Big History – News-Views Digest

Slide2Sustainability Education News-Views Digest

SEF News-Views Digest No. 116 (1-13-16)

Big PictureIn previous editorials I’ve expressed my concerns about the general lack of “big picture” thinking and understanding of most people. Discerning ways to instill in citizens the ability to think critically and creatively—and, subsequently, act responsibly—has been uppermost in my mind in recent years, primarily due to the widening ideological schism between conservatives and progressives.

Thankfully, an educational project designed to help young students expand their thinking and understanding has been developed. The Project was launched at the 2011 TED conference in Long Beach, California on March 2, 2011. David Christian, an experienced teacher was promoting the concept of a global online teaching course called Big History His 18-minute lecture, which is available on YouTube (Big History), outlines the Big History course, which provides a global online delivery of a classroom-tested course designed for 9th-grade students. His TED presentation was part of the Bill Gates-curated “Knowledge Revolution” section of the conference. Gates, an avid Big-History supporter, is providing the financial backing for this exciting project.

According to Christian, Big History is the attempt to understand, in a unified way, the history of “Cosmos, Earth, Life and Humanity”, as influenced by evolutionary complexity and collective learning. Using an interdisciplinary approach, the course covers history from the Big Bang to the present. The Van Gogh painting below symbolizes major aspects of Big History.


The Big History Project is dedicated to fostering enthusiasm for learning among high school students. To achieve this goal, Gates and Christian have developed a team to provide big-history instruction to as many students worldwide as possible.

I find this project exciting because most educational systems focus entirely on the history of human civilization, in bits and pieces. This conventional homocentric approach has produced citizens unable to comprehend the universal scope of history, more pointedly, the role of humanity in the grand scheme of everything. This homocentric view, which is held by most world citizens, largely accounts for the widespread belief in human-domination of earth and all other creatures. In sum, people lack an inclusive worldview founded on a “theory of everything”, with all of its interconnections and interdependences, similar to how all healthy ecosystems are formed and sustained.

The saying, “All for one, and one for all”, suggests that, as individuals, we are “part of a greater whole”, related to all people (the common good), all life forms, and all aspects of nature. The Big History Project may provide an effective educational means for creating more enlightened citizens, in turn eventually creating a more resilient, sustainable existence on our wonderful planet.

–– Clifton Ware, Editor-Publisher (special thanks to Wikipedia)

SUSTAINABILITY VIEWS (2016 Economic Woes?) 

> The Boston Globe: 2015 Was A Year Of Good News, Too (Jeff Jacoby). People are generally more dubious about good news and positive trends. Our species tends to be hardwired for pessimism — a tendency reinforced by the media, which devote far more attention to violence and tragedy than to safety and success. Beheadings dominate news coverage for weeks on end; spectacular medical advances are a one- or two-day story at best. Men and women have always tended to romanticize the way things were when they were young. It’s an instinct worth resisting. Not because the world is never a messy, scary, tear-filled place, but because it is less so now than it used to be. These really are the good old days. Next year will be even better.

> The Archdruid Report: Down the Ratholes of the Future (John Michael Greer). My core prediction for 2016 is that all the things that got worse in 2015 will keep on getting worse over the year to come. The ongoing depletion of fossil fuels and other nonrenewable resources will keep squeezing the global economy, as the nonfinancial costs of resource extraction eat up more and more of the world’s total economic output. This will drive drastic swings in the price of energy and commodities, which are currently still headed down, but will soar again in a few years as demand destruction completes its work. Four predictions for 2016: 1) The current tech bubble will become a tech bust; 2) the “Solar PV revolution” will get underway: 3) Donald Trump will be elected president [?!]: and 4) the Saudi regime will be gone by the end of 2016. The option of changing our lifestyles now is considered unthinkable right across the political spectrum.

> Peak Prosperity: Markets Are Correcting Hard (Chris Martenson). The long-awaited global financial market correction has arrived, with collapses in all major markets and across all major categories. As usual, the pain has started in the weaker elements (emerging markets, junk bonds, weak companies, etc.) and is rapidly spreading towards the center. How far this goes before the central banks overtly step is anybody’s guess. Our assessment is “not too long” because the central banks are deathly afraid of the Frankenmarkets they have created. The financial markets are broken — the US, in China, and largely everywhere else around the globe.

