At last year’s meeting, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson responded to a shareholder question indicating that he did not think the results of climate models were sufficiently reliable for policymaking and, in any case, his view is that technical and engineering solutions will be found to overcome all impacts, as has been the case in the past. I prepared my comments to address Tillerson’s comments head on in my statement:
In DOE’s major, widely peer-reviewed 1985 climate change assessment, Exxon’s leading climate change scientist for the past several decades, Dr. Brian Flannery, co-authored the chapter on projecting climate change. His chapter concluded that “climate models currently available, when run with standard scenarios of fossil fuel CO2 emissions, indicate a global warming of the order of 1ºC by the year 2000, relative to the year 1850, and an additional 2º-5ºC warming over the next century.” That projection was made three decades ago and is still the case today.
Indeed, improving models and having more data and computer resources available has been helpful in working out many details, but the top-line conclusions have held up very well. The main reason for the range in model simulations that you [Tillerson] cited is not uncertainties in the models, but the energy technology choices that society will make.
With respect to the potential for adapting, all major assessments make clear that, in the absence of sharp emissions cuts, the challenges of adapting will be very severe. As just three examples, loss of biodiversity, breakup of ecosystems, and the rise in sea level will be large and essentially irreversible. Indeed, several leading economic studies make clear that the conditions will be so serious that replacing the world’s fossil fuel energy system would reduce the risks and be less costly than adapting to the impacts of not doing so.
IPCC’s climatic and environmental projections and the Paris Agreement now represent the international consensus for how we must move forward. My question is what the due diligence analyses that I assume ExxonMobil has conducted show for the internationally desired scenario and what sorts of analyses have been done for both more gentle and more severe scenarios of climate disruption and emissions contraction?
In the lobby before the meeting started, Kathy Mulvey of UCS and I happened to encounter Tillerson himself. On the issue of climate change, he indicated that to understand the science, one has to skip past the IPCC Summary for Policymakers (SPM) and read the detailed science chapters that explain how little is really understood, suggesting that no one but himself seems to read the chapters.
I responded that the chapters were written using the hypothesis-testing framing traditional in the sciences where it takes, for example, two-sigma significance to support a finding, whereas the SPM was written using a relative likelihood (or relative confidence or relative risk) framing that is what society and business use in their decision-making and risk management practices.
Tillerson then pivoted to say that he has seen the poor and starving around the world who need energy, something he suggested we had not; again we took exception and described their particular vulnerabilities to climate change.
His comments made clear that during the public comment section I needed to also call out Tillerson’s ‘win now and technology will surely save us’ perspective (which, given the limits of technology to deal with many of the impacts is really a win-lose strategy) and instead urge adoption of a win-win strategy of providing people with carbon-free energy now so that their future will not be destroyed.
In Mr. Tillerson’s overview of the company’s status and performance, he proudly described ExxonMobil’s performance in an environment with volatile prices; progress on new fossil fuel extraction and production; a further increase in the dividend; and more. He also insisted that ExxonMobil’s projections of future demand for fossil fuels were consistent with the emission reduction commitments made at the Paris meeting.
It all sounded very positive because of what he had left out. For example, he did not point out that the Paris commitments, even if fully implemented, will lead to a global warming of order 3.5ºC by 2100, so way above the 1.5–2.0ºC Paris objective, nor did he mention that ExxonMobil’s global demand projections are well above those of other major oil companies, nor that they had borrowed money to pay its ever rising dividend. Clearly, the shareholder meeting was a day for positives, not the threats to their diminished bottom line the shareholder activists wanted to have presented.
During the public comment period, I defended the model projections and indicated that the new scientific findings suggest that future impacts could well be greater than reported in the latest IPCC assessment (e.g., faster sea level rise, altered weather, etc.), and that meeting the Paris temperature objectives would require even greater carbon constraints than set out in pledged emissions cuts to date.
Mr. Tillerson, in response, claimed there was no difference between the views of IPCC and ExxonMobil except on solutions—a statement that I found astounding, as it would seem to indicate acceptance of both the climate change science and the scientific findings on impacts and the limits of adaptation. However, he then explained that even the IPCC said that there was no scientific basis for setting the 2ºC target—that while he could accept it as a societal objective, there was no science behind it. He then repeated his earlier statement that he and the company take pride in supplying energy to the poor in the world (failing, however, to mention that the cost would be lower if overall global demand is reduced—that is the way supply and demand works!).
After the not unexpected applause died down for his non-response I explained that, while choosing the 2ºC value was somewhat arbitrary in that the impacts curve is more or less exponentially upwards, there were very important impacts occurring at well less than 2ºC, so that value actually represents a rather high upper limit. I wondered later if it might have been better to note that, especially as leader of a petrochemical company, he should more deeply understand how very different the high-CO2 concentration climates were in the past that had fostered growth of the vegetation that became fossil fuels.
