Monday, October 22, 2018

Climate Change choices for your consideration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time passes. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time passes.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time passes.

Monday, October 01, 2018

What should we save from Climate Change?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time passes. 

Monday, September 24, 2018

Are we responding to Climate Change sensibly?

Humans, despite being the brainiest species ever to have lived, have an amazing penchant for getting bored by the very information that would keep them alive. Dismissing Climate Change warnings by climate scientists is like deer getting sick and tired of hearing wolves howling in the night and deciding to ignore the disturbing sounds altogether.

Yet the numbers—the number of carbon dioxide molecules in our atmosphere in parts per million (as of today it’s 409) and the number of inches our oceans are rising—keep climbing and most people still continue business as usual.

Climate Change presents some of the most intractable problems we face and some of these problems will be made insoluble if we don’t prioritize them. For example, if we keep responding to extreme weather in the same way we’ve done historically, we are never going to rebuild our homes in the aftermath of a deluge, and we’ll probably go broke trying.

As we go further into the Climate Change Bottleneck, where our past environmental abuses get cooked on a warming planet, insurance for flooding and the other consequences of Climate Change will become unsustainable. NOT planning for Climate Change is getting too expensive.

Only 10 percent have flood insurance on hard-hit Carolina coast People without flood insurance will lose their homes or have to try to rebuild on FEMA aid that is often less than $5,000. As Americans in North and South Carolina make it out of the Florence floodwaters, they face another daunting task: figuring out whether they can afford to rebuild. Few have flood insurance in the areas with the worst destruction. Home insurance does not typically cover flooding, a fact many realize the hard way. People have to purchase a separate flood insurance policy at least a month in advance of a major storm to be eligible for reimbursement. Only about one in 10 homes has flood insurance in the counties hit by Florence, according to a Washington Post analysis comparing the number of policies in National Flood Insurance Program data with the number of housing units in counties hit by the storm. Milliman, an actuarial firm, found similar results. (September 17, 2018) The Washington Post [more on Climate Change in our area]

Also, trying to escape regions that are continually experiencing extreme weather and not able to adapt is going to be problematic. Not every place is as inviting and relatively safe from the worst of a quickly warming planet as Rochester:

A year after Hurricane Maria, thousands of Puerto Ricans rebuild their lives in Rochester Sonia Burgos remembers her first few days working in the midst of hundreds of families who came to Monroe County with nothing. Burgos, a retired Rochester resident who came to the U.S. from Puerto Rico with her family at age 3, walked into the Ibero-American Action League headquarters last fall to see a mass of humanity. Puerto Rican families who fled an unprecedented island-wide disaster were now looking for basic necessities like clothing, bedding or household goods in a city miles from home. They’d come from neighborhoods either destroyed or maimed by Hurricane Maria, and many had been living in Puerto Rico without running water or electricity for months before deciding to leave. Some had family in Rochester, others did not. Most came with essentially their clothes on their backs. (September 20, 2018) Democrat and Chronicle [more on Climate Change in our area]

It is more likely that the ‘new reality’ of Climate Change will not be as onerous if we plan wisely, adapt, and prevent more warming than if we continue business as usual. Humanity can change; we don’t have to keep doing the same things that don’t work.

 ‘It’s Back’: Underwater Yet Again, the Carolinas Face a New Reality After Hurricane Matthew stomped into his trailer home and pulped his floors, walls and cabinets two years ago, Bobby Barnes Jr. spent $90,000 to rebuild and protect himself from another flood. He raised the house two feet onto brick pilings, bought $1,300 worth of flood fencing and said he complied with every federal recommendation. But on Tuesday morning, his family was underwater again. The Black River, 10 feet above flood stage and still rising, was now a lake that had swallowed farm fields around the Barnes’s house. The water lapped at their front door and sloshed around the newly laid floors. “It’s back,” Mr. Barnes said. “Same nightmare.” It was the kind of tragic, expensive, depressing rerun that played out across much of the Carolinas this week, not only on the coast, but in inland communities like this one in Sampson County, blessed with tobacco and turkeys, not sea and sand. (September 18, 2018) The New York Times [more on Climate Change in our area]

Time passes.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Do local media reporters get Climate Change training?

