CFS News-Views Digest No. 68 (10-10-14)

Optimism, Pessimism, or Realism? (Clifton Ware, Editor/Publisher)

At any time of life, no matter what we’re thinking or doing, it’s how we think and behave that defines us. Throughout my life I’ve pondered the question, “Is it my typical inclination to approach life as an optimist or as a pessimist?” The truth is that embracing an optimistic attitude during my lifetime has been relatively easy, and the same can be said for a majority of white Americans who came of age following WWII, a vibrant era of material growth and prosperity that lasted for several decades, fueled largely by ample, accessible, and inexpensive supplies of carbon-based energy.

As I’ve undertaken extensive research into sustainability issues over the past decade, my awareness level of how everything is interconnected has expanded and my understanding has deepened. I continue gaining a “bigger picture” perspective of how all entities form a universal ecosystem, of which humans are a tiny but very significant part. How can one not feel a great sense of humility in the face of such great wonders and awe?

On the other hand, I’m learning that, while a little knowledge may be a perilous thing, it’s probable that having a lot of knowledge may also cause confusion and consternation to one’s psyche and spirit. This is especially so when the knowledge gained reveals a systemic weakness in the very beliefs and institutions that have enabled the abundant material prosperity and opportunities most of us have taken for granted.

What I’m hinting at is the growing realization that my youthful optimism may have gradually morphed into pessimism about the future. It seems that a pessimistic outlook may be warranted, especially if founded on realistic assessments of sustainability challenges, and supported by good intentions to find and implement realistic solutions. Sharing company with a corps of highly respectable sustainability-oriented, futuristic experts is consoling and reinforcing to those of us working in the sustainability trenches. I think most of these fellow futurists might consider themselves realists, rather than optimists or pessimists.

Here’s a brief explanation: As a WWII history enthusiast, I often compare contemporary thought and behavior with the way people reacted during that stressfully defining worldwide era in response to the influences of major personalities, countries, and events. For instance, consider the cautious optimism of the UK’s prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, as he negotiated appeasement terms with Hitler, with minimal apprehension about the initial signs of Nazi Germany’s aggressive intentions and behaviors. In contrast, his successor, Winston Churchill, had repeatedly expressed skepticism about Hitler’s Nazi Germany. The carefully cultivated insight and aggressive stance Churchill assumed might be described as realistic pessimism. His skeptical, pessimistic views of Hitler’s and Nazism’s goals led him to form a realistic assessment that, in turn, undergirded his extraordinary optimistic belief that the UK would persevere and eventually overcome the forces of tyranny.

Similar stories abound throughout the war period. European Jews vacillated between optimism (“Everything will work out, you’ll see.”), pessimism (“We will surely be killed by the Nazis!”), and realism (“The situation looks bad, so we best leave while we’re can, or fight back.”).

Meanwhile, the majority of German citizens were mesmerized by Hitler’s promises of creating a Third Reich that would reign for a thousand years. They were also gratified that, after suffering a post-WWI economic collapse, the German economy was finally on the rebound. Citizen euphoria and optimism at the outset of the war was a common attitude throughout the country. However, as the war wore on, with major defeats on the African, Russian, and Italian fronts, widespread Nazi retreating, and the allied war machine’s tactical advances, the general mood changed drastically. Germany’s civilians—Jewish and Aryans—as well as the country’s armed forces, gradually grew more pessimistically realistic about likely future outcomes.

I’ll leave it to your imagination to make the connections between WWII and today’s worldwide scene, as related to optimism, pessimism, and realism. It’s important to bear in mind that, generally speaking, the mainstream media tends to disseminate optimistic economic views, based on information provided by mainline classical economists, financiers, and government officials. For example, recently there have been positive reports about growth in jobs, plentiful energy supplies, a robust stock market, and rising home prices. Of course it’s comforting to receive optimistic news; but are such optimistic reports based on realistic assessments of all available data? I suspect not, as equally valid information is found mostly online via reputable websites, including those used in this newsletter.

