Editors Note: It is with sadness that we must report that GreenWatch co-founder and dear friend, Paul MacClennan, passed away this week at the age of 91. Todays GreenWatch and all of my GreenWatch pieces are dedicated to Paul. Paul and I first conceived of GreenWatch in the early 1990’s just after he had retired as the long-time environmental editor of the Buffalo News. He also was one of the co-founders along with myself, George K. Arthur, and Robert Andrle, of the Friends of Times Beach Nature Preserve (then called the Times Beach Oversite Committee). Today we would not have a Times Beach Nature Preserve if not for this group. Paul was a great friend, mentor, and inspiration. His tenacity, love, and instincts for following a stories trail are qualities that have guided me and provided for me a foundation of hope that I try to live up to every day. Rest in Peace my dear friend. -Jay Burney
Our Environment in the Age of Trump
Lessons from the Hurricanes
We in America, and in Buffalo, have had a front row seat to witness a dramatically changing world. Social, economic, and environmental issue are bursting out all over with a devastating fury and force. We watch the people in places including Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicuraga, Florida, Texas, and today, Louisiana and Mississippi, struggle literally to survive.
This year climate instability is hitting home. In addition to the Atlantic hurricanes impacting the Caribbean and the US mainland, North America is home to horrible drought in the breadbaskets including the Dakotas. The conditions in the Great Lakes are changing rapidly. Local and regional severe storms are becoming more the norm than the abberation. Ecological breakdowns due to inappropriate human development strategies coupled with the new climate change realities are and will continue to effect our lives profoundly.
Across the world, devastating unstable weather patterns are creating extreme drought in portions of Africa, super typhoons in the Pacific, extreme heat, unprecedented cold and powerful storms in Europe, insanely powerful snowstorms in Russia and Europe, terrible heat waves in Australia, and devastating monsoon seasons in South Asia creating deadly flooding in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal.
The antarctic icesheild is melting. Greenland and the norther polar regions may not even have summer ice in a decade. This is all effecting the worlds oceans, wetlands, forests, grasslands, coastlines, wildlife, and the environments of industrial, agricultural, and urban places. In the age of Trump, humanty is directly threatened by both climate change and by unstable social conditions. There is profound environmental change going on. And with that comes social and economic consequences that we may never be able to escape from, or survive. This is the environment in the Age of Trump.
These conditions and are killing tens of thousands of people, maybe millions. Winds, rains, and flooding are displacing billions of human beings. This is the climate in 2017. This is how it is in the Age of Trump.
It is probably true that Trump’s lasting legacy, and ours, will be the environment. He has reaped what we have sown. And it looks like he is the grimmest of reapers.
Home is Us
In the Age of Trump we are in a world in crisis. You probably have friends, family, and businesses that have experienced the recent disasters. I have family in Puerto Rico, and in the Virgin Islands. I have friends in Mexico, Florida, Texas, The Dakotas, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Haiti, California, Alaska, and throughout the continents of Asia, Europe, Australia, and Africa. Most of us do. We are a deeply connected social world.
Many people in these places are now homeless or on the verge.
Our immediate future may be linked to welcoming and finding ways to support climate refugees. Strangers as well as friends and family from the Caribbean nations including Puerto Rico need our help. People probably will be turning to Western New York for solutions. They are coming. We have to plan and build for them. We can and have to make them welcome to our homes.
Can we open our doors and provide care for tens of thousands of climate refugees in the coming months and years?
Our nation and our community was built by refugees and immigrants. Our future is with new populations. We see how valuable this is in our new communities now growing on Buffalo’s west side. More are coming. More lives need to be saved and cherished. How we take care of people will help characterize our community for generations.
Are we ready?
We are all Vulnerable.
While we have experienced a relatively pleasant late summer and early fall in Western New York, we know that the impacts across the world effect us deeply. And we know that winter is coming and that winter can bring to our region and our lives, extreme and life threatening conditions. Imagine a super blizzard with cold near zero temperatures. Imagine if our evacuation routes fail us, imagine if our power goes out for even a few weeks. Food and water supplies will vanish. Medical and emergency serves including police and fire will not be able to respond if our neighborhoods find themselves under several feet of unplowed snow. Our shelters may not be accessible.
