SEF News-Views Digest No. 202 (4-4-18)
Clifton Ware, Editor-Publisher
Peak Prosperity: The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be (Chris Martenson). This marks our 10th year of using data, logic and reason to support the very basic conclusion that infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible. Everybody senses the truth: Our way of life is unsustainable. The simple reality is that society’s hopes for a “modern consumer-class lifestyle for all” is incompatible with the accelerating imbalance between the (still growing) human population and the (increasingly depleting) planet’s natural resources. Basic math and physics tell us that the Earth’s ecosystems can’t handle the load for much longer. The only remaining question concerns how fast the adjustment happens. [See also: The Real Reason Why Stock Markets Will Continue To Crumble This Year]
Resource Insights: The Troubling Realities Of Our Energy Transition (Kurt Cobb). Only 1.5% percentage of the world’s energy is provided by these six renewable sources: solar, wind, geothermal, wave, tidal, and ocean energy. Hydroelectricity from dams adds another 2.5%, but no more dams will likely be built. Population growth adds more pressure to the problem. An MIT Technology Review adds credence to the severity of renewable energy’s percentage growth, and suggests that a total mobilization of society akin to what happened in World War II would have to occur and be maintained for decades to accomplish the energy transition we need to avoid catastrophic climate change.
Common Dreams: Love And Loss In The Anthropocene (Elizabeth West). As a species, we have been unable to meet the challenges posed by our own misguided attachment to growth. Any human under 50 today—and all the other innocent beings on the planet—are facing a life immeasurably more difficult than the one I was granted. Nature, though brutally ravaged by human greed, still manages to offer deep sustenance, an unbeatable and incredibly generous antidote to the fear and anger and sadness that are afoot everywhere in these times. The truth is that these are desperate and utterly unusual times; no one really knows how to navigate them, there are no experts at walking gracefully into annihilation. [See also: Global Challenges]
The Guardian; Paul Ehrlich: ‘Collapse Of Civilization Is A Near Certainty Within Decades’ (Damian Carrington). Fifty years after the publication of his controversial book The Population Bomb, biologist Paul Ehrlich warns overpopulation and overconsumption are driving us over the edge. The world’s optimum population is less than two billion people—5.6 billion fewer than on the planet today, he argues, and there is an increasing toxification of the entire planet by synthetic chemicals that may be more dangerous to people and wildlife than climate change. Ehrlich also says an unprecedented redistribution of wealth is needed to end the over-consumption of resources, but “the rich who now run the global system are unlikely to let it happen”. [See also: The Population Bomb Revisited]
P2P: Our Economy Is A Degenerative System (Daniel Wahl). Our ecological footprint exceeds the Earth’s capacity to regenerate. The Ecological Footprint measures how fast we consume resources and generate waste in comparison with how fast nature can absorb our waste and generate new resources. This point of spending more than is coming in every year — or living off the capital rather than the interest — was reached by humanity in the late-1960s. Of nine planetary boundaries, humanity has already crossed four—climate change, loss of biosphere integrity, land systems change, and altered biochemical cycles. [See also: The World In 2018 – Part Four]
> Common Dreams: ‘The Gig Economy’ Is The New Term For Serfdom (Chris Hedges). Corporate capitalism is establishing a neo-feudal serfdom in numerous occupations, a condition in which there are no labor laws, no minimum wage, no benefits, no job security and no regulations. Desperate and impoverished workers, forced to endure 16-hour days, are viciously pitted against each other. The corporate elites, which have seized control of ruling institutions including the government and destroyed labor unions, are re-establishing the inhumane labor conditions that characterized the 19th and early 20th centuries. The reign of the all-powerful capitalist class has returned with a vengeance. [See also: The Gig Economy Celebrates Working Yourself To Death]
Futurism: A Dangerous Cyberattack On A Petrochemical Plant Could Be The First Of Many (Jolene Creighton). A new kind of attack has made its way into the world. And, frankly, it’s terrifying. Experts are learning a lot from this foiled attack in Saudi Arabia. The New York Times reports that the attack required a level of sophistication that shows the attackers had government backing, though the individual hackers and the country backing them are still unknown. Russians are hacking the U.S. electric grid. The greatest fear is that they are able to access American nuclear plants, which could wreak devastation rarely seen on some of the country’s most populated areas.
Truthdig: Building The Iron Wall (Chris Hedges) Totalitarianism is formed incrementally. It begins by silencing the demonized. It ends by silencing everyone. Despots, despite their proclaimed ideological, national and religious differences, speak the same language. Amoral, devoid of empathy and addicted to power and personal enrichment, they are building a world where all who criticize them are silenced, where their populations are rendered compliant by fear, constant surveillance and the loss of basic liberties and where they and their corporate enablers are the undisputed masters.
