SEF News-Views Digest No. 128 (4-27-16)
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.
When times and conditions conspire to create fear, anger, and uncertainly in society, many people yearn for order, security, and stability. In such situations, they may be attracted to influential, powerful leaders. This pattern has been repeated throughout human history, from ancient eras to early empires, and continuing up to our modern era. Dictatorships are usually the outcome of such ingrained human longings, as witnessed time and again. A few have served benevolently, but most have been ruthless.
The term, dictator, originated with the Roman Republic, intended as a temporary method of governing, with limited duration. By the time Julius Caesar was proclaimed dictator perpetuo in ’49 BC, the dictator role had assumed a negative connotation. Almost two millennia later, In the mid 20th Century, much bloodshed resulted from the combined machinations of a notorious WWII dictatorial trio: Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin. Since then the world has endured a host of authoritarian rulers—Francesco Franco (Spain), Fidel Castro (Cuba), Ferdinand Marcos (Philippines), Augusto Pinochet (Chile), Manuel Noriega (Panama), Idi Amin (Uganda), Saddam Hussein (Iraq), Muammar Kaddafi (Libya), to name a few. In current news, the authoritarian government of Venezuela, headed by President Nicolás Maduro, is on the brink of a collapse that could influence neighboring countries and even the U.S. (see article in News section). Also, there’s Kim Jong-un, supreme leader of North Korea, and a growing threat to world stability.
One all-encompassing descriptive term associated with authoritarian leaders is that of megalomania, a psychopathological (narcissistic) condition characterized by fantasies of power, relevance, omnipotence, and an inflated self-esteem. Although most dictators are not well liked nor loved, they may be respected for maintaining a sense of order and stability in society—even when corruption, brutality, and regimentation stifle or deny the civic freedoms of most citizens.
Do some of these descriptions fit the character profile of any current presidential candidates?
A reader sent me a very impressive article that prompted this commentary. It’s the first article in the Views section, titled “The Rise of American Authoritarianism”, by Amanda Taub. I urge you to read it.
One insightful central point in the article confirms what most Americans sense: this is a time of great social change in America. The status quo social order is fluctuating rapidly, driven by several converging social changes that affect the lives of many working-class citizens, especially white males. With diversity growing, many white Americans are confronting race issues in ways never experienced. The simultaneous coinciding of social change and security threats has the potential of awakening a large population of American authoritarians, intent on electing a strong leader capable of taking extreme measures, if needed, in addressing rising threats. According to a survey mentioned in the article, 65 percent of GOP voters scored highest on the authoritarianism questions, and 55 percent scored as “high” or “very high” authoritarians, considerably higher than Democrats or liberals.
Taubman explains that . . .“What these policies share in common is an outsize fear of threats, physical and social, and, more than that, a desire to meet those threats with severe government action—with policies that are authoritarian not just in style but in actuality. The scale of the desired response is, in some ways, what most distinguishes authoritarians from the rest of the GOP. . . The authoritarian base will drag the party further to the right on social issues, and will simultaneously erode support for traditionally conservative economic policies . . . And in the meantime, the forces activating American authoritarians seem likely to only grow stronger.”
Following this article (in Views) you’ll find an equally scary yet must-read article—“A New Dark Age Looms” by William B. Gail. The topic of authoritarianism isn’t mentioned, but it does discuss the ultimate effects of human-induced climate change in altering the future of civilization. It seems reasonable to conclude that the rise of authoritarianism is, in very significant ways, halting humanity’s progress in addressing the world’s most pressing issues, including climate change, a major stimulus in fomenting social unrest. What do you think?
> VOX: The Rise Of American Authoritarianism (Amanda Taub). According to Stenner’s theory, there is a certain subset of people who hold latent authoritarian tendencies. These tendencies can be triggered or “activated” by the perception of physical threats or by destabilizing social change, leading those individuals to desire policies and leaders that we might more colloquially call authoritarian. Authoritarians prioritize social order and hierarchies, which bring a sense of control to a chaotic world. Challenges to that order — diversity, influx of outsiders, breakdown of the old order — are experienced as personally threatening because they risk upending the status quo order they equate with basic security.
