- EVENT —Citizens for Sustainability: Ongoing Planning Forum, Sat., Aug. 29, 11 a.m.-1 p.m., St. Anthony Village Community Center. Open to anyone interested in creating vibrant, resilient, and sustainable communities. Ya’ll come, now, ya’ hear?
SEF NEWS-VIEWS DIGEST NO. 103 (8-26-15)
Like many Americans, I’m not very enthusiastic about economic or financial concerns. I like what money provides, but I don’t worship it. Thankfully, our parents had lived through the Great Depression, and from them we learned the value of honestly earned money, along with important lessons about using it wisely, saving as much as possible, and avoiding debt. Bankruptcy was considered a major sin, and was to be avoided it at all costs. Nowadays, of course, it’s more socially acceptable—and even a practical path to resolving crippling debt.
As we moved into middle adulthood the concern about future retirement motivated us to become more involved in financial planning. This occurred around 1980-‘82, when the economy began heating up in earnest, so we lucked out with a long-term investment portfolio that included a predominance of stocks and stock funds. With financial markets’ ups and downs over the following decades—including the 2007-‘08 downturn—our overall balanced investment portfolio performed moderately well.
But—and here’s a caveat—since then we’ve grown very concerned about the financial markets and their ability to withstand the mounting economic pressures, including inordinate debt levels and fiat printing of money by the Fed and other national governments. In sum, although the markets may rebound from last week’s thrashing, there still exist ominous signs of increasing economic turmoil.
Chris Martenson, founder of Peak Prosperity, wrote a timely article that inspired my above personal financial accounting (see “Making Sense of the Sudden Market Plunge” in Views below). I’ve been a loyal follower of Martenson for the past six years and highly respect his astute economic analyses, in addition to admiring his unwavering promotion of ways to create greater resilience and sustainability.
Because we all have concerns about personal finances, we should pay heed to the warning signs of an ominous economic scene. Some examples: Several major international currencies are unwinding, as are stock markets, with more than 20 in “bear country” (falling 20% or more from their peaks). Moreover, commodities have been crushed, some having declined around 50% over the past four years, indicating that the world economy is shrinking, not growing, as many financial professionals have proclaimed.
I think you’ll find this Martenson pronouncement worth heeding: “All of this [information] leads us to conclude that the chance of a very serious, market-busting accident is not only possible, but that the probability approaches 100% over even relatively short time horizons. The deflation we’ve been warning about is now at the door. And one of our big concerns is that we’ve got “markets” instead of markets, which means that something could break our financial system as we know and love it.”
Martenson even goes so far as to raise the unthinkable question: “Shut down the markets? It’s a possibility, and one for which you should be prepared”. Finally, he offers a quote by the Austrian economist, Ludwig Von Mises that describes the eventual outcome of economic conditions like those currently underway:
There is no means of avoiding the final collapse of a boom brought about by credit expansion. The alternative is only whether the crisis should come sooner as the result of a voluntary abandonment of further credit expansion, or later as a final and total catastrophe of the currency system involved.
— Clifton Ware, Editor-Publisher
> Peak Prosperity: Making Sense Of The Sudden Market Plunge (Are You Prepared For Further Turmoil?—Chris Martenson). The global deflationary wave we have been tracking since last fall is picking up steam. This is the natural and unavoidable aftereffect of a global liquidity bubble brought to you courtesy of the world’s main central banks. What goes up must come down—and that’s especially true for the world’s many poorly constructed financial bubbles, built out of nothing more than gauzy narratives and inflated with hopium. Markets are quite possibly in crash mode right now, although events are unfolding so quickly – currency spikes, equity sell-offs, emerging market routs and dislocations, and commodity declines—that it’s hard to tell for sure. However, that’s usually the case right before and during big market declines.