Unfortunately, though not surprisingly, ExxonMobil’s leadership remains nearly blind to what an increasing proportion of its shareholders are seeing. Their leadership projects that the next 25 years will be much as in the past, with continued heavy reliance on petroleum and no unmanageable impacts to society (or its operations) from climate change. One can only hope that the next time Tillerson visits ExxonMobil’s Baytown refinery near increasingly flooded Houston, he will at least start to reconsider.
About the author: Dr. Michael MacCracken has been Chief Scientist for Climate Change Programs at the Climate Institute (climate.org) since retiring from a career of climate change research with the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. From 1993 to 2001, he was successively executive director of the Office of the U.S. Global Change Research Program and of its National Assessment Coordination Office.]]>
My name is Dr. Ben Santer. I am a MacArthur Fellow and a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. I use “climate fingerprint” methods to study the causes of climate change.
In 1995, I was Lead Author of a chapter in a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. We concluded that: “the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate”.
Since 1995, the “discernible human influence” has become far clearer. Human “fingerprints” are identifiable in warming of the oceans and land surface, in changing rainfall patterns, in declining Arctic sea ice extent, and in sea level rise. Over our lifetimes, we are witnessing large and rapid changes in climate. If these changes are unchecked, future generations will grow up in a world with a very different climate from that of today. They will inherit climate debt they did nothing to incur. I don’t want to see that happen. I’m sure you don’t either.
Chevron is one of the largest corporate emitters of CO2. Your actions have global consequences. You should be leaders in efforts to chart a sustainable path towards a clean energy future. You have made impressive investments in STEM education. I respectfully request that you show similar corporate leadership in acknowledging the reality and seriousness of human-caused climate change, and in making the educational investments needed to prepare the next generation for the climate challenges they will face. My specific questions are these:
Thank you for your time and attention.
Following the meeting Dr. Santer offered the following thoughts on Chevron and Chevron’s CEO, John Watson:
My take-home message from this meeting was that Chevron is not interested in engaging constructively with shareholders who are concerned about the ever-growing impacts of climate change. Sadly, Chevron appears to be unwilling to acknowledge and confront the reality of these impacts. Within the next several decades, reality will confront Chevron.
Sherlock Holmes frequently reminded a rather different John Watson that “It is a capital mistake to theorize without data”. It is also a serious mistake to ignore data and scientific facts. In my opinion, Chevron is ignoring unambiguous evidence of a warming planet, and of significant human culpability in that warming. Human-caused climate changes are already affecting our lives, and are already affecting Chevron’s business operations. Ignoring this new reality is a singularly bad way of running one of the largest corporations on the planet.
B. D. Santer is a distinguished climate scientist who pioneered the “fingerprint” method of analysis to identify the human-caused effects of climate change. His is a MacArthur Fellow and a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.]]>
Not that long ago, the opening words of one of Joe Sax’s articles described California pretty well. “We Don’t Do Groundwater,” the title began, and until recently, that was true—in spite of the immense importance of the resource. Outside of a few urban areas in coastal southern California, California groundwater use regulation was largely an oxymoron.
In 2014, that changed. The California Legislature passed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, a statute designed to create comprehensive and, as its name suggests, sustainable management of groundwater.
The statute also is designed to promote local discretion and control. While the legislature defined broad goals and conferred oversight authority on the California Department of Water Resources and State Water Resources Control Board—both of which are statewide agencies—primary implementing authority will rest with local groundwater sustainability agencies, or GSAs. Those GSAs are now just beginning their work, and many challenges lie ahead.
This week, UC Berkeley Law School’s Center for Law, Energy, and the Environment (working in partnership with UC Water and researchers from the Union of Concerned Scientists, UC Hastings, UC Santa Cruz, the University of Idaho, and the University of Massachusetts) released a report designed to help these GSAs succeed.
The report begins with the premise that GSA governance systems will help determine the success of SGMA implementation—even the best plan has limited value without an agency that can implement it. To facilitate effective implementation, the report offers a framework for institutional design. More specifically, it identifies a series of criteria for evaluating whether GSAs are likely to be able to govern both fairly and effectively. The criteria—scale, human capacity, funding, authority, independence, representation, participation, accountability, and transparency—should help stakeholders and agencies evaluate whether a GSA will be able to manage groundwater sustainably.
The report also draws upon examples from the management of other natural resources to illustrate some of the challenges GSAs are likely to face, and some of the ways other resource management agencies have worked through similar challenges.
The report provides more detail on these and other recommendations, and can also serve as a reference to the tools and options available to GSAs. We intend for the report to help the people who staff and manage GSAs as they attempt to meet the challenges of groundwater management, the state agencies who act as the crucial backstop for the act’s implementation, and the many stakeholders who will ultimately benefit from achieving groundwater sustainability in their local basins.
California now does groundwater, and we hope this report will help us do it well.
