SEF News-Views Digest No. 127 (4-20-16)
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.
How resilient and sustainable is your community? As the ongoing effects of mounting crises, notably climate change, continue placing strains on all flora, fauna—and us humans—are you and your community making essential preparations and taking proactive measures? Some communities are planning ahead and making incremental progress in creating initiatives that will help lessen the impact of economic, social, and environmental challenges. But, sadly, many are not.
Our family’s community story seems relevant in exploring this topic`. Since arriving in Minnesota in 1970, we’ve lived in the near-north metro area. Our first home was in the northeast (Waite Park) area of Minneapolis (15 years). Next, we enjoyed living for 21 years in a mostly energy-efficient New Brighton home we designed and had built. For the past decade we’ve appreciated a more carefree condo lifestyle in Silver Lake Village, a combined residential-business development in St. Anthony Village (SAV), located a short walking distance to most basic needs, even dental and medical clinics. So we’ve lived within a radius of 2-3 miles in a geographical area that we are proud to claim as our home community.
We initially selected this area because of its convenient location, located within a 20-30 minutes commute to both downtowns, and an easy commute to the U of MN, where I taught for 37 years. But, after settling in and becoming more involved citizens, we’ve gradually grown to appreciate the community’s many impressive sustainability attributes, including access to public transportation, medical and safety services (fire, police), essential goods (food, etc.), and cultural offerings.
Until our latest move, we were not fully aware that this first-tier suburban city of approximately 8,200, middle-class citizens featured a unique, highly rated single-tract K-12 school system. Also, when forming the Citizens for Sustainability (January, 2013), we were pleasantly surprised to learn that the city government, including the mayor, council members, and city staff were unified in making St. Anthony Village a model sustainability city. Remarkably, it didn’t take long for the city to earn the state’s top rankings as one of the first GreenStep III cities, with the goal of soon attaining the Minnesota GreenStep Cities IV status.
Another surprising benefit of living in such a small, compact city (large town) is the potential for a high level of participatory democracy. How rewarding it is when citizens have easy, welcoming access to all city officials, in addition to citizens serving on appointed commissions. We greatly appreciate having access to key stakeholders, a benefit that most medium-to-large sized cities might have difficulty providing.
Like all communities, SAV has some challenges to address. One challenge is the city’s suburban location, adjacent to two large cities and surrounded by other suburbs in a spreading metro area. While many citizens live in SAV and commute to jobs elsewhere the metro area, there are many who live elsewhere and commute to jobs in SAV, a common pattern in large metropolitan areas. Being a commuter suburb makes it harder to developing a strong community spirit, but SAV’s excellent school system helps offset this drawback, with programs and activities that help unify the community.
Citizens are exploring some interesting initiatives, including the potential for developing local food-producing sources. Although the city doesn’t have much available land space for urban farming, there are several fine parks that might provide some designated spaces for community gardens. At least one large church sponsors a community garden, and there might be some feasible garden spaces around some business areas for cultivating gardens. The least we can do is to continue encouraging Individuals and families to use sections of home yards for permaculture-based vegetable gardens and fruit-producing plants. Also, rain gardens are growing in popularity in the city, as they often feature native plants that attract birds and pollinating insects. On the commercial level, perhaps some entrepreneurs might find ways to use appropriate commercial spaces for indoor aquaculture.
Because SAV’s mostly 1950s-60s housing stock is aging, an initiative for retrofitting and insulating homes would greatly improve overall community resilience and sustainability. Now that city policies allow for solar installations on residences and buildings, citizens are able to explore another way of saving energy—and money.
Thankfully, city officials, along with concerned citizens, including CFS members, are proactively addressing these issues, including developing a SAV 10-year Comprehensive Plan that begins in 2018. More information about SAV’s sustainability initiatives can be found at the following websites: SUSTAINABILITY – St. Anthony and St. Anthony Village Citizens for Sustainability.
If you like what you learn about our fair city, why not check us out? SAV provides an excellent home base for engaging in advancing initiatives to create a model city of resilience and sustainability. We enthusiastically welcome anyone who is passionate about these issues and willing to get involved. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me, preferably via email.
