Why is minimizing our carbon footprint so difficult?

Near the end of the December 2014 workshop on Adirondack region responses to climate change, someone asked a really good question.  Why was the “(C)Sustainable Life” scenario in the ADK Futures workshops of 2011 and 2012 considered most desirable AND most attainable while the “(A)Minimize our Carbon Footprint” scenario in this new workshop was considered most desirable but LEAST attainable?

A big difference between the two scenarios was the level of government, especially Federal government, intervention required.  The new scenario explicitly requires that governments put a price on carbon to create the necessary economic incentives to spur rapid adoption of clean energy.  Participants had already expressed their lack of faith in the top-down government led approach to capping emissions and thus it was consistent to believe that this regional scenario would be unattainable – Federal government is not functioning well today and no improvement is expected.

Another factor in our view is that the new scenario explicitly called for solving the harder parts of actually getting emissions in the region down by 80% of 2005 levels by 2040.  The older “Sustainable Life” scenario was much vaguer about doing good things to reduce our carbon footprint.  In the new scenario we focus on how to move away significantly from dependence on fossil fuels for transportation using a combination of electric and hydrogen vehicles coupled with efforts to reduce the total number of miles driven, a much more demanding scenario.

The new scenario posits that, over the next 25 years, regulations are enacted that put a price on GHG emissions all over the world.  The logic goes that the perception of the seriousness of threat of destructive climate change later in the century will increase during this period as the science will improve and impacts on the climate system begin to manifest themselves.  Large-scale change in the energy system requires engaging market forces by making energy sources that emits GHGs expensive relative to those that don’t.  As carbon prices increase, the rural northern lifestyle would be penalized because it consumes more transportation and heating energy than urban living.  Seeing this coming, the region can work proactively to minimize our fossil fuel use so are not impacted much as GHG prices increase.

Clearly the Adirondack region would not be the only part of the country hurt by placing a price on GHG emissions.  States that are big suppliers of fossil fuels (e.g., Wyoming, West Virginia, Texas, Louisiana, North Dakota, etc.) would see their economies hurt as their markets shrink.  It seems clear that to get a carbon tax adopted, those hurt by it will have to be compensated in some way.  This is how our political system works.  One idea, for example, is to grant most of these funds collected back to individuals and small businesses as a ‘carbon dividend’.  Thus, rural life might not be as hurt as thought at first glance, and adoption of such a tax might not be impossible after all.  It depends how the revenues are used.  Still, global adoption of carbon taxes in some form is hard to imagine as easily attainable.

Other aspects of this new scenario minimizing our carbon footprint that might be difficult to imagine are an almost complete abandonment of heating oil in favor of biomass, solar thermal, geothermal or electric heat.  Biomass for thermal is a competitive option vs heating oil in our region. In its Renewable Heat initiative, NY State is targeting replacement of old wood stoves largely for health reasons.  But soot and other black carbon particles are also a driver of climate change as they settle on arctic snow fields and cause them to absorb more solar energy.  The State will pay you to remove and dispose of your old wood furnace, AND give you a grant to buy a new state-of-the-art unit.

Lastly, the new low carbon scenario called for more clustering of our residents in fewer towns where people walked and biked more.  By living closer together, and closer to work, we drive less.  Clustered homes and businesses could share a district heating system.  Also, as storms worsen, we can better fortify and upgrade key community infrastructure (communications, water, power, fire, EMT, etc.) in the larger towns, not in every town.  Communities where people know each other and see each other daily are stronger, more cohesive than communities where most people live outside of town, isolated from each other.  Once again this raises the specter of smaller remote, more marginal, Adirondack towns fading away, a possibility that was raised before in the ADK Futures workshops and something that is widely rejected.

This new low carbon scenario is primarily about efforts to mitigate the impact of our emissions.  One certain contribution we make is keeping our forests healthy and functioning as a major carbon storage system.  Assuming a push to reduce emissions gets into gear nationally, we can benefit from cost reductions in new technologies as they are adopted widely, just like everyone else, e.g. electric and hydrogen vehicles.  But developing and testing new technologies will happen elsewhere.

