Monday, April 23, 2018

Somethings old, somethings new for Rochester NY on Earth Day 2018

As Earth Day rolls around again, there are historic concerns about our environment still to be solved and new concerns we hadn’t even anticipated back at the first event in 1970.  

Old environmental issues are still with us including Climate Change. Climate Change has brought some very inconvenient facts and sense of great urgency to Earth Day. One of the most dramatic moments in the efforts to communicate Climate Change was the ‘hockey stick’ graph authored by Dr. Michael Mann and some colleagues demonstrating a major spike in greenhouse gases in the 20th century. Check out this 20-year update by Dr. Mann:

Earth Day and the Hockey Stick: A Singular Message On the 20th anniversary of the graph that galvanized climate action, it is time to speak out boldly Two decades ago this week a pair of colleagues and I published the original “hockey stick” graph in Nature, which happened to coincide with the Earth Day 1998 observances. The graph showed Earth’s temperature, relatively stable for 500 years, had spiked upward during the 20th century. A year later we would extend the graph back in time to A.D. 1000, demonstrating this rise was unprecedented over at least the past millennium—as far back as we could go with the data we had. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, publishing the hockey stick would change my life in a fundamental way. I was thrust suddenly into the spotlight. Nearly every major newspaper and television news network covered our study. The widespread attention was exhilarating, if not intimidating for a science nerd with little or no experience—or frankly, inclination at the time—in communicating with the public. (April 20, 2018) Scientific America [more on Climate Change in our area]

What’s new this Earth Day is the scale of the Plastic Pollution problem. When you think we didn’t even have plastics until the 1960’s, it’s amazing that a little annoyance a few decades ago has mushroomed into a major world environmental problem today. Check this out:

It's a plastic planet  Plastics are everywhere. They're used to make everything from grocery bags and clothing to medical devices and military body armor. And there are reasons for its popularity. Plastics are comparatively inexpensive to make and work with, they're durable, they resist harsh chemicals, and they're lighter than other materials. But the more pervasive they've become, the more troublesome they've become. A boom in single-use and disposable plastic products has given way to plastic pollution. Bottles line roadsides, shopping bags flap around in trees, and cigarette butts litter beaches, parks, and sidewalks. And scientists have found concentrations of tiny plastic particles — microplastics and nanoplastics – in all of the Great Lakes and in the deepest reaches of the world's largest oceans. Teams led by SUNY Fredonia chemistry professor Sam Mason have also found microplastics in tap and bottled water samples from across the world. (April 18, 2018) Rochester City Newspaper [more on Recycling in our area]

Earth Day is a reminder that only humanity can and therefore should take stewardship of our life support system. We need to continue to fix old environmental problems and understand that now Climate Change has taken top priority, where all our issues (not just environmental issues) must be addressed through the lens of Climate Change. In Rochester there are many events this Earth Day. 

They are all meaningful and attempt to get at the myriad local environment issues that are ultimately linked to this existential crisis coming at us. [Existential? Check out this burning article by Mark Dunlea, Green Education and Legal Fund about the need to march in Albany on the 23rd: “Why I am doing Climate Civil Disobedience this Earth day” from 100% Renewable Now NY Campaign.]

There’s a new kind of Earth Day event for Rochester focusing on land use for Climate Change solutions: Earth Day Celebration! “This Land is Our Land” on Parcel 5 with the efforts of a local coalition called OurLandROC:

Our Land Roc is a coalition of community groups and local residents seeking to cultivate a more equitable, sustainable, and collaborative approach to development in the City of Rochester. We identify and advocate for land use practices that promote the long-term health and stability of our communities, rather than policies that privilege a few. We seek permanently affordable, sustainable development in our neighborhoods. (Posted April 16th, 2018 Earth Day Celebration! “This Land is Our Land” on Parcel 5)

The demands: 1. Community Land Trust 2. Participatory Budgeting 3. Inclusionary Zoning 4. Community Benefits Agreement 5. Adequate Notification of all development proposals  

Six evaluation criteria: 1. Benefit to all 2. Mitigate and adapt to climate change 3. Investment without displacement 4. Increased transparency 5. Addresses root causes not just transparency 6. Socially equable ecologically sound and equally to all

Want to learn more? Come on down Sunday, Parcel 5 275 E. Main St., Rochester, New York ask. Check these Twitter hashtags if you cannot make the event: #OurLandRoc #RocEarthDay
April 22 at 3 PM - 5 PM |

Back in January, I provided a brief overview on how Climate Change could be addressed locally through land use policies: “Addressing Climate Change via land use issues” Check it out and then fill out the City’s survey for its Comprehensive Plan, Rochester 2034 using what you learned.

With good Climate Change plans and actions, maybe we’ll have more hopeful Earth Days ahead.

Time passes.

* Update: Check out a short video of this event. 

Monday, April 09, 2018

Yes, Mr. Trump we still must #MARCHFORSCIENCE

Presidential tweets, however colorful, do not provide the core reasoning upon which societies make policy—it has and will continue to be science. 

Science and the respect for science in human growth are hard-won processes that helps free us from a Stone Age mentality. Evolutionary psychology rests on the observation that most of our modern brain traits are still wired for fighting nature, predators, and anyone who gets in our way. Our ‘gut’ reactions to background stimuli (like a rustle in the grass) are an example.  

