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Look Around, What Do You See? (Clifton Ware, Editor-Publisher)
I’ve often wondered why most people register little concern about the increasing growth of materialism, which also includes the 78-million human bodies added to the planet each year, plus accumulations of ever more stuff. In addition to having essential life support items (food, water, shelter, clothing, etc.), we “developed-world” citizens enjoy an enviable level of material prosperity, thanks primarily to the plentiful and cheap carbon-based energy used to fuel economic growth in the modern era, beginning with the Industrial Age.
One explanation for humanity’s “materialism blindness” may be attributed to our highly adaptive nature. We tend to accept familiar socio-cultural, economic, political, religious, and environmental conditions with the attitude “that’s just the way things are”. In general, we lack knowledge of “how things used to be”, and sufficient wisdom and imagination concerning “how things could be”.
I recall having read somewhere that people born into a collapsing or collapsed society (Mayan, Incas, Grecian, Roman, etc.) are typically unaware of how life could be otherwise. In other words, our default mechanism seems to be acceptance of the status quo, especially when most people around us share similar conditions, favorable or unfavorable.
For example, I recall my parents explaining that their Mississippi farming families managed to live quite well during the Great Depression. Although they owned small farms and homes, and had plenty to eat, they were relatively poor in comparison to our modern material lifestyle, which we take for granted. Because everyone they knew shared sustenance-farming lifestyles, they were mostly contented with their lives and grateful for having life-sustaining essentials. As materialistic expectations have risen over the past century, most contemporary Americans might view such lifestyles as quaintly austere. In other words, we’re spoiled silly.
Beginning in the mid 1960s, I became acutely aware of materialistic growth; first, wondering “Is there an end to all this growth, including human population?” With ongoing awareness of deteriorating infrastructure—streets, sidewalks, pipelines, plus buildings and all human-produced goods—I’m reminded that constant maintenance is the only method that effectively addresses entropy. Of course, maintenance can be very expensive, as illustrated by the enormous projected costs (three trillion dollars) associated with restoring our nation’s deteriorating highways and bridges.
This topic popped into my mind when reading Peter Berglund’s commentary in the Star-Tribune titled “The Climate-Change Debate, Simplified”. Berglund reduces the climate-change issue to a simple exercise: just look around! In sum, he suggests we need to develop our visual awareness skills, so we can clearly see what’s going on with all of our human constructs. Some questions we might raise: How much construction and consumption is truly necessary? Can we use more simple and frugal approaches in providing essential constructions that benefit all life forms? What will future generations need, and how can we help them, beginning now! Please read Berglund’s commentary, which follows in the Environment section.
Also, I strongly urge you to read A Brief History Of Happiness: How America Lost Track Of The Good Life—And Where To Find It Now (also listed in Equity section). This informative article provides a brief history of America’s devotion to an economic system based on material growth, rather than adopting a humane, natural system that’s focused on creating body-mind health, worthwhile pursuits, and an overall state of happiness for ALL citizens.
ENVIRONMENT (• Natural Resources • Wildlife • Climate)
> Star Tribune: Commentary: The Climate-Change Debate, Simplified (Peter Berglund). Another way to think about the question of whether climate change is caused by humans is to simply contemplate how we’ve changed the landscape. Ask yourself if all of these changes, all of these sources of CO2, could grow without having some effect? Then, ask yourself: “So what?”
> On Earth: Small Streams Need Protection, Too. Our Drinking Water Depends On It (Jason Bittel). Making sure the Clean Water Act covers small streams and headwaters would protect the drinking water of millions of Americans.
> Environmental News Network: Seafloor Volcano Pulses May Alter Climate (Earth Institute, Columbia U). Volcanically active mid-ocean ridges crisscross earth’s seafloors like stitching on a baseball, stretching some 37,000 miles, and might produce eight times more lava annually than land volcanoes. If the undersea chains became more active, their CO2 output would shoot up.
ENERGY (• Carbon Based • Renewable)
> Grist: 6 Charts That Show Renewable Energy Is Getting Cheaper (David Roberts). The latest numbers on electricity costs show that various forms of renewable energy are already competitive with fossil fuels, and will only strengthen their position in future years, with costs expected to continue falling. It’s a ” new world ” available.
> Our Finite World: Charts Showing The Long-Term GDP-Energy Tie (Part 2 – A New Theory Of Energy And The Economy) (Gail Tverberg). In Part 1 Tverberg explained why cheap fuels act to create economic growth. In this post, her data show how this connection works. Low prices are a signal that we are reaching other limits of a networked economy, such as too much debt and taxes that are too high for workers to pay.
