SEF News-Views Digest No. 131 (5-18-16)
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.
This topic has been uppermost on my mind 24/7 this week. You see, I underwent a root canal a week ago, followed the next day by catching what has developed into an insufferable cold, with all of the typical symptoms—off-on chills and overheating, lethargy, sensitive skin, runny or stuffy nose, and coughing. Ugh! After considering possible coping strategies, I think I’ve recalled the most effective one: maintain an attitude of gratitude!
How can one be grateful when feeling rotten? Well, it’s the old ploy of imagining how worse things could be—if one were in an untenable situation. After all, my living conditions are nearly ideal. Medical care is a block away, where my dental clinic and an emergency-care clinic are located. Our well-equipped condo is comfortable, with adequate food and drink, and plenty of entertainment tools, including books, TV, and computers. We also enjoy a pleasant springtime overview of Salo Park, with its two ponds and ample fowl life. And ongoing activity in the village’s business district is easily observed from our 3rd-floor condo.
My in-house caregiver, Bettye, is available to assist, if and when needed. Also, as a retiree, I can avoid getting stressed out about missing important work assignments or activities, and it’s easy enough to cancel or postpone the few events scheduled. In sum, the timing is good for an old guy recuperating from a sore upper jaw and nagging cold symptoms.
It’s easy to imagine how conditions could be worse. Many of our relatives, friends, neighbors and acquaintances are coping with serious health issues. Some are terminal and others require rehabilitation and long-term care. In reality, my puny condition pales in comparison.
But I shudder to think how it would be to suffer my symptoms—or any other illness—as a homeless person, or a destitute refugee fleeing a war-torn country. I’ve often wondered how anyone could survive the horrors of life in war-related death camps. When considering the ample documentation of Nazi and Japanese death atrocities in death camps during WWII, we may have an inkling of what it must have been like. Undoubtedly, those who have endured and survived the horrors of death camps would most likely argue that it’s impossible for anyone who’s never been incarcerated to fully comprehend such destitute, inhumane conditions. No wonder the weak and elderly were the first to suffer atrocious treatment and die quickly. As an elder, I’m sure I wouldn’t last long. (After this reflection, I’m feeling better already!)
You’re probably wondering what my personal infirmity has to do with the overall concern of creating resilience and sustainability, so here’s an explanation. As humanity progresses into an uncertain future, one that will require comprehensively engaging a series of threatening crises, including climate change, humanity will increasingly be forced to develop strategies for managing the health and welfare of growing numbers of impoverished people. The first priority for creating resilience is maintaining good health and wellness, in conjunction with having available sufficient medical treatment and supplies. Since food and water sources will likely be strained due to climate catastrophes, especially droughts, health issues will likely worsen, notably in overpopulated, landlocked, desert-like areas.
Overpopulated countries struggling to overcome diminishing resource bases will increasingly exacerbate the ability to assure adequate health and wellness worldwide. And then there will be volumes of highly stressed refugees fleeing coastlines due to rising seas. Many people are suffering now, but there will be hoards later, if only because world population continues rising at a rapid pace (see: World Population Clock Live – Population of the World Today). For certain, only the strong and healthy will survive when conditions deteriorate. And anyone weakened by a simple cold would most likely meet an early end.
As the following cartoon illustrates, ingesting healthy food and drink can help prevent and fight most diseases, perhaps even the common cold.
Some thinkers have described the basic human condition as one of suffering, while others insist that the suffering of all living creatures should be included. We humans differ from other animals only because of our superior ability to medicate for physical pain, seek psycho-emotional help as needed, and find a host of strategies for alleviating suffering.
For sure, if anyone can afford to be sick, I suppose it’s me. On a happier note, here’s hoping you are well, and that my commentary hasn’t caused you any undue suffering.
