SEF News-Views Digest No. 114 (12-16-15)
I assume that most readers are not deniers of such controversial realities as climate change, evolution, and the effects of humans on environmental degradation. I also assume that most readers are committed at some level to advancing “sustainability (green) causes”.
Within the sustainability movement there are groups focused on specific interests, such as renewable energy sources, wildlife preservation, land use, oceans and waterways protection, climate change mitigation, and so on. Readers of this newsletter represent a wide range of interests, including the areas mentioned.
In a previous editorial I proposed some categories that have been used in describing three levels of commitment by individuals to green behavior:
- Light Green—those who practice a few green habits, like recycling, using energy efficient light bulbs, and driving a car that gets good gas mileage.
- Bright Green—those gung-ho technology types who embrace the latest developments in renewable energy systems, including owning houses with the latest energy-efficient appliances and construction standards.
- Deep Green—those of a philosophical, analytical nature who, in addition to observing light-green and bright-green objectives, also seek to gain a “big picture” understanding of sustainability issues, which requires studying a wide range of subjects, from history and psychology to scientific subjects and politics.
Actually, most green practitioners will participate in all green levels to some extent, with some displaying a fanatical devotion to living as sustainably as possible.
Also, another way of describing sustainability folk is to divide them into the two major groups Richard Heinberg discusses in his article “Can We Have Our Climate, and Eat it Too?” (see Views). There are Technofixers—optimistic, eco-modern supporters of technological progress who profess unerring faith in innovated technologies to save civilization and the planet, including a vision of space travel in seeking a new planet home. In stark contrast, there are Powerdowners—a group that believes humankind must learn to live harmoniously within the finite parameters of earth’s ecosystems. But to do so will require a societal change, a shift toward voluntary reduction in consumption, conservation of natural resources, and adoption of a no-growth or low-growth economic paradigm.
The photos below demonstrate these two modern approaches to creating food sustainability, one featuring corporate large-scale farming (fossil-energy intensive), and the other using more traditional means (animal and human labor), the kind of small-scale organic farming practiced today.
If you feel confused when absorbing various experts’ sustainability opinions, it might help to ask yourself if viewpoints expressed are associated with technofixers or powerdowners. Also, be aware of viewpoints that represent aspects of light-green, bright-green, or deep-green persuasions.
I suppose it’s no surprise to learn that I side with the powerdowners and the deep-green sustainability folk. Such a position is also held by two experts I admire and heartily endorse: John Michael Greer, a prolific author, whose works include the novel Star’s Reach: A Novel Of The Deindustrial Future; and Richard Heinberg, author of the acclaimed 2004 book, Powerdown. I close with a quote from Heinberg’s article (see Views).
“Mind you, I still think that the decline and fall of industrial civilization and the coming of a deindustrial dark age is far and away the most likely future we face. Day after day, year after year, decade after decade, the opportunities that might have gotten us out of that unwelcome future have slipped past, and the same mistakes that have been made by every other civilization on its way down have been made by ours.”
NOTE: Next newsletter Jan. 6th. Happy Holidays & New Year ’16! –– Clifton Ware, Editor-Publisher
> Post Carbon Institute: Can We Have Our Climate And Eat It Too? (Richard Heinberg). Regarding climate change solutions, technofixers nearly always appeal to the phenomenon of economic decoupling (wringing more and more economic growth from less and less energy and materials throughputs) as a way to achieve the logically impossible, citing evidence of modest past decoupling as proof that far more robust decoupling is possible in the future. In contrast, Powerdown (Heinberg’s book) argues that catastrophic climate change cannot be averted without a steep reduction in global energy use, and such a reduction will in turn inevitably mean economic contraction, although appropriate technologies would still be needed. If economic contraction were managed, its unwanted adverse human consequences could be minimized, and environmental benefits maximized.
> Counter Currents: What Worries The World’s Most Famous Climate Scientist? (Andrew Nikiforuk). James Hansen, NASA climate scientist, claims that the world needs to aim for 350 ppm of CO2 and possibly lower. Everyone agrees that business as usual will take the world to 600 ppm by 2050, along with a rise of temperature by four degrees. That grim future will give the world drowned coastal cities, parched crops, millions of refugees and failing ecosystems. The best solution: a progressive levy on carbon collected from energy companies at domestic mines and port of entry. A carbon fee of $125 per ton would collect $600 billion and yield a dividend worth about $6,000 per family (with two children) in the U.S. alone. The globe will also have to address its old cheap energy addictions to speed, quantity and mobility. We might also have to abandon the myth of “clean energy,” because every form of energy comes with an ecological price tag and a moral quandary.
