Five Things To Focus On As We Prepare For A Trump Presidency

Like everyone else, I have spent the last two weeks trying to wrap my head around the results of the presidential elections.

Without a doubt, Donald Trump’s election is a huge setback for this country’s efforts to come to grips with our changing climate and threatened natural environment.

Among my colleagues at NYER, there is a range of political opinions, but we are clear on the primacy of science, and everyone’s need for a healthy environment. The vast majority of the scientific community has been sounding an alarm for years that if our planet is to support future generations, we have to change course now, especially when it comes to fossil fuels.

For the time being, this country’s incoming leadership refuses to acknowledge the profound importance, and compromised state, of our environment. In light of that, here are five things that I am personally taking to heart as we head into 2017.

To be clear, these are my opinions, based on what I’ve learned as a reporter and as a person.

I really hope you’ll send us your feedback. And we’ll do our very best to keep covering the environmental issues — like air and water quality, trash management & recycling, energy supply, and climate resiliency — that impact readers in the metro area.

1.) We are not alone — there is a global environmental movement

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Local villagers celebrate the Indian government’s September decision to stop a coal company from mining in the Mahan forests of the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. (Photo: Greenpeace)

There is not enough media coverage of the fact that people of all backgrounds are engaged in important environmental work across the world. You can hear their voices and stories from organizations like Greenpeace International, and news outlets like Democracy Now, which reported directly from the U.N. climate talks in Morocco last week.

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Activists protesting construction of the Iowa section of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Opposition to the pipeline in Iowa has not attracted as much media attention as the protests in North Dakota. (Photo via Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Facebook page.)

There are a myriad of important and useful ways we can support — and be a part of — the global environmental movement in the next year.

For starters, citizens of this country can contact incoming members of Congress, and the new administration, to voice their opinion on whether the U.S. should remain an active participant in the U.N. Convention on Climate Change, and its 2015 Paris Agreement.

“Will that accomplish anything?” a friend said to me the other day. Well, the alternative is that we remain silent as the Trump administration tries to pull the U.S. out of the global climate accords. Consider this: 48 nations — including Bangladesh, Ethiopia and the Philippines — promised to “rapidly move to 100% renewable power” at the UN climate summit last week, the Guardian reported.

It’s worth noting that significant public resistance to the Keystone Pipeline paved the way for the Obama administration to squash it, and, yes, this battle may very well be fought again.

(There are more ideas on what we can do below.)

2.) The majority of the American people accept the reality of climate change, and want to address it.

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Over 400,000 participated in the September, 2014 People’s Climate March in New York City. There were solidarity actions in 160 countries the same day.

According to a Gallup Poll earlier this year, 65 percent of Americans now say that increases in the earth’s temperature over the last century are primarily attributable to human activities, rather than natural causes.

This represents a “striking” 10-percentage-point increase in the past year and is four points above the previous high of 61 percent in 2007, Gallup reports.

64 percent of U.S. adults told Gallup they are worried a “great deal” or “fair amount” about global warming — the highest reading since 2008.

3.) The facts, and science, will have the last word.

Satellite view of Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Satellite view of Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

According to an analysis released this month by the World Meteorological Organization, the planet just had its hottest five-year period on record, with 2015 claiming the title of hottest individual year, which will be beat by 2016.

“The effects of climate change have been consistently visible on the global scale since the 1980s,” the WMO reported, pointing to “rising global temperature, both over land and in the ocean; sea-level rise; and the widespread melting of ice. It has increased the risks of extreme events such as heatwaves, drought, record rainfall and damaging floods.”

The WMO singled out Superstorm Sandy as one of several “high-impact” global weather events whose likelihood was increased by climate change.

The October 29th, 2012 storm caused the deaths of 43 New York City residents and created $19 billion in economic damage in the five boroughs. Sandy had a ‘storm tide’ over 14 feet above Mean Low Water at the Battery. Fifty-one square miles of New York City flooded during the storm, 17 percent of the city’s total land mass.

4.) Local action is going to matter — a lot.

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When the gas industry first indicated that they wanted to carry out high-volume hydraulic fracturing in upstate New York, it was hard to imagine that a grassroots movement of regular people could stop it.

Some of this country’s most populous states — like California and New York — are moving ahead now to cut carbon emissions, and transform their energy supplies. How much will it matter? I heard a participant at the U.N. climate talks last week argue that local governments in the U.S. could accomplish half of our carbon reduction commitments, as per the Paris Agreement, without federal support.

In the next 14 years, New York State is planning to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent, relative to 1990 levels. And the State says that half of New York’s electricity will come from renewable energy sources by 2030.