Now, with over seven billion of us still growing on a planet filled with our infrastructures (roads, bridges, pipes) and the repercussions of our growth (Climate Change, pollution, loss of biodiversity, over consumption), science is a fundamental necessity for humanity moving quickly to address most of our environmental and technical challenges ahead. Science gives our minds a solid frame of reference that helps keep our paleolithic brains in check and adapt to a modern future.

“The scientific method is a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge.[2] To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry is commonly based on empirical or measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning.[3] The Oxford Dictionaries Online defines the scientific method as "a method or procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses".[4] Experiments are a procedure designed to test hypotheses. Experiments are an important tool of the scientific method.[5][6]” (Scientific Method, Wikipedia)

A political pushback on science isn’t going to change the facts, but it’s a mistake to think it doesn’t matter at this critical time where the window of opportunity is quickly closing to address Climate Change on a scale and time frame that will matter.

Those who underplay the ramifications of the Trump administration’s back peddling on science and trying to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Accord are not being realistic. Rather than having little or no effect on the renewable energy market, global efforts to address Climate Change, and gutting decades of hard-won environmental regulations, we may doubling-down on business as usual making the worst Climate Change scenarios inevitable.  

Why EPA’s Effort to Weaken Fuel Efficiency Standards Could be Trump’s Most Climate-Damaging Move Yet Weakening the CAFE auto standards could delay action on climate change for a generation — and launch a legal battle with California now. By hitting the brakes on the decades-long drive to reduce automotive carbon emissions, President Donald Trump's administration has taken its most consequential step yet toward undoing his predecessor's legacy on climate change. Scott Pruitt, the embattled chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, announced the reversal on Monday in a "final determination" that President Obama's plan for the 2022-2025 model years went too far and would be revised. Pruitt did not yet announce a replacement for the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, which dictate fuel efficiency and therefore emissions. And even after he does—after more consultations and debate—it's likely to be challenged in court. So would another aspect of his plan: his threat to refuse a waiver to California, which is intent on setting its own tough standards. (April 2, 2018) Inside Climate News [more on Transportation, Air Quality, and Climate Change in our area]

Weakening the fuel efficiency standards will probably have profound effects on our environment, air quality, addressing Climate Change, and even the US car market—which will be trying to push old, polluting technology on a world moving in a more responsible direction.

It’s time to stand up again against the Trump administration’s attacks on science. We need more science education in our classrooms, more scientists, more allotment of public funds for science projects that will keep American competitive in world markets, and more scientific instruments (satellites) to monitor our environment so we can adapt and mitigate Climate Change.

March For Science. There are some marches coming in your community and a big one in Washington, DC to reach the public directly on the importance of science. We are demanding that the Trump administration reinvigorate science back into America’s core. 


  • ·         Saturday, April 14 at 12 PM - 5 PM | Martin Luther King Jr. Park at Manhattan Square, 353 Court St, Rochester, New York 14607

o   Rochester NY March for Science - Rally, March and Science Expo | Hosted by Rochester NY March For Science “Please join us for a Day of Science: The Rally will begin at 12:00 PM at Martin Luther King Jr. Park at Manhattan Square. There will be a variety of speakers and Playground Science activities for families. The March will be stepping off from the Rally at 1:00 PM and will lead to the Science Expo at Rochester Riverside Hotel, 120 East Main Street, Rochester, NY 14604. The Science Expo will run from 1:00 - 5:00 PM and feature a variety of interactive table presentations, speakers on a range of topics relating innovative science to everyday life, as well as a science and technical career fair. Plus family activities.”

o   On April 14, 2018 SCIENCE MARCHES ON In 2017, more than one million people around the world gathered together in the largest event for science advocacy in history.  In 2018, we unite again to hold our elected and appointed officials responsible for enacting equitable evidence-based policies that serve all communities and science for the common good. It’s time we held our political leaders accountable for supporting good science policy. It’s time we join together and demand that our leaders use science to inform their work and cast their votes for science. Learn More About Vote for Science ❯❯ From Washington D.C. to Abuja, Nigeria, science supporters across the globe are mobilizing.  Events range from science expos and festivals to rallies and large-scale marches but they are united with shared goals.  March for Science events energize science advocates from multiple spheres to create tangible change and call for greater accountability of public officials to enact evidence-based policy that serves all communities.    More than 70 satellite events around the world have already registered to participate in the 2nd annual event.  Don't see one in your area for 2018?  Plan a new march by registering here! Don't forget to check out the 2017 satellite list to find organizers from last year. Prefer to check by zip code? Click here.

Time passes

My essay before I marched in last year’s Washington, DC March for Science: “U.S. at crossroads: free science from politics and join the March for Science” (April 17, 2017)

Monday, April 02, 2018

Climate Change hits home

One of the biggest problems in trying to communicate the urgency of addressing Climate Change is that most people think it will only happen far into the future and someplace else. Neither is true. Climate Change is hitting home now.

However much US partisan politics are split on the scientific consensus on Climate Change, 97% of climate scientists around the world agree that Climate Change is happening, and we are causing it.

“A synthesis of this research – a survey of surveys – concluded that the expert consensus on climate change is between 90 to 100%, with a number of studies converging on 97% agreement. Among peer-reviewed studies examining expert agreement on climate change, there is consensus on consensus.” (Page 2, “The Consensus Handbook, Why the scientific consensus on climate change is important”)

How do we get the public to understand and appreciate that Climate Change is happening now, here in Rochester and everywhere else (because it’s a planetary phenomenon)? We have several expert sources that describe how Climate Change is affecting our region, but how many folks know about these resources and have read them?