Presently, in the USA there are many occasions “… where contrarians and sceptics should be included within climate change and sustainability debates”(1) because an appalling amount of US Climate Change news stems from a federal government dominated by contrarians and sceptics. So, if your American media has a crib sheet for its reporters on their editorial policy towards Climate Change, it’s going to read differently than, say, the UK’s.

Exclusive: BBC issues internal guidance on how to report climate change The BBC, one of the world’s largest and most respected news organisations, has issued formal guidance to its journalists on how to report climate change. Carbon Brief has obtained the internal four-page “crib sheet” sent yesterday to BBC journalists via an email from Fran Unsworth, the BBC’s director of news and current affairs. The crib sheet includes the BBC’s “editorial policy” and “position” on climate change. All of the BBC’s editorial staff have also been invited to sign up for a one-hour “training course on reporting climate change”. Carbon Brief understands this is the first time that the BBC has issued formal reporting guidance to its staff on this topic. The move follows a ruling earlier this year by Ofcom, the UK’s broadcasting regulator, which found that BBC Radio 4’s flagship current-affairs programme Today had breached broadcasting rules by “not sufficiently challenging” Lord Lawson, the former Conservative chancellor. (September 7, 2018) Carbon Brief [more on Climate Change in our area]

Overall though, this is a good question to ask at this moment in time (in a quickly warming world): Is your media training its reporters on Climate Change reporting? If they are, what priority does your media give Climate Change? The BBC policy mentioned above is a good start and a quick guideline for mainstream media, but what about local media?

How much of local reporting on Climate Change is influenced by the political landscape? In other words, is mentioning Climate Change held back because it might offend a portion of their readership not comfortable (or hostile to) this worldwide warming?

Does local media receive feedback one way or the other on Climate Change—or, when they occasionally do a news story in Climate Change, is it an issue their readership doesn’t show any apparent interest in?

How often does a local media outlet (radio, TV, newsprint, podcast) do investigative reporting on Climate Change in their region? Do they understand the possible connection between the increase in heavy precipitation in our region, the increase of harmful algae outbreaks in our lakes, and diseases like Lyme disease and Climate Change in our region?

Does our local media feel compelled to report about Climate Change only when environmentalists, or widely published studies, or a national media mentions it against a backdrop of increased wildfires, flooding, extreme weather, or other outside references?

Although our local media feels compelled to report on many national and international events (especially sports), why haven’t they felt compelled to mention anything about the Global Climate Action Summit in California this week? It’s ironic that the most important get-together on addressing Climate Change on one side of our country is occurring at the same time a ‘monstrous’ extreme weather storm is thrashing the other side of our continent without even a suggestion by our local media that the one major event might be connected to the other. [See: Here’s How Climate Change Put Hurricane Florence On Steroids (September 13, 2018, BuzzFeed)] The Global Climate Action Summit should get attention in our local media, like it does in mainstream media:

Global Climate Action Summit puts stress on action This has been a big week for advocates who fight climate change. Business leaders, mayors, governors and activists from around the world rallied in San Francisco at the Global Climate Action Summit to advance their agenda in the face of a defiant White House. California Gov. Jerry Brown issued an order Monday announcing the goal to eliminate carbon emissions in the state within 27 years. He also just signed a bill into law, making the state's electricity completely emissions-free by 2045. Brown signed as the White House reportedly enacted another policy to stymie such efforts, this time by relaxing methane emission regulations. (September 14, 2018) CBS News [more on Climate Change in our area]

Wouldn’t it be interesting to see all American media, local and national, post a story about their media’s position on Climate Change and maybe a statement about their commitment to inform the public about this worldwide crisis?