> Resource Insights: Counterintuitive: (Some) Volatility Is Good For You, Stability Not So Much (Kurt Cobb). With stock markets around the world plunging and commodity prices in free fall, it seems appropriate to return to a theme which I’ve taken up previously: That a certain amount of volatility is good for humans and the systems they build, and that attempts to stifle the natural and healthy volatility of a system can lead to greater and even catastrophic volatility in the end. Finding the right level of volatility for individuals and for societies and their institutions isn’t as hard as it seems. What’s hard is accepting that level.
> The Archdruid Report: The Last Refuge Of The Incompetent (John Michael Greer). The first and most essential step in the transformation of any society is the de-legitimization of the existing order, one that’s fought on cultural, intellectual, and ideological battlefields. Its targets are not people or institutions but the aura of legitimacy and inevitability that surrounds any established political and economic order. The second step is political, and consists of building a network of alliances with existing and potential power centers and pressure groups that might be willing to support revolutionary change. A call to shared sacrifice usually gets a rousing response, so long as followers have reason to believe something worthwhile will come of it. Greer thinks the U.S. will see the collapse of its current system of government, probably accompanied with violent revolution or civil war, within a decade or two.
> Ensia: The Dangers Of Separating Science And Environment (Manu Saunders). Science is about generating and sharing knowledge about the structure and behavior of the natural world. Technology is about the functional application of that knowledge to produce tangible outcomes. Ideally, science should be presented as a balance of natural and technological, so that scientists and nonscientists alike believe that ecosystems, organisms and ecological interactions are as essential to science — and ultimately society — as mathematics, engineering and technology.
> Resilience: Progress In An Uncertain World (Daniel Herriges). Risk analyst Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of Antifragile, claims that the important thing to manage is fragility, not risk, which involves probabilities that are unpredictable. We need to make complex systems resilient to disruption, something that not only self-repairs but becomes less vulnerable to similar future disruptions. Neomania—excessive celebration of the new and novel over the old and time-tested—is a distinctively American ailment. Strong Towns doesn’t enthusiastically endorse “new technologies and paradigms” because they’re bad, but because of a fully warranted concern about the fragility that they can introduce. Strong Towns calls for a renaissance of civic activism, tactical urbanism, grassroots community engagement, and localism as a political and cultural project.
> Peak Prosperity: Gretchen Morgenson: Wall Street Really Does Enjoy A Different Set Of Rules Than The Rest Of Us (Adam Taggart; script/podcast). Morgenson has earned a Pulitzer-winning career from exposing abuse and conflicts of interest on Wall Street. In this interview, she confirms that there is indeed a second set of rules enjoyed by our elite financial institutions, largely unfettered by the constraints that apply to the rest of us. What’s sorely needed now is a national dialogue on whether we’re willing to allow this to continue. What benefits are we receiving by enabling these elite to enjoy such different standards? What type of system and rules might work better for our interests?
> CASSE-The Daly News: A Sustainable True-Cost Economy Promises An Escape From Massive Water Pollution (Brent Blackwelder). Our current U.S. economy and the global economy routinely lets polluters off the hook—and even rewards them with subsidies. During the past twelve months, water pollution has worsened, as oil freight trains have caught on fire and spilled contaminants into rivers. Such accidents would not occur in a steady state, sustainable economy, which doesn’t incentivize pollution (by allowing externalization of pollution and health costs) or provide subsidies for extraction of hard-rock minerals and fossil fuels. It would place genuine value on the many benefits provided by clean water and free-flowing rivers, including diverse fisheries, a variety of recreation activities, beautiful scenery, and a healthy water supply. There’s no economy on a dead planet.
> NPR: A Brutal Week For Investors; Will There Be More Zigs Than Zags? (Marilyn Geewax). For investors, a brutal week ended Friday with prices plunging for stocks and commodities. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 531 to 16,460, a 3.12 percent drop. Oil’s tumble was especially notable, and the yield on a 10-year Treasury note also fell, down to just 2.05 percent, the lowest level since April. Some experts say not to worry too much: This downturn was an inevitable “correction,” following one of the longest bull runs in U.S. history. But maybe this stock plunge signals something much worse than a simple correction. Maybe prices are plunging because a new global recession is taking hold, making any rebound impossible for a long time. So which is it, a buying opportunity or hunker-down time?
