SE News-Views Digest No. 99 (7-29-15)
Are you worried about the future? Or at least somewhat concerned? I certainly am, although I welcome well-intentioned humor and laughter, when appropriate. Thankfully, there are hopeful signs that progress toward a sustainable future is underway.
Over the past decade I’ve grown increasingly inspired by a network of deep-green sustainability-oriented experts in a variety of fields. It’s likely that most readers of this commentary are equally influenced by some of the same experts, as well as others. This grassroots leadership indicates that a growing do-something-now, sustainability movement is proceeding, one that’s founded on a bottoms-up, reality-based approach that is gradually making significant improvements in all of areas of life. From all observances, the highly touted top-down, overly optimistic approach that has been in vogue throughout the 20th Century is no longer functioning very well.
The top-down conventional approach, which is embedded in most societal institutions, is currently represented by an “elite” cadre of leaders, most of whom are indoctrinated with the worn-out industrial-age paradigm, a worldview based on questionable assumptions, including: availability of plentiful supplies of most natural resources; a diehard commitment to constant economic growth (and the accumulation of debt); the ingrained concept of “American exceptionalism”; and the belief that humans are entitled to dominate Earth.
In sum, a majority of institutional leaders (political, economic, educational, etc.) in the U.S. who are responsible for influencing and establishing public policies are wedded to an outmoded paradigm that encompasses an unquestioned belief in ongoing material growth, a dogma avidly promoted by corporations and businesses, espoused by classical economists, reinforced via educational institutions and the conventional media, and adopted by a gullible general public. As Albert Einstein once said, “We can’t solve a problem with the same level of thinking that created it in the first place.” Nevertheless, a majority of world citizens continue thinking and acting faithfully within the perilous paradigm of constant growth.
Sadly, there is a dearth of “big picture” institutional leaders on the national scene, particularly the type having a firm grasp of the major issues the world is increasingly facing. I won’t list names of the few politicians who do seem to understand the reality and gravity of the enveloping world crises, but you probably have an idea who they may be.
So, given such a gloomy political scenario, what can an individual do to make a difference? Well, how about becoming more intelligently informed, more critically astute, more vigilantly aware, and, finally, more actively engaged in establishing a progressive paradigm: one that gives credence to a low-to-no-growth, steady-state economy, and focuses on qualitative non-material growth? If humanity would place the advancement of common values for the common good as a primary goal, and pursue this goal using cooperative and collaborative means, the end result would be greater resilience and sustainability, even in a world of declining natural resources. Yes, this would be an ambitious goal, perhaps even impossible to realize, but what we have to lose is too precious to overlook, and it could well be too late if we keep ignoring the inevitable march of converging crises.
As usual, articles included in this weekly e-newsletter often inspire my commentaries. This week’s inspiration is derived from one of my favorite writers on sustainability issues: John Michael Greer, a master historian with expertise in many subjects. His article heads the Enlightenment section that follows, and I’m sure you’ll find his thesis illuminating, as he explains how the elite classes and masses of falling civilizations are effectively caught up in “A Landscape Of Hallucinations”. As you read this article, I hope you’ll be inspired to pursue the essential changes needed for a new paradigm to become a reality. (Clifton Ware, Editor-Publisher)
ENLIGHTENMENT (• Expectations • Ideas • Beliefs • Psychology)
> The Archdruid Report: The Cimmerian Hypothesis, Part Two: A Landscape Of Hallucinations (John Michael Greer). Arnold Toynbee wrote at length about how the elite classes of falling civilizations lose the capacity to come up with new responses for new situations, or even to learn from their mistakes; thus they keep on trying to use the same failed policies over and over again until the whole system crashes to ruin. That’s an important factor, but it’s not just the elites who seem to lose track of the real world as civilizations go sliding down toward history’s compost heap, it’s the masses as well.
> Resilience: Learning Beyond Growth: Deschooling As A Path To Social-Ecological Transformation (Fabian Scheidler & Andrea Vetter). The damages caused by growth already outweigh its benefits: environmental destruction, stress, noise, loneliness and social divide. The current school system has developed in co-evolution with our growth-based society, based on top-down imposed curricula, segmentation of issues into subjects and lessons, and the assignment of grades. Learning works best if motivated intrinsically by curiosity about life, and a desire for life-long learning.