> The Archdruid Report: A Few Notes On Burkean Conservatism (John Michael Greer) Much confusion arises over the word “conservative”, which no longer means what it once meant—a person who wants to conserve something. In today’s America, conservatives who actually want to conserve are as rare as liberals who actually want to liberate. The foundation of Edmund Burke conservatism is the recognition that human beings aren’t half as smart as they like to think they are. Social change, for example, is not necessarily a good thing. It’s always possible that a given change, however well intentioned, will result in consequences that are worse than the problems that the change is supposed to fix, as illustrated by the French Revolution. A right, from the Burkean point of view, is an agreement among the members of a community to allow some sort of behavior. This definition can be applied to all causes related to achieving rights, as with same-sex marriage.
> Resource Insights: Why You Can’t Argue With A “Modern” (Kurt Cobb). The modern myth, which can be considered a worldview, has some unique characteristics that make it particularly powerful and particularly dangerous at the same time. The modern myth tells us the following about the world and our place in it: 1) humans are in one category and nature is in another; 2) scale doesn’t matter; 3) history can be safely ignored since modern society has seen through the delusions of the past; and 4) science is a unified, coherent field that explains the rational principles by which we can manage the physical world. The modern always has a “solution” to every big problem. It can be technological or it can be merely an appeal to faith in what he or she calls “progress.” Moderns cannot be convinced of the narrowness of their vision and the folly of their uncritical optimism even in the face of overwhelming evidence.
> NPG: The Scale Of Things And Demographic Fatigue (Walter Youngquist). The earth is straining under a demographic assault on a scale never before seen. The overwhelming scale of its problems comes from resource demands of continued population growth, the problem that underlies nearly all other problems. The limits to growth will bear down on everyone. We face a “future of less.” Everyone is happier when the economic pie continues to grow. But the size of the economic pie is based on the economic availability of natural resources. E.O Wilson states: “The raging monster upon the land is population growth. In its presence, sustainability is but a fragile theoretical construct. ”To call for “stabilizing” population is not acceptable. The need is to reduce population to the size that can be sustained indefinitely in the forthcoming time of permanent dependence on the annual increment of resources obtained from renewable resources on a finite Earth. This sustainability can only be achieved with a smaller population.
> Credo Economics: Inequality, Epidemiology And Economics (Brian Davey). Public health is an alternative indicator of wellbeing and is strongly correlated to levels of equality or inequality. Greater equality means greater wellbeing for everyone and a smaller need for the state – yet inequality has been increasing dramatically.
> NPR/MPR: the Environmental Cost Of Growing Food (Dan Charles). The northern Everglades landmass has sunk over 6 feet since 1924. The marshy, peat-filled area was drained for farming, causing the dried peat to sink. The ecosystem has been altered drastically, and it’s possible that the soil will not be useable for farming in several decades. The old argument–food is more important than the environment—remains dominant. There’s evidence that policymakers — and even consumers — are starting to balance the value of food against the environmental cost of producing it.
> Cassandra’s Legacy: How Much For The Sustainable Energy Transition? A “Back Of The Envelope” Calculation (Ugo Bardi). The world’s economy can be seen as a giant heat engine. It consumes energy, mainly in the form of fossil fuels, and uses it to produce services and goods. No matter how fine-tuned and efficient the engine is, it still needs energy to run. So, if we want to do the big switch that we call the “energy transition” from fossil fuels to renewables, we can’t rely just on efficiency and on energy saving. We need to feed the big beast with something it can run on, energy produced by renewable sources such as photovoltaics (PV) and wind in the form of electric power. The transition will be rough and difficult, but it will not necessarily be the Apocalypse that many predict. In any case, some kind of transition is unavoidable; fossil fuels just have no future.
> Peak Prosperity: M. King Hubbert: The Limits To Oil (Adam Taggart). In a podcast, Chris Martenson talks with Mason Inman about his new book The Oracle Of Oil, the first in-depth biography of M. King Hubbert, to learn more about the genesis of the Peak Oil theory. We’ve hit this limit with conventional oil production, which makes up about 90% of the oil that we consume now and it’s from the kind of fields where you drill a hole in the ground and oil comes out. The unconventional oil that we hear a lot more about includes fracking, where you have to pump all this fluid in to create fractures in the rocks in order to get any oil out, or tar sands where you have to dig things up and cook them down in order to get oil out. We’re probably looking at a decline in conventional oil production coming.