In retrospect, if our future affords the opportunity, it will be interesting to see how today’s media coverage of Climate Change will be assessed a century from now. Will our great-grandchildren say our media did a good job, or just concede that there just wasn’t enough interest or exact enough science to make a strong, urgent, and continual case for action? I’m thinking they’ll be pissed.   

Time passes. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Rochester’s part in the Global Action Climate Summit

The Global Climate Action Summit starts on September 12th and runs through the 14th in San Francisco, California. It is a “is a gathering of mayors & local governments, business and civil society … ” “… to showcase climate action taking place around the world, and inspire deeper commitments from each other and from national governments.”(Global Climate Action Summit)

To raise awareness and enthusiasm for this summit, communities around the country and the world participated in many #RiseForClimate events. In Rochester, we just completed an amazing event, Rise For a Resilient Rochester, where ten area residents explained to an audience of over 100 how Climate Change was affecting their lives—now. Area leaders, including business, faith, and political leaders, also listened as the speakers told amazing personal stories. Evidence of living in a quickly warming world.  

At Saturday's session, held at Asbury First United Methodist Church, the true target audience sat right in front: Roughly 25 elected officials and candidates for office, and representatives of government agencies, colleges and business groups. The purpose of the meeting, and several thousand others like it that were held Saturday on every continent but Antarctica, was to urge the decision-makers at large institutions to act on climate change. (Local people talk about how climate change touched their lives, September 8, 2018 Democrat and Chronicle)

A high school student explained how his generation doesn’t have the luxury of avoiding the Climate Change crisis because it’s their future. A Rochester resident talked about how grateful she was to be able to access grants to improve the energy efficiency of her home. An advocate for disability rights described how extreme weather, including heatwaves, storms, and emergencies (which will come more often during Climate Change) were already making the lives of the disabled more difficult. A victim of Lyme disease related her struggle to deal with a debilitating disease that comes with tick bites that are becoming more frequent because our warmer winters make it possible for disease-carrying insects to survive longer. A community leader told the audience about his neighborhood’s struggle to get a major Brownfield cleaned up so the increased flooding that comes with Climate Change won’t further endanger his residents with toxic chemicals. A Rochester resident with relatives in Puerto Rico told of the harrowing scenes helping relatives in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. And more …

This all matters because Climate Change is already affecting our Rochester, New York region with annual temperatures increasing, an Increase in extreme precipitation events, reduced snowpack, earlier ice breakup, Spring beginning a week earlier than it did a few decades ago, bird population shifts, other wildlife affected by Climate Change, declining lake-ice cover, an increase in lake effect snowfall, invasive species thriving, increasing at-risk species in New York due to Climate Change, and impacts on Northeast agriculture.

The Global Climate Action Summit, which so many communities rose up yesterday for, needs and is getting our attention:

·         Rise for Climate: thousands march across US to protest environment crisis Tens of thousands of people took part in marches and other events across the US on Saturday, calling for a swift transition to renewable energy in order to stave off the various perils of climate change. (September 8, 2018) The Guardian [more on Climate Change in our area]
·         Thousands march in Rise for Climate demonstration in San Francisco Thousands of climate justice advocates, community organizers and Bay Area residents took to the streets Saturday in a 2-mile march from Embarcadero Plaza to the Civic Center as part of a worldwide demonstration known as the Rise for Climate, Jobs and Justice. The march mirrored more than 800 demonstrations in roughly 90 countries around the world, with protesters demanding that political leaders shift away from using fossil fuels and make the transition to renewable energy. (September 8, 2018 [more on Climate Change in our area]
·         Around the World, a Rise for Climate The march was international, but the message was the same The Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice march was a reminder that, despite all our differences, people around the world want clean air, clean water, and a non-apocalyptic future for ourselves and our children. Here are just a few of the protests, gatherings, and art events that occurred at #RiseforClimate around the world. We'll keep adding more as they come in. (September 8, 2018) Sierra The national magazine of the Sierra Club [more on Climate Change in our area]

Business as usual—burning fossil fuels for energy, downplaying the climate crisis, and ignoring the plights of our first and hardest hit victims—must change. Otherwise, even Rochester won’t be able to contain all the climate refugees fleeing from the worst and most immediate consequences of Climate Change around the world.