Much is being done by the media, climate scientists, and Climate Change communicators to figure out how to get the message out to the public about the high level of certainty anchoring climate science. At the same time, tremendous pushback on this science has experts doing handstands trying to find a way to get the true climate facts into our brains so we won’t deny it, dismiss it, ignore it, and continually find ways to get around this hurdle to a viable future.

Why does communicating climate science matter? Aren’t many of us already doing a lot to address this crisis? It matters because at the core of all the controversy, inconvenience, and concern about Climate Change is the science. Unlike many issues that confront humanity, Climate Change isn’t immediately apparent to the untrained eye. It’s going to take a world full of people to understand the fundamental science behind this crisis.

For example, how many people can explain how global warming works? Check out this popular website created by a scientist explaining this absolutely, undeniable property of our universe: How Global Warming Works “This site's information helps people understand global warming's scientific mechanism.” The site offers videos and written explanations in various lengths (from short to really, really short) and in several languages so that this fundamental principle behind Climate Change sticks in our minds.

(I know, when communicating Climate Change you are supposed to be respectful, interesting, brief, nonpartisan, hopeful, non-wonky, convenient, and just thrilled to be repeating the basics of this crisis one more freaking time. But, jeeze.)

If we don’t get everyone onboard with climate science, too many of us will continue to vote for climate deniers. We’ll fail to turn towards renewable energy and turn away from burning fossil fuels quickly enough. We’ll be blind to the changes already occurring in our backyards making it easier for us to continue business as usual. We’ll keeping thinking we can have our cake and eat it too—like thinking we can “Roll Back Rules Requiring Cars to Be Cleaner and More Efficient” but still have a healthy future.

Time passes.  

Monday, March 26, 2018

When will humanity turnaround Climate Change?

Despite a growing awareness of Climate Change by the public and increases in renewable energy, fossil fuels are back on the rise and continuing to threaten our future. [See: Global carbon emissions hit record high in 2017, March 22, Reuters.] The delusion that the rise in renewable energy would mean a decline in the use of fossil fuels is over.

Last year dashed hopes for a climate change turnaround After three flat years that had hinted at a possible environmental breakthrough, carbon dioxide emissions from the use of energy rose again by 1.4 percent in 2017, according to new data released by the International Energy Agency on Wednesday. The increase in emissions of the all-important greenhouse gas came as global energy demand itself increased thanks to strong economic growth — and that demand was sated by all types of energy, including renewables but also oil, coal and natural gas.” (Last year dashed hopes for a climate change turnaround, 3/21/2018 The Washington Post)

It looks like we aren’t going to magically address Climate Change via the free market economy. We’re going to have to work at stopping fossil fuels infrastructures.

And remember, bringing down our greenhouse gases is but one part of the Climate Change crisis. The other parts are adapting to the warming we have already put into our climate system and the accumulated environmental abuses of our past—pollution, loss of biodiversity, and the over-consumption of our natural resources.  

Humanity will turnaround Climate Change when we realize that we caused this planetary warming and we are willing to take responsibility for this crisis. Assuming that our economy, which is largely responsible for our Climate Change crisis, is going to solve it too doesn’t make sense.

Time passes. 

Monday, March 19, 2018

Protecting our public health, our environment, and addressing Climate Change must be at the core of Rochester’s ‘ROC the Riverway Project’

Rochester, NY’s ‘ROC the Riverway Program’ offers our community an incredible opportunity to take our Climate Action Plan (CAP) to the next step. Not only does the ROC the Riverway Program incorporate many of aspects of the CAP’s Land Use policies—Coordinated Land Use and Transportation, Transit-oriented and Mixed-Use Development (TDD), Redevelopment of Brownfields and vacant or underutilized properties, Urban Agriculture, EcoDistricts, and Parks and Open Space Planning—it presents the City with a concrete example to encourage other communities to do more to address and mitigate Climate Change in their regions.

To achieve the goal of reducing GHG emissions, transportation-related reductions can be achieved through coordinated land use policies. In addition, there are multiple co-benefits associated with land use planning, including improved environmental health, public health, and economic vibrancy. In the context of adaptation, land use policy is critical to improving the community’s resiliency and ability to adapt to the effects of climate change. Land use policy is critical to improving the community’s resiliency and ability to adapt to the effects of climate change. (Page 48, Climate Action Plan)

Within the scope of the ROC the River Project—South River, Downtown, and High Falls--are many past, present, and future environmental issues that must be addressed. Cleaning up both the Genesee River (in conjunction with the City’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP)) and the old Vacuum Oil Brownfield site (Vacuum Oil Brownfield Cleanup Program, with the highest level of cleanup), must be included in the City’s vision.

Resuscitating these places of historical environmental misuse and reinvigorating them will make our community more healthy and better able to adapt to Climate Change. And, with the many attractions suggested by the ROC the Riverway Project, tourists are more likely to enjoy and learn from this project.

Repairing and updating the bike trails, bridges, and pedestrian walks throughout the ROC program will ensure that this active transportation (walking and bicycling) corridor enhances the beauty and helps mitigate the effects of greenhouse gas emissions. If more people are able to walk and bike through our downtown hub, it is more likely they’ll live a healthier lifestyle and choose this section of the City to live, work, and play.

Not only should ROC the Riverway be developed with Climate Change in mind, the project should be a showcase for adapting and mitigating Climate Change as an inspiration for other communities. That is, Climate Change should be communicated as this project’s priority. In no way should this be a ‘no-regrets project’, where even if you think Climate Change is a hoax, it’s still good. It should be presented as a Climate Change opportunity. Promoted as a Climate Change demonstration, ROC the Riverway would get worldwide attention.