> Open Democracy: Does A Fear Of Death Lie At The Heart Of Capitalism? (James K. Rowe). A whole field of social psychology has emerged to test Ernest Becker’s theories. 500 experiments based on Terror Management Theory, or TMT, have consistently confirmed two hypotheses derived from Becker’s work: 1) when reminded of mortality we become more attached to our preferred worldviews; and 2) we also become more likely to pursue self-esteem as defined by that worldview. Being reminded of death apparently increased participants’ adherence to a capitalist worldview. Presidential candidate Donald Trump is a superhero of capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy. Arguably rooted in fear of death, all three systems offer a select group feelings of strength and superiority that help protect against the sense of smallness and insignificance that death can engender (and economic insecurity can intensify). Achieving a lasting justice means accepting that none of us will last forever.
> Peak Prosperity: Which Countries Will Be Tomorrow’s Winners & Losers? (Charles Hugh Smith). The dictum “demographics is destiny” proposes that all the complexities of finance, society and politics are ultimately guided by demographics: the relative size of each generation, birth rates, death rates, etc. Another school holds that geography is destiny: if a nation’s geography is favorable, the barriers to prosperity and stability are low, while the barrier is high for nations with unfavorable geography. Nations surrounded by flat steppes and numerous potential enemies have a much more difficult challenge defending their territory than nations ringed by oceans, deserts or mountains. Broadly speaking, demographics is no longer driven by feast or famine, but by cultural, economic and political dynamics such as educational opportunities for women, political instability and the cost of raising children. The U.S. may continue as the major super power, but in a continually fracturing world.
> Climate Progress: Almost Everything You Know About Climate Change Solutions Is Outdated, Part 1 (Joe Romm). Almost everything you know about climate change solutions is outdated, for several reasons: 1) climate science and climate politics have been moving unexpectedly quickly toward a broad consensus that we need to keep total human-caused global warming as far as possible below 2°C (3.6°F) — and ideally to no more than 1.5°C; 2) key climate solutions — renewables, efficiency, electric cars, and storage — have been advancing considerably faster than anyone expected, much faster than the academic literature anticipated; and 3) the media and commentariat have simply not kept up with all these changes and their utterly game-changing implications. As a result we end up with recent articles in such prestige publications as Foreign Affairs and the New York Times that are literally out-of-date the instant they are published, as I’ll discuss below.
> Bloomberg News: Half Of U.S. Conservatives Say Climate Change Is Real (Eric Roston). The percentage of conservative Republicans who consider global warming a threat shot up 19 points in two years, to 47 percent, according to public opinion researchers at Yale University and George Mason University. Overall, 56 percent of Republicans agree that it’s happening. Including Democrats and independents, the national average for the U.S. is 73 percent. The new survey results, “Politics & Global Warming 2016,” suggest a growing gap between what most registered Republican voters understand to be true and what the party leadership says it believes, particularly on the presidential campaign trail this year. Just 26 percent of conservative Republicans identify the problem as caused mostly by human activities (PDF).
> The Guardian: The Time Has Come To Turn Up The Heat On Those Who Are Wrecking Planet Earth (Bill McKibben). An interesting question is, what are you waiting for? Global warming is the biggest problem we’ve ever faced as a civilization — certainly you want to act to slow it down, but perhaps you’ve been waiting for just the right moment. There’s a need to push harder. A need, as it were, to break free from some of the dogma that’s surrounded this issue for a very long time. We need to keep oil and gas and coal in the ground, keep it from being burned and adding its freight of carbon to the global total. Which is why, from one end of the planet to the other, people are taking greater risks this month. In one of the biggest coordinated civil disobedience actions the world has ever seen.
