No. 106 (9-30-15)
It’s been an exciting past week, highlighted by Pope Francis’s eagerly anticipated visit to the U.S. In general, Americans have received his inspiring, moralistic speeches positively, although both liberals and conservatives disagree over certain hot topics. While liberals enthusiastically support the pontiff’s pronouncements on climate change and socio-economic equality, conservatives mostly ascribe to his pro-life views. (I suspect that, in the next 40 or so years, as overpopulation is finally viewed as a systemic problem, future pontiffs will eventually endorse the moral benefits of family planning and birth control, in keeping with a growing trend among developed countries.)
The media have saturated the market with news and views about the pontiff’s address to congress, and highlighted points are summarized in an article by Jack Jenkins (see News section). We’re also discovering insightful analyses and commentaries by pundits of various persuasions. For example, Kathleen Dean Moore (see Views), in addressing the pontiff’s focus on climate change, notes the historical tendency of current generations to pass along major societal problems onto future generations. In sum, kicking the can down the road appears to be an ingrained human tendency. It seems we are at a crossroads in human history, where we either change our instinctive behavior, or suffer the consequences of a failed species.
For an explanation of humanity’s climate-change conundrum, maybe we should begin by questioning the validity of the socio-economic-political paradigm that has guided us for the past century and a half, namely: The infamous Growth Paradigm, an outmoded model that no longer serves the urgent needs of humanity. Based on simple math, there are limits to material growth. But the good news is that there are few if no limits to non-material growth. For example, we can always improve as knowledgeable (the True), moral (the Good), and esthetic (the Beautiful) beings. The article by Tom Murphy (Views: “You Call This Progress”) points out that the basic technologies for living well were invented decades ago, and that most technological developments since then have been refined spin-offs of sorts, from the telephone to cell phones, from calculators to computers, and so on.
Likewise, the continuing “Retrotopia” (Views) installments by John Michael Greer present views of the future that largely resemble mid-20th century, post-WWII America, an era of ample employment opportunities and income equality, which helped form a strong middle class. Although the country was recovering from wartime austerity, consumerism remained moderate, especially in comparison to the high consumption levels experienced over the past four decades. More significantly, a higher proportion of citizens reported higher levels of overall happiness and satisfaction.
To be sure, everything about the postwar decade was not rosy, including the Cold-War fear of communism, which led to the notorious Army-McCarthy congressional investigations and hearings. Following that decade, there have been many positive changes, notably with expanded freedom of expression and a wider recognition of all citizens’ rights, regardless of sex, age, race, or beliefs. While many technological advances have improved the quality of life, especially in medicine, others have contributed to increasingly complicating our lives.
In sum, although we continue longing for uncomplicated, fulfilling lifestyles, we find ourselves enmeshed in a socio-economic-political system that keeps us plodding along on what appears to be a dead-end path. Only radical, positive solutions can save humankind—along with the great multitude of sustaining flora and fauna species that share our planet home. Whether or not the world’s leaders will act responsibly in solving the world’s growing problems is unknown. It seems our only recourse is to act individually and collectively, within our spheres of influence, to affect necessary change. When should we do this? ASAP! ––– Clifton Ware, Editor-Publisher)
> Yes! Magazine: Pope Francis Is Right: We Can’t Make Future Generations Solve Climate Change (Kathleen Dean Moore). Why not? It’s an American tradition to hand our worst problems off to future generations. The Founding Fathers left it to future legislators to end the horror of slavery. We stockpile radioactive waste that will be a problem for our ancestors for maybe 220,000 years. We drain aquifers in the expectation that future generations can find something besides water to drink. We start a Mideast war with no idea how to end it. Congress doesn’t adequately fund Social Security, because the program won’t run out of money for 20 more years, when other schmucks can raise taxes. No wonder we teach our children to play “kick the can.” The basic rule is, give the can a mighty kick and then run and hide.
> Climate and Capitalism: Anthropocene Heat, Part Three: A One Way Street To Climate Hell (Ian Angus). Part Two of this article discussed the unprecedented heat extremes that will become common if the average global temperature increases 4 degrees Celsius over the pre-industrial level. That isn’t just possible: it is virtually certain that our children will live in a 4° World before the century ends, unless greenhouse gas emissions are radically reduced soon. Almost all the world will be in a new climate regime.
