SEF News-Views Digest No. 117 (1-20-16)
Ever since the presidential race got off to a mystifying start in 2015, the label “political correctness” has been spouted many times by conservative presidential candidates. Trump, in particular, loves to label certain actions of Democrats as over-the-top political correctness. Actually, I agree that the hard liners of political correctness have gone too far in many instances. I first became aware of this in the 70s and 80s, when the swelling tide of postmodernism began sweeping through academia, in some cases associated with the rise of feminism and multiculturalism. Since then, things have gotten a bit wacky.
The use of undefined labels in political (and public) discourse is a fascinating topic for study, as are other bizarre behaviors by candidates—and their supporters. Sometimes the political scene seems surreal, and I imagine a majority of citizens share similar responses.
Let’s begin with two definitions of political correctness: 1) The avoidance, often considered as taken to extremes, of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people [or individuals] who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against (Oxford Advanced Learners Library); and 2) Conforming to a belief that language and practices could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race), and should be eliminated (Merriam-Webster).
I think it’s fair to say that political correctness is primarily associated with progressive ideas that have been very influential in changing social behavior (for the better) over the past few decades. Two notable progressive achievements are gains in civil rights and environmental concerns. In confronting major social changes, conservatives, including libertarians, have used the label “political correctness” to ridicule various beliefs, pronouncements, and behaviors advanced by progressives. In particular, academics are denounced for promoting a host of liberal agendas that result in politically correct behavior.
Left-leaning academics, in contrast, suggest that right-wing conservatives, including libertarians, have emphasized the term in order to divert attention from more substantive discriminatory issues, and also as part of a broader anti-liberalism culture war. Moreover, they claim that conservatives have their own forms of political correctness that are generally ignored, by themselves as well as liberals.
It seems that arguments voiced by liberals and conservatives for upholding free speech are valid, as long as discourse is based on rational, critical thinking in a civil atmosphere. Perhaps we need new terms that adequately explain the type of “political correctness” that’s generated from various constituencies. For example, how about “religiously correct” for views and actions promoted by right-wing evangelical Christians, or even by fundamentalist Muslims, Jews, and others? For example, consider the righteous indignation spouted by Christian evangelicals against anyone using the secular use of “Happy Holidays” instead of saying the more religiously correct “Merry Christmas”. Also, what about the Muslim female college professor at an evangelical college (Wheaton) who was suspended, ostensibly because she proclaimed on social media that Christians and Muslims share the same God? Compounding her situation—due to a rash of worldwide terroristic attacks that created an intense worldwide backlash against Muslims —she demonstrated solidarity by daring to wear a hijab (headscarf). It seems that, within an evangelical oriented academic setting, both of her actions might accurately be termed religiously correct within a religious-oriented institution.
So I’ll propose some new terms. How about “social appropriateness” as a term to describe behaviors that are voiced in a civil, sensitive, tactful, inclusive, ethical, and, ultimately, “morally correct” manner? Yes, morally correct. Because all world citizens recognize the truism of the great moral imperative: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Morality is thus the ultimate test of any political, ideological, or social behavior, whether verbal or physical.
Prompting this commentary are two articles at the beginning of i the Views section: “The Phony Debate About Political Correctness” and “Will The Fantasy of Political Correctness Continue in 2016?” I urge you to read both articles. Think Progress provides the combined poster-board image below, in connection with the first article listed in Views.
In closing, as we strive to become more resilient and sustainable—as individuals, families, communities, organizations, and institutions—we are challenged to conduct ourselves in a manner befitting our planet’s most highly evolved life form. If successful, we will bequeath to descendants humanity’s greatest achievements: our collective knowledge, skills, and creative accomplishments. What’s more, we will do it willingly—with grace, humility, and love for everything that is true, good, and beautiful. –––– Clifton Ware, Editor-Publisher
> Think Progress: The Phony Debate About Political Correctness (Erica Hellerstein & Judd Legum). Criticism of the “illiberal” strain of political correctness has found an eager audience among a range of GOP presidential hopefuls, many of whom readily invoke P.C. as a leftist bogeyman. At a recent Republican Jewish Coalition Conference, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) declared that “the politically correct doublespeak from this administration has gone beyond ridiculous.” Some recent research raises worthwhile points about the impact of speech constraints and communication among diverse groups. The ongoing conversation about P.C. often relies on anecdotal evidence rather than data. This is part of the reason it’s subject to such vigorous debate — people like to tailor the evidence to their worldview, not vice versa.