This post first appeared on The Environmental Law Prof Blog. The report’s authors were Michael Kiparsky, Dave Owen, Nell Green Nylen, Juliet Christian-Smith, Barbara Cosens, Holly Doremus, Andrew Fisher, and Anita Milman.]]>
Given the wild weather swings we’ve all experienced, two degrees seems like a small, even potentially negligible temperature rise. When we talk about two degrees, though, we have to realize we’re not talking about weather: we’re talking about the average temperature of the planet. And, over the course of human civilization, the planet’s temperature has been almost as stable as that of the human body.
What happens if our own temperature—or that of our child—suddenly spikes up by two degrees Celsius, three and a half degrees Fahrenheit? Most of us would call the doctor, or (if we were a new parent) maybe even head to the emergency room. We know that even with an average temperature of 98oF, an increase of 3.5oF means something’s seriously wrong; and that’s exactly what’s happening to our planet.
I study the impacts of climate change. My research, and that of my colleagues, puts the numbers on how it’s affecting our water resources, our food and crop yields, the economy, and even our health. I take those numbers and I parse them out: what will the world look like, if it warms by 1oC? 2oC? Or 3oC?
In a two degree world, record-breaking hot, dry summers could become the norm across the central United States; around the world, corn and wheat yields could drop by an average of 10 to 30%; and faster evaporation and shifting rainfall patterns could decrease runoff across much of the central and western U.S. by 10 to 30%. The intensity and strength of hurricanes scales with global temperature, as does the duration of heat waves, the risk of wildfire, and even the growth of phytoplankton in the ocean, the base of the food web on which hundreds of millions of people depend.
Is this dangerous? That’s up to us to decide. To make that decision, we need science—and we need more. We need both our hearts and our heads. What’s the right thing to do when confronted with a global challenge that is already—at less than 1oC of warming—increasing the risk of suffering and even death for the poor, the marginalized, and the disadvantaged around the world?
People of faith understand injustice, and understand the right thing to do when we see it. That’s why the roundtable at the conservative Christian college on that snowy day wasn’t about the science of climate change: it was about the ethics of climate change. And that’s why, when I went to the climate negotiations in Paris (COP21), I didn’t just go as a scientist. I went as a human, concerned for the welfare of my fellow citizens around the world; and I went as a Christian, believing that God has given us responsibility to care for every living thing on this planet, which includes loving others as God loves us.
In Paris, I met many other humans—mayors of cities around the world, determined to make the right choice for the people for whom they are responsible; faith leaders, speaking out with unmistakable authority on the moral imperative for action; business and technology leaders, committing their resources to a better planet; concerned citizens, making the trek on their own dime (some, on their own feet or wheels) to raise their voice in support of what’s right; and most importantly of all, representatives from the Philippines, the Maldives, and many other nations already struggling with poverty, hunger, lack of access to clean water, basic education, and security who were there to bear witness to the real, the serious, and the profoundly dangerous impacts climate change is already having on their homes, their families, and their people.
Because all humans share these central concerns—because 195 nations around the world who have collectively realized that doing nothing about climate change will be far more expensive, both in dollars and in human lives, than acting now—the final text of the Paris agreement set a goal of limiting the rise in global temperatures to below 2°C, and to pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C.
Are these goals physically possible? Yes—but that door is closing fast. Achieving a 2°C target will require serious commitments from everyone: from cities and states, countries and regions, and perhaps most of all, from the companies involved in extracting and producing the fossil fuels that are the main reason we’re in this situation to begin with. Unfortunately, though, many of those companies are not stepping up to the plate.
Take ExxonMobil, for example. Last month, it challenged a climate justice proposal put forth by a cross-section of faith-based investors, health systems, socially responsible asset management firms, and indigenous and community groups.
ExxonMobil not only refuses to acknowledge the moral imperative to limit global average temperature increases to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, it is actually attempting to prevent its shareholders from voting on the issue, claiming the request is “vague” and that it has already been “substantially implemented” anyways. But faith-based investors are not giving up. They are appealing to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to allow this resolution to appear on the ballot for ExxonMobil’s annual meeting this spring.
Achieving a 2oC target seems like a daunting task. But any emissions reductions we achieve will lead us in the right direction, towards a better world: for ourselves, for our families, for our country, and most of all for our brothers and sisters around the world. It’s clear that this is the right thing to do.]]>
While the smoke from devastating wildfires in four separate states still lifts, the Australian government has announced plans to axe several hundred positions at a world-class government research organization. According to management at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), because the science is settled there is no need for ongoing monitoring or basic research.
Many of the positions slated to go are in marine and atmospheric sciences. Over the next two years, more than 350 research positions at CSIRO will be replaced with jobs in more innovative fields. If this proposal goes ahead it could wipe out the majority of Australia’s climate science expertise which has been built up over decades.
The chief executive of CSIRO, Larry Marshall. has a background as an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. Last week, Marshall claimed he had been guided by Netflix-style policies for nimble technology startups and decided it was time to focus on the solutions to our warming climate.