> EcoWatch: NOAA: July Was Hottest Month Ever Worldwide (Cole Mellino). The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said today in a report that July was the warmest on record worldwide with many countries and the world’s oceans experiencing intense heat waves. “The July average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.46°F above the 20th century average.” The report also found that it’s been the warmest January to July period on record, all but ensuring that 2015 will be the hottest year on record.
> Resilience: Peak Oil Notes – Aug 20 (Tom Whipple). On Wednesday, oil futures suffered their biggest one-day fall in a month after the EIA stocks report showed a 2.6 million barrel increase in US crude inventories, after analysts had forecast a 600K-barrel decline. As has been the case for many weeks, worldwide overproduction of oil and fears that China’s economy is in a lot of trouble has spurred the decline in prices. The markets are heading into largely unknown territory with the outlook for low prices possibly lasting for another year or more. Concerns also are rising that we are facing a global deflationary crisis similar to that experienced in the 1930s. See also: The Peak Oil Crisis: A $4 Trillion Hole
> IEEFA: SNL: Study Has 80% Of Coal Reserves Facing A Stranded-Assets Fate (Molly Christian). International agreements to cap the increase in global average surface temperatures to 2 degrees C would require more than 80% of world coal reserves to be stranded in the ground, investment bank Citibank said in a new research note. A switch to fuels that emit less carbon in order to combat climate change will mean “significant fossil fuels that would otherwise have been burnt will be left underground,” the report said.
> E&E Publishing: EARTHQUAKES: Oft-Shaken Okla. Tops Last Year’s Quake Record (Mike Soraghan). The 585 earthquakes that Oklahoma had in 2014 was a lot, but this year Oklahoma has had more than that in less than nine months. The state has averaged 2.5 quakes a day in 2015. If that rate continues, Oklahoma would have more than 912 quakes this year, more than the 80+ quakes experienced in California. The unprecedented seismic swarms appear to be the result of favorably aligned faults and oil production methods that create uniquely large volumes of wastewater.
> Climate Progress: How Much Of California’s Drought Was Caused By Climate Change? (Katie Valentine). A study published Thursday in Geophysical Research Letters found that climate change can be blamed for between 8 to 27 percent of the drought conditions between 2012 and 2014 and between 5 to 18 percent in 2014. Though these relative contributions of climate change differ between the two periods of time, due to differences in severity of the drought from year to year, the study said climate change’s absolute contribution was “virtually identical” between the two periods — meaning climate change has contributed a fairly steady amount to California’s drought over the last three years.
> On Earth: Hey, Congress, Quit Blaming the EPA (Brian Palmer). An investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at Colorado’s Gold King mine went badly awry earlier this month, triggering a spill of zinc, iron, copper, and other heavy metals into Cement Creek. From there, three million gallons of polluted water flowed into the Animas River and eventually Lake Powell. Politicians have been quick to blame the EPA, but the truth is that Congress created this situation. The American West is speckled with thousands of abandoned mines dangerous to both environmental and human welfare, and the EPA has been left to clean up the mess without adequate resources. Politicians—the people tasked with providing those resources—are as much to blame for the disaster as the EPA.
> Yes! Magazine: Why We Did An Issue On Debt (Christa Hillstrom). For many of us, debt plays such a negative role in our lives that it can be difficult to imagine what a positive relationship to debt might look like. We need to rethink the entire system that moves money and credit through our society. Credit is key to building things that last—homes, businesses, and organizations. Community-based credit not only avoids throwing debtors into lifelong financial crisis, but knits families, neighbors, and political allies more closely together. This is what we mean when we talk about “good debts.”