> Yahoo News: Canada Wildfire A Hard Hit To Economy, Oil Companies (Michael Comte). The wildfire raging in Canada is forcing a reduction in oil output at the worst possible time in a country where the energy sector accounts for 10 percent of GDP and thousands have lost their jobs due to low crude prices. With authorities warning the blaze could continue to burn for months in the absence of major rainfall, economists predict that growth would stagnate in the second quarter. A slew of oil companies in Alberta’s oil sands region have suspended or considerably cut back their operations due to the inferno, evacuating employees as flames approached their facilities. In total, some 100,000 were forced to flee in and around the hard-hit city of Fort McMurray. Output has been slashed by between a million and 1.5 million barrels of oil per day, according to experts, a sharp dip from some 2.5 million barrels a day before the start of the inferno more than a week ago. See also: Canada’s Oil Sands Industry Staggers After A Devastating Fire
> Yale Environment 360: How Rising CO2 Levels May Contribute To Die-Off Of Bees (Lisa Palmer). As they investigate the factors behind the decline of bee populations, scientists are now eyeing a new culprit — soaring levels of carbon dioxide, which alter plant physiology and significantly reduce protein in important sources of pollen. More than 100 previous studies have shown that elevated levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide decrease the nutritional value of plants, such as wheat and rice. But the goldenrod study, published last month, was the first to examine the effects of rising CO2 on the diet of bees, and its conclusions were unsettling: The adverse impact of rising CO2 concentrations on the protein levels in pollen may be playing a role in the global die-off of bee populations by undermining bee nutrition and reproductive success. We are fundamentally transforming all of the biophysical conditions that underpin the global food system.
> The Guardian: 28% Of US Bees Wiped Out This Winter, Suggesting Bigger Environmental Issues (Oliver Milman). Preliminary figures commissioned by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) show that 28% of bee colonies in the United States were lost over the 2015-16 winter. More than half of surveyed beekeepers said they suffered unsustainable losses during the winter. Over the year, from April 2015 to March 2016, beekeepers lost 44% of their colonies – the highest annual loss on record. Until six years ago annual figures were not kept as it was assumed colony losses were only suffered during winter, but similar declines are now occurring year-round. Last year, Barack Obama’s administration created a taskforce to look at the issue of bee colony loss. The plan is largely based around restoring traditional bee-friendly habitat and analyzing the role that pesticides play in bee health.
> The Washington Post: WHO: Global Air Pollution Is Worsening, And Poor Countries Are Being Hit The Hardest (Chris Mooney, Brady Dennis). Air pollution is growing worse in urban areas across much of the globe, hitting the poorest city dwellers hardest and contributing to a wide range of potentially life-shortening health problems, from heart disease to severe asthma, according to the World Health Organization. New data released by the organization on Thursday detailed how 4 of every 5 residents of cities with reliable measurements face levels of particulate air pollution that exceed what the WHO recommends. The WHO said 98 percent of urban areas in “low- and middle-income countries” with populations of more than 100,000 fall shy of the group’s air quality standards. Urban air pollution continues to rise at an alarming rate, wreaking havoc on human health.
> Sustainable Food Trust: How Climate Change And Failed Agricultural Policies Have Contributed To Conflict In Syria (Megan Perry). Pre-conflict Syria was seen as a ‘middle-income’ country, and played an increasingly prominent role in the global food market, with a strong agricultural sector producing key crops such as wheat, barley, cotton and olives. Syria suffered four consecutive years of drought starting in 2006, with 2007-2008 being the worst in 40 years. Herders lost up to 85% of their livestock and small-scale farmers could not produce enough to feed their families. By 2010 a UN official warned that drought had pushed up to 3 million people into extreme poverty. Mass migration to urban areas sparked public unrest due to greatly increased competition for jobs and resources with other Syrians and with refugees from Palestine and Iraq. Climate change has been blamed for the severe droughts in Syria, and there is a growing consensus that this contributed to the initial conflict.
> Yes! Magazine: Why Give Breaks To Huge Corporations When We Could Invest Public Money Down The Street (Kasia Tarczynska). The Small Business Administration estimates that 99.7 percent of all firms are small businesses. Other research has shown that startups and firms already located in a state—not companies relocating there—create the vast majority of jobs. So you’d think that politicians would go far to support small and entrepreneurial companies. Unfortunately, you’d be wrong. We conducted three studies to find out if what we have suspected for years was true: that there is actually a profound bias against small business in the allocation of state economic development dollars, and that the amount of incentives to attract or retain large companies dwarfs resources dedicated to support small and locally grown companies.
