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Rochester’s Climate Change efforts: We’re going to need a bigger boat

When the enormity the threat finally dawns on Rochesterians, we are going to realize that we’re "going to need a bigger boat".  But there won’t be one around because we didn’t plan properly.
When the enormity the threat finally dawns on Rochesterians, we are going to realize that we’re "going to need a bigger boat". But there won’t be one around because we didn’t plan properly.
Photo by Frank J. Regan

Gloating over our recent spate of fantastic July weather, as a local weather station Facebooked recently (NO 90 DEGREE DAYS IN JULY SO FAR… “Are you missing the heat?”), is pathetic. More pathetic are the 80+ folks who commented how wonderful that was—many thumbing their noses at Climate Change.

It’s hard to believe that a local news station is promoting Climate Change denial by bragging about a cool July in Rochester without placing this anomaly in the context of the world’s rising temperatures. Last month, according to NOAA was one of the hottest June’s ever. As for July, we don’t know how hot it will get. But consider this speculation about the rest of this summer from The Guardian: “Will 2014 be the hottest year on record?

Climate Change is a global phenomenon, and the trajectory is that the atmosphere is warming up 10 times faster since the Industrial Revolution than the previous 10.000 years. That one place, Rochester, NY, may be experiencing a cooler summer does not disprove Climate Change, and it’s sad that a local media would encourage this deceit. Actually, in our area, temperatures in the summer over the past thirty years have been going steadily up--overall. Climate Change is climate disruption, where the rise in increasing temperatures will ratchet up and down, but mostly it will jerk upwards. While it is nice to have this temperate summer (so far), it is folly to assume that a cool spell in one particular region of the world means that Climate Change is a hoax. (Doesn’t anyone check the Internet anymore? The world is bigger than just Rochester. )

Perhaps it wasn’t the intent of our local media to disparage Climate Change. Maybe they were merely glorying in the happiness of a perfect summer day. But the failure to properly place our cool summer in the context of this worldwide crisis is becoming a signature form of Climate Change denial in the USA. A recent poll states that “… U.S. Leads The World… In Climate Denial”. That is to say the #1 country responsible for Climate Change is the #1 country in climate change denial. Most of the manmade greenhouse gases (GHGs) in our atmosphere right now are from the developed nations. CO2, which is the main GHG, stays in the atmosphere for a long time. The warming the world must address and endure now is from past CO2 accumulations. Sure, China is emitting more CO2 right now, but the GHGs that have warmed our atmosphere thus far are ours. We ought to take responsibility for that. If moral responsibility is not a popular idea, then we should at least act in our own self-interest and begin adapting.

In Rochester Climate Change denial expresses itself by…, not expressing itself. We presumably have heard of Climate Change, but like a deer in the headlights, we cannot make head or tail of it. We think that because Climate Change isn’t actually running over us at the moment, we have enough time to consider all the usual priorities and ignore the approaching semi.

For example, ACT Rochester (part of Rochester Area Community Foundation), arguably the largest local non-profit leader on local planning data, eliminated environmental concerns in their data sets altogether. Presumably, they eliminated the environmental aspect of our lives because they couldn’t find climate change indicators in our region. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) seems to have no lack of data on a national scale: ‘Climate Change Indicators in the United States”. Also, GrowWNY (part of the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo) has no problem going full throttle on environmental issues, including Climate Change information and events. Not to mention, there are already many presently observable indicators in our local climate and expert predictions of what is coming shortly for our region.

So yeah, it would be nice to have useful data on Climate Change indicators in the Rochester region so our local government, grant writers, community leaders, and business leaders can respond to the real world, a world where this worldwide crisis will become the top priority. To be sure, Climate Change will engulf all other local issues—“Arts, Culture, and Leisure, Children and Youth, Community Engagement, Economy, Education, Financial Self-Sufficiency, Health, Housing and Public Safety” (ACT Rochester) whether we prioritize them properly or not.

The City of Rochester itself is addressing Climate Change. But everything is so secretive that you wouldn’t even know that Rochester cared about Climate Change—which is weird because it’s the job of our government to get on the bully pulpit about looming concerns. Rochester quietly participates in the state’s Climate Smart Communities program, the leading New York State program to address Climate Change. The city’s ‘bikeROCHESTER’ program is a phenomenal program to transform our community’s transportation system to a more sustainable one, but they don’t even mention Climate Change on the website. And though we keep hearing that Rochester is coming out with a climate plan, it never seems to materialize. This is a sort of Rochester denial that gives only a timid nod to this inconvenient problem and then walks (or bikes) on by.

Rochester’s Monroe County barely acknowledges Climate Change at all. Greening up the fleet (county-owned vehicles), and presumably getting a lot of awards for that, is about as far as their token efforts go. Other than that, ‘Climate Change’ doesn’t even show up in their website’s search engine. When addressing a Climate Change related issue, like reducing algae on Ontario Beach, our county’s solution is to attack the symptoms, not the cause—which is what will continue to happen if you don’t understand Climate Change.

“The county is building a pump system. When the algae gets bad, county workers will use a tractor fitted with a boom and skimmer to push all of the muck into the corner where the beach and the pier meet. They are installing a suction head there, which will connect to a pump and a pipe through the middle of the Charlotte pier. Long story short: the system will suck the algae out of the corner and pump it over into the Genesee River. The flow of the river will disperse the algae farther out in the lake.” County's algae solution: suck it up (July 23, 2014) Rochester City Newspaper

Another way to deal with algae problems at Ontario Beach is to plan for Climate Change, as warming affects algae growth. Check out EPA’s three-page document on this: “Impacts of Climate Change on the Occurrence of Harmful Algal Blooms We are pretty good at getting rid of the symptoms of environmental problems (like shunting algae away from our beaches) but not so good at addressing the underlying causes, like dealing with the rise in algae growth due to warming waters and more phosphorus (non-point pollution of fertilizers) pollution throughout our Great Lakes and Finger Lakes.

Climate Change is about planning. But we cannot plan for it in Rochester or anywhere else if we continue to deny it—even in the lukewarm, half-hearted way that denial gets expressed in Rochester. We’ll just continue hammering away at all the symptoms of Climate Change, an uneven decline in public health, a transportation system too expensive to afford, and getting bigger pumps with bigger pipes to suck the annoying symptoms of Climate Change further away.

However, when the enormity the threat finally dawns on Rochesterians, we are going to realize that we’re "going to need a bigger boat". But there won’t be one around because we didn’t plan properly.