Upstream vs. Downstream Activism – News-Views Digest

Sustainability Education News-Views Digest

SEF News-Views Digest No. 126 (4-13-16)
Clifton Ware, Editor-Publisher

Citizens for Sustainability: Meeting-Forum, Sat., May 14, 10am-noon, Silver Lake Village Community Center, 3301 Silver Lake Rd. Free & open to public.

I’ve previously written about the three major metaphorical shades of green activism that most environmentally conscious citizens represent, in various degrees. They are: light green for those who address a few low-tech green actions, like recycling items or buying organic food; bright green for those who adopt high-tech green actions, like driving an all-electric car or owning an energy-efficient home; and dark green for those who, in addition to adopting light and bright-green practices, also strive to understand all of the integral relationships associated with the converging crises humanity and the planet are facing, such as resource depletion, climate change, and, most importantly, overpopulation.

We’re all familiar with downstream activism, the types that focus on solving specific problems, such as wildlife extinction, climate change, social inequality, and so on. We all have our favorite causes, as well we should.

In contrast to the more popular downstream activism, upstream activism focuses on the underlying causes or drivers of all social and environmental problems. Many experts conclude that the number one cause of environmental degradation is the unchecked growth of human population. Why? Because simple math illustrates that the more people the planet gains, the more consumption of resources and production of waste products, which results in increasing pollution of air, water, and soil. Speaking of overpopulation . . .

Dr. Karen Shragg, naturalist, author, and advisor to World Population Balance (WPB), has published a new book, Move Upstream: A Call to Solve Overpopulation, which is attracting national attention. The overarching theme of her book is focused on emphasizing overpopulation as the main driver of all converging crises. Although she gratefully applauds the essential work of various environmental, social, and health-related organizations, she chastises their mostly downstream activities and results. In particular, she admonishes downstream organizations for failing to emphasize the endemic role that a growing world population creates and exacerbates, such as wildlife extinction, pollution of waterways, air, and land, declining fossil-fuel resources, social unrest, and climate change.

One particularly outstanding feature in Dr. Shragg’s book is the list of resources she provides, including individuals and organizations known to actively address the issue of overpopulation in their work and publications. Another positive feature is her recommendation of books and websites that provide valuable information related to overpopulation. Finally, and most importantly, Dr. Shragg also provides some humane solutions for reducing human population to a sustainable level within a few decades.

You can hear Dr. Karen Shragg in the latest Overpopulation podcast, Episode4: “Move Upstream: We’re Overpopulated!” In this interview, the author talks with World Population Balance President David Paxson, and Executive Director Dave Gardner about her new book.  Listen to this engaging, insightful, yet commonsense discussion of why solving overpopulation is a critical part of solving the most critical issues facing the world, including climate change, social injustice, hunger, environmental degradation, species extinction, and more. [] After hearing her speak, you’ll want to read her book.

Lagos, Nigeria, one of many stressed-out, overpopulated and impoverished cities
Lagos, Nigeria, one of many stressed-out, overpopulated and impoverished cities


> Think Progress: One Fact About Climate Change That’s Worth Repeating (Joe Romm). The overwhelming majority of climate scientists — over 97 percent — understand that humans are the primary cause of climate change. This is one of the central facts about human-caused climate change that any climate communicator needs to keep repeating, for several reasons. First, it’s true, as Politifact detailed on Monday. The scientific literature is clear on this. Second, the ongoing disinformation campaign funded by the fossil fuel industry (together with false balance by the media) has left the public with the impression that there is considerable scientific debate on a subject where there isn’t. When people are informed about the reality of the overwhelming consensus they naturally are more inclined to want to take action, as social science research has shown.

> Ensia: We’ve Changed A Life-Giving Nutrient Into A Deadly Pollution. How Can We Change It Back? (Elizabeth Grossman). Nitrogen is absolutely crucial to life — an indispensable ingredient of DNA, proteins and essentially all living tissue — yet it also can choke the life out of aquatic ecosystems, destroy trees and sicken people when it shows up in excess at the wrong place, at the wrong time, in the wrong form. The result of releasing so much nitrogen to the environment — through excessive and inefficient fertilizer use, agriculture-related nitrogen emissions and nutrient-laden wastewater, along with fossil fuel and biomass burning — is this slew of adverse environmental impacts. These impacts are occurring worldwide and are exacerbated by warming temperatures  Agriculture is the largest source of environmentally damaging nitrogen.

