Carbon Footprints and Random Climate Change Musings

There is no climate change theme this morning, just random thoughts from another week of life on this precious planet. If you are a friend or family member, you know climate change is always on my mind. I don’t perseverate or wring my hands on the issue, but I do try to figure out ways to help solve the problem. One strategy is getting the message out to others. Sometimes I unintentionally offend people when I fold in the politics of climate change, but I learned long ago that it’s best to tell people what they need to know rather than what they’d like to hear. At all times I focus on information, hope, and action. Without hope, there is no action.Screen Shot 2014-10-18 at 7.38.52 AM

39.9 tons of carbon. That’s how much carbon I release each year according to a carbon footprint calculator I found on the Internet. My “contributions” to atmospheric carbon levels equates to 80,000 pounds of carbon. I’m not pleased with the number, even though the site says I’m 30.4% better than the average person in Warrensburg, NY. Hmmm. There are things my wife and I can work on, but overall, we do live simply. We keep our heat low in the winter and do not use air conditioning in the summer. We rarely, rarely eat beef, and try to buy local produce whenever possible. I know my car is too big. I have a mid-sized sedan that gets only 27 miles per gallon. That’s a problem. I also commute 28 miles a day and take at least one roundtrip flight each year. Our house could be smaller, also. I can and will do better.

Earlier this week one of my climate reality leader friends posted a wonderful animated poem with lovely background music. I shared it on my Facebook page and sent it to friends and family. They “liked” it. My daughter asked if I would put it in my blog, and so here it is: Shoulders by Shane Koyczan. It is truly beautiful. Caution–there is an “F” bombed dropped in for good measure. Think of the title, “Shoulders”, and you’ll figure out the poet’s message.

I’m still getting zucchini from the garden. Seriously. It’s mid-October and we have not had a hard freeze yet. I live in the Adirondacks, and normally by this time the garden would be bare of any vegetation. Not this year. I’ve noticed over the past 25 years that the gardening  season starts earlier and ends later. I’ll call it climate change. It’s nice to get veggies out of your zone 4 garden in mid-October, but with that also come the mosquitos, ticks, and no-see-ums which enjoy the relatively balmy weather of a warmer climate. I’m not even going to get into the rising sea levels, ocean acidification…. that also come with a warmer climate. I yearn for the hard freezes of late September.

And so it goes. Till next week.

5-Minute Climate Change Mitigation Action Item for the Week:

Use this carbon footprint calculator to learn how many tons of carbon you and your family members release into the atmosphere each year. Then discover and act on ways to reduce that imprint.

 

 

Falling Oil Prices Are Bad News For The Climate

Now’s a good time to get into shale oil and coal.” The statement jolted me awake from a serene drive home. “And with a swing in Senate leadership likely this fall, coal and oil stocks should do very well.” Now I was über focused. Okay, I’m paraphrasing a tiny bit, but the gist of the CNBC radio commentary was buy fossil fuel stocks now while they’re cheap and before the Senate changes hands to a fossil fuel-friendly party. Oh boy, that spoiled a nice drive home.Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 4.03.42 PM

It’s interesting to observe how oil prices impact markets and perceptions. A fall in price for a barrel of oil is good news for consumers–You’ve probably noticed filling the tank is a little less painful lately. Lower gas prices mean more savings, or more consumption, depending on your preference. Conversely, cheaper oil spells economic problems for countries reliant on oil revenues–think Middle East and Russia. A fossil fuel-based economy responds to oil price volatility much like a stone dropping into water–the ripples spread out in all directions.

One disturbing ripple is the threat declining fossil fuel costs pose to battling climate change. In the past two weeks, renewable energy equities plunged over 20%, suggesting less investment value. It seems the market is saying, “Fossil fuels are cheap now, so to hell with alternatives.”  Or perhaps its carbon-centric commentary from “stock experts” such as CNBC’s Jim Cramer:  “Think about it. We have no energy policy. We don’t have a fossil fuel friendly president who sees what is about to happen: overproduction with no place to put the oil.” Really????? I guess as a nation we’re still not fully on board for a renewable energy-powered world. We certainly don’t have a sense of urgency for climate change action. If we did, we’d see a dichotomy in price behavior with alternative energy investments rising as fossil fuel prices fell. Instead, we see the two moving in tandem.