> Resilience: The Insanity Of The COP: We Must Adopt A Different Vision (John Foran). Like climate scientist James Hansen and many others here in Paris, the author attended COP 21 not to praise it, but to bury it. That, certainly, was the verdict of the International Tribunal of the Rights of Nature, held over two days in a packed auditorium in Paris on December 4 and 5. And a careful look at how the case was made is the subject of this essay.
> Our Finite World: Economic Growth: How It Works; How It Fails; Why Wealth Disparity Occurs (Gail Tverberg). Economists have put together models of how an economy works, but these models were developed years ago, when the world economy was far from limits. These models may have been reasonably adequate when they were developed, but there is increasing evidence that they don’t work in an economy that is reaching limits. [See her most recent post, “Why ‘Supply And Demand’ Doesn’t Work For Oil”] In order to figure out what really does happen, we need to consider findings from a variety of different fields, including biology, physics, systems analysis, finance, and the study of past economic collapses.
> The Archdruid Report: The Flutter Of Space Bat Wings (John Michael Greer). You don’t actually know a time or a culture until you discover the thoughts that its citizens can’t allow themselves to think. I had a reminder of that the other day, by way of my novel Star’s Reach: A Novel Of The Deindustrial Future. I’m pleased to say that for a novel that violates pretty much every imaginable pop-culture cliché about the future [including visions of fantastic new technologies that could enable human travel throughout space].
> The New York Times: Nations Approve Landmark Climate Accord In Paris (Coral Davenport). Representatives of 195 countries reached a landmark climate accord that will, for the first time, commit nearly every country to lowering planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions to help stave off the most drastic effects of climate change. Though the deal did not achieve all that environmentalists, scientists and some countries had hoped for, it set the table for more efforts to slow the slide toward an unlivable planet. It was an extraordinary effort at global diplomacy. Supporters argued that no less than the future of the planet was at stake, and in the days before the final session, they tried relentlessly to persuade skeptical nations.
> The Guardian: Paris Climate Deal: Key Points At A Glance (George Monbiot). Governments have agreed to limit warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels: something that would have seemed unthinkable just a few months ago. There is a scientific rationale for the number. John Schellnhuber, a scientist who advises Germany and the Vatican, says 1.5C marks the point where there is a real danger of serious “tipping points” in the world’s climate. The goal of 1.5C is a big leap below the 2C that nearly 200 countries agreed as a limit six years ago in Copenhagen. But bear in mind we’ve already hit 1C, and recent data shows no sign of a major fall in the global emissions driving the warming. As many of the green groups here in Paris note, the 1.5C aspiration is meaningless if there aren’t measures for hitting it.
> The New York Times: Climate Advocates See Need For Continued Activism (John Schwartz). Amid all the cheering over the landmark climate agreement in Paris this weekend, there were also criticisms that it did not go far enough, including from many environmental advocates who had been working for years to push climate change onto the world’s stage and inspire collective action. At least by one measure — helping to raise the profile of climate change as an urgent problem — those advocates have succeeded. And so what’s next for them? Bill McKibben, co-founder of the climate activism group 350.org, wrote: “This agreement won’t save the planet. It may have saved the chance to save the planet (if we all fight like hell in the years ahead).”
> AP-ABC News: Obama Optimism Over Climate Pact Tempered By GOP Opposition (Kevin Freking). President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry hailed the newly passed international climate change agreement as a major achievement that could help turn the tide on global warming, but got a quick reminder that Republicans will fight it all the way.
> Climate Central: Study Sees Possible Decline In Global CO2 Emissions (Bobby Magill). The rapid spread of renewable energy and improvements in energy efficiency across the globe may have paid off in a big way this year. Researchers are projecting that for the first time in history, the rate of growth in global carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels will decline even as the global economy continues to grow. That decline could eventually lead to a peak in carbon emissions in the next decade or two, according to research led by Stanford University and published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change.
> Earth Justice: Winter Is Coming: 5 Wonderlands Under Threat (Miranda Fox). National lands threatened by unnecessary human encroachment include Grand Canyon NP in Arizona, Tongras National Forest in Alaska, Badger-Two Medicine area (near Glacier NP) in Montana, Buffalo River (a National River) in Arkansas, and Lake Tahoe in California.