> The Huffington Post: Will The Fantasy Of Political Correctness Continue In 2016? (Michael Roth). In 2016, politicians and pundits will certainly continue to pontificate about the pitfalls of political correctness. There just isn’t any downside to attacking this imaginary monster of groupthink, so we can expect to hear speakers trumpeting their own courage in “not being pc” as they attack especially vulnerable groups in society. Even if they remain targets for politicians and pundits, our college campuses can defy caricature by incubating ideas and practices to empower students to face problems and create opportunities beyond the university. That may be our most significant contribution to dispelling the fantasy of political correctness by developing an authentic political culture in the years ahead.
> Peak Prosperity: The Deflation Monster Has Arrived (Chris Martenson). Since the start of 2016, the US equity markets are down almost 10%, their worst start historically. Many other markets across the world are suffering worse. Flashbacks of the financial crisis of 2008 come to mind. At one point the Dow was down over 500 points, the S&P cracked below key support at 1,900, and the price of oil dropped below $30/barrel. Scared investors are wondering: What the heck is happening? Many are also fearfully asking: Are we re-entering another crisis? Sadly, we think so. While there may be a market rescue that provides some relief in the near term, looking at the next few years, we will experience this as a time of unprecedented financial market turmoil, political upheaval and social unrest. The losses will be staggering. Markets are going to crash, wealth will be transferred from the unwary to the well connected, and life for most people will get harder as measured against the recent past. And the Federal Reserve is largely responsible.
> OpEd News: A Crisis Worse Than ISIS? Bail-Ins Begin (Ellen Brown). While the mainstream media focus on ISIS extremists, a threat that has gone virtually unreported is that your life savings could be wiped out in a massive derivatives collapse. Bank bail-ins have begun in Europe, and the infrastructure is in place in the US. Poverty also kills.
> New Economics Foundation: Energy Round-Up: Six Predictions For 2016 (Griffin Carpenter). 2015 proved to be an interesting year for energy and climate issues both globally and in the UK. Will 2016 hold more of the same? Predictions address Saudi oil prices, renewables, hybrid and electric car sales, global emissions, and global warming.
> Resilience: The Oil Pricequote (Michael Klare). Generally speaking, oil prices go up when the global economy is robust, world demand is rising, suppliers are pumping at maximum levels, and little stored or surplus capacity is on hand. They tend to fall when, as now, the global economy is stagnant or slipping, energy demand is tepid, key suppliers fail to rein in production in consonance with falling demand, surplus oil builds up, and future supplies appear assured. Even at $33 a barrel, production continues to outpace global demand and there seems little likelihood of prices rising soon. Tremors from the oil pricequake have undoubtedly yet to reach their full magnitude. Prices will, of course, inevitably rise some day, given the way investors are pulling the plug on energy projects globally.
> Yale Global: Warming World Promises More Refugees (Richard D. Lamm). Climate change, poverty, civil war and civil strife, and myriad other threats are causing massive movement of people. Last summer’s Mediterranean crisis, a migration of Biblical proportions from Syria to Europe, is likely merely a preview of the dislocation to come. It is not too apocalyptic to consider the possibility that ultimately a warming world cannot support the 9 billion human beings anticipated by 2050. The Pentagon issued a 2002 report that states, “Abrupt climate change is likely to stretch (the Earth’s) carrying capacity well beyond its already precarious limits.” National leaders must ponder this new reality, asking how many dislocated people any nation can take without ruining its own economic and social fabric. Public policy cannot, ultimately, be at variance with ecological reality. Likewise, neither religious nor ethical thinking can trump ecological limits.
> CNBC: Donald Trump’s Gift To America (Bruce Abramson & Jeff Ballbon). Trump’s message [that life doesn’t need to be so complicated] is his gift to America. The country needs a massive, widespread, structural simplification. Americans should understand their nation’s laws. Taxes and regulations should make sense. Decent families should not have to worry about government intrusion. Companies should have to spend little on compliance. And we need to show some respect for our own traditions. Even if America’s culture is changing, its traditions cannot become toxic overnight. America needs to make sense. Otherwise, we are indeed just a bunch of losers.
> Post Carbon Institute: Climate Holism Vs. Climate Reductionism (Richard Heinberg). Climate change may be the biggest threat facing humanity, but the way we’re currently going about fighting it just ensures that, even if we prevail, another threat will follow. The reductionist school of thought sees climate change as resulting simply from the technical problem of carbon emissions. A holistic view of climate change starts by understanding its relationship to a complex of disorders that increasingly plagues the global ecosystem, including soil degradation, desertification, the decline of life in the oceans, species extinctions, deforestation, and water and air pollution. Both reductionism and holism can be useful pathways to learning and understanding, but problems arise if we insist on using one approach only, or if we misapply that approach.