> Do The Math: You Call This Progress? (Tom Murphy). It seems obvious that a hypothetical time-traveling 1885 person would be more bewildered by the passage of 65 years than the 1950 “modern” human. I think we should admit that the breathtaking pace of major breakthroughs has actually declined. That’s different from stopping, note. I think we need to take our energy predicament seriously, and acknowledge that we have few new ideas and don’t have any consensus on how to design our future infrastructure given the pieces we already know very well.
> Peak Prosperity: Kurt Cobb: Money Cannot Manufacture Resources (Podcast/Script of Interview with Chris Martenson & Kurt Cobb). Policymakers do not see that we live in a full world (Herman Daily’s idea). We have people now who understand that we are in the Anthropocene, a new geologic age where humans are the biggest force of nature on the planet. Our basic conceptual problem is that we think that humans are in one category and nature is in another, which leads us to do some crazy things. Humans are part of nature, so we have to figure out how to live within the natural world, within the limits it prescribes for us.
> Weathering the Storm: Bubbles And Backlashes (R. Michael Conley). Financial markets have been turbulent as of late with no end in sight. A sagging global economy could overwhelm America’s recovery efforts with toxic effects on key climate change and clean energy initiatives now underway. The tools to fight off a new recession depleted. As the economic downturn intensifies and the political rhetoric hypes-up, the short term focus on jobs and the economy could suck the oxygen out of productive climate change and clean energy initiatives. Be prepared to respond in a context that resonates with the general public and policymakers while staying true to the message.
> Resilience: Wisdom: Re-Tuning For A Sustainable Future (A slightly adapted excerpt from The Well-Tuned Brain: Neuroscience and the Life Well Lived by Peter Whybrow). Biological evolution, in its essence, is a gradual process of variation, selection, and replication whereby living things, in the service of survival, find adaptive fit with changing environmental circumstances. A common conceptual thread binding together an understanding of the social order and evolutionary biology is that complex social and biological systems, interacting freely with their circumstances, inherently organize, adapt, and find balance.
> Resilience: How Does Equality Impact Fairness? (Rob Hopkins). In an interview with Richard Wilkinson, Emeritus Professor of Social Epidemiology at the University of Nottingham, Wilkinson says. “It [economic inequality] comes up as a way of dealing with the very wide income differences in our societies. They are hugely much larger than they were for instance in the 1960s or 70s, and if you look at the 20th century you get high inequalities until around the 1930s and then they come tumbling down. Income differences go on reducing until probably some time in the late 1970s and then you get the modern widening of income differences again until our societies are as unequal now as they were in the 1920s”. [Also, see16-minute video]
> The Archdruid Report: Retrotopia: Public Utilities, Private Goods (John Michael Greer). This is the fourth installment of an exploration of some of the possible futures using the toolkit of narrative fiction. Our narrator, having arrived in the capital of the Lakeland Republic, discovers that things are even stranger there than he thought.
> Think Progress: Pope Francis’ Historic Address To Congress Covered Lots Of Issues. We Broke It Down For You. (Jack Jenkins). Pope Francis spoke before a joint session of Congress Thursday morning, delivering a historic and sweeping address that offered an unequivocally moral — and deeply religious — discussion of a litany of issues, both foreign and domestic. What followed was a lengthy treatment of America’s many policy debates, with Francis sometimes sounding like an American conservative, but more often championing faith-based progressive positions. Topics addressed include economics, climate change, immigration, war and interfaith dialogue, abortion and the death penalty, religious liberty and the positive role of faith, and families and same-sex marriage.
> CNBC: A Melting Arctic: The World Is Skating On Thin Ice (Clay Dillow). The race to claim stakes in the melting Arctic is heating up. That’s because a quarter of the world’s energy reserves are at play. The race for the Arctic is on in more ways than one, creating new environmental, human and geopolitical risks in one of the world’s most inhospitable environments—one in which no nation is fully prepared to operate. Consequences to the future of our planet are huge.
> Eco Watch: Shell Abandons Arctic Drilling Following ‘Disappointing’ Results News (Lorraine Chow). The well will be sealed and abandoned in accordance with U.S. regulations, the company said. The oil giant is also making efforts to safely demobilize people and equipment from the Chukchi Sea. Shell said its decision to cease drilling was also based on the “high costs associated with the project, and the challenging and unpredictable federal regulatory environment in offshore Alaska.”