> The Week Magazine: The Deadly Threat Of A Solar Superstorm (Staff). A powerful electromagnetic pulse could knock out the power grid and the internet. How serious is the threat? Here’s everything you need to know:
> Minnpost: Remember The Water Cycle From Junior High? It Doesn’t Work That Way Anymore (Ron Meador). A new analysis of global water use—focused on large-scale diversions for agriculture and electric power—finds that precipitation is failing to replenish water lost from many of the world’s largest river basins. According to a paper published in the journal Science by two Swedish scientists, if these water deficits are fairly counted as human use, then current estimates underestimate human freshwater consumption by a factor of five – and actual use may already exceed a widely accepted upper limit of sustainability. Our dams, reservoirs and other elements referred to as “human-controlled flow regulation and irrigation,” or FRI, have changed the patterns of evapotranspiration so significantly that large volumes of water are withdrawn and then transported across distance, time or both so that they never return to their source basin in the “normal” way.
> Bloomberg: Here’s How Much The U.S. Middle Class Has Changed In 45 Years (Victoria Stillwell). In the age of rising income inequality, politicians have taken on the task of preserving America’s middle class across the ideological spectrum. A new report from Pew Research Center shows just how much the economic fortunes of this group have changed since the 1970s. In every decade since then, the percentage of adults living in middle-income households has fallen. The share now stands at 50 percent, compared with 61 percent in 1971. Middle-income households have lost their majority status in the U.S, with the size of their counterparts on opposite ends of the income spectrum overtaking them in number. Almost half of aggregate earnings in the U.S. are now commanded by the wealthiest families, who are “are on the verge of holding more in total income than all other households combined.
> Post Carbon Institute: Renewable Energy After COP21: Nine Issues For Climate Leaders To Think About On The Journey Home (Richard Heinberg). David Fridley (staff scientist, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory) and I have been working for the past few months to analyze and assess many of COP21 proposals, and to dig deeper into energy transition issues—particularly how our use of energy will need to adapt in a 100-percent renewable future. We have a book in the works, titled Our Renewable Future, which examines the adjustments society will have to make in the transition to new energy sources. We started this project with some general understanding of the likely constraints and opportunities in this transition. Along the way, we identified not only technical issues requiring more attention, but also important implications for advocacy and policy. What follows is a short summary—tailored mostly to the United States—of what we’ve learned, along with some recommendations.
> Resilience (Seedstock): On A Mission To Green Our Nation’s Capitol (Anne Craig). For urban farmers, clever space utilization is key, especially in a major city like Washington D.C., where planners estimate there will be a need for 200 million square feet of new housing by 2040. Using rooftops can change the game and offer major ecological benefits along with fresh local food. Rooftop Roots is a team of D.C. locals who have been working for five years to scale up rooftop growing in their city and supply local food banks with the harvest. Seedstock spoke to executive director Thomas Schneider about how it’s done.
> PBS-TPT: Improving Your Home’s Performance (27-minute video). Experts and homeowners demonstrate the improvements that can make any house healthier, safer – and cheaper to heat and cool. Highly recommended!
> MinnPost: Can Cities Do Anything About Climate Change, Or Do We Have To Wait For An International Pact? (Bill Lindeke). The Compact of Mayors, which now boasts more than 100 U.S. signature cities, is an effort to forge a bottom-up coalition of global cities fighting CO2 pollution. Last week, St. Paul joined Minneapolis as a member, pledging to measure and reduce its municipal climate emissions. But given the atmospheric nature of emissions, what can cities really do? Here are some answers from some of the state’s carbon reduction leaders.
> MinnPost: Make The Switch From Car To Bike Commute This Winter: Here’s How (Brian Martucci). Allow yourself to imagine a day in a bike commuter’s boots. How does he or she prepare before walking out the door? How do they stay comfortable behind Arctic fronts and snow curtains — even the dreaded polar vortex. How does one weather an MSP winter on two wheels? How exactly could you follow in their oversized, centrifugal footsteps? According to the experts, here’s how.
> Post Carbon Institute: Six Foundations for Building Community Resilience
SUSTAINABILITY INFO & EVENTS
> Climate Generation: Reflections from the Paris Climate Talks, Wed., Dec. 16, 6-8 pm (panel discussion, webinar, & reception), U of MN Institute on the Environment, 1954 Buford Ave, Seminar Room R380, St Paul, MN. RSVP here.
> MPLS Green: Sustainable We Forums (9 forums—focused on designing a sustainable environment together). For info: http://mplsgreen.com
> Clean Energy Resource Teams: Clean Energy Accelerator. Metro CERT – offering rapid energy assistance to cities, counties, & schools. Learn more at: http://www.cleanenergyresourceteams.org/accelerator/lugs