Yes! Magazine: No, Growing Inequality Won’t Solve Itself (Sarah van Gelder). The top 1 percent in the U.S. already owns 42 percent of the nation’s wealth. Societies tend to become more unequal over time, unless there is concerted pushback. Those who accumulate wealth—whether because of good fortune, hard work, talent, or ruthlessness—also accumulate power. And over time, the powerful find ways to shift the economic and political rules in their favor, affording them still more wealth and power. The process feeds on itself, growing like a cancer unless stopped by outside forces. In the United States, where addiction is rampant, life expectancy is falling, infant mortality is the highest in the developed world, education quality is abysmal, and the country’s infrastructure is crumbling.
Common Dreams: The Largest Protests In American History Are Happening Now. Expect Them To Get Bigger. (Heather Dockray). Crowd Counting Consortium estimated that over 1.25 million people across the United States participated in the March for Our Lives protest, making it one of the largest youth-led protests in American history, at least since the Vietnam War. A combustible array of variables, including the rise in authoritarianism and anti-authoritarianism worldwide and technology that makes it easier to organize sibling marches, have contributed to historic turnouts. Turnouts have been so historic partially because of the depth of anti-Trump despair.
The Guardian: Overstretched Cities (a series of articles examining the impact of the rush to urbanization). Plight Of Phoenix: How Long Can The World’s ‘Least Sustainable’ City Survive?; China’s Radical Plan To Limit The Populations Of Beijing And Shanghai; Is The Way We Think About Overpopulation Racist?
IPBES: Media Release: Biodiversity And Nature’s Contributions Continue Dangerous Decline, Scientists Warn (Staff). Biodiversity—the essential variety of life forms on Earth—continues to decline in every region of the world, significantly reducing nature’s capacity to contribute to people’s wellbeing. This alarming trend endangers economies, livelihoods, food security and the quality of life of people everywhere. Biodiversity and nature’s capacity to contribute to people are being degraded, reduced and lost due to a number of common pressures—habitat stress; overexploitation and unsustainable use of natural resources; air, land and water pollution; increasing numbers and impact of invasive alien species and climate change, among others.
Science News: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch May Be 16 Times As Massive As We Thought (Helen Thompson). A pooling of plastic waste floating in the ocean between California and Hawaii contains at least 79,000 tons of material spread over 1.6 million square kilometers, researchers. That’s the equivalent to the mass of more than 6,500 school buses. About 1.8 trillion plastic pieces make up the garbage patch, the scientists estimate. Known as the great Pacific garbage patch. Almost half of the total mass, for example, is from discarded fishing nets. A lot of that litter contains especially durable plastics, such as polyethylene and polypropylene, which are designed to survive in marine environments. [See also: Plastic And How It Affects Our Oceans]
Morherboard: More Than 75 Percent Of Earth’s Land Areas Are ‘Broken,’ Major Report Finds (Stephen Leahy). Less than 25 percent of the Earth’s land surface has escaped the substantial impacts of human activity—and by 2050, this will have fallen to less than 10 percent. Most of these future land losses will be in Central and South America, sub-Saharan Africa, and Asia. A recent report projects that the only places left relatively unaffected will be the polar regions and tundra, high mountains, and deserts.
Carbon Brief: Global Warming To Date Could ‘Obliterate’ A Third Of Glacier Ice (Robert McSweeney). The warming the world has already experienced could be enough to melt more than a third of the world’s glaciers outside Antarctica and Greenland—regardless of current efforts to reduce emissions. That is the stark conclusion of a new study, which analyses the lag between global temperature rise and the retreat of glaciers. The relatively slow response of glaciers to global warming means it will take to the end of the century—and beyond —to see the benefits of mitigation efforts in the coming decades, the study says.
Common Dreams: There’s Fake News On Your Television, Too (Richard Eskow). Sinclair Broadcast Group is a hard-right corporation that imposes its views on the local television stations it owns. The consolidation of media into a few private hands poses great risk, and Sinclair is abusing its power by distorting the facts to impose a predetermined view of reality on reporters at its 173 stations—and therefore on the public. In 1983, 50 companies controlled 90 percent of American media. Forty years later, 90 percent of the media was controlled by only five companies Fake news outlets on the internet do the same thing: They tell readers that “they” are lying, but “we” are telling you the unvarnished truth.