The State’s long-term goal is to decrease total carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050. The City of New York has similar goals, and says it is looking even further ahead to a 100 percent carbon free future, along with zero waste to landfills by 2030.

Undoubtedly, there are many hard questions to be asked about how, for example, the State is reconfiguring our energy markets, and whether New York City can get to a zero waste future. But, we are arguably on the road.

5.) Building an environmentally sustainable society will be a long, challenging process, but we already knew that.

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Since 2007, almost 50,000 citizen volunteers have helped plant more than one million new trees across New York City.

Building a truly sustainable society — which is not a net drain on the planet — could take generations. That was true before November 8th, and remains so.

And as quixotic as it may seem, we know that it’s worth it. Every child — and every adult — deserves a fighting chance at a decent life, which will not be possible on a degraded planet.

How can we participate? Here are just a few suggestions that show the wide range of actions (personal, and as part of a group) that we can take:

  • call your senators and congresspeople and tell them what you think about retaining the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, along with the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, and the Clean Power Plan.
  • support candidates at all levels of government who share your views on clean energy, waste reduction, and strong protections for air and water
  • better yet, run for public office yourself!
  • get involved with and/or donate funds to national environmental advocacy organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, and 350.org; and local groups like Environmental Advocates of New York and the NY League of Conservation Voters.
  • talk with your friends, neighbors and co-workers about climate change, and share fact-based information
  • participate in community meetings with local officials about issues like cleaning up polluted waterways and climate resiliency planning. If you live in NYC, these meetings are often sponsored by your local community board
  • learn about ways to reduce energy and water use, and generate less trash at home
  • participate in a neighborhood clean-up day
  • talk with the children in your life about environmental issues
  • you tell us — what can people do?

 

Finally, here are some interesting thoughts from Randy Cohen, who used to write The Ethicist column for The New York Times Sunday Magazine. In November, 2008, a Texas woman wrote to Cohen for advice because her neighbors had decided to lease their land for gas drilling, and she was under pressure to join them.

“For environmental reasons, we strongly oppose this drilling,” the woman wrote on behalf of herself and her partner. She asked Cohen if holding out, while all her neighbors went ahead, was a futile, meaningless gesture.

Cohen responded, in part:

“It is understandable that you feel powerless in the face of community-wide sentiment…but you should not sign the lease…

To fail to resist what you see as injustice simply because you fear that you cannot win the fight assures the very defeat you dread.

If nothing else, this is a short term view. Political struggle is long. Even if you lose the first battle, you fight on, and by resisting from the outset, you shape the conditions of that struggle.

The most potent argument for your declining to sign what you regard as a devil’s bargain is this: It violates your own principles…Ethics concerns our actions, not just our arguments.”

 

And so this next chapter in our history begins. As this post was being finished, President Obama moved to prohibit any new oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean, one of his last actions before leaving office.

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Photo: Greenpeace

It’s Climate Week in NYC: and there are lots of ways to join in!

One year ago this week, as many as 400,000 people marched through the streets of Manhattan demanding action on climate change. Organizers say the People’s Climate March was the largest mass action on climate change to date.

The past year has been marked by protests and organizing across the globe related to climate change — from Pacific Islanders blockading the world’s largest coal port in Australia to “kayaktivists” blocking Shell’s Arctic drilling rig in Seattle.

And in just a few weeks, on November 30th, the U.N. Paris Climate Summit will commence with the goal of creating “a universal, legally binding agreement that will enable us to combat climate change effectively and boost the transition towards resilient, low-carbon societies and economies.”

This week in New York City, climate change is taking center stage.

1.) The Pope will be speaking at the United Nations on Friday. His comments on climate change are widely anticipated. Also- the U.N. is setting a new global sustainable development agenda this week.

2.) On Thursday, two events are happening in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza (East 47th Street and 1st Avenue in Manhattan, across the street from the U.N.) in anticipation of the Pope’s visit.

Light the Way multifaith gathering at 4:30pm: Participants from many spiritual traditions will join in a “festival” of song and prayer in support of Pope Francis’ message on the urgency of addressing climate change and poverty.

Under One Sky rally at 6pm: Rally of religious and civil society groups and others to shine a light on climate change, poverty and inequality, and support the U.N.’s sustainable development goals.

According to organizers, “the night before world leaders meet in New York to announce the new Global Goals intended to tackle the most urgent issues of our time – poverty, inequality and climate change – we’ll be coming together to ensure they feel the pressure of all of us demanding these goals translate into reality.

And we won’t be alone. People will be coming together in over 100 countries to demonstrate their shared vision for a better future – from Australia to India, South Africa to Brazil – millions will take action around the world.”