> Resource Insights: Corruption, Resources, Climate And Systemic Risk (Kurt Cobb). The percentage of the U.S. workforce that provides the actual material basis for the economy amounts to only 12.5 percent. In the absence of definitive answers on sustainability–which we won’t have them until it’s too late to do anything–we surely face systemic risks. The failure of one or more of these five basic economic sectors to deliver the resources and goods upon which our society depends could be catastrophic–think: worldwide crop failure, decline in available fossil fuels, a shortage of critical metals needed for electronics (which are crucial to the functioning of modern society). At the very least it is corrupt to subject society knowingly to potential catastrophic failures merely to enrich oneself or one’s associates. While we are being entertained with the exploits of corrupt politicians and businesspeople who avoid paying taxes, we should try to remember that this kind of despicable corruption pales in comparison to the kind that threatens to undermine the very material underpinnings of our society.
> Common Dreams: Changing Everything (Steven Gorelick). It seems that a transition to renewable energy might not be as transformative as some people hope. Or to put it more bluntly, renewable energy changes nothing about corporate capitalism. Too often, climate change has been used as a Trojan horse to enable corporate interests to despoil local environments or override the concerns of local communities. What Helena Norberg-Hodge, founder of Local Futures, calls ‘big picture activism’ has the potential to unite climate change activists, small farmers, peace advocates, environmentalists, social justice groups, labor unions, indigenous rights activists, main street business owners, and many more under a single banner. If all these groups connect the dots to see the corporate-led economy as a root cause of the problems they face, it could give rise to a global movement powerful enough to halt the corporate juggernaut. And that really could change everything.
> TriplePundit: Transparency, The Panama Papers And The Future Of Sustainable Development (Thomas Schueneman). Of course it’s no surprise that those among the world’s most wealthy and powerful people, including top business and government leaders, use whatever means at their disposal to protect their wealth from the vagaries of economic, social and policy constraints. On the other hand, it is a stark reminder of the need to redouble our efforts to align our values with our functioning global economy if there is any hope of achieving our higher aspirations. That’s the concept my colleagues here at TriplePundit have encouraged for more than a decade — that the triple bottom line is the true measure of wealth.
> The Archdruid Report: American Narratives: The Rescue Game (John Michael Greer). Every society has a set of narratives that confine discourse on controversial subjects to approved channels, but tolerably often those approved channels exclude crucial details and head off necessary questions. In today’s United States, in particular, the facts concerning nearly every significant crisis we face can be divided up neatly into two entirely separate categories. The facts that most Americans are willing to talk about belong to one of these categories; the facts that matter most belong to the other. Like most of the narratives that shape our collective discourse, that’s been crafted primarily by middle-aged white intellectuals with college educations and salary-class backgrounds. The accepted mainstream narrative about race in America today can best be described as one of wholly dysfunctional games. It’s called the Rescue Game, and it requires three characters: Victim, Persecutor, and Rescuer.
> Huffington Post: Americans Like To Say They’re Eco-Friendly — They’re Not (Chris D’Angelo). According to the real estate website Trulia, which surveyed more than 2,000 Americans, as part of a wider study, about living green and how best to reduce their carbon footprint, Americans overwhelmingly ignore the environmental impact of their day-to-day actions. A report published Thursday on the company’s site states that 79 percent of Americans “agree that they consider themselves an environmentally conscious person,” while only 6 percent strongly disagree. Other findings: money is a barrier to being environmentally conscious, and millennials are not as environmentally conscious as their elders. Roughly three in four people don’t take action beyond recycling and hitting the light switch.