A drop in oil prices should be a positive suggesting a reduction in demand or an increase in supply–either scenario a victory for Earths’ climate. Logic being we’re using less oil thanks to energy consciousness and a greater reliance on alternative energies such as solar and wind. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The macroeconomic viewpoint is the world’s economy (particularly china and the Eurozone) is slowing, jeopardizing productivity.  And therein lies the problem. We measure our economic well-being on consumption and productivity, without considering the external costs of a carbon-based society. Until reductions in carbon dioxide emissions are perceived as an economic victory, we are at the mercy of an industry and public that sees cheaper fossil fuel costs as a win.

 

5-Minute Climate Change Mitigation Action Item for the Week:

Take the Climate Mobilization Pledge and join a new and growing social movement to fight climate change. We can do this! Click here for more info: http://www.theclimatemobilization.org

90 Plus Infinity Percent Positive Climate Change is Reality

So, are you coming home for Garage Sale Weekend?“, I ask my daughter.  She responds:  “Yes, I’m pretty sure. And Simon (daughter’s friend) says he is 90 plus infinity percent positive he’s coming with me.” 90 plus infinity percent positive? I had to think about that for a minute. Does that mean 90% positive? What about the infinity piece? After collaborating with my wife, I concluded Simon was creatively saying he was 100% sure to join us for the weekend.Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 3.27.13 PM

I prefer whole, round numbers. Simple is better is my motto. In fact, I believe most people like their math simple and round. Less confusing and easier to focus on. Not so with climate change models, which is one small reason why climate change still has its share of deniers and skeptics (The BIG reason of course is fossil fuel$$$$). Climate change math is not always perfect, with climate change impact tolerances and confidence intervals that suggest a range of uncertainties. Numbers and expressions from epic algorithms that easily perplex.

As we grapple with decimals and levels of confidence when reading climate change news, charts, and facts, let’s not forget behind all the expressions and calculations are undeniable truths: ice caps are melting, sea level is rising, biodiversity is declining, and carbon dioxide continues its steady, upward oscillating trend past 400 parts per million.  Without a doubt, I’m 90 plus infinity sure climate change is happening.  Which means I’m 90 plus infinity sure to do whatever I can to fight climate change.

 

5-Minute Climate Change Mitigation Action Item for the Week:

Believe it or not, you can increase your car’s fuel efficiency 3.3% by keeping your tires at the proper pressure. Save some gas by stopping at the local station and filling your tires to the recommended pressure.

Climate Change’s One Strike and You’re Out Rule

Derek Jeter had a Yankees home game finale for the ages last week. The soon to be retired Captain hit a walk-off single to win the game for the Bronx Bombers, elevating himself to near god-like status in the process. The social media sphere was ablaze with love and adoration for the Yankee shortstop. Ah well, America loves its baseball. And if the walk-off game-winning hit (single, double, triple, or home run) sounds foreign, all Americans have heard the line, “Three Strikes and You’re Out.”  The saying is so common some states use it to define their legal code–screw up three times and you’re done. Finished. Going to the slammer. Kaput.Screen Shot 2014-09-28 at 8.20.59 AM

“Three strikes and you’re out” is packed with emotion. Imagine the home team up in the bottom of the 9th with the score tied 2-2. Bases are loaded, two outs, and a 3 and 2 count on the batter. The fans are screaming for a hit. And here comes the pitch . . . Deliver the game-winning hit and you are a winner sure to be on ESPN’s Top Ten plays. Make the third out and you’re a loser. A choker unable to deliver under pressure. We know the rule all too well.

What would the game be like if the rule were not three strikes you’re out, but “one strike and you’re out”? Probably less forgiving, with little room for error. Batters would have to “protect the plate” to avoid a strike call by the umpire. Games would be played more cautiously. It just wouldn’t be fun. We like the second and third chances of strikes two and three. We like the element of hope. You whiffed on a curveball and have two strikes, so what. You still have a chance. But one strike and you’re out? That’s an unforgiving scenario.