It’s gratifying that he acknowledges we are well and truly past any climate denial here, but gutting our flagship climate body is short-sighted, may be in breach of our obligations under the international treaty, and is simply absurd.
When I consider climate change, I equate our situation with being on the Titanic in dangerous waters. Climate change is an urgent global problem, requiring concerted effort to avert catastrophe.
With many others, I want to ready the lifeboats and do all we can to make them seaworthy. Climate research is part of a global fleet of lifeboats at our disposal. Those lifeboats are crucial to our future survival.
Many of the people who face these job cuts are based in the island state of Tasmania, and some of them are my good friends. These dedicated and smart people add to our growing knowledge of how climate is changing and how we as a society can mitigate and adapt to the immense challenge facing us.
As a country, Australia has often been able to punch way above its weight in global climate circles. For example, in the list of 274 authors from the last IPCC report in 2014, one in seven is from Australia. That’s an amazing statistic, given the small size of our population—of those 40-odd authors from Australia, eight are based at the CSIRO.
As Scientific American pointed out this week, CSIRO runs the Southern Hemisphere’s most comprehensive Earth monitoring and modelling programs. In addition, Australia is the driest nation on Earth and is experiencing some of the worst impacts of climate change.
At a scientific conference in the city of Melbourne this week, participants were uncharacteristically vocal, staging a protest and wearing blue armbands to signal their opposition to the announcement. Many who would normally work through less visible channels were openly talking with reporters and radio hosts, as well as appearing in front of TV cameras.
Emails have been flooding inboxes around the globe with requests to sign a letter of protest. Last weekend, in a matter of days, over 600 signatures were collected from climate scientists in more than two-dozen countries.
The letter, organized by Paul Durack at Lawrence Livermore, states that “The decision to decimate a vibrant and world-leading research program shows a lack of insight, and a misunderstanding of the importance of the depth and significance of Australian contributions to global and regional climate research.”
If you work in climate research and you’d like to sign the letter while time lasts, you can find it here.
As we come out of the warmest year on record globally, the Australian continent faces longer and more severe fire seasons, prolonged drought and water stress, as well as rapid ocean warming and rising sea levels. It’s painfully clear that we will need all the expertise we can muster to navigate this ship.
Let’s hope we can convince Australian decision makers to put away the hatchet and leave CSIRO intact. I don’t want to shuffle the deck chairs on the Titanic. I’d prefer to ready the lifeboats for when we might need them.]]>
Over the past five years, the Gullah/Geechee Nation’s leaders convened the members of the “Gullah/Geechee Sustainability Think Tank” to dialogue about a myriad of issues. Just as things come together and the sands shift around as the tides move in and out, so has the movement of the work of this group of Gullah/Geechee traditionalists, scholars, scientists, and lovers of the environment. At some point enough sands build up in an area and remain there and upon this one can build. Our dialogues have been no different. Over time we began building on the topic of seafood safety and human health.
As we continued to dialogue with one another and conduct field research throughout the Gullah/Geechee Nation from the Cape Fear region in North Carolina down to the Amelia Island/Fernandina Beach area of Florida, we started to engage more and more with those that were interested in what was part of our data sets that related to how the climate science and changes were affecting the waterways and creatures therein and ultimately, what impacts these had on or would bring to the Gullah/Geechee Nation.
Interestingly enough, many people that were within the local political arenas were not asking the questions that we were already seeking answers for, but then again, many of them were not from cultures that were inextricably tied to the sea as Gullah/Geechee culture is. They were not spiritual and culturally affected by people filling in and blocking off areas along the Intercoastal Waterway. They did not relate to why Gullah/Geechee traditionalists speak out and cry out against building in certain areas because of the ways in which we and our elders and ancestors have witnessed the waters flowing for the hundreds of years that we have been in this place called the Gullah/Geechee Nation which includes the Sea Islands from which we watch the tide flows each day and feel them in sync with the movements of our bodies and our communities.
It took the waters coming down over and over again as the seas rose day after day for people to begin to pay attention to what we spoke of generations ago about not building in certain areas and not building out into our waterways. It took the national and international media and social media to make people finally take a look at what can happen even when there isn’t a hurricane, but simply rising tides and steady rain.
However, no one was prepared for the supermoon to be coupled with all of this when the rain started falling and falling and falling in South Carolina and graves started to wash out and the sands started to move and as the tides rose, the roads collapsed and as more sands moved the houses fell and the streets flooded and what they had built came down.
Those of us on the Sea Islands saw these images of the destructionment all around us as we watched the high tides come over our causeways and cover some of our roads, but within hours, these waters subsided and we could yet move around. Trees fell, but we could yet move around. While we moved around we watched the consistent Tweets and Facebook postings of how our cousins in the cities up the road and up the creeks were being flooded out and were losing the the things that they worked for as the rain continued to fall.
