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Earth Day 2014: addressing Climate Change in time, Part 3, the window

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This is part 3 of a series of essays leading up to a major public discussion of Climate Change in Rochester NY on Earth day. On April 17, 2014 at 7PM, the Rochester Sierra Club will host a community discussion on Climate Change in our region with Mark Lowery, Climate Analyst, and manager of the state’s Climate Smart Communities program. The program is called 2014 Earth Day Forum “Climate Smart Communities: Let’s Get With the Program." This “Earth Day” event (I know, April 22 is actually Earth Day) will be held at the First Unitarian Church, 220 Winton Road South, Rochester, NY. We hope to reach the entire public—community, faith, and business leaders, students, the unemployed, the employed, young and old, healthy and not so healthy, rich and poor, and folks busy with other stuff —and have an old-fashioned community talk about the world crisis called Climate Change. Join your neighbors in a town hall meeting free from activism, ideology, politics, and denial.

Recently a radio program began a segment on Climate Change: “When most people think of Climate Change, they think of science ….” But to say that Climate Change is only a matter of science is like saying a murder trial where a gun is the murder weapon is merely a matter of ballistics. Climate Change, although proven by science and given to the laws of physics, is a problem of human behavior. That is, Climate Change is a problem of how people’s behavior affects the warming of the planet—hence, accelerated anthropomorphic Climate Change. Burn fossil fuels to get around, and the place heats up.

It’s critical to that we recognize our responsibility for addressing Climate Change, and not delude ourselves into believing that it’s an indifferent scientific phenomenon remorselessly unraveling while we try to get on with our lives. Climate Change has been happening since the 1850’s when it first began spiking concentrations of greenhouse gas (GHGs) from human industrialization (280ppm) to the present (399+ppm). This warming is affecting so many environmental issues that many experts believe we are quickly losing our window of opportunity to adequately address this problem:

'Window of Opportunity' to Curb Climate Change Quickly Closing: Report |UNEP says world likely to 'lock in' worst effects of climate change at current rate The likelihood of limiting the world's overall temperature to a 2-degree Celsius rise and avoiding the worst effects of climate change has become "ever more elusive" and will not be possible without immediate and drastic measures on a global scale, a new report by the United Nations Environmental Program warned Tuesday. If countries stick to their current strategies, or lack thereof, for reducing greenhouse gases, levels will still be eight to 12 billion tons greater than suggested levels in 2020, according to UNEP's Emissions Gap Report 2013, which incorporated 44 scientific groups across 17 countries and analyzed countries' current pledges for emission cuts. (November 5, 2013 Common Dreams)

The various excuses for why humanity has failed to address Climate Change—the inconvenience of it all, the fear of big government, and the huge expenses involved--are the very results that will become more likely the longer we wait. The chances we might have had to slowly modify our economy and everything else to a more sustainable trajectory are going to be hijacked by desperate and limited options (think geoengineering or the proliferation of nuclear power) that come with a closing window of opportunity.

One of the conclusions James Burke came to in Connections (TV series) was that humanity has always been at the mercy of the intriguing way human inventions haphazardly evolved. Until now. Today, instead of jumping on to latest new thing, we have the information and perspective to choose what inventions we will encourage and those that we should discourage.

Both geoengineering and the call for nuclear energy to solve Climate Change rest on the assumption that humanity won’t shift to a sustainable way of life in time and a false argument about science and nuclear power. Geoengineering ideas, like creating islands of algae three times the size of Texas to suck up carbon dioxide from our atmosphere, would in themselves be major disturbances to our delicately balanced environment.

Hi-tech fixes for climate change, fish tracking Growing marine algae to solve society’s food, energy and climate change problems and a revolutionary tool to track marine fish populations are two topics Cornell oceanographer Charles Greene will discuss during presentations at the Ocean Sciences Meeting, Feb. 23-28 at the Hawaii Convention Center, Honolulu. The first presentation is a tutorial talk about the challenges facing society due to man-made climate change and ocean acidification, both fed by the accumulation of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels. (February 20, 2014) Cornell Chronicle Online

And while we trust climate scientists to examine the repercussions of GHGs trapped in our atmosphere, that does not mean that a climate scientist is an overall environmental expert, or an expert on how nuclear power will be managed, engineered, placed, paid for, insured, or monitored by various political institutions and agencies whose track record is fraught with malfeasance and disasters. The argument that because environmentalists trust scientists in their particular area of expertise, does not mean scientists should replace a healthy moral concern about the oftentimes slipshod vagaries (pollution, the loss of biodiversity, and a whole lot more) of human development in a vast planetary environment that we but only partially understand.

Former climate scientist and hero of action on Climate Change, Dr. Hansen’s draft report is a critical read on our understanding of an important juncture on Climate Change solutions:

I also recommend that the public stop providing funds to antinuke environmental groups. Send a letter saying why you are withdrawing your support. Their position is based partly on fear of losing support from anti-nuke donors, and they are not likely to listen to anything other than financial pressure. If they are allowed to continue to spread misinformation about nuclear power, it is unlikely that we can stop expanded hydro-fracking, continued destructive coal mining, and irreversible climate change. (Page 14, Renewable Energy, Nuclear Power and Galileo: Do Scientists Have a Duty to Expose Popular Misconceptions? James E. Hansen

However, I must respectfully disagree on Hansen’s position on nuclear power. There are too many unknown unknowns about the workings of our planetary biology and information lost on our way to development for anyone to speak with complete authority on the proper workings of our planetary environment. The nuclear industry is rife with sloppy work and a great distain for public concerns about a technology we can barely keep under control. Environmentalists distrust geoengineering and nuclear power for good reasons.

What will happen, I suspect, as the people and their governments continue to prevaricate on addressing Climate Change is that it will fall on our public servants to do the best they can. As Climate Change is going to cause major local disruptions to our infrastructure (energy, transportation, telecommunications, water, and sewage), they will have be addressed and anticipated by those whose job it is to do so. Without widespread public support, where the media educates the public on why these measures need to be taken, Climate Change will remain in the fuzzy background of intellectual paralysis as the consequences of it will have to be dealt with in an ad hoc and ultimately ineffective way. One of those ineffectual ways will be to shift the burden onto the institutions who actually maintain our infrastructures—until the burden of Climate Change becomes too much.

NY State Expects All Utilities to Prep for Climate Change In a major settlement that could have far-reaching implications nationwide, New York's largest utility is now responsible for preparing for a future of extreme weather, including the impacts of climate change. The state now expects all of the utilities it regulates to consider how sea level rise, extreme weather and other possible effects related to climate change will affect their operations and reliability as they make future construction plans and budgets. It's a model that experts say other states could use to address the ravages of climate change. The expectations were set forth as part of a Feb. 20 settlement between the New York Public Service Commission (NYPSC) and Consolidated Edison, the New York City area’s largest electric utility, which approved ConEd’s new electricity, steam and natural gas rates for the next several years. (February 25, 2014) Climate Central

It would be far better if ‘we the people’ come to a consensus on Climate Change and worked out top-down, worldwide, binding agreements to address and mitigate Climate Change—rather than pretend it doesn’t exist and burden those charged with protecting us to do far more than they are currently equipped to do.

With or without their hands tied behind their backs, our public authorities will have to address Climate Change. It’s their job. I guess our assumption is that they’ll do so within the window of opportunity and not bother us with the gory details or the bill.

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