> Our Finite World2016: Oil Limits And The End Of The Debt Supercycle (Gail Tverberg). What is ahead for 2016? Most people don’t realize how tightly the following are linked: growth in debt; growth in the economy; growth in cheap-to-extract energy supplies; inflation in the cost of producing commodities; growth in asset prices (shares of stock and of farmland); growth in wages of non-elite workers; and population growth. It looks to me as though this linkage is about to cause a very substantial disruption to the economy, as oil limits, as well as other energy limits, cause a rapid shift from the benevolent version of the economic supercycle to the portion of the economic supercycle reflecting contraction. Many people have talked about Peak Oil, the Limits to Growth, and the Debt Supercycle without realizing that the underlying problem is really the same–the fact the we are reaching the limits of a finite world. See also: Gail Tverberg: Something Has Got To Break

> USA Watchdog: The End Of Capitalism Is Here: Ellen Brown (Greg Hunter). Public banking expert and attorney Ellen Brown says, “Your life savings could be wiped out in a derivatives collapse. There is no such thing as too-big-to-fail in a capitalistic society where you say certain corporations can’t fail. If you have to take the people’s money to prop them up, it’s no longer capitalism. Instead of treating banks like they are too-big-to-fail, treat them like public utilities. It seems to me we’d be better off with publicly owned banks, which is just acknowledging that money is a public utility. It’s our money and ‘We the People’ back it, and clearly we back it.

> Michael Bermingham: The Rise And Fall Of Mankind.  This new 3-minute video, in cartoon style, satirically depicts how human beings are destroying nature.

> Common Dreams: In Age Of Extreme Weather, Industrial Farming Threatens Us All (Nadia Prupis). Extreme weather is damaging to crop production and threatens food safety worldwide, according to a new study published in Nature on Wednesday. And the most developed nations like the U.S., which rely heavily on industrial monocultures for food production, are particularly vulnerable. The study, which evaluated cereal production losses due to extreme weather in 177 countries from 1964-2007, found that “droughts and extreme heat significantly reduced national cereal production by 9–10%. Furthermore, the results highlight 7% greater production damage from more recent droughts and 8–11% more damage in developed countries than in developing ones.” Small-scale farmers grow 70 per cent of the world’s food on 25 per cent of the world’s land, and are indispensable to the future of food security.

> Truth Out (Yes! Magazine): Income Inequality Is A Health Hazard – Even For The Rich (Yessica Funes). Wealth in the United States can buy many things: education, homes, vacations. It can even buy the best doctors and diet, but it can’t buy health. Why not? Research has revealed a disturbing trend in US health indicators: Life expectancy is falling behind other developed countries while mortality rates are rising past them. In the United States, the most affluent die at a greater rate (912.2 per 100,000) in counties with higher income inequality than the poorest (883.3 per 100,000) in counties with lower income inequality. More than 170 studies support these findings. Higher stress levels may be involved.


> Common Dreams: Look What We’ve Done: Human-Made Epoch Of Nightmares Is Here (Deirdre Fulton).  There’s no question about it. A new epoch—the Anthropocene—has begun. So says an international group of geoscientists, in a paper published Friday in the journal Science. They point to waste disposal, fossil fuel combustion, increased fertilizer use, the testing and dropping of nuclear weapons, deforestation, and more as evidence that human activity has pushed the Earth into the new age that takes its name from the Greek anthropos, or human being. Some argue the new era began in the 1950s, the decade that marks the beginning of the so-called “Great Acceleration,” when human population and its consumption patterns suddenly speeded up, and nuclear weapons tests dispersed radioactive elements across the globe.

> Resilience: After Paris: The Soil Story (Courtney White).  At COP21 last month, I had the honor of being part of a delegation from Regeneration International (RI) that went to Paris to make a case for soil carbon as a mitigation strategy for climate change and I’m happy to report that our effort exceeded expectations! First, I’d like to add my thoughts to the stack of analysis about the Agreement itself, struck by 197 nations to limit greenhouse gas emissions in an attempt to put a brake to climate change. Whether this effort is ultimately successful remains to be seen, of course, but for the moment, let’s enjoy a rare bit of good news.

> Carbon Brief: Map: Where Climate Change Could Hit Electricity (Robert McSweeny). Researchers claim that changes in water availability and higher water temperatures are likely to affect how much water can be used by power plants and how effective it is at cooling. Illustrated maps indicate how river flows and water temperatures are projected to change across the world, also showing where current power stations are most vulnerable. Dr Michelle van Vliet, a researcher at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) says the US, southern South America, southern Africa, central and southern Europe, Southeast Asia and southern Australia are vulnerable regions, because declines in mean annual stream flow are projected combined with strong increases in water temperature under changing climate.

> MPR: Winter’s Slow Start Has Climate Scientists Guessing (Elizabeth Dunbar). Minnesota has definitely had a milder winter so far. But we’ve also had a very wet winter — precipitation is 200 percent above average. El Niño’s influence is obvious, and the other factor is a longer-term warming trend; Minnesota is among the fastest-warming states in the winter. These factors — overall warming and the exceptional warming we’re seeing in the Arctic — can both be traced back to climate change.