Please consider making comment on this City project soon, with your own vision that includes a healthy viable Rochester: Go here to learn about the plan online. Go here to submit your input. Go here to join an email distribution list for news and announcements regarding this initiative.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Climate scientists should not be our politicians

Scientists shouldn’t feel compelled to run for political office to save science. Politics in the United States has dipped so low that every time an environmental issue comes up in the media science must be defended. Science (especially climate science) is being undermined in our political arena by people whose political and financial agenda includes keeping everyone on the doomsday path of fossil fuel use for energy. But it isn’t, nor should it be, the job of our scientists to fix our present dysfunctional political system.  

2018 is the year of scientists running for Congress The rising activism among scientists is a turnaround for a group that has traditionally seen politics as “grimy and grubby,” said G. Terry Madonna, a professor of public affairs at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. Many of these candidates have been recruited by 314 Action, a political action committee founded in 2016 to support policymakers who have scientific or technical backgrounds. Named for the first three digits of pi, 314 Action describes itself as the vanguard of “the pro-science resistance.” The group’s founder, Shaughnessy Naughton, said 7,000 people have responded to the group’s call to run for office. The group has also assembled a network of about 400,000 donors eager to support candidates who back science-based policies. (March 4, 2018) The Washington Post

Not that scientists wouldn’t be exceptional as politicians or communicators. Climate scientists have become very good at communicating the complexities of Climate Change. (Check out: “The Debunking Handbook, a guide to debunking misinformation, is now freely available to download ” from Skeptical Science)

But society would be better off if scientists spent more time at what they do best. Because of their work, much is now known about Climate Change (it’s happening quickly and it’s us). Much more needs to be researched so our climate models will be more accurate and more predictive of what’s coming. That is to say, we cannot spare our scientists. We need more expert information on how to slow down global warming and adapt.

Part of the problem with communicating Climate Change is that while the principle is simple (you emit more greenhouse gases and the place warms up) the repercussions are very complicated—and the possible solutions politically inconvenient. However good scientists may get at speaking to the public, what they are really good at is communicating with each other, often in wonky but tight, uncolorful language focused on accuracy--not storytelling or exuding warmth to the general public. 

We have other disciplines for reaching the public and those institutions (media and education) should up their game on communicating this crisis.

Granted, communicating Climate Change is still very tough, especially with the small but very vocal minority whose worldview is being threatened:

[From a transcript] Lewandowsky: Now if you then, as a researcher or communicator, present them with more evidence that climate science is real, then chances are that the recipients of the message are digging themselves deeper into their existing position and actually believe even more strongly that that is not the case. We have the experimental data to show that in a lot of different circumstances. It doesn’t just have to be climate science. It’s whenever people’s world-views are at stake, then presenting them with corrective information can have a so-called “backfire effect” of making them believe the mistaken information even more strongly. (Professor Stephen Lewandowsky, Moving past barriers to change (UQx DENIAL101x

More journalists should be trained in climate science and how to effectively communicate all that to the public. More politicians should listen to the science coming from our climate experts and then leading the public towards solutions, sooner rather than later.

In turn, it would be nice if the public themselves would stop thinking of themselves as passive customers of information and ideas, but instead as enlightened stewards of our planet. We are at an extraordinary point in history where public responsibility on our climate crisis may determine if we get to have a viable future.

Time passes. 

Monday, March 05, 2018

Springtime in Climate Change

Springtime is inherently whacky. (‘If March comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb’ and all that.) But within this wackiness there has been a certain amount of climate stability that wildlife, plants, and even we have become accustomed to. Our plants and animals in our Northeast region can endure some extremes in Spring with higher and lower temperatures--for a while. However, if the trajectory is continually outside the comfort zone of our plants and animals, they probably cannot adjust.

Springtime is a time of renewal. As a metaphor, spring embodies the human heart’s yearning for hope after a long wintry absence. We expect in spring the seeds to grow and the animals to wake up, so they can cycle through their life’s great wheel of events.

But what if Climate Change is no longer a harbinger of rebirth, no longer evidence that our existence and every other being’s presence is but part of an infinite continuum? What if Springs henceforth bring a ratcheting up of more heat and more weather extremes? Instead of hope, despair?  

In the Washington, DC area, Spring is coming sooner and sooner:

Spring is running 20 days early. It’s exactly what we expect, but it’s not good. For the second year in a row, spring has sprung early. In the Mid-Atlantic, cherry blossoms started to pop out of their buds in mid-February, and the crocuses have all but come and gone. Temperatures have dipped below freezing on only five mornings this February in the District, and nature is playing along — albeit, perhaps, grudgingly. As much as spring is welcome when it arrives, it seems to feel better after a long winter. This year, winter never really started. December and January both got off to a cold start, but that quickly changed through the end of those months. By mid-February, we saw March flowers pop out of the ground. Winter is dead. According to the National Phenology Network, spring is running 20 days or more ahead of schedule in parts of the Ohio River Valley and the Mid-Atlantic. That will soon be the case in the Midwest and the Northeast. (February 27, 2018) The Washington Post [more on Climate Change in our area] 

Here in New York, our experts say Spring is coming about a week sooner than usual:

“Since the 1960s, the growing season has lengthened by nearly a week, as evidenced by observations of earlier spring bloom dates for lilacs, apples, and grapes at agricultural research stations across the state.” (Page 3, New York’s Changing Climate, Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences)

