A Climate Conference to Inspire, Find Common Ground, and Act

As you know, the scientific consensus on the causes of climate change is strong, but the public consensus on how North Country communities can productively respond needs to grow. Our organization, North Country Climate Reality, aims to facilitate that growth through annual conferences, working groups, educational outreach and networking. Our vision is to make communities in upstate New York and Vermont models for effective local climate action and sustainability.P1000417

Please come to our second annual conference on June 17, 2016 on the campus of SUNY Adirondack in Queensbury, NY, which will focus on inspiration, common ground and action. This second annual conference will build on our momentum by engaging local leaders and stakeholders in coalition building and action planning.  The conference is co-sponsored by SUNY Plattsburgh at Queensbury, Green Mountain College, Apex Solar, NYSUT, and Solution Generation (a national climate change education network).

To register or for more information about the conference, go to our website at https://northcountryclimate.org.  Please join us for a day of inspiring presentations, productive working sessions, and powerful music that brings us together to help our communities become more resilient and sustainable.

A Grandfather’s Climate Gift to His Grandson

From the words of Dr. Harry Brooks, “A new generation pulls the switch on saving the planet.” The picture below shows Harry connecting his new Apex Solar system to the grid with grandson, Cyla20160307_151644s.

I don’t know about you, but it’s people like Harry Brooks who motivate me to do more. And I know I can and should be doing more about climate change. It can be as simple as turning my heat down from 67 to 66, or as complicated as becoming a one-car household.  There’s so much we all can do about climate change.

Sometimes I feel the scope of climate change is so huge it overwhelms and renders us helpless. However, there is so much we can and should do to fix the problem. What are you doing about climate change? What could you be doing? Here’s a suggestion: look for easy, low hanging fruit and work your way up to the more challenging actions.  Plant a tree this spring. Walk rather than drive short distances. Talk climate with your friends and elect politicians who understand climate change. With action comes confidence. Then go after the more challenging changes–a fuel-efficient car, taking more mass transit, less meat on the dinner table, etc…   We all know what needs to be done.

It’s friends and colleagues such as Dr. Harry Brooks who motivate me to do more to fight climate change. People who do things for the next generation. In Harry’s case, for his grandchildren. In the process, Harry is a better person for his actions. After all, at the end of the day, it’s not what you did for yourself, but what you did for others that matters.

Peace

 

 

Time to Modernize USA Train Travel

The smooth ride through the Spanish countryside at 274km/hr (170mph) from Córdoba to Madrid speaks to the joys of a 21st century rail system.  My wife and I used the reliable Spanish rail system, Renfe, extensively this past week to visit Seville, Granada, and Córdoba, where our daughter studies during her semester abroad.  There truly is no comparison between Amtrak and Renfe–no surprise given America’s and Big Oil’s love for the automobile. In Europe, bicycles, scooters, buses, and rail move people from one place to another, and a steep tax on gasoline to pay for national health care helps keep automobiles off the road.Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 7.32.54 AM

Back to the beauty of a modern rail system, imagine traveling 170 miles an hour across the American landscape in a comfortable train. No bumps or shrieking tracks. Clean wash rooms, hushed conversations in nicely upholstered coaches, cafes…. Imagine traveling non-stop from New York to Orlando in 6 hours, Seattle to San Francisco in 4.75 hours, or Chicago to Atlanta in 4 hours.  What a joy. No stressful boardings with but one entrance for 150 passengers. Trains that arrive and depart on schedule. No highway roadwork, tolls, or state troopers looking for speeders. Yes, a next generation transit system is overdue in the United States.

America can and must do better with transportation.  After all, climate solutions don’t include homes with two and three car garages, new six lane super highways, or SUVs with video entertainment systems and wi-fi.  Solar panels, wind turbines, and other forms of renewable energies are certainly part of the climate change solution, but so are more efficient forms of transportation. Leadership, an educated climate-savvy public, and smart taxes and green bonds can wean Americans off cars making a state of the art mass transit system possible. We can do this.

Supreme Court Threatens Clean Power Plan?

Anger, dismay, shock, and helplessness were some of my feelings after the 2/9/16 Supreme Court decision to stay enforcement on the Clean Power Plan. I couldn’t understand why the court would delay the Plan’s implementation, particularly when 196 countries and governments unanimously declared at the UN’s COP 21 climate conference in Paris last December that climate change is real, caused by humans, and must be addressed now. My emotions are not for me, but for the younger generations to follow. I want my daughter, nieces, nephews and future generations to live on a planet as beautiful as the one I was born into, not one suffering the terrible symptoms of serious climate change.