Days later, I was already scheduled to fly out and over all of this to speak to people in the northeast at a summit on rising seas about the things that should be considered when working with communities of color and, as some call us, “underrepresented and underserved communities.” We are only categorized this way because those that were not listening as we spoke over the decades and stated what we were seeing did not invite us to the places where the other representatives of their communities would be as they calculated the cost of living along the coasts.
We were not served because our communities were not valued for culture in the the calculations used. The calculations used in regard to providing service tend to focus on the economic values and not the value of cultural heritage and the assets therein including the fact that the people of these communities are the assets that are now not insured. Thus, we are not part of the data pools and formulas used to determine where resources need to go until there is a reaction to the changing times and tides and the shifts that are taking place including the shifting sands and rising seas that are now causing millions of dollars of investments to tumble down or need to be moved from the waters edge.
As I prepared to present to a national group of those now interested in engaging in dialogue with those that were now considered “resilient,” I heard from partners of the “Gullah/Geechee Sustainability Think Tank,” the Union of Concerned Scientists, that they were releasing a report that the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition has long awaited concerning climate change and coastal communities.
They entitled this document “Surviving and Thriving in the Face of Rising Seas.” This report encapsulates in a scientific manner what the Gullah/Geechee Nation‘s leaders that are scientists (like myself) have been articulating in various ways over the years, but was not seen as a priority until South Carolina had to declare a state of emergency due to the waters that fell as the seas rose and got reported to the world as unprecedented.
Interestingly enough, the predictions that were in the report, were confirmed before our eyes on the numerous screens as the report from UCS was going to print. Now, we pray that people that are in the county, state, and federal governments will now come to the remaining sands of the Sea Islands and build with the natives that saw this coming and the scientists and scholars that have been sitting together and documenting the movements that we have been seeing first hand on the southeastern coast which is the Gullah/Geechee Nation.
Many have come to photograph us in celebration and to stage things that will be exciting for television viewership. The numbers of those coming to actually help us keep our communities alive and to sustain a high quality of life along our coast is a much smaller number of folks. In either case, many come to take from the communities and leave us with areas where things once were not realizing what it will take for us to try to refill that space once they are gone. This is very akin to the sands that leave and the trees that fall when the maritime forest cannot hold up because the spartina grass and the oyster reefs that were all part of that ecological system were slowly picked away by folks that came in to take out without thinking about planting or replanting in that same space and with the people of that place. I reflected on this as I read through the report and saw my own words from an environmental equity meeting reflected within it:
“If my community has never seen you before a storm, why should we talk to you now the storm has come? Why not give us a stipend to come to a workshop on preparedness? [Government agencies] need to bring something to our communities first, beyond conversations in the aftermath and promises. People here are still waiting on promises summed up as ‘40 acres and a mule’.”
— Queen Quet, head of state, Gullah/Geechee Nation
About the author: Queen Quet is Chieftess and Head-of-State for the Gullah/Geechee Nation, which extends from Jacksonville, NC to Jacksonville, FL. She has spoken before the United Nations, the U.S. State Department, and a number of legislative bodies in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida; acted as an Expert Commissioner in the U.S. Department of the Interior; and was a participant in the White House Conference on Conservation. Queen Quet lives on St. Helena Island in South Carolina.]]>
“South Florida flooding will make Katrina conditions ‘a walk in the park’” read one of my headlines. I acknowledged in the story that it would be understandable if my audience dismissed it as hysterical. They might logically presume that if we’re heading toward a fate so dire, we’d all have been warned and would be actively working together to minimize or avert the effects.
So when the climate equity report showed up the same day it really took a load off my shoulders. Not only does the report highlight the vulnerability of black and poor communities in places such as Charleston, SC; Plaquemines, LA; and Miami-Dade County, FL, but it also recommends the urgent changes in policy and development that need to be made.
I’d encouraged my readers to contact their elected officials at the state and local levels up to Congress, and also advised them to educate themselves about the issue and bring it to their business, civic, and religious organizations. Now the report’s Climate Equity Tool takes the guesswork out of what needs to be done and gives us all a leg up in addressing the most urgent issue of our time.
As an advocate for environmental protection over more than 20 years, I am painfully aware of the preponderance of evidence showing how non-white Americans are most egregiously affected by environmental disasters.
It’s no secret that American and foreign corporations have targeted communities with the least resources and political power as the site for their most toxic industries. The deliberate and casual poisoning of these communities over many decades has reduced the life span and the quality of life for generations of non-white citizens and their families. And while there is enough blame to go around and little shame on the part of these despoilers, the conditions created will become an apocalypse of sustained Katrina-like conditions when climate effects take hold.
So I am incredibly grateful to UCS for providing both the concise validation of these unequal conditions, and the remedy. Is it too much to think that Americans of good will should stand with their fellow-citizens who, with this report, are now empowered to act on our own behalf? All of us need to bring this report to the attention of our employers and those in power who will lose their workforce and the means of production if we continue business as usual.