VOX: It’s Not Just Elections: Russia Hacked The US Electric Grid (Kelsey Atherton). On March 15, the US government released a report describing a massive Russian hacking campaign to infiltrate America’s “critical infrastructure”—things like power plants, nuclear generators, and water facilities. The joint report from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security claims that Russian hackers gained access to computers across the targeted industries and collected sensitive data including passwords, logins, and information about energy generation. The biggest problem is that countries the world over are rapidly learning just how much vital or even lucrative information they can obtain from hacking, and are constantly figuring out new ways to circumvent security measures they encounter.
Common Dreams: We Have Spent $32 Million Per Hour On War Since 2001 (Stephanie Savell). The war on terror has cost Americans a staggering $5.6 trillion since 2001, when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan. It means Americans spend $32 million per hour, according to a counter by the National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. Put another way: Since 2001, every American taxpayer has spent almost $24,000 on the wars. U.S. activity in Iraq and the Middle East has only spurred greater political upheaval and unrest. The U.S.-led coalition is seen not as a liberating force, but as an aggressor. [See also: It’s Time to Transform the War Economy]
Think Progress: Stunning Drops In Solar, Wind Costs Mean Economic Case For Coal, Gas Is ‘Crumbling’ (Joe Romm). Prices for solar, wind, and battery storage are dropping so rapidly that renewables are increasingly squeezing out all forms of fossil fuel power, including natural gas. The cost of new solar plants dropped 20 percent over the past 12 months, while onshore wind prices dropped 12 percent, according to the latest Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) report. Since 2010, the prices for lithium-ion batteries—crucial to energy storage—have plummeted a stunning 79 percent (see chart). The future could not be sunnier for renewables.
Harvard Business Review: Research: The Industrial Revolution Left Psychological Scars That Can Still Be Seen Today (Martin Obschonka). Our research shows that a region’s historical industries leave a lasting imprint on the local psychology, which remains even when those industries are no longer dominant or have almost completely disappeared. For example, besides the occupational health risks that miners face, mining regions pose increased population-wide health risks due to pollution and economic hardship. In sum, the effect of the Industrial Revolution seems to be more toxic and far-reaching than previously thought.
The Guardian: Are You Ready? This Is All The Data Facebook And Google Have On You (Dylan Curran). The harvesting of our personal details goes far beyond what many of us could imagine. Google stores information on every app and extension you use. They know how often you use them, where you use them, and who you use them to interact with. That means they know who you talk to on Facebook, what countries are you speaking with, what time you go to sleep.
Open Democracy: Culture Shift: Redirecting Humanity’s Path To A Flourishing Future (Jeremy Lent). We need such concepts as tax on carbon, big investments in renewable energy, a livable minimum wage, and freely accessible healthcare, but even taken together they’re utterly insufficient to redirect humanity away from impending catastrophe and toward a truly flourishing future. Each culture tends to construct its worldview on a root metaphor of the universe, which in turn defines people’s relationship to nature and each other, ultimately leading to a set of values that directs how that culture behaves. The Scientific Revolution was built on metaphors such as ‘nature as a machine’ and ‘conquering nature’, which have shaped the values and behaviors of the modern age. We have the capacity to build an alternative worldview around a sense of connectedness within the web of life.
The Guardian: Empty Half The Earth Of Its Humans. It’s The Only Way To Save The Planet (Kim Stanley Robinson). There are nearly eight billion humans alive on the planet now, and that’s a big number: more than twice as many as were alive 50 years ago. It’s an accidental experiment with enormous stakes, as it isn’t clear that the Earth’s biosphere can supply that many people’s needs—or absorb that many wastes and poisons—on a renewable and sustainable basis over the long haul. Cities emerge from the confusion of possibilities as beacons of hope. By definition they house a lot of people on small patches of land, which makes them hugely better than suburbia. In ecological terms, suburbs are disastrous, while cities can perhaps work. EO Wilson has proposed the concept of Half Earth, which suggests leaving about half the Earth’s surface mostly free of humans, so wild plants and animals can live there unimpeded as they did for so long before humans arrived.
Open Democracy: Forget About GDP: It’s Time For A Wellbeing Economy (Kate Pickett). Voters sense that our economies are not aligned with what really matters to them is mirrored in evidence. Research shows that growth in GDP has not been widely shared, with the wealthy gaining the most. Moreover, while policy makers strain to squeeze more GDP from a stagnating economy, we know that, increases in GDP per capita don’t always bring greater progress. GDP doesn’t capture the value of non-monetized or non-marketed work, and is blind to the carrying capacity of our environment. We need to cultivate a new economic vision that relates to people’s daily experiences, not the growth of abstract numbers. This is the vision of a ‘wellbeing economy’.