> Energy Balance: Why Cheap Oil Does Not Mean That Peak Oil Is A Myth: Some Salient Points. (Chris Rhodes). Here are 26 points that explain the concept of “peak oil”—all of the what, why, where, and how. Since most people misunderstand the concept, this article provides a brief summary overview.
> Resilience: Review: The World After Cheap Oil (Frank Kaminski, Mud City Press). World After Cheap Oil, a report by Finnish energy analysts, offers an exhaustive, up-to-date dissection of the world oil situation. It looks at the issue from every angle, starting with the looming supply shock for which the world’s developed nations are tragically unprepared, and moving on to the concomitant crisis with Earth’s climate that our oil use has unleashed.
> Resource Insights: Alternate Opinions: The World’s Energy Information Duopoloy Comes To An End. (Kurt Cobb). Most energy forecasts are based on information from the two leading energy information agencies: the EIA and the IEA. That’s about to change. Policymakers, investors and the public should take heed.
ECONOMY (• Finances • Commerce • Global-Local)
> The New York Times: Climate Change’s Bottom Line (Bert Helm). The ray of hope is that businesses changing their business plans–to cope with a changing climate that doesn’t really need to happen–will help people understand that we can still avert the worst impacts of climate change.
> Positive Money: What Does $200 Trillion Of Debt Really Mean For The Global Economy? (Mike Roscoe). We can summarize the global economic problem in one sentence: Not enough people are doing the right kind of work anymore, that is, the real wealth-creating sectors of the economy are employing fewer and fewer workers as a percentage of total population.
> Project for Public Spaces: The Trouble With Modernization: Lessons For Endangered Markets Everywhere. Despite their many benefits, public markets, particularly in the context of developing countries, can be endangered by many forces – and often by a combination of forces. The good news is that with focused local action that is sensitive to an area’s existing cultural fabric, struggling markets can once again become vital centers of commerce and community.
> Peak Prosperity: Nomi Prins: The Sinister Evolution Of Our Modern Banking System. Today, the ‘revolving door’ connecting our political and financial systems is evident to anyone with eyes. Prins’ latest book, All the President’s Bankers: The Hidden Alliances that Drive American Power, is a groundbreaking narrative about the relationships of president’s to key bankers over the past century and how they impacted domestic and foreign policy.
ENLIGHTENMENT (• Expectations • Ideas • Beliefs • Psychology)
> Resilience: Utopians Are Ruining Everything (Vera Bradova). Utopianism is motivated by a desire for social perfection and ideal worlds, typically involving four aspects:
1) privileging of ideals over messy human realities, of future over the present, of ideas over nature; 2) imposition of top-down design: 3) refusal of responsibility and of paying close attention to untoward consequences (ends justifying means); and 4)
social pressure or propaganda to induce people to “like” the results.
> CASSE-The Daly News: Who Moved Obama’s Win-Win Cheese? (Brian Czech). Let’s hope Obama comes full circle, back to the more innocent Obamanomics, with recognition that economic growth is unsustainable, and increasingly harmful—in a century already slated for extinctions, climate change, water supply shocks and the like, all in proportion to our obsession with increasing production and consumption of goods and services, otherwise known as economic growth.
> ENSIA: M. Sanjayan: Nature And Humans, Together Again (David Dooley). Humans have been “framed out of the picture” when it comes to documenting nature, says Conservation International executive VP and senior scientist M. Sanjayan in the opening of a new series, “EARTH A New Wild,” which premiered Feb. 4th on PBS. For humans, saving nature is a very self-serving necessity. Episodes are available online: EARTH A New Wild | Watch Online | PBS Video
> Common Dreams: War And Perpetual Adolescence (Robert Koehler). “What’s truly ‘exceptional’ in twenty-first-century America is any articulated vision of what a land at peace with itself and other nations might be like . . . “Instead, war, backed by a diet of fear, is the backdrop against which the young have grown to adulthood. (William J. Astore, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel)
> The Guardian: Anti-Intellectualism Is Taking Over The US (Patricia Williams). There has been an unfortunate uptick in academic book bannings and firings, made worse by a nationwide disparagement of teachers, teachers’ unions and scholarship itself. Happily, there is pushback occurring against such anti-intellectualism. One of the most vibrant examples is a protest group called Librotraficante, or Book Trafficker (librotraficante.com).
EQUITY (• Equality • Health • Social Concerns)
> Common Dreams: The Super-Rich Can’t Hide From The Rest Of Us (Michael Winship). “Even though corporate profits are at their highest level in 85 years, corporations aren’t pumping it back into the economy. Instead they’re holding it. S&P companies last year spent an incredible 95% of their profits on stock buybacks to enrich executives and shareholders.” Wages grew just 1.7 percent last year, “the slowest rate since at least the 1960s,” Bryce Covert at ThinkProgress reports.