> Negative Population Growth: A Geomoment Of Affluence Between Two Austere Eras. (Walther Youngquist). During most of human history austerity has been the norm. Only recently have some segments of world population enjoyed an affluent life. But these are very unusual times, far from the norm. It now appears human history can be broken into three distinct eras: [1) the hunter-gatherer era; 2) a geomoment of affluence (industrial era, made possible by easily extractable, inexpensive fossil-based energy); and 3) a probable more austere future.
> Climate Code Red: After The Encyclical, Lessons For Climate Activism (David Spratt). A recent activist handbook, Strategy and Soul, has produced some spirited discussion around a metaphor some people think expresses an problem more clearly: Politicians are like a balloon tied to a rock. If we swat at them, they may sway to the left or the right. But, tied down, they can only go so far. Instead of batting at them, we should move the rock (people’s activated social values). When we move the rock, politicians are automatically pulled towards us—without each having to be pressured separately.
ENVIRONMENT (• Natural Resources • Wildlife • Climate)
> Climate Progress: This Is How The World’s Climate Changed Last Year (Ryan Koronowski). The complex state of the world’s climate takes 413 scientists from 58 countries half a year to completely summarize a year’s worth of data. And 2014 was a doozy. According to the American Meteorological Society and NOAA’s “State of the Climate in 2014″ report, several markers measuring the earth’s climatic trends set historical records, all documented with hundreds of pages of detailed atmospheric and oceanic summaries of what’s happening to our air, land, and water.
> Takepart-Yahoo News: Three Things To Know About That Terrifying New Climate Study (Emily J. Gertz). James Hansen is one of the most respected and recognizable names in climate science. According to a new paper by Hansen and 16 equally expert coauthors, seas could rise by 10 feet within 50 to 85 years, making coastal communities and cities worldwide uninhabitable. IPCC scientists predict sea levels could rise to 2.6 feet by 2100, much lower and later than the Hansen report’s projections. See also: 10 Images Show What Coastal Cities Will Look Like After Sea Levels Rise; Antarctica Is Melting, and Here’s Why We Should Be Alarmed; and James Hansen Spells Out Climate Danger Of The Hypo-Anthropocene” Age (Joe Romm).
> Resource Insights: Nonlinear: New York, London, London, Shanghai Underwater In 50 Years? (Kurt Cobb). Those under the impression that climate change is advancing at a constant and predictable rate don’t understand the true dynamics of the issue. The fear is that the ability of the oceans and plants to continue to absorb half the carbon dioxide human civilization expels into the atmosphere each year may have become impaired. That means more carbon dioxide is remaining in the atmosphere where concentrations are building at the fastest rate ever recorded in the modern era.
> NewsDay-AP: Mayors At Vatican Seek ‘ Bold Climate Agreement (Nicole Winfield). The Vatican invited the 60 mayors to a two-day conference to keep up pressure on world leaders ahead of U.N. climate negotiations in Paris later this year. The meeting also aimed to promote Francis’ environment encyclical, which denounced what he calls a fossil fuel-based world economy that exploits the poor and destroys the Earth. The mayors lined up to sign a final declaration stating that “human-induced climate change is a scientific reality and its effective control is a moral imperative for humanity.”
> MinnPost: Earth Journal: As Pollinators Decline Worldwide, Look For A Rise In Nutritional Disease And Death In Humans (Ron Meador). Human civilization has taken place during a very stable set of biophysical conditions, but we are now changing those conditions at a rate never seen before. Whether we’re talking about land use, deforestation, degradation of global fisheries, disruption of the climate system, biodiversity loss, appropriation of fresh water, changes to aquatic systems — all of these profound changes are accelerating, and they represent a significant challenge to global health.
> ENSIA: Let’s Stop Treating Our Soil Like Dirt (Paul West). Soil is one of the most important resources on our planet, and we have ignored it too long — to our own peril. The most important thing that can happen is a change in mind-set that recognizes soil is not dirt. It’s life beneath our feet.
