On The Road: Sustainability Observations – News-Views Digest

Sustainability Education News-Views Digest

SEF News-Views Digest No. 121 (3-9-16)

  • Citizens for Sustainability: Meeting-Forum, Sat., Mar. 12, 10am-noon, Silver Lake Village Community Center, 3301 Silver Lake Rd.

The SEF e-newsletter is back in circulation, a week earlier than previously announced. Our three-week getaway trip to the scenic Texas Hill Country (roughly, 75-100 miles west of Austin and San Antonio) proved to be a stimulating, invigorating travel experience. Activities included: sightseeing a variety of landscapes, from open plains to forested rolling hills and small mountains; visiting 17 museums (art and historical, including the LBJ Ranch complex and four missions in San Antonio); and 10 state parks and nature areas, including our favorite state parks—Enchanted Rock, Pendernales, Garner, and Palo Duro Canyon (near Amarillo), which we visited on our return-homeward drive. We highly recommend the Hill Country—and other equally attractive Texas areas—as travel destinations, especially for snowbird retirees.

Because of our sustainability interests, we tend to view everything through “green” lenses. So it’s always discouraging to observe humanity’s negative impacts on the environment, from crowded, expanding cities and deteriorating infrastructures to widespread degradation of natural habitats.

Fortunately, most highways were in fair to excellent condition, with occasional road construction along our chosen routes. Vehicle snarls and slowdowns were rather common experiences during rush-hour traffic in major cities, with some accidents creating parking lots on freeways. It seems the heavy traffic along the I-35 corridor from Dallas/Ft. Worth to Austin and San Antonio is growing worse by the year, which explains why we avoided it as much as possible.

When driving through some small towns and certain areas of cities, it was hard to avoid viewing poorly maintained homes and cluttered yards in many residential neighborhoods, as well as boarded-up buildings and shops, and unplanned, unattractive shopping strips that lead to city and town centers. As happens world wide, most cities invariably contained industrial areas, most of which are necessary for commerce, yet generally unsightly and dirty. Almost everywhere one travels, there’s omnipresent litter (mostly plastic stuff) along highways and streets, and even along some of the trails we hiked in state parks. How people can consciously litter their environment is beyond my comprehension.

One real eye opener occurred when driving through oil country, from the Hill Country to Amarillo, and later through sections of Oklahoma. The infrastructure supporting the large amount of equipment used to drill, extract, store, process, and transport oil and gas was a bit disturbing. We observed fleets of white trucks, pickups and larger vehicles, most associated with various aspects of the energy industry. So, what was a bucolic rural landscape a decade or so ago, now exhibits scattered oil-pumping rigs, sand piles, storage tanks, gas lines, power lines, and most ominous of all: large man-made wastewater-holding ponds, presumably for storing waste water and chemicals used in the oil-fracking process.

waste water (left, black structure); electrical, processing structures (center); sand piles (right); farm fields (foreground)

Although we strongly support renewable energy development, we also found it a bit disconcerting to see hundreds of towering wind turbines dotting a landscape shared with farming crops and raising cattle. One incongruous scene I wish I’d photographed featured a few cows feeding near an oil-pumping rig, with wind turbines in the background. In addition, it was hard to ignore the cell towers and electricity poles sprouting all over the landscape. It’s not hard to understand how all of this type of human activity might be negatively affecting the quality of water, air, soil, wildlife–and human life.

On a more positive note, in addition to experiencing several beautiful, largely unspoiled natural areas, as found in state parks and nature preserves, there’s another very positive environmental experience we can report. When driving north of Wichita, KS, we entered an eco-warp zone that provided a stunning surprise. In checking the map, we assumed it was the tail end of the Tall Grass Prairie National Preserve. The incredible aspect was that, save for the highway dissecting the area, no human intrusion was visible for several miles. Tall-grass prairie once covered 170 million acres of North America, but within a generation the vast majority was developed and plowed under. Today less than 4% remains, mostly in the Kansas Flint Hills.

We are highly indebted to the local, state, and national government agencies responsible for safeguarding vital ecosystems. Thanks to their oversight, our descendants may continue enjoying the many curative attributes and vestiges of nature. ––– Clifton Ware, Editor-Publisher


> Common Dreams: Civil Discourse Leads To Positive Change; Insults Do Not (Zoe Weil). Civil discourse isn’t just a better path for living and working together peacefully; it is a better path strategically if we want our ideas to be thoughtfully considered and potentially embraced by others. Venting your anger publicly isn’t only counterproductive, it’s also selfish. It doesn’t serve your greater goal; it only serves your most frustrated self. And given all the terrible, destructive, dangerous things that are happening in our society and the world, we need to harness the energy of our rage for positive purposes and meaningful change. Civil discourse is a practice. It requires deep commitment (and deep breaths). But it works better than anything else to create the foundation for collaboration toward positive change making that meets the needs of all stakeholders.

