Notable Event: Sustainability Fair 2015 (4th), Thurs., Nov. 19th, 5:30-8:00 pm, Silverwood Park, 2500 County Road E W, St. Anthony, MN.
Co-sponsored by the Cities of St. Anthony Village, Lauderdale, and Falcon Heights, in collaboration with the U of MN Institute on the Environment (26 sustainability class students and exhibits), Three Rivers Park District, and Citizens for Sustainability. Free!
SEF News-Views Digest No. 109 (11-11-15)
I hope you’ve missed receiving our informative newsletter for the past three weeks. For respite, Bettye and I spent two memorable weeks (Oct. 15-30) on a river cruise, from Budapest to Amsterdam. Throughout the entire wonderful adventure the ship’s crew enthusiastically providing first-class services, and treated all passengers as royalty. Not being accustomed to receiving such intentional pampering—or desiring it—we were keenly aware of some obvious wasteful, unsustainable practices.
The above photo was taken upon our disembarking from our Viking ship for a city tour in Cologne, Germany. It documents one obvious wasteful practice we experienced: numerous plastic bottles of water! The distribution of complimentary plastic bottles (and glasses) of water, both aboard ship and on the airline, was excessive by any reasonable standards. Most pleasure-seeking passengers will probably disagree with our ecological perspective of certain wasteful practices, but we believe there are ways to conserve resources—and reduce expenses, both for travel-oriented companies and their passengers.
For 13 days we were treated to land tours, and on each occasion, upon exiting the ship, we were offered a plastic bottle of water to take with us, which we accepted on a few occasions. We also had glass-bottled water in our cabin, which could easily be used to fill a personal water bottle, a simple measure that would cut the amount of plastic waste. We offered this suggestion on survey forms at the end of the cruise, and also one related to our airline flights. If more passengers complained, perhaps corrective measures would be taken to curb so much unnecessary waste.
The amount of wasted materials on worldwide flights and river cruises amounts to a staggeringly large sum. Our single plane and ship trip produced thousands of throw-away or recyclable items, in addition to excessive expenses associated with supplying enough food and drink for the 250 people (passengers and crew) on our ship, or the more than 250 people on each of our flights. Multiply this times all flights, cruises, etc. and the amount of waste accumulates greatly. Speaking of numbers, I would be remiss not to mention the enormous crowds of tourists, mostly in tour groups. The sheep-herding analogy seems apropos in describing all of our land tours, whether on buses on when walking.
Here are some other trip observations related to sustainability, largely related to climate change: 1) River levels are very low, due to insufficient rainfall over the past four months (consequently, passengers and luggage were bused from Regensburg to Nuremberg to board a sister ship); 2) Netherlands is experiencing both sinking land and rising sea levels; most corrective measures have been taken, leaving the unpleasant option of allowing some sections of land to be flooded; 3) As noted in the media, migration of refugees from the Middle East and Africa are overwhelming public services throughout Europe, causing native citizens grave concerns about how to manage and accommodate them; and 4) The impressive system of 68 locks and dams from Budapest to Amsterdam is aging, and will require massive infusion of public funds to maintain them in future years—in addition to the numerous bridges along the route. Of course, aging infrastructure is a worldwide problem.
All in all, I suspect the future of river cruises—and long flights—will become increasingly harder to sustain. Although we feel a bit guilty when traveling in such comfort, we do travel as simply and cheaply as possible, including taking economy class on flights. We also refrain from shopping, and pack as light as possible. Also, on this cruise we selected a cabin on the lowest level, which rested around five feet below water level. Because of this quasi-submarine situation, the engine sounds and motion of passing vessels—along with occasional water turbulence caused by our ship’s movement—proved to be no problem. In fact, the combined effect of sounds and motions helped lull us to womb-like sleep.
As for food and drink, we consumed twice as much as normal, especially meats, deserts, and wine, all of which we rarely consume at home. Even though some passengers left portions of food on their plates, we were conscientious about eating everything on our plates, and the five pounds we each gained is proof. Our depression, post-WWII parents’ words continue to caution us: “Now eat everything on your plate, and remember all the starving kids in Europe.”