Time passes. 

Monday, September 03, 2018

Climate Change and our media, an update

Mainstream media is doing much better on communicating the urgency of Climate Change, but local media coverage is still spotty. At the risk of sounding Trumpian (Fake News!) when criticizing the media, there’s reason to press the press on their role in this crisis. I’ve been pondering the role of mainstream media for some time now in a slew of essays, wondering why our mass media have been so hesitant to inform the public completely about this unprecedented crisis unfolding during our lifetime.

You’d think a quickly warming planet, not just any planet, but our planet, would garner more concern and action than it has. Even if we (miraculously) adhere to the Paris Accord, we are still going to reach over 3C by 2100. Our grandchildren will be fighting tooth and nail for their existence on a very hot world.   

Whatever one thinks of the media in these crazy political times, in the information age the public gets their sense of reality in the aggregate of information speeding around the world. That is to say, there are too many of us and too many things going on at any one time for anyone of us to trust our own limited perspective. We need to know the weather; sticking our heads out the window is no longer enough. We must have a sense of our economic health before we start spending our hard-earned money on major purchases—like a car, a house, or a college education. We need to know if there are health issues sweeping in from afar—heatwaves, infectious diseases, sewage overflows, you-name-it. 
We need to know the health of our life support system, our environment, for long term planning. We need to know a lot of more information than we can obtain from our own surroundings to live and thrive in our present world. We need a healthy, free press, uncluttered by ideology and anchored solidly in science. 

That a large portion of the public have closed their mind to the reality of Climate Change, refusing to attend to the few responsible media who are keeping us informed on this crisis, is more than sad. It’s suicidal.

But for the majority who understand the importance of science, it’s heartening to know that many of our mainstream media are catching up quickly on Climate Change, which seems simple at first but gets infinitely intricate as you contemplate the implications. Yes, manmade greenhouse gas emissions since the Industrial Revolution are warming up our planet. Yes, our planet has warmed up before. But not as quickly with so many of us, and with so much of our infrastructure being critical to our survival.

Climate Change is very complicated and gets more complicated as new information, new studies, and new consequences (extreme weather) come in each day. So, it’s very good that our mainstream media, the largest and most influential media, have come around.

As we go further into the Climate Change Bottleneck, where our past environmental abuses get cooked on a warming planet, ecosystem changes may be more than we can handle. Here’s an example of mainstream media doing their job in a time of a quickly warming planet, our freaking planet:

Climate change could render many of Earth’s ecosystems unrecognizable After the end of the last ice age — as sea levels rose, glaciers receded and global average temperatures soared as much as seven degrees Celsius — the Earth’s ecosystems were utterly transformed. Forests grew up out of what was once barren, ice-covered ground. Dark, cool stands of pine were replaced by thickets of hickory and oak. Woodlands gave way to scrub, and savanna turned to desert. The more temperatures increased in a particular landscape, the more dramatic the ecological shifts. It’s about to happen again, researchers are reporting Thursday in the journal Science. A sweeping survey of global fossil and temperature records from the past 20,000 years suggests that Earth’s terrestrial ecosystems are at risk of another, even faster transformation unless aggressive action is taken against climate change. (August 30, 2018) The Washington Post [more on Climate Change in our area]