> Resilience: An Energy Diet For A Healthy Planet – Part 1 (Karen Lynn Allen). Nearly every human being on the planet consumes energy beyond the amount they derive from food, some more than others. In 2014, Americans, on average, consumed a total of 230 kilowatt-hours of energy per person per day [while similar countries use 3/4ths to 1/2 the energy per person that we use]. If we insist on slurping up energy at current levels, even with extraordinary measures it might take us fifty years to stop spewing emissions, and that will be too late to prevent permafrost detonation. But if we can get by comfortably with 100 kwh/person/day, that’s a much easier target to meet, one we can probably achieve in 20 years. Not only is this a target we can achieve faster, it’s a target we can achieve more cheaply. That’s because energy efficiency is absolutely the most economical form of energy production available to us.

> The Archdruid Report: The End Of Ordinary Politics (John Michael Greer). There are lines of division in American society that lack that anchor in biology. For instance, the American people as divided into an investment class, a salary class, a wage class, and a welfare class. This is where Donald Trump comes in, especially in appealing to the wage class, whose fortunes have diminished in recent decades. He’s figured out that the most effective way to get the wage class to rally to his banner is to get himself attacked, with the usual sort of shrill mockery, by the salary class. The Trump candidacy may be seen as a major watershed in American political life, the point at which the wage class—the largest class of American voters has begun to wake up to its potential power and begin pushing back against the ascendancy of the salary class. Once the politics of resentment come into the open, anything can happen.

> Common Dreams: The Panama Papers Problem (Margaret Kimberley).  The worst criminals on earth are not the poor but those found among the rich. The 1% can buy legislation, politicians and the media to carry out and hide their dirty work. If they can’t change the laws to benefit themselves in their homelands they simply send their money elsewhere through shell-holding companies. This transfer of wealth, much of it diverted from what ought to be tax payments, is an open secret. The leak of 11.5 million documents from the Panama-based Mossack Fonseca law firm brings into the light of day what was long known but passively accepted. Now the facts are in the open but the way in which the revelations are reported is questionable and taints an important story. The reason no Americans have been revealed [yet] is because U.S. law so clearly favors the rich that they have no need to go offshore to form shell corporations.

> Transition Network: Book Review: Austerity Ecology & The Collapse-Porn Addicts (Ted Trainer). In his latest book—Austerity Ecology and the Collapse-Porn Addicts (2015)—Leigh Phillips begins by lumping together the things he is opposing: the anti-consumerist, back to the land, small is beautiful, civilization-hating, and progress-questioning ideology of degrowth, limits, and retreat, a Counter-Enlightenment credo that must be thoroughly excised. The worldview built into ecomodernism flatly contradicts the now voluminous “Limits to Growth” case: that affluent-industrial-consumer-capitalist society is grossly unsustainable, that rich world per capita levels of resource consumption and ecological impact are far beyond levels that a can be kept up for long or that all the world’s people could share, and that there must be large scale de-growth and radical system change if we are to solve the problems. No wonder growth and affluence for all has been labeled “the impossibility theorem.” Royalty recipients. Wage class suffered the most, loss of income and standard of living.


> The Center For Public Integrity: Global Military Spending Is Increasing (Lauren Chadwick).  Last year, the world’s military spending increased for the first time in four years, a directional shift that may herald even higher spending on armaments and operations in years to come, according to new data compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The world heaped more than $1.6 trillion on military programs and personnel in 2015, roughly 1 percent more than in 2014, a SIPRI analyst declared at the nonpartisan Stimson Center in Washington, D.C. on April 5. The increase follows four years of decline, which was preceded by 12 years of steady increases. So the brief falloff is over, and the familiar routine is back. In 2015, the United States was still the world’s largest military spender — its $596 billion accounting for 36 percent of the world’s military spending, according to SIPRI’s data.

> Catholic News Service: Catholic Institutions Join Amicus Brief Supporting Clean Power Plan (Dennis Sadowski). Citing a moral obligation to care for the natural world and all inhabitants of the earth, 30 Catholic and faith-based institutions filed an amicus brief with a federal appeals court in support of the Clean Power Plan. The brief argues that the Environmental Protection Agency has the duty to protect human health from harmful pollution in ways outlined in the plan, which establishes federal limits on carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. The brief said evidence of the human cause of climate change is “undeniable.”