To expect the Adirondack region will be a leader in mitigation is almost certainly a stretch, except for maintaining our forest carbon storage.  But we can do our part. A common argument against aggressively mitigating our region’s GHG emissions is that we have a negligible impact on the global situation.  But most regions could say the same – no place matters much, but everywhere matters – and therein lies the conundrum.  Creating a global economy that doesn’t depend on wrecking the atmosphere and the oceans requires everyone, everywhere, to make changes, including us.   To have these changes in energy use adopted widely in the region, we will need to get more people to see the consequences of not acting.  At the State level, there is recognition of the need to act.  At the county and local level less so, but talk about storms and you find support.  Getting local leaders, citizens and youth to the point of being aware of the problem, and participating in sensible changes, remains our biggest opportunity.

Summary of Results of First Adirondack Regional Responses to Climate Change Workshop

On December 11 and 12, 2014 a diverse set of 32 scientists, policy makers, government officials, non-profit leaders and concerned citizens mapped out different ways in which our region might respond to the threat of disruptive climate change. As we did for the ADK Futures project, we are using a scenario planning approach in which we consider multiple plausible outcomes for 25 years from now and map out pathways to get to them using events that could happen between now and the outcome horizon.  The full documentation of the workshop is available.  Here we present a summary of results.  Future posts will explore some of the issues raised.

The issues and options with regard to climate change are notoriously complex and because what we do will be affected by what happens elsewhere, we can’t just consider scenarios at the regional level.  Therefore, we set the context for our regional thinking with two sets of global scenarios.  First, we presented 5 scenarios for how the global climate system might evolve over the next 25 years.  These global climate scenarios are labeled:

  • C1: Gradual Change
  • C2: Faster Change
  • C3: Pause Ends
  • C4: Non-Linear
  • C5: Unpredictable

After some discussion, we asked the participants to rank order these climate scenarios from most probable over the next 25 years to least probable.  Here are the results:

global climate ranking table result

The result is pretty clear:  the most difficult to deal with climate possibilities (C4 Non-Linear and C5 Unpredictable) are the most likely (tied for first) and the most benign ones are the least likely.  Get ready for more bad weather.

Next, we presented 5 scenarios for the human race might respond to the threat of climate change at the global level.  Climate change is a problem whose worst consequences can only be prevented by global action.  These global response scenarios are labeled:

  • G1: Governments in Gear
  • G2: Bottom Up Progress
  • G3: Private Sector Leads
  • G4: The Oblique Path to Progress
  • G5: Panic!

Again, after some discussion, we asked the participants to rank order these climate scenarios from most probable over the next 25 years to least probable.  Here are the results:

global response ranking table result

This result puts most faith in the private sector(G3) and bottom up efforts (G2) and has the lowest expectations of success for top-down, national government-led efforts (G1).  This is realistic but it isn’t clear that we can avert damaging climate change without G1 and a truly global solution.

With this as context, the workshop focused on 6 scenarios about how the Adirondack Region responds over the next 25 years. These regional responses are labeled:

  • A: Minimize Our Carbon Footprint
  • B: Prepare for the Worst
  • C: Hyper-Green Human Refuge
  • D: Climate Change Laboratory
  • E: Don’t Panic
  • F: Reaching a Regional Tipping Point

After almost a full day of analysis and then a spirited half-day of plenary debate, we asked the participants to rank order these six regional response scenarios on desirability and attainability, just as we did with the Adirondack Futures endstates in 2011 and 2012.  Here are the results:

regional after ranking result

Unlike in the Adirondack Futures result (which we said at the time was highly unusual), the most desirable outcome here A, where we lower our carbon footprint, is the least attainable. Why this is so will be the subject of a future post. The scenario that got the most endorsement for action in the workshop is B, the one focused on proactive adaptation with the expectation of serious climate change in the future.  Scenario C, which says the region will be a winner on balance because of climate change, was viewed skeptically. The narrowly focused science and research scenario D was viewed as difficult to pull off and didn’t address enough of the region’s needs.   Scenario E that took a pragmatic, measured approach was seen as easy to do but undesirable.  Scenario F in which the region is badly wrecked by climate change was obviously undesirable but received a fairly high attainability score.

The end of the workshop was devoted to sketching out ways in which multiple endstates and layers of endstates might be integrated into a more complete roadmap for the next 25 years and beyond. One synthesis depicted change over time at both the global climate level (top), global response level (x-axis) and regional level (bottom).

adk cc synthesis diagram

The climate will worsen, eventually changing non-linearly.  The G2 (Bottom Up) and G3 (Private Sector) global responses predominate at first followed by more of a G4 (Oblique) approach and then finally as the climate worsens still, G1 (Top-Down) kicks in.  Regionally there is a lot of focus on mitigation and clean energy (A) especially as the private sector brings the costs down.  The intensity of our regional efforts will follow the triggers of the global scenarios with B (Adaptation) and C (Human Refuge) dominating over time. Seems likely that B and C will end up dwarfing everything else as the climate gets bad. In their view, D (Laboratory) is flat over time and so is E (Don’t Panic).  You continue to do smart, practical things (E) and you do great science although funding might be tighter in the future as money goes to adaptation.