At the local level, media coverage of Climate Change is lackluster, timid, milquetoast, unremarkable, and almost invisible. Continually, our local media avoids connecting the dots with the consequences of Climate Change in our region—more heatwaves, more harmful algae blooms, more heavy rains with sewer overflows, and much more. Here’s an example: This is code for Climate Change: “the cost of these increasingly common very heavy rains.” There will be more washed out infrastructures if the public doesn’t understand and support efforts to adapt to Climate Change and we need our media to communicate this. Heavy precipitation events since 1958 is the major expression of Climate Change in our Northeast region. Yet this (public) media doesn’t even mention Climate Change:

 When it rains, it pours on county roads and bridges Erie County is learning the cost of these increasingly common very heavy rains. The water has to go somewhere and if there isn't drainage, it might wash away a road or cause some other problem. Erie County has 290 bridges and 420 culverts. Those are either the large circular pipes carrying water under a road or a regular road bridge shorter than 20 feet. The county is expanding the size of its culverts, to let more water flow through and prevent roads from flooding - or worse. "A lot of these culverts that we're replacing, some of them were designed in the early 1900s, 1920-1930," said Public Works Commissioner Bill Geary, "so you can imagine what used to be just a little farm road that may now be a major thoroughfare or a feeder stream that is getting a lot of runoff from some new developments or things of that nature, and then the cycle of weather patterns we've been seeing the last five years or so." (August 22, 2018) WBFO Buffalo's NPR New Station [more on Climate Change in our area]

Local media outlets are where locals get a lot of their perspective on their environment. When locals get a survey call about what issues are most important to them, they don’t put Climate Change on their list at all because their local media doesn’t. Public officials have trouble getting the public to come learn about our climate vulnerabilities because local media doesn’t bother to inform. We missed the Rochester media recently at the City’s CLIMATE VULNERABILITY ASSESSMENT PUBLIC INPUT SESSION, where the public was informed about how Climate Change will impact our community. (If you missed this event and want to help shape local climate adaption you can still make comment on this project here.)

It would be nice if our local media was engaged on our City’s efforts to address Climate Change so that all the public, not just a few, would get involved.

From my perspective gained over the last couple of decades, mainstream media is changing for the better on Climate Change but not quickly enough. Local media needs constant prodding by local environmentalists before they will use their medium to inform the public.

If the media had been doing their job on Climate Change, we would not have elected climate deniers into high and local public offices.  (And yeah it matters: “Climate change: local efforts won't be enough to undo Trump's inaction, study says”) 

The fossil fuel industry didn’t just hold back and misinform about their industries’ contributions to the rapid rise in greenhouse gas emissions, they did so in a vacuum of comprehensive Climate Change media coverage with science at the core.    

Time passes. 

Monday, August 27, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time passes.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Climate Change, there will be limits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time passes.

Monday, August 06, 2018

Paralysis on Climate Change: It didn’t have to be—and it doesn’t have to be

Back in the day, addressing Climate Change on a scale and time frame that will matter was possible. We might have been able to keep carbon emission to a 1.5C above pre-industrial rates. Now? Not so much. What when wrong? Will our paralysis continue?

Why U.S. lawmakers failed to act on climate change decades ago This coming week, The New York Times Magazine will devote an entire publication of the Sunday magazine to the issue of climate change. The single-themed edition called "Losing Earth," will look at scientific discoveries and decisions made on climate change from 1979 to 1989 through the story of a former NASA scientist. Nathaniel Rich, who authored the edition, joins Hari Sreenivasan for more. (July 29, 2018) PBS NewsHour [more on Climate Change in our area]

Though heartbreaking, Wednesday’s New York Times article “Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change” offers a ghoulish hope that a reflection on our past failures to address Climate Change might, as a drunkard bottomed out, redeem ourselves by changing course immediately. Instead of allowing our past dismal behavior towards our environment, our inclination to preoccupy ourselves in the present, and our inconsistency in the face of long-term problems to keep us paralyzed, we can change. Clearly, we haven’t yet:

“More carbon has been released into the atmosphere since the final day of the Noordwijk conference, Nov. 7, 1989, than in the entire history of civilization preceding it. In 1990, humankind burned more than 20 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. By 2017, the figure had risen to 32.5 billion metric tons, a record. Despite every action taken since the Charney report — the billions of dollars invested in research, the nonbinding treaties, the investments in renewable energy — the only number that counts, the total quantity of global greenhouse gas emitted per year, has continued its inexorable rise.” (Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change August 1, The New York Times)

We won’t have the world we could have had if we had acted sooner. But scientists tell us still that we shouldn’t abandon hope.

