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Global warming, WNY warning

Sobering, even scary stuff.

Thirteen federal agencies have spent the last year and a half working on a consensus on how global warming is, and will affect the United States, and how it's playing out in regions around the nation. A report is out that John Holdren, President Obama's science adviser, said is the “most up-to-date, authoritative, and comprehensive” analysis of the impacts of human-caused global warming on the United States. 

I took a look at the report with an eye on what it foretells about Western New York.

Most striking is how fast the temperature is going up.

Worldwide, the average temperature is up 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900. Here in the Northeast, it's risen 2 degrees since 1970. In the winter, it's gone up 4 degrees.

Put another way, global warming is already coming home to roost in our neck of the woods with more of a vengeance than some other parts of the US of A. For once we're ahead of the curve, and, as our luck would have it, this is one instance where we're better off being behind the eight ball.

The consequences of these rising temperatures include more extreme weather, in the form of very hot summer days and heavy downpours. In fact, "very heavy precipitation," as the report calls it, has increased more dramatically in the Northeast than any section of the country in the past 50 years.

A continuation of rising temperatures would result in our region being less hospitable to some forms of agriculture, although it will extend the growing season. It won't be good for cows producing milk, fruit trees and, well forget about locally produced maple syrup.
We'll get less snow, which some might cheer, but not those who ski. Better make plans for a trip out West, although things will be tougher there, too. Better to try farther north. I wonder if they have any ski slopes along, say, James Bay.

The warmer temperature also will hurt air quality, especially in populated areas.

How does that play out?

Well, in Chicago, for example, heat waves killed 100-plus people a year back when Jimmy Carter was president. By 2055, well within the lifetimes of many of you readers, more-frequent, intense heatwaves are projected to kill 375 to 700 a year, depending on just how much many more emissions we pollute our environment with.

Hartford, whose climate isn't that much different than ours, would see the temperature top 100 degrees about 30 days a year.

No thanks.

Another thing that jumped out at me was the impact on water supplies. We'll experience higher temps, more people living in hot, dry places like the Southwest, and growing demands for electricity that will need water for its production.

Hmmm, let's see, whose got water?

Why, we people around the Great Lakes.

Who's gonna want it?

Everybody else.

Sounds like we might have an H20 version of a food fight in our future.

This report is pretty readable and digestible as these things go. Here are some links worth checking out:

Four page fact sheet on the Northeast.

Four page executive summary for the United States.

Full report.

Read on.



Cities in green and Brown

The differing approaches in Buffalo and Niagara Falls in reaction to spiraling energy costs and other ramifications of climate change can be boiled down to this:

When I called Paul Dyster to talk about what Niagara Falls is doing, the mayor invited me up for what turned out to be a detailed, and ultimately exhausting, two-hour interview in which I finally had to plead "no mas." The man knows his stuff, and talks not in sound bites, not in sentences, but in complete paragraphs. Several at a time.

Don't believe me? Here's a video of a speech Dyster gave this summer to Business Gets Green.

Mayor Byron Brown, on the other hand, doesn't want to talk about what he is doing -- and not doing -- in Buffalo. Not with me. And not with some prominent greens like Walter Simpson who have tried to get an audience with him.

As a result of its mayor's respective attitudes, Niagara Falls has landed a plant to produce silicon used to make solar panels, while Buffalo is, well, washing the halls of City Hall with less abrasive cleaning solutions.

In addition to my story in Sunday's Buffalo News, I've complied links to additional resources for those of you who want to know more.

Let's start with Sam Magavern's report done with some of his U.B. law students for the Partnership for the Public Good, entitled "Greening Buffalo: What Local Governments Can Do." Magavern presents an abbreviated version of the recommendations in this story he wrote for Artvoice.

To learn with other cities are doing, start with the one-page action plan developed by the the Climate protection Center of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Magavern says Cincinnati's action plan is particularly relevant to a city like Buffalo. has ranked the nation's 50 greenest cities, although probably fewer than 20 really deserve kudos. Another outfit has done a readable narrative on the greenest of the green cities.

Newsweek has reported on a study by the Brookings Institute on how metropolitan regions can reduce their carbon footprint.

Finally, Gristmill is in the midst of reporting on what 15 regions across the nation are doing on the green front.

Read on.

Oil prices, climate change, etc.

On the energy and global warming front:

Globalization may have met its match in the form of high energy prices, according to this NY Times story.

Cheap oil, the lubricant of quick, inexpensive transportation links across the world, may not return anytime soon, upsetting the logic of diffuse global supply chains that treat geography as a footnote in the pursuit of lower wages ...

Many economists argue that globalization will not shift into reverse even if oil prices continue their rising trend. But many see evidence that companies looking to keep prices low will have to move some production closer to consumers.

The Jet Propulsion Laborary at the California Institute of Technology has put up a catchy, informative site on climate change. The lab is a NASA center staffed and managed by Caltech, as it is known.