Yes! Magazine: Why Americans Score Lower On Happiness Every Year—And What To Do About It (George Ward). March 20 was International Day of Happiness and, as they’ve done every year, the United Nations has published the World Happiness Report. The U.S. ranks 18th among the world’s countries, with an average life satisfaction of around 6.88 on a scale of 10.The idea that government ought to focus attention on the well-being of its citizens goes back centuries. Electoral data suggests that governments of populations that are unhappy do not tend to stay in power very long. To boost happiness in America, policymakers should look to counter adverse trends in equality, the erosion of social trust, and increasing isolation.
Solutions Journal: Resilience Principles as a Tool for Exploring Options for Urban Resilience (Arjan Wardekker). The world is becoming increasingly urban and cities face a constant struggle with the complex environmental, social, economic, and political challenges of the 21st century. Many international organizations have argued that cities will need to become more resilient to these challenges. Over half of the world’s population lives in cities and these percentages keep on rising.4 Cities are expected to meet the needs of their rising populations for housing, work, water, food, and energy, while simultaneously managing the resulting pressures. Urban resilience is a concept that can help cities prepare for the complex challenges of the 21st century. [See also: How Will Driverless Cars Change Our Cities?]
Slow Money: Agricultural Innovation With John-Paul Maxfield (Woody Tasch). Soil is incredibly complex. Just as with the human microbiome project, there is so much we have yet to discover. If we want to fix climate change, the answer is literally right beneath our feet. Da Vinci had it right when he said we understand the movements of the heavens better than we understand what is happening underfoot. We understand the soil at an intuitive level but not at a practical level. The National Gardening Association reported that the number of households gardening grew 17% from 2008 to 2013. Decentralizing our food systems, either by shift of consciousness or technological innovation, is a primary objective.
Resilience: Urban and Small Farm Agriculture (Jody Tishmack). Wherever climate and conditions favor it, local food production on small farms, in backyards, community gardens, and empty urban lots will become an increasingly important source of fresh food. And if one uses season extension or poly-covered tunnels and drip irrigation we can expand the growing area to suit much wider climate conditions. A recent Earth and Space Science News describes how expanding agriculture into cities could improve food security, ecosystem health, and more. Food from urban gardens can have a positive impact on every community’s health and wellbeing, making cities and their inhabitants more resilient in the face of declining industrial agriculture, energy depletion, and climate change.
The Conversation: We Know How Food Production Needs To Change If Crisis Is To Be Avoided (Nina Moeller). As the world races toward a projected 9 billion inhabitants, the failings of dominant food systems are impossible to deny. Current food production methods are severely polluting, the cause of malnutrition, unjustifiably wasteful and inequitable, and concentrated in the hands of few corporations. Entangled in the multiple crises humanity is facing, establishing global food security is considered a key challenge of our time. In contrast, agroecology is based on the idea that farms should mimic the structure and functioning of natural ecosystems, where there is no “waste”, with nutrients recycled indefinitely. Agroecology aims to close nutrient loops, by returning all nutrients that come out of the soil.
Waging Nonviolence: How To Build A Progressive Movement In A Polarized Country (George Lakey). Progressives need to breathe deeply and make our peace with the reality. Division expresses an economic arrangement, and it’s not something we can fix through urging more civil discourse. Even though we’ll want to use our conflict resolution skills in order to cope, we can also expect more drama at the extreme ends of our polarizations, and more ugliness and violence. From these examples of how Germany and Italy reacted to polarization in the 1920s and ‘30s, as compared to Sweden and Norway, we can see that polarization may guarantee a big political fight, but it doesn’t determine whether the outcome will be dictatorship or democracy. U.S. history also shows that polarization does not determine outcomes. There are five steps that form a roadmap to transformation.
Ensia: A New Life For Toxic Land (Lynne Peeples). Across the U.S., Superfund sites are being repurposed— as parks, playing fields, workplaces, homes, shopping centers, and renewable energy projects, like solar farms. Since passage of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) in 1980, more than 1,700 sites around the U.S. have been listed on the National Priorities List (NPL). As of late February, 399 sites have been fully cleaned up and deleted from the list.
The Guardian: Study: Wind And Solar Can Power Most Of The United States (John Abraham). In order to combat climate change, we need to rapidly move from fossil fuel energy to clean, renewable energy. A very recent paper published in the journal Energy and Environmental Science found that with 100% power capacity and no mechanism to store energy, a wind-heavy portfolio is best (about 75% wind, 25% solar) and using large aggregate regions is optimal. It is possible to supply about 75-80% of US electrical needs. If the system were designed with excess capacity (the 150% case), the US could meet about 90% of its needs with wind and solar power.