In contrast to rosy optimistic reporting, there are also reports indicating a need for skepticism and pessimism, including reports revealing that many Americans are, once again, increasing their debt load, primarily by consuming more goods—new cars, home furnishings, and a multitude of nonessential items. Some pessimistic reports point out legitimate concerns about bulging national debts, growing social unrest, expanding terrorism, a potential Ebola crisis, wealth inequality, declining natural resources, ongoing extinction of wild species, increasing population growth, and the accumulating effects of climate change. It seems that the nays outnumber the yeas.

In closing, I offer a brief argument for embracing realism, an integrated view that includes both optimism and pessimism in varying degrees, and may offer a more constructive perspective. Seeing clearly—and understanding fully—all aspects of any issue provides us with the appropriate information for taking positive action, including making essential preparations for any future challenges. Finally, in forming a realistic view of any issue or situation, we may act with either a positive or negative mindset. We close with this summary statement:

There are times, occasions, and situations when it’s appropriate to be either an optimist or a pessimist; but, overall, most people benefit from thinking and acting as positive-minded realists.

P.S. By coincidence, a fellow CFS colleague, Grant Foster, has initiated a new blog, and the topic relates to my commentary. Check it out: Inflection Point: Foiling Optimism.

ECONOMIC AND ENERGY NEWS-VIEWS

> Peak Prosperity: A National Failure To Save & Invest – Crash Course Chapter 16. As detailed in earlier chapters, the US’ debts and unfunded liabilities far exceed its assets. But making matters worse, the country is suffering from a prolonged failure to save and invest — both at the personal and national level. Previous chapters also available—Free!

> Peak Prosperity: Daily Digest 10/8. Several relevant economic articles, a few related to various countries’ conditions, and some related to benefits denied workers.

> Common Dreams: Global Inequality Reaches Levels Not Seen In Nearly 200 Years. Growing wealth gap “one of the most significant—and worrying—features of the development of the world economy” since early-19th century, OECD says.

> CASSE-Daly News: An Economics Fit For Purpose In A Finite World (Herman Daly). Causation is both bottom-up and top-down: material cause from the bottom, and final cause from the top, as Aristotle might say. Economics, or as I prefer, “political economy,” is in between, and serves to balance desirability (the lure of right purpose) with possibility (the constraints of finitude). We need an economics fit for purpose in a finite and entropic world.

> Bloomberg Business Week: Consumer Debt Hits An All-Time High. For many American households, the recession was a time to pay off debt and get their finances in order. But according to the latest data from the Federal Reserve’s Flow of Funds (PDF), Americans are taking on debt once again, this time to finance new cars, college tuition, and other consumer goods.

> Common Dreams: Global Inequality Reaches Levels Not Seen In Nearly 200 Years. Growing wealth gap “one of the most significant—and worrying—features of the development of the world economy” since early-19th century, OECD says.

> Resilience: Peak Oil Review – Oct 6 (T. Whipple). The latest oil and related geopolitical news from around the world.

> The Telegraph: Solar Could Beat Coal As World’s Top Power Source By 2050, Says IEA. Solar power will reach commercial “take-off” within a decade and could displace fossil fuels to become the world’s biggest source of electricity by 2050, according to a stunning report from the International Energy Agency.

> E&E Publishing: Why The Oil Majors Are Backing Away From Renewable Energy. When asking about why the oil industry has turned away from renewables, the word “core” comes up a lot, implying that an oil industry buffeted by change should return to the basics, though increasingly new oil sources are found in exotic, riskier, more difficult-to-extract locations that require more expense to manage.

> Oil Voice: WSJ Gets It Wrong On ‘Why Peak Oil Predictions Haven’t Come True (Gail Tverberg). Many people think the economy is separate from resources and the extraction of those resources. Most classical economists think the economy can grow indefinitely, with or without the use of resources, a wrongful view passed down through academia’s peer review system, with researchers accepting and following work of previous academic researchers.

