The Dumbing Down of America – News-Views Digest

Sustainability Education News-Views Digest

SEF News-Views Digest No. 122 (3-16-16)

Citizens for Sustainability: Meeting-Forum, Sat., Apr. 9, 10am-noon, Silver Lake Village Community Center, 3301 Silver Lake Rd.

Based on observations of some desperate presidential candidates—and their devoted supporters, there is an appalling lack of civil decorum. In the heated atmosphere of campaigning, the presidential race has brought out both the best and worst qualities of our citizenry. As we observe the pronouncements and actions of candidates—some acting very non presidential—there’s little doubt we are a highly divided nation, with the chasm between progressives and conservatives deepening and widening.

A friend posted a thought-provoking article on Facebook recently that engaged my attention. Though originally published in 2014 on the Psychology Today website, the information provided in Ray Williams’ article (“Anti-Intellectualism and The Dumbing-Down of America”) has grown even more relevant since then, intensified by a presidential race that has shocked and disturbed a majority of thoughtful, sane Americans.

In lieu of my typical long commentary, I strongly urge you to read Williams’ article, which follows in the Views section. Also, please check out the several articles that are focused on various aspects of climate change, which, thankfully, is increasingly being covered in the media. I can’t help but wonder how long dumbed-down citizens will continue denying this awful reality.


Psychology Today: Anti-Intellectualism And The “Dumbing Down” Of America (Ray Williams). There is a growing and disturbing trend of anti-intellectual elitism in American culture. It’s the dismissal of science, the arts, and humanities and their replacement by entertainment, self-righteousness, ignorance, and deliberate gullibility. Susan Jacoby, author of The Age of American Unreason, says in an article in the Washington Post, “Dumbness, to paraphrase the late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, has been steadily defined downward for several decades, by a combination of heretofore irresistible forces. These include the triumph of video culture over print culture; a disjunction between Americans’ rising level of formal education and their shaky grasp of basic geography, science and history; and the fusion of anti-rationalism with anti-intellectualism.”
> Resilience: Living In Interesting Times: Have CO2 Emissions Peaked? (Ugo Bardi). Now, it is official: the global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions peaked in 2014 and went down in 2015. And this could be a momentous change. Don’t expect the emission peak, alone, to save us from the impending climate disaster, but, if CO2 emissions will start an irreversible decline, then we need to rethink several assumptions that we have been making on how to deal with climate change. In particular, depletion is normally assumed to be a minor factor in determining the trajectory of the world’s economy during the coming decades, but that may not be the case. Depletion is not a good thing in itself, but it might help us (perhaps) to stay within the “safe” limits and avoid a climate disaster.
> Huffington Post: Energy Wars Of Attrition (Michael Klare). Just as the peak oil theorists failed to foresee crucial technological breakthroughs in the energy world and how they would affect fossil fuel production, the industry and its boosters failed to anticipate the impact of a gusher of additional oil and gas on energy prices.  And just as the introduction of fracking made peak oil theory irrelevant, so oil and gas abundance — and the accompanying plunge of prices to rock-bottom levels — shattered the prospects for a U.S. industrial renaissance based on accelerated energy production. Think of it this way: in the conflagration of the take-no-prisoners war the Saudis let loose, a centuries-old world based on oil may be ending in both a glut and a hollowing out on an increasingly overheated planet. A war of attrition, indeed.
> The New York Times: The Unnatural Kingdom (Daniel Duane). An infrastructure [of digital technology in the wild] is proliferating and improving so quickly that wildlife managers are seizing more and more of nature’s relevant dials — predator and prey alike — and turning those dials to keep nature looking the way we want it to. Undeniably in the service of good, this technological revolution in the human relationship to wildlife is also accelerating the ancient human project of bringing the physical world under our control. More and more, though, as we humans devour habitat, and as hardworking biologists use the best tools available to protect whatever wild creatures remain, we approach that perhaps inevitable time when every predator-prey interaction, every live birth and every death in every species supported by the terrestrial biosphere, will be monitored and manipulated by the human hive mind.


> Climate Central: Unprecedented Spike In CO2 Levels In 2015 (Bobby Magill). The annual growth rate of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose more in 2015 than scientists have ever seen in a single year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Thursday. It was the fourth year in a row that carbon dioxide concentrations grew by more than 2 parts per million, with an annual growth rate of 3.05 parts per million in 2015. ­The spike comes in the same year that Earth reached an ominous global warming milestone — scientists last year measured the highest atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide ever recorded.

> Daily KOS: Stunning 23 Second Video Of 26 Years Of Arctic Sea Ice Loss (Laurence Lewis).  After a record-breaking 2015 – declared the hottest year on record – it’s no surprise that 2016 began on the same wave. January 2016 was the hottest month in the Arctic’s recorded history, and the region’s sea ice has taken the largest loss, reaching a record low for the month of February. Recent reports from the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) note that the Arctic is missing a mass of sea ice that’s 1,160,000 square kilometres — more than half the size of the Prairies. The missing sea ice was calculated in comparison to the 1981-2010 long-term average. Artic ice could be gone as soon as 2020.

> Climate Progress: The Unexpected Reaction Farmers Could Have To Climate Change (Natasha Geiling). For all intents and purposes, climate change is not going to be good news for agriculture. Studies have shown that it will likely reduce crop yieldscreate a malnutrition crisis, and make large portions of the globe inhospitable to staple crops like maize or bananas. But researchers from Brown and Tufts universities have a dire message for the world: studies linking climate change to a decrease in crop production might be underestimating the true impact of climate change on agriculture.

