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) Cleveland.com [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) Syracuse.com) [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.