Climate change comes home

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe bought our house in 2008. It was a lovely city frame house, smallish, perched on 2/3 of a city lot, with the ground and second floors giving us just 1,500 square feet. But it has a huge deck instead of a back yard, a finished basement, a nice front porch for sitting and watching the neighborhood go by and a loft overlooking our cathedral-ceilinged bedroom instead of an attic. It has lots of oak trim on the ground floor and hardwood floors throughout – a vintage home, Sandi’s bottom line – built in 1896.

Not until we began to settle in did we find the squishy drywall at the base of the basement bedroom. So, off came all the drywall on the perimeter, so we could see where the old, getting-porous-brick foundation was seeping through. There were plenty of places.

We never saw a lot of water, just dampness down near the basement floor and, on the brick walls, lots of efflorescence (“a crystalline deposit of salts often seen on the surface of concrete, brick, stucco or natural stone …surfaces. It occurs when water leaves behind salt deposits and is present on or in the masonry surface.” – Google).

We didn’t think we needed to dig trenches and put in drainage tiles and a sump pump. So we started do things to prevent rainfall from going down the side of the house where it would come in contact with the bricks: cleaning the existing gutters;  adding new ones;  putting flashing around the outside, behind the bottom of the siding; extending downspouts. Every time we did a project, we’d wait for a good rainy spell and then check the basement for dampness where the bricks meet the floor. Finally, after two years of living with a very cold basement with exposed brick walls, we were dry. So we hired carpenters to put back the drywall and the shelf that goes around the perimeter about halfway up – where the basement rises above ground.

But this year we’ve had so much rainfall in Chicago, eight inches above normal through July 28. And 2017, 2018 and 2019 are all in the top ten of rainfall for year to that date. It was the wettest May of all time here (148 years of recorded weather), beating 2018, the previously wettest May. And we know that Lake Michigan is near record heights – within one inch of its all-time June high. And our house is close enough to the lake so that we are probably experiencing very high levels of ground water.

Okay, you know where I’m going here.  The climate is changing and we were getting a lot of rain. And as a result, our basement was getting damp again. And maybe it will continue to be wet because this is the new pattern – more rain, then, perhaps, worse droughts. Or just more rain. Or maybe it will be relatively dry and we’ll get eight more years of a dry basement. We don’t know.

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What we do know is that we recently found a large outbreak of mold near the floor on the basement drywall. So the drywall came off again and we’ll have to see how much moisture is coming through that old, porous, brick foundation. And we’ll have to plan for dealing with this much rain, or more. Mold abatement is expensive and intrusive, but the sealing process could be even more so of both.

So climate change has come home, and this won’t be the end of its intrusion in our lives, or yours.

Is our president confused about the difference between weather and climate?

Or is he just trying to confuse us?

It’s cold here. By here, I mean where I sit typing. Our furnace doesn’t like weather below zero degrees Fahrenheit. As soon as the thermometer hits zero, our house begins to cool down. This morning when the air temperature outside hit 19-below, we woke up to a house temperature of 52.

below-zero.pngSo far the pipes haven’t frozen, though the basement dropped below freezing for a bit. I kept some water trickling through and turned on a space heater.  There’s one more day of the worst of it.

Our president used his itchy tweeter finger to joke about climate change. But it’s no joke here. From 1985 until 2014, the weather didn’t deal us such an icy blow. It used to be a once-in-a-generation thing. But now, the climate is changing. And even though the last four years  are 1-2-3 and 4 on the list of the hottest on record, we can still have dangerously cold weather in good ol’ Chicago. The fact that it has come in such rapid succession can be linked to climate change. Here’s a good explanation.

No single weather event can be directly linked to climate change. But climate change tells us the weather extremes will come more often, and be more severe. The average first frost date changes. There are significantly more record-breaking highs than record-breaking lows.

Don’t confuse climate and weather. And don’t relax. We have fewer than 12 years now. And counting.

Lives hang in the balance of what we do now

Thanks to Rolly Montpelier, a Canadian climate activist and fellow Climate Reality Leadership Corps member for posting this video. It is 24 minutes long and well worth the time. It is an interview with Graham Saul, a Metcalf Innovation Fellow and the Executive Director of Nature Canada.  But if you don’t take the time to watch it, here is the kernel of what Saul is saying from his recently published paper, Environmentalists, What Are We Fighting For?:

“Humanity is extracting resources and converting forests, grasslands, and wetlands into farms and urban areas at an alarming rate. We are undermining our rivers, lakes, and oceans by diverting freshwater for human use and dumping massive amounts of chemicals like nitrogen and phosphorus into our waterways. We are also releasing a cocktail of toxic contaminants into the environment on a daily basis without fully understanding the impact they have on the health of humans and ecosystems.

