SEF News-Views Digest No. 91 (5-20-15)
US! Yes, inadvertently but most assuredly, we humans have helped create most of the woes encountered throughout our documented history. According to notable experts who theorize about potential future scenarios, the urgency we face today in creating a sustainable future may be attributed to our having been indoctrinated with the concept of unending economic growth. Of course, physics explains why there are limits to growth, and simple math explains how the phenomenon of compounding growth can generate uncomprehendingly vast numbers. For instance, consider how fast the national debt has grown in the last decade. Or how human population has increased multifold over the past 200 years, largely due to feasibly extractable natural resources, particularly fossil-carbon energy sources, which make possible most of our needs and wants.
As for population growth, those of us who arrived on this earth around the WWII era have witnessed a doubling-plus of human population in the US and worldwide, along with an exponential increase in human-made products. There’s mounting evidence that our increasing population, in conjunction with our extremely consumptive behavior, is rapidly destroying most non-human domains of nature, as illustrated by the rapid depletion of most natural resources, including soil and agricultural land, forests and wetlands, flora and fauna species, fossil-based energy sources and minerals, etc. Adding to our aggressive predatory behavior is our species’ contribution of accumulating pollution of air, water, and land.
So, what is the chief cause of our woes? How about over-population, a controversial topic that’s typically off-limits for discussion almost everywhere. But, if we truly wish to make progress in mitigating the challenges we face presently—as well as the exacerbating challenges ahead—we must at least begin the discussion—factually, honestly, and civilly.
Bernie Hughes (professor emeritus, U of MN Duluth) summarizes his thoughts about over-population succinctly in the first article found in the Enlightenment section below. Of all forces driving a series of converging world crises, he concurs that human population growth is the greatest threat in creating a sustainable future. Also, in addressing fears about draconian solutions he, along with leading population experts, suggests there are humane, sensible solutions available to help reduce human population over several decades to a sustainable level.
Perhaps, like the slow emergence of attention given to human rights and climate change, this topic will eventually become more common in public discussion, albeit most likely out of necessity. For persons who deny or question the thesis that over-population is a major problem, gaining more information and developing awareness is essential. There are no substantial reasons for continuing to dodge the issue. For humanity’s sake, this topic must be faced—directly, constructively, and as soon as possible.
For more in-depth Information, see websites of these organizations: World Population Balance (http://www.worldpopulationbalance.org/); Population Connection (http://www.populationconnection.org/); and Negative Population Growth (http://npg.org/), represented by two articles in the Enlightenment section.
ENLIGHTENMENT (• Expectations • Ideas • Beliefs • Psychology)
> Duluth News Tribune: Local View: If We Don’t Control Overpopulation, Mother Naure Will Do It For Us (Bernie Hughes). By evaluating Easter Island’s demise, we can see the threat of overpopulation in today’s world, especially if we continue with present practices. Can we stop overpopulation before it does us in like it did Easter Island.
> Negative Population Growth: Food Security In The 21st Century (David R. Montgomery). It should sound obvious that negative population growth would be a positive influence on all of the major environmental challenges humanity faces in the 21st century. From climate change, to biodiversity loss, the growing scarcity of fresh water, and the ongoing degradation of the world’s agricultural soils, a smaller human population would help keep regional crises from blossoming into global disasters.
> Negative Population Growth: Why We Need A Smaller U.S. Population And How We Can Achieve It (Donald Mann). This paper was originally published in July 1992, some 22 years ago when our population was 256 million. In that short space of time our population, now 320 million, increased by 64 million, an astonishing 25% growth in a little over two decades, or roughly 30 million per decade. The problem is that no material growth, whether population growth or economic growth, is sustainable. Sustainable growth is an oxymoron. The most crucial issue facing our nation is to decide at what size to stabilize our population. This paper represents an attempt to address that supremely important question. Read the entire paper here.
> The Archdruid Report: The Era Of Pretense (John Michael Greer). Eras of pretense are by no means limited to the decline and fall of civilizations. They occur whenever political, economic, or social arrangements no longer work, but the immediate costs of admitting that those arrangements don’t work loom considerably larger in the collective imagination than the future costs of leaving those arrangements in place. Speculative bubbles are a great setting in which to watch eras of pretense in full flower [and there have been a notable few examples in recent years].
> Resilience: Resilience Reflections With Brian Kaller. If you look at the world’s situation right now and feel a measure of grief, it doesn’t mean you’re sick, it means you’re decent. That feeling is why our species deserves to be saved. We possess greater fortune than any people in history, and have a responsibility to use it
ENVIRONMENT (• Natural Resources • Wildlife • Climate)
> Inside Ciimate News: Climate Denial Takes A Toll On Scientists—And Science (Katherine Bagley). Climate denial campaigns have helped slow the public’s acceptance of man-made climate change and delay political action for years, but a new study published last Thursday finds these contrarian arguments have also had an impact on climate scientists.
