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.

 

Climate Change Denial and The Sun Revolves Around A Flat Earth

Yes, all you have to do is look up and watch the sun move across the sky to know it indeed circles us. We can argue about it if you like. And, if you look far off in the distance you’ll see nothing but flatness. That’s right. The Earth is flat and goes on forever. Oh, and the Earth’s climate is not changing. Well, okay. It’s changing, but that’s because of volcanoes, not fossil fuels. Heck, did you know we each breathe out carbon dioxide into the atmosphere? Yup. The trees and plants love it. It’s great for farmers too. The fruit and veggies taste that much better with all the extra nourishing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.Screen shot 2013-08-25 at 8.10.53 AM

Let’s have a debate on the topic. We can do a point-counterpoint on television. Or, perhaps have equal space in the op ed section of the local paper. You can have either side of the page as long as we each have the same number of words to make our point. Fair is fair. Right? And I’ll have my website to contradict yours. And I’ll post blogs that conflict with your blogs. Hey, everyone deserves equal opportunity to present their viewpoint. Agreed?

No, we don’t agree. Thankfully, media is also starting to deviate from the fairness principle of giving equal voice to climate deniers and skeptics. Just a few weeks ago the BBC Trust called out BBC reporters for giving equal representation to climate change deniers in the BBC media and demanded an end to such practice. Good news for everyone. Why? Because presenting both sides of the climate issue in equal measures is confusing. And, there’s nothing to debate. Science has confirmed for decades that our climate is changing, and we’re the reason for the warming. Just as we no longer argue about the geocentric model or engage in discussions with the flat earth society, the same holds for climate change deniers–at least in some media sources. We’ve got too much to do to for such nonsense.

 

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

Bring your own bags to the store when shopping. Plastic bags are made from oil and consume fossil fuels when manufactured. Plus, many stores give a small discount for bringing your own bags. And if you really want to cut down on bag use, bring your own container to the restaurant for your leftovers or ask the waiter or waitress to wrap them in aluminum foil if possible.

Why I do Climate Reality Leader Sessions

It’s not for the money. It’s not for the attention. And it’s not because I lack other things to do with my time. I don’t present for climate change deniers to skewer me in letters to the editor, or attempt to argue with me during presentations. I present on Climate Reality because it matters and is the right thing to do. And I do so with vigor knowing I am one of 6,075 other Climate Reality Leaders across the globe doing this important work. From the Climate Reality websiteThe Climate Reality Project is a diverse group of passionate individuals who have come together to help solve the greatest challenge of our time. We are cultural leaders, marketers, organizers, scientists, storytellers and more, and we are committed to building a better future together.1499

Climate Reality Leaders inform people on what climate change is and the hopeful solutions that exist to minimize its impacts. The Climate Reality message is necessarily strong and to the point, but also positive in showing solutions and progress in battling climate change. I remind myself when presenting that it can’t be all gloom and doom. Instead, climate change problems, as dire as they may be, offer innovative solutions and opportunities for community building, economic development, and policy-making.

In my mind, there is no more powerful lever for fixing problems than education. There’s a popular bumper sticker that reads, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” The same goes with climate change. If you think a carbon tax or cap on fossil fuels, investing in a mass transit system, or insulating an older home are expensive, try ignorance. Griere, Bickle and Mauldin in their book on decision theory explain that if people are uncertain of something, they do nothing. Why? Because the person doing nothing incorrectly assumes he or she is saving money, resources, and time. We know better when it comes to climate change. Doing nothing will only cost more down the road. Hence the reason for Climate Reality presentations. Educating people about climate change problems and solutions helps bring certainty into the equation; something we desperately need to offset the small but very vocal minority of climate change skeptics and deniers.

 

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

Go to the ClimateRealityProject Website and find a Climate Reality session in your region. Invite a few friends, particularly those who need more information on climate change, to join you. Stop for coffee or snack after to talk about the session.

 

Paying the $2.4 Trillion Climate Change Bill

My family lived frugally. Dad was a schoolteacher and mom stayed home to raise six kids. We only ate out to celebrate a birthday or first communion with extended family members, and I remember with fondness each meal ending with an argument over who would pay the bill. My dad, who had little money, would argue with his father or father-in-law to pay the bill, and dad usually won. For him, it was about honor and the right thing to do. After all, we were eight and my grandparents only two. We consumed the most, and dad wanted to demonstrate he had the resources to make things right. Can the same be said about humanity and climate change?

