Monday, September 18, 2017

Past time to talk about Climate Change

When is the best time to talk about Climate Change? Now, after record-breaking hurricanes, before our elections, in elementary school where we start to learn about the sciences, at Thanksgiving or Christmas family gatherings, at community gatherings, over a drink at the local tavern, on social media, while driving and connected to our Smartphones, only when taking a college course on Climate Change, at a meeting where people already agree on addressing this crisis, while on a vacation or a long bike ride, at a bus stop while waiting for a bus, during a doctor visit, while walking the dog, on a date, jogging down the street with a friend, intermission at a movie or basketball game, or after every environmental emergency, every appointment, while watching a sports event, TV show, or only after every other thing has been exhausted and there’s nothing left to talk about (and even then just keeping quiet about Climate Change would be preferable)? My guess, after watching this issue unfold over the decades, is that NEVER is the answer most people would like. Of course, that would be suicidal for us and our children.

Did your media mention the Climate Change connection to Hurricanes Harvey or Irma? If not, why not? Too divisive, too much info, too boring, too wonky, too scary? (What else is your media keeping from you?)

To solve Climate Change, to plan for our future in a time frame and scale that will matter, the public needs to be engaged with this crisis. That is going to be more unlikely to happen when their media is not reporting fully on extreme weather, why these storms are getting so big, causing so much damage, and what can be done to adapt to them in a warmer world.

A Storm of Silence: Study Finds Media Is Largely Ignoring Link Between Hurricanes and Climate Change "A Storm of Silence." That’s the title of a new report by the watchdog group Public Citizen that looks at the media’s failure to discuss climate change in its wall-to-wall hurricane coverage. While all the television networks commented on the magnitude of Hurricane Harvey and "extreme weather," virtually none explained how warmer ocean temperatures lead to heavier winds, warmer air causes more precipitation, and higher sea levels exacerbate storm surges. The report examined 18 media sources’ coverage of Hurricane Harvey—looking at 10 major newspapers, three weekly news magazines and national programming from ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and Fox News over the course of eight days’ worth of Hurricane Harvey coverage. The report concludes, "Many failed to discuss the issue [of climate change] much or failed to cover important aspects of it. ... Two of the three major broadcast networks, ABC and NBC, did not mention climate change at all in the context of Hurricane Harvey." We speak to David Arkush, managing director of Public Citizen’s Climate Program. (September 12, 2017) Democracy Now! [more on Climate Change in our area]

The Miami Herald pushed back only a teeny-weeny bit against the Trump version of science (‘We’ve had bigger storms than this”) when they said,

However, some scientists have found that the effects of global warming — namely warmer oceans and hotter air — can intensify hurricane formation and result in higher rainfall, though just how much those factors might affect the storms remains uncertain. Higher sea levels can contribute to more devastating storm surge. (Irma doesn’t persuade Trump on climate change: ‘We’ve had bigger storms than this’, September 14, 2017) Miami Herald [more on Climate Change in our area]

“Some scientists”? Really? Does the characterization of 98% of the world’s scientists constitute “some scientists”? Could the Miami Herald sound more equivocal on the science behind Climate Change?

Would our media have covered the recent record-breaking hurricanes and the Climate Change connection better if we had not plunked a climate denier into the top office? If we had voted into office a responsible leader who acknowledged the importance of science, would the US mainstream media have stood up against climate denial? We’ll never know because some things cannot be undone and time is running out on addressing Climate Change.  

We Americans tried silence on the slavery issue, where only the very brave spoke up against greatest evil our country ever perpetrated. But by 1861 the awful quiet that condemned millions to a horrific existence became impossible. The actions of those who thought slavery evil and the reactions of those who thought it was a good idea grew more hostile until a great (not in a good way) Civil War broke out.

What if our forefathers had decided that indeed “… all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”? We hushed the prospects of a real discussion on Freedom because we thought we couldn’t form a country without the evil silence. If we knew what would ensue, would we have tried something other than silence?

Being silent on slavery and Climate Change are both morally reprehensible. But Climate Change has the added punch of dire physical consequences if we don’t act. Silence ruined millions of lives with slavery. Climate Change may tip our environment past our ability to right it.

What will be the most likely outcomes of climate silence?
  • Untold billions of lives lost and ruined because a planet allowed to get too hot
  • We’ll put more climate deniers into top political offices because we won’t challenge their science, making it less likely we’ll adapt
  • The public will be lulled into thinking there are other priorities more important than this existential crisis and so we will continue to kick the can down the road
  • We’ll keep developing and redeveloping destroyed property from extreme weather until our insurance companies and the insurer of last resort (our federal government) can no longer afford it.
  • Our media will really become ‘fake media’ as it distances itself from science.
  • Perhaps, like with slavery, the tensions between those who think we must address Climate Change and those who don’t want to talk about it will escalate. But, unlike the differences between the slave states and the non-slave states, we won’t be able to cordon ourselves off from each other. We may not be one on Climate Change, but Earth is one life system that affects us all.

We’re going to address Climate Change in time or not.  

This statement by the Miami mayor seems a reasonable response to the recent spate of record-breaking hurricanes in the USA:

Miami Mayor To Donald Trump: It’s Time To Talk About Climate Change As Hurricane Irma forces millions to evacuate, Mayor Tom├ís Regalado says: “If this isn’t climate change, I don’t know what is.” (September 9, 2017, Huffington Post)

Time passes. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Is Rochester ready for Harvey?

Climate Change is complicated. It can and does contain so many consequences (some known and who knows how many unknowns?) that we won’t be able to prepare for all of them. This tragic case is further exasperated by the climate denial meme that turns our innate ability to imagine adaptation solutions upside-down. Instead of doing what our species does best, adapt to changing conditions, and maybe in the process become a better and more just species, we are still pushing back against the very science that proves Climate Change.

What’s been normal for humanity is to try and understand the nature of disasters and plan for avoiding or dealing with them. To do so in this worldwide crisis, we need as much information as possible and many minds engaged in working out just what this man-made climate change means.  