> Newser: US Tossing Out 5 Pounds Of Trash Per Person Per Day, Twice What EPA Had Thought, Study Says (Seth Borenstein). For years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency relied on estimates to determine how much trash was being sent to landfills. But in 2010, the agency required most municipal landfills to measure and report how much trash was heading into the dumps, as part of an effort to lower heat-trapping methane emissions. Researchers at Yale University looked at the records for more than 1,200 landfills and calculated amounts, predominantly based on weights. EPA estimated that Americans recycled 34.5 percent of their waste in 2012, but if the amount of trash matches Powell calculation, the recycling rate would be 21.4 percent.
> Star Tribune: Global Shifts Put Squeeze On Twin Cities Recycling (Eric Roper). Plunging oil prices and a slowdown of the Chinese economy are causing ripple effects in the Minnesota recycling market, wiping out monthly profits that cities use to drive down costs for the service. The falling price for recyclable materials, coupled with changes in what people are recycling, is putting a financial strain on processors and creating uncertainty about the future taxpayer costs for recycling programs. It also underscores how the blue bins that pepper alleys and curbs across the Twin Cities are deeply entangled in the whims of the global economy.
> Resilience: Tight Oil Reality Check (David Hughes & Asher Miller). Overly optimistic assumptions—low prices, continued growth through this decade, and a gradual decline in production thereafter—are belied by the geological and economic realities of shale plays. The recent drop in oil prices has already hit tight oil production growth hard. The steep decline rates of wells and the fact that the best wells are typically drilled off first means that it will become increasingly difficult for these production forecasts to be met, especially at relatively low prices.
> Zero Hedge: the Table Is Set For The Next Financial Crisis (Tyler Durden). The apologists for the warped ideology that has resulted in $10 trillion of additional debt being layered on the original un-payable $52 trillion fail to realize the system is far more fragile and will collapse once the next Lehman moment arrives. The country is already in, or headed into recession, and all economic indicators are flashing red. The stock market has fallen over 10% in the last month. Virtually every new car owner you see driving a fancy car is underwater on an auto loan. Home price growth has stalled at record levels, and mortgage rates are poised to rise from record lows. What’s happening today is nothing more than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We’re taking on water and sinking.
> Arstechnica: New Global Data Suggests Air Pollution Kills 10 Million People Per Year (Shalina Saxena). Recently, scientists have used global atmospheric chemistry obtained from satellite data to improve our understanding of the global spread of air pollutants. They looked at seven emission source categories in both urban and rural environments, and the result is a more realistic prediction of the health effects caused by very high concentrations of particulate pollutants. The main contributors to air pollution are ozone and fine particulate matter—that is, particles with a diameter of less than 2.5μm, and we know air pollution can influence an individual’s likelihood of developing a number of diseases. The three major sources of pollutants are agriculture, dust and dirt, and fossil fuel-fired plants.
> Star Tribune: Recycling Or ‘Wish Cycling’? Materials To Stop Tossing In The Big Blue Bins (Eric Roper). “Wish recycling” is the practice of tossing questionable items in the recycling bin, hoping they can somehow be recycled. A number of materials in particular frequently show up at local processing facilities, causing problems for the complex machines that make curbside single-sort recycling possible. They ultimately end up comprising the “residual” waste that facilities cannot recycle. Major items to avoid: plastic bags, plastic pouches, loose shredded paper (bag it), certain glass items (drinking glasses, window glass, ceramics), electronics, batteries, garden hoses, and loose bottle caps. Minneapolis’ website has a comprehensive list of what to do with a wide range materials.
> Yes! Magazine: Land Trusts Offer Houses That People With Lower Incomes Can Afford—And a Stepping Stone To Lasting Wealth (Penn Loh). Community land trusts diversify our concepts of property ownership. Conventional thinking now dictates that you are either an owner or a renter. Owners enjoy all the benefits of any appreciation in value. But land trusts are rooted in the idea that land value is not only created by the labor of the owner. Rather its value depends largely on public infrastructure improvements like transit and parks and other collective efforts to build community and economy. The land trust model separates ownership of the land from the human improvements on it and retains the socially generated value for community benefit.