WMO ReportIn Naomi Oreskes’s and Mike Conway’s new book on climate change, Merchants of Doubt, the epilogue opens with the description of a huge, exquisite banquet. All of humanity has been eating and drinking when suddenly a man arrives with bill in hand. People are caught off guard. Some are shocked that there is a bill to pay. Others ignore it, and a few fumble for cash from wallets and purses. The point is that no one expected a bill and, when it arrived, it was a BIG bill to pay. That is our situation now with climate change.

From the World Meteorological Organization, Geneva, 11 July 2014 (WMO) - Weather, climate and water-related disasters are on the rise worldwide, causing loss of life and setting back economic and social development by years, if not decades. From 1970 to 2012, 8,835 disasters, 1.94 million deaths, and US$ 2.4 trillion of economic losses were reported globally as a result of hazards such as droughts, extreme temperatures, floods, tropical cyclones and related health epidemics, according to a new report. 

In other words, our bill is $2.4 trillion with 1.94 million deaths. WOW!

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So who pays the bill? Right now, it’s everyone. Whether you are the CEO of Exxon Mobile or a Sri Lanka farmer, the bill is the same. We’re all in the climate change boat. We breathe the same air, ply the same oceans, endure extreme weather events and floods, worry about water and crops, etc.  Two very unfair differences are that some of us ate big at the banquet while others ate simply, and some have war chests of money to cover the costs while others have nothing and struggle to meet basic needs. There’s a better solution, and it’s called a carbon tax. It’s time to pay the true price for fossil fuel consumption, and that means taking responsibility for the $2.4 trillion and 1.94 million deaths caused by climate change. We can do this.

 

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

This simple important action will actually save you time. When conversing with others about climate change, you will inevitably run up against the denier type. For ideological, political, or economic reasons, there is a small but very vocal group that can not accept the unambiguous and nearly unanimous consensus on anthropogenic climate change. They distrust science, government, and peer-reviewed journals. Rather than argue with them, end the discussion politely. Offer them a link to win $30,000 if they can disprove climate change.  Your time is too important. Remember, your position has the support of the entire global scientific community.

Politicians and Climate Change Confusion

Last week’s blog entry spoke of greed being a root of the climate change problem. Another root problem is ignorance and hubris of political leaders.  If you Google politicians who deny climate change, you’ll see an impressive list. Some don’t believe humans are changing Earth’s climate. A few think volcanoes dictate our climate, and others feel we’re actually in a cooling period. Then there are those in the “I’m not a scientist” camp. As if to say, I’m not smart enough to talk about basic climate science so “no comment.” Really. Meanwhile, cities slowly flood with rising seas, droughts punish farmers and the economy, and severe weather events become the norm.

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If you truly aren’t smart enough to understand basic science and the urgency of human induced environmental problems, or distrust the consensus of scientists who do understand the problem, then you’re probably not the right person for political office. Perhaps a basic science comprehension test should be required of all state or national political candidates? Fail the test and you’re off the ballot. Seriously, the stakes are just too high to have people in policy-making positions who don’t understand the urgency of climate change mitigation. A test requirement is unlikely, but we can make a difference for the next generation of leaders through science education.

If there’s one experience we all have in common, it’s going to school. School is where we learn to tie our shoelaces, make friends, socialize, read and write, solve complex algebraic functions, square dance, play games, and grow into adults. Schools ensure our country’s viability by graduating students ready, willing, and able to contribute to a democratic way of life. Schools also shape a person’s sense of environmental stewardship, which matters immensely for leadership on urgent issues such as carbon taxation, environmental regulations of CO2 emissions, and other climate change related issues. If we wish to reduce political climate change confusion, then let’s focus on bolstering students’ knowledge and skills in science–particularly environmental issues that pose significant challenges to the planet and our global community.

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

Watch this short video of National Board-Certified Teacher Sheila Morris’s 5th grade class learning about alternative energies from Ben Grieco, a high school Energy and Transportation teacher. Students in Fort Ann Central School District are learning about climate change and solutions to lessen the effects of a warming planet. Ultimately, the students decided to create a Public Service Announcement.  After the video, learn how your local school is teaching students about environmental issues such as climate change.