Climate Change is more than protecting ourselves against the most striking forms of this change, flooding, and wildfires. It is the infinite vicissitudes that come with the interactions among Earth’s natural ecosystems, man’s built environment, past environmental pollution, and the rapid introduction of all that trapped energy from the Sun. Granted, we cannot prepare for every climate scenario, including stuff we don’t know about yet, but we should be able to prepare for the most obvious and the worse.

As many climate activists watch the tragedy playing out in Houston, we are reminded of similar disasters in the USA: Hurricanes Katrine and Sandy. They were most likely amplified by warming waters fueling more violent storms in heavily populated regions.

Hurricane Harvey, the latest US climate disaster, is playing out as one would expect in the presence of rampant sprawl, inadequate infrastructure preparation, and decades of insufficient climate action caused by climate denial. Even now, with the climate-denying Trump administration providing federal emergency help in Houston, the public is getting a mixed message. The message that this disaster was Climate-Change related and begs for adequate planning in all our vulnerable regions is scorned by this administration.  

Besides pulling the rug from under the National Climate Assessment, Trump’s wrong-headed ideology is quietly at work undermining our ability to adapt to Climate Change:

Trump reversed regulations to protect infrastructure against flooding just days before Hurricane Harvey Ten days before Hurricane Harvey descended upon Texas on Friday, wreaking havoc and causing widespread flooding, President Donald Trump signed an executive order revoking a set of regulations that would have made federally funded infrastructure less vulnerable to flooding. The Obama-era rules, which had not yet gone into effect, would have required the federal government to take into account the risk of flooding and sea-level rise as a result of climate change when constructing new infrastructure and rebuilding after disasters. Experts are predicting that Harvey — the most powerful storm to hit the US since 2004 — will cost Texas between $30 billion and $100 billion in damage. (August 28, 2017) Business Insider [more on Climate Change in our area]

We must ask ourselves: was Houston’s infrastructure adequately prepared for the predictions of climate science? In a region that gets large hurricanes and with Climate Change amplifying those storms, it would have been prudent to prepared the public and their infrastructures for the kind of deluge Hurricane Harvey brought.

Rochester’s rainfall is nowhere near the amount that Houston gets, but still, remembering last spring, we can get a lot of heavy rainfall that causes a lot of flooding—causing shoreline property damage and health problems when waste water treatment plants overflow. For us, this kind of rainfall is the most obvious consequence of Climate Change—though there are many others that affect us here.

Towards adapting to more heavy rains in our region, I found this joint effort by Monroe County and the City to contain our storm waters in the City’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) hopeful:

(NOAA) partnered to develop a Green Infrastructure Retrofit Manual, which focuses on green infrastructure design in our region that addresses water quality, flood prevention, air quality, habitat and wildlife, health and wellness, as well as climate resiliency. The manual will include guidance for design, construction, operation and maintenance of green infrastructure retrofit techniques. Design standards for green infrastructure practices include tree planting, porous pavement, bioretention facilities, rain gardens, green roofs, and retrofits for existing nongreen infrastructure facilities (such as drainage ponds). Operation and maintenance guidance will address inspection techniques, schedules, and performance monitoring. (page 47, CAP)

Check out this level of cooperation in the Green Infrastructure Retrofit Manual on a mutual problem that relates to Climate Change adaptation in our region:

Monroe County and the City of Rochester have been proactive in addressing flooding problems. Officials employed nature-based solutions, including bioswales, permeable sidewalks, and green roofs, using these projects as opportunities to test techniques, build skills, and get buy-in to support more use of green infrastructure. (PEER-TO-PEER CASE STUDY: MONROE COUNTY, NEW YORK Designing Green Infrastructure Standards For Retrofits)

This joint effort to prevent flooding problems is just one hopeful sign that we are finally acknowledging the problem of heavy rainfall (though Monroe County still has trouble saying, ‘Climate Change’). But there’s a lot more we need to do to educate the public and get all the communities around the Great Lakes Basin to prevent raw sewage overflows into the same ecosystem where we get our drinking water. And there are many more likely changes coming to our region because of Climate Change that will we have to address soon enough.
Because we have dragged our feet so long on addressing Climate Change, we have stored up a lot of heat (energy) in our atmosphere and oceans. All that must play out in the coming years, where we will have to adapt even if we go 100% renewable energy and stop all further manmade greenhouse gas emissions. A species adapts or perishes, as billions before us have done for billions of years.

We have a lot to do and a lot to learn about what Climate Change actually means to us and the planet we live on. The least we should expect from ourselves and our government, even as we continue to argue about or ignore the hard science behind this self-inflicted crisis, is that we prepare for the most obvious disasters. Containing our waters as they increase and threaten our water quality and our now critical infrastructures is first and foremost for our region.
In the near future, we will have to prepare for events humanity has never experienced before (like what’s happening in the Caribbean “Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 Hurricane, Makes Landfall in Caribbean”, (9/6/2017 New York Times).  

If your community (like Rochester, Irondequoit, Brighton, and Brockport in Monroe County) is part of New York State’s Climate Smart Communities program, they’d be getting more information how to prevent local flooding in a time of Climate Change.

Sept.14 Webinar: Building Flood Resiliency at the Local Level Building Flood Resiliency at the Local Level A Climate Smart Communities Webinar, Thursday, September 14, 2017 at 10:30 AM - 12:00 PM,The frequency of heavy downpours in the Northeast U.S. increased by 71 percent between 1958 and 2012. The costs associated with flood damage are rising across the nation and in New York State. Local governments have a key role in protecting their communities against flooding. In this webinar, participants will learn about how one New York town lowered its flood insurance premium rates by participating in the federal Community Rating System. Speakers will also discuss community flood resiliency in general and a project in Monroe County that is seeking to reduce flood-related problems, in partnership with the Genesee/Finger Lakes Regional Planning Council and The Nature Conservancy. (September 7, 2017 New York State Department of Environmental Conservation)

Rochester may not have to prepare for a Hurricane Harvey anytime soon. But keeping our region healthy as our climate warms should be keeping us busy enough.

Time passes. 

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Rochester’s Climate Change political forums likely to be the new normal

Missed the “Candidates Talk Climate: Mayoral Primary Forum” that focused exclusively on Climate Change for Rochester NY? Go here Democratic Primary for Rochester Mayor Forum 2017 to see that August 30th forum. This event was sponsored by Rochester People's Climate Coalition (RPCC) and League of Women Voters. It was a historic moment where candidates for the mayor of Rochester answered only questions on how they would address Climate Change in our city.