> Sustainable World Coalition: Want To Change The Future? Pay Attention To The Past (Peter Dykstra). A legacy of being right on DDT, clean air and water, species and habitat loss, ozone protection, and toxic waste disposal has earned some bragging rights. Enviros have battled indifference, inertia and financial self-interest to expose the threats from clear-cut logging, poaching, rapacious mining methods, overfishing and dozens more issues in a way that adds up to a powerful claim to both credibility and moral authority.
> NPR: Why Food Companies Should Be More Afraid Of Water Scarcity (In MPR) (Abby Wendle). Producing food requires more water than almost any other business on Earth. And the outlook isn’t pretty: One-third of food is grown in areas of high or extremely high water stress, while pollution and climate change are further limiting supplies of clean water around the world.
> On Earth: Sorry, Deniers— Sea-Level Rise Is Accelerating (Brian Palmer). Let me put that as simply as possible, so there’s no room for creative misinterpretation: Sea-level rise is accelerating. There is no disagreement between the theories and the measurements.
> Sustainable Food Trust: Does Size Matter? Measuring The Impact Of Scale In US Agriculture (Sally Geislar). The small-scale farmer is often cast as the hero in the great sustainable agriculture story, and the large-scale ‘intensive’ farmer, the villain. Sustainable intensification is considered by many to be something of an oxymoron. But is large-scale agriculture necessarily in conflict with sustainability? How would we begin to assess this? What measures should we consider?
ENERGY (• Carbon Based • Renewable)
> Energy Policy: US Crude Oil Consumption Peaked A Decade Ago (Deborah Lawrence). Crude oil production has stalled over the past decade, attributed largely to greater fuel efficiencies in vehicles worldwide. Demand has essentially flat-lined, beginning around 2004-2005. At the same time, U.S. shale production began in earnest. As production ramped up, supplies flooded into the international market, which was already struggling due to lesser demand. With burgeoning supplies, a tipping point was reached last summer and prices began their current plunge.
> Oil Price: Why Is Oklahoma Now The Earthquake Capital Of The U.S? (Charles Kennedy). Oklahoma experienced 585 earthquakes in 2014 with a magnitude of 3.0 or greater, skyrocketing up from 109 in 2013, and just a handful each year over the course of previous decades. Still, Oklahoma’s seismologists did not officially come out and make the connection between disposal [oil and gas] wells and the state’s extraordinarily high frequency of seismic events until April of this year.
> Oil Price: How Much Longer Can The Oil Age Last? (Gaurav Agnihotri). In these endless price rallies, it is important to take a holistic view of the global energy industry and question which way it is heading. Are the dynamics of global energy changing with current improvements in renewable energy sources and affordable new storage technologies? Can the oil age end in the near future? Will we ever stop feverishly analyzing the rise and fall of oil prices? Or, will oil remain irreplaceable in our lifetime?
> Our Finite World: Why We Have An Oversupply Of Almost Everything (Oil, Labor, Capital, Etc.) (Gail Tverberg). The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article called, Glut of Capital and Labor Challenge Policy Makers: Global oversupply extends beyond commodities, elevating deflation risk. To me, this is a very serious issue, quite likely signaling that we are reaching what has been called Limits to Growth, a situation modeled in 1972 in a book by that name.
> MPR: ‘Oil To Die For’ Explores Deaths In The North Dakota Oil Fields. Todd Melby’s new interactive documentary, “Oil To Die For,” explores how North Dakota became the most dangerous place to work in the country. “The fatality rates are nearly seven times as high as fields in the rest of America,” said Melby.
ECONOMY (• Finances • Commerce • Global-Local)
> CASSE-The Daly News: Preempting A Misleading Argument: Why Environmental Problems Will Stop Tracking With GDP (Brian Czech). We’ll enter an age where GDP won’t track with biodiversity loss, pollution, climate change, and other indicators of environmental deterioration. Why? Because, at some point during the 21st century and perhaps very soon, there won’t be enough resources left for GDP growth. Just as surely as the conflict between economic growth and environmental protection, there is a limit to growth, and it’s not as far off as some expect.
> CounterCurrents: We Need New Economics For A New Era Of History (Peter Barnes). We are entering a new era in which the current way we run our economy won’t work. In this new era, our economy must do two things it doesn’t do now: operate in harmony with nature and provide adequate income for all. The best way to achieve these goals is to “propertize” some common wealth and share the income from that wealth equally.
> HuffPost: Making Sense Of The ‘New Economy’ (Jules Peck). The New Economy is a movement that includes a wide ecosystem of initiatives creating exciting new ways of doing business, living and interacting. As of yet it exists as a tentative patchwork held together by the common desire to manifest a new shared reality, a new way of creating, connecting and being which is, beyond the constraints of private ownership, of unending growth and the perhaps now redundant form of economics we call capitalism.
> REconomy: What’s A Transition-Oriented Enterprise? A Transition Enterprise is a financially viable trading entity that fulfills a real community need, delivers social benefits, and has beneficial, or at least neutral, environmental impacts. TEs help ensure the main needs of the community are met despite wider economic instability, energy and resource shortages and global warming impacts. TEs are also resilient in themselves, seeking to be financially sustainable.