We will adapt to Climate Change because we must. Survival, unless overridden by our will, is hard-wired into our species (all species for that matter or there wouldn’t be any species). However horribly and relentlessly the flames from a wildfire come licking towards us, most of us will try to escape.      

I found “Losing Earth” one of the most profound articles on Climate Change I’ve ever read. It reveals how the political side of our nature might do us in completely if we don’t somehow get it under control. That is, we must somehow shape our collective will towards solutions for the long-term problem of Climate Change, so our survival is not thwarted anywhere along this existential plight.  

Some will blame many of the players who fought against doing something significant about Climate Change from 1979 to 1989. But there is a larger point to be made. Such condemnation will not do the rest of us much good as we race for answers. Blame is a matter best left to the courts. We are now near a baseline of 410ppm of CO2 that will continue to rise unless we change. (About 280ppm of CO2 was the baseline just before the Industrial Revolution and about 10,000 years before that.)
Humanity could have done better. We’ve been treating our environment, our life support system so badly for so long that taking it for granted is what we do—despite the centuries of warnings (pollution, killing off entire species, destroying land and water). We are disinclined to monitor the health of our environment regularly no matter what we do to it. 

As we go further into the Climate Change Bottleneck, where our past environmental abuses get cooked on a warming planet, there are solutions that will no longer be possible, consequences that are inevitable, and losses that will have to be cut. There are some coastline cities and regions we won’t be able to prevent from flooding. Some of the consequences will be environmental restrictions that will come down hard on those predisposed to fight all attempts to curb their behavior. There will be loss of species that, even if stored in a zoo, will not have an ecosystem to return to. A quickly warming planet choked with pollution offers far less than an environment robust and resilient from constant care.

As Earth’s air, land, and seas heat up more, our attempt to survive will trump our ideology. We will learn to live with limitations never thought possible.

“Losing Earth” reminds us that climate denial is not new, nor is it soon to be eradicated because it offers those whose worldview doesn’t mirror reality the fantasy of short-term benefits.

Sometime soon, maybe now, many will be asking for more time, a larger carbon budget perhaps in which to rid ourselves of unsustainable behaviors. But we may have squandered what we had, and ours will be a much hotter, more uncomfortable world, regardless of what we do.

Perhaps our best hope is a nurturing of our best inclinations, while being mindful of our worst.

Time passes. 

Monday, July 30, 2018

Counter Climate Change backfire effect with #RiseForClimate

A growing body of research over a range of issues shows that evidence that threatens someone’s worldview can actually backfire and strengthen people’s beliefs. (Dr. John Cook UQx DENIAL101x Worldview backfire effect)

As if it isn’t difficult enough already to communicate the urgency behind addressing Climate Change, our brains may be hard-wired to resist such information. Good grief.

According to Dr. Cook, we would be wise to understand what is driving climate denial and the importance of the world views of those we are trying to reach with climate science. We are trying to communicate with the large undecided majority; we are not trying to change the minds of hardened climate deniers (which just makes them double-down their denial, anyway). We need to explain two things: the science of Climate Change, and how that science can be distorted. And how, during these tumultuous times, do we get beyond the ‘fake news’ meme going on in the US and leverage the right of the public to be informed? Check out this short video:

UQx DENIAL101x Worldview backfire effect “John Cook explains the wordview backfire effect using examples from recent history and research. He also talks about ways in which we might combat this phenomenon when it comes to discussions of climate change.”