> Politico: Minneapolis Gets Trashed (Caleb Hannan). The sheer volume of trash that Americans throw out overwhelms the valiant efforts of most municipalities. Nationwide, recycling rates have stalled over the past decade after rising steadily throughout the ’90s. Curbside recycling is too expensive for some communities, but not Minneapolis, which also may own the nation’s most successful trash incinerator, a massive 12-acre project that has emerged as an unlikely, low profile resident of one of the city’s trendiest neighborhoods. The Hennepin Energy Recovery Center, better known as the HERC, has emerged as the centerpiece of Minneapolis’s own push to be carbon-neutral by 2030, as Minnesota’s largest city looks to vault itself into the world’s top tier of sustainable cities.
> The American Conservative: Why Walkability Matters (Gracy Olmstead). The ability—and perhaps, to some extent, the desire—to walk is largely disappearing from America, says Antonia Malchik. In an Aeon Magazine piece, she considers the ways we’ve undermined walking through modern urban planning, and through our obsession with cars. In 2013 more than 4,700 pedestrians were killed, and an estimated 66,000 injured, in what the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration calls ‘traffic crashes’. Walking helps cultivate community life, provides space for the carless, teaches mindfulness of the environment, and breaks down insular barriers.
> Mother Earth News: Farms And Food In An Era Of Climate-Change: Resilient Agriculture (Steven McFadden). Resilience is the capacity of a system to adapt and thereby to buffer the impact of climate change on a system. In the context of climate change, resilient agriculture is about equipping farms to absorb and recover from a multiplicity of climatological, economic and social stresses and shocks to their food production and their livelihoods. The dominant and domineering industrial food system of our passing era lacks resilience. Industrial agriculture significantly intensifies the man made causes of climate change.
> Post Carbon Institute: Amazing New Energy Source: Introducing TREES (Richard Heinberg). Scientists at the Climate/Energy Design and Research institute (CEDAR) have just announced the discovery of an astounding new energy source that promises to solve several of humanity’s thorniest dilemmas at once. The new energy source, called TREES (Totally Renewable Energy, Emissions capture, and Storage) is, as the name suggests, completely renewable.
> Phys.Org: Opinion: Time To Tap In To An Underused Energy—Wasted Heat (Rob Raine). Millions of people worldwide can’t afford to keep their homes warm, but few realize the heat wasted in our energy system could provide the answer. A more efficient energy system, where heat is valued, preserved and put to use, can lower people’s bills while at the same time reducing carbon emissions and air pollution.
> Shareable: How Placemaking With “Bottle Bricks” Changes Lives (Brennan Blazer Bird). Using plastic bottles as trash receptacles (stuffing each bottle full of plastic and other inorganic trash with a stick until it was as compressed as a brick), Latin American builders use bottle bricks to create all sorts of structures, including entire houses, school buildings, water tanks, and bus stops. By converting this soft plastic waste into a solid brick, they transform a toxic waste problem into an accessible building material.
> MN Pollution Control Agency: Eco Experience- Minnesota Goes Green, August 27-Sept. 7, Minnesota State Fair. Featuring hands-on activities, demonstrations and resources. More info: www.ecoexperience.org
> MN Catholic Conference: Natural and Human Ecology—A Panel Discussion on Laudato Si, Wed., Sept. 9, 9:00-11:30 a.m., University of St. Thomas, Anderson Student Center, Woulfe Alum Hall, 2115 Summit Ave., St. Paul. Info: (651) 227-8777; RSVP requested.
> Future First-Women’s Congress for Future Generations: Women’s Companion For Political Change (Grassroots Organizing To Protect The Waters Of The Upper Midwest), Sat., Sept. 19, 2015; 9 a.m.- 4 p.m.; St Mary’s University Center, Banquet East (2nd For) 2540 Park Avenue, Mpls., MN. More Info: http://futurefirst.us/events/other-events/
> MN Pollution Control Agency: Free Eco-Experience Downloadable Handouts–Climate change: air quality; reducing, reusing, & recycling; water; and Nature Adventure Play.