Screen Shot 2016-02-13 at 8.07.03 AM

Given all that is at stake, why did the Supreme Court act as they did, putting at risk an international agreement to fight climate change??? Answer: greed and ignorance in the form of a lawsuit filed by elected officials beholden to the fossil fuel industry  (See side map). Shame on them. Shame on the five justices who sided with greed and ignorance, and shame on the near-sighted elected officials for jeopardizing the well-being of our children.

So here’s the hopeful news.

  1. Many states are implementing clean power plans to reduce carbon emissions and provide thousands of new jobs to workers in the green energy sector.
  2. Nearly two-thirds of Americans – not to mention 365 business and investment leaders – support the Clean Power Plan.
  3. The Supreme Court has already upheld the EPA’s authority to limit carbon pollution from power plants under the Clean Air Act.

And these are the reasons you and I, dear reader, have to fight for the Clean Power Plan:

  1. Air pollution from fossil fuel power plants threatens our health by contributing to life-threatening illnesses, like childhood asthma, that cost us billions of dollars in healthcare costs and thousands of lives each year.
  2. Power plants account for nearly 40 percent of US carbon pollution. Experts say the Clean Power Plan is the single biggest step the US has ever taken to reduce carbon emissions and address climate change (and all the problems that come with it).
  3. The Clean Power Plan sets an overall goal of reducing carbon pollution from the US power sector by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, and it gives states flexibility in how they reach their carbon reduction goals.
  4. Smart industry, financial, and governmental leaders are already betting on the Clean Power Plan, moving forward with plans to incorporate strategies and implement public policies that take us toward a clean energy economy.
  5. The electricity sector has embarked on an unstoppable shift from the dirty fossil fuels of the twentieth century to the clean technologies of the twenty-first. The stay cannot reverse that trend. Nor can it dampen the overwhelming public support for action on climate change and clean energy.

What this latest hiccup by the Supreme Court action demonstrates is how critical elections are in the fight against climate change. We can not afford to elect any official who fails to recognize climate change as a serious threat or who is in the pockets of Big Coal, Oil, or Nat Gas. Too much is at stake for our kids, grand kids, and this planet.

We can do this!

Renewable Energy Disruptions and Ch-ch-ch-changes

A few weeks ago solar lost a big battle to old power in one of the sunniest states in the nation. Warren Buffett’s NV Energy had proposed, and won, new net metering policies in Nevada which essentially disincentivize homeowners from going solar. In fact, those who had elected to put solar on their homes are now paying more than had they never installed panels.  Seems a bit unfair. Worse yet, it seems contrary to fighting climate change through renewable technologies.PV array

Truth be told, NV Energy’s bottom line was being pinched by a growing base of solar-generated electricity feeding the grid, particularly during peak use times. As solar generated electricity increases, NV Energy revenues decrease-a phenomena taking place across the country. And selling less fossil fuel-generated power cuts into a utility’s profits, which is unacceptable to an industry accustomed to being your sole electricity provider.

There have been other renewable energy battles waged by old utility companies around the country in recent months. Just this past week the California Public Utilities Commission upheld net metering policies for four more years by a narrow 3-2 vote. Narrow, because this is the state of California. And last week the Supreme Court upheld Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) jurisdiction over demand response, ensuring large consumers of energy are compensated for cutting back energy usage during peak times.

What’s happening in Nevada and across the globe is a significant disruption of the status quo by a new energy model, one driven by advancements in technology and a planet growing hotter and more inhospitable by the minute. The time is upon us where the old models of electrical energy generation are being shattered as new technologies and an awakened climate change sensitive global community say enough is enough. In the words of David Bowie, “Ch-ch-ch-ch changes, Turn and face the strange”.

 

Confusing Climate Change with Weather

“Climate changes all the time”. You may have heard that line recently from some of our presidential candidates presently vying for their party’s favor; and I wonder, “do they really think climate changes all the time?”  The cynic would suggest they are purposefully confusing science with reality to sidestep the issues, while the non-cynic would assume these folks have some serious scientific misconceptions. Regardless, I cringe each time I hear the line.  As a former science teacher, I know how important it is to clear up misconceptions early lest they become permanently wired in children’s neural pathways. I also know the joy of seeing a student have an “Aha” moment when the misconception is erased.  When they “get it”.1499