Blooming early is not necessarily a good thing:

Fruit Trees Need Winter Chill for Spring Growth Apples, cherries, and peaches grown in the U.S. are worth more than $4 billion dollars annually. The trees that produce these and other fruits are increasingly at risk as winters warm from climate change. Fruit trees and certain bushes must go through a dormant period each winter in preparation for producing fruit the following spring and summer. This rest period, also known as a chilling period, is directly related to the temperature. For many varieties of trees, the most efficient temperature for chilling is 45°F, with little additional chilling effect at temperatures below 32°F. Brief warm spells in winter have a negative effect — temperatures above 70°F for four or more hours offset any chilling that happened in the previous 24-36 hours. (February 21, 2018) Climate Central [more on Plants, Food, and Climate Change in our area]

Climate Change is occurring far quicker than it ever has for a very long time—even faster than some great extinction events of the past—and we will have failed to act.  Without climate scientists, the public is not going to be able to separate the wackiness, or year-to-year noise, of Spring’s volatile weather and see the danger.

We need to act. We need more scientists. We need to fund more scientific research on how Climate Change will affect our future. We need more educators to communicate what climate scientists have discovered about our warming world.

Springtime in Climate Change will continue to crank around each year. Until it doesn’t. The time to fix Spring and our other seasons is now. 

Time passes. 

Monday, February 26, 2018

Preventing the worst consequences of Climate Change ahead means action now

Climate action cannot be just any action. It must be on a scale and time frame that will make a difference. Effective action depends not only on sound science, but sometimes also requires pre-emptive action on issues not yet completely understood, such as permafrost melting. Our infrastructures must be maintained and updated according to projected Climate Change findings. If actions are thought to be too expensive, that cost must be measure against inaction. Finances should be made to fit the crisis, not the other way around, as many free-market fundamentalists would like. You can have life on this planet without our present economic system, but you cannot have our present economic system without life on this planet. We need to get our priorities straight.

The following transcript by climate scientist Professor Richard Alley explains in plain words the costs of inaction on Climate Change:

“Alley: Climate change in the short term is expensive but not hugely so, and as the climate change gets bigger, as we look farther into the future, the price goes up. The damages go up. Very crudely, each degree of warming costs more than the previous degree. The first degree was almost in the noise of what we're used to. It's not very expensive, but we've used that one. And the second degree will cost a little more. It's moving outside of your experience that's starting to stress things and we've committed to that one very broadly. The third degree costs more than the second and by the fourth and the fifth now sea level rise is going to get huge. We have real problems with crops, which may be bumping up against biochemical limits and the ability to feed ourselves gets a little worrisome. By the time you start running to the third, the fourth, the fifth degree the costs of damages and dangers go way up. What we're arguing now about the third degree because we've basically warmed up almost all of the first one and we really have committed to the second one.” (Professor Richard Alley, UQx DENIAL101x From the experts: Impacts on society)

Tipping points

Added to the costs of delaying climate actions are the increasing possibility of tipping points. When thinking about possible Climate Change tipping points (and we should be thinking about them), we should gain more certainty—not wallow in uncertainty. To do this we need more scientific equipment, more scientists, and more research funding. Dismissing climate science and not funding our collective need to monitor our climate makes it more likely we’ll pass critical thresholds, or tipping points, without even knowing we’ve passed the point of no return.

Are we reaching our climate change tipping points? Imagine cutting down a tree. Initially, you chop and chop … but not much seems to change. Then suddenly, one stroke of the hatchet frees the trunk from its base and the once distant leaves come crashing down. It’s an apt metaphor for one of the most alarming aspects of climate change – the existence of “tipping elements.” These elements are components of the climate that may pass a critical threshold, or “tipping point,” after which a tiny change can completely alter the state of the system. Moving past tipping points may incite catastrophes ranging from widespread drought to overwhelming sea level rise. Which elements’ critical thresholds should we worry about passing thanks to human-induced climate change? (November 8, 2018) World Economic Forum [more on Climate Change in our area] 

We need to understand the list of potential tipping points referenced above and how we can avoid them. Or if we cannot avoid them, then when to expect them and what we can do about them. Many people tend to understand that tipping points are possible in our environment, but don’t think they’ll be around when tipping points come--or their kids will deal with them somehow. But with a tipping point, it isn’t always like pulling a trigger where past a certain point a bullet shoots out. It can be like pulling a trigger on a gun now and a bomb going off in a hundred years. 

A while ago the West Antarctic ice sheet was said to have reached a tipping point; this big (really big) glacier has become unstable and will melt and make the seas rise by 4 feet (1.2 meters), but not for a number of centuries. [See: “The "Unstable" West Antarctic Ice Sheet: A Primer” (May 12, 2014 NASA)] ‘Unstable’ means all the kings men and all the kings horses will not put that water back on Antarctica again in our children’s children’s children’s children’s lifetimes.  

Tipping points are not just theoretical threats, they are possible (some very probable) scenarios that we need to better understand. Instead of sitting around debating their significance, we should be funding major scientific research to gain as much information as possible to find out what we are up against. Some tipping points can be averted, adapted to, or may be solved with new-and-yet-to-be-conceived technology. But all that will take time, in which case we’d need a good idea of how much time we have. The remaining uncertainty (for example, experts know the Arctic will be ice-free in summer at some point relatively soon, they’re just uncertain as to the exact time) in climate science at this point is a reason to double-down on experts finding the answers. Not trying to profit from and leverage present climate uncertainly, which only wastes our precious time. The time to act in a system that is slow to respond to our inputs is running out.

