, about a hundred folks showed up. Click here to find out more. Because many of our youth know the challenges of Climate Change, they want to accomplish things right now on a scale and time frame that will matter. One of those things is to get Monroe County to join with Rochester in a comprehensive Climate Action Plan (CAP) that recognizes the threat and the important role our government plays in addressing this crisis. Check this out:

“Please sign this petition ( asking the Monroe County government to create and implement a Climate Action Plan - a detailed program of greenhouse gas emissions reductions that could transform Monroe County into a leader of sustainability policy.”

Here’s what our youth already know: It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for a few places like the city of Rochester to accomplish a CAP if the surrounding county, state, our nation, and all nations don’t get together solve this worldwide crisis.

Our youth know the environment being bequeathed to them from us has been seriously compromised and may not support their future. They want you to help them to have a promise of a future like you had.

Time passes. 

Monday, October 29, 2018

Planning for Earth Day 2019 in Rochester, NY

For about twenty years, the Rochester Regional Group of the Sierra Club’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 video.]
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 been writing about 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, transportation, 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) Earth Month 2017 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 National Climate Assessment. Are we ready? [See figure 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.)

Remembering the ravages of Hurricane Agnes Continuous rainfall from June 21 to June 23, 1972, swelled Canandaigua Lake about 2 feet to the highest elevation ever recorded by the City of Canandaigua. What started as a tropical depression in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico on June 14, 1972, became Tropical Storm Agnes in the Caribbean on June 16. Agnes slowly curved northward and was upgraded to Hurricane Agnes on June 18, making landfall near Panama City, Fla. Agnes weakened to a tropical depression upon crossing Georgia and South Carolina. Upon reaching eastern North Carolina, Agnes strengthened back into a tropical storm by June 21. Agnes emerged into the Atlantic Ocean before recurving northwestward and making landfall near New York City. Agnes ultimately tracked as a cyclone over parts of Pennsylvania and Canada before eventually merging with another cyclone northwest of Great Britain on July 6. The most significant effects of Agnes for our region were due to severe flooding and not winds. (September 25, 2013) Daily Messenger [more on Climate Change in our area]

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--Global Warming of 1.5 °C ?
  • ·         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.

The World Is Running Out of Time to Fight Climate Change, Warns the UN According to a new study, we’ve got one last chance to stop climate change before it becomes irreversible. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report concluding global warming is likely to reach irreversible and dangerous levels by 2030 if increased action is not taken to reduce C02 emissions. This could result in severe weather, higher sea levels, damage to crops, and the displacement of millions of people. The IPCC report states the plans laid out in the Paris Agreement aren’t enough to keep the global temperature from rising 2.7°F. “Limited warming to [2.7°F] is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics, but doing so would require unprecedented changes,” stated one of the report’s authors Jim Skea. (October 8, 2018) NowThisNews [more on Climate Change in our area]

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:

Time passes. 

Monday, October 22, 2018

Climate Change choices for your consideration

If it’s true that we are merely consumers (as some view our existence), and not the moral stewards of our planet, then consider humanity’s Climate Change options for our future. There are several climate scenarios to choose from—depending on your taste for disruption. Your choices are, as brilliantly and illustrated in this interactive chart, 1.5C, 2C, and beyond:

The impacts of climate change at 1.5C, 2C and beyond "Carbon Brief has extracted data from around 70 peer-reviewed climate studies to show how global warming is projected to affect the world and its regions. " 

Scrolling through the above list is fascinating, like strolling up and down aisles in a grocery store. For example, do you want a 1.5C world where winter minimum temperatures in France will rise .09C? Or maybe a 3C world where rainfall will increase by 21% in Eastern Europe? Lots to choose from.

But there’s a catch, actually many of them. First, costs vary considerably with your choices not only by dollars and cents but what you consider costs in the first place. It will be very expensive to suddenly shift to do what needs to be done to keep our temperatures to 1.5C. But you’ll save lots of money (and people’s lives and species) because waiting around for a 2C world will cost even more money (inflation and more efforts). The costs in savings on human misery, environmental damage, and species loss at 1.5C will be enormous compared to the disruption of a 2C world.

As for the cost of a 3C (and beyond) world, fuhgettaboutit. Not only will a 3C world cost more money than you can shake a stick at, but you may also well be throwing your (your children’s and grandchildren’s, actually) life and money down a great big hole—because when things get to this point it may be game over.  

One must marvel at climate scientists’ ability to characterize what the world will look like at different points of warming. The IPCC special report Global Warming of 1.5 °C probably gives many people the illusion (delusion, actually) that we have a lot of choices when we really only have one. (Not only that but the IPCC report is probably downplaying the dangers of global warming and our ability to meet various emissions thresholds.)