A climate-only political forum is a rarity. The RPCC hosted a similar forum a couple of years ago, when one of the races included the Monroe County Executive race. But this kind of forum may turn out to be the new normal for political debates as our way of life becomes inundated by the consequences of Climate Change. Our society’s approach to Climate Change resembles the drug addict who, as their addiction mounts, finds that all their problems have become one great big unavoidable problem.

Someday the problems resulting from a warming world will be what our politicians and candidates will be talking about, regardless of the amount of dark money trying to steer public attention away from this issue, and regardless of how various ideologies want to frame this issue.  Like Hurricane Harvey, it will be in our face, in our water, and ever more relentlessly trying to wash us away.

What I got from this forum is a sense of accountability. It’s very refreshing to hear candidates having to shape their answers around the prevailing science of the day, instead of the insanely moronic political maneuverings shaped by the Trump administration in order to continue their business as usual.

Our local leaders must protect their citizens and our infrastructures from the local consequences of Climate Change. It’s their job. We must make sure that our leaders are preparing for the extreme weather that comes with quickly warming a planet—such as Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, and now Hurricane Harvey. (There are many more such events around the world, creating far more damage and loss of life, but unless you look for them in non-US media, you are unlikely to hear about them.)

At the forum, it was great to hear so many questions (many of them stimulated by the City’s Climate Action Plan) about a matter that hasn’t receive the respect it deserves. We still aren’t at the point where we choose our leaders based on their positions on addressing Climate Change. Ironically, our reluctance to do so makes it all the more likely that we’ll be prioritizing this issue sooner rather than later. Science has a way of being right however infuriating that is.

Great praise is in order for both the RPCC and the League of Women Voters for hosting this forum.

Out of the many possibilities that our future affords us, there are none where our planet doesn’t warm and greatly influence our lives. The sooner we get our politics in line with reality, the better prepared we’ll be.

Time passes. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Delusional approaches to solving Climate Change problems in the Rochester region

Impacts to the Great Lakes. Lake ecosystems will also be affected by the changing climate. Warmer temperatures may cause more algal blooms, which can harm fish and degrade water quality. If severe storms become more frequent, then sewer overflows will become more frequent, and more pollutants are likely to run off from the land into the Great Lakes, which could threaten water supplies and require recreational beaches to be closed more often for health reasons (Page, 4, What Climate Change Means for Upstate New York, Rochester’s Climate Action Plan)

It isn’t just the flooding

Some of us in the Northeast are often astonished when we read stories about continual flooding in Southeast coastal cities and, despite all evidence, state agencies are discouraged from using ‘Climate Change’ when planning for damaging sea level rise.

The Republican-controlled state legislature drew ridicule in 2012 for attempting to “outlaw” climate change by prohibiting state agencies from planning for sea-level rise. In this year’s election, which includes a close governor’s race, the subject is so contentious that climate change barely comes up, if at all. (Scientist Goes It Alone on Climate Change to Save His State, 10/28/2016 National Geographic)

This thinking is befuddling and creates delusional planning because the oceans are rising, our water quality is diminishing, and flooding is occurring faster than ever before.

Flooding of Coast, Caused by Global Warming, Has Already Begun Scientists’ warnings that the rise of the sea would eventually imperil the United States’ coastline are no longer theoretical. Yet Congress has largely ignored these pleas, and has even tried to block plans by the military to head off future problems at the numerous bases imperiled by a rising sea. A Republican congressman from Colorado, Ken Buck, recently called one military proposal part of a “radical climate change agenda. ”The gridlock in Washington means the United States lacks not only a broad national policy on sea-level rise, it has something close to the opposite: The federal government spends billions of taxpayer dollars in ways that add to the risks, by subsidizing local governments and homeowners who build in imperiled locations along the coast. (September 3, 2016 New York Times)

The same kind of denial is happening here in the Rochester area with the rise of flooding (71% since 1958) and untreated sewage releases, while more lakes are producing harmful algae blooms. Even so, these issues are not being characterized in the media, which is to say communicated to the public, as the consequences of Climate Change. If Climate Change was mentioned at this meeting on the proliferation of blue green algae in “the list of now 60 waterways” the press didn’t mention it.  

Pooling resources against algae An event Wednesday in Geneva focused on protecting water quality from blue green algae Keuka Lake became one of the latest Finger Lakes this summer to fall victim to harmful blue green algae. While some beaches on that lake were reopened within a few days, on Aug. 9, after health officials deemed them safe, the threat remains on Keuka and other waterways statewide. So far this summer, Canandaigua hasn’t joined the list of now 60 waterways — including Honeoye Lake — affected statewide by blue green algae. Harmful algae blooms can be deadly to animals and harmful to humans, causing vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, allergic reactions or difficulty breathing. (August 10, 2017) Daily Messenger [more on Water Quality in our area]

You cannot solve sewage problems, algae problems, or flooding problems if you are constantly having to convince yourself that Climate Change is a hoax. We are squandering away too much time and energy trying to appease climate deniers.  As a result, we are trying to address Climate Change problems by focusing only on the symptoms. It’s delusional. It’s like trying to stop lung cancer with a cough suppressant.

As of today, the EPA has this factsheet posted: “Impacts of Climate Change on the Occurrence of Harmful Algal Blooms” (You should probably download and keep this document before the Pruitt EPA removes it. Just saying …)

Climate change is affecting everything in the Great Lakes basin

Climate Change is affecting every aspect of the Great Lakes, which means all communities in this largest of freshwater basins (which includes Rochester and Monroe County) must work together for solutions. Problems around rising surface temperatures, water quality, precipitation, extreme weather, harmful algae blooms, fish and wildlife, ice coverage, water levels, tourism, shipping and recreation, and much more are being amplified and accelerated by Climate Change. Our media, our politics and elections, our planning for the future, and our jobs should all reflect the relationship between Climate Change and the largest freshwater system in the world.