In future posts we will dig into specific scenarios and their implications.

Report Available on First Climate Change Response Workshop

On December 11 and 12 we held our first workshop in a new series about how the region responds to the threat of disruptive climate change.  Despite a big snow storm the two days prior, 32 people made it to Paul Smith’s College to spend two days examining six alternative scenarios for how the region might respond.  Although there are some tweaks to make to the starting framework, in general the group found the framework useful.  We plan to hold more of these workshops starting sometime in May 2015.  We would like to develop a half-day version as we did in the original ADK Futures workshop series.  In the weeks to come we will be writing a few posts about issues and conclusions raised in this first climate change workshop.  For now, you can read the full report on the workshop.

WWW.AdirondackStrategies.com

I like the report because it starts right out with measures of success.  It also explains this is rooted in some 100 plans and reports already done and instead points action steps.  The meeting last Monday was organized into working group to begin work on moving ahead.  Public comment is also requested.

If this works, begins the report, we should expect the following benefits:

  • wage and payroll growth
  • increased business revenue
  • improved health and wellness statistics
  • alternative energy consumption increase
  • educational attainment increase
  • real estate values for year round property increase
  • level of private capital investment in leverage increase
  • availability of cultural and recreational assets grows
  • increasing school enrollment

Wow. Now I’m interested!  How to we get to this place?

It lays out these 7 business opportunities.  They can be done park-wide or at least in more than one location.

  • Sustainable forest and natural products
  • Sustainable construction and building products
  • Recreational equipment manufacturing and retail
  • Tourism
  • Ecosystem services and nature conservation
  • Value added agriculture and food processing
  • Non profit employment

Next it lays out four goals, each with metrics, strategies and actions. Here they are:

Goal One:  Inspire a culture of entrepreneurship with a globally competitive workforce and diverse business base

Six specific strategies and their actions are described. They include a small and micro business program, a lend local idea, teaching programs, higher ed collaborations, and a leadership program.

Goal Two: Promote a sustainable and connected rural life with quality infrastructure and community amenities.

Ten strategies are described, each with a couple of actions,  They begin with be happier, and cover broadband, hamlet restoration, affordable housing, health care, road/pedestrian/bike  infrastructure, improve access to water, assistance for towns with larger projects, improving financing for grant funded projects, non profits, first responders and reuse of vacant sites.

Goal Three:  Reinvent traditional industry across the working landscapes in forest products, naturals resources and agriculture

Fives strategies and their actions are described. They cover natural resources protection including invasives, promoting local building materials, alternative energy, wood products, and local farming, local food.

Goal Four: Advance the park as a world class destination

It describes 10 strategies and several actions for each one.  They cover the trail towns initiative, lodging renovations, tourism ambassadors, more types of lodging moving people across the park, integrated web presence, world class sports, wellness/health tourism, branding, upgrades of non-lodging tourism facilities.

This is the link to the whole report.

This is the link to the web site, Advantage Adirondacks, which has a lot more material and supporting documents.

The project was organized and run by the Adirondack Partnership and AATV.  Funding came from the NYS Dept of State, DEC and the ADK Futures Project  of the Common Ground Alliance was used as the local match to get the State funding.

The meeting on Monday was associated with AATV and had lots of local government people there.  This effort looks like it has traction.

New “Blueprint for the Blue Line” Released by CGA Core Team

The Common Ground Alliance Core Team has been working on a new “2015 Blueprint for the Blue Line“, an agenda that Albany can use as a guide to the ideas from CGA now that election season has passed.  Early in the history of CGA, it produced a similar document and now we offer an update.  It reflects a poll used to prepare for the 2014 Forum last July and subsequent work by the Core Team.

Government is best suited to serving a region with aligned aspirations.  With that in mind, we hope the State’s leadership in Albany will find CGAs guidance both helpful and inspiring as our brightening future unfolds.

This is the link to the new Blueprint.