> Global Possibilities: When Bad Things Happen To Good Science Journals (Joe Romm). A recent Nature article has been justifiably criticized for both its methodology and for ignoring a vast literature that contradicts it. Most climate models underestimate the impact of global warming on soil moisture and drought because they only look at the contribution of changes to precipitation. Most climate models do not examine the equally important impact of warming temperatures, which increases evaporation, dries out soil, and worsens drought even when precipitation hasn’t changed at all. And this neglect of the contribution of evaporation — which has been written about extensively — appears to be yet another flaw in the new Nature piece. In a 2011 Nature review article, “The Next Dust Bowl,” Romm referenced the 1930s Dust Bowl as the best analogy to what’s coming. But in fact, the coming multi-decadal mega-droughts will be much worse than the Dust Bowl of the 1930s — “worse than anything seen during the last 2000 years,” as explained in a major 2014 study,
> MinnPost: Half Of World’s Best Natural Places Are Under Pressure From Industrial Activity (Ron Meador). Half of the world’s most important natural places are under threat from mining, oil and gas drilling, unsustainable logging and fishing harvests, or other industrial development, according to a new analysis prepared for the World Wildlife Fund. The assessment, published recently, looked at the U.N.-designated World Heritage Sites whose unique natural features give them “outstanding universal value.” It’s a pretty exclusive list – only 229 around the world and just a dozen in the United States. We’re talking about places on the order of the Great Barrier Reef, the Galapagos Islands, Lake Baikal, Grand Canyon, and the Boundary Waters.
> Climate Progress: Fracking’s Total Environmental Impact Is Staggering, Report Finds (Samantha Page). The body of evidence is growing that fracking is not only bad for the global climate, it is also dangerous for local communities. And affected communities are growing in number. A new report, released Thursday, details the sheer amount of water contamination, air pollution, climate impacts, and chemical use in fracking in the United States. Fracking, a form of extraction that injects large volumes of chemical-laced water into shale, releasing pockets of oil and gas, has been on the rise in the United States for the past decade, and the sheer numbers are staggering.
> Inside Climate News: CO2’s Role In Global Warming Has Been On The Oil Industries Radar Since The 1960s (Neela Banerjee, John H. Cushman Jr., David Hasemyer and Lisa Song). The oil industry’s leading pollution-control consultants advised the American Petroleum Institute in 1968 that carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels deserved as much concern as the smog and soot that had commanded attention for decades. Carbon dioxide was “the only air pollutant which has been proven to be of global importance to man’s environment on the basis of a long period of scientific investigation,” two scientists from the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) told the API. This paper, along with scores of other publications, shows that the risks of climate change were being discussed in the inner circles of the oil industry earlier than previously documented
> Star Tribune: Thirsty Cities Begin To Eye Water From The Great Lakes (Josephine Marcotty). Nearly a decade ago, eight governors shook hands on an extraordinary agreement to erect a legal wall around the largest source of fresh water on earth — the Great Lakes. The unusual bipartisan compact, signed by the heads of the states that border the massive basin, aimed to keep the increasingly valuable water right where it is for the 40 million people who rely on it for their jobs, their homes and their vacations. Now they face the first test. Waukesha, Wis., a suburb of Milwaukee, has asked for the right to pull drinking water from Lake Michigan.
> LA Times: ‘A Dire Prediction’ On Melting Ice Sheets And Rising Sea Levels (William Yardley, Raoul Ranoa). A new study published in the journal Nature painted perhaps the most ominous picture yet. It showed that, by the end of this century, sea levels could rise 6 feet or more — again, if nothing is done to reduce emissions — potentially inundating many coastal areas, submerging nations and remaking maps of the world. The study focused on one of the most elusive aspects of sea-level science: What will happen to the West Antarctic ice sheet?
> Grist: Atlantic Coastline Sinks As Sea Levels Rise (John Upton). Geological changes along the East Coast are causing land to sink along the seaboard. That’s exacerbating the flood-inducing effects of sea-level rise, which has been occurring faster in the western Atlantic Ocean than elsewhere in recent years. New research using GPS and prehistoric data has shown that nearly the entire coast is affected, from Massachusetts to Florida and parts of Maine. The study, published this month in Geophysical Research Letters, outlines a hot spot from Delaware and Maryland into northern North Carolina where the effects of groundwater pumping are compounding the sinking effects of natural processes. Problems associated with sea-level rise in that hot spot have been — in some places — three times as severe as elsewhere.
> Star Tribune: Minnesota Among 10 Worst States For Access To Fresh Healthy Food (Jeremy Olson). Some 1.6 million Minnesotans lack easy access to healthy food, according to a new study by a coalition of economic and health leaders who hope it will motivate the 2016 Legislature to approve funding for mobile grocery stores and other fixes. Minnesota ranks seventh-worst in the nation for the share of residents — about one-third of its population — with no grocery options close to their homes, according to a report released this week by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and Wilder Research.