Besides the weather and climate change confusion, two other common misconceptions are 1) big objects fall faster than smaller ones, and 2) winter in the northern hemisphere happens because the earth is further from the sun at that time of year. Disproving misconceptions is fairly easy with children. After all, their brains are quite plastic and more able to learn new information than older folks. My favorite technique to correct a misconception is through a discrepant event.  As an example, to address the gravity and object size misconception, I would hold a feather and plastic disc in front of students and ask which would fall faster in an evacuated column. They would of course predict the plastic disk. I would then use a compressor to remove air from the column and then drop the two objects simultaneously. When both objects hit bottom at the same time, we’d have a nice discussion.  Misconception erased. For the winter weather and distance from sun misconception, all we needed was to remind students that summer time occurs in the Southern Hemisphere during our winter. Add the 23.4 degree tilt of the Earth’s axis and the fact that the Northern Hemisphere of the Earth tilts away from the sun during winter, and voila, another misconception is erased. The final misconception is the easiest to correct using this simple declaration: “weather is what you get and climate is the weather you expect“. .

Climate describes the weather in an area averaged over 30 years or more. Weather is what you see at any given moment in time, and a weather forecast is a prediction of what weather conditions will be like in the near future. It’s not terribly complicated. Climate is the average, weather is the present. If someone has risen through the ranks to be a legitimate presidential candidate, wouldn’t they know the difference?  If not, then they shouldn’t be running for President.  JMHO. Peace.

A Story and Climate Change’s New Hurricane Season

120 degree temperatures were the norm in Oman, and our small canvas tent set by a tidal station along the Arabian Sea would get awfully hot by mid morning. It was the mid 1980s, and I was with another U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office scientist on a three-month stint which began in May. We were in month two when Armed Forces Radio announced Tropical Storm Bonnie was churning in the Gulf of Mexico 300 miles south of Pass Christian, Mississippi. “Pass Christy Ann”, as locals pronounced it, was where my house was located, and I was worried.IMG_7558

My home was a three bedroom ranch less than a mile from the Gulf. The house sat a healthy 13′ above sea level, but had been visited by hurricanes before.  Camille’s 1969 watermarks seven feet up two by fours behind my home’s recently gutted walls were a reminder that 13 feet doesn’t measure up when a 20 foot storm surge barrels through. Camille was a monster hurricane, but even smaller storms could cause serious damage. Neighbors looked out for one another, and if the storm was a mild Category 1 variety, we might even get together for a little socialization. The frightening part was watching a storm erupt from a tropical depression and wondering if the path would take it over your hometown.

Back in the Gulf of Oman desert, Armed Forces radio reported Bonnie was gathering strength and steam as it headed north towards the Mississippi-Louisiana coastline.  The storm was developing into a full-blown hurricane, and now the question was where it would make landfall. We worried being so far from home at a time when there was no Internet, no cell phones, no communications. With warm Gulf waters fueling the storm, we wondered if Bonnie would develop into a monster storm and if that monster would sweep away our communities. And so for the next week we followed closely Bonnie’s passage, one that ultimately veered away from Mississippi and Louisiana and into the heart of Beaumont, Texas. it was a mild storm, though “mild” is a relative term when talking about hurricanes. We had dodged a bullet, but the citizens of Beaumont suffered greatly.

I no longer live along the Gulf Coast and now call the Adirondack Mountains of New York state home. I love the area, though I do miss the ocean. There’s something about the salty air, maritime climate, and ebb and flow of water that are so alluring. I don’t, however, miss the hurricanes. Warm waters fuel hurricanes, and when you live along a basin of very warm water, you come to expect the possibility for a hurricane each year during the summer and early autumn months. Of course, climate change is now changing all the rules. With ocean waters warming world-wide, we can now expect severe storms to develop at any time of the year–including the month of January.  And so it goes. Welcome Hurricane Alex, the first hurricane of the “new” hurricane season.

 

Start of a New Year and Climate Change Musings

New Year in the Adirondacks of New York is one of darkness and cold. With but nine short hours of daylight to enjoy in early January, it’s stark outside, and the lonely drive to and from work is done under dimly lit skies.  But when I put on my rose-colored glasses, the recent Winter Solstice is my reminder we’ve turned a corner and will begin gaining daylight. Of course, we won’t hit our normally lowest temperatures for the year until late January, but it’s the increasing minutes of daylight I welcome. And with that comes hope. Hope for sunshine. Hope for the planet. Hope for humankind.P1000217

Darkness has its benefits. I find more time for contemplation, reflecting on my life and place in the world. My role as a husband, parent, son, sibling and uncle; my duties as an educator; and my contributions to society. Family life and work seem to follow a natural order, but leaving a better planet for future generations is a challenge due to the complexity of climate change and dependence on a myriad of factors beyond one’s immediate control. Frankly, it’s difficult to convey the urgency of climate change to a general audience when the science or policies to mitigate and adapt are misunderstood or distrusted. Who wants to hear the Earth is heating up due to our actions, and that we’d better act fast or else? It’s an unpleasant message few wish to hear.