How is climate change affecting the Great Lakes? Across the globe, climate change is increasing temperatures, spurring on extreme weather, harming ecosystems and raising sea levels. But what does it mean for the Great Lakes? For the 30 million Americans and Canadians who live in the Great Lakes basin, climate change, primarily attributed to human activities increasing greenhouse gas emissions, is a real threat to the home of 84 percent of North America’s surface fresh water. Rising temperatures could lower water levels in the lakes, intensify harmful algal blooms and threaten fish and wildlife. Here’s what the research says about how the globe's shifting climate affects these vast bodies of water in terms of temperature, precipitation, extreme weather, water quality and harmful algal blooms, fish and wildlife, ice coverage, water levels, shipping, tourism and recreation. (August 15, 2017) [more on Great Lakes and Climate Change in our area]

Sewage into our drinking water

Climate Change in our Rochester region is bringing more heavy rains, which causes more flooding, and which in turn causes more raw sewage to flow into our waters. Our region and all communities in the Great Lakes basin must get together and help fortify all our sewage systems so that they don’t overflow raw sewage as more heavy rains come. And more flooding is coming. We must plan; we must plan together to address Climate Change. This sewage issue and flooding are the most salient ways we in this region are experiencing the consequences of Climate Change. We should not dismiss the climate denial in other regions, if we cannot face the problem ourselves.  

Spring rain caused severe sewage overflows in Lake Ontario This spring's heavy rains caused record-breaking flooding along Lake Ontario's shoreline. But what happened to the lake itself? New data from U.S. and Canadian cities shows that the rain pushed millions of gallons of raw sewage into the lake. This spring's heavy rain in the Lake Ontario region had quite an impact on homeowners, but it also affected the water offshore. The rainfall overwhelmed sewage systems in cities around the lake, and pushed millions of gallons of raw sewage into the water. Mike Garland is director of environmental services for Rochester and the rest of Monroe County, NY, which means he's in charge of showing off the county's wastewater treatment center. “It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it,” he says, as he walks through the center. Garland says this facility treats about 100 million gallons of sewage per day. Most days, everything works as it should, and no untreated sewage winds up in Lake Ontario. (August 14, 2017) North Country Public Radio [more on Climate Change, Water Quality and Great Lakes in our area]

Algae increasing

In a warmer world, we are likely to see a more 'perpetually toxic lake', which are the dickens to recover from. We need to address Climate Change now so our lakes don’t become toxic.

“Lake Neatahwanta illustrates the increasing frequency of blue-green algae in a warmer world, and how hard it is to get rid of harmful blooms once they're established. Local and state officials have been working on a multi-pronged plan since 1991 to clean up the lake and finally re-open a beach. It's a long, expensive process with no guarantee of success.” (Can a 'perpetually toxic lake' in Upstate NY be made swimmable again? (August 10, 2017) [more on Water Quality in our area]

Recently, there are troubling signs of algae in Rochester’s water supply:

Blue-green algae found again in Rochester water supply Potentially toxic blue-green algae turned up in one of the lakes that provide drinking water to the city of Rochester for the second time this summer. Like the first discovery, this one did not result in any impact whatsoever on city drinking water. But to be safe, the city is continuing enhanced surveillance of the two lakes from which it draws water. The bloom in Canadice Lake, discovered Aug. 1, released no toxin and dissipated later the same day it was found, city and New York state officials said. "Rochester water customers should have no concern," said Patricia Bedard, the city's manager of water production. (August 22, 2017) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle [more on Water Quality in our area]

(BTW: isn’t this code for Climate Change “With algal blooms becoming more and more commonplace in New York and other states …”)

Solutions that are not delusional

We are seeing Climate Change in our region, as in other regions. But because our media’s inconsistency in connecting effect to cause, too many people in our region don’t appreciate the certainty and the urgency behind this existential problem. It’s time for our media to explain how all regions of the world are warming up, our local environments in particular.  

There are solutions to addressing Climate Change in our region that aren’t delusional. They are based on how likely they are to address the problem; not how unlikely they are to inconvenience those in climate denial.
  • ·         Reduce the amount of water that runs into our sewers so they don’t overflow. This can be done with rain barrels, more green spaces, green roofs, and reducing impervious surfaces (like great big parking lots).  
  • ·         Work with other communities around the Great Lakes basin because we are all in this together—and with Rochester being at the end of the Great Lakes system, we get other communities’ waste too.
  • ·         Have discussions with our candidates about making sure they’re dealing with a warming world. Check this out: “Candidates Talk Climate: Mayoral Primary Forum” Wednesday, August 30 at 6:30 PM - 8 PM | Kate Gleason Auditorium, Central Library of Rochester, 115 South Ave. 14604.
  • ·         Contact your media and government officials and challenge them when they do not integrate Climate Change into information about increased sewage in our waters, more flooding, and more of our lakes getting nailed by blue-green algae.

Read the City’s Climate Action Plan (CAP). Talk about it with your family, friends, and groups you are associated with. Check out solutions in the CAP and see what you and your groups can do to help.  
Time passes.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Greenhouse Gas Inventory results in Rochester, NY and beyond

Greenhouse Gas Inventory Results | The inventoried emissions within the City of Rochester jurisdictional boundaries for all activities and sources listed above totaled 2.8 million MTCO2e in 2014. For purposes of the CAP, large emitters, other fuels, and airline travel emissions were removed from the inventory due to the limited opportunity to be easily impacted or directly influenced through traditional community climate action strategies. (Large emitters are facilities that emit more than 25,000 MTCO2e per year; these facilities report to the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program3.) After this adjustment, the City of Rochester total GHG emissions were 1.8 million MTCO2e in 2014, which is the factor used throughout the CAP for goal setting and development of strategies. This is equivalent to 380,000 passenger vehicles being driven in any given year or the energy used by 190,000 homes for one year4. (Page 20, Rochester Climate Action Plan)

Figuring out how much greenhouse gasses (GHGs) a community like Rochester emits into our atmosphere is no easy task. Everyone in the community, including governmental operations (vehicles, buildings, etc.), businesses, schools, individuals, and even Nature itself is spewing what is now too much of a good thing.

