Monday, December 25, 2017

Is Climate Change an immediate threat?

Climate Change is an immediate threat in the sense that we are experiencing the consequences of Climate Change now and we must adapt to them. Our military has expressed many times the nature of Climate Change as a threat amplifier; so, I don’t know how the Trump and our military are going to reconcile the absurdity of climate denial as a federal policy. [See Climate Security is National Security from the  AMERICAN SECURITY PROJECT and learn the myriad ways our military understands how it will be impacted by Climate Change.]

Trump confused on climate’s security threat The new US national defence strategy appears to leave President Trump in two minds on the risk from climate’s security threat. Confused about climate’s security threat? Don’t worry – you’re not the only one. Donald Trump seems to be having great difficulty in knowing what to make of it too. He’s even explicitly contradicted a senior colleague – and himself. And he’s prompted suggestions from retired military officers that America’s armed forces will continue to prepare for the reality of climate change undeterred. The Trump administration has dropped climate change from a list of global threats in a new National Security Strategy the president has launched. Instead, President Trump’s NSS emphasises the need for the US to regain its economic competitiveness in the world, with his “America First” plan focussing on four themes surrounding economic security for the US. (December 19, 2017)Climate News Network [more on Climate Change in our area]

Meanwhile, many individuals, businesses, communities, states, and nations are trying desperately to address Climate Change knowing that the Trump administration is making adaptation and mitigation more difficult.

This latest step, where Trump couldn’t wait to address the world with his removal of Climate Change as a national security threat, seems especially sad, horrible, alarming, ideological, non-scientific, mean, delusional, dangerous, ignorant, vulnerable, wrong, hopeless, dismissive, arrogant, belligerent, spiteful, and uninformed.

Trump drops climate change from US national security strategy President outlined new approach in unprecedented White House speech Obama administration added climate to list of threats to US interests The Trump administration has dropped climate change from a list of global threats in a new national security strategy the president unveiled on Monday.  Instead, Trump’s NSS paper emphasised the need for the US to regain its economic competitiveness in the world. That stance represents a sharp change from the Obama administration’s NSS, which placed climate change as one of the main dangers facing the nation and made building international consensus on containing global warming a national security priority. (December 18, 2017) The Guardian [more on Climate Change in our area]

Trump’s decision takes our eye off the ball in many important ways—one of which is that although the Trump administration doesn’t perceive Climate Change as an immediate threat, our military and many nations and business around the world do.

In the wild ("Nature, red in tooth and claw"), fear is often expressed as aggression. If a mother bear feels threated by strangers near her cubs, she attacks. We are probably witnessing this phenomenon in North Korea’s nuclear belligerence, a great national terror that its leadership might be threatened.
Sowing confusion on critical matters like Climate Change and nuclear war isn’t a sound political strategy—it’s the lack of one.  And a dangerous one at that.


Time passes. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Human inertia on Climate Change may kill advantages of farming in a warming Northeast

Whatever advantages one might envision for farming in the Northeast as our region warms—ability to grow new crops, longer growing season, greenhouse gas effect on plants, and more rainfall—seem to be offset by the disadvantages.

The disadvantages are numerous: more spring flooding (soil erosion), more episodes of summer drought, more plant diseases, more crop pests, more volatility in frost/freeze events, and a whole lot more.   

A recently released study examines all these variables, trying to give farmers a heads up on what’s coming their way:

Unique challenges and opportunities for northeastern US crop production in a changing climate Climate change may both exacerbate the vulnerabilities and open up new opportunities for farming in the Northeastern USA. Among the opportunities are double-cropping and new crop options that may come with warmer temperatures and a longer frost-free period. However, prolonged periods of spring rains in recent years have delayed planting and offset the potentially beneficial longer frost-free period. Water management will be a serious challenge for Northeast farmers in the future, with projections for increased frequency of heavy rainfall events, as well as projections for more frequent summer water deficits than this historically humid region has experienced in the past. (Wolfe, D.W., DeGaetano, A.T., Peck, G.M. et al. Climatic Change (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-017-2109-7)

But still, the study concludes that, despite the disadvantages, it may not be so bad:

“On the other hand, adaptation strategies that involve diversifying production systems to cope with climate uncertainty and building resilience to rainfall uncertainty by improving soil health, and improving IPM strategies to cope with new pest and weed dynamics could have an overall positive environmental impact.” (ibid)

True, farmers can do a lot to address this crisis, as described in the study. But. One of the disadvantages not mentioned in the study is the problem of human inertia on Climate Change. Too many in the public don’t openly support the science behind Climate Change, which means it’s less likely we’ll vote for leaders based on this crisis, less likely to prioritize renewable energy over fossil fuels (which will warm the planet more), and more likely we all will be overwhelmed by the disadvantages (consequences).