> Cassandra Legacy: The Other Side Of The Global Crisis: Entropy And The Collapse Of Civilizations (Jacapo Simonetta). In the coming decades, entropy will be a more challenging problem than that of the energy supply. Only a drastic reduction in the energy input could save the biosphere. But this is a high price to pay because a reduction of energy flow means necessarily a reduction of complexity and information stored inside the human sub-system. It means misery and death for the human population, although it means also hope for the future one (assuming that it will exist, but humans are too adaptable and resilient to go extinct as long as a functioning biosphere exists) So, new civilizations will appear but, in order for that to occur, the present civilization will have to collapse fast enough to leave a livable planet to our descendants.

> Oil Price: How Oil Price Volatility Explains These Uncertain Times (Tom Therramus). The numbers say that these should be the best of times for America. The economy has been growing for five years. Unemployment is low. Inflation is almost nonexistent and gas is cheap. Yet, many Americans feel deeply uneasy about their future prospects. Uncertainty is the catchword of the moment. This uncertainty is contributing to growing pessimism and anger – discontent that is no doubt a factor in the unsettled state of the 2016 Presidential race. If times are good, why do so many Americans believe that it is the worst of times? Have we become a nation of neurotics or is something real going on?

> Common Dreams: Why Seniors—Not Ceos—Deserve A Raise (Elizabeth Warren). Any conversation about tackling poverty in the United States should include protecting and expanding Social Security. The reason is pretty straightforward: Social Security is the most powerful tool available to lift people out of poverty. Nearly two-thirds of seniors depend on Social Security for the majority of their income, and millions more children and adults depend upon survivors and disability benefits. According to Center for Budget and Policy Priorities analysis of Census data, Social Security kept 21 million Americans out of poverty in the last year alone. All told, that’s more people than any other government program.

> Uneven Earth: The Growthocene (Ekaterina Chertkovskaya, Alexander Paulsson).  Reservations about degrowth point to the need to clarify what growth traps to avoid when making a transition to sustainable degrowth. This article describes three ways of understanding growth that should be challenged by degrowth: first, reliance on biophysical throughput; second, capital accumulation and productivism more generally; and third, the perpetual striving for quantitative expansion of national economies (measured in GDP). We also propose that growthocene can be a suitable way to characterize the epoch we live in, broadening the notion of capitalocene while opposing the now mainstream notion of anthropocene.


> Climate Progress: Climate Deniers’ Favorite Temperature Dataset Just Confirmed Global Warming (Joe Romm).  February smashed monthly global temperature records, according to the satellite data analyzed by the University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH). At the same time, a brand new study concludes that miscalculations explain why the Remote Sensing Systems (RSS) satellite temperature dataset had appeared to show a relatively slow rate of global warming. In fact, for those who live in reality, as opposed to in denial, satellite dataground-based weather stationssea-based buoys, and even weather balloons all reveal a steady long-term warming trend.

> Common Dreams: Green Climate Fund: Where Big Banks Profit Again From Crisis They Helped Create (Deirdre Fulton). As the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the financial mechanism for the UN climate agency, meets this week in South Korea, more than 170 civil society groups are calling on the international body to reject bids from big banks HSBC and Crédit Agricole to receive and manage funds to help poorer nations tackle climate change. Given their role in financing climate pollution and their poor records on human and environmental rights, approving the financial giants’ applications would run counter to the Fund’s goals, the groups say.

> Scientific American: The Ominous Story Of Syria’s Climate Refugees (John Wendle). Drought, which is being exacerbated by climate change and bad government policies, has forced more than a million Syrian farmers to move to overcrowded cities. Water shortages, ruined land and corruption, they say, fomented revolution. Lack of work, along with ensuing violence, has prompted many Syrians to flee to Turkey and then cross the ocean to Greece. Hundreds of adults and children have drowned along the way. Climate scientists say Syrian droughts will become more frequent and severe, a trend that could expand across the Middle East and the Mediterranean region.