Before signing off, I want to encourage you to read some of the very relevant, informative, and stimulating articles below, including the ENSIA and Waste360 articles in Solutions about food wastes. By the way, we’re cutting back on the amount of food consumed now that we’re back home, and trying to lose the weight we gained. Our goal: to become more sustainable persons! ———— Clifton Ware (Editor-Publisher)
> CASSE-The Daly News: Time To Stop Worshipping Economic Growth (Brent Blackwelder). We need environmental leaders to speak out for a new, just, and true-cost economy; and to challenge the mindless embracing of economic growth—even ruthless and futur
> The Simplicity Collective: What Is Degrowth? Envisioning A Prosperous Descent (Samuel Alexander). With disarming clarity we perceive that the global economy is destroying the ecological foundations of life, threatening a catastrophe that in fact is already well underway. Perhaps more than anything else degrowth is about embracing the abundance of sufficiency, it is about knowing how much is enough, and creating the necessary cultures, structures, and systems within which the entire community of life can flourish. In short, degrowth means living lives of frugality, moderation and material sufficiency – but lives that are rich in their non-materialistic dimensions.
> Resiience-Feasta: The Attention Seeking Economy, Information And The Manufacture Of Ignorance (Brian Davey). Given the cultural and psychological degradations to which our society has been subject, it is not surprising that we are in danger of passing on a barbaric worldview to the next generations. In their book Ecological Economics Joshua Farley and Herman Daly point out that we are all born ignorant and that knowledge can be lost as one generation succeeds the next. It is an illusion to believe that information, ideas and knowledge are expanding all the time.
> The Ecologist: Economics Is A Belief System – And We Are Ruled By Fundamentalists (Paul Mobbs). Economics is much more than the study of money. It is a belief system, and in its ‘mainstream’ incarnation, one that serves a very useful purpose – for those that reap the benefits. But as Brian Davey shows in his insightful new book, Credo: Economic Beliefs in a World in Crisis, it’s letting the rest of us down: failing to deliver human wellbeing, while driving ecological calamity.
> Peak Prosperity: Making The World A More Dangerous Place (Chris Martenson). Forget anything you might read about “brutal dictators” that need to go, or the importance of “democracy” to the region. That’s dumbed-down pabulum for the masses and has literally nothing to do with the motivations of the external power brokers actually driving the events on the ground and crafting the narrative that is faithfully scribed and re-told by the media. In fact, disturbingly often, the scribed narrative is exactly opposite of the truth. If a wider war breaks out between the US/NATO and either Russia and/or China, then massive systemic shocks will result to the economy, oil prices, and the global financial system. This is all happening while global economic system is not nearly as robust as advertised. And history shows that nations always react more aggressively during leaner times.
> Feasta: Living In The Anthropocene – A Frame For New Activism (Mark Garavan). We are living in a new time. A new world has emerged. Like many things that are new on such a scale it is at once frightening, disturbing, uncomfortable. We have emerged from the geological epoch of the Holocene into a new epoch designated as the Anthropocene. This notion of the Anthropocene refers to a profound realization that human aggregate activity is now the single most decisive force shaping the planet.
> Resilience: What Does Climate Change Look Like? (Erik Lindberg). Unfortunately, climate change and the stresses it is causing on our systems—ones increasingly revealing their fragility—is not the only one converging on us at this point in history. Resource depletion and the rising costs of maintaining a world economy that is dependent on its stability for unsustainable growth are siphoning off the surplus to which we have been accustomed, and upon which we rely to manage natural disasters. This, too, is visible in the Syrian refugee crisis.
> The Washington Post: Full text: President Obama’s remarks on the Keystone XL Pipeline. President Obama on Friday rejected a permit for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, citing concerns about its impact on the climate. He addressed his decision in the Roosevelt Room. Here is the full text of his remarks.
> The New York Times: More Oil Companies Could Join Exxon Mobil As Focus Of Climate Change Investigations (Clifford Krauss). The opening of an investigation of Exxon Mobil by the New York attorney general’s office into the company’s record on climate change may well spur legal inquiries into other oil companies, according to legal and climate experts, although successful prosecutions are far from assured. Many oil companies have funded lobbying efforts and research on climate change, so prosecutors would most likely be able to search through vast amounts of material. The industry has also resisted pressure for years from environmental groups to warn investors of the risks that stricter limits on carbon emissions could have on their businesses, although that appears to be changing
> Our Finite World: Low Oil Prices: Sign Of A Debt Bubble Collapse, Leading To The End Of Oil Supply? (Gail Tverberg). The problem underlying the rising cost of resources (both for fossil fuels and others) is that we tend to use the cheapest-to-extract resources first. Technological innovation continues to occur, but as diminishing returns hit both fossil fuels and other resources, there are larger and larger demands on technology to keep costs in line with what workers can afford. Eventually, the cost of resources (net of technological improvements) rises too much, and economic growth is cut off. By this time, a huge mountain of debt has been built up.