> Pew Trusts: As Water Infrastructure Crumbles, Many Cities Seek Private Help (Mindy Fetterman). More than 2,000 municipalities have entered public-private partnerships for all or part of their water supply systems, according to the National Association of Water Companies, which represents private water companies like Veolia North America and American Water. Partner municipalities include San Antonio; Akron, Ohio; and Washington, D.C. Miami-Dade County is considering partnerships for three water facilities, including one built in 1924. And Wichita, Kansas, is starting to study the issue. Maintaining, operating, replacing and upgrading the nation’s water infrastructure could cost $2.8 trillion to $4.8 trillion through 2028.

> Food and Water Watch: The State Of Public Water In The United States (Staff). Food & Water Watch reviewed eight years of data from the Federal Safe Drinking Water Information System to document the ongoing annual shift toward public ownership. Food & Water Watch also conducted a comprehensive survey of the water rates of the 500 largest U.S. community water systems and found that large for-profit, privately owned systems charged 59 percent more than large publicly owned systems. This is the largest water rate survey of its kind in the country. Download Rate Survey Data by Location or by Cost * : Download the Report *

> Climate Central: White House: Climate Change Poses Urgent Health Risk (Bobby Magill). Climate change is a major threat to human health, with extreme heat likely to kill 27,000 Americans annually by 2100, A report by the U.S. Global Change Research Program was released Monday by the White House outlines numerous ways global warming could devastate public health in the U.S. this century. Global warming will lead to heat waves so extreme that in the hottest times of the year, it will be “physiologically impossible” for people who work outdoors to do their jobs. A 2015 Climate Central analysis of climate threats through 2050 for all 50 states, States at Risk, found heat to be the greatest threat of all, and the one for which most states, particularly high-risk states in the South, were poorly prepared.

> The Economic Collapse: Depressing Survey Results Show How Extremely Stupid America Has Become (Michael Snyder). Americans born after 1980 are lagging their peers in countries ranging from Australia to Estonia, according to a new report from researchers at the Educational Testing Service (ETS). The study looked at scores for literacy and numeracy from a test called the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, which tested the abilities of people in 22 countries. The results are sobering, with dire implications for America. It hints that students may be falling behind not only in their early educational years but at the college level. Even though more Americans between the ages of 20 to 34 are achieving higher levels of education, they’re still falling behind their cohorts in other countries

> Bloomberg: Trying To Put A Price On Big Oil’s ‘Climate Obstruction’ Efforts (Eric Roston). ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch/Shell, and three oil-industry groups together spend $115 million a year on advocacy designed to “obstruct” climate change policy, according to new estimates released by Influence Map, a British nonprofit research organization. The sheer fuzziness of corporate influence prompted the project. Nations hold companies to different standards—or none at all—for disclosures of how they are trying to influence public policy and what it costs. The report, “How Much Big Oil Spends on Obstructive Climate Lobbying,” is directed at investors who are starting to make more noise about the topic.

> The Sovereign Investor: Wage Growth Remains An Issue For Millennials (J.L. Yastine). While higher-wage baby boomers have been retiring, lower-wage workers sidelined during the recession have been taking new full-time jobs. Together, these two changes have held down measures of wage growth. Could we be looking at a statistical mirage? Could wages actually be rising bit by bit, instead of stagnant, as shown by traditional measures of wage growth like the employment cost index? The study suggests looking instead at the Atlanta Fed’s “Wage Growth Tracker,” because it filters out top-earning senior workers, such as boomers headed for retirement, and part-timers. In that light, wages have been on the rise since the 2008-2009 financial crisis.

> CNBC: Pothole Season Brings Little New Funding To Fix Them (John W. Schoen). The cost of fixing the nation’s roadways, on the other hand, can be measured in the billions. The Federal Highway Administration estimates it will cost $170 billion a year to make a dent in the backlog of bridge and highway overhaul projects. In the last five years, some 16 million drivers have suffered vehicle damage related to potholes, according to a survey by AAA. State by state, the average annual auto repair bill ranges from $60 (in Georgia) to $600 (New Jersey), according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Road repair cost per motorist is estimated at $292.