The next five years will shape sea level rise for the next 300, study says The world is far off course from its goals in cutting greenhouse gas emissions — and research published Tuesday illustrates one of the most striking implications of this. Namely, it finds that for every five years in the present that we continue to put off strong action on climate change, the ocean could rise an additional eight inches by the year 2300 — a dramatic illustration of just how much decisions in the present will affect distant future generations. “One important point was to reveal that sea level [rise] is not in the far future, it’s now, and because the system is so slow, we just can’t see it at the moment,” said Matthias Mengel of Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the lead author of the study, which was published in Nature Communications. “But we cause it now.” (February 20, 2018) The Washington Post)

Time passes. 

Monday, February 19, 2018

Climate Change stresses the stressors that stress wildlife

Climate Change can quickly undo many of the long, hard-won adaptations wildlife have accomplished to survive in a specific climate. Presently, our very quickly warming climate is changing too fast for some species to adapt: “…warmer temperatures equals spoiled food equals Gray Jay nests failing en masse.” (from article below)

Spoiler Alert: Can Gray Jays Survive Warmer Weather? They’re the warm-blooded creature that goes to great lengths to survive boreal cold blasts of minus 40 degrees, yet their future in Algonquin Park is threatened because the weather is getting mellow. It’s that last irony—the climate change connection—that Norris, an ecology professor at Ontario’s University of Guelph, is studying. He’s the third generation of principal investigators on a research project that stretches back over a half-century in Algonquin Park. For the past 40 years, the project has documented a stark downward trend: a 50 percent decline in the study’s Gray Jay population since 1977.. (January 8, 2018) The Cornel Lab of Ornithology (More on Wildlife and Climate Change in our area]

We need wildlife to keep our ecosystems healthy, but most wildlife cannot adapt quickly enough to Climate Change. We need to include wildlife into our Climate Change action plans.

To Survive, These Animals Must Lose Their Camouflage How can the snowshoe hare and Arctic fox thrive in a climate-changed world, where there’s less snow to blend in with? On December 4, 1920, a 14-year-old boy saw something extraordinary while walking in the central Wisconsin woods. Snowshoe hares, all of them with vibrant white fur, “were hopping about on fallen leaves that had no snow covering,” he wrote. “The month was unusually mild, with practically no snow until the middle of the period.” It was like a vision: The animals almost glowed against the sullen, early-winter soil. The sight so stuck with him that he described it in a scientific paper 13 years later. By that time, Wallace Byron Grange had demonstrated an intelligence, a precociousness, and a flair for prose style that matched his middle name. At 22, he had been appointed Wisconsin’s first-ever game commissioner; now, at 27, he was a publishing zoologist as well. He was particularly fascinated by snowshoe hares—and their mysterious annual change of costume. (February 15, 2018) The Atlantic [more on Wildlife and Climate Change in our area]

Many wildlife in our New York region are going to find adapting to Climate Change a serious challenge. Some, like amphibians, reptiles, and mammals, will need to move to cooler places but will find our myriad transportation infrastructures hindering them. (In fact, they already are, think roadkill.) Fish in our region, which have adapted to frigid waters, are going to need to swim to warmer parts of our streams and rivers without being impeded by our built obstructions. Think dams. Even birds, who you’d think would just fly where they need to go, have adapted to migrating to precise places where their meals synced with their arrival. [See “Migratory birds bumped off schedule as climate change shifts spring” (May 15, 201, Science News)] Adapted behavior in wildlife don’t turn on a dime; they take many generations to change.

Whether you like wildlife, like to hunt or fish them or just watch them, we need our wildlife. Their existence was instrumental in designing our environment. Herbivores ate the plants, carnivores ate the herbivores, and they all dispersed seeds, which helped determined which plants and wildlife thrived. And even though we have radically changed our environment, including developing land for cities and agriculture, drying up wetlands, killing off predators, and polluting our waters, we still need the creatures that make our environment work.

So, along with ourselves, we are going to have to help our wildlife adapt to Climate Change. How do we do that? Is there a comprehensive (for that is what it will take) state program for that? Kinda.

The New York State Environmental Conservation agency understands the perils of Climate Change. Check out New York Tackles Climate Change. But it’s not clear that this awareness extends to wildlife management. For example, when you check the DEC’s Wildlife Management Areas (WMA), you won’t find a whole lot of information on wildlife and Climate Change. Mostly, you see a vast compilation of information, regulations, and data on how to keep our hunters and anglers supplied with game.

But wait. When you check out the Wildlife Health section of the DEC website and scroll down a bit you’ll find this:

WILDLIFE HEALTH PROGRAM STRATEGIC PLAN 2011 – 2015 “Wildlife are integral to a healthy, diverse ecosystem and the health of wildlife is closely intertwined with that of human and domestic animals. While disease and death are part of the normal life cycle that maintains a balanced ecosystem, factors such as the introduction of an invasive species or new and emerging disease, climate change, habitat destruction and human development can alter the equilibrium so that the health and long term well‐being of a species is threatened. The goal of the Wildlife Health Program is to    identify and monitor both infectious and non‐infectious diseases in wildlife populations, put that information to use in making sound management decisions, and to be prepared to intervene where necessary to ensure that New York has sustainable, robust and diverse wildlife populations for the future. (NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION)

Ah hah, ‘climate change’! Though buried as one of the things that could potentially upset a ‘balanced ecosystem’, addressing Climate Change is clearly an aspect of wildlife management that the DEC understands. Wildlife that keeps our ecosystems viable or ‘balanced’ describes the environmental hegemony that makes Earth’s environment tick. 