> Resilience: China’s One Child Policy: Overwhelmed By Increased Affluence (Roger Boyd). The classic I.P.A.T. (Ecological Impact = Population * Affluence * Technology) equation very succinctly sums up the problem that humanity faces. Growth in both the number of people on the planet, and the level of affluence per person (GDP per capita as a measure), combine to drive increased levels of ecological impact. Technology may provide ways of reducing that impact per unit of growth (population * affluence), but cannot offset the 3%+ growth rate currently assumed as normal. As measured by the Ecological Footprint, humanity’s resource usage reached the capacity of the Earth in the early 1970’s and is now assessed to be have reached the level of 1.6 Earths, and will rise to two planets by 2030.
> Politico: The States Of Our Union … Are Not All Strong –3rd Annual Ranking (Manuel Tobias). Congratulations to “first in the nation” New Hampshire, and condolences to Louisiana. On the occasion of the State of the Union address, Politico Magazine once again subjected the 50 states of the union (plus the District of Columbia) to our annual head-to-head competition to find out which state, in traditional SOTU parlance, is most “strong.” The results are in, and the Granite State is No. 1 for the third straight year, leaving Minnesota, with which it tied last year, in second place.
> MPR: A Month After Paris, Minn. Ready To Take ‘ Bold Action On Climate Change (Elizabeth Dunbar). Minnesota’s delegates to the United Nations conference on climate change delivered two key messages to state leaders Tuesday: Minnesota, they said, should be even more ambitious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions here — and they encouraged grassroots efforts to hold international leaders accountable for addressing climate change. Several of Tuesday’s speakers noted that hundreds of large companies, including Minnesota-based General Mills and Best Buy, are making their own commitments to reduce emissions. Cities are doing the same, despite inaction by Congress on climate change. A report on how Minnesota can best reach its climate change goals is expected in February.
> The Guardian: Climate Change Disaster Is Biggest Threat To Global Economy In 2016 (Larry Elliot). A catastrophe caused by climate change is seen as the biggest potential threat to the global economy in 2016, according to a survey of 750 experts conducted by the World Economic Forum (WEF). A failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation was seen as likely to have a bigger impact than the spread of weapons of mass destruction, water crises, mass involuntary migration and a severe energy price shock – the first time in the 11 years of the Global Risks report that the environment has been in first place. The WEF said the broad range of risks – from environmental to geopolitical and economic – was unprecedented.
MinnPost: From Climate Change To ‘Technofossils,’ We’re Revising Earth’s Geologic History (Ron Meador). A cross-disciplinary team of 22 researchers argues that human-caused change in virtually all the planet’s systems – including its very geology, through the introduction of “technofossils” and other forms of “new rock” – is so pronounced that future scientists will see our influence as an unmistakable boundary marker in the ice cores, lake sediments and other samplings long used to chart the planet’s 4.5 billion-year-old record.
> Midwest Energy News: In Minnesota, Community Solar Shares Getting Snapped Up Fast (Frank Jossi). “It’s great news to hear that there’s such high demand for community solar gardens in our state,” said Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association’s spokesman David Shaffer. “What you’re really seeing is that there are a lot of people who want to be part of community solar.” Waverly’s city government is a subscriber to a solar garden that will offset 100 percent of its electric energy use, Mayor Connie Holmes said. The city will save $300,000 to $400,000 over the course of the 25-year contract.
> NRDC On Earth Magazine: Spill Tracker (Editors). Shipping oil and gas across our country and Canada is a dangerous business, whether it’s by rail, ship, or pipeline. Major accidents might make headlines for a few days or weeks, but after our media attention moves on, the environmental cleanup and community costs remain. Not one week into 2015, on January 6, a ruptured pipeline leaked 3 million gallons of brine into two creeks near Williston, North Dakota. It was the largest such spill since the state’s oil boom began 10 years ago, which is saying something: A New York Times report found that more than 18.4 million gallons of oils and chemicals spilled, leaked, or misted into the state’s air, land, and waterways between 2006 and 2014. Here’s a list of major spills in 2015.
> Esquire: More Than Half Of Americans Reportedly Have Less Than $1,000 To Their Name (Jack Holmes). In a recent survey, 56 percent of Americans said they have less than $1,000 in their checking and savings accounts combined, Forbes reports. Nearly a quarter (24.8 percent) has less than $100. Meanwhile, 38 percent said they would pay less than their full credit card balance this month, and 11 percent said they would make the minimum payment—meaning they would likely be mired in debt for years and pay more in interest than they originally borrowed. It paints a daunting picture of the average American coming out of the spend-heavy holiday season: steeped in credit card debt, living paycheck-to-paycheck, at serious risk of financial ruin if the slightest thing goes wrong.
