SEF News-Views Digest No. 125 (4-6-16)
Citizens for Sustainability: Meeting-Forum, Sat., Apr. 9, 10am-noon, Silver Lake Village Community Center, 3301 Silver Lake Rd.
Two articles I read this week attracted my attention, and caused me to think deeply about work and remuneration for a worker’s expertise, time, and effort. Gail Tverberg, whose articles always draw my attention and offer insightful information, has written a sequel article (to last week’s posting) dealing with the expanding chasm between the top and lowest income earners (see “Why We Have A Wage Inequality Problem”, first article in Views). If the seven solutions she proposes seem familiar, it’s probably because one presidential candidate is actively promoting some of the same solutions.
In the second Views article, “In Praise of Equal Pay: Towards A New Common Sense”, Josh Davis stresses the importance of manual labor in assuring the efficient functioning of society. He raises a critical question: Why should CEOs holding leadership positions, which typically aren’t physically demanding, and pose no risk to physical injury, receive considerable social admiration and high remuneration? And why should those who perform indispensable services to society be expected to cope with mentally monotonous, physically dangerous, or intensive labor, the type of work that generally receives little social respect and, in return, receive low wages.
One answer might be that CEOs also provide essential services in society, performing work that can be very challenging mentally and psycho-emotionally, if not physically. Moreover, there are personal characteristics and qualifications to consider for such positions, including the many years of special education, training and experience required of top income earners. But the real question is: How wide should the income gap be between top and the bottom workers in a healthy society?
As I reflected upon the content of these two articles, I sought to clarify the meanings associated with work, jobs, and wages. As a result, I define work as purposeful effort that’s applied in the process of pursuing and completing a worthwhile task, like the time and effort I expend in writing this newsletter, for which I receive no financial remuneration (wages). Everyone works free in various capacities, including the many daily tasks needed to address personal needs. Of course, work can often seem like play, especially when it’s a pleasurably challenging activity, for instance, a hobby.
In contrast to the broader meaning associated with work, a job is a form of work for which one receives remuneration (wages), and it may or may not be pleasurable. While workers who have gained advanced technical training may land satisfactory jobs, many are relegated to low-paying jobs that are very demanding, physically and psycho-emotionally.
For example, I can’t imagine enduring the harsh conditions associated with working in a coal mine. Although coal energy is gradually being phased down, coal miners will be needed for many years. For certain, if the world economy is to continue functioning, it will require the aid of millions of workers in similar hard-labor jobs. In short, low-income workers provide essential services to society, and they deserve equitable remuneration.
Another thought I’ll add to the work-jobs-wages issue is that it seems fair to assume that people who spend years in developing special expertise—medical specialists, scientists, teachers, artists, etc.—deserve decent incomes. In fact, for a few decades following WWII many unionized manual workers earned more than most K-12 and college-university teachers. With the decline of unionized labor, wages and benefits have followed suit.
The huge gap between the lowest wage earners and the highest is a growing worldwide socio-cultural concern. According to online searches, the highest remunerated U.S. CEO earned anywhere from 200-500 times the median pay of workers. Of course, the majority of CEOs of small and medium-sized companies have a narrower gap. Europe’s top-earning CEOs also have a smaller income ratio, as low as 12 in Germany, and all countries below 50. Meanwhile, Israel is considering a compromise bill that would limit CEO pay to $641,000 a year, or 35 times the salary of the lowest-paid worker, whichever is lower. To me this regulation sounds imminently sensible and fair. What do you think?
> Our Finite World: Why We Have A Wage Inequality Problem (Gail Tverberg). Because of our depleted resources and the world’s growing population, the only way that the world economy can now grow is in a strange way that assigns more and more output to various parts of “overhead”, leaving less for workers and for unemployed individuals who want to be workers. The world is, in effect, reaching the end of a Stagflation period and approaching a Crisis period. Political Strategies to solve the wage Inequality problem are non-existent. However, strategies that might help fix this problem are: 1) provide a basic income to all citizens; 2) lower interest rates, even negative interest rates; 3) get jobs back from foreign countries through the use of tariffs; 4) keep out immigrants; 5) provide Medicare for all; 6) offer free college education for all; and 7) replace fossil fuels with renewables.
> Resilience: In Praise Of Equal Pay: Towards A New Common Sense (Josh Davis). The “common sense” notion that some people’s labor is worth more than other people’s – and often radically more – is one that we must replace with a new common sense that respects the dignity of all people and of all labor, and which values all people equally: in financial as well as social terms. If the level of one’s wages were dependent on one’s value to society, janitors, sanitation workers, housekeepers, laundry workers, and personal care assistants would be the highest paid professions in our society, not tech company CEOs. Dirty, dangerous and degrading jobs should receive a pay premium, not a pay reduction.