> Yes! Magazine: Could Sanders’ Social Justice Ideas Really Work? Take A Look At These Places (Fran Korten). Michael Moore’s latest film, Where to Invade Next, shows us that what may seem like far-out promises we hear at election time can be real. But we need a Congress that will work with a president on a people-first agenda. To get there we must rid ourselves of the idea that the government is something “other” than ourselves, something to be feared and shrunk. The government is us. It doesn’t have to work for big corporations and billionaires. Moore’s film shows it can work to help us all have healthier, more fulfilling lives. See also: Capitalism or Socialism? There’s an Even Better Option (David Korten). Democracy, not the false dichotomy of capitalism or socialism, should be the election’s framing issue.

> Sustainable Food Trust: Viva La Producción! Urban Farming In Cuba (Josh Gabbatiss). Urban agriculture is a big deal in Cuba. Food gardens – termed organopónicos – make up 8% of land in Havana, and 3.4% of urban land across the island. The country enjoys unprecedented levels of self-sufficiency, with small, local operations producing 90% of all its fruit and vegetables. In many ways, the urban agriculture of Cuba provides a model system for how to sustainably and nutritiously feed a population. These farms were organic not as a result of ideology, but out of necessity. In the true spirit of the revolution, such operations were initially citizen-led, but once the state got wind of what was going on, it got involved wholeheartedly. Now, the Ministry of Agriculture provides not only land and water, but also training in organic techniques and additional requirements such as insects and oils as biological pest control agents.

> Triple Pundit: Educating Consumers About Buying Sustainably (Gina-Marie Cheeseman). More and more consumers are interested in sustainability, as surveys show.  A 2011 consumer survey by Nielsen found that 66 percent of socially conscious consumers cited environmental sustainability as the most important issue from a list of 18 issues. So, how do you increase awareness of buying sustainably among consumers? The key is getting information to them. A study by Michigan State University researchers, published in 2014 in the Business and Economics Journal, looked at consumer awareness of fair trade information. The researchers found that informed consumers “are better positioned to make sound decisions and take the appropriate actions to address sustainability issues.” Making products last a long time is a key part of sustainability. And buying sustainably can sometimes mean buying less.

> Bloomberg: Banks Pledge $7 Billion To Scale Up Clean Energy Investment (Jessica Shankleman). A group of eight banks and investors pledged $7 billion to join Bank of America Corp’s initiative that plans to raise at least $10 billion for investments in clean energy and sustainable development. HSBC Holdings Plc, Credit Agricole SA, AllianceBernstein Holding LP, Babson Capital Management LLC and Mirova, a unit of Natixis SA, are among those to join the Catalytic Finance Initiative, according to a joint statement by the banks Wednesday. Bank of America created the initiative in 2014 to stimulate at least $10 billion of new investment in clean energy projects through improving financing structures that could reduce the risk of investing in low carbon infrastructure. Today’s announcement takes the total raised to $8 billion, according to a spokesman for HSBC.

> Environmental Defense Fund: This Graph Shows Fisheries Can Be Healthy In As Few As 10 Years (Amanda Leland). Scientists and economists at the University of California Santa Barbara, the University of Washington and Environmental Defense Fund spent the last two years developing the most comprehensive database on fisheries ever assembled. Using that, we were able to develop a model to see that with the right fishing approaches in place, we can increase the number of fish in the water, the amount of food the oceans produce and at the same time increase the incomes of the world’s 38 million fishermen and their families.

> Resilience: State Of The Transition, March: Falling Global Carbon Emissions From Energy (Jeremy Leggett). The great global energy transition is accelerating. Who could have imagined a few years ago that global carbon emissions would stall in 2015, spurred by a rise in renewable energy? Or that the Saudi government would announce a $2-trillion investment fund to wean their nation off oil within just 20 years? Or that an electric vehicle costing $35,000 would attract over 100,000 pre-orders some 20 months before its actual launch. That’s what we witnessed in March. And much more is heading in the same direction. The stalling emissions news made for a historic front page in the Financial Times.


> MN Environmental Partnership (MEP). April Environmental Events. See website:

> 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:

> Clean Energy Resource Teams: Clean Energy Accelerator. Metro CERT – offering rapid energy assistance to cities, counties, & schools ( Opens Applications Statewide For Made In Minnesota Solar Thermal Rebate, Learn more >>

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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