> Resilience: Pillars Of The New Economy (Noel Ortega). The way we talk about the economy has changed. We now integrate the environment, so we have a healthy place to live. We now have public banks, which are accountable and support local economies. The way we measure progress has changed, so we measure what we value. Economics is defined as the management of “home,” thus ecology is seen as intertwined.

CLIMATE AND ENVIRONMENTAL NEWS-VIEWS

> ENSIA: How We Can Save Coral Reefs (And Why We Should Want To). Reefs cover less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the ocean floor but support more than 800 species of coral and 4,000 species of fish. They are spawning grounds, coastal buffers against storms and lucrative tourist draws. To the detriment of those benefits, however, coral reefs have been deteriorating since the 1970s under a cascade of human impacts.

> Common Dreams: Planet On The Brink: Human Activity Killing The Planet’s Life-Supporting Systems. The newest state of the planet report (pdf) from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) claims that human activity has brought the planet’s life-supporting systems to the brink of tipping points, causing an “alarming” loss in biodiversity and critical threats to the services nature has provided humankind.

> Star Tribune: Research Links Some Extreme Weather To Warming. Researchers discover that climate change has increased the odds of extreme weather, including heat wavers, floods, and droughts.

> Common Dreams: Rate Of Ocean Warming Vastly Underestimated: Study. A report published in Nature Climate Change found that, since 1970, the top 700 meters (roughly 2,296 feet) of the ocean have been heating up 24 to 55 percent faster than scientists have been estimating, a massive miscalculation that was caused by “poor sampling of the Southern Hemisphere, and limitations of the analysis methods.”

> Transition Network: Why Economics Needs To Make Space For Nature (Aniol Esteban). “At one level, it [nature] provides everything we need to live and so guarantees our survival. That’s a very basic condition. At the other level, it makes our lives worth living and delivers multiple benefits.

LOCAL, STATE, AND REGIONAL NEWS-VIEWS

> Twin Cities Business: MSP Airport Building State’s Largest Solar Energy Site. A $25.4 million solar energy project now underway at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is being touted as the state’s largest and is expected to create more than 250 jobs.

> Star Tribune: How Minnesota Can Keep The Lights On (Ellen Anderson). Credible studies show that Minnesota has the resources to meet energy needs from wind, solar, bioenergy from plant materials, geothermal, hydro and increased efficiency across the energy system — while dramatically cutting carbon emissions.

> MPR-Associated Press: Freeze Could End Growing Season For Immature Crops (In MPR). A freeze could stop the growing season in the upper Midwest as far south as Nebraska and Iowa, leaving farmers in a difficult situation because much of the region’s corn and soybean fields are not quite ready for harvest.

> MPR: Mississippi River States Prepare For An Oil Spill –Not If, But When. If a train derails near the Mississippi River between Wisconsin and Minnesota, spilling some 150,000 gallons of crude oil into the water, it would be a disaster of immense proportions.

> Star Tribune: Growth Guru Spreads Word About What’s Wrong With Towns. Engineer and Strong Towns advocate Charles Marohn revisits the compact, walkable Brainerd of the past, a foolproof livable approach developed slowly and incrementally over time. Today’s sprawling growth is too big, quick, car-obsessed, and costs a fortune to maintain.

SUSTAINABLE CHALLENGES, IDEAS AND PRACTICES

> Resilient Life: Multi-Functional Plants For The Permaculture Garden. If you have a choice of planting a tree, shrub, vine, herbaceous plant, or groundcover that only has one function or another species that fills that desired function and also provides three other benefits, why wouldn’t you plant the more functional species. In permaculture, elements of our designs should serve at least 3 functions.

> ENSIA: It’s Time To Bring Nature Into Our Built Environments. Biophilic design is not just good for humans, it also intrinsically promotes environmentally sustainable practices. Since the main aim of biophilic design is to connect humans with nature, greater environmental awareness and stewardship are likely to follow.

> Resilience: Permaculture And The Myth Of Scarcity (Charles Eisenstein). Research shows that when it is done properly, organic growing methods can deliver two to three times the yield of conventional methods. A vision for 21st century agriculture could reveal high-intensity permaculture around major population centers that meet 80% of their food needs.