> Resilience: Of Boomers And Doomers (Chris Smaje). Both in personal life and in political life I think it’s good to have some optimism, a feeling that problems can be tackled and that things may turn out well. I also think it’s good to have some pessimism, a sober reckoning of the obstacles before us and the possibilities that things may not turn out as well as we’d like. Put the two together and you get the chance of realistic solutions. Either one on its own is less promising.
> CNBC: The Food Revolution That Is Minting Millionaires (Elaine Pofeldt). Whole Foods Market sales increased $3.7 billion in the second quarter, driven by America’s insatiable appetite for organic, healthy food. As consumers become more discerning about what they eat and more are willing to pay for better-quality foods or those for special diets, many small food makers are carving out toeholds in this fast-growing marketplace. The trend is not surprising, considering that about $45 billion is spent on organic food every year in the United States. Today, organic products are available across America in more than 20,000 food stores and nearly 3 out of 4 grocery stores, according to TechSci Research. And it is projected to grow at a compounded annual rate of 16 percent through 2020. On a global scale, the market for organic, functional allergen-free and better-for-you foods will reach a record $1 trillion in 2017, according to Euromonitor International.
> MinnPost: ‘Urban Farming’ Produces Little Food But Lots Of Social Benefits (Ron Meador). Urban agriculture is still scaled far more to the garden than the farm, even the small farm, and this is unlikely to change in the near future. While the Worldwatch Institute estimated five years ago that up to 20 percent of the world’s food is “grown in urban areas’ – according to a piece at civileats.com, which is the sole coverage I’ve seen of the Hopkins paper – it’s unclear how U.S. production compares to that number, or what it would take to grow to that level. At the moment, the opportunities we might characterize as low-hanging fruit for urban agriculturists lie not in, say, inner-city aquaponics projects (where fish and vegetables are raised simultaneously in indoor tanks under artificial lights) but in what the report calls “peri-urban farming.” The full report can be read or downloaded here without charge.
> The Conversation: How Your Garden Could Help Stop Your City Flooding (Alessandro Ossola, Matthew Burns). Urban flooding represents the most common yet severe environmental threat to cities and towns worldwide. Future changes in rainfall extremes are likely to increase this threat, even in areas that could become drier. Besides flooding, storm-water runoff is also a major cause of pollution and ecological degradation of urban streams. Reducing the amount of storm-water runoff conveyed to storm-water pipes is central to the restoration and protection of our waterways. Residential gardens make up more green space in total than urban public parks or nature reserves, making backyards essential water-permeable areas within cities. Planting more trees, shrubs and grasses in our gardens would help to intercept greater amounts of storm water, causing water to be transpired back into the atmosphere through the vegetation.
SUSTAINABILITY INFO & EVENTS
> NRDC: Sonic Sea. Premier—May 19, Discovery Channel. This new documentary shines light on how the underwater racket caused by human activities is wreaking havoc on marine mammals and other sea life. Watch the Trailer
> Climate Generation: Summer Institute For Climate Change Education. June 21-24, Macalester College, St. Paul, MN. Contact: 612-278-7147; megan@
> Conversation Earth: Exploring Our Place on the Planet (Dave Gardner, Interviewer). A Weekly Radio Series & Podcast, providing surprising perspectives from leading thinkers on the most important issues of our time.
> MN Environmental Partnership (MEP) April Environmental Events. See website: http://www.
> MN350: Climate Campaigns And Projects. For a listing of campaigns, projects, and events, see: http://www.mn350.org/
> Clean Energy Resource Teams: Clean Energy Accelerator. Metro CERT – offering rapid energy assistance to cities, counties, & schools (http://www.
> Climate Lab Book: Spiraling Global Temperatures. The animated spiral presents global temperature change in a visually appealing and straightforward way. The pace of change is immediately obvious, especially over the past few decades. The relationship between current global temperatures and the internationally discussed target limits are also clear without much complex interpretation needed.
> The World Counts: World Population Clock Live – Population of the World Today. Watch the population increase minute by minute.
> Bloomberg: Bloomberg Carbon Clock. View in the amount of carbon being spewed into the atmosphere according to monthly averages.