> Peak Prosperity: We’re Not Going To Make It . . . Without Real Sacrifice (Chris Martenson). I have access to a lot of data that seems to confirm this one idea: Humanity is not going to painlessly wean itself off of fossil fuels. We won’t suddenly run out of fossil fuels. But we are going to find it increasingly difficult to extract more and more of them. And other limits like oceanic acidification and climate change may force us to move away from fossil fuels for a totally different set of reasons. No matter the path we take, we need to transition sooner or later. We should know that. The world is just not yet serious enough about the urgency of transitioning away from fossil fuels. The math says that without a tremendous change in behavior, far greater than anything currently on display, we simply won’t “get there” waiting for market forces to do the job for us.
> The Extraenvironmentalist: Episode #91 // Age Of Stagnation? (Justin Ritchie, Seth Moser-Katz). In this episode we first speak with Satyajit Das about his new book The Age of Stagnation: Why Perpetual Growth is Unattainable and the Global Economy is in Peril which questions the assumption that never ending economic growth is possible, or desirable. Das questions the ability of political leaders to enact the tough structural changes needed to avoid social chaos in a low growth world. Then, in the second half of our show we speak with Michael Hudson about his book Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy. Hudson describes how debt deflation is imposing austerity on the U.S. and European economies, siphoning wealth and income upward to the financial sector while impoverishing the middle class.
> Cassandra Legacy: How The Greatest Technology Ever Developed Backfired On Us (Ugo Bardi). No other species (except bees) has a tool like language, which can be used to exchange complex information among individuals in terms. It is language that creates the human “ultrasociality,” and allows us to get together, plan ahead, get things done. Language can be seen as a technology of communication of incredible power. But, like all technologies, it has unexpected consequences, including the tsunami of lies that crash upon us, making us unable to trust anything and anyone. We often believe that technology is always useful and that new technologies will save us from the disasters befalling on us. Maybe what we need is not more technology but less, including less language. Perhaps, we all need a moment of silence.
> Minnpost: Why Minnesota Can’t Afford Mining Near The Boundary Waters (Adam Fetcher). A blow to the Boundary Waters would not only wound the water and wildlife that make it special – it would hurt the spirit of the North itself, and Minnesota’s social and economic spirit would suffer tremendously. Losing the Boundary Waters wouldn’t just cost us a world-class wilderness – it could cost us many of the 18,000 jobs and $850 million [PDF] in regional economic activity driven by tourism. The Boundary Waters is America’s No. 1 most-visited wilderness, bringing about 250,000 visitors from all over the world to northern Minnesota every year. Mining has a place in our economy. We all consume products derived from sulfide-ore mining, but mining has never been a stable basis for long-term community prosperity.
> Think Progress: Massive ‘Panama Papers’ Leak Begins To Unravel The Secret Networks Global Elites Use To Stash Money (Alan Pyke). On Monday newspapers around the world received 11.5 million leaked records from a Panama-based law firm: Mossack Fonseca, the fourth largest of its kind worldwide that specializes in creating and connecting shell corporations in tax haven countries. Early analysis of the leaked documents reveals many prominent clients with ties to on-paper corporate entities in the British Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, and numerous other small nations with notoriously lax tax laws. The offshore networks exploit seams in international tax law and, if done correctly, avoid legal liability for all involved. Fines are exceedingly rare, and criminal penalties even more so. Many prominent world leaders are involved, including representatives of Saudi Arabia, Russia and China.
> Resource Insights: Energy Policy And Uninformed Opinion (Kurt Cobb). A recent Gallup poll asked a sampling of Americans whether they believe the United States will face a critical energy shortage in the next five years. Some 31 percent responded yes, the lowest number on record since the question was first asked in 1978. In 2012, the last time the question appeared in a Gallup survey, the number was 50 percent. To ask people their views about energy without asking about their views regarding climate change is more than just a careless oversight. It misses what is perhaps now the central issue in energy: Can we as a civilization survive the long-term side effects of the fuels we currently use?
> Washington Post: 7 Million Americans At Risk Of Man-Made Earthquakes UGS Says (Joel Achenbach). The oil and gas industry has aggressively adopted the technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to shatter subsurface shale rock and liberate the oil and gas lurking there. But the process results in tremendous amounts of chemical-laden wastewater. Horizontal drilling for oil can also produce massive amount of natural, unwanted salt water. The industry disposes of this wastewater by pumping it into deep wells. The U.S. Geological Survey has published for the first time an earthquake hazard map covering both natural and “induced” quakes. Some 7 million people live in places vulnerable to these induced tremors, the USGS concluded. The list of places at highest risk of man-made earthquakes includes Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Arkansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Ohio and Alabama.
> Resilience: How Ocean Pollution Affects Humans [Infographic] (Torben Lonne, Dive In). This infographic presents a visual outline of contributors to pollution and ongoing devastating effects on ocean health.