 

ADK Angel Investors Launch Point Positive

A group of private investors has incorporated Point Positive, Inc.  It has already held two pitch sessions this year to listen to business plans presented by entrepreneurs in the Adirondack region.  It is the  outgrowth of 18 months of work funded by generous donors and organized by the Adirondack Foundation.  The first company funded is ADK PackWorks, an innovative bag company using old packbaskets for design inspiration and now their product line is on Amazon as well as in local stores.  Two more companies are in the due diligence process now.

The goal is 20 member (either individuals or institutions) group that would be able to raise seed money for startups to build product prototypes, for example.  Or get an existing business to sufficient scale that it clearly will work and grow.  The group has 15 members now and is seeking additional members and sponsors to help cover the cost of operations.  It is based in Saranac Lake and coordinated by Melinda Little.

The idea is to develop business that serve markets here but also markets outside the Park.  Improving fresh food distribution in the rural Adirondacks is a great problem to solve  – but even better is to find a solution that can be applied to other rural regions nation-wide.   Building a solar greenhouse to get winter greens here is an opportunity, but better would be selling a solar greenhouse ‘package’ to other northern farming areas, including Quebec.  We are already seeing a surprising variety of ideas.

Angel investing is getting popular.  There are so many groups in some regions that finding deals to present is quite competitive.  But in our region, there is no other group.  In a turn of the old phrase, we’re building an angel group to go where the money isn’t.  And it isn’t just about money.  We’re trying to create an ecosystem of people, ideas and funding.  Mentoring and coaching involved is part of the work involved.  Clarkson and Paul Smiths College are involved.  The biggest goal is to make this a place where people can find support they need to get a real business up and running that can scale to markets well beyond the region.

The group is called Point Positive.  It is a white water term.  Before a white water run, a group of paddlers must agree to use paddles to point positive, the safe passage, or point negative, noting hazards to the paddlers behind you.  The investor member are here to ‘point positive’ and in this sense, be more than just passive investors.

 

 

 

How are SLMP Issues are Addressed in Other Places?

I submitted this comment with respect to the SLMP review and wanted to post it here.

My top level comment on the SLMP review is that it should set balance as it’s prime directive, balancing human use and ecological integrity in the context of climate change.  I use the term ecological integrity because as climate change impacts the region, we need a mindset that goes beyond protection and preservation.

The forest in 50 years is not likely to be the same as today regardless of efforts we may make.  Preserving the forest as is will be beyond our control.  Climate change is a global phenomena , and you would have to assume successful global response regimes to believe ‘preservation’ is even possible.  Protection will have a different meaning.  So those words will not serve us well in the coming decades.  Thinking we can expect the forest to be stable is not remotely realistic.

I recognize this is not the same as protection and preservation, language in place now.   In the 1970s, no one used a term like ‘ecological integrity’.   At times, it will mean less recreation.  At times it will mean better science and active interventions for the health of the Forest Preserve.  It may mean we work to become hosts to greater number of species at migrations develop.

Seek to Learn from Experience Elsewhere

We Adirondackers love to think of ourselves as a model, and deservedly so.  But there is nothing like getting out of the area to see fresh, unencumbered, views of how to manage large scale tracts of public land.  The SLMP review would benefit enormously from a modest effort to see how other protected places handle similar tasks.  It could be done at a College in the region, by APA staff, one of the NGOs or a volunteer.  But, short of that, I can tease you with some observations.

Our travels have taken us to a few other places where there are  similar issues with respect to managing large areas of public land.  But I was there on vacation, not to study their land classification systems.  Still, I enquired when I could so here are a fee ideas to share.

Costa Rica

In the 1970s Costa Rica set up a system of reserves that now cover about 25% of nation.  Since then they built an entire eco-tourism industry, complete with hotels, community colleges and university level workforce training, all sorts of guide services, appropriate excursions and attractions.

Relative to the Adirondacks, the most striking feature of their public land management is a “no hunting” policy.  It is not allowed.  Even in the case of animals that are causing problems in communities (typically crocodiles) they capture them and move them to a different, safe, location.

Guided walks are common and popular.  They typically use trails that are very well maintained and heavily used, but they only cover a small fraction of a tract of land, the vast majority of which is left undisturbed.  In one area, a white water river, tour operators have camps where guests can stay for one night for a break from the river.  Private lands have been set up similarly, as reserves with a small portion developed with trails and guides.