“To make matters worse, climate change is no longer a distant threat. It is happening today. As the Union of Concerned Scientists—a non-profit science advocacy organization based in the United States—points out, we are already witnessing rising seas, heavier precipitation, and increased flooding. Some areas are experiencing more severe droughts, increased pressure on groundwater supplies, and longer and more damaging wildfire seasons. Plant and animal ranges are shifting, coral reefs are dying, hurricanes are becoming more severe, oceans are acidifying, and heat waves and other extreme weather events are more frequent and intense.

“…we are presiding over what science writer Peter Brannen calls a ‘hollowing out of wildlife itself.’  Vertebrates, including mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, and reptiles have decreased in abundance by as much as 50 percent since 1970. … As Brannen points out, ‘until very recently, all vertebrate life on the planet was wildlife. Today, astoundingly, wildlife accounts for only 3 percent of earth’s land animals; human beings, our livestock, and our pets take up the remaining 97 percent of the biomass.’

“… Despite our rhetoric and a promising patchwork of inconsistently applied legislation, we still tend to treat most species as though they are essentially our property. We all too often behave as though we are free to brutalize and/or drive them to extinction at our own discretion.

“…We have made important progress over the past 200 years in working to overcome injustices like slavery, sexism, and racism that have plagued civilization since its inception, and we can learn a lot from the social movements that led the way on these issues. Environmentalists should not forget to look to the past for lessons on how best to lead the way into the future.”

In the interview, Saul concludes with remarks that I found very moving and right on the money:

Some people look at vast social movements and they wish they could have been part of those breakthrough moments in human history. I’m looking at the moment that we’re in now and I feel like I have the opportunity to be part of one of the most hopeful  and amazing things that has ever happened in the history of the human race, and that’s humanity coming to terms with the planet and becoming a healing and restorative force in the world.

It’s an opportunity that will not be available to any generation that has not already come into its own agency—like my 8- and 9-year-old grandchildren. We have 10 years and counting.

Don’t wait any longer — the inconvenient truth is, we’re running out of time

wildfireOkay, so the International Panel on Climate Change says we have to start right away if we are to avoid the worst catastrophes from climate change. Yes, much worse is coming if we don’t take radical action fast.

That’s what the Trump administration’s National Climate Assessment tells us – the $400 billion in weather-related damage since 2015 (not counting the recent California wildfires or the two big hurricanes that hit land in the U.S. this fall) is just chump change compared to what’s coming.

hurricane.jpgThe NCA’s 4th report “assesses the science of climate change and variability and its impacts across the United States, now and throughout this century.”  And the picture it paints isn’t pretty, especially for “People who are already vulnerable, including lower-income and other marginalized communities,” because they “have lower capacity to prepare for and cope with extreme weather and climate-related events and are expected to experience greater impacts.”

But, “Prioritizing adaptation actions for the most vulnerable populations would contribute to a more equitable future within and across communities.”  And best of all, “Global action to significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions can substantially reduce climate-related risks and increase opportunities for these populations in the longer term.”

DroughtThe IPCC report emphasizes that we still have time to reach the Paris accords goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Centigrade. Along with a host of qualifications, the panel says, “1.5°C-consistent pathways can be identified under a range of assumptions about economic growth, technology developments and lifestyles.” (My emphasis added.)

That’s the good news. There’s already lots of bad news. The NCA isn’t fun reading. But living through the consequences of ignoring all this won’t be fun, especially for our kids and grandkids.

What can you do?

You’d better start paying attention to the progressives in Congress who are campaigning for a Green New Deal. They want to have the House bill debated, negotiated and marked up so that in January 2021 it can be at the top of the new president’s and new Congress’ agenda.

But you can’t wait until then. My handy-dandy list to help you figure that all out can be found in this post from 2017.

RF100partyLogoBetter yet, if you’re from Chicago, come to the Ready for 100 Collective Kickoff Party, where you can meet with a great group of climate activists and watch Al Gore and his annual 24 Hours of Reality stream from around the globe. This end-of-year party is sponsored by the Climate Reality Project Chicago Chapter, the Student Environmental Alliance of Loyola Chicago, Chicago Group of the Sierra Club, SEIU Local 1, Citizens Utility Board and Sierra Club Illinois.