“The summary implies a Herculean effort. It notes that scenarios to avert an overshoot of the 1.5 C target would require “rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems” and would be “unprecedented in scale.” But some experts have pointed out that the full report, hundreds of pages long in total, may suggest an even greater challenge than the summary would imply. They point to a greater emphasis on carbon dioxide removal and a higher probability of overshooting the 1.5 C threshold. This suggests an even more urgent need for immediate global action to meet the target.” (Full climate change report shows bigger challenges than the summary, Governors Wind & Solar Energy Coalition)

We either get drastically moving on addressing Climate Change on a scale and time frame that will matter or we risk everything. If we cannot stop further warming at this point in time, we are less likely to stop it at a later, more desperate time.

When we see Carbon Brief’s chart above, we should see it not as a list of choices but as the skeleton of a Climate Change Bottleneck growing narrower. Things we might have been able to do or salvage if we got moving now will be less likely as time goes on.

Time passes. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

What can America’s Dust Bowl tell us about Climate Change?

The Dust Bowl, the worst environmental disaster in US history, sent the soil from millions of acres of the Great Plains into the atmosphere ruining a major ecosystem and many people’s lives. The disaster occurred in the early 1930’s just after the stock market crash of 1929. But crash didn’t affect the farmers until wheat prices dropped below what would keep a farmer’s family alive and the farmer’s tractor payments going. Thinking that if they produced more wheat they could make ends meet, the farmers tore up more soil to plant more wheat, which didn’t work because the wheat prices just kept falling. However, removing more of the Great Plains precious soil dramatically turned the Dust Bowl into a decade of hell.

Instead of heeding the warnings of earlier dust storms and information from old timers that droughts were common, the farmers did exactly what would turn a problem into a major catastrophe.

The Dust Bowl was an early warning that humanity could, intentionally or not, cause great harm to our life support system. This lesson in bad environmental behavior is instructive given the many warnings humanity has had about Climate Change.

This week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released Global Warming of 1.5 °C, a special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. In the summary of the new report this statement caught my attention, as it says that despite all the greenhouse gases (GHGs) we have crammed into our atmosphere thus far, if we don’t release any more GHGs, we wouldn’t hit 1.5°C.

A.2. Warming from anthropogenic emissions from the pre-industrial period to the present will persist for centuries to millennia and will continue to cause further long-term changes in the climate system, such as sea level rise, with associated impacts (high confidence), but these emissions alone are unlikely to cause global warming of 1.5°C (medium confidence) {1.2, 3.3, Figure 1.5, Figure SPM.1} (September 8, 2018 GLOBAL WARMING OF 1.5 °C Summary for Policymakers, IPCC Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)

Acting right now on Climate Change on a scale that matters could not be clearer.
Thankfully, media all over the world explained the impacts of 1.5 °C rise in temperatures and the overall importance of this IPCC report. (See this article for a quick look: The UN’s 1.5°C special climate report at a glance (October 8, 2018) The Conversation] So, it cannot be said that our policymakers were not warned. The report said stop with the fossil fuels now.  

This special IPPC report is at the end of a long list of warnings over the years, which many world leaders have ignored. And, while I understand the inclination to try and stimulate major action on Climate Change, our desire for renewed urgency for addressing Climate Change should not characterize each new study as another freaking starting point. We have been kicking the can down the road on Climate Change for so long that the road is almost at an end, leading to a cliff, from which we cannot turn around.

World leaders 'have moral obligation to act' after UN climate report Even half degree of extra warming will affect hundreds of millions of people, decimate corals and intensify heat extremes, report shows World leaders have been told they have moral obligation to ramp up their action on the climate crisis in the wake of a new UN report that shows even half a degree of extra warming will affect hundreds of millions of people, decimate corals and intensify heat extremes. But the muted response by Britain, Australia and other governments highlights the immense political challenges facing adoption of pathways to the relatively safe limit of 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures outlined on Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). With the report set to be presented at a major climate summit in Poland in December, known as COP24, there is little time for squabbles. The report noted that emissions need to be cut by 45% by 2030 in order to keep warming within 1.5C. That means decisions have to be taken in the next two years to decommission coal power plants and replace them with renewables, because major investments usually have a lifecycle of at least a decade. (October 8, 2018) The Guardian [more on Climate Change in our area]

We must stop and maybe even reverse GHGs. But it’s more than that. We must find a stable stopping point; that is we must “park” the planet’s climate at a stable temperature”(1) –and leave it there. It makes no sense to keep trying to reach the goalposts (1.5°C or 2°C) if those temperatures are unsustainable.

I suspect nobody, not even the experts, really knows if 1.5°C is a “relatively safe” temperature rise. The more we find out about Climate Change, the more our experts keep finding that they’ve underestimated the peril of quickly warming up a planet already inundated with centuries of environmental abuse from humanity like the Dust Bowl.