> Yes! Small-Scale Traditional Farming Is The Only Way To Avoid Food Crisis, UN Researcher Says. New scientific research increasingly shows how “agroecology” offers environmentally sustainable methods that can meet the rapidly growing demand for food.

> Peak Prosperity: Chris Kresser: Functional Health (podcast). In this discussion, Adam Taggart and Chris explore the world of “functional medicine” and other approaches to health and wellness that offer potential to complement, or in cases, replace conventional western medical treatment. The focus in functional medicine is on recognizing and treating each patient’s biological uniqueness.

> Star Tribune: The Case For Labeling Genetically Modified Food (Bonnie Blodgett). The government could help level the playing field by conducting a thorough investigation of how GMOs are affecting the environment and human health, with costs paid for taxpayers and not the food industry.

> Consumer Reports: Where GMOs Hide in Your Food. Consumer Reports’ tests of breakfast cereals, chips, soy infant formulas, and other popular products found that GMOs lurk in many packaged foods—including some that carry labels suggesting that they don’t have these controversial ingredients. A survey found that 92 percent of Americans want genetically modified foods to be labeled.

> The Third Industrial Revolution. Jeremy Rifkin describes how the five pillars of the Third Industrial Revolution will create thousands of businesses and millions of jobs, and usher in a fundamental reordering of human relationships, from hierarchical to lateral power, that will impact the way we conduct business, govern society, educate our children, and engage in civic life.

CFS OCTOBER EVENT

> CFS FINAL FORUM (in past format): Sat. Oct. 11, 3-5 p.m., SAV City Hall Council Chambers. Speaker–Erin McKee VanSlooten, Local Foods senior program associate, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. Topic—“From Farm to School: Encouraging Food Literacy for Children”. Business—Establishing a sustainability coalition in SAV; Social—Refreshments and networking. Free, and open to the public. Please join us!

NOTABLE UPCOMING LOCAL EVENTS

> UM Institute on the Environment: Frontiers In The Environment, a series of presentations held in R350 Learning & Environmental Sciences Building. Information: http://environment.umn.edu/events/

> Pilgrim House Unitarian Universalist Fellowship: The Top Conservation Threats We Face, And What One Can Do To Make A Difference (presented by Sierra Club North Star Chapter). Sun., Oct. 12, 10:15 a.m, 1212 W. Highway 96, Arden Hills. Info: http://www.pilgrimhouseuua.org

> Sierra Club-North Star: Climate Changing And The Impact On The Horn Of Africa, Mon., Oct. 13, 5:00-7:00 p.m., Safari Restaurant Banquet Hall, 3010 4th Ave S, Minneapolis (map). RSVP: http://sc.org/MNClimateEastAfrica. Info: (karen.monahan@sierraclub.org)

> UM Water Resources Center: Minnesota Water Resources Conference, Tues.-Weds., Oct. 14-15,
Saint Paul River Centre, St. Paul
Info: University of Minnesota

> Pilgrim House Unitarian Universalist Fellowship: Sand, Cattle & Land Stewardship: How Can We Keep The Land And People Together? (George Boody, Executive Director, Land Stewardship Project). Sun., Oct. 19, 10:15 a.m., 1212 W. Highway 96, Arden Hills. Info: http://www.pilgrimhouseuua.org

About Clifton Ware

Sustainability Education Forum Editor-Publisher Dr. Clifton Ware is an international figure in the world of voice pedagogy. During the the past fifty years of teaching students how to sing -- both nationally and internationally -- Clif developed his signature "Efficient and Authentic Voice Technique". What distinguishes his method is its holistic approach, simplicity, and effectiveness. Siingers find that they are able to ensure their vocal health while cultivating their own unique, expressive sound. This approach stands in sharp contrast to faddish techniques that encourage mimicking the vocalism, style, and qualities of other singers, possibly limiting their own vocal imprint and even harming their vocal instrument. The "Efficient and Authentic Voice Technique" produces singers that enjoy vocal power, range, ease, individuality, and a liberating learning process.

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