> Alternet: Robert Reich: Why Work Is Turning Into A Nightmare. What about an economy where robots do everything that can be predictably programmed in advance, and almost all profits go to the robots’ owners? Meanwhile, human beings do the work that’s unpredictable – odd jobs, on-call projects, fetching and fixing, driving and delivering, tiny tasks needed at any and all hours – and patch together barely enough to live on. Brace yourself. This is the economy we’re now barreling toward.
> Yes! Magazine: A Brief History Of Happiness: How America Lost Track Of The Good Life—And Where To Find It Now (Sarah van Gelder). For decades, we’ve been taught that economic growth and buying more stuff will make us happy—while trashing the planet. The good news is, there’s a better kind of happy: It starts with meaningful work, loving relationships, and a thriving natural world. (Based on an excerpt from Sustainable Happiness: Live Simply, Live Well, Make a Difference, an anthology of work from YES! Magazine.
> Pew Research Center: America’s ‘Middle’ Holds Its Ground After The Great Recession (Rakesh Kochhar & Richard Fry). Middle-income households, by our definition, earn as much as twice the median income or as little as two-thirds the median. This results in a range of $40,667 to $122,000 for a middle-income American household of three in 2013. Data provide further confirmation of the nation’s growing economic inequality.
> Common Dreams: New Evidence That Half Of America Is Broke (Paul Buchheit). Half of our nation, by all reasonable estimates of human need, is in poverty. The jubilant headlines above speak for people whose view is distorted by growing financial wealth. The argument for a barely surviving half of America has been made before, but important new data is available to strengthen the case.
ENGAGEMENT (• Goals • Activism • Solutions)
> CUESA: How Will We Grow New Farmers? (Brie Mazurek). Farmers perform one of society’s most essential functions, yet farming is one of the most undervalued and endangered professions in the U.S. There’s a deep cultural need for exposure to our food system at all ages, and a need to create bridges between rural producers and urban consumers. Such education is crucial in building community support for young farmers, so that farming is seen as a viable and valuable occupation.
> Organic Consumers Association: Carbon Sequestration: A Climate Change Solution Often Ignored (Dr. Mercola). Rarely do you hear climate activists address the issue of soil and land regeneration, yet it is perhaps the most comprehensive solution to everyone’s concerns.
> Common Dreams: ‘Fighting For The Places We Love’: A Vision For The Climate Battles To Come (Naomi Klein & May Boeve). There are various reasons why, if we get the right set of incentives in place—both political and economic—it can be a really, really good time to get off fossil fuels and push very aggressively toward a decentralized, renewables-based economy.
>Star Tribune: DNR Halts Pines-To-Potatoes Conversion In Central Minnesota. Alarmed by rapid deforestation in an ecologically sensitive swath of central Minnesota, state regulators have ordered a broad environmental review that will temporarily halt conversion of the region’s jackpine stands to potato fields.
EVENTS AND INFORMATION
> UM IOE: Frontiers in the Environment: Big Questions, Wednesdays, 12-1 p.m., Feb. 11-April 29, IonE Seminar Room R380, Learning & Environmental Sciences Bldg., St. Paul February 11 — How Can Individual Cities Make A Global Impact On Climate Change? February 18 — How Can Art And Story Heal The Disconnect Between Modern Humans And The Environment? Join us online via UMConnect
> Move MN: Transportation Day at the Capitol, Mon., Feb. 12th, 2 p.m. Register here
> Eastside Food Co-op Movie Nights – Power of Community, Thurs., Feb. 19th, 6:30-8:30 p.m., • Food for Change, Wed., Mar. 4th, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Granite Studio. Free – RSVP required – firstname.lastname@example.org or 612-843-5409
> Community Rights Movement: A Grassroots Strategy To Protect Our Climate (Paul Cienfuegos, speaker), Mon., Feb., 23, 5:30-8:30 p.m.,Sabathani Community Center, 310 38th St.S., Mpls. 5:30 p.m.-Networking; 6:30-Talk; 7:30-Q/A. Donation, $5-20. Info: email@example.com
> CERTs: CERTs 2015 Conference: Community Driven Clean Energy, March 10-11, 2015, St. Cloud, MN Agenda & Register to Attend
> Midwest Solar: Midwest Solar Expo 2015, May 13-14, Hilton, Minneapolis. Info: Midwest Solar Expo 2015