> New York Times: A New Dark Age Looms (William B. Gail). Picture yourself in our grandchildren’s time, a century hence. Significant global warming has occurred, as scientists predicted. Nature’s longstanding, repeatable patterns—relied on for millenniums by humanity to plan everything from infrastructure to agriculture—are no longer so reliable. Cycles that have been largely unwavering during modern human history are disrupted by substantial changes in temperature and precipitation. In a recent report, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concluded that human-caused global warming was already altering patterns of some extreme weather events. But the report did not address the broader implication—that disrupting nature’s patterns could extend well beyond extreme weather, with far more pervasive impacts. New developments in science offer our best hope for keeping up, but this is by no means guaranteed.
> Daily KOS: March Was The 11th Straight Record Hot Month–And That’s Not The Worst News (Mark Sumner). In the recent past, months that crossed into record territory were often due to remarkable numbers in one part of the globe—but this March was warm almost everywhere. The Arctic? Hot. The remainder of the Northern Hemisphere? Hot. And the Southern Hemisphere? Also hot. Western Europe and parts of South America enjoyed a fairly clement month, but the rest of the globe saw temperatures that were often well above normal. We’re getting hot. We’re getting hot fast. We’re getting hot right now.
> Resilience: A Personal Appreciation Of M. King Hubbert (Richard Heinberg). King Hubbert, who died in 1989, was right on so many issues. He was a strong advocate of population stabilization (like my spouse Janet and me, King and his wife Miriam decided against reproducing). He was also a fierce critic of mainstream economists’ mania for growth, writing in the 1930s that the compounded growth of the economy, and therefore of consumption, in the context of a finite planet would inevitably lead to ruin. He went so far as to compare modern economists to medieval court astrologers. In the 1980s, Hubbert became aware of anthropogenic climate change and saw it as another unavoidable reason for society to wean itself from fossil fuels. But it’s more than a little sad to see how his visionary contributions have been mischaracterized and largely ignored.
> Our Finite World: US 2015 Oil Production And Future Oil Prices (Gail Tverberg). Today, there is a great deal of faith that oil prices will rise, if someone, somewhere, will reduce oil production. In fact, in order to bring oil demand back up to a level that commands a price over $100 per barrel, we need consumers who can afford to buy a growing quantity of goods made with oil products. To do this, we need to fix three related problems: 1) low wages of many consumers; 2) world debt that is no longer rising (especially for consumers); and 3) a high dollar relative to other currencies. These problems are likely to be difficult to fix, so we should expect low oil prices, more or less indefinitely. Lack of oil supply may bring a temporary spike in oil prices, but it cannot fix a permanent problem with consumer spending around the world.
> Carbon Brief: Feeding The World: Can We Preserve Forests, Go Organic And Eat Meat? (Roz Pidcock). It is possible to produce enough food to feed a growing population without another tree being felled, according to new research. But there’s a catch. The only way to guarantee enough food in 2050 is if the world turns vegan, says the study published today in Nature Communications. That way, even the most pessimistic projections for technological improvements and availability of farmland wouldn’t see people going hungry. With a global transition to veganism unlikely, the study explores the options left on the table if we continue to eat meat, as well as how climate change might narrow those options further.
> Resource Insights: Why The Fight For GMO Labeling Is (Possibly) Over (Kurt Cobb). As more and more of the public demands to know which products have so-called genetically modified organisms or GMOs in them and as the number of products on grocery shelves with non-GMO verified labels increases, growers and processors may have no choice but to acquiesce. They may be forced by circumstances either to label their products (or automatically be suspected of trying to hide something for not doing so) or to eliminate GMO crops and ingredients for fear of losing customers regardless of what happens in Congress or in other states. With the industry insisting for so long that there are no differences between GMO foods and non-GMO foods, it is now stuck in a messaging loop from which it cannot escape. That loop will make it ever more likely that consumers will just go with the flow. And that flow is decidedly in the direction of the stubborn minority who want nothing to do with GMO products.