I’ve been evaluating by lamplight my climate change message recently, and have decided to “tone it down” a little. My passions for many things are palpable, and that’s not necessarily a good thing when it comes to the emotional issue of climate change. Toning the message down is a decision affirmed by an article I just came across in a Facebook posting in which psychologists found getting people to act on the environment positively impacts their sense of legacy building. Great news for empowering action, and great news for a more proactive approach to climate change messaging. So when it comes to climate change activism, stoking a person’s emotional register to think about the environmental legacy they will leave future generations can lead to action. I think I’m ready to give it a try. Peace.

 

Pumping Oil Like There’s No Tomorrow

You’d pump every bit of oil out of the ground too if you knew your product would soon become as obsolete as the dinosaur flesh and plant greens that stewed together to make the black ooze millions of years ago. The world has turned it’s direction forward to an age of renewables and sustainability, and the fossil fuel industry is scrambling to get as much oil, coal, and natural gas to market as the “lights go out” on a dirty, dying industry. The Paris Climate Agreement, U.S. Clean Power Plan, Congress passage of solar and wind tax credits, San Diego’s pledge to be 100% renewable energy by 2035, etc… are the steps towards an Age of Clean Energy.  And so if you are a fossil fuel producer, it’s “drill baby drill”. Get the product out of the ground ASAP while there’s still some value.P1000261

The fossil fuel spigot will surely run for decades to come, but the long-term view is clearly away from these climate changing products. Clean energy is a win-win-win for our planet, resulting in new jobs, reduced asthma and other health problems, clean air and water, and most importantly, hope for the planet.  Contrary to the small but annoying vocal climate denying political leaders, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are a serious threat to the Earth’s oceans, forests, flora and fauna.  And the costs for increased sea level, environmental refugees, extreme weather, droughts, and spread of infectious diseases are in the trillions of dollars.

Oil surpluses will pile higher and higher over the coming years, and the American public will continue cheering lower gas prices and heating oil costs.  However, many fossil fuel companies will go bankrupt, others will merge and acquire lesser stable companies, and a few forward thinking ones will transition to the renewable energy sector. The implications on pension systems and other financial entities heavily invested in this dying sector are disconcerting (I wouldn’t want my money in anything related to coal, oil, or natural gas). Divestment from fossil fuel companies, at one time a radical idea, is now a sound, fiscally prudent act. We are finally transitioning to the Age of Clean Energy and closing the door on the Fossil Fuel Era. What an opportunity we have ahead of us!  Peace.

Paris Climate Agreement and a Carbon Energy Diet

The Paris Climate Change Agreement is the first step on a long journey to wean humanity off a carbon energy diet. A journey unlike any before. One that demands we live simpler, consume less, and consider every action’s impact on personal carbon footprints. Solar energy, wind turbines, distributed energy, demand response, LED lights, geothermal heating, fuel cells, and electric cars will make up the new energy menus, and conservation, sustainable living, urbanization, reforestation, and habitat restoration will be the necessary societal changes. This will be an exciting and challenging opportunity for our global community.P1000459

There was a time when the suite of fossil fuels, particularly coal, were iconic in transforming lives and lifestyles for the better. An era when coal smelters powered industry, oil energized transportation, cheap fertilizers fed the globe, and natural gas warmed homes and buildings. Fossil fuels were seen as keys to a better life. A life of efficiencies that removed the burdens of basic chores and elevated possibilities for where and how we lived, commuted, and subsisted. But alas, the realities of climate change have redefined everything, particularly the image of fossil fuels.

Climate change and the demise of fossil fuels should not be surprising. We’ve known about carbon dioxide’s unique properties and risks for over 100 years. John Tyndall in 1859 was the first to discover the heat-trapping capacities of carbon dioxide, and research over the following 156 years has led to this unprecedented Paris Climate Agreement. Milestones to Paris included the 1979 US National Academy of Sciences suggestion that a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels would add 1.5-4.5C warming, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) first report in 1990, stating the world is warming and will continue to do so with increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases.  In 2013, the IPCC’s fifth report stated, “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased p.4

So here we are with the warmest year ever on record coming to a close, and 2016 projected to be warmer yet. Paris is a first step on a very long journey to a carbon free diet. What’s needed now is leadership and action. We can not afford to be tripped up by climate denying politicians, misinforming fossil fuel companies, or ignorance. The stakes are too high, and we have no other choice. Planet Earth is ill, and we know the causes and solutions.  Let’s do this.

IPCC, 2013: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.