In the interest of full disclosure, UCS contracted with our Diverse Environmental Leaders Speakers Bureau to review and comment on the report before it was issued. I cannot emphasize enough how important that is to the organization’s credibility and the authenticity of the report. Too often large organizations purport to “study” non-white communities from a distance and prognosticate with little input from the affected parties. So it was a privilege for members of our network who live in some of the communities cited by UCS to be able to contribute their perspective as longtime residents.
The upcoming elections give us a lever to help determine the future of our country. All of our political leaders need to get on board with the science, because Mother Nature doesn’t care about politics or politicians. Evidence of climate change abounds in the increased occurrence and intensity of wildfires, storms, marine life showing up where they’ve never been seen before, and flooding already affecting commutes in coastal neighborhoods.
We can do something about it now, or we can wait until we’re in the throes of a Katrina-like “new normal.” The UCS report gives us the tools. It’s up to us to use them to save ourselves.
Audrey Peterman and her husband Frank have been leaders in the movement to reconnect Americans to our publicly owned lands system since 1995. Focusing primarily on non-white communities, Mrs. Peterman has been instrumental in raising awareness about our national parks, forests and wildlife refuges and expanding the constituency that enjoys and cares for them. Observing the effects of climate change has made her passionate about communicating the dangers and encouraging the public to use their influence to reduce pollution and increase resilience.]]>
Ya muchas regiones sienten los mayores extremos del clima que comienzan a manifestarse, sean sequias serias y prolongadas en California y en el Caribe o impactos mayores como las recientes lluvias torrenciales e inundaciones sin precedente ¿en mil años? en Carolina del Sur a causa del huracán Joaquin (¡que ni siquiera tocó sus costas!).
Mientras que la reducción de emisiones de carbono que alimentan los cambios en el clima dependen esencialmente de la cooperación global, la adaptación a los impactos del clima inclemente es de naturaleza altamente local. Los impactos de los cambios en el clima ocurren y se sientes en sitios particulares. Una gran marejada e inundación de tormentas puede afectar mucho a una localidad y no tanto a otra. La geografía, topología y ecología locales son muy determinantes de su exposición a los impactos del clima. Pero la vulnerabilidad de las comunidades costeras a tales fenómenos depende mucho de su perfil socio-económico.
Si prevalecen bajos ingresos o pocas oportunidades de empleos, la falta de servicios básicos (a la educación, al transporte, a la sanidad), si hay condiciones locales que amenazan la salud de los residentes, insuficiente apoyo institucional o poca franquicia política, los peligros y amenazas a los que así viven se multiplican con un clima amenazante. Peor aun si además hay un historial de discriminación racial o étnica.
Muchas comunidades costeras de afroamericanos, latinos o de tribus indígenas tienen un largo historial de confrontar condiciones adversas y luchar por mejorías en la vivienda y los servicios esenciales y por un rol en el ámbito político. Por mucho tiempo la contaminación del medio ambiente también les ha afectado desproporcionadamente; no les sorprende, entonces, que lo mismo sea cierto con las amenazas climáticas. Los movimientos por una mayor justicia, incluyen la ambiental y ahora también la justicia climática.
Cuando ocurren las emergencias, hay que tener buenos planes de acción. Pero de poco sirven si permiten que algunos caigan entre las grietas de esos planes, o si terminan peor que antes en un ciclo vicioso sin salida. Es ese el caso si, por ejemplo, al proteger y preparar mejor a un vecindario sin tomar en cuenta a sus residentes se produce una respuesta de mercado tal que los residentes afectados ya no puedan pagar los costos de vivienda que surjan, queden desplazados, se les perturbe sus posibilidades de empleo, etc. La equidad en los planes importa, mucho.
Estas comunidades no necesitan tanto que los expertos les informen de los peligros que se le avecinan. Los conocen porque los viven. Muchos latinos, además, tienen muy presente lo que ocurre en sus países de origen. Están muy al tanto cuando huracanes fuertes amenazan o golpean las costas de México, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Cuba, la República Dominicana, Puerto Rico, o Haití. Saben lo que saben sus familiares en esos países, o lo recuerdan ellos mismos si son de primera generación en los Estados Unidos. No sorprende que las encuestas muestren que los afroamericanos e hispanos del país tienen mayor conciencia de los desafíos climáticos y apoyan medidas oportunas con las que hacerles frente.
Adaptando técnicas de la investigación académica y de expertos del tema, creamos una herramienta que combina dos indicadores de riesgo en comunidades costeras: el riesgo climático y el socioeconómico. Para indicar el riesgo climático en las costas estudiadas utilizamos proyecciones para 2045 de aumentos del nivel del mar y de la frecuencia de inundaciones de mareas, ambas adaptadas a las condiciones de cada condado. Por su lado, el riesgo socioeconómico lo indicamos en base a datos recientes al nivel de condado sobre los ingresos per cápita, las tasas de pobreza, prevalencia de la raza / etnia y el nivel de educación.