When it comes to global climate change, it’s a one strike and you’re out rule.  There is no forgiveness. And with three ominous risks to our well-being and that of most other species–ocean acidification, sublimation of frozen methane, and melting of polar ice caps–humans and most other life forms are “out” with but one strike. If ocean acidification increases as excess atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolves into the oceans, the smallest and simplest organisms forming the base of the food chain will perish. This will cause the entire ocean ecosystem to collapse. Strike One. You’re Out.  If frozen methane hydrates in our deep ocean floors were to “melt” with warmer ocean temperatures, Earth would have an abrupt 5-8 degree Celsius increase in temperature by the end of the century. Strike One. You’re Out. And if the melting of our polar ice caps continues or accelerates, sea level could increase 220 feet. Strike One. You’re Out.

Oh boy. I feel like retreating to my recliner with a beer and popcorn and watching some more baseball. Or maybe fantasy football. Anything that will distract me from the harsh reality of the “game” we are playing with our climate. There are uncertainties within all scientific scenarios, but one thing is for certain, we are tempting fate and we don’t get a second or third chance. It’s one strike and you’re done. Do we want to take that risk? I don’t.

5-Minute Climate Change Mitigation Action Item for the Week:

Have an energy audit done of your house. We had ours done through New York State’s NYSERDA. Most audits are free and a public service of your state or local municipality. Google energy audit for your area and learn how you can cut your home energy costs now and for years to come.

24 Hours After the People’s Climate March

IMG_4196Yesterday at this time I sat with my wife and three friends in a little New York City restaurant on 10th and 24th street. Famished, tired, and a little achy, we were glowing in having participated in the worlds largest climate march.  Outside the window sat our purple bus and ride home to Saratoga Springs. We’d departed from Skidmore College at 6:30AM with 45 other marchers, and now we were ready to go home.

My brother and sister came to join us, each with one of their daughters, midway in the march holding signs and chanting–the looks on their faces were priceless. “What do we want?” RENEWABLE ENERGY! “When do we want it?”  NOW!!  or “Hey, hey, ho, ho, fossil fuels have got to go.” There were other chants, but those were the two we were calling the most. People came from all over North America and all walks of life. There were grandmothers and cyclists, children and the elderly, college students and parents. The mass of humanity winding through the streets of New York City invigorated the soul and left me hopeful of what can be done when enough people know and care about something as deeply vital as climate change.

400,000+ marchers is a good turnout on a humid, late summer day. Somewhere along the March I saw Bill McKibben supporting participants and graciously having his photo taken with different groups and individuals. Kudos to Bill. Kudos’ to 350.org., the Sierra Club, NRDA, and many, many, many other organizations.  Kudos to every man, woman and child who helped organize, setup, participate, or break down the event. The People’s Climate March was special, and I sure hope our world leaders have heard our call for an end to fossil fuels.  Peace.

A 5-Minute Climate Change Mitigation Action Item for the Week:

Show our world leaders you demand action on climate change by signing this petition: http://act.350.org/letter/ready-for-action/?sp_ref=57647564.6.9350.e.0.2 

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Participating In The People’s Climate March

Mardi Gras is wild. Thousands and thousands of revelers tightly pressed together on Bourbon Street is not for the claustrophobic. Some people climb lamp posts to separate from the crowd while others move sinuously en masse. Many have had ample quantities of hurricanes and other alcoholic beverages throughout the day, as evidenced by some truly outrageous behaviors. I choose to trust the crowd, moving in step to an undetermined destination. What fun. What revelry! What memories from 30 years ago! 30 years ago. A time when CO2 levels were under 350 parts per million and most scoffed at the notion of anthropogenic climate change. We’ve since breached 400 ppm. My have things changed.Screen Shot 2014-09-20 at 8.52.01 AM

Tomorrow my wife and I will join the People’s Climate March in New York City. I’m wondering what that experience will be like. Will it be another Mardi Gras? Will we exceed one million marchers? Two million? How crowded will the streets be, and will we face deniers and skeptics along the way shouting for their voices to be heard? I’m excited for tomorrow and hopeful this mass of humanity will energize the public’s awareness about climate change. But most of all, I’m happy to be part of this important event. To feel alive and present with others energized to do what’s right for our future. To stand up to Big Oil, Coal, Gas….and demonstrate the power of people to shape policy. To remind our politicians that we vote, and they had better damned well act on the people’s behalf rather than the interests of fossil fuel companies.