> Mother Earth News: Financial Future Is Bright For Food Hubs, Study Says (A. J. Hughes). The COUNTING VALUES: Food Hub Financial Benchmarking Study drew on financial and operational data from 48 of the more than 300 food hubs in the United States. The report—the first of its kind to focus on food hub performance metrics—aims to compare results within particular sectors to develop baseline performance statistics. The report formally defines a regional food hub as “a business or organization that actively manages the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of source-identified products primarily from local and regional producers for the purpose of strengthening producer capacity and their access to wholesale, retail, and institutional markets.
> Alternet: Why America’s Deadly Love Affair With Bottled Has To Stop (Tara Lohan). In 2000, Americans each drank an average of 23 gallons of bottled water. By 2014, that number hit 34 gallons a person. That translates to 10.7 billion gallons for the U.S. market and sales of $13 billion last year. At the same time, consumption of soda is falling, and by 2017, bottled water sales may surpass that of soda for the first time. But there is also indication that more eco-conscious consumers are carrying reusable bottles to refill with tap. Of the billions of plastic water bottles sold each year, most are not being recycled. And while recycling them is definitely a better option than throwing them away, it comes with a cost, too.
> Occupy: Reversing The Tide: Cities And Countries Are Rebelling Against Water Privatization, And Winning (Tom Lawson). Aid agencies, water companies and many governments around the world continue to pursue privatization of water in the name of profit. But opposition to this ideology is mounting. Known as remunicipalization, more and more communities and governments are choosing to resist and reverse private water contracts. According to a 2014 report by the Transnational Institute, around 180 cities in 35 countries have returned control of their water supply to municipalities in the past 15 years.
> Ensia: Help Keep Water Free Of Pharmaceuticals (David Doody). Environmental News Bits points out that misuse of prescription drugs is a big public health crisis. While about 90 percent of these pharmaceuticals turn up in the environment after being excreted, at least some show up when medication is improperly discarded. In an effort “to provide a safe, convenient, and responsible means of disposing of prescription drugs,” the U.S. Department of Justice and Drug Enforcement Administration are holding their annual National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day Saturday, September 26, 2015.
> MN Pollution Control Agency: Grow A Healthy, No-Waste Lawn And Garden Your lawn and garden can add a lot to what your household needs to discard and recycle. Yard waste and food waste make up 13 percent of what’s thrown into the garbage in Minnesota. Healthy lawns and gardens can be maintained in ways that produce less waste, and you can easily manage what’s left, by composting at home. A healthy lawn and garden can naturally resist weeds and pests. You don’t need a lot of chemicals to keep your yard looking green. Learn to read the signs and find out what’s really wrong with your plants. Solve your lawn and garden problems by applying some brainpower before you use pesticides and herbicides.
> AP-MPR: Five Solutions To Our Water Crisis. Many of the nation’s water-supply systems need expensive improvements. And in the West and elsewhere, utilities are focused on finding enough water to meet demand. Although the problems are complex, experts generally agree on some basic solutions: 1) protect water supplies; 2) tap new sources; 3) wire the pipes with sensors; 4) reinvigorate fed loan programs; and 5) consolidate water systems.
> MN350: Workshop—Power Through Paris, Sat., Sept. 26, 10:30 a.m., Neighborhood House/Wellstone Ctr., St. Paul, MN. RSVP: Please register today. For list of Climate Change Activities, see (http://www.mn350.org)
> Climate Generation-tpt TV: Minnesota Stories in a Changing Climate, Tues., Oct. 6, 6:30-8:30 p.m., St. Anthony Main Theater, Mpls (Panelists– Will Steger, Paul Douglas, Erin Meier, Roopali Phadke, and Jeremy Lee; David Gillette, moderator; tpt producer) Reserve tickets: mnstories.eventbrite.com
> UM College of Continuing Education: Energy Evolution: Shaping The Future Of Electricity (Dr. Elizabeth J. Wilson). Thurs., Oct. 8, 7 p.m., Continuing Education and Conference Center, St. Paul campus, University of Minnesota; $20; Info: Headliners website
> Clean Energy Resource Team (CERT): Metro CERT Annual Event 2015.Thurs., Oct. 22, 3-7 p.m., Science Museum of MN, St. Paul. Info: Diana McKeown, Metro CERT Director (firstname.lastname@example.org) or (612-278-7158).
> MN Pollution Control Agency: Free Eco-Experience Downloadable Handouts–Climate change: air quality; reducing, reusing, & recycling; water; and Nature Adventure Play.