Far From Paris…But A Climate Summit, All The Same

IT WAS ONE DAY after the worst snowstorm the Finger Lakes had seen all winter. Four feet of the white stuff, already beginning to melt on the sidewalks and roadsides as I made my way into the lobby of a local high school. Honestly, I did not know what to expect from the climate summit, especially one being held in such a rural area. But as soon as I made my way into the lobby, I knew I had made the right choice in coming.

Several booths had been set up, one from the Cornell Cooperative Extension, another from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, these offering troves of information on climatological science and how climate change in impacting the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. This particular summit had been sponsored by the Mynderse Academy (the high school it was being held at) Science Department, and included speakers from Cornell University, and the Museum of Earth, out of Ithaca, New York.

I signed in at a student-run booth (the young lady appearing just a bit surprised that I was a concerned community member and not associated with any university or organization) and made my way into the auditorium. I took a moment to get seated and marvel at how nice the school was, having a sizeable and dedicated auditorium. After all, the high school I went to didn’t have doors on the stalls in the restrooms, let alone an actual auditorium. High school was a while ago for me, but I seem to remember any sort of student assembly being held in the gym. Maybe I’m getting crotchety in my old age, but I couldn’t help but muse at how spoiled these kids today must be, with their high schools with actual auditoriums. What’s next? Doors on the stalls in the restrooms?

The auditorium filled up quick, with guests from all over the region. I noticed other members of the community in attendance, as well as local town and city politicians (not nearly enough of these). It being a school day, the students of the high school were required to attend the summit, and I could not help but wonder if they realized just how fortunate they were to be receiving this information at such a young age.

Things started off with Dr. Duggan-Haas, from the Paleontological Research Institution at the Museum of Earth, in Ithaca. Dr. Duggan-Haas immediately informed the crowd that climate change is indeed real, and it is indeed caused by us, humans. I would be lying if I did not say that the information was damning.

The take-away from Dr. Duggan-Hass’ speech came down to the fact that humanity is simply consuming too much energy, and that, if we are to have any sort of sustainable future on our planet Earth, we need desperately to curtail our hunger for it. Less usage is key.

One crucial point that was made was the fact that, for example, hydraulic-fracturing (the process of injecting chemical-laden water at extremely high pressure into the ground to breakup shale deposits and thus release the natural gas) is indeed highly destructive to our planet, but so are all methods of mass energy consumption. It became apparent there is a conundrum here, far more complex than simply trying to live green, or find some quick-fix we can all do to set things right. Fossil fuels are the energy source we strive to move away from, while at the same time allowing more sustainable sources to exist.

Basically, green energy requires fossil fuel in some form to be practical, whether that be the creations of materials in solar panels or wind turbines, or the power needed for them to begin collecting sunlight or wind in the first place.

Now that doesn’t mean I’m anti-renewable energy. Quite the contrary. I believe we, as a human race, need desperately to invest in these sustainable alternatives to coal and oil and gas. But that’s only half the battle. The other half is simply reducing our overall consumption of energy, which leads me to my next point.

We can, all of us, make small changes in our daily lives to use less. Take shorter showers, turn off lights when not in use, recycle as much as we possibly can. Problem is, these minor changes in the day-to-day lives of the average human being are small potatoes in comparison to the megalithic hyper-consumption by corporate entities. So long as these private companies are allowed to, quite plainly, rape our Mother Earth for profit, little will change. This system of abject capitalism for the sheer sack of it is blowing through our planet’s natural resources at an utterly unsustainable rate.

International policy is needed to change this. Strict guidelines set forth to ensure Mother Earth’s precious resources exist for generations to come. But therein lies yet another conundrum; seeing to it that various world governments obey said guidelines. Good faith is not enough. It is imperative that any such climate guidelines put forth are followed to the letter. But then we run into the question of just who is tasked with enforcement of such a global climate treaty. The United States? Have we not acted as world police for long enough? And that’s assuming we would bother to try enforcement of such rules in the first place. The corporate culture and wanton capitalism that is inherently American would beg to disagree.

After several speakers, all with poignant information to share, the students were allowed to go home for the day, as it was after 2 o’clock by this point, or stay to learn more if they wished. I was not surprised to see nearly all of them decided to leave, and I don’t blame them. I’m sure I would have done the same when I was fifteen or sixteen. The remaining audience was then allowed to explore several different workshops located in various classrooms throughout the school. Composting, recycling, vermiculture, as well as the social cost of energy mass-consumption were all topics covered.

One very important issue that was touched upon was the difference between climate and weather, and it is a distinction I’m afraid most people are unaware of. Weather is what’s happening in your neck of the woods over a brief period; hours, days, weeks. Climate is what that weather tends to do over a more extended period; at least thirty years. This is a distinction people need to realize.