This is an interesting point from the report: “The relationship between wildlife, domestic animals and humans in a shared environment is complex and interdependent.” The idea is that we now have a shared environment, which is to say, we didn’t used to. Although wildlife in no way were dependent on humanity to thrive before humanity came along, they are now especially dependent on us to keep them healthy. No aspect of wildlife life is unaffected by humanity and our infrastructures. 

Understanding that if our wildlife isn’t healthy, we aren’t likely to be either is a crucial aspect of adapting to Climate Change. When the engineers of our life-support system die, we won’t be around much longer either.

Climate change stresses the stressors (warmer climate, invasive species, droughts, floods, diseases, health, food availability, and habitat destruction) that stress wildlife

We and our wildlife friends are deeply connected. When contemplating the connection with Wildlife and Climate Change, we must not see Climate Change simply as one of the ‘stressors’ for Wildlife. 

Our management of wildlife needs to be viewed through the lens of Climate Change because the great warming will not only stress wildlife, it’s going to stress every being on this planet—just as past climate changes were a primary cause in Earth’s mass extinction events.

Alarming new study makes today’s climate change more comparable to Earth’s worst mass extinction “All in all, the parallels between the many mass extinction events in the geological record and today’s climate change offer no comfort about the legacy we’re leaving for our children and our grandchildren. Rather they stand as signposts for an increasingly scary future.” (April 2, 2014 Skeptical Science)

Time passes.

My articles on Climate Change and wildlife: Speak up for wildlife as they try to adapt to Climate Change (June 21, 2015)

Monday, February 12, 2018

The inconvenience of connecting harmful algae outbreaks (HABs) and Climate Change

Though Climate Change is moving quickly through New York and other regions, it’s still difficult for scientists to evaluate the precise consequences because changes in climate still take decades to play out. We know that our heavy rainfall events have increased 71% since 1958, for example, but we still don’t know the exact relationship between the recent outbreaks of harmless algae, harmful algae outbreaks (HABs), and Climate Change.

HABs are a danger to our drinking water, our pets, our shoreline properties, swimming beaches, and much more. [Check out Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs), by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation)

We know that there has been a dramatic increase in HABs in our Finger Lakes region.

“Unseasonably warm days in early and mid September have fueled a surge in harmful algal blooms, or HABs, in New York’s Finger Lakes, firmly establishing 2017 as the region’s worst year on record. Last year, the often toxic green scum was reported on the surface of six of the 11 Finger Lakes — then the most ever. This year, its been spotted on all 11.” (Posted on September 20, 2017 Water Front)

We know there’s been an increase in algae blooms in the Great Lakes, especially in Lake Erie. Though most algae outbreaks aren’t harmful (although the 2014 HABs outbreak in Toledo, Ohio certainly was), NYS’s environmental agency points to phosphorus, nutrient enrichment, aquatic invasive species—and Climate Change as the culprits.

 “What is causing the algae problems in Lake Erie? Lake Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes, the warmest, and the most susceptible to eutrophication (nutrient enrichment) and the effects of climate change. Lake-wide changes have occurred in Lake Erie due to phosphorus enrichment from both rural and urban sources, compounded by the influence of climate change and aquatic invasive species.” (Overview of HABs and Drinking Water in NYS, 2014, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC))

What we don’t know is the exact cause-and-effect relationship between any specific lake’s HABs outbreak and Climate Change. This 2013 factsheet from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gives some insight into this HABs/Climate Change relationship, but hasn’t nailed it down:

Impacts of Climate Change on the Occurrence of Harmful Algal Blooms Climate change is predicted to change many environmental conditions that could affect the natural properties of fresh and marine waters both in the US and worldwide. Changes in these factors could favor the growth of harmful algal blooms and habitat changes such that marine HABs can invade and occur in freshwater. An increase in the occurrence and intensity of harmful algal blooms may negatively impact the environment, human health, and the economy for communities across the US and around the world. The purpose of this fact sheet is to provide climate change researchers and decision–makers a summary of the potential impacts of climate change on harmful algal blooms in freshwater and marine ecosystems. Although much of the evidence presented in this fact sheet suggests that the problem of harmful algal blooms may worsen under future climate scenarios, further research is needed to better understand the association between climate change and harmful algae. May 2013 US Environmental Protection Agency Office of Water EPA 820-S-13-001 MC 4304T

There are many reports* besides the above one that suggest that warmer waters and/or Climate Change have and will play a role in more HABs in our lakes, endangering our health and environment. But most local media reports don’t reflect the possibility that the worldwide warming crisis could be affecting our region in this ominous way--now.

There are and should be a concerted effort to reduce phosphorus, nutrient enrichment, aquatic invasive species coming into our lakes. But it appears quite likely that HABs won’t get under control until we factor in, however inconvenient, Climate Change.

Shouldn’t we at least try and rule out Climate Change? Seems prudent. Avoiding the possible Climate Change connection in the rise in HABs would be like getting up in the morning and finding your backdoor wide open and just assuming it was the wind. Maybe it was the wind, someone could have forgotten to close the door. Or, it could have been a burglar. In which case, if there was only a slight chance someone broke into your house and was still prowling about, wouldn’t you want to check that out? Same kind of need to discover (if any) the connections with Climate Change and environmental anomalies.

