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Earth Day 2014, a still viable benchmark

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There are benchmarks worth noting along the possible continuum of Climate Change into a wormhole of environmental collapse (a 4 to 6C rise in warming from which we might not exit). Some of those benchmarks are atmospheric CO2 concentrations greater than 400ppm, extreme events like Hurricane Sandy, the melting of the Arctic, and our annual observance of Earth Day. I hesitate to call them Earth Day celebrations because there is little to celebrate. However busily we keep ourselves greening up the various components of our environment, the only issue that really matters is Climate Change. If our actions don’t ultimately bring down GHG concentrations quickly, they won’t make much difference. If you’ve got the Plague, eating the right foods and getting enough exercise just won’t cover it.

The tyranny of Climate Change is such that any effort we employ for our environmental heath that doesn’t result in addressing or mitigating Climate Change is taking our eyes off the ball. Each day that greenhouse gases don’t come down worldwide, we bypass tipping points towards catastrophe.

With Climate Change there is much to adapt to, especially in New York State, one of the fastest-warming states, in part because of the latent heat in our atmosphere from the past. But there is also the absolute necessity to stop putting any more greenhouse gases (GHG’s) into our atmosphere. One writer suggests we chuck the Earth Day benchmark altogether as it ends up being nothing but a feel good, green-washing sort of holiday, delusional and self-deceptive.

'Fuck Earth Day': Let This Year's Be The Last Fuck Earth Day. No, really. Fuck Earth Day. Not the first one, forty-four years ago, the one of sepia-hued nostalgia, but everything the day has since come to be: the darkest, cruelest, most brutally self-satirizing spectacle of the year. Fuck it. Let it end here. End the dishonesty, the deception. Stop lying to yourselves, and to your children. Stop pretending that the crisis can be “solved,” that the planet can be “saved,” that business more-or-less as usual—what progressives and environmentalists have been doing for forty-odd years and more—is morally or intellectually tenable. Let go of the pretense that “environmentalism” as we know it—virtuous green consumerism, affluent low-carbon localism, head-in-the-sand conservationism, feel-good greenwashed capitalism—comes anywhere near the radical response our situation requires. So, yeah, I've had it with Earth Day—and the culture of progressive green denial it represents. (April 22, 2014) Common Dreams

I don’t go that far. We need benchmarks, signposts along the way on an arduous journey to measure our progress—or lack thereof. Some have suggested that the UN stop its seven-year climate reports because they keep repeating themselves. But actually the reports indicate more certainty in human caused Climate Change and more knowledge of what that means. The reports, dismal though they may be, are the most accurate measuring stick we have for our collective efforts to solve a problem we have caused.

Earth Day 2014, as a benchmark, finds us little further ahead than previous Earth Days. The movement towards more citizen scientists to help monitor our environment is growing, but a quarter of us Americans still don’t believe in Climate Change. New York just upped its investments in solar energy, though our state and the rest of them still allow billions of subsides for the fossil fuel industry. The US’s GHG emissions are the lowest in twenty years, but China’s are soaring and the world looks to China to get its act together, even though by far most of the manmade GHG’s in the atmosphere are ours. New York State increased the standards of its climate program ‘Climate Smart Communities’, but only a fraction of the state’s communities are a part of this voluntary program. Rochester increased the amount of electric plug-in stations for electric vehicles, but still refuses to connect the dots with its efforts on alternative transportation (walking and bicycling) with Climate Change. Fracking still remains in limbo, but haunts New York with the specter of water quality issues in a state that might have to adapt to climate refugees. Plastic garbage in the Great Lakes is finally on our radar, but little has been done to address this and the other issues--invasive species, water privatization, water quality, and pharmaceuticals—that plague one of our region’s greatest environmental assets. Our local media ramped up its attention on Earth Day events, but still doesn’t present the public with continual Climate Change coverage in a world that is warming.

This mixed bag of good and not so good Earth Day 2014 assessments could evolve towards more focused efforts in addressing the key problem if, like the bicycling community in Rochester, environmental groups created an umbrella organization to maximize their Climate Change efforts. Like the Rochester Cycling Alliance (RCA) that ramps up the advocacy efforts of all bicycle organizations in our community, Rochester area environmental groups might find common ground on increasing public awareness of Climate Change by merging their clout with the media , local authorities, and politicians.

All local environmental groups have their historical strengths and they are all concerned about Climate Change. By the next Earth Day, rather than a mixed bag of efforts on Climate Change in Rochester, wouldn’t it be worthwhile to coordinate environmental efforts—water quality, monitoring birds, ridding our land of toxins, environmental health, land conservation, energy efficiency and conservation, recycling, food and agriculture, wetlands, sprawl, Brownfields, wildlife, water quality, air quality, transportation, and environmental education--so that the environmental community in our region speaks with one voice on Climate Change? Maybe, pool our resources, and hire a PR specialist?

The next Earth Day we need clear and measurable results on bringing down GHG concentrations or these yearly benchmarks will just be a pretense.

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