Oh, and one more thing – the New York Times is finally catching up to me. I wrote this about palm oil in 2016. The Times has this piece in its Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018, magazine: Palm Oil Was Supposed to Help Save the Planet. Instead It Unleashed a Catastrophe. Read labels – palm oil is in lotsa stuff on the supermarket shelves. Palm oil was supposed to be the answer to the roundly discredited use of trans fats in all kinds of processed foods. It’s not a good one.

Given my history of long spaces between posts, which I keep promising myself will change in the near future, I will take this moment to wish all of this blog’s readers a great holiday season and a happy, green New Year.

Rising for the Climate, Jobs and Justice

I was part of the worldwide climate action day on September 8. More than 900 related events worldwide took place on that day to Rise for Climate Jobs and Justice. 

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The People’s Climate Movement was attempting to link workers, unions, environmental and climate groups. Chicago’s Climate Table, made up of the many groups in the region that are fighting climate change, chose Elwood, Illinois for its action.

The group of some 200 or so people there was a bit smaller than we’d hoped for, but full of energy and diverse. Click here: 2018RiseForClimate for a look at how I saw the day and an explanation of why that date was chosen and why we went to Elwood.

 

The Toxic Tour – a piece of climate reality

I started from my home in Lakeview, on Chicago’s North Side, on a delightfully cool June morning, going south, riding my bike with a friendly north wind at my back, pushing me towards Little Village.

trucksThe route I chose took me through one of Chicago’s entrenched industrial corridors, along Blue Island Ave., where trucks and trains and boats bring food for city dwellers – especially produce. Past Enriquez Produce, the Chicago International Produce Market, Los Compadres Distributors, Jack Tuchten Wholesale Produce, Pacella Trucking Express, Preferred Freezer Services of Chicago, Golden Country Oriental Food, and into the heart and soul of Mexican Chicago – Pilsen and Little Village.

It was a good introduction to the event I was pedaling toward: the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization’s Toxic Tour. Karen, the tour guide, was a young woman whose job includes conducting these tours. This one was organized by 350 Chicago, the local chapter of 350.org, one of the leading U.S. climate activist groups.

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The Seeds of Justice garden.

The tour began that Saturday with a meeting at the LVEJO “Seeds of Justice” community garden where some 30 families raise chickens, veggies and ornamental plants in raised beds built over six feet of gravel that covers contaminated soil. The group started farming it in 2013 on a toxic bit of land, after a difficult campaign that, in 2010, won an EPA cleanup of the poisons some unknown businesses had left behind.

LVEJO launched the campaign after a neighborhood canvas pinpointed the problem. Today, spurred on by the activity around the Seeds of Justice, there are also 100 gardens in yards around the area.

The garden has become a community asset, a place for residents to raise fresh food for their tables, teach gardening, socialize and form bonds – in the good weather there is a weekly potluck in a dedicated social area that often draws 60 or more for shared, home-cooked meals.img_0601.jpg

The garden lies along a right of way from a former rail line that LVEJO hopes to transform into a public walkway, similar to New York’s High Line or Chicago’s 606 trail, only this one would be on ground level. Among other factors slowing progress on this project, LVEJO wants to avoid a gentrification push, which has happened rapidly along the two aforementioned trails.

The tour moved along towards Little Village’s neighbor along its eastern border – Cook County Jail. Across the street from the jail, to the west, now-defunct Celotex once made asphalt, leaving a Superfund site behind when it closed down. It is the largest Superfund site in the United States that’s been converted into a park.

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La Villita Park, with Cook County Jail in the background.

The 21.5-acre La Villita Park, was built in 2014 after Celotex and its successor, Honeywell Corp., were forced to clean up, in the days when the EPA did its job (well, sort of). The cleanup also included remediating more than 150 homes, including getting rid of and replacing the soil in their yards, which were made toxic by rain and sewer runoff from the site.

The community had a choice when it came to the highly toxic soil on the plant site – get it removed and replaced or put 10 feet of gravel and a cap over it. Folks opted for the latter solution, according to our guide, so no one else would have to contend with the toxic soil.