> The Guardian: Revealed: The 30-Year Economic Betrayal Dragging Down Generation Y’s Income (Staff). A Guardian investigation into the prospects of millennials – those born between 1980 and the mid-90s, and often otherwise known as Generation Y – has found they are increasingly being cut out of the wealth generated in western societies. Where 30 years ago young adults used to earn more than national averages, now in many countries they have slumped to earning as much as 20% below their average compatriot. Pensioners by comparison have seen income soar. It appears they are not hitting the basic stages of adulthood at the same time as previous generations because such milestones are so much more costly and in some cases they are even being paid less than their parents were at the same age.

> Think Progress: Blockbuster Job Growth Still Isn’t Turning Into Big Raises For American Workers (Bryce Covert).  Job gains were concentrated in health care and social assistance (57,000), retail (55,000), food service and drinking places (40,000), private education services (28,000), and construction (19,000). Retail has added 339,000 jobs over the last year, while food and drinking places have added 359,000. Even with strong jobs growth, wages slipped in February. After a 12-cent gain in February, average hourly earnings declined by 3 cents, and they’ve grown by just 2.2 percent over the last year.


> Resilience: Efficiency Is Not The Enemy Of Resiliency (Karen Lyn Allen). On a simplistic level, efficiency is maximum (or optimal) output with minimum waste. The output could be a product from a manufacturing line; it could be a warm house; it could be nutritious food to eat. Efficiency is not the opposite of resiliency. It does not equate with fragility. It does not, in and of itself, impede a system’s ability to cope with difficult conditions. In fact, it can vigorously improve that ability.

> Yes! Magazine: Eat To Boost Immunity: 6 Things You Need And Where To Find Them (Keith Barbalato). The link between strong immunity and nutritional intake is clear: More whole foods, fewer processed foods, and a balanced intake of essential vitamins and minerals can keep you, and the people around you, from getting sick, says Amy Frasieur of Bastyr University. Essential vitamins and minerals like Vitamin D and Zinc can keep you from getting sick. But which foods have them, and when should you worry about consuming too much?

> Ensia: The Newest Strategy For Saving Bees Is Really, Really Old (Christina Selby). Whether it’s tasting a new apple variety from the Kullu Valley, using Royal Lady honey as skin lotion in the Zona Maya, watching African elephants make a beeline for the hills or something else somewhere else, native pollinators have much to offer humans and local ecosystems alike. Including traditional beekeeping practices in bee conservation efforts may be exactly what we need to keep our agriculture systems, forests and farmers thriving.

> Independent Science News: Building Agricultural Resilience Through Plant Breeding (Salvatore Ceccarelli). Five of the global issues most frequently debated today are the decline of biodiversity in general and of agrobiodiversity in particular, climate change, hunger and malnutrition, poverty and water. Seed is central to all five issues. The way in which seed is produced has been arguably their major cause. But it can also be the solution to all these issues.

> Shareable: Community Composting Grows From A Seed Into A Movement (Cat Johnson). Three years ago, Dustin Fedako attended the US Composting Council’s annual conference. As founder of Compost Pedallers, a bike-powered, compost-recycling program in Austin, Texas, Fedako didn’t know what to expect from the conference, which is geared toward the industrial composting model. He just wanted to “sponge up as much as he could.” He learned a lot and he also spent a lot of time explaining what community composting is. As he puts it, people who were using dump trucks just didn’t know what to do with bike-powered haulers.


> MN Renewable Energy Society: Kitty Stratton–Solar Thermal Heating: Dynamics Of The Skytherm For Northern Climates: Unique, Innovative And Tested, Thurs., Mar. 10th, 5:30-7:00 p.m., Mayflower Church, 106 E. Diamond Lake Rd., Mpls. Click for Map

> UM Institute On The Environment: Frontiers In The Environment Spring Lecture Series. A weekly Wednesday series features “big questions” in solutions-focused conversations about the next wave of research and discovery. Noon, R-380 Learning and Environmental Sciences, St. Paul campus, and live online. Learn more >

Izaak Walton League – Minnesota Division: Watershed Summit 2016: Policy To Action, Mar. 12, Normandale Community College Partnership Center, Bloomington, MN; Izaak Walton League – Minnesota Division

> Climate Generation/MPIRG: Youth Lobby Day And Governor’s Summit – Clean Power Plan, Mar. 14, Christ Lutheran Church, St. Paul, MN; Climate GenerationMPIRG

> Walter J. Breckenridge Chapter IWLA: Federal Public Lands And Sulfide-Ore Mining In NE Minnesota, Mar. 22, Brooklyn Park, MN

> Fresh Energy: Fully Charged: Can MN Transition To Electric Buses? Mar. 30, Town & Country Club; Fresh Energy

> 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

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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