EQUITY (• Equality • Health • Social Concerns • Political Power)
> Peak Prosperity: Becca Martenson: Building Community (Adam Taggart; podcast). Community is built around a nucleus of relationships. So, you can think about community building as just starting with relationships. Think about building relationships with people where you have shared passion, shared interest, and shared values. Because it’s through the activities that you do where you intersect, overlap, and meet up during the week with others that you build that continuous connection that then expands to become community as more nuclei of these relationships come together.
> Peak Prosperity: The Self-Employed Middle Class Hardly Exists Anymore (Charles Hughes Smith). It’s sobering that in a nation of 317 million people (of which 145 million people file tax returns), only perhaps 3% of all those reporting income are self-employed people earning enough to support a middle class life without a working spouse. Around 3 million of these 4-5 million are independent professionals, leaving a few million self-employed non-professional Americans earning a middle class income.
> The New York Times: Middle Class Is Disappearing, At Least From Vocabulary Of Possible 2016 Contenders (Amy Chozick). “The cultural consensus around what it means to be ‘middle class’ — and that has very much been part of the national identity in the United States — is beginning to shift,” said Sarah Elwood, a professor at the University of Washington and an author of a paper about class identity that one Clinton adviser had studied.
> Post Growth Institute: Hearts & Minds: Sharing As A Mental Health Intervention (Sharon Ede). Sharing and collaboration opens up incredible opportunities for strengthening individual and community resilience. Those participating in or monitoring sharing activity know this, usually anecdotally. But what if we could measure the benefits to people and societies?
> Resilience: It’s Time For A New Political And Economic System – A Conversation With Gar Alperovitz. Our society’s institutions are in crisis — with looming ecological collapse, historic concentration of capital, incarceration rates far beyond those of any other country, the diminishing civil liberties that come along with a permanent “war on terror,” and a political process bought and paid for by the rich and powerful. The Next System Project, or NSP, hopes to explain how we arrived here, provide competing visions for where we can and should go, and detail specific proposals for how we can begin to go there.
ENGAGEMENT (• Goals • Activism • Solutions)
> Daily KOS: The Next Public Health Challenge: Retrofitting Suburbia. Huh? I believe the key reasons for poor health outcomes in the U.S. are lack of physical activity, low-quality food, and stress. The design of our physical places, and in particular our suburban streets, is a key underlying cause of our sedentary, crap-for-food, stressed-out lives. Bad suburban-style street designs are killing us, perhaps more than any other thing.
> Associated Press: USDA Develops New Government Label For GMO-Free Products. The certification is the first of its kind and would be voluntary — and companies would have to pay for it. If approved, the foods would be able to carry a “USDA Process Verified” label along with a claim that they are free of GMOs.
> MinnPost: Community Voices: Business Supports Transportation Funding Solution (Kathryn Correia & Patrick Seeb). America is faced with a potentially devastating health crisis evidenced by growing rates of heart disease, diabetes, childhood asthma and obesity, and the effects of social isolation. Many of these ills have been brought on by the unintended consequence of public policy and investment heavily biased toward the automobile, coupled with outdated zoning and building codes.
> Star Tribune: Plastic Bag Bans Are The Latest Eco Goal (John Rienan). City governments across the nation are either banning plastic bags or considering banning them. Some affected industries are pushing back, while some environmentally friendly corporations are considering ways to reduce usage of plastic packaging.
> Center for Food Safety: 5 Ways To Clean Your Kitchen Naturally. Having a healthy home isn’t just about healthy food — safe, non-toxic cleaning methods can also be used to keep your kitchen safe. This week, we’re showcasing simple ways to use items already in your pantry to clean your kitchen. Swapping out your usual cleaning aids for these natural products will help make your kitchen a healthier place.
EVENTS AND INFORMATION
> Earth Partners Working Group: Visioning To The Seventh Generation – Education And Networking Event, Thurs., May 21, 6-8:30 p.m., Carondelet Center, 1890 Randolph Ave, St. Paul. Free! Info (email@example.com)
> Institute On The Environment (ENSIA Magazine): What Is The Media’s Role In Addressing Environmental Challenges? (Conversation with sustainability journalist Marc Gunther); Weds, May 20, 2-3 p.m., U of MN Lindahl Founders Room; Learn more; RSVP .
> Sierra Club/350.org: Tar Sands Resistance March, Sat., June 6, noon – 4 p.m. (Starting at Lambert Landing, Corner of Shepard Road and N. Sibley Street, St. Paul, MN 55102 [Map], Ending at the State Capitol Lawn, 75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, St. Paul) [Map] RSVP: Sign up
> MetroCERTS: Made In Minnesota Solar Thermal Rebates Available Across The State. The Minnesota Department of Commerce will offer rebates to residents, businesses, nonprofits, and government entities as part of its Made in Minnesota Solar Incentive Program. Learn more about solar thermal rebates & applications >>