> The Archdruid Report: Retrotopia: Learning Lessons (John Michael Greer). This is the thirteenth installment of an exploration of some of the possible futures discussed on this blog, using the toolkit of narrative fiction. Our narrator, Peter Carr, finishes up his trip to a tier-one county, and starts to notice ways in which the Lakeland Republic has gone neither forwards nor backwards, but off on an angle all its own. This episode begins with the end of the shooting-down-drones adventure, and continues the next day with getting a haircut in downtown Hicksville barbershop, where men were singing barbershop songs. Next, Carr visits City Hall and an impressive 8-grades public school, where “numeracy” and “naturacy” (nature science skills).
> Resilience: Rebooting Work: Programming The Economy For The People (Douglas Rushkoff). Digital and robotic technologies offer us both a bounty of productivity as well as welcome relief from myriad repeatable tasks. Unfortunately, as our economy is currently configured, both of these seeming miracles are also big problems. How do we maintain market prices in a world with surplus productivity? And, even more to the point, how do we employ people when robots are taking all the jobs? When digital companies disrupt an existing industry, they tend to offer just one new job for every 10 they render obsolete. Many companies today – from ridesharing app Lazooz to WinCo – are implementing worker-owned “platform cooperatives” to replace platform monopolies, allowing those contributing land or labor to an enterprise to earn an ownership share equal to those contributing just capital.
> Ensia: Can Genetic Engineering Help Quench Crops’ Thirst (Matt Weiser). Roger Deal is trying to figure out how plants remember drought. Around the world, researchers are working to create genetically modified crop varieties that can withstand severe drought, expected more often with climate change, or thrive on arid lands now considered unsuitable for farming. One crop genetically engineered for drought tolerance is already on the market in the United States: a corn variety called DroughtGard, created by Monsanto. Its results have been mixed.
> Ensia: These Companies Are Figuring Out How To Take The Toxics Out Of Electronics (Rachel Cernansky). Around the world, electronics companies are working to reduce their use of chemicals that are known to be hazardous to human health, the environment or both. From cellphones to computers to televisions, electronics are manufactured with a long list of substances that are known to be toxic, including metals such as lead and hexavalent chromium, and other contaminants such as phthalates and brominated flame retardants. There are also efforts to turn things that would otherwise become e-trash into the raw materials for new products. Dell launched a closed-loop recycling program in 2014 that turns old plastics into new Dell products, for example.
> CA Equities: How Can We Kickstart Regional Resilience? (Stephen Hinton). The blogger lists 8 suggestions for creating greater resilience, beginning with defining the place (community, region, etc.) and ending with identifying new forms of organization and what is being practiced in the area. The author’s emphasis on creating resilience rather than sustainability is intentional.
> The New York Times: A Project to Turn Corpses Into Compost (Catherine Einhorn). Even as more people opt for interment in simple shrouds or biodegradable caskets, urban cemeteries continue to fill up. For the environmentally conscious, cremation is a problematic option, as the process releases greenhouse gases. Armed with a prestigious environmental fellowship, Katrina Spade, a 37-year-old Seattle resident with a degree in architecture, has proposed an alternative: a facility for human composting. For more information see: Urban Death Project.
> AP-MPR: Stillwater Firm Makes Compostable Dinnerware From Plant-Based Material. SelfEco, a Stillwater-based company, makes high-end industrial compostable dinnerware and flatware. SelfEco is a sister company of VistaTek, a family-owned custom-injection molding company. The company’s products are made from a plant-based byproduct called polyactic acid. Using PLA reduces dependence on fossil fuels and minimizes greenhouse gas emissions.
SUSTAINABILITY INFO & EVENTS
> Co-Sponsored Water Event: Climate Adaptation: Transforming Awareness Into Action, Jan. 28, DoubleTree by Hilton North Minneapolis North, 2200 Freeway Blvd., Mpls. Hosted by University of Minnesota Water Resources Center.
> 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.
> 2016 Made in Minnesota Program: Solar Incentives For Minnesotans. Deadline is Feb. 28th to submit applications. Applicants are entered into a lottery and randomly chosen winners receive a 10-year grant to assist with the pay off of their residential or commercial solar array. The program has a total of $150 million to distribute among the lottery winners. If you are interested in applying for the lottery or would like more information, contact IPS today.
> Innovative Power Systems: New Residential Financing Options. Updated financing options for residential clients are available. Competitive loans are being offered that increase the flexibility of homeowners looking to purchase a system. For more details on these options see: programs & financing page.
> Clean Energy Resource Teams: Clean Energy Accelerator. Metro CERT – offering rapid energy assistance to cities, counties, & schools.