Aplicamos la herramienta a treinta y cinco condados de las costas del Atlántico y del Golfo de Estados Unidos, en nueve estados desde Luisiana hasta Connecticut. Nos permitió identificar cómo comparan entre sí estos condados en cuanto al riesgo conjunto señalado por ambos indicadores.
No sorprende que entre los lugares más críticos desde una perspectiva de la equidad climática se encuentra primero la Parroquia de Orleans, Luisiana, seguido de cerca por otros lugares de la costa del Golfo (devastados por el huracán Katrina en 2005). Otros incluyen a tres grandes centros urbanos (Miami, Filadelfia y Baltimore), a varios condados en Virginia y el Condado de Atlantic en Nueva Jersey (piensen Supertormenta Sandy en 2012). El informe también incluye estudios de casos en cinco lugares que reflejan los desafíos que su gente confrontan y cómo lidian con ellos.
Otros puntos notables del estudio: aun los condados que en esta relación entre los treinta y cinco analizados señalan riesgos conjuntos bajos en relación a los otros del grupo no están exentos de peligros climáticos (algunos de ‘bajo’ riesgo en este grupo tienen proyectado un alza en el nivel del mar en 2045 de unas diez pulgadas; no conforta mucho prever el tipo de marejadas que resulten de tales mares cuando pase cerca o golpee un huracán). Por igual, hay que tomar en cuenta que dentro de los condados pueden existir diferencias muy grandes en vulnerabilidad. Ello requiere enfoques con mayor detalle local.
Crear mayor resiliencia ante los desafíos climáticos
Este tipo de estudio y de herramienta puede ayudar a los responsables de políticas a priorizar y dirigir recursos donde mayor necesidad existe, a lugares que de otra forma quedan rezagados en los análisis y planes. También le ofrece a los grupos y las comunidades más vulnerables algo con lo que entablar diálogos y discusiones serias con los anteriores.
Sobre todo, los que viven en las primeras líneas de los desafíos climáticos deben ser partícipes desde el comienzo en las discusiones sobre la mejor y más equitativa forma de preparase para los impactos del clima, superarlos y de que sus comunidades se recuperen de una forma justa.
Se recomiendan cambios en programas nacionales existentes que actualmente dejan fuera a muchos de los más afectados y vulnerables:
Esperamos que este informe nuevo de la UCS de un paso adelante en el empeño de fomentar mayor intercambio y colaboración entre los que formulan planes y toman decisiones y las comunidades en las costas del país que mayor peligro confrontan por impactos previsibles del cambio climático. Los invitamos a que lean y compartan los informes.
Estén atentos a más entregas de una serie blog, Communities on the Front Lines of Climate Change, con blogs de gente que vive, trabaja o hace investigación en los lugares afectados por el aumento del nivel del mar. Hoy en día también puede leer una entrada de blog en inglés de Rachel Cleetus, autora principal del informe de UCS.]]>
It also used to be generally understood that people are affected by the same chemical exposure in the same way. Now we know additional conditions, like stress, nutrition and genetic makeup, can make the same dose far more hazardous in different people.
Whereas in the past the public seemed content to hear about scientific progress from lab-coat-clad researchers on private crusades to advance their field, now people want science to improve their lives directly. They want progress faster, and a more democratic, participatory role in deciding what needs to change and which research questions will fuel a movement for those changes.
This is because one thing about science hasn’t changed over time: proof alone changes almost nothing. Scientists who work in isolation (or only with academic peers) to put their data in the public domain counting on others to organize around it are often disappointed. Information plus organizing is the only thing that achieves real change.
In my organization, we want science to matter to communities and the public in a new, more robust way. Instead of a few individuals studying and understanding the world around them, we like scientist-community partnerships that are organized around research and societal change goals that give communities the tools to understand their world and take action to make it better.
Coming Clean is a network of community, state, national and technical organizations focused on environmental health and justice. Often we’ve been at the forefront of community-based participatory science efforts to support healthier environments, less toxic products, and a more just and equitable society: all issues that deeply matter to the non-expert public.
For instance, with environmental justice advocacy organizations in the lead, residents of low-income, minority communities collected products at neighborhood dollar stores to see what unnecessary and dangerous chemical exposures could occur as a result of product purchases. In laboratory results we found over 80% of the products tested contained toxic chemicals at potentially hazardous levels (as documented in our report; “A Day Late and a Dollar Short”). That information, along with their organizing around it, has since attracted over 146,700 people to support the national Campaign for Healthier Solutions. That’s local science at work.
In another instance, when communities on the front-lines of oil and gas development reported nosebleeds, dizziness, and a host of frighteningly worse health problems that ultimately received virtually no more than a shrug from state and federal officials, Coming Clean worked with local organizations and concerned residents across six states to collect and test air samples near fracking-related sites (often from study participants’ own front porches).