While I agree that we who communicate the urgency of addressing Climate Change should be mindful of the ‘backfire effect’, this human failing of sorts, we should not be ruled by it. You can only bend over backwards so far trying to convey the urgency of addressing Climate Change while still talking about Climate Change.

However valid studies might be on the psychological state of the backfire effect, when it comes to denying Climate Change, it is a luxury. It is a luxury for people in first world countries who have caused but are not noticing the consequences of Climate Change, to double-down on their denial because, for various reasons, it’s very convenient.

In the real world, the one we evolved within, we take action when there is immediate danger, or we perish. For example: If several people, waving their hands, shouting, and trembling with fear, told you that a hungry tiger had just entered your house, you would probably take evasive actions regardless of how remote you thought the chances of a man-eater coming into your house might be. You wouldn’t think you had the luxury of ignoring this message; you would at least check out the possibility, however improbable, that a tiger’s eyes are nearby and burning bright for you.

We should be mindful of the backfire effect, but it should not be paraded as another excuse to avoid addressing Climate Change on a scale and time frame that will matter.

Instead, we should counter the most dramatic form of Climate Change backfire, Trump’s attempt to pull out of the Paris Accord and the continual rollback of environmental regulations, by pressing on. Do that here on September 8th.

Time passes. 

Monday, July 23, 2018

#RiseForClimate in Rochester, NY and everywhere else

The fact that Trump, his administration, and the GOP have copped a ‘tude’ on Climate Change (despite all sensibility, they still think it’s a hoax) doesn’t mean this crisis doesn’t have to be addressed, or that we the people will shut up about it. The moral failing and political irresponsibility of our federal government on Climate Change and our environment must be addressed as urgently and rigorously as possible. The window of opportunity to address this crisis on a scale and time frame that will matter is quickly closing.

Heatwaves, melting glaciers, sea level rise, wildlife changes, ecosystem collapses—in short, all the things you would expect from a quickly warming planet—including these consequences on the massive human population and their infrastructures—are happening.  So please, enough with the we’ve had climate changes before and we got through them or they make us stronger blah, blah, blah.

Disgusted with the lack of leadership at the highest levels of our government, we are coming together yet again to send a signal, a stronger one, that Climate Change is happening, and it needs to be addressed:

Rise For Climate SEPTEMBER 8, 2018 — JOIN A GLOBAL DAY OF ACTION Real climate leader­ship rises from the grass­roots up. Local action is leading the way — Be part of the movement that’s ending the era of fossil fuels and building 100% renewable energy for all. Find an event near you: FIND AN EVENT

Admittedly, grassroots efforts to address Climate Change are kind of desperate: First, because climate science itself hasn’t motivated enough effort, and because we really have to get serious about the science.

In that effort, check out this great video: Dr. John Cook - Responding to Alternative Facts in a Post-Truth World. Dr. Cook has been focusing on one of the major conundrums of our times: Communicating the climate science behind Climate Change effectively. The video contains some of the highlights of his website Skeptical Science, his books, and his online courses.

Secondly, efforts to inform people that our politics should be free of climate denial have failed. Check out this humongous list from National Geographic on “A Running List of How Trump Is Changing the Environment”. If you’re thinking that there isn’t a relationship between humanity’s ability to address environmental matters, including Climate Change, and our whacky politics, think again. Who we put in charge of our nations matters to our collective, long-term survival.

We are desperate. Science isn’t convincing enough people, nations are more focused on fending off attacks by Trump than motivating world efforts to solve this crisis, our media (which has finally ‘gotten it’ on Climate Change) is being ignored by the very people who should be paying attention, and the freaking heat is getting worse.  