How do you tally all that up? How do you distinguish natural GHG emissions from manmade ones (read on)? How does the government itself monitor and control their GHGs? How do you get businesses to record all their GHGs, not just the ones they will agree to publicize? How do you get the public to send their data to a place where their GHG emissions can be recorded? (Spoiler alert, except through some voluntary apps, this scenario is very unlikely to happen.)  And how, for goodness sake, do you get the Trump administration to even acknowledge the emissions from hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are “about 1,000 to 12,000 times as potent as carbon dioxide, depending on the specific chemicals used to make HFCs.” (Court Scuttles Rule Cutting Potent Greenhouse Gas, August 9, 2017 Climate Central)

Much of how data was compiled for Rochester’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) is explained in the plan and much of that is ‘based on available data’. This is normal, especially for a city like Rochester that is just starting its CAP. For places like Portland, Oregon, who’ve been working on their CAP for over twenty years, they have lots of historical data.

On a world scale, accumulating comprehensive and accurate GHG data is complicated indeed:

'Dodgy' greenhouse gas data threatens Paris accord Potent, climate-warming gases are being emitted into the atmosphere but are not being recorded in official inventories, a BBC investigation has found. (August 8, 2017, BBC News)

There are more sources for GHGs and even more kinds of them than we ever thought. For example, these new HFC refrigerants (mentioned above) are thousands of times more potent than good ole carbon dioxide.

As noted, some experts are concerned that data collection itself is so haphazard that it might undermine the Paris Accord—even more than Trump has undermined it. (That would be a nice excuse for Trump pulling out of the accord wouldn’t it?)

So, what to do? The world really does need a way to verify what has been promised in the Paris Accord (not to mention actually lowering all GHG emissions); therefore, we need a way to do the collecting. In developing nations, they often do not have the equipment or know-how to access all their GHG emissions. In developed nations (like the US) there may not be a desire to share all that information.

But science offers a way around many of the political and ideological hindrances for a more complete and accurate monitoring of global GHGs. 

Inside the Quest to Monitor Countries’ CO2 Emissions The world needs a way to verify that nations have made their promised carbon cuts in order to make the Paris agreement effective (February 28, 2017, Scientific American)

Imagine a thought experiment where scientists have developed a satellite system that would monitor GHG emissions from every source on earth—and distinguish between natural and manmade emissions. (See below.)

“As a graduate student in 1978, [we] helped develop a breakthrough that could allow verification to happen. It involves a tracer, a carbon isotope called C-14, that is present in natural emissions of CO2 from plants and animals. It is not present in emissions that result from the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil products and natural gas, that have been stored underground for millions of years. Tests of air samples collected regularly from sensors on commercial aircraft would provide accurate measures of any depletion of C-14 caused by recent emissions from fossil fuels.” (February 28, 2017, Scientific American)

Such an eye-in-the-sky monitoring system could provide humanity with critical feedback on how our efforts at curbing GHGs are going. You couldn’t cheat, or lie, or hide, or fudge the data because a system of worldwide data would measure exactly what was entering our atmosphere from every single location. Probably even locations and sources we haven’t discovered yet.

Humanity has been focusing on the large GHGs emitters but our rising temperatures may also be caused by the accumulated emissions from myriad small sources who don’t have to report their emissions, from secret, illegal operations our authorities cannot catch, and even from something so ubiquitous and seemingly innocuous as our backyard barbeques.  

Of course, even if my thought experiment were possible, it would not be simple to gather all GHG emissions. Nations, businesses, and individuals would create such a hue and cry over this invasive technology that it would probably never get off the ground. Much of the problem with addressing Climate Change is that we know what to do but we don’t want to do it. A large part of push against addressing Climate Change has been orchestrated by those who know the scale and urgency at which we need to change business as usual and don’t want that to happen. Bad players protecting their own immediate self-interests in the face of an existential crisis has presented the rest of us our most difficult challenge for a sustainable future.

This doesn’t mean it wouldn’t eventually happen, though. Humanity isn’t very good at suppressing the use of knowledge or technology once we’ve acquired it. (The nuclear genie is not going back in the box. Drones, however obnoxious and dangerous, aren’t going away either.)

Because we will be seeing more efforts to curb our GHGs and at the same time noticing that our concentrations are still continuing to climb, it is more likely as time goes on that we’ll eventually adopt some version of this satellite program. When things get really hot, we’ll not be so squeamish about exposing each other’s GHG emissions. When things get really hot, we are going to abandon many of our cherished ideas about the good life because we’ll be scrambling just to survive. But, given our inertia on Climate Change, it is also likely that by the time we get to this point, it may be too late to stop many of the worst consequences of Climate Change.

Time passes. 

Monday, August 07, 2017

How sensitive is Rochester to Climate Change?

“The best available climate science and supporting research indicate that the key climate stressors for Rochester are warmer summers, increasing storms, warmer waters, colder winters, and increasing drought.” (Page 24, Rochester’s Climate Action Plan)

Scientists have been telling us for some time now that our climate system is very sensitive to energy input. Trapping more energy (heat) from the sun with our greenhouse gas emissions from the mid-1800’s has already produced unprecedented wildfires, floods, and extreme weather around the world. Even if we stop emitting more of these emissions right now, we are still likely to overshoot the Paris Accord goal of 2C by the end of this century. This will make us very vulnerable.

EARTH WILL WARM TWO DEGREES THIS CENTURY, SCIENTISTS PREDICT Researchers have confirmed that Earth is likely to warm by more than 2 degrees by the end of the century, an increase often cited as a “tipping point” by climate scientists—and one that people should try to avoid by limiting greenhouse gas emissions. In findings published Monday in Nature Climate Change, University of Washington researchers show a 90 percent chance that temperatures will have increased by 3.6 to 8.8 degrees Fahrenheit (2.0 to 4.9 degrees Celsius) by the end of the 21st century. Using statistical projections based on 50 years’ worth of past data in countries around the world, they found just a 5 percent chance that Earth will warm by 2 degrees or less in the next eight decades. As far as staying within the target set by the 2016 Paris agreement—an increase of 1.5 degrees or less—the researchers put the chances of that becoming a reality at a mere 1 percent. (July 31, 2017) Newsweek [more on Climate Change in our area]  

Like our planet, our bodies are sensitive to heat, making us vulnerable outside a relatively narrow range of temperatures. Although over the span of our specie’s existence we have learned to tolerate an incredible range of discomfort due to the weather through clothing and shelter, mostly we don’t tolerate temperatures that are too hot or too cold.