Documented in Coming Clean’s report; “Warning Signs: Toxic Pollution Identified at Oil and Gas Development Sites” and in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health, 38% of the samples collected by community volunteers contained concentrations of volatile compounds exceeding federal standards for health risks, some at levels thousands of times higher than what federal health and environmental agencies consider to be “safe.” Seven air samples from Wyoming contained hydrogen sulfide at levels between two and 660 times the concentration that is immediately dangerous to human life. Beyond the astonishing numbers, the research helped educate and engage the public on the problem and solutions communities seek, filled critical gaps in our understanding of the threat oil and gas development poses to public health, and was among the reasons cited in Governor Cuomo’s decision to ban fracking in New York State.
For Coming Clean and others across the country, this kind of community-based participatory science is changing the way science is conducted and, most importantly, what comes after the data collection and analysis is complete. In both the dollar store research and the oil and gas science, the effect of the science was to strengthen existing organizing campaigns for community-based solutions. The “good old days” when we waited for scientific proof to change the world are over, if they ever existed. Now science and citizen organizing together are changing the rules of the game, the outcome, and who gets to play.]]>
Anything from the produce section other than onions, potatoes, and cabbage was a treat. “Can we get them? Only $3.00 a pound for grapes,” I’d ask. “Put them back, ya gonna go through those too quick,” my mother would respond. For everyone to enjoy a weekly share of grapes, that would’ve cost her $15, enough money to purchase various flavors of Top Ramen noodles, Little Debbie snacks, and some generic brand cereal which usually had a larger box than its name brand counterpart. In the end it seemed like a fair compromise as we’d get a share of our daily requirement of fruits and vegetables through school lunch.
But after years of soggy vegetables and syrup-drenched fruit, I eventually grew frustrated with school lunch. In my senior year at Morgan State University, I joined the MSU Community Organic Vegetable Garden. Several students and I got tired of not having a variety of options in the dining hall most convenient to our classes. We saw no diverse fruit or salad options, just foods high in carbohydrates, fat, and sugar. Given my concern, I created my senior project around the issue, a qualitative research project on students’ knowledge of nutrition, eating habits, and dining service recommendations for a healthier campus. My results revealed that students would eat better if healthier options were provided as a part of the meal plan. I shared the results of my research with a few professors and went to meet with the Food Services Director, hoping for a change.
“We give students what they want and they’re not asking for fruits and vegetables”; “the contract is already done, we can’t change it right now,” they exclaimed. Just because someone doesn’t ask for something, doesn’t mean it’s not needed. How many servings of fruits and vegetables can you get out of fried chicken, French fries, and a soda? Or how many pre-diabetic and high blood pressure-prone college-educated adults is the higher education administration system creating when it only gives students what they want?
My experience with Food Services didn’t dissuade me. Instead, I took to heart the words of professor MK Asante, who wrote in his book, It’s Bigger than Hip Hop, “When you make an observation you have an obligation.”
In observing the unhealthy eating habits around me, I’ve been inspired to educate myself and my community. I started as an afterschool teacher at a local community center in Baltimore City and formed a garden club with Real Food Farm, an organization dedicated to improving food access and growing fresh food in Baltimore.
Later, I became an education assistant at Real Food Farm. In this role, I learned more about food system inequalities through recommended readings and documentaries and from facilitating food demonstrations and nutrition lessons. As often as I could, I would taste and cook with the produce on our farm before selling it on the mobile market, a repurposed and refrigerated Washington Post truck that delivers produce within several miles of east Baltimore City . I also helped determine the prices for foods uncommon to the community, like purple string beans, Romanesco broccoli, and Toscano Kale—all variations of commonly eaten foods with unfamiliar colors and textures. I’d explain to our customers the definitions of organic and local, along with the nutrition value of the produce they bought. Sometimes we would negotiate prices with them if they’d never tried it and offer free samples.
My journey through the food system has been split equally between learning and teaching. In the process of educating myself and others, I have witnessed changes in eating habits. I have received several inquiries from people wanting to know how to grow food themselves or improve their diet. It only takes one tomato grown the right way to make someone who hates tomatoes reconsider.
I am no expert, just a curious and concerned citizen developing an idea and creating a just food system—where quality and affordable food are accessible for all people, regardless of their race and income.
The health food system is so vast, with many ways of contributing. Consumers can start by reading nutrition labels, pledging to eat something fresh each day, and sharing their dishes with the world via social media (i.e. food selfies; pictures and descriptions of their food).
Scientists, public health officials, dietitians, urban and regional planners, physicians, and nurses can continue or begin their journeys by looking at the role malnutrition plays in academic success, family medical histories, and overall health of communities lacking access to fresh food. This will not only identify disparities in food access, but will also challenge the structural systems that perpetuate those disparities; I believe that the results of such research will bring leaders to choose compassion over profit.
Based on what my experiences have taught me, the best ways to solve the problems of food insecurity are:
Our bodies desire to be nourished, to be fed food that gives us life, not food that takes up space.
In the words of Winston Churchill: “Healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have.”]]>