> Energy Balance: The Global Oil Supply: Implications For Biodiversity (Chris Rhodes). The link between the global oil supply and biodiversity is not directly causal; rather, the two are elements of a broader and more integrated picture. Of the energy used by humans on Earth, crude oil represents the lion’s share (33%), followed closely by coal (30%), with gas in third place at 24%. Traversing the gamut of energy sources, we find nuclear energy (4%) and hydro-power (7%), with renewable energy (wind and solar) entering the final furlong at just above 2% of total energy use, meaning that around 88% of our energy is furnished by the fossil fuels. 100 years ago, oil could be produced at an EROEI of 100, while this is now nearer to 17 as a global average, and falling, as unconventional oil sources increasingly make up for the decline in conventional production. So it’s becoming increasingly harder to maintain the oil flow into global civilization.
> U.S. Uncut: Bill Gates Explains Why Only Socialism Can Save The Climate, ‘The Private Sector Is Inept’ (Tom Cahill). In a recent interview with The Atlantic, billionaire tech magnate Bill Gates announced his game plan to spend $2 billion of his own wealth on green energy investments, and called on his fellow private sector billionaires to help make the U.S. fossil-free by 2050. But in doing so, Gates admitted that the private sector is too selfish and inefficient to do the work on its own, and that mitigating climate change would be impossible without the help of government research and development.
> MinnPost: Good News: Antarctic Ice Is Growing. Bad News: Sea Levels Are Still Rising. (Ron Meador). A new analysis by NASA scientists finds that Antarctica’s volume of ice cover is growing overall, with thickening in the continent’s eastern reaches exceeding the well-documented and accelerating losses in the ice sheets of West Antarctica. This means the amount of terrestrial water locked up as Antarctic ice is actually increasing, rather than decreasing as has been widely assumed, according to the research paper just published in the Journal of Glaciology.
> The Nation: Now White People Are Dying From Our Terrible Economic Policies, Too Michelle Chen). A demographic analysis of public health trends in recent years shows that middle-aged whites are living more miserable and sicker lives—and also appear to be dying at a higher rate. From 1999 to 2013, Princeton University researchers observed a disturbing jump in deaths among whites aged 45 to 54. For other groups, including seniors and middle-aged blacks and Latinos, mortality fell, continuing positive health and demographic trends of the past few decades.
> The New York Times: U.S. Economy Added 271,000 Jobs In October; Unemployment Rate At 5% (Nelson D. Schwartz). The 271,000 jump in payrolls reported by the Labor Department on Friday was much more robust than expected and suggested that economic growth had enough momentum to allow the central bank to begin its move away from the ultralow, crisis-level interest-rate policy it has been following for seven years. At the same time, many workers are still working fewer hours than they would like, or taking jobs that pay much less than they would like.
> Foreign Policy: Cholera Is Coming (Laurie Garrett). The last great epidemic of Vibrio cholerae to hit Africa and the Middle East occurred from 1997 to 1998. Over 200,000 people were afflicted and some 8,000 killed as the disease spread from southern Mozambique all the way up to the Horn of Africa and into the Middle East. Now cholera is back. And this time it could be much worse. As in 1997, today’s outbreak, which is unfolding in the Middle East and East Africa, is growing during an El Niño climate event that is shifting the planet’s normal rain and drought patterns, spreading the waterborne cholera bacteria. But this year’s outbreak has dangerous added dimensions: Its spread is fueled by war throughout the Middle East, the existence of vast ungoverned and poorly governed tracts of the region, and an enormous refugee crisis.
> ENSIA: If Everybody Hates Wasting Food, Why Do We Do It (And How Can We Stop)? (Mary Hoff). Like it or not, when it comes to food waste, it’s not just industrial farms or supermarkets or restaurants or caterers or other people who are to blame: It’s all of us. In fact, according to The Wall Street Journal, more than twice as much food is wasted at the consumer level than at the retail level in the U.S.