What is important is the global temperature average, not the wind chill in Pisswater, Okiedokie. Just because it’s cold outside where you are, does not mean the global temperature is not rising. 2016 was the warmest year on record, beating out 2015, which in turn beat out 2014. The Earth’s average temperature has been rising steadily since the early twentieth century, and exponentially since around 1980. And that is information from the Earth Observatory at NASA, which can be found here.

Like I said, the information is there, and it’s damning.

Walking out into the parking lot after the summit had ended, I could not help but be impressed. The information is desperately needed the world over, but especially in small towns and counties, where people may be more resistant to the facts. The professional data presented was university-level, not to mention free and open to the public. Far more people should have attended than did, but it’s a start. Like I said, it was refreshing to see such information presented in this small community. Hopefully we will see many more such summits and forums in cities and towns across the country, and the world. One can only hope

Yet how do we, as people who truly want to make a change, manage to get an actual dialogue with fellow community members, some of whom may be unwilling to listen?

This was yet another issue brought up at the summit, and I believe it is one of the most crucial of all:

We need to make it personal.

We need to connect the information to observable facts people can relate to. The trees blossoming earlier each year. The summers getting hotter and more humid. Certain crops not fairing as well as they used to. These are all things people can see, things they can understand. When you begin spewing numbers and trite data, most people are going to shut down. If they can’t understand it, or believe it has importance in their life, chances are they won’t listen. There is a decent possibility they may even become angry, feeling intimidated. But if we can give them something they can relate to, they may begin to see. Maybe all at once, maybe piece by piece. But they will begin to see.

It’s a small start, but it is a start. Talk to people around you, give them examples. Doing our part to use less is great, and it is crucial. But education is just as important. If we can spread the information, each of us doing our part, then that person will eventually spread the information on to someone else.

We have already passed a tipping-point, where what’s done is done. We are now living on an Earth with a certain amount of damage that cannot be reversed, not for many, many years. But what we can do is stop the damage from spreading further.


Joe DiCicco

Joe DiCicco is a writer from New York. He writes mostly fiction, but has recently begun delving into issues of environmental and social importance. He holds a degree in Natural Resources Conservation.


Joe DiCicco has a piece in the second issue of A Beautiful Resistance. All issues, along with Pagan Anarchism and A Pagan Anti-Capitalist Primer, are now available together as a digital download for $20 US. Or order them in print here.

Things with Feathers: Fewer fossil fuel projects; more birds

In good news for climate and other environmental concerns, the fossil fuel industry has been having a tough time getting projects permitted:

Oregon LNG cancels plan for Warrenton terminal:

The company behind a proposed liquefied natural gas export terminal at the mouth of the Columbia River has abandoned the project, marking the death of Oregon’s second such project in a matter of weeks.

…The news comes weeks after a city hearings officer rejected key permits for the project and after years of fervent opposition both locally and statewide. Concerns over the project’s potential to harm Warrenton’s fishing industry and environment had sparked protests at local meetings on the project and attracted attention from conservation groups.

…The project encountered another roadblock this spring, when a city hearings officer denied land use applications after finding the terminal could harm habitat for protected salmon and affect public fishing access.

The “second such project” referenced is the Jordan Cove LNG terminal, which had its plans rejected by federal regulators, who said “applicants had not demonstrated any need for the facility.”

Regulators said they were required to balance the need for any project against any adverse impacts it would have on landowners or the environment. The need for Jordan Cove was based entirely on demand for natural gas from customers in Asia, and with those markets in upheaval, Jordan Cove’s backers have yet to demonstrate that the demand exists.

…Meanwhile, the companies had been unable to negotiate easements with more than 90 percent of 630 landowners along the 232-mile pipeline route, and would have required the widespread use of eminent domain to secure the necessary rights of way. The commissioners noted the landowners’ concerns with land devaluation, loss of revenue and harm to business operations, including timber, agriculture and oyster harvesting.

This project has been opposed since 2004.

Very recently, up in Washington, the Cherry Point coal export terminal’s permit has been rejected by the US Army Corps of Engineers; this permit rejection probably means the end of the project entirely. The decision is noteworthy because it came not from an environmental impact assessment, but because of the terminal’s projected impact on the Lummi Nation’s treaty rights.

The Corps ruled the project would impact the treaty-protected fishing rights of Lummi Nation based on the fact that the proposed trestle and associated wharf would take up 144 acres over water.

“The Corps may not permit a project that abrogates treaty rights,” said Col. John Buck, commander of the Corps’ Seattle District.

This doesn’t fall under “permit denied,” but it’s too good to omit. Royal Dutch Shell has relinquished all its leases in the Chukchi Sea except one (for the site it drilled an exploratory well last year), and is reevaluating its leases in the Beaufort Sea.

After Shell announced it was suspending exploration, the Interior Department said it would not extend Shell leases when they expired in 2020. Shell initially said lease terms should be extended. By relinquishing the leases, the company avoids millions in annual payments.