Peace.

A 5-Minute Climate Change Mitigation Action Item for the Week:

March if you can. Look for the March on television or the Internet if you can’t. Talk about it. Write about it. Post it on Facebook, Twitter….

 

 

Climate Change “Ticks” Me Off

Screen Shot 2014-09-07 at 9.10.45 AMConspiracists suggest Lyme disease was not an accident of nature but a petri dish product borne in secretive microbiology labs on Plum Island, New York.  There at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, scientists engaged in germ warfare research concocted a debilitating bacterium symptomatically hard to diagnose but easily spread through the bite of infected deer ticks. Conspiracy or not, Lyme disease is infecting more people as it spreads with a warming climate.

I remember growing up in the 60s and 70s on Long Island, NY without the cloud of Lyme disease. Frolicking on sand dunes at Jones Beach, hiking across fields and meadows at Boy Scout camps in the Catskills, and picking the occasional tick off that found its way onto my skin with little worry. Today, the number of friends and family members testing positive for Lyme grows–as do my concerns about this dreadful disease. And when I now venture out into the woods or my small home garden, I’m decked in long sleeves, long pants, and hat all doused with insect repellant.

Conspiracy aside, our warmer weather has expanded the habitats of many infectious diseases, including Lyme. My little Adirondack town of Warrensburg didn’t have Lyme disease cases until a few years ago. The same holds for other northern portions of the United States. There are other factors at work, including a decline in biodiversity–all of which means more deer and tick-carrying rodents that spread Lyme. Climate change impacts are complex, pervasive, and sometimes subtle, and Lyme disease is but one more evidence of the Earth’s anthropogenic warming.

 

A 5-Minute Climate Change Mitigation Action Item for the Week:

Make some popcorn, pour your favorite beverage, and watch the movie, Disruption. Then head out to New York City for the Climate March on Sunday, September 21st.

 

Climate Change Hopes and Fears

Balancing climate change hope with fear is not easy—particularly when I want everyone to feel the same sense of urgency as I do. Unreasonable? Maybe. Time to throw in the towel? NO! In fact, now is the time to become that much more vocal about climate change. The trick, I’m finding, is to spread hope, not fear. To empower, not deflate.

It’s pretty obvious that climate change news is not going to get immediately better. In fact, bad news seems to be picking up steam. Just last week the UN released its most ominous report yet. Though in draft form, the report pretty much says we’re screwed if we don’t act now and aggressively. A few days earlier came a study that polar ice losses are even more dramatic than scientists had expected. Whew. How in the world can anyone be hopeful given the scope of the climate change problem?

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Years ago I worked as a consultant for low performing schools. My goal was to help the schools “turn around” by presenting teachers and administrators strategies that increased student achievement. Regardless of the school, my first action was always to ensure that teachers and school administrators experienced a little success—something that had not happened in recent years. Those small successes served to plant seeds of hope in the teachers’ hearts and minds. And with hope came possibilities. And with possibilities came synergy and action. And so it goes with climate change.

If we are going to “fix” the climate change problem, then we’re going to need a little hope. Small successes lead to larger ones.

 

A 5-Minute Climate Change Mitigation Action Item for the Week:

If you have a lawn and cut your own grass, get rid of the gas or electric power mower and move up to a push reel mower. Reel mowers are what people used 50 years ago to cut lawns, and they’re coming back. I bought my own reel mower this summer, and I’ve saved five gallons or more in gas so far. Five gallons are a small success, and it makes me feel good and hopeful about my role in fighting climate change. I’ve also enjoyed the silence and not having a plume of dust and pollen behind the mower.

Are You and I Willfully Ignorant About Climate Change?

I’m not talking about the many Washington “leaders” nestled safe and secure from climate change reality. No, their parroted climate change lines and positions are sadly melded to party lines written by powerful fossil fuel companies. Rather, I’m talking you and me. Are we doing enough about climate change? Are we learning all we can to make good decisions? Are we asking tough questions of politicians? And are we speaking up and educating others about what’s going on and what’s at stake for our children’s future and that of the planet?Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 8.43.32 AM

I have a confession to make. 30 years ago I began preaching to friends and family after becoming deeply concerned about climate change through my Oceanography studies at Old Dominion University. Many chuckled at the notion that humans could transform Earth’s climate, while others humored me for a while before politely asking me to “drop it.” I guess I was a bit obsessive in my quest to “fix” the problem. By the early 90s, I stopped talking about it. In fact, I began hoping the models were wrong and things would turn out to be “okay.” I became willfully ignorant of the growing climate change problem.