Gristmill, the environmental blog, describes the site like this:

It offers a nice summary of the relevant science in a variety of areas: key indicators, evidence, causes, effects, uncertainties, and solutions. The website is a good place to send people who are uninformed on global warming, but looking for basic information. 

NY Times columnist Paul Krugman on the politics behind the debate over what to do about global warming.

In themselves, limits on offshore drilling are only a modest-sized issue. But the skirmish over drilling is the opening stage of a much bigger fight over environmental policy. What’s at stake in that fight, above all, is the question of whether we’ll take action against climate change before it’s utterly too late.

Read and react.

Listen up, Dittoheads

Rush_limbaugh_house_2 Now I know why Rush Limbaugh is in a state of denial over global warming. It helps him sleep at night.

His oceanfront property in Palm Beach, Florida, includes five -- count 'em, five -- houses. The one he lives in is 24,000 square feet. He lives there with his cat.

He's got a half-dozen cars at his estate. Limbaugh, who consented to be interviewed for what turned out to be a relatively gentle New York Times Magazine profile, drove the reporter around in one of them, "a black Maybach 57S, which runs around $450,000 fully loaded."

You Dittoheads keep that in mind the next time he rails on the radio about his concern for the working man.

Business leadership that gets it

Andrew Rudnick and Company, please make note: The Kansas City Chamber of Commerce has organized its membership to promote sustainable business practices under its *Climate Protect Partnership. The objective is achieving "the complementary goals of reduced regional greenhouse gas emissions and increased economic competitiveness."

The New York Times environmental blog, dot earth had a recent post on the initiative.

"Over 150 companies, with something like 100,000 employees, have joined the group, which is committed to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions from the metropolitan region of some 2 million people."

Bill Nowak and his Green Gold Development Corp. hold sessions for business the third Thursday of each month. The first three sessions have demonstrated there's a lot of green savvy in the community -- but not a lot of it in the region's largest companies, which pretty much continue doing business as though global warming isn't happening.

Upon seeing this post, Rick Reinhard, now with the Downtown DC Business Improvement District, sent me this update on what they're doing in Washington.

Seems to me that there's a leadership role for the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, or some other business organization, on this issue. There are some large companies in the region to learn from, including Ecology & Environment and HSBC, whose sustainability director for the U.S. is based out of Buffalo.

We just don't get it

Do many Americans remain ignorant to global warming? Or are they so self-absorbed that they simply don't care? (There's a poll at the end of this post.)

The Pew Research Center has come out with a poll showing that in the face of higher gas prices, a growing number of Americans want to hang on to their energy way of life, regardless of the consequences. As recently as February, 55 favored an emphasis on energy conservation and the environment vs. 35 percent who favored a push for more energy production. Now, its a dead heat. All over $4 a gallon gas.

Oil_rig Reports the Pew Center:

"Amid record gas prices, public support for greater energy exploration is spiking. Compared with just a few months ago, many more Americans are giving higher priority to more energy exploration, rather than more conservation. An increasing proportion also says that developing new sources of energy – rather than protecting the environment – is the more important national priority."

I don't like $50 a tank fill up any more than the next guy, but the answer isn't a $40 fill up. Something's gotta give.

Ice_berg_2 We as a country account for a quarter of the world's oil consumption. We're emitting twice as many global warming gasses than we did in 1990. Our economy, our lifestyle is the biggest driving force behind global warming. But, according to the Pew poll, nearly half of America wants to stay the course.

The scientific community says the answer is two-fold: conservation and development of clean, renewable energy. (Al Gore's Web site has a good overview.)

The president and Congress have been reluctant to provide the the same kind of incentives to promote clean energy that it has long provided Big Oil and Gas.

And conservation and recycling efforts are far from running on all cylinders. The current issue of Co-op America Quarterly is loaded with practical tips on how the typical homeowner can cut his energy consumption by up to half. How many of us are even trying?

A few more pieces worth reading:

-- New York Times comparison of gas prices worldwide.

"Gasoline in the United States is cheap.

"Not as cheap as American drivers would like, of course. And not as cheap as it is in Venezuela and other major oil-producing countries, where it is heavily subsidized. Compared to prices in most other industrialized nations, however, the American national average of $4 a gallon is a bargain.

"The chief reason for the disparity with the high-priced nations is taxation. Take away the taxes, and the remaining gas price is similar from place to place."

-- Recent Congressional testimony of climate scientist James Hansen.

"A wide gap has developed between what is understood about global warming by the relevant scientific community and what is known by policymakers and the public.

"We have used up all slack in the schedule for actions needed to defuse the global warming time bomb. The next president and Congress must define a course next year in which the United States exerts leadership commensurate with our responsibility for the present dangerous situation.

"Otherwise it will become impractical to constrain atmospheric carbon dioxide, the greenhouse-gas produced in burning fossil fuels, to a level that prevents the climate system from passing tipping points that lead to disastrous climate changes that spiral dynamically out of humanity's control.

"Changes needed to preserve creation, the planet on which civilization developed, are clear. But the changes have been blocked by special interests, focused on short-term profits, who hold sway in Washington and other capitals."

So, what do you think?