> Resilience: Exit From The Megamachine (Fabian Scheidler). From a broader view, the news exposes us to a flood of catastrophic messages—devastating droughts, failing states, terrorist attacks, and financial crashes. These messages appear as symptoms of a systemic crisis, with different branches that have common roots, in a complex network that has, like all social systems, a history. This modern world system of global capitalism is a megamachine that has a beginning, an evolution, and eventually, also an end. In order to escape from this dilemma we need to change the deep structures of our economy and drop out of the machinery of endless accumulation. We need economic models that serve the common good instead of profit.
> BBC News: Nations Sign Historic Paris Climate Deal – BBC News (Matt McGrath). Amid hope and hype, delegates have finished signing the Paris climate agreement at UN headquarters in New York. Some 171 countries inked the deal [on Earth Day], a record number for a new international treaty. About 15 nations, mainly small island states, had already ratified the agreement. There is obvious delight in New York at the record turnout of countries and leaders to sign the agreement. But some attendees are cautioning that this is merely the first rung on a very difficult ladder.
> New York Times: 2016 Already Shows Record Global Temperatures (Tatiana Schlossberg). This year is off to a record-breaking start for global temperatures. It has been the hottest year to date, with January, February and March each passing marks set in 2015, according to new data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. March was also the 11th consecutive month to set a record high for temperatures, which agencies started tracking in the 1800s. With the release on Tuesday of its global climate report, NOAA is the third independent agency — along with NASA and the Japan Meteorological Association — to reach similar findings, each using slightly different methods. The reports add a sense of urgency at the United Nations, where world diplomats are gathered this week to sign the climate accord reached late last year in Paris, when 195 nations committed to lower greenhouse gas emissions and to stave off the worst effects of climate change.
> YouTube-: 5 Reasons To Be (Cautiously) Optimistic About Our Planet (Think Progress Video). In this 2-minute video, some young activists provide some good news and reasons for remaining hopeful that climate change will continue being addressed worldwide.
> The Washington Post: Prepare For The Worst: Venezuela Is Heading Toward Complete Disaster (Editorial board). The political drama in Venezuela, where a populist, authoritarian government is attempting to cling to power, despite losing a legislative election by a landslide, tends to obscure a deeper crisis. Though it is awash in oil, the country of 30 million people is facing an economic collapse and a humanitarian disaster. Venezuela already suffers from the world’s highest inflation rate — expected to rise from 275 percent to 720 percent this year — one of its higher murder rates and pervasive shortages of consumer goods, ranging from car parts to toilet paper. Venezuela, its neighbors, and the United States, should be preparing for an implosion.
> The Guardian: Oil Producers Fail To Agree Deal To Freeze Output After Saudi Arabia-Iran Standoff (Simon Goodley). The world’s major oil producing nations failed to strike an agreement to freeze production, saying they needed more time to agree a deal to try to buoy the price of oil. What producers had hoped would be the first deal in 15 years ran into difficulty after Saudi Arabia – the largest exporter of oil – demanded that Iran join an agreement to freeze output. Iran has been reluctant to agree to hold back on oil production while it attempts to return its market share to pre-sanction levels. They noted that a recent report by the International Energy Agency warned that a mere production freeze would have a limited effect on physical oil supply.
> Enisa: Our Drinking Water Systems Are A Disaster. What Can We Do? (Erica Gies). Much of the water infrastructure in the developed world was built 70 to 100 years ago and is nearing the end of its useful life. The American Water Works Association says we have entered “the replacement era,” in which we must rebuild “the water and wastewater systems bequeathed to us by earlier generations.” Most pipes, depending on their materials and the environment in which they reside, have a lifespan of 60 to 95 years. Treatment plants’ mechanical and electric components can serve 15 to 25 years. Without prompt upgrades, we are likely to see deteriorating water quality, with more incidents of lead or arsenic poisoning and bacterial and viral contamination, and increasing numbers of leaks disrupting water service and leading to costly emergency repairs. Ultimately, customers will likely have to pay more for water so utilities in turn have the funds they need to replace aging infrastructure.