Time passes.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

How the Climate Change gag rule adversely affects our elections and our survival

What set off John Quincy Adams to rail against slavery throughout his 16-year tenure at the U.S. House of Representative wasn’t necessarily the evils of slavery itself. The 6th President of the United States spent most of his life (and his presidency) quietly disapproving of this ‘peculiar institution’ but he was hardly a life-long abolitionist. Like many other white men of his times, he thought it would just go away. No, it was the “"gag rule," which had prevented the House of Representatives from debating petitions to abolish slavery”(Wikipedia) that really got Adams riled up because the rule was unconstitutional. Few cherished and held sacred our Constitution as Adams had. In pursuit of the gag rule’s appeal (which he won in 1844), Adams did become a fierce opponent of slavery doing much to embolden the abolitionists and hold our country’s feet to the fire over its original sin.

Our country, a couple of decades before exploding into the cataclysm of the Civil War, smoldered over slavery, uncomfortably tolerating this system of depravity because it was thought that keeping our country together was far more important than freeing millions of souls from hell on Earth. But the evil of slavery could not be contained any more than trying to keep the evil of not addressing Climate Change can be done in our time.

We don’t have a ‘gage rule’ on Climate Change, as such, though our federal institutions have been continually stripping ‘Climate Change’ from the EPA and other agencies. Like the CDC’s diffident report on the rapid spread of Lyme disease recently, which failed to mention Climate Change*, we are self-imposing gag rules by systematically avoiding the social pushback from those who find Climate Change objectionable. Our self-silencing on the consequences of Climate Change and not owning up to the ethical issues already inherent in a vastly unfair way of life harkens back to a time when a slave’s life just didn’t matter to the majority.

Our country’s present politics highlight another expression of the self-imposed Climate Change gag rule, where the public’s disinclination to vote for candidates who come out strong on addressing Climate Change still controls the national conversation.

Floods. Wildfires. Yet Few Candidates Are Running on Climate Change. In an election year that has included alarming portents of global warming — record wildfires in the West500-year floods in the East, a president walking away from a global climate accord — the one place that climate change rarely appears at all is in the campaigns of candidates for the House and Senate. The vast majority of Democrats and Republicans running for federal office do not mention the threat of global warming in digital or TV ads, in their campaign literature or on social media. Environmental activists and political scientists say it is a reflection of the issue’s perpetual low ranking among voters, even Democratic voters, and of the intense polarization along party lines that has developed around global warming, even as the science of human-caused warming has become overwhelming. (October 2, 2018) New York Times [more on Climate Change in our area]

It is unethical and suicidal for the public to allow political candidates to think addressing Climate Change doesn’t matter to them. The public must convince their candidates and leaders that the science and the ethics contained in this crisis are on the top of their priority list, or else we are going to vote ourselves into oblivion. Of all the consequences of Climate Change, humanity’s gag order regarding this great warming is the most pernicious.

Time passes.

Monday, October 01, 2018

What should we save from Climate Change?

One of the significant questions we must ask ourselves at this time (though many decades ago would have been even better) is what should we save from Climate Change? (Of course, for ethical reasons we cannot ask ((even in the darkest regions of our mind)) who should we save from Climate Change? No matter how drastic Climate Change becomes, I cannot imagine a point at which we would seriously contemplate a “Lifeboat Ethics” situation, where we save some but not others.) We should save everyone from Climate Change, especially people in the future.

Before I talk about what we should save from Climate Change, we should acknowledge that to even pose such a question is to recognize there is now enough widespread awareness that Climate Change is occurring on a scale and time frame that makes this question possible. It would have been considered highly speculative to bring this question up twenty years ago but now people are acting on this:

Saving Scotland’s Heritage From the Rising Seas Off the north coast of Scotland, Orkney’s soft green landscapes hold a trove of things from everyday life before history was written. More than 3,000 archaeological sites — among them standing stone circles, Norse halls and a Neolithic tomb graffitied by Vikings — have endured for millenniums, scattered across the roughly 70 islands that make up the Orkney archipelago. At Skara Brae, one of Europe’s best-preserved Stone Age villages, kitchens built around 3180 B.C. are fitted with hearths and cupboards, bedsteads and doors that could be bolted shut. Today, in forays to remote spits of land, people are working to save some of these places for posterity from the climate changes accelerated by human activity. (September 25, 2018) The New York Times [more on Climate Change in our area]

We should also acknowledge that what can we save from Climate Change may be limited. For example. we should save our coastal cities, but there may come a point when trying to keep back the seas and raising up the streets are no longer viable. In the archaeological example above, it may be more useful to photograph and create a data bank of information rather than trying to save the site itself.

As we go further into the Climate Change Bottleneck, where our past environmental abuses get cooked on a warming planet, our choices as to what we save are going to be more and more limited. We are going to need guidelines so that rich, gated communities aren’t the only things on our priority list.