Despite much certainty about Climate Change—our planet is warming, it’s us—there is also a lot of uncertainty about how the extra energy captured by our greenhouse gas emission radiates through our natural systems. Glaciers are melting, but how fast? And, how much does more water entering our warmer lakes affect the increase in algae outbreaks—let alone harmful algae outbreaks? In other words, does Climate Change amplify the known causes that lead to HABs? Not to mention, what else besides Climate Change could account for all the Finger Lakes getting hit by HABs recently?

The media, craving certainty and not upsetting their subscribers with what they perceive as speculations, are not likely to press Climate Change in an interview about HABs unless the interviewee makes a point of it. And the public isn’t going to demand that their media connect the dots between local indicators of climate Change and HABS until the public is comfortable with such discussions.

If Climate Change is warming our lakes (it is), can we address the HABs situation if we don’t also address Climate Change?

Time passes.

* Besides the EPA information fact sheet above, there are other sources out there on the relationship between Climate Change and HABs:

  •  Harmful algal blooms and climate change: Learning from the past and present to forecast the future (2015 US National Library of Medicine Nation Institutes of Health)
  •  Factors that Promote Growth of Harmful Algal Blooms “Changes in water temperature, particularly increases in temperature” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC))
  • “Rising air temperatures can also lead to declines in water quality through a different set of processes. Some large lakes, including the Great Lakes, are warming rapidly.30 Warmer surface waters can stimulate blooms of harmful algae in both lakes and coastal oceans,9  which may include toxic cyanobacteria that are favored at higher temperatures.31”(“ Climate Change Impacts in the United States” (Page 198, National climate Assessment 3rd report)
  •  “Over the course of the 20th century, regional seasurface temperatures have risen more than 1.0ºF. Water temperature changes can result in shifts in faunal assemblages (groupings of organisms) that affect marine ecosystems and economic activities in unknown ways. Every species has a thermally suitable range for habitat that, when compromised, induces a forced migration to seek another location suitable to its life cycle. Water temperatures influence organism survival and growth, 126 ClimAID egg and larvae development, and spawning and feeding behavior. When water temperatures rise, ecosystems become vulnerable to shellfish diseases, harmful algae blooms, and exotic species that force indigenous species to compete for resources, including dissolved oxygen (DO). Oxygen solubility will decrease as water temperatures increase, further stressing marine organisms.” (pages 125, 126 Responding to Climate Change in New York State (ClimAID(, full report)
  •  Massive Toxic Algae Blooms May Prove a Sign of Climate Change to Come The blooms off the U.S. West Coast may become more frequent (2015 Scientific American)

  •  “Climate models project decreases of renewable water resources in some regions and increases in others, albeit with large uncertainty in many places. Broadly, water resources are projected to decrease in many mid-latitude and dry subtropical regions, and to increase at high latitudes and in many humid mid-latitude regions (high agreement, robust evidence). Even where increases are projected, there can be short-term shortages due to more variable streamflow (because of greater variability of precipitation) and seasonal reductions of water supply due to reduced snow and ice storage. Availability of clean water can also be reduced by negative impacts of climate change on water quality; for instance, the quality of lakes used for water supply could be impaired by the presence of algae producing toxins.” (page 251 Part A Scholarly articles for IPCC Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability)

Monday, February 05, 2018

Designing Rochester’s transportation for a Climate Change world

We should place a top priority on enhancing City development that encourages more public transit and active transportation (walking and bicycling) to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Transportation in the US accounts for 27% of greenhouse gas emissions according to the EPA. Rochester, in their Climate Action Plan, finds that figure to be 24% for our community. That’s a big chunk of our carbon footprint.

If Rochester’s new comprehensive plan, Rochester 2034, can design for transit corridors that are attractive, where development builds on the communities already thriving in our neighborhoods, that makes it more likely that the public will achieve a lower carbon footprint. A robust public transit system is key to making our future livable by encouraging human growth—not parking lot sprawl.

Transit supportive development encourages a mix of complementary activities and destinations (e.g., housing, work, shopping, services, and entertainment) along major streets and centers. Transit supportive development helps create compact, vibrant communities where it’s easier for people to walk, bike, and use public transit to get around. (ROCHESTER MOBILITY ENHANCEMENT STUDY)

Everyone needs to get around for the necessities of life, comradeship, goods and service, and much more. With humanity’s numbers now passing seven billion, our transportation infrastructures are now critical for our existence. All of us, even pedestrians and bicyclists, use this infrastructure of roads and bridges.

Those with disabilities can have their ability to get around stymied at any point between their friends, groceries, health services, and bus stops. A sidewalk or a bus stop not cleared of ice can determine whether someone using a wheelchair gets to have access to the opportunities most of us have. So, designing our future to address Climate Change includes Environmental Justice.

Those wanting a community more walkable, friendlier, and inexpensive to live will love some of the ideas for a future Rochester.

Take a moment to help Rochester plan for its future with Climate Change in mind. Addressing Climate Change when planning for our future isn’t simply another tick-off point. It’s a decision to approach our children’s future sustainably. 

Rochester needs your input on a transit supportive corroborators study.  Please take this survey: (it will go on until mid-March).  As part of its Comprehensive Plan, Rochester 2034, the City is studying which major streets have the best potential for “transit supportive development.”

Also, the City is conducting public outreach to get input the morning of Saturday, February 10th from 9am-noon at the public market (see flyer).

In 2034 Rochester will be two hundred years old. Let’s give our children and grandchildren something to celebrate.

Time passes.