A drilling opponent, Oceana, filed a freedom of information request and learned leases had been formally relinquished by Shell, ConocoPhillips, Eni and Iona Energy. The environmental group announced its findings Monday night and applauded the decision.

“Hopefully, today marks the end of the ecologically and economically risky push to drill in the Arctic Ocean,” said Mike LeVine, an attorney with the group.

Moving on to another hemisphere and topic, in cute bird news, the kakapo population in New Zealand had a particular good year in the baby department, with a 36 new babies surviving breeding season, bringing the total population of this critically endangered species up to 125, and providing some of the cutest parent-and-baby pictures on the internet.

“It’s the most successful breeding season since we started in 1995 and I think that’s cause for international celebration,” Conservation Minister Maggie Barry told AFP.

Kakapo parent and chick, from eartharchives.org
Kakapo parent and chick, from eartharchives.org

 

To the Ocean, for the Arctic (a prayer)

Hail Aegir, Ocean, great Lord of the seas, generous host of the Aesir!

Hail Ran, Robber, great Lady of storms!

Hail the Undines, the Billows Maidens, great Ladies of the waves!

Thank You for Your myriad blessings:

The bounty of fish, invertebrates, and seaweeds which feed us

The seas which grant us passage to distant lands

The soothing waves and waters that heal us

The beauty and terror which have inspired us

The waters in which we swim and play and challenge ourselves

The vast waters that sustain our climate and create our weather, and in which our far-distant ancestors first found life

We have been deeply blessed by Your generosity, in more ways than I can count.

Please hear my petition and grant the aid I seek:

I ask that You withdraw Your hospitality from one person, for their violations of Your hospitality past, present, and intended; they have forgotten that guests owe respect and good treatment to their hosts, just as hosts are obligated to guests.

This person, known as the corporation Royal Dutch Shell, violates, again, the sea bed in some of Your coldest waters, killing small creatures to do so, and causing distress to many others through their actions, with their ultimate goal being to profit from many years of oil extraction.

The last time they intruded upon Your Arctic waters, they sent a malfunctioning ship and negligent crew, polluting the sea around them, in violation of good manners and our human laws – and despite being found guilty, they have been permitted by human agencies to return to those same waters, with that same ship, the Noble Discoverer. They have shown carelessness again this year, causing damage to another ship, the Fennica, part of this year’s Arctic drilling fleet.

Their work all along has been harmful to Your domain, as the burning of their oil contributes to the warming and acidification of the ocean, and plastics made from that oil are found in horrific quantities throughout global waters, killing sea life from the tiniest plankton to the great whales.

They know they are contributing to these problems, but they will not desist.

They know there is a 75% chance of a major oil spill in the decades they hope to be extracting oil in the Arctic, but they will not desist.

They will not desist as long as the governments of the world permit them – and the government that has legal authority to permit their Arctic drilling has allowed this. That government, mine, does NOT speak for me or for many, many others of its people, it does NOT speak for the many peoples affected by this who are not of this nation, and thousands and thousands of us have tried to stop this Arctic drilling.

Royal Dutch Shell cannot be allowed to succeed.

It is not only Royal Dutch Shell that has contributed to these global harms, but if they are successful in finding oil in the Arctic, other companies will follow their example, and make the disasters of climate change, and despoiling of the sea and land and air, even greater.

Great Hosts of the Seas, they benefited from Your gentler side before, as they benefit now: the waters are calm enough for them to proceed at all. And even when their previous trespassing ended with the wrecking of their drilling rig, the Kulluk, in stormy weather, it was only that vessel that was lost; every human made it safely home.

They will never pay You proper weregild for the lives of Your waters their actions have taken: the turtles strangled, the seabirds choked, the salmon overheated, too many others to count. But they should pay nonetheless.

Ran, Great Lady of Storms, Robber Queen: Seafarers in centuries past carried gold to earn Your favor, if they thought they might end up with You. As these will make You no such offerings, I think it only fair if You took from them what they value as gold now: their ships and their chances to make further profits in Your domain. But set Your net aside, I pray, and send them back to shore, do not take them to Your hall.

Undines, Great Ladies of the Waves, playful, fierce, and terrifying: Royal Dutch Shell has brought many toys into the Arctic to toss about in the waves and dispose of when You tire. Like other boorish, entitled guests, they will not go on their own, so throw them out the door, cast them up on the beach like You do so many other empty shells.

Aegir, Master of the Hall of the Ocean: I beg You, please, take action where we have failed, and where our government has failed us, and evict from Your waters the people and the vessels of Royal Dutch Shell. Send them home, permanently, to the surface land that Homo sapiens is evolved for. Teach them that ill-mannered guests lose not only rights of visitation, but material benefits accrued through their stay.

Great Powers of the Sea, show them no more and no less mercy than was shown the Kulluk and the Kulluk‘s crew.