For example, the study recommends that farmers use less pesticides and herbicides for the health of our waters and soil. But farming, like any other business, is more likely to address their immediate problems producing food with the most efficient and least expensive options available. Pesticide and herbicide use are usually favored over the other methods of controlling crop pests because these risky chemical fixes are easier, cheaper, and quicker than conforming to sustainable methods that don’t degrade our soil and compromise our environment. Otherwise, organic farming would outweigh traditional farming in the marketplace, which it doesn’t.

Even if farmers take advantage of all the new technology being made available to them, they must try to keep back the floods released by a culture mostly indifferent to the urgency behind this crisis.

The take-home message from this new study for me is that farming in our region is increasingly going to find historical data and practices less useful. We’ll be farming on a warmer world. We all will be living in a warmer place. The study above (along with many others) should be a wake-up call that we in the Northeast are going to have to adapt quickly to the changes warming will bring.

Scientists can help predict what problem businesses, like farming, can expect with Climate Change and even present a variety of tools and methods to deal with the changes. But scientists still haven’t figured out how to change the political climate so that we’ll act on a scale and time frame that will matter.

Hardy as they are, farmers are unlikely to address the problems of food production in a warmer Northeast on their own; they’re going to need everyone’s support to lower the speed of temperature rise in order to keep us fed. Farming, as just about everything else in our world, must be viewed through the lens of Climate Change.

Times passes.

Previous articles of mine on food and Climate Change



Monday, December 11, 2017

Brownfields and Climate Change, what’s the connection?

Like Climate Change, Brownfields don’t tend to get noticed by the public until the big picture is understood, experts examine the evidence, and someone’s best interests (including their health) gets compromised. Often this processing of ours takes a long time, as both Climate Change and too many Brownfields have languished without adequate action. 

As Climate Change progresses in our Rochester region with more heavy rainfall in the spring, it is more likely that Brownfields that have not been cleaned up will leach dangerous chemicals into our soil, our neighborhoods, and our waters. [See: ‘Figure 2.18: Observed Change in Very Heavy Precipitation’ in the National Climate Assessment’s “Heavy Downpours Increasing”.]

Even the new* Environmental Protection Agency understands the urgency of getting Brownfields cleaned up as a Climate Change adaptation strategy.

Why Mitigation and Adaptation Matter for Brownfield Communities | Many members of vulnerable populations, including children, the elderly, low-income communities of color and tribal communities, live close to brownfields and other blighted properties (EPA, 2015b). Brownfield redevelopment presents opportunities to reduce blight and improve the quality of life for vulnerable populations while mitigating the impacts of climate change. While all populations will be affected by climate change, vulnerable populations will be disproportionately affected as climate change continues to increase the burden they already experience. A report by the Centers for Disease Control National Center for Health Statistics found that heat- and cold-related deaths in the United States are highest among non-Hispanic black populations and low-income populations making less than $42,400 annually. This study also found that heat-and cold-related deaths are significantly greater among elderly individuals in the United States. (Page 7, Climate Smart Brownfields Manual)

In Rochester, we are still trying to deal with past industrial pollution, but few people realize this environmental health problem is also a Climate Change problem.

STUDENTS, PARENTS STAGE PROTEST OVER CHEMICALS DETECTED NEAR ROCHESTER PREP ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- A steady downpour of rain did not dampen the passion behind the voices of dozens of students who gathered for a demonstration outside of Rochester Prep Tuesday.  They were protesting over recent reports that traces of trichloroethylene (TCE), a carcinogenic chemical solvent from a former industrial site, remain near St. Paul Street and Martin Street. (December 5, 2017) Spectrum News Rochester [more on Brownfields in our area]


You can find out more about Brownfields in our state and even check out the progress of local cleanups by going to the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Environmental Restoration Program.

We go into Climate Change with the environment we have. If our environment (our life support system) is not as healthy and resilient as possible, trying to address this worldwide warming crisis will profoundly affect our ability to adapt.

Time passes.


* The ‘new’ EPA is that federal environmental protection agency now under Pruitt. Strangely, the old EPA exists as a parallel online entity that has been kept alive. The new EPA says of the old EPA “This website is historical material reflecting the EPA website as it existed on January 19, 2017. This website is no longer updated and links to external websites and some internal pages may not work.” (When you think about it, things over at the EPA have gotten very weird—not in a good way.) 

Monday, December 04, 2017

Does Climate Change matter to you?

As climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe points out in this recent webinar by The Security and Sustainability Forum (SSF)*, most people don’t have a problem with the science behind Climate Change. That science is the same science we use every day in the products we use and way we understand the workings of our world.

Astonishingly, the reason most people don’t think global warming** matters to them is because they don’t think it will harm them personally. See: “Estimated % of adults who think global warming will harm them personally 2016“ graph from Yale Climate Opinion Maps – U.S. 2016.

But it does, and it will. Hayhoe says in the webinar “We care about a changing climate because it exacerbates the risks we already face today.”

One of the ways we know that Climate Change is already happening here in the USA is through the official National Climate Assessment (NCA). Since 1990, our country has been required by law to provide this information about our changing climate to the public every four years. (I know, the math doesn’t work out here, we’ve been tardy sometimes.)

We are now coming up on the fourth iteration of this report: Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4). Part I of the NCA4 (Climate Science Special Report) was recently released to the public. The Trump administration released this part to the media and the public, but presumably didn’t read it themselves. (Or, the Trump administration thinks just quietly letting the NCA process continue, while continually putting on a fireworks show at the White House, is the best strategy for tamping down public attention on this crisis that Trump doesn’t believe in.)   

Read NCA4 Vol. I

This quip by The Guardian admonishes the Trump administration for not acting on our nation’s own information about how Climate Change is affecting US, while at the same time noting that the world has access to this important document. The world must be dumbfounded by the spectacular divide that exists between our present federal government and 13 of the agencies it comprises.  

American leaders should read their official climate science report The United States Global Change Research Program report paints a bleak picture of the consequences of climate denial The United States Global Change Research Program recently released a report on the science of climate change and its causes. The report is available for anyone to read; it was prepared by top scientists, and it gives an overview of the most up to date science.  If you want to understand climate change and a single document that summarizes what we know, this is your chance. This report is complete, readily understandable, and accessible. It discusses what we know, how we know it, how confident we are, and how likely certain events are to happen if we continue on our business-as-usual path.  To summarize, our Earth has warmed nearly 2°F (1°C) since the beginning of the 20th century. Today’s Earth is the warmest it has ever been in the history of modern civilization. (November 27, 2017) The Guardian 

Comment on NCA4 Vol. II

The NCA4 Vol. II has not been released yet, but you can read and comment on the draft.

“NCA4 Vol. II is a technical, scientific assessment of climate change impacts, risks, and adaptation across the United States. The assessment uses a risk-based framework in placing a strong emphasis on regional information, while also evaluating climate change impacts, risks, and adaptation on 17 national-level topics. Case studies are used to provide additional context and showcase community success stories. Like all USGCRP assessments, NCA4 Vol. II does not evaluate policy or make policy recommendations.” Call for Public Comment on the Draft Fourth National Climate Assessment (Vol. II)

To read and comment on NCA4 Vol. II go here; on the left side-bar click on “create new account”, create a user name, your own password, accept the conditions for commenting on the draft, then you can gain access to the draft. You can make comments on each section of the draft (until January 8, 2018) online. Easy-peasy.

Please consider (as a group, or as an individual) reading the NCA4 Vol. II draft and commenting. Those of us who do understand that Climate Change “exacerbates the risks we already face today” need to bring that message home to everyone. That’s what volume two does: “… placing a strong emphasis on regional information”.

The journey to reach the public on the science behind this crisis has been long and tortuous. We have written, educated, demonstrated, and some have even been jailed in an attempt to instill in the public a sense of urgency. Time to act on a scale and time frame that will matter is running out.

Sadly, we are finding that science isn’t enough to compel the public to act.  We need to bring our knowledge and concerns of a changing climate to where the public lives. Reading and making comment on how your region is and will be affected by Climate Change in the NCA4 II is another important step towards communicating this crisis effectively.

The NCA is an incredibly detailed and expert series of documents by our government about Climate Change. Consider doing everything you can to demonstrate that this scientific legacy of ours reflects our country’s position on Climate Change. It really does matter to us. 

Time passes. 

* “The Security and Sustainability Forum (SSF) convenes global experts to address the impacts to society from climate and other disruptions to natural systems.  Our main products are free webinars on energy, food and water security, public health, urban resilience, economic vitality, infrastructure, governance and other impacts that must be solved in meeting climate security challenges.”


** Sometimes it looks as though I am using ‘Climate Change’ and ‘global warming’ interchangeably but hopefully I’m not. This from NOAA: “Global warming refers only to the Earth’s rising surface temperature, while climate change includes warming and the “side effects” of warming—like melting glaciers, heavier rainstorms, or more frequent drought. Said another way, global warming is one symptom of the much larger problem of human-caused climate change.” (NOAA Climate.gov