> Yes! Magazine: National Parks Are Used Mostly By Older White People. Here’s Why That Needs To Change (Lornet Turnbull). A 2015 outdoor participation report by Outdoor Foundation found that, in 2014, 73 percent of Americans who participated in outdoor activities were White. In recent years, federal and state land-management agencies have been collaborating with private outdoor groups and organizations on ways to diversify wild and wide-open spaces—with a particular emphasis on the next generation. It’s simple math: Today’s young people, the most diverse generation in U.S. history, will determine the future of our public lands and waters. And if they never use these places, then they’ll feel no connection to them.
> Resilience: An Energy Diet For A Healthy Planet – Part II (Karen Lynn Allen). We will find we can reach 100 kwh/person/day with technology that already exists while leading a pleasant, comfortable way of life, albeit one a bit different than the one we lead now. Our streets and neighborhoods will be far quieter, for one thing. Our air and water will be cleaner, our bodies will absorb fewer toxins, and our citizenry will be healthier mentally and physically. Local businesses and high-yield small farms will flourish, and the United States will finally be energy independent. We human beings alive over the next twenty years have the power to make this planet a paradise or a living hell. We can sabotage and delay the necessary changes out of fear or greed, or we can face our predicament and do what needs to be done.
> The Conversation: Limits To Growth: Policies To Steer The Economy Away From Disaster Samuel Alexander). If the rich nations in the world keep growing their economies by 2% each year and by 2050 the poorest nations catch up, the global economy of more than 9 billion people will be around 15 times larger than it is now, in terms of gross domestic product (GDP). The existing economy is already environmentally unsustainable. GDP can be growing while our environment is being degraded, inequality is worsening, and social wellbeing is stagnant or falling. Better indicators of progress include the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), which accounts for a wide range of social, economic and environmental factors. Some solutions: work less, live more; redirect public spending; reform banking and finance; address the population issue; eliminate poverty; and create bottom-up activism.
> Resilience: Introducing Turn 21 (Craig Litwin). Turn21 is a group of committed and concerned citizens of the planet dedicated to preserving the only world we have, here in the 21st Century. Our goal is to educate, inform, and exponentially grow in number those individuals who share this vision in order that we may take action as fast as possible to preserve the planet’s ability to sustain life. We have put out a massive call to action every month, every 21st, urging all concerned people to be activists at least one day a month. Our hope is that this effort will spread like mycelium.
> NPR: Could You Come Up With $400 If Disaster Struck? (Rachel Martin, interview with Neal Gabler). According to the Federal Reserve Board, 47 percent of Americans would have trouble paying a $400 emergency bill. They would have to sell something, borrow money or simply couldn’t pay. And this is true even for people who consider themselves middle class, including Neal Gabler, a successful writer with five books under his belt, and a visiting professor at the State University of New York, Stony Brook. In a new article in The Atlantic, he admits to having “financial impotence”. He says that we’ve got to stop people telling us that achieving financial success is all in our hands, because frankly it is not.
> Star Tribune: What Minnesotans Are Throwing Away, But Could Be Recycling (Eric Roper, Mary Jo Webster). Minnesotans are sending about a third less recyclable material to landfills than they were a decade ago, but plastic bags are nonetheless being trashed in growing numbers. Those are among the trends revealed in meticulous garbage data maintained by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, analyzed by the Star Tribune ahead of Earth Day. The state’s data is among the most comprehensive in the country. Plastic bags cannot be tossed in most residential recycling bins, since they gum up the sorting machines. But just about every grocery store has a place to recycle them (find locations and learn more about plastic film recycling here).
> Resilience: Building The Fashion Revolution (Jess Daniels, interview with Andrea Plell): Fashion Revolution is a global movement that demands transparency in the fashion industry. Since its inception three years ago, this grassroots campaign has encouraged us to consider the social and environmental impact of our clothes – going viral on the internet and social networks as a way to engage directly with the brands and companies we get our clothing from and asking them “Who Made My Clothes?” Ethical fashion is not an itchy re-used burlap sack dress, it’s truly a garment made with the utmost consciousness and attention to detail in all arenas of its development.
SUSTAINABILITY INFO & EVENTS
> MN Environmental Partnership (MEP) April Environmental Events. See website: http://www.mepartnership.org/events/
> 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.