2018 Global Heat So Far With the release of the monthly global temperature analysis from NOAA today, it is a good opportunity to compare temperatures so far this year to their historical levels. And as greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere, the heat goes on both globally and here in the U.S. Globally, the past four years have been the hottest four years on record, and 2018 so far is coming in as the 4th hottest. All-time record heat has peppered the Northern Hemisphere this summer. Here a few stats compiled by Weather Underground: Glasgow, Scotland had its hottest day on record, reaching 89°F on June 28. Montreal, Canada set a new all-time high, reaching 98°F on June 29. Ouargla, Algeria had the highest temperature on record in Africa, reaching 124°F on July 5. This is believed to be the hottest temperature reliably measured in Africa. Tianxiang, Taiwan had the hottest temperature on record in Taiwan, reaching 105°F on July 10. According to the WMO, 2018 has been the hottest La Niña year on record, with La Niña years today consistently warmer than El Niño years from 30 years ago. Consensus forecasts are trending toward a new El Niño before the end of the year, meaning 2018 will probably finish as one of the 10 hottest years on record globally. (July 18, 2018) Climate Central [more on Climate Change in our area]

Having been involved in many climate actions over the years myself, it does feel increasingly repetitive: doing the same thing and expecting different results. Yet, not entirely so. We are changing our actions as time goes on, as things become more dire and the science more certain. The rise of social media, the importance of telling our stories, the importance of meeting with our local leaders, the lessons learned from psychology, history, and getting the vote out (probably the most important thing we can do) are being gleaned for clues on how to get ourselves out of this climate mess we created. How does humanity talk to itself about something very urgent and very inconvenient without pissing ourselves off so much we won’t even listen? Again, VOTE, help get others to vote and use candidates environmental record to help choose wisely. {See: League of Conservation Voters Scorecard.]

Our politics have become so crazy that even the environmentalists themselves are downplaying the science because it turns off the people who have themselves turned off the message from science. Well, what are you going to do? (If you were a physician and your patient’s complaints turned out to be cancer, would you remove ‘cancer’ from your diagnosis?) We have an administration that isn’t compelled by science to do the right thing and is continually burying “Climate Change” to cover their interests. The public is getting tired of hearing about Climate Change. And the place continues to warm up.

It must be like the end of Reconstruction and the election of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, where even the Republicans and the people of the North were tired of trying to make elections fair, and so they deluded themselves that the South would keep their promises to treat the former slaves fairly and the North would pull federal troops out of the South. Of course, then the Jim Crow era began with a vengeance where open, public murder of a free people became common. Inaction doesn’t accomplish change.

Getting tired of fighting for people’s rights results in people losing rights. Getting tired of fighting to address Climate Change means it’s going to be more difficult to address this crisis, if at all. Getting tired of governmental interference and regulations is going to incur the very Big-Brother scenario those tired of this fear the most.       

Which is to say, living on a quickly warming planet with such an intelligent but ‘complicated’ species as ourselves is getting very weird. If we choose to ignore Climate Change, give up and go about our business, we are still committing this crazy suicide on a quickly warming planet. Climate Change doesn’t change because we change our minds; it changes when we change our collective behavior.

A note of hope: Those thinking that we’ll get sick and tired of making a fuss about this worldwide existential crisis, think again. We’re going to keep thinking of ways to press the case for addressing Climate Change because survival is hard-wired into our genes. And it would be nice to know that we have a fighting chance for a viable future.

In the Rochester region, many folks are working on plans for the #RiseForClimate event. Check out this from the Rochester People’s Climate Coalition (RPCC):

Save the Date: "Rise for Climate" on Sept. 8    As part of's global day of action on September 8, we invite you to Rise for Climate. People are rising up around the world on September 8th to demand real climate leadership from every level of government. Together, we’ll show that people everywhere are committed to a just transition away from fossil fuels to 100% renewable energy for all.  Here in Rochester, everyday people affected by climate change will share their stories with local decision-makers and advocate for the community wide solutions that we need.   Please join us! Mark your calendar for Saturday, September 8, roughly 10am-noon. Details will be forthcoming; our local event will be up on the Rise for Climate website soon.

Time passes.