We should prioritize ecosystems and the key plants and creatures that keep these systems—lakes, rivers, grasslands, forests, wetlands, coral reefs, etc.—healthy because they are the organs of our life support system.

We should be addressing Climate Change now so that as the boundaries of the bottleneck—more wildfires, more extreme weather, higher sea level rise, and less resiliency due to loss of biodiversity—close in, we aren’t simply throwing overboard the weakest, the poorest, and the least appreciated. 

Humanity has acted quite horribly when societies collapse, but we don’t have to. We can plan and act sensibly now, before things get beyond our control.  

We have some hard choices to make and these choices should be made through ethics and science. The clock has long been ticking.

Time passes. 

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. 

Monday, August 27, 2018

Rochester, NY’s Climate Vulnerability Assessment Public Input Session just in time for the City’s #RiseForClimate event

On September 8th, four days before the start of the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, California, people from across the country and around the world will be calling for renewed commitments to climate action.  People are asking for real actions to replace hollow words. These events are being held under the rubric of #RisesForClimate.

Rochester’s #RiseForClimate event is called “Rise for a Resilient Rochester” and it will be held on Saturday, September 8 at 10 AM - 12 PM at the Gathering Space at Asbury First United Methodist Church 1050 East Ave, Rochester, NY 14607. Community leaders will listen as Rochester and regional residents share personal stories of Climate Change impacts and the solutions they’d like to see.

On Wednesday, August 29th 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM at City Hall Council Chambers, 30 Church Street, 3rd floor, Rochester, NY 14614 the City of Rochester will hold the Climate Vulnerability Assessment Public Input Session, which is the next step in the City’s Climate Action Plan.

“How Vulnerable Is Our City to Climate Change? Join us to learn about our City’s Climate Vulnerability Assessment, review draft findings, and share feedback on how climate change will affect our community. For the last several years, the City has worked to lessen the impacts of climate change by creating action plans aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As a next step towards becoming more resilient, the City is seeking to understand our vulnerability so that we can better prepare for adapting to climate change.” (Climate Vulnerability Assessment Public Input Session)

The Climate Vulnerability Assessment Public Input Session by the City comes just in time to give a backdrop and legitimacy to the Rise for a Resilient Rochester” event because Climate Change is about adapting to this crisis—even here in Rochester. What are our collective vulnerabilities. How are we going to address them?

We need to give the City feedback on how climate change will affect our community at the Vulnerability Assessment session and we need to be a part of the worldwide #RiseForClimate events by going to the Rise for a Resilient Rochester event here.

Climate Change is the defining issue of our time, however inconvenient that may seem to many. We need to demonstrate that we understand and care about solutions to this crisis. 

Time passes.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Climate Change, there will be limits

Interesting essay in the New York Times recently by Dr. Erle C. Ellis called Science Alone Won’t Save the Earth. People Have to Do That: “We need to start talking about what kind of planet we want to live on.”

“The Anthropocene is not the end of our world. It's just the beginning. Collectively, we have the potential to create a much better planet than the one we are creating now. So let’s start talking about the better future we want, and less about the future we don’t. It’s about articulating values, and about sharing, fairly, the only planet we have with one another and the rest of life on earth. The planet we make will reflect the people we are. (August 11, 2018, The New York Times)

This article received a lot of comments—some hopeful, some not, some very thoughtful, some not so much, and some comments seemed to me to be spot on.

However, in my opinion, we needed to have started talking about what kind of planet we want to live on—some time ago. We can and should have that conversation now, except that science has explained quite clearly that there are now limits to the kind of planet we can have.

We cannot have a planet that won’t be having stronger hurricanes, won’t be having more wildfires, and won’t be having more torrential downpours. Each day we drag our feet and fail to address Climate Change on a scale and time frame that will matter, our choices for the planet we want are fewer. And science suggests we don’t have all the time in the world to get ‘conversing’ about Climate Change.

Science may not be the final word on solutions (especially ones that involve human behavior), but science can help humanity understand the limits, the bottlenecks, the when and where we must cut our losses.

As we go further into the Climate Change Bottleneck, where our past environmental abuses get cooked on a warming planet, there will be limits. There will be limits on development, population, and consumption. There will be limits on how much heat humanity can adapt to, especially working outside. [See “In India, Summer Heat May Soon Be Literally Unbearable,” (July 17, 2018, The New York Times)] There will be limits on how much more pollution we can put into our land, air, and water because all these features of our planet can only support life, our life, if certain restraints are kept.  

Limits is not a word humanity suffers gladly, but it would be prudent for us to plan for Climate Change, so we don’t bump up against the kind of boundaries that are non-negotiable under any circumstances.  

Time passes.