> MinnPost: Heard About The Huge Methane Leak Outside Los Angeles? I Didn’t Think So (Ron Meador). Among the most under covered U.S. environmental news of the moment must surely be the massive, uncontrolled leak of methane from a natural gas utility’s storage site outside Los Angeles. Here is a fossil-fuel foul-up that practically begs comparison to British Petroleum’s exploding Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico. The LA Times took a different approach to social math than EDF and calculated that the well “is releasing as much greenhouse gas per month as 210,000 cars do in a year.” At 77,000 metric tons and counting, the leaking well remains the single largest point source of greenhouse gas emissions in California and, according to state officials, the largest natural gas leak known to have occurred anywhere. See also Carbon Brief: Aliso Canyon: How Bad Is The California Gas Leak

> The New York Times: U.S. Economy Added 292,000 Jobs in December (Patricia Cohen). The jobless rate, which has declined since topping the 10-percent mark in October 2009, continues to hover just above what economists consider full employment — the point where further declines could start to push up inflation. For all of 2015, the nation added 2.65 million jobs, capping a two-year, back-to-back gain that was the best since the late 1990s, the government reported on Friday.


> Natural Awakenings: Awakening The Global Heart (Linda Sechrist). As individuals and in groups, more people today are expressing deep inner caring and compassion for fellow humans and all life on this planet by hitching their heartfelt energies to powerful actions that hold the promise of a sustainable future. Stories about how ordinary people are energizing local and online communities of practice to improve intergenerational communication, eliminate monetary influence in politics and restore democracy, and support social justice, community wealth building, independent media, sound health care and clean food and water are frequently missing from mainstream media.

> Low Tech Magazine: Fruit Walls: Urban Farming In The 1600s (Kris De Decker). From the sixteenth to the twentieth century, urban farmers grew Mediterranean fruits and vegetables as far north as England and the Netherlands, using only renewable energy. These crops were grown surrounded by massive “fruit walls”, which stored the heat from the sun and released it at night, creating a microclimate that could increase the temperature by more than 10°C (18°F).

> Transition Network: Editorial: Sophy Banks On Balance Or Burnout?  This blog focuses on the causes of burnout – the physical, the personal, the cultural and some of the unconscious processes that are much harder to spot. In a group or organization it’s possible to think of burnout as the state when the energy of the whole group is exhausted – perhaps individuals still have energy, but the thought of one more meeting, or one more activity is unbearable. Burnout may be considered as a way people in power manage their pain. What causes this state?

> Biofuels Digest: Navy To Launch Great Green Fleet With 77 Million Gallon Buy Of Cost-Competitive, Non-Food Advanced Biofuels Blend (Jim Lane). The Department of the Navy has obtained 77.66 million gallons of cost-competitive, drop-in biofuels blends in support of the launch of the Great Green Fleet, which will officially debut January 20th in San Diego at a launch ceremony. The fuel provided meets the F-76 marine diesel specification — somewhat different and more complex than conventional diesel because of the at-sea requirement for fuels with a lower flash point. The price for the fuel to the DLA is $2.05 per gallon. The feedstock consists of all residues — primarily, inedible or waste fats, oils and greases.

> Resilience: Your Basic Essentials (Brian Miller). More than a hundred years of consumer capitalism and the free labor of fossil fuels have left most of us ill equipped to contemplate the essentials of life and the value of work. We as a society have used the largesse of cheap fuel to devalue community and extol the individual, warping in the process our relationship to the daily rhythms of work, to the degree that simple hygiene gets farmed out to an appliance.

> CERTs: CERTs Announces Seed Grant Funding For Clean Energy (Lisa Pawlisch). The Clean Energy Resource Teams are excited to announce 39 Seed Grant awards to organizations in the seven Minnesota CERT regions. Each region awarded around $20,000 worth of grants, catalyzing energy efficiency and renewable energy across the state.


> MN350: Community Gathering, Tues., Jan. 12th, 6:30-8:30 pmLongfellow Community Center, 3435 36th Ave. S., Mpls. Contact:

> Northland Sustainable Solutions: Building a Movement with Energy Solutions – the UN Climate Change Talkback. A one-day event sponsored by Northland Sustainable Solutions and many other groups, including MN350, featuring a panel discussion, including indigenous voices, of people who attended the recent UN Paris Climate Change Conference, Sat., Jan. 30, 9:30am- 4pm., Carondelet Center, 1890 Randolph Ave Saint Paul, MN. Register and purchase tickets here

> Clean Energy Resource Teams: Clean Energy Accelerator. Metro CERT – offering rapid energy assistance to cities, counties, & schools. Learn more at:

By Clifton Ware

Sustainability Education Forum Editor-Publisher Dr. Clifton Ware is an international figure in the world of voice pedagogy. During the the past fifty years of teaching students how to sing -- both nationally and internationally -- Clif developed his signature "Efficient and Authentic Voice Technique". What distinguishes his method is its holistic approach, simplicity, and effectiveness. Siingers find that they are able to ensure their vocal health while cultivating their own unique, expressive sound. This approach stands in sharp contrast to faddish techniques that encourage mimicking the vocalism, style, and qualities of other singers, possibly limiting their own vocal imprint and even harming their vocal instrument. The "Efficient and Authentic Voice Technique" produces singers that enjoy vocal power, range, ease, individuality, and a liberating learning process.

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