As we encounter Climate Change, we are learning that we may have actual limits on how much heat our body’s air conditioning system can handle. It looks as though 95F at 90% humidity might be our limit. (Or, because it’s a sliding scale, 100F at 85%.) This means that even if you’re fit, shaded, and in an area well ventilated, heat can kill.

Heat Waves Creeping Toward Deadly Heat-Humidity Threshold As global temperatures rise, river valleys in South Asia will face the highest risk of heat waves that reach the limits of human survivability, a new study shows. If global warming continues on its current pace, heat waves in South Asia will begin to create conditions so hot and humid that humans cannot survive outdoors for long, a new study shows. The deadly heat would threaten millions of vulnerable people in some of the world's most densely populated regions in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh—low-lying river valleys that produce most of the region's food. About 1.5 billion people live in the crescent-shaped region identified as the highest-risk area in a new study by scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. The researchers combined global and detailed regional climate models to show where the most extreme conditions are expected by the end of this century. The researchers focused on a key human survivability threshold first identified in a 2010 study, when U.S. and Australian researchers showed there is an upper limit to humans' capacity to adapt to global warming. That limit is expressed as a wet-bulb temperature, which measures the combination of heat and humidity for an index of physical human misery. When the wet-bulb temperature goes above 35 degrees Celsius, the body can't cool itself and humans can only survive for a few hours, the exact length of time being determined by individual physiology. (August 2, 2017) Inside Climate News[more on Climate Change in our area]

For those of us living in Rochester, we are unlikely to be experiencing these kinds of temperatures soon. But what about the future?

Measuring Rochester’s sensitivity to Climate Change

Rochester’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) explains how we measure our sensitivity to various Climate Change scenarios and the degree to which various situations leave us vulnerable.

If an exposure is determined to have a high sensitivity and a low adaptive capacity, the vulnerability for that exposure would be high .... Whereas, if the adaptive capacity for that same exposure were to have a high sensitivity but low adaptive capacity, the vulnerability would be high. (See Table 3: Climate Vulnerabilities for City of Rochester, page 25 CAP)

The city of Rochester’s vulnerability is high if the Climate Change impact is increased infrastructure maintenance, increased infrastructure disruptions due to extreme weather events, decreased food production, increased crop loss, higher intensity of heating and cooling degree days, increased diseased concerns, air quality impacts on health, and loss of winter recreation activities. Our vulnerability is low if we only experience increased water demand and cost, increased pollutant toxicity, and a longer composing season. (Page 25, CAP)

Caution: level of vulnerability matrixes includes inherent moral hazards

While it is necessary for our authorities and institutions to present their stakeholders (other groups and even the public) with possible climate vulnerabilities, there is an inherent moral hazard when we try to quantify environmental service cost/benefits, in general or in the specific case of Rochester. First, the public (who has not examined this crisis in depth) tend to think that the list of vulnerabilities is exhaustive. That is, because we need actionable items that aren’t overwhelming (financially and psychologically), we tend to act as if we’ve captured all the possible vulnerabilities that warming up our climate will have on our region. As a result, we decide which on the list to worry about and act accordingly. But we might have missed many of the things that put us at risk. Many times, we miss vulnerabilities because we don’t know how to quantify them—for example, soil degradation and ecosystem health -- so we leave them off. In other words, there’s an inherent moral hazard with vulnerability matrixes because we may be deluding ourselves into a dangerous complacency. Just because we don’t have data on environmental problems doesn’t mean they don’t exist.  

Another issue with attempts to quantify Climate Change vulnerabilities is that our environmental records don’t go back very far. When our ancestors came to this region, they did not do a baseline study of what an undisturbed environment looks like—before they started changing it. They did not understand ecological health as they ‘tamed’ our lands and seas in their pursuit of progress. Some of our oldest records are with ice coverage dates on some lakes—how early the ice came and how long it stayed before melting in the spring. But even these aren’t very old. This is to say, even our most comprehensive plans to assess our sensitivity to Climate Change disruptions is probably going to be missing critical information. (We tend see our environment as it serves our needs, not how it operates independently of us.)

Also, because these matrixes are worked up for specific regions, we tend to forget how the actions or inactions of other communities, nearby or further flung, will impact our ability to measure our own vulnerabilities. (For example, if everyone in Rochester dramatically reduced their greenhouse gas emissions and the surrounding Monroe County resumes business as usual, what we do may not have much overall effect.) Our political boundaries may be specific, but our environmental boundaries are always planet-wide.  

This doesn’t mean that it’s hopeless working with local vulnerability matrixes; it means we need to get Monroe County, all of New York’s Counties, our nation, and other nations working together if we are going to characterize this crisis correctly.  

We don’t really know how sensitive Rochester is to Climate Change

We’ve never been through a phenomenon like Climate Change. Although we may not know exactly how sensitive Rochester is to Climate Change, we know enough to know that it’s important that we get moving. Addressing Climate Change is likely to be more challenging than our best laid plans predict. But, given our capacity for adaptation, we are more likely to rise to those challenges once we begin the journey towards a sustainable future.

One thing is for sure. If we ignore responsible community action plans like Rochester’s CAP and continue business as usual, all those other things we want for ourselves and our children probably won’t happen.

Time passes.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Electric buses and bike share help Rochester address Climate Change

Studies have shown that climate action leads to economic opportunity. In fact, 91 percent of the 110 global cities tracked by the Carbon Disclosure Project and the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group state that climate action created economic opportunities, thus making cities more attractive for businesses, largely in the sectors related to energy efficiency and the development of non-motorized transportation infrastructure. (Page 6, Rochester, NY’s Climate Action Plan)

At the national level, transportation accounts for 27% of our greenhouse gas emissions. At the local level (Rochester, NY), it’s at 24%, which is a drop of 7% since 2010, where “this decrease is correlated with a reduction in employment in the region (and attributed, in part, to improved vehicle efficiency.” (Page 21, Rochester, NY’s Climate Action Plan)

We are seeing two opportunities to advance clean transportation in Rochester:

Rochester, NY is getting five electric buses. This “puts Rochester in the lead on electric buses in New York” (see below). This will help curb greenhouse gas emissions especially when our grid goes green.