The Root Source of Climate Change Confusion

We’re all In the same climate change boat, right? Living on a planet in need of some seriously loving? Yes, but we aren’t all playing together against the greatest global environmental crisis since humans entered the picture.  In fact, some are actually trying to sabotage the outcome. Sadly, it’s a game that’s been played before first by the tobacco industry and more recently, the fossil fuel industry. A game that initially benefits the privileged few, but ends with everyone losing.  Why play that way? I remember talking with a priest about the Bernie Madoff scandal a few years ago and commenting money was the root of all evil. He said, “No, the love of money is the root of all evil.” And so it goes.Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 11.10.26 AM

Climate change presents a genuine threat to an industry steadfast against any scientific evidence that hurts its bottom line.  An industry willing do whatever necessary to protect profits. Think about the risks of smoking cigarettes. We learned smoking was bad in the 1960s. Big tobacco knew this also. Their own in-house scientists found smoking cancer causing and addictive. Despite the health risks, the industry flooded media with decades of misinformation that led to a public unsure of settled science right into the 1990s. They would do the same with second-hand smoke through the late 90s and early 2000s. Why???  For the love of money. Take a peek at Oreskes and Conways’ Merchants of Doubt to truly appreciate how greed clouds judgment and leads to unethical and sometimes criminal acts.

Misinformation and scare tactics were also used by industry to fight acid rain legislation. Once again, scientists knew acid rain was problematic in the Northeastern US and Canada in the 60s and 70s–this blogger even did an undergraduate thesis on the impacts of acid rain on germination rates of vascular seedling plants. Yet it would take nearly 40 years for concerted action to reduce the culprits of acid rain, namely high sulfur coal emissions from power plants and nitrous oxide gases from cars. Why so long? Because coal-burning power plants offered cheap electricity good for the bottom line. For the love of money.

There are many, many more examples of how greed and profits rule the day. How those in power use their resources to misconstrue the science and confuse the public. To influence legislators and whomever else will act favorably on their behalf.  However, the stakes of climate change have never been higher and the environmental and economic costs unparalleled. We can not allow those in love with money to write the script that determines the future well-being of this lovely planet.

Albert Bandura (1997) wrote,”Human lives are highly interdependent. What they do individually affects the well-being of others….People must increasingly work together to make a better life for themselves” (p. viii). Let’s work together to solve the climate crisis.  Let’s call out those who put money ahead of others. Let’s ask our leaders hard questions about their positions. And let’s get moving.  We’ve got work to do. Peace.

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company.

 A 5-Minute Climate Change Mitigation Action Item for the Week: Invite some friends or family members to the house for a climate change discussion. Do it over food or beverages. Make it light and leave it open-ended. Talk about what people know about climate change. What they worry about. Clarify misconceptions by doing your homework and checking out the National Climate Assessment Report.  Have people leave the social with strategies to make a difference, and suggest future get togethers on the topic.

Climate Change and NIMBO

NIMBO, or Not in My Back Ocean. Okay, I made that up. I could have used NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) to describe the urgency of conditions outlined in the latest National Oceanic Global Analysis, but chose NIMBO as a reminder that, whether one lives in Wichita, Kansas, or Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the oceans affect us daily. With those oceans warming exponentially, the effects are becoming more obvious and ominous.Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 10.55.36 AM

NOAA’s Monthly Global Analysis for May paints a very balmy, record-breaking picture. From the report: Across the oceans, the global monthly-averaged sea surface temperature was 0.59°C (1.06°F) higher than the 20th-century average, marking the highest May temperature on record. Lest we leave land out, With records dating back to 1880, the combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces reached a record high for May, at 0.74°C (1.33°F) higher than the 20th century average. This surpassed the previous record high anomaly of 0.72°C (1.30°F) set in 2010.

Did you know that 90% of the additional heat trapped by atmospheric greenhouse gases are absorbed in the oceans? NIMBO! Warmer oceans bring more ferocious weather and hurricanes fueled by the latent heat of water vapor evaporating off the balmy waters. Warmer oceans melt ice sheets faster, push exotic marine organisms poleward, kill less nimble species unable to adjust fast enough to the warmer waters, raise sea level, reduce dissolved oxygen, affect farmers, and will have consequences we’re only beginning to understand. NIMBO!

Let’s react as swiftly and strongly to warming oceans (and our planet) as we would to a proposed nuclear waste site or PCB sludge processing facility for our community. You know the type of response I’m referring to. The one where everyone goes to City Hall to demand action. Where people sink posters in lawns with the red line drawn diagonally through the targeted egregious offense, and Facebook friends flood social media spaces. NIMBO! It’s time to act.

A 5-Minute Climate Change Mitigation Action Item for the Week: Call or email the office of an elected official and ask them about their position on climate change. Let them know your position and concerns, and that your vote will go to those individuals who have good plans for dealing with the climate change problem.