So, my observation is that tourism is a big industry, but usage is concentrated in small portions of protected areas and visitors are often in the company of a paid guide.  The guides are highly trained and it is a respected career that young people seek out.

Chile

We visited a Park in southern Chile called Torres del Paine.  It is a spectacular, vast and very remote place, several hours drive from anywhere.  There are a handful of in-holdings that were originally ranches but are now a few hotels across a range of price points.

The landscape is very different from the Adirondacks.  Rolling hills surrounding enormous granite towers, an ice cap, glaciers and so on.  One wilderness is 600,000 acres, located right next to another one of similar size.  Much of it is classified “wilderness’ and what that means is it’s off-limits.  No one can go there, just like we keep people out of public drinking watersheds here.  They do issue occasional permits for science expeditions and the like.

Within the wilderness areas, they establish what they call ‘human use corridors’.  In these areas there are trails and a handful of locations where you can camp.  Most camping is in a controlled area where tents are set up for the season by the Park or a concession operator.  You reserve tent space in advance, the number of spaces is limited.  You do not need to bring a tent.  Options for people with their own tents exist but are limited.  The general rule is that people cannot wander off-trail, so, no bushwacking in our local terms.  Guides are very common, and often included in hotel packages.  They post a list of trips you can join each morning from each hotel.  You can go on your own, but most people don’t.

They make a big point about back country rescues:  there is no rescue outside the human use corridors.  There is no hospital to take people to anywhere nearby.  The point is be careful, don’t do anything stupid, because there is no real rescue help to save you.  There is no cell service, of course.

These rules sound severe and they are.  Mostly they are the result of bad forest fires, attributed to campers burning toilet paper.  There are small signs around saying ‘please don’t burn your toilet paper’.  It gives a whole new meaning to leave no trace and carry it out.

Italy

We recently returned from a trip to Italy that included visiting a Park in that stretches from the Appinine Mountains to the sea in an area called Cinque Terre.  The administrators of this park visited the Adirondacks last year; they have an exchange program with Paul Smith’s College.  So we visited their Park and got to see their situation.

The two regions of their Park are vastly different.  Cinque Terre is small, by the sea, and crowding of their postcard-perfect towns is their problem.  But the mountains, only 60-90 minutes away, area largely vacant with numerous mostly abandoned old villages in the hills.  We stayed in one, called Apella.   We were chatting about our town (Keene) and they asked how many people live here.  We said about 1200.  Their population is 9.  Clearly they have a different depopulation problem.  So, what they are doing, is remodeling the old houses in each village, one-by-one, slowly making each little village into a modest  hotel (think B&B scale).  It is run by a brother and sister, with their father helping out.  And it is working.  We arrived and there was a big Italian wedding in progress.   They have great environmental protection, but the place is dying economically.  So when they use the word ‘sustainable’, they are talking about survival of these tiny towns.  Agri-tourism is their response and it appears to be working, slowly.

They do have a simple land classification scheme.  Zone A.  Zone B. and Zone C.  Zone A are especially sensitive areas.  People are not allowed to visit there; if it is a water area, boats are not allowed.  Zone B areas surround Zone A and are intended to be buffer zones.  People can visit these areas, but only with guides that know the rules.  Zone C areas are generally accessible with the typical set of rules for a protected landscape.  The beauty of this for us, as visitors, is that is it easy to understand, which is important in an area with international visitors.

Summary

I wish these were more than anecdotes.  When our SLMP was written, there were no models to examine.  Ecology was a new science.  For the most part, it has been great.  But in the decades that have passed since, protected areas have been set up all over the world with various classification and management schemes.  Ecological science has developed dramatically.

I am assuming this SLMP review will have 2 phases.

First, there are two issues that arise from the Finch land acquisition that need to be sorted out.  I imagine this can be done fairly quickly and should not be hugely complicated. I think bikes are fine in appropriate areas, like old logging roads all over the Park.  I have no issue with a metal bridge, but a wood one, if costs were equal, would look nicer.  It is not a big deal.

But the second phase should be a broad, open, review of our land classification scheme.  What models have been used in other parts of the world?  Can we learn anything useful from their efforts?

We like to think there is no where else like our place.  But other numerous protected places have established world wide since the 1970s, each with management and classification schemes.  Surely a review of how other places have handled similar tasks would bring some perspective and learning to our SLMP review that simply was impossible decades ago.  We should be open minded and embrace the learning opportunity.  For small effort, we can leverage the work in the rest of the world.