3.) Climate Week events series, organized by the Climate Group, an international non-profit whose goal is a “prosperous, low carbon future.”

Check out the extensive events calendar for Climate Week 2015.

The Climate Group says they are working with corporate and government partners to achieve a “clean revolution: the rapid scale-up of low carbon energy and technology.” The way to achieve this clean revolution, they say, is to “develop climate finance mechanisms, business models which promote innovation, and supportive policy frameworks.”

4.) Climate Crisis and Community workshop on Sunday

350 NYC has organized a workshop series this Sunday to discuss the Paris climate talks and the broader climate change movement, and how best to push for a “renewable energy revolution.”

The workshop is at 1:30pm at Goddard Riverside Community Center, 593 Columbus Avenue, Manhattan.

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Electric car enthusiasts at the 2014 People’s Climate March.

Says 350 NYC, “In November and December, there will be actions and demonstrations around the world to drive home the message that the world needs to get off of fossil fuels now. This weekend, hundreds of local climate action groups like 350 NYC are holding workshops and teach-ins to start getting ready.”

 

 

Climate summit in Brooklyn this week as countdown to 2015 U.N. negotiations begins

2015 is unfolding as planet earth’s hottest year on record as U.N. climate treaty negotiations are set to start in Paris this December. The New York City area has just experienced its third warmest August since local record keeping began.

In response, climate activists are convening at the Brooklyn Academy of Music this Thursday night to propose a roadmap for New York’s (and this country’s) complete transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy.

Now is the time to “turn off the flow of carbon. The engineers are telling us that we are ready to turn on the abundant flow of sun and wind,” the event’s organizer, 350NYC.org, states.

[350.org gets its name from the finding by climate scientists that in order to avoid the more extreme effects of climate change, the level of CO2 in the atmosphere needs to remain below 350 parts per million. The current level is 400 ppm.]

The majority of greenhouse gases which drive climate change, such as carbon dioxide, come from burning fossil fuels to produce energy, says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Deforestation, industrial processes, and some agricultural practices also emit gases into the atmosphere, they note.

Speakers at thursday’s event will include:

NYS plans to slash greenhouse gas emissions- will it be enough?

It will be really interesting to hear what climate activists have to say Thursday night about the progress we are making here in New York on combating climate change.

Both New York State and City say they plan to drastically cut carbon emissions. The State’s long-term goal is to decrease total carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050.

To date, New York State has reportedly cut greenhouse gas emissions 12 percent from 1990 levels, and it says it plans to achieve a 40 percent reduction in the next 15 years.

2015: the hottest year on record

As Scientific American reported on August 20th:

“In data released Thursday, NOAA [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] measured July at 1.46°F above the 20th century July average. Because July is also climatologically the warmest month of any year, this was also the warmest month the globe has seen since 1880, topping the previous record-holder, July 1998, by 0.14°F.

For the year-to-date, 2015 is 1.53°F above the 20th century average, and 0.16°F ahead of 2010, which had the previous warmest January through July.”

Earth’s average temperature has risen by 1.4°F over the past century, and is projected to rise another 2 to 11.5°F over the next hundred years, says the EPA. “Small changes in the average temperature of the planet can translate to large and potentially dangerous shifts in climate and weather.”

What’s the goal for this year’s climate negotiations?

Starting November 30th, France will host the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21/CMP11), otherwise known as “Paris 2015.”

The goal is to keep average global temperatures from climbing 3.6°F higher than the 20th century average.

“The aim is to reach, for the first time,” says COP21, “a universal, legally binding agreement that will enable us to combat climate change effectively and boost the transition towards resilient, low-carbon societies and economies.”

While there is ongoing debate about whether remaining below a 3.6°F increase is even realistic, scientists say that a temperature rise of that magnitude would lead to “drastic changes,” such as significant ice sheet loss in Greenland and Antarctica.

Mitigation and adaptation

Indeed, the ice sheet in Greenland -the second largest glacial ice mass on Earth- is already experiencing a “significant” shrinkage in thickness…”contributing to sea level rise.” The freshwater stored in the Greenland ice sheet has a sea level equivalent of 24 feet (7.4 meters).

Permanent melting of the ice sheet would not only dramatically increase sea level, but also likely alter ocean circulation patterns and the global climate, say scientists.

For that reason, says COP21, the agreement hammered out in Paris must focus equally on mitigation (the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in order to limit global warming) and adaptation to the climate change already underway.

The complexity of such a global negotiation is only rivaled by what is at stake.

“These efforts must take into account the needs and capacities of each country,” says COP21. “The agreement will enter into force in 2020 and will need to be sustainable to enable long-term change.”