RTS adding electric buses to its fleet The half-rumbling, half-whirring grind of a diesel bus is unmistakable. For a lot of Rochesterians, it’s the sound of public transit. But the next era of RTS buses could be much quieter and cleaner. The transit agency plans to begin a process for buying five electric buses in the late summer or early fall, says spokesperson Tom Brede. RTS received a $5 million award from the state in April to help pay for the vehicles, which would could be in service by the end of 2019 and would replace diesel buses. RTS will also have to install charging stations to serve the buses. (July 26, 2017) Rochester City Newspaper [more on Transportation in our area]

We are also making a big jump on bike-sharing. “…with about 340 bikes at 46 stations”, the City’s ROCHESTER BIKE SHARE is no small thing:

Curious about Rochester bike-sharing? Here's our review It's been less than a week since Rochester's bicycle-sharing program, via a partnership with the company Zagster, was opened to the public. It works basically the same here as similar programsin dozens of other cities: bikes are stored at pick-up stations around town. Once you're there, you go through the check-out procedure and have a simple but reliable bicycle at your disposal. I do a lot of cycling, both recreationally and commuting to work, and I've used bike-share programs elsewhere, so I was interested to see how it worked here. Videographer Olivia Lopez and I spent Monday morning on the roads, testing the bikes, the Zagster app and the city's biking infrastructure. (July 24, 2017) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle [more on Transportation in our area]

There are many advantages to increasing bicycling and electric buses in Rochester. Active transportation (walking and bicycling) improvements will make us healthier, and electric buses are quieter and emit none of those smelly fumes we often associate with public transportation. 

But, it is also important to frame these advances in local transportation in the context of Climate Change. My experience (former chair of Rochester Sierra Club’s transportation committee) is that those advocating active transportation and better public transportation tend to downplay the role of Climate Change, when it should be the overarching priority. In previous years, many people were concerned that discussing Climate Change when encouraging the public to walk, bike, and use public transportation for short distances would decrease the likelihood that the public would show up to our demonstration rides or programs. I guess active transit promoters believe that mentioning Climate Change in any context is a turnoff. Advocates would rather highlight all the other advantages of these green transportation options (they’re fun, they’re inexpensive, they’re healthy, they’re what younger and older generations want now, and they’re a great way to socialize), than raise the specter of Climate Change.  Instead, advocates seem compelled to raise the public’s enthusiasm for the really exciting possibilities of our new transportation options, including electric cars, high-speed rail, trollies, bus rapid transit, and those beer-drinking-peddling-tavern whatchamacallits roaming around our city.

Wrong strategy

Messaging better transportation options by ignoring the elephant in the room is the wrong strategy. One of the consequences of this approach is landing a climate denier in the oval office. Communicators failed to bake in a warming world when talking about our future with the public.
Too many people are still trying to frame Climate Change so it won’t appear dire or inconvenient. The message seems to be that addressing Climate Change will just be a hopeful time of transition along the way to prosperity.

But we won’t prosper, or survive for that matter, if we don’t prioritize addressing Climate Change on a scale and timeframe that will matter. Part of the problem in communicating Climate Change is correctly characterizing what it is. It isn’t just a new warming trend that we’ve created where some folks will get warmer. It is a situation where we have amplified all our past environmental problems—pollution, overconsumption, ecosystems degradation, loss of biodiversity—and accelerated the pace of catastrophic collapse. We will not overcome this crisis with business as usual but just a little better and efficient than before. Every aspect of Climate Change must be communicated to the public—including the awful stuff. Not to frighten, but to warn against inaction during a time when the window of opportunity is closing.

Right strategy

We should be understanding our future transportation needs through the lens of Climate Change. Not just quietly mentioning that, oh, by the way, another plus of our new transportation options will be to reduce greenhouse gases, secretly hoping the public becomes informed about the importance of updating our transportation infrastructures that help us address Climate Change.
Our transportation choices must be orchestrated within our collective need to address Climate Change; the way we move about both causes warming and provides a real solution for this crisis. The City’s Climate Action Plan, and many other communities’ plans, (including the federal government before Trump), communicated this effectively without pandering to the public’s will not to believe.

At some point along this continuum of man-made warming, there will be a much sharper focus on transportation because we will be scrambling for ways to cut our losses. Getting us out of our gas-guzzlers and the fossil-fuel based infrastructures they depend on, could go far in quickly making our way of life sustainable.

What must become abundantly clear at this point in time is that we aren’t going to address Climate Change without public support. We can no longer put climate deniers into office. We cannot simply push a marketplace mentality, which got us in this mess in the first place. We cannot talk about Climate Change without making people uncomfortable—any more than we could stop slavery back in the day without people getting upset. We are either going to change our behavior soon or we are going to further threaten our own survival as a consequence of an ideological stance towards our life support system.

#ScienceMatters. It really does.

Hope must be based on reason and reason demands that we include a full discussion about Climate Change when addressing our future.

Time passes.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Just how urgent is addressing Climate Change?

Some say Climate Change is all a hoax; some say it’s too late; some say it’s very urgent but not hopeless.

Carbon dioxide must be removed from the atmosphere to avoid extreme climate change, say scientists One of the first scientists to warn of the dangers of climate change, Professor Jim Hansen, warns the 's*** is hitting the fan' Humans must start removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as soon as possible to avoid saddling future generations with a choice between extreme climate change or spending hundreds of trillions of dollars to avoid it, according to new research. An international team of researchers – led by Professor Jim Hansen, Nasa’s former climate science chief – said their conclusion that the world had already overshot targets to limit global warming to within acceptable levels was “sufficiently grim” to force them to urge “rapid emission reductions”. But they warned this would not be enough and efforts would need to be made to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by about 12.5 per cent. (July 19, 2017) Independent [more on Climate Change in our area]

I suspect communicating Climate Change is going to change as it becomes warmer and one’s audience changes. (You probably don’t want to tell a class of 6th graders that “the 's*** is hitting the fan'”.) 