> Science Daily: Sea-Level Rise Could Nearly Double Over Earlier Estimates In Next 100 Years (Vladimir Melnik). A new study from climate scientists suggests that the most recent estimates by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for future sea-level rise over the next 100 years could be too low by almost a factor of two. Details appear in the current issue of Nature: Robert M. DeConto, David Pollard. Contribution Of Antarctica To Past And Future Sea-Level Rise. Nature, 2016; 531 (7596): 591 DOI: 10.1038/nature17145
> MPR News: Scientists Worry Massive Chinese Lake A Global Bird Flu Cauldron (Rob Schmitz). At this time of year, before the spring migration, Poyang Lake in southeastern China is home to 1 million wild geese, ducks and other waterfowl, larger than Minnesota’s Lake of the Woods (7th largest in U.S.). More migratory birds winter there than any other spot in Asia. That creates lots of contact between the wild birds and nearby domestic poultry operations — and opens the door to avian influenza. It’s like a mixing bowl of people and wildlife and birds, with all different levels of biosecurity, from the backyard farm to the very large, highly commercialized bio secure farm. Risk of more flu strains coming out of China will likely grow. Consumer demand for meat and poultry will rise along with China’s consumer economy. And increased poultry production brings more opportunity of new avian flu strains to emerge.
> Resource Insights: Vermont Calls Big Food’s Bluff On GMO Labels (Kurt Cobb). Large food processors have long claimed that state laws forcing them to label foods containing genetically engineered ingredients would lead to 1) higher prices for consumers who would end up paying the cost of special labeling for one or just a few states and/or 2) fewer food choices as processors simply withdrew some or all of their products from states requiring labeling. It seems that the state of Vermont has now called their bluff and won. It is the unpredictability and other factors that make GMO crops a global systemic risk. GMO crops are planted worldwide with little testing meaning any ill effects will be visited on the entire food system.
> Huffington Post: Edible Utensils Make Your Mouth, Body And The Planet Happy (Elyse Wanshel). Narayana Peesapaty, of Hyderabad, India, has baked up a brilliant product. Bakeys are edible spoons, forks and chopsticks you can eat with and then eat: The soup spoons, sporks and chopsticks are made from a mix of millet, rice and wheat flours and are baked dry. They also come in three flavors, plain, sweet or spicy so the flavor never makes your food taste funky. The best part is that the edible flatware, which is meant to replace plastic cutlery, is waste and chemical-free. [It is also compostable, taking less than a week.]
> Earth Justice: Growing Change (Jim Cochran). In this 4-mnute video, Jim Cochran shares how he helped pioneer organic strawberry farming—and how he continues to work today to keep changing the industry for the better. When he learned how much pesticide was being used in corporate strawberry farming, he decided to find a more healthy way, to the ultimate benefit of workers and consumers.
> Star Tribune: How To Fight Climate Change? Put A Price On Pollution (Mike Meyers). “Cap and trade” is an antipollution strategy that has already worked. In the days when Congress actually passed regulation, a law set limits on sulfur dioxide emissions that created a bane of “acid rain” in the 1970s. Result: A cap-and-trade program that reduced that pollutant by 85 percent. It cost about $3 billion but yielded benefits of $165 to $427 billion.
> Huffington Post: False Solutions? 3 Ways To Evaluate Grand Climate Proposals (Jerry Lent). There is much to fear from pursuing the wrong solutions to climate change problems. We should be wary of those who want to push power even further up the pyramid, treat nature as a commodity to be traded, and view the earth as a gigantic piece of machinery to tinker with through engineering wizardry. The three questions to use when evaluating proposals are: 1) Does it push political power up or down the pyramid (elite at top, majority of citizens at bottom); 2) How does it treat the earth; and 3) What are its cascading effects?
> National Geographic: This Is Your Brain On Nature (Florence Willams). Science is proving what we’ve always known intuitively: Nature does good things to the human brain. It makes us healthier, happier, and smarter. Writer David Gessner explains why. Researchers suspect is that nature works primarily by lowering stress. Compared with people who have lousy window views, those who can see trees and grass have been shown to recover faster in hospitals, perform better in school, and even display less violent behavior in neighborhoods where it’s common. Such results jibe with experimental studies of the central nervous system. Measurements of stress hormones, respiration, heart rate, and sweating suggest that short doses of nature—or even pictures of the natural world—can calm people down and sharpen their performance.
SUSTAINABILITY INFO & EVENTS
> UMN Bell Museum: This Changes Everything (Capitalism vs the Climate). Film based on Naomi Klein’s latest book., Thurs., April 7, 6:30 p.m., Bell Museum of Natural History, UMN campus. Info: https://www.bellmuseum.umn.edu/
> St. Anthony Village: Community Visioning Meeting (To create vision and goals for guiding comprehensive planning), Mon., April 11th, 6-8 p.m., SAV City Hall, 3301 Silver Lake Rd. Join the online conversation at https://stanthonycompplan.mysidewalk.com/
> U of M Institute on the Environment (IonE): Climate Change: Facts, Fictions, and The Christian Faith (Katherine Hayhoe), Thurs., April 21, 7 p.m., St. Paul Student Center Theater, 2017 Buford Ave.
> MN350: Climate Campaigns And Projects. For a listing of campaigns, projects, and events, see: http://www.mn350.org/campaigns-projects/
> 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