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Challenges that Rochester’s poor face with Climate Change

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There are many aspects of Climate Change that make it the mother of all problems—rising seas, Arctic melting, increases in extreme weather, and a grim future for our children. This is further complicated in that we cannot even talk about Climate Change without first making it clear that we must keep our economic system intact and thriving. We get very uncomfortable when the notion of Climate Justice comes up. The recent Warsaw Climate Change Conference 2013, the nineteenth of these top-down conferences aimed at lowering greenhouse gases (GHGs), almost fell apart (again) because developed nations bridle at the thought of compensating the developing nations for the warming the developed nations caused.

The notion of funding the UN’s Green Climate Fund continually sticks in the craw of many rich nations like our own because it threatens our vision that our finite world must offer unlimited growth and consumerism. For if Climate Change is really caused by the rapid use of GHGs (which it is), then everyone, everywhere, will pay the consequences, including the poor. The poor, the developing nations, already stripped of their natural resources (including our oceans and our air) are demanding their fair share of opportunities, even while the Climate Change crisis unfolds. The more the developed nations attempt to strip the Climate Change issue of the equality and justice issues inherent in this crisis, the angrier the developing nations get. This fairness aspect of Climate Change is going to be no small part of the crisis, nor can it be disengaged from the climate negotiations.

Trying to address Climate Change at the local Rochester level, amidst great poverty, is going to be a challenge too. According to ACT Rochester’s newly released report, ‘Poverty and the Concentration of Poverty in the Nine-County Greater Rochester Area, Dec 12013’, Rochester is the “fifth poorest city in the country among the top 75 largest metropolitan areas.” It’s going to be hard to appreciate the threat of Climate Change in Rochester or anywhere else if you are hungry and homeless. If most of your time is consumed trying to find a bite to eat for your family, a shelter from more heat and cold spells (like the one we are presently experiencing), and money enough to pay your medical bills, then the Climate Change crisis is going to be the least of your worries. At least, that’s what most seem to believe.

As it is with the poor on a world scale, so the threats of Climate Change on the local level must become of greater concern to the poor of Rochester. All Rochesterians will experience more extreme weather events, more heatwaves, and more public health issues from vector-driven diseases (like West Nile Virus, Lyme disease, and maybe malaria and dengue fever). But the poor, who have neither adequate shelter nor the means to move away from such dangers, are under the greatest threat. It’s going to cost a lot, no matter who pays, to shield those who did not cause Climate Change from the impacts of those who did.

Another aspect of Climate Change in our region is more flooding, which has the tendency (besides sending home insurance rates through the roof) to flush out the toxic remains of Brownfields yet to be cleaned up into the waters and the neighborhoods where they reside. And we know who resides near those still-dirty Brownfields.

Cleaning Up Toxic Brownfields - Upscale NY Gets VIP Treatment NEW YORK - A new report says a billion-dollar-plus toxic cleanup program is not reaching neighborhoods that need it most - and now is the perfect time to fix it. Andrew Postiglione, a fiscal policy associate with Environmental Advocates of New York, said plenty of cleanup has been happening in high-property-value areas in Manhattan, but the program needs to be fixed so more cleanup and redevelopment happens in struggling communities upstate. "The brownfields tax credit is a very expensive program. It's over $1 billion to clean up only 131 sites" he explained. "This program is also off-target; it's not going to the communities that need public dollars the most." (November 18, 2013) Public News Service [more on Brownfields in our area]

Some relief from the ravages of Climate Change for the poor could come from our transportation sector. According to the EPA, 27% of our GHGs are attributed to our present transportation system. If those who cannot afford adequate transportation to get to jobs with living wages had access to safe active transportation (walking and bicycling) along with a reliable public transportation system, we could solve two problems at once. This would not only help adapt our region to Climate Change, but offer an alternative to a gas-guzzling system that is very expensive to maintain, expensive to join in, and expensive to your safety. (For this last point read this hilarious satire: Get pedestrians off Toronto roads to keep them safe for drivers: Hume (12/06/2013, Toronto Star))

Already, according to a new report by US PIRG, “Transportation in Transition, A Look at Changing Travel Patterns in America’s Biggest Cities”, Rochester workers are increasingly taking to the bike to get to work, as Rochester racks up as #8 of major American cities that show an “Increase in percent of workers who biked to work from 2000 to 2007-2011.”

If we have not completely supplanted our ethics with our crazy politics (where some of the most powerful don’t even believe in science) and our economics, we should begin to understand that Climate Change will be the standard from which all ethics will be determined. For if we don’t get through the bottleneck of Climate Change, Faith, Hope, Charity, Freedom, Justice, and even Magnanimity will be but hollow words from a species that has been far too focused on its creature comforts and its lofty Ideals to pay attention to the seas that they caused to rise.

To that end, start taking equality for the future seriously in our region by keeping our active transportation infrastructure funds from being killed by recent reductions in funding. Go here and sign on: Dedicated Funds for Bike/Pedestrian Infrastructure by December 27th. Learn more:

New Yorkers for Active Transportation (NY4AT), a coalition dedicated to working with stakeholders to assure equitable funding for non‐motorized transportation, including complete streets, community multi‐use trails, and safer and increased levels of bicycling and walking in New York’s cities, villages, and towns.

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