ENERGY (• Carbon Based • Renewable)
> Our Finite World: Nine Reasons Why Low Oil Prices May “ Morph” Into Something Much Worse (Gail Tverberg). It looks to me as though we are heading into a deflationary depression, because the prices of commodities are falling below the cost of extraction. We need rapidly rising wages and debt if commodity prices are to rise back to 2011 levels or higher. This isn’t happening. Instead, Janet Yellen is talking about raising interest rates later this year, and we are seeing commodity prices fall further and further. Let me explain some pieces of what is happening.
> From Filmers To Farmers: Is Democracy Hitting The Fossil Fuels Too Hard? (Allan Stromfeldt Christensen). The possibility still exists that a lower energy future will see significant amounts of political power move back from the centers to the peripheries as lower energy supplies stifle the grip on power by central governments. If so, then there’s a chance that we can re-establish an inclination for local governance and not only maintain some of our political structures, but the social progress we’ve made while on those fossil fuels.
> Resilience: The Community Energy Revolution (Rob Hopkins). The DECC (UK Department of Energy and Climate Change) Community Energy Strategy in 2014 did a systematic assessment and found at least 5,000 community energy groups active in the UK since 2008. That’s a lot of energy groups. We regularly heard the DECC minister (now sadly out of government) Ed Davey speak of how instead of the big six energy companies in the UK he wanted to see the small 50,000. Community owned energy is already big business and getting bigger.
ECONOMY (• Finances • Commerce • Global-Local)
> CASSE-The Daly News: Five Myths About Economic Growth (Brian Czech). The five myths about economic growth that Czech addresses are: 1) It’s economic; 2) it’s often miraculous; 3) It’s not a problem for the environment, because we’re dematerializing the economy; 4) the human economy went from hunting and gathering through agriculture and on to manufacturing, and finally to the Information Economy; and 5) it is egalitarian, because a rising tide lifts all boats.
> Peak Prosperity: Deflation Is Winning – Beware! (Chris Martenson). Deflation is back on the front burner and it’s going to destroy all of the careful central planning and related market manipulation of the past 6 years. Clear signs from the periphery indicate that a destructive deflationary pulse has been unleashed. Tanking commodity prices are confirming that idea. Whole groups of enterprises involved in mining and energy are about to be destroyed. And the commodity-heavy nations of Canada, Australia and Brazil are in for a very rough ride
> Common Dreams: Study: When Human Consumption Slows, Planet Earth Can Heal (Lauren McCauley). A new study analyzed six possible sources for the change in fossil fuel emissions: population growth, consumption volume, the types of goods consumed, the labor and materials used to produce goods and services, the type of fuel used, and how much energy is used. The study’s findings echo other recent arguments linking the rise of overall consumption and the growth economy with the decline in the Earth’s ecosystems.
> Common Dreams: Aiming to Lift ‘Starvation Wage,’ Progressive Lawmakers Push for $15 Nationwide (Deidre Fulton). The Pay Workers a Living Wage Act would phase in a $15 minimum wage nationwide by 2020 over 5 steps, increasing to $9 in 2016, $10.50 in 2017, $12.00 in 2018, $13.50 in 2019, and $15 in ’20. After that, the minimum wage would be indexed to the median hourly wage.
EQUITY (• Equality • Health • Social Concerns • Political Power)
> Resilience: The Real ‘ Struggle Of Our Generation’ Is Not Terrorism (George Monbiot). A global survey published last week by the Pew Research Centre found that while the people of North America, Britain, Australia, Japan, France and Germany see ISIS as the greatest threat they face, most of the countries surveyed in poorer parts of the world – Africa, Latin America and Asia – place climate change at the top of the list. The nations least threatened by ISIS rank this risk the highest. This is media-driven madness, an epidemic of transcontinental paranoia that governments are happy to foment and exploit.
> The Atlantic: Meaning Is Healthier Than Happiness (Emily Esfahani Smith). People who are happy but have little-to-no sense of meaning in their lives have the same gene expression patterns as people who are enduring chronic adversity [Meaning defined as an orientation to something bigger than the self]. A new study, just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) suggests that happiness may not be as good for the body as researchers thought. [See “There’s More to Life Than Being Happy”, which explores the difference between a meaningful life and a happy life.]