An interesting sidelight: When we were in the park, it was during one of Mexico’s Gold Cup soccer matches. The two full-size soccer fields, usually teeming with players of all ages on a Saturday morning, were without a single soul.

Though its dogged community organizing has had a number of victories and though the group is currently pursuing several other environmental justice campaigns, LVEJO is perhaps best known for being in the forefront, along with the PERRO group in Pilsen, of the Clean Power Coalition, which was responsible for getting two heavily polluting coal plants in their area shut down. It was a long (15 years), but eventually successful battle.

The main issue for Little Village was asthma – a Harvard School of Public Health study found the area averaged 42 asthma deaths per year linked to the plants’ emissions. But the coal-plant-closure campaign was joined by groups who had greenhouse gases in mind. Besides the soot, particulate matter and other toxic chemicals, the amount of carbon dioxide these plants were emitting was obscene.

Which brings me to the reason 350.org rounded up 20 of us, mostly young folks, but a couple of older ones like me, to go on this toxic tour.

“Climate change is not just an environmental issue, or a social justice issue, or an economic issue — it’s all of those at once,” the 350 website says. “It’s one of the biggest challenges humanity has ever faced, and we are going to have to work together to solve it.”

Working together, yes. The climate movement is much too white, too professional for its own good. Groups like 350 and the group I work with, the Climate Reality Project, know they need people of color in the United States to provide input, leadership and participation if we are to stop using fossil fuels soon enough to prevent the most dire effects of climate change. But they don’t know how. By organizing a group to take the Toxic Tour, 350 Chicago suggests a way forward. Just like LVEJO has done, we have to start by listening.

I owe it to my kids and grandkids to do something about the climate; do you?

Where will the urgency come from? What can I tell my grandkids about the chaos and misery I’m going to bequeath them?

I see so clearly (or is it fantasy? Hallucination? Alarmism? No!) I see so clearly what is happening. Hurricanes, floods, sea level droughts, wildfires, extinctions, human habitats disappearing under water or being evacuated because of unbearable, uninhabitable heat, the spread of tropical diseases, climate refugees pouring into overcrowded cities, food shortages, food riots, wars, all this and more happening before our eyes.

And it’s getting inexorably worse. Sooner or later, it will reach the point where the grandkids realize what we’ve done, curse us for what we failed to do, what we failed to teach them and for how we kept on taking for ourselves when we knew what that would mean.

And yet, we know how to stop this. The technology exists. We could shut down the coal-fired plants, scrap the gas guzzling cars, retool the manufacturing plants, put up windmills and solar panels, tap geothermal energy as they have in Iceland, quit destroying rain forests, insulate homes and buildings and personally so much more.  We can vote the climate and demand that our elected representatives see it as the crisis it is.

Because if we don’t do all this, nothing else we care about is going to matter very much at all.

Some things to do:

  • Join the Climate Reality Project (www.climaterealityproject.org) and other organizations committed to solving the climate crisis; be the voice of reality and sign up for an Al Gore training session; Join Climate Reality’s 100% Committed campaign and pledge to help your community, business, or school shift to 100 percent renewable electricity; and/or
  • Join the Citizens Climate Lobby (https://citizensclimatelobby.org) which works for a bipartisan bill that would levy a revenue neutral charge on fossil fuels with a fee on carbon at the source and then pay every household a dividend with the proceeds; and/or
  • Join a local 350.org group. They work on getting governments and institutions to divest from companies that profit from fossil fuels and on getting cities and institutions to commit to becoming fossil free; and/or
  • Join the Sierra Club. Their chapters are running a “Ready for 100” campaign to get cities and towns committed to 100% renewable energy;
  • Join Frack Free Illinois (https://www.facebook.com/pg/FrackFreeIllinois/about/?ref=page_internal);
  • Make consumer choices that reduce energy use – change to LED bulbs NOW! Don’t wait for current bulbs to wear out. Consider hybrid or electric cars. There are plenty of individual actions you can take https://www.planetvision.com/actions;
  • But remember: changing laws is even more important than changing light bulbs;
  • Consider the environmental impact of the items you buy;
  • Speak up!
  • Win the conversation;
  • Don’t let denial go unchallenged – this website is a little dated, but still quite useful https://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php;
  • Use social and traditional media to get the word out;
  • Use the #ClimateHope and #ActOnClimate hash tags;
  • Write to the editors of newspapers and magazines;
  • Call TV and radio stations;
  • Let elected officials know where you stand.