Our homes may not keep us warm.
What comes next for us?
We have had our own weather catastrophes and surely more are to come.
Most of us know that our front row seats which we have been offered by a connected planet is more than a witness box. We are participants. We are in it as deep as almost anybody.
Video: Burney’s Video Blog of the Great Snowstorm of November 2014
The question is are we going forward with our eyes
A “wide open”
Of course we have to be concerned about unstable weather patterns. The recent rise in lower lake levels such as we have witnessed in Lake Ontario this year and the economic consequences of shoreline development are not going to go away, and Lake Erie may not be far behind.
In fact science is telling us that a force called “post glacial rebound” is causing the Upper Great Lakes (Lakes Superior, Michigan, and Huron) to rise in altitude faster than the Lower Great Lakes (Erie, Ontario). This rebound, an after-effect of up to 3 miles thick of glacial ice which began to recede about 12,000 years ago, is causing the land forms that contain the Great Lakes, to tilt. This means that the earth is creating conditions for lower water levels in the Upper Great Lakes and higher water levels in the Lower Great Lakes. Science tells us that land around Lake Superior is rebounding at about 6 inches per decade, while land around Lake’s Ontario adn Erie is rebounding at only about 1 inch per decade. Combine this with unstable climate and weather conditions including huge precipitation events, Lake effect snow, and Lake Erie seiches, and we have to come to the conclusion that coastal resilience, in Buffalo and throughout our region, is a critical economic, social and environmental issue.
Again, what is our plan?
What is your plan when an emergency comes. It is a good time to create your own check list and tool box.
This online site, The Erie County Office of Public Health and Emergency Preparedness is a good place to start.
There are two critical links at this site:
Bad news for Planet Earth
In the Age of Trump, there is plenty of bad news. In just the past few weeks, ew science has revealed that places like the Amazon basin, aka “Earth’s lungs” — because these deep forests have provided atmospheric stability from things like the sequestration of carbon and the creation and release of oxygen in to the atmosphere, are rapidly failing.
The loss of these forests and wetlands, which we have known about for decades, has reached a point where they no longer work for these purposes. Because of logging and development and the deliberate ignorance of conserving these places, they now are releasing more carbon then they hold. This physical and chemical change needs to be noted by you, and you need to do something about it.
One of the things that we can do is to recognize the importance of conserving these places. You can make local choices about how you can help.
One truly important step is to realize that we can create and conserve places here that help to contribute to the biodiversity, literally, of both the Amazon and the Arctic. We have forests and wetlands, and lakes and shorelines, and other habitats that we need to conserve, protect, and not destroy. These places among other things are nurseries for birds that populate the Amazon and the Arctic. These places are critical migratory pathways as well.
A wild place, whether it is on our Outer Harbor, along the Niagara River, or up toward the headwaters forests needs to be protected. An undeveloped place is not a wasteland. It protects us in so many ways, provides opportunities for lives and qualities of life. We need to make sure that all of our development decisions reflect not only a knowledge of our failures but reflect a new path toward protecting our planet, our fragile habitats, and our lives.
E.O Wilsons book “Half Earth” charts a course that we can follow. We need to protect through land use strategies, half of our spaces. Currently we are on a course to destroy and develop almost all of these spaces. This is not only Trumpism, its the economic development demands that ignore the externalities that cost us everything so that a few can profit. Trumpism pushes this, and the rest of the parties including just about all elected officials from all parties local, regional, and national, are desperate to negotiate their way into pretending that they benefit from that. Get real.
Did I mention the earthquakes? Oh well, thats a story for another time.
GreenWatch Sunday Morning Television
These two short videos were shot at Times Beach Nature Preserve, this summer and fall.
The first, is of a male Yellow Warbler, known as a neotropical migrant that breeds locally and can overwinters in Central and South America.
This is a Green Heron carefully hunting in the wetlands of Times Beach Nature Preserve.