> Common Dreams: Who Actually Thinks Citizens United Is Good For Elections? Turns Out, Hardly Anyone (Sarah Lazare). Only one in ten people in the United States thinks that the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates to unprecedented outside spending to influence elections, has actually improved the process of nominating presidential candidates, according to a Monmouth University poll released Wednesday.
> ThinkProgress: The Link Between Climate Change And Isis Is Real (Joe Romm). According to presidential candidate Martin O’Malley: “One of the things that preceded the failure of the nation-state of Syria and the rise of ISIS was the effect of climate change and the mega-drought that affected that region, wiped out farmers, drove people to cities, created a humanitarian crisis that created the symptoms — or rather, the conditions — of extreme poverty that has led now to the rise of ISIL and this extreme violence.”
> RINF: Corporate Influence Has Won’: House Passes Anti-GMO Labeling Bill (Andrea Germanos). The U.S. House of Representatives on July 23rd passed legislation that would block states from requiring the labeling of genetically engineered foods, or GMOs.The bill, H.R. 1599—dubbed the “DARK Act” (Deny Americans the Right to Know) by its critics—passed 275-150. It was backed by the food industry, including the Grocery Manufacturers Association and Monsanto Company, which have poured money into defeating GMO labeling initiatives.
ENGAGEMENT (• Goals • Activism • Solutions)
> Resilience: The Ecological Land Cooperative (Shaun Chamberlin). The basic idea of the Co-operative is that it buys land that has been, or is at risk of being, intensively managed, then uses its expertise and experience to oversee the process of securing planning permission for low-impact residences on site. Once this is achieved, the land is made available at an affordable price to people that have the skills to manage it ecologically but who could not otherwise afford to do so. The idea is to allowing more land to be ‘rescued’ from industrialized agriculture.
> Shareable: 16 Tips To Crowdfund A Tool Library In Your Town (Cat Johnson). Tool libraries are much-loved community resources, and for good reason: they expand access to tools, save members money, and strengthen relationships between neighbors. New fundraising, social media, and inventory management tools are making it easier to start, promote, and manage them. Crowdfunding is emerging as a powerful way to start or expand a tool library.
> Resilience: Beyond Resilience (Courtney White). Under normal climate conditions, an ecosystem’s capacity to absorb a shock, such as a drought, flood, or forest fire, and then bounce back as quickly as possible is called resilience. But when climatic conditions change dramatically, as is increasingly the situation, what does resilience mean in such a context? And what mitigating practices might make a difference? Mike Reardon has successfully used a wide variety of land restoration tools on his 6,500 acre New Mexico ranch.
> Equities-Canada: Foodroom Gardening: No Rows, No Woes (Gene Logsdon). The foodroom would be a version of today’s hoop house, covered with a translucent roof than slides down easily to open the chamber to good Mother Nature and close it when good mother turns bitchy. Year-round production would be possible without deer, coons, groundhogs, whining, bloodthirsty insects, hail, wind storm, out of season frost, berry-eating boys or birds. In winter the closed roof would let in warmth to help heat the building along with the warmth from composting wastes.
EVENTS AND INFORMATION
> St. Anthony Chamber of Commerce: Raise A Glass To Small Business @ Village Fest, Fri., July 31, 3-5 p.m., Village Pub. Businesses of 1 or more employees welcome. Info: Executivedirector@saintanthonychamber.org
> Citizens for Sustainability: Ongoing Planning Meeting, Sat., Aug. 29, 11 a.m.-1 p.m., St. Anthony Village Community Center.
> MN350: Climate Change Activism. For list of activities, see Website.
> University of Wisconsin: Energy And The Earth — A free online offering gives a big picture perspective on energy issues. Participate for free and at your own pace:
> Pacific Standard: Which State Is In The Most Ecological Debt Of Them All? (Clara Chaisson). A state-by-state breakdown of who is more frugal with their resources and who is in ecological debt. MN has a debt ratio.