Willful ignorance is what happens when an incident, practice, policy, or trend is too upsetting and energy-sapping to deal with. A recent video on YouTube demonstrates what willful ignorance looks like when it comes to food consumption. It’s just so much easier to disregard the damage, pain, and problems our actions cause than to act differently. And so it went with my approach to climate change. I willfully disengaged and became “ignorant” of the growing, unequivocal evidence of anthropogenic climate change. Granted, deep in the recesses of my mind I knew what was going on, but I stopped fighting. Instead, I hoped that things were better than they were. I hoped that the deniers were right, and that we’d all live “happily ever after.”

Well here we are in 2014 with atmospheric carbon dioxide levels over 400 parts per million (They were 340ppm when I studied oceanography in the early 80s). Between the misinformation spread by the fossil fuel industry and our denier and skeptic politicians in Washington, it’s easier than ever to be willfully ignorant on the topic of climate change. And yet, the frequency of severe weather, shrinking arctic ice, rising sea levels, and extensive droughts are too prevalent to ignore. It’s time to pull our heads out of the sand and get moving. Let’s get the deniers and skeptics out of leadership positions. Get colleges, non-profits, and others to divest from fossil fuels. Get a bicycle, new walking shoes, and a mass transit ticket. Get whatever is necessary to “fix” our growing climate change problem. We can do this!

A 5-Minute Climate Change Mitigation Action Item for the Week:

Yes, this is the same action item as last week. Participating in the climate march is a wonderful way to get active. First, join 350.org to learn how to take action on climate change. Then, sign up and participate in the climate march on Sunday, September 21st in New York City. Be willfully active and let the world know your position on climate change.

 

Another Extreme Weather Event

It’s a dark and dreary August 13th afternoon, and my iPhone just sounded a weather alert for flash flooding in the area my family and I are vacationing. A soaking rain that began at breakfast has turned the day into a total washout. Pinochle, liars dice poker, and shopping are keeping most of us busy and dry as pounding rain runs down the gravel road in front of our White Oak Pond cottage. I decide to disengage from the games and muse about the weather after a particularly humbling round of pinochle with my mom and sister.

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Drenching rains give pause to the busyness of life.  They remind us how powerfully unrelenting extreme weather can be as torrents collect and move to lower ground, filling small streams, tributaries, and, in some cases, basements, along the way.

Today the entire Northeast (including our cottage on White Oak Pond) is being soaked by a massive low-pressure system moving up the coast. Record-breaking storm totals have been impressive. 13″ in Long Island, New York, and 4″-6″ or more elsewhere have led to widespread flooding and hazardous conditions. I figure 85 million gallons of water fell over White Oak Pond this afternoon in 5+ inches of rain. The volume that spilled onto Long Island: billions of gallons.

Warmer oceans and a more humid atmosphere are why we are having “biblical floods,” “once in 500 years rains,” and “historical storm totals” on a regular basis. Warmer air holds more water vapor, and when that air runs into a cold air mass it’s like squeezing water from a sponge. The end results are becoming all too common: flooded out roadways, inundated buildings, canoes and kayaks floating down city streets, and people left homeless. Extreme weather is costly and cannot be accepted as the norm.

The washed out cottage road leading to White Oak pond will be filled in with new gravel when the storm ends and the skies clear. Overburdened septic systems will recover, and life will return to normal. However, the regional losses will be more severe, and for the Northeast, costly. I wonder how long our leaders can ignore a changing climate.  Will we look back 20 years from now wishing we’d done more to tackle climate change? Will our infrastructure be radically different to counter future weather extremities? I think “yes” to both questions.  There really is no alternative than to act aggressively now to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

A 5-Minute Climate Change Mitigation Action Item for the Week:

Join 350.org to become more involved in fighting climate change.  As an FYI, they have organized a climate march for Sunday, September 21st in New York City when the United Nations will be holding a summit on the climate crisis.