> E&E Publishing: Oil And Gas Boom Not To Blame For Methane Spike (Gayathri Vaidyanathan)Research, published recently in Science, finds that policymakers might make more progress on global warming if they focus on curbing emissions from agriculture or animal husbandry, primarily in the tropics. “Currently increasing methane levels are caused not by fossil fuel production but rather by wetlands or, more likely, agriculture,” said Hinrich Schaefer, an atmospheric scientist at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research in Wellington, New Zealand, and lead author of the study. “That means we have to find ways to reduce methane emissions from rice agriculture, beef and dairy farming while still feeding the world’s population if we want to mitigate climate change,” he said.

> Think Progress: New Study Finds People Of Color Less Polarized About Climate Change Than Whites (Bryan Dewan). A new study has found that people of color are less politically polarized over the issue of climate change than white people. Climate change is a highly important issue for many minority communities. A 2010 Yale poll found that “often the strongest supporters of climate and energy policies and were also more likely to support these policies even if they incurred greater cost.” And climate change and environmental issues are among the top concerns for the Latino community, with one poll showing that reducing smog ranks above reforming immigration policies for Latinos.

> Climate Science: Regional Climate Change And National Responsibilities (James Hansen, Makiko Sato). Global warming of about 1°F (0.6°C) over the past several decades now “loads the climate dice.” We conclude that continued business-as-usual fossil fuel emissions will begin to make low latitudes inhospitable.  If accompanied by multi-meter sea level rise, resulting forced migration and economic disruption could be devastating. The overall message that climate science delivers to society, policymakers, and the public alike is this: we have a global emergency. Fossil fuel CO2 emissions should be reduced as rapidly as practical.

> Green Tech Media: US Solar Market Set To Grow 119% In 2016, Installations To Reach 16GW (Mike Munsell). While utility-scale installations will represent 74 percent of the installations for the year, the residential and commercial markets will also experience strong growth in 2016. In fact, the U.S. is on the verge of its millionth solar installation. According to the report (U.S. Solar Market Insight 2015 Year in Review), the rollout of new community solar programs, new utility-led efforts to enable corporate procurement of offsite solar, and ongoing debate over the value of rooftop solar are three key trends that will drive U.S. solar demand throughout the year.

> Modern Farmer: Americans Want Fewer Politicians, More Sustainability In Our Dietary Guidelines (Andrew Amelinck). A recent survey found that a majority of Americans don’t want politicians meddling in the creation of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the roadmap for health advice that’s updated every five years, and with which some experts took issue when they were first released. The poll also found there was overwhelming support for the inclusion of environmental provisions and sustainable agriculture practices for the 2015-2020 version undertaken by the United States Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services. The latest guidelines don’t have any reference to sustainable agriculture, despite an advisory panel made up of the country’s top nutrition experts explicitly stating it should be included.

> Midwest Energy News: Minneapolis Clean Energy Partnership Receiving National Recognition (Frank Jossi). On Wednesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded the Clean Energy Partnership a Climate Leadership Award in the “Innovative Partnerships” category. That followed a January event at the White House where officials from the city and Xcel Energy were recognized by the Department of Energy for a software program that helps building owners to better understand their energy use. The partnership – the first of its kind in the country – brings together the city of MinneapolisXcel and the natural gas company CenterPoint Energy in an effort reduce greenhouse gas emissions through efficiency programs, renewable energy options and other approaches.


> Alternet: Why Shared Farms Are The Hot New Thing At Gated Communities (Robert Scher).Fortunately, as people’s concerns around food security grow, the idea of urban farming is beginning to increasingly gain ground. Take as prime example, the agrihood. The agrihood is an attempt to invert the wasteful nature of the  gated community by realizing the potential of underutilized land as a source for fresh produce. From vacant lots in low-income areas to former golf-course estates, the ideal of the agrihood is to transform these areas into functioning farms.

> The Fun Theory: The Fun Theory 2 – The World’s Deepest Bin (Volkswagen, sponsor). The fun-theory site is dedicated to the thought that something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behavior for the better– for yourself, for the environment, or for something entirely different. The only thing that matters is that it’s change for the better.

> The Wall Street Journal: Companies Go Green On Their Own Steam (Cassandra Sweet).  U.S. companies are cutting emissions voluntarily and buying clean energy at the fastest pace ever, as lower renewable energy prices and easier availability of these sources makes these economical options. Companies such as Inc. have started to embrace energy generated from wind, solar and other clean-energy sources in earnest this past year, while General MotorsWhole Foods Market, and Wal-Mart Stores have doubled down on their renewable energy usage.

> Ensia: We Can Save Individual Species — But Can We Save Entire Species? (Daniel Ackerman). Entire ecosystems — biological communities created through millions of years of evolutionary interactions between organisms — are at risk as well. Saving single species alone will not restore the intricate tapestry of relationships that shape ecosystems. To protect the habitat that supports those species and preserve services we humans rely on, from cleansing water for our cities and homes to buffering impacts of climate change, we need to save not just species, but also ecosystems, from extinction.

> Post Carbon Institute: Two Important New Books (Richard Heinberg, reviewer). The Carbon Farming Solution: A Global Toolkit of Perennial Crops and Regenerative Agriculture Practices for Climate Mitigation and Food Securityby Eric Toensmeier argues that Carbon farming makes far more sense than carbon sequestration, as there is plenty of capacity in the soil for carbon uptake, and the agricultural practices required would address many other problems at the same time. Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, by E. O. Wilson, advances an idea that is far from new—in this case, that of setting aside massive amounts of land and ocean for ecosystem recovery so as to stem biodiversity loss.


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

> 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 >

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

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

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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