> Yale Environment 360: Can We Reduce CO2 Emissions And Grow The Global Economy? (Fred Pearce). In the past two years, the global economy has grown by 6.5 percent, but carbon dioxide emissions from energy generation and transport have not grown at all, the IEA reported last month. CO2 emissions in Europe, the U.S., and China have been falling. These numbers raise a key question of huge importance if nations are to avoid the worst effects of climate change: Is the world on a path toward “decoupling” economic activity from carbon dioxide emissions—or is it a dangerous myth? Even if global emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases can be curbed, this won’t fix climate change, say critics of the decoupling narrative. The big problem is that warming is driven not by annual emissions but by the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. And while methane may disappear relatively quickly, CO2 hangs around for centuries. Decoupling is real, but it is just the start.
> Common Dreams: Confessions Of A Panama Papers Hit Man (John Perkins). As an Economic Hit Man (an EHM), I helped forge this global economy that is based on legalized crimes. It’s a system in which 62 individuals have as much wealth as half the world’s population, and a handful of the super-rich control governments around the globe. In this election year, we must understand that the next U.S. president has very limited powers. The powers rest in the big corporations and the people who run them. When billionaires are able to get laws passed such as the US-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement of 2012 and NAFTA, giving their corporations more power than sovereign nations, it’s time for change. We must create an economy dedicated to cleaning up pollution, developing new technologies that recycle and spare the earth, and creating systems that alleviate desperation, poverty, hunger, and the causes of violence and terrorism. This system must include fair taxation: those who benefit from the infrastructure must help pay for it.
> NPR: What Happens When Fashion Becomes Fast, Disposable And Cheap? (Zhai Yun Tan). Fashion cycles are moving faster than ever. A Quartz article in December revealed how fashion brands like Zara, Gap and Adidas are churning out new styles more frequently, a trend dubbed “fast fashion” by many in the industry. The clothes that are mass-produced also become more affordable, thus attracting consumers to buy more. More styles mean more purchases — and that leads to more waste created. Journalist Elizabeth Cline writes in her book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion that disposable clothing is damaging to the environment and the economy. We are more likely to dispose of cheaper, mass-produced fashion garments than pricier ones. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 15.1 million tons of textile waste was generated in 2013, of which 12.8 million tons were discarded.
> Climate Progress: The Largest Coral Atoll In The World Lost 80 Percent Of Its Coral Due To Bleaching (Eric Holthaus). As global ocean temperatures begin to recover from the record-breaking El Niño, the tremendous impact on the world’s coral reefs is still being calculated. Coral reefs are more important than many people realize: Taking up just 0.2 percent of the ocean, they support about a quarter of all marine species, and provide support to livelihoods of 500 million people. Kiritimati Atoll is the largest coral atoll in the world, and up until about 10 months ago, one of the most pristine marine ecosystems on Earth. As of early April, about 80 percent of the coral colonies at Kiritimati are now dead, and another 15 percent are severely bleached and likely to die. This is a changed planet, and Kiritimati Atoll is one of the first tragedies as Earth continues to climb the climate staircase.
> Grist: Here’s Everything We Know About How To Talk About Climate Change (Amellia Urry). Talking about climate change is harder than it sounds. The threat is too big to grasp and the straight facts are not enough to get most people engaged — so how can you spur them to take action? After consulting many experts, it seems there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. But there are some broad do’s and don’ts to help you get your message across. For instance, rather than posing facts, it’s better is to tell a good story. Give it a gripping plot, with a beginning, a middle, and an end (and it never hurts to have a villain). And put people at the heart of the story — not icebergs or atmospheres or endangered tree frogs. Help people understand what climate change really means on the ground, today, and what is at stake for them.
> Resilience: Animals, Land And People: An Interview With Will Harris (Woody Tasch). The agriculture we have today is completely built on maximizing consistency and efficiency. Very little emphasis is placed on animal welfare, the environmental sustainability of the program, or the economic impoverishment of rural America. What this has done has made food obscenely cheap and the cost has been borne on the backs of farm animals, the environment, and rural America. Technology is fantastic, but I’m talking about rediscovering fundamental respect for the animals, the land and the people who are producing the food. It’s past time to be talking about sustainable farming practices. We’ve got to talk about regenerative farming practices, those that every single year improve the productive capacity of the land.