> Waste360: Anaerobic Digestion’s Role In Dealing With America’s Food Waste (Debra Kantner). In addition to composting, other management alternatives exist to process waste material. One technology that has received increasing interest in recent years is anaerobic digestion (AD), which has the ability to manage organic wastes including: post-consumer food waste, food processing solids and liquids, and fats oils and grease (FOG). Food waste can serve as the main feedstock at stand-alone AD facilities, or added to farm or wastewater organics at co-digestion facilities.
> Resource Insights: Getting It Wrong On Recycling (Kurt Cobb). Since the private waste disposal industry has organized its infrastructure around cheap landfill disposal, landfilling seems like the most cost-effective option. If we Americans had built a waste infrastructure with the goal of zero waste as Germany did, our infrastructure would naturally have delivered lower costs for recycling than it does. While there is room for debate about what materials are currently most cost-effective and environmentally important to recycle, that should not distract us from the goal of creating a cradle-to-cradle society, one in which all products are designed to be converted into other materials or products at the end of their useful lives.
> Yes! Magazine: Compost Your Corpse? This Woman Wants To Make It Legal (Maureen O’Hagan). Katrina Spade, creator of the Urban Death Project, talks about human composting and why she’s trying to make it legal in Washington state.
> Yes! Magazine: Goodbye McMansion, Hello Simple Life: What I Learned From Thoreau (Kaci Yoh). The philosopher’s lessons include how to let go and find happiness—even after crippling debt and a heartbreaking divorce.
> NYT Dot Earth: National Geographic Explores Bill Nye’s Climate Change Denial—And Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Analysis (Andrew C. Revkin). That’s why “Explorer: Bill Nye’s Global Meltdown,” premiering Sunday night* on National Geographic Channel, is so refreshing. In the program, written and directed by Chris Cassel, Nye reluctantly resolves to confront the five stages of “climate change grief” after he is diagnosed with that malady by his cigar-chomping therapist, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
> Energy Balance: Permaculture: Regenerative – Not Merely Sustainable (Chris Rhodes). All sustainable solutions are unsustainable over the longer term—if they are not also intrinsically regenerative. Nature offers the ultimate example of a design that is both sustainable and regenerative, and it is logical to appeal to natural principles for solutions to many of our current problems. Within a broader perspective of Regenerative Design, permaculture identifies the elements of sustainable living, which are harmonious with nature. Discordant practices, which lead, to soil erosion and fret the environment, are neither sustainable nor regenerative, but degenerative.
> Seedstock: Colorado Man Transforms Backyards Into Micro Farms (Traci Knight). When Sean Conway of Lakewood, Colorado observed his neighbors watering and mowing the grass in rarely used yards, inspiration struck. He saw an opportunity to utilize those spaces for a higher purpose: to localize the food system in his neighborhood. Conway is also experimenting with permaculture systems.
> The Archdruid Report: Retrotopia: Inflows And Outputs (John Michael Greer). This is the eighth installment of an exploration of some of the possible futures discussed on this blog, using the toolkit of narrative fiction. Our narrator visits a city power plant that runs on an unexpected fuel source and a stock market subject to even less familiar rules [Read previous installments on this website]
> Climate Generation: Climate Minnesota: West Metro Convening, Thurs., Nov. 12, 5:30-9:00 pm, Eisenhower Community Center, 1001 MN-7, Hopkins, MN. Featuring Mike Rothman (Dept. of Commerce Commissioner), and Paul Douglas (meteorologist).
> MN350: Fossil Fuel Divestment— “Investing for a Cooler Planet,” with Patty O’Keefe of MN350.org, Thurs., Nov. 12, 7-9 pm, Carleton Artist Lofts, 2285 University Ave W., St. PaulFor list of more upcoming activities, see Website.
> Climate Reality: 24 Hours Of Reality And Live Earth: The World Is Watching, Nov. 13-14. Click on the title link for website information.
> TE Studio: 2015 Passive House Days (Tours), Sat., Nov. 14, 10am-2pm, MinnePHit House, 5605 Bloomington Ave. S., Mpls; and Sun., Nov. 15, 11am-3pm, Nordeast Nest Home, 2335 McKinley St. NE, Mpls.