Four recent articles suggest where communicating this crisis messaging might be going:

Climate Change isn’t an issue, it’s our reality

I don’t think anyone has a real handle on the best way to communicate Climate Change because it’s so complicated and divisive. Predictions (educated guesses) are necessary because we need to plan, but they can be very bleak. And, with the election of Trump, climate denial has been given a new (monstrous) life that must be resisted at every unsustainable twist.

Climate Change communicators should bake indicators (like the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere) and other climate gages into their messaging. Keeping the public on track that Climate Change isn’t an issue, but our new reality, can be consistently validated with the latest objective information on where we are at any given point in this crisis.  

The EPA in 2016, just before Pruitt arrived on the scene, published their most recent report “Climate Change Indicators in the United States”. (It still looks valid.) Other governments and organizations are probably publishing their Climate Change indicators too. We need all the environmental feedback we can get.

Rather than prioritizing optimism or pessimism, it would be more useful for communicators to keep humanity informed on how our planet is actually responding to the warming.

If we don’t keep exact track of the indicators of Climate Change, many of our efforts will be delusional—making our efforts to communicate this crisis delusional as well.

Time passes. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Rochester, NY passes Climate Action Plan, Part Two

[Click here to read part one of “Rochester, NY passes Climate Action Plan”.]

Much has taken place in our country involving Climate Change since November’s election—Donald Trump, the Pruitt EPA running amuck on our environment, our country pulling out of the Paris Accord, Rochester joining the Mayors National Climate Change Agenda, and the passage of the City’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) on May, 23rd. Not to mention that an ice sheet in Antarctica the size of Delaware slipped into the ocean and is now afloat, freeing up some weighty glaciers so they can slip into the ocean—which will raise water levels. (I know, climate scientists are still not sure whether Climate Change is responsible for unleashing this colossus, but still… it’s gotta make you wonder.)   

The passage of Rochester’s CAP means it’s not a draft anymore, it’s in force. But what does that mean? How is the City going to achieve the goals of the CAP? How much is Climate Change going to enter into the up-and-coming elections in Rochester now that we have a CAP? How much effort is the City going to spend on getting the findings and goals of the CAP to the public—including reaching out to neighborhoods, businesses, and the media?

The passage of the CAP can stimulate a profound change in how local environmentalists approach local issues around Climate Change—climate justice, energy use and supply, transportation, waste and materials management, clean water, land use, public health, and our future priorities.

We now have a document in which to connect the dots between Climate Change and measure our progress in addressing it. Listen online to this recent discussion about the City’s CAP since its passage by City Council:

Connections: Understanding Rochester's Climate Action Plan Rochester City Council endorsed the city’s Climate Action Plan in May. The plan’s goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% from 2010 levels by 2030. We discussed the draft plan in November when the document was available for public comment. Now that the plan has been approved, members of local climate action groups say their input was not taken into full consideration. They want more information about how the plan will be enacted: How will programs be funded? Will the plan create jobs? Will it impact the city’s poverty issues? Last month, Mayor Lovely Warren joined the Mayors National Climate Change Agenda, which has pledged to strengthen local efforts to protect the environment. We discuss how the Climate Action Plan fits in with this goal and if proposed efforts will have enough of an impact on combating climate change. (July 14, 2017) WXXI's Connections [more on Climate Change in our area]

The CAP isn’t a law, it’s a plan. There are many benefits for each community that has a CAP, as I wrote  about in early 2016: Why Climate Action Plans (CAP) are so important for every community.
Here are some of the opportunities for environmental groups and business to leverage the CAP so that all segments of our local community benefit are manifold:

  • Increase active transportation (walking and bicycling): This has the advantage of being a relatively inexpensive contribution to lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, plus making a profound difference in the daily lives of our citizens. 
  • Reinforces the advantages of programs like those that NYSERDA offers, which assist low-income families to make their homes and businesses more energy efficient, which in turn will lessen fossil fuels use and emit less GHGs.
  • Support the City in getting our transportation authorities—Genesee Transportation Council, Rochester Transit Authority, and the New York State Department of Transportation—to increase the safety and viability of public transportation for everyone. Robust public transit not only reduces greenhouse gas emissions (transportation accounts for a large proportion of our emissions), it is a key ingredient in addressing poverty.   
  • Connect the dots between local actions that address Climate Change and information and proposals in the CAP so that such efforts are better coordinated among stakeholders.

  • Businesses can use the CAP to understand the logic behind the City’s efforts (like promoting renewable energy) to address Climate Change and predict where local government regulations and enforcement are heading. (Note the havoc created by the Trump administration’s back-peddling on all our environmental protections and the horrific confusion over how the science behind Climate Change will be implemented.)
  • Increase the likelihood that the media will connect the dots between the local consequences of Climate Change—more heavy precipitation, more harmful algae outbreaks in our lakes, and more incidents of West Nile Virus and Lyme disease (vector-driven diseases)—so the public becomes more aware that Climate Change is happening now and not at some nebulous point in the future. 
  • The CAP provides an onramp for Monroe County to join the City in an official capacity to address Climate Change. (After all, the lion’s share of our region’s environmental impact occurs within our county outside the city.)

I applaud WXXI’s Connections for airing the news about the CAP’s passage and facilitating a conversation about the CAPs merits with a top City official and members of the Rochester People’s Climate Coalition. The rest of Rochester’s media ignored this news, which is very disturbing because the public is not getting this very real news that will profoundly impact their lives. The CAP validates the science behind Climate Change, informs the public about the local consequences of this crisis, and offers a plan that is tailored for our region to adapt to the unavoidable changes coming.

The CAP isn’t perfect. It’s largely aspirational, and needs some way to enforce some of its recommendations as the consequences of warming in our region become more dire. None of this will happen if the public doesn’t even know this that precious document exists.

The City is trying to get out the message about the CAP—tabling at local events, updating its web page on the CAP, and making sure they explore opportunities when they come up like Connections. 
This isn’t enough. The CAP needs extensive media coverage so we are all on the same page during this global crisis. If you and your organization have channels through which to reach a lot of local people, please consider pointing your members to the CAP and get them to read it.   

Time passes.