> Energy Skeptic: Unpave Low Traffic Roads To Save Energy And Money (Alice Friedemann). The U.S. has 4.1 million miles of roads (1.9 million paved, 2.2 million gravel). About 3 million miles of roads have less than 2,000 vehicles a day, less than 15% of all traffic. The paved portion of these low-volume roads ought to be evaluated for their potential to be unpaved. Many of these roads should have never been paved to begin with, but the costs of construction, asphalt, and energy were so cheap it was done anyway. Now many rural roads are past their design life and rapidly deteriorating. It is both difficult and expensive to maintain them, and dangerous to let these roads fall apart and degrade into gravel on their own.
> Our World: Conserving Resilient And Multifunctional Sustainable Landscapes (Kaoru Ichikawa, Evonne Yiu). While economic viability provides strong incentives for humans to maintain their land, research has now shown that ecological resilience, cultural values and spirituality play equally crucial roles in sustaining livelihoods and wellbeing in rural communities. That is precisely why the United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS) is working on two initiatives that aim to understand the importance of harmonious human-nature relationships. Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) are defined by FAO as “remarkable land use systems and landscapes which are rich in globally significant biological diversity evolving from the co-adaptation of a community with its environment and its needs and aspirations for sustainable development”.
> Modern Farmer: Waste Not, Want Not: 10 Ways To Reduce Your Food Waste (Molly Birnbaum). The next food revolution is here: stemming the tide of food waste. Roughly 40 percent of the American harvest never reaches our mouths. Fourteen percent of the contents of the average landfill is food that has been thrown away. Meanwhile, nearly 50 million Americans are “food-insecure”; globally, one in eight people go to bed hungry each night. Today, there are hosts of food shopping apps designed specifically for the waste-conscious consumer.
> Yes! Magazine: Is Human Composting the Future of Death? (Jennifer Luxton). If you died this week, your family could either have a traditional funeral and bury your body or cremate it—both processes that are exceptionally taxing on the planet. But what if we could do death differently? Grist talks with Katrina Spade, the founder and executive director of the Urban Death Project, who’s trying to make the option of human composting a reality. Here’s to hoping the last thing you do on earth is become beautiful dirt.
> Resilience: Beyond Honeybees: Pollinator-Friendly Farming For The Future (Janet McGarry). More than three-quarters of the fruits, vegetables, and nuts we eat rely on pollinators like honeybees. The phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has raised concerns about honeybees over the last decade, and although CCD is no longer the primary worry, honeybee losses continue to rise. But many other pollinators are also in peril. A timely new report from the United Nations shows troubling trends that threaten the future of pollinators and our food supply. Human activities are largely responsible—and the solutions are also in our power. The UN report’s solutions to the crisis include protecting natural habitats, restoring native vegetation, and planting flower corridors to connect wild areas. Reducing pesticide use and using Integrated Pest Management (IPM) can also increase the abundance and diversity of pollinators.
SUSTAINABILITY INFO & EVENTS
> MN Renewable Energy Society: Monthly Speaker Meeting-“E21 Initiative—Toward a 21st Century Energy System” (Stacy Miller – Solar Policy Specialist, Clean Energy Technologies, Minnesota Department of Commerce), Thurs., April 14th 2016, 5:30 to 7:00 pm, Mayflower Church, 106 East Diamond Lake Rd., Mpls. Click for Map
> MN Environmental Partnership (MEP) April Environmental Events. See website: http://www.mepartnership.org/events/
> MN Environmental Fund: Film–“Minnesota Stories in a Changing Climate” (with discussion), Wed., April 20, 6-8 p.m., Mill City Museum, Mpls. Click here for more information
> 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. See also: Frontiers On The Environment: Can We Change People’s Minds On Climate?, Wed., April 20, 12-1 p.m.; also online; Info: http://environment.umn.edu/
> 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 (http://www.cleanenergyresourceteams.org/accelerator/lugs). Commerce Opens Applications Statewide For Made In Minnesota Solar Thermal Rebate, Learn more >>
> Bloomberg: Bloomberg Carbon Clock. View in the amount of carbon being spewed into the atmosphere according to monthly averages.