SEF News-Views Digest No. 132 (5-25-16)
Clifton Ware, Editor-Publisher
Citizens for Sustainability: Meeting-Forum, Sat., June 11, 10am-noon, Silver Lake Village Community Center, 3301 Silver Lake Rd. Free & open to public.
Ever since the coal boom, we moderns have been endowed with plentiful cheap energy that provides a wealth of positive opportunities, many of which have resulted in negative repercussions.
Thanks largely to the automobile and other modes of transportation, many Americans are able to move about within a particular geographical area to produce, manage, procure, or deliver essential goods and services. With sufficient means of transportation, it’s possible to live in one community, yet invest greater time, energy, and money in distant communities. Indeed, this pattern is typical of many Americans’ lifestyles. Needless to say, an awful lot of time, money, and psycho-emotional energy is spent in travel related to addressing personal and professional interests.
The post-WWII economic boom resulted in a widespread displacement of Americans from their native communities. A sense of rootlessness pervaded American life, and the decreasing sense of community has continued into the 21st century.
The good news is that there is a swelling grassroots movement to regain a sense of community, with groups of mostly young, well educated, progressive-leaning adults growing more attuned to environmental concerns and seeking ways to live more harmoniously with nature. These folks range widely in their socio-ethnic-religious backgrounds, as well as in their level of commitment to addressing worthwhile social and environmental causes.
But at all levels they may share similar interests, for example, in reducing energy and resource wastes, by recycling and composting, reducing consumerism, increasing home energy efficiencies (solar, LED bulbs, devices that save energy and water, etc.), Home and community gardening is gaining popularity, along with an interest in permaculture, rain gardens and other ways to create healthier land spaces around homes.
As we become more aware of our home community and more involved in community life, we might consider the percentage of residents who work locally, or own businesses locally.
In our small city of St. Anthony Village, we have some privately owned businesses, but we also have our share of franchises and corporate stores. The number of franchisees or business owners who reside in SAV is unknown, but I suspect most are not residents, a typical pattern found in large metropolitan areas, where a number of cities are conjoined.
SAV prides itself as a city for walking, and strategic planning is underway to increase the possibilities for walking and biking to desired destinations within the city. K-12 students and their parents are obvious beneficiaries, as the majority reside in the city. As for workers in our community, the reality is that most people drive to work here, or take public transportation.
I don’t know how you feel about getting to know the people who serve you in local businesses, but my wife and I find it somewhat odd that, after shopping for 10 years our local big-box Cub Foods market, we have yet to become acquainted on a first-name basis with any of the workers or managers, most of whom don’t live in SAV.
In contrast, on our weekly trips to Eastside Food Coop (northeast Minneapolis), where we are members, we have met and spoken with manager Amy Fields and other staff, all of whom are helpful and personable.
Finally, this commentary on local buying, selling, and working leads to introducing the Locally Laid Egg Company, which you may have already heard about. The website contains useful information about this extraordinary company.
We just finished reading the book (“Locally Laid”) by author-cofounder Lucie Amundsen, and found it very informative, entertaining, and inspiring. In this case, “locally” refers to headquarters on a northeastern Minnesota farm, in connection with partner farms within this region. This is “local” enough for us, and we can attest to the wholesome taste of eggs produced by chickens treated humanely and raised organically. For more information, consult the MPR article: ‘Locally Laid’: The Story Of A Very Plucky Chicken Farm.
> WDN Information Clearing House: The Demoralized Mind (John Schumaker). Our descent into the Age of Depression seems unstoppable. Three decades ago, the average age for the first onset of depression was 30. Today it is 14. Researchers such as Stephen Izard at Duke University point out that the rate of depression in Western industrialized societies is doubling with each successive generational cohort. At this pace, over 50 per cent of our younger generation, aged 18-29, will succumb to it by middle age. Extrapolating one generation further, we arrive at the dire conclusion that virtually everyone will fall prey to depression. Western consumer culture is certainly depression-prone. The more lost, disoriented and spiritually defeated people become, the more susceptible they become to persuasion, and the more they end up buying into the oversold expectations of consumption. The real task is somehow to treat a sick culture rather than its sick individuals.
> Common Dreams: Naomi Klein: Radical Solutions Only Proper Response To ‘Unyielding Science-Based Deadline’ (Jon Quellly). In a public lecture delivered last week and published online Tuesday, award-winning Canadian author and social justice activist Naomi Klein argues the dire situation of climate change, coupled with failing political and economic systems, is creating a world where nobody will be left unaffected. In her construction, the many neglected populations — either left behind or exploited by global capitalism’s rapacious appetite for growth and profit—reside in what she refers to as ‘sacrifice zones’ in which pollution, extreme weather events, endemic poverty, and political disempowerment have all become commonplace. But it won’t just be the poor and disenfranchised who pay the price. “Wealthy people think that they are going to be OK, that they will be taken care of. But we all will be affected,” Klein said. (A video of her lecture is available).
> Yes! Magazine: With More Americans Going Far Left (And Right), An Anti-Corporate Agenda Takes Shape (David Korten). A recently released study by four leading economists of voting in U.S. congressional races uncovered an important pattern. According to a New York Times report on the study, “Areas hardest hit by trade shocks were much more likely to move to the far right or the far left politically.” Job losses, especially to China, the authors noted, lead voters to strongly favor either Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders. This observed relationship between economic hardship and rejection of the political status quo is evidence of a growing public awareness now reaching critical mass. People see that big money backing a corporatist agenda is antithetical to the interests of working people, democracy, and a living Earth. The public is waking up to the reality that we’ve been conned by the corporatist wings of both parties.
> Mauldin Economics: Life On The Edge | Thoughts From The Frontline (John Mauldin). Populist angst is taking hold around the world. Like all anger, it isn’t necessarily rational and may not bring the desired changes, but the anger and frustration are real. People have real problems, and increasingly they don’t trust traditional leaders to solve them. Today we’re going to look at the real-world economic pain that so many people experience in daily life. Some of this will be hard reading, but it’s important. Reading it, you will better understand what is going wrong and how badly we need solutions. You may also come away with a better idea of the direction this country is headed if we don’t see real change in the near future.
> Our Finite World: The Real Oil Limits Story; What Other Researchers Missed (Gail Tverberg). Virtually no one realizes that the economy is a self-organized networked system, with many interconnections. The real situation is that as prices rise, supply tends to rise as well, because new sources of production become available at the higher price. At the same time, demand tends to fall for a variety of reasons, including: 1) lower affordability; 2) lower productivity growth; and 3) falling relative wages of non-elite workers. The potential mismatch between amount of supply and demand is exacerbated by the oversized role that debt plays in determining the level of commodity prices. If oil is high priced, then the many things made with oil will tend to be high priced as well. We are reaching a head-on collision between (1) the rising cost of energy production and (2) the falling ability of non-elite workers to pay for this high-priced energy.
> Climate and Capitalism: Explaining The Anthropocene: An Interview With Ian Angus (Ian Angus). One of the most surprising results of recent research into past climate is that rapid climate change has been the rule, not the exception. The climate is remarkably sensitive to quite small changes in the atmosphere and oceans, and rather than gradually warming or cooling, it has tended to lurch from one state to another, in years or decades rather than millennia That’s particularly relevant today, when greenhouse gas concentrations are not only high, but are rising more quickly than ever before. That puts unprecedented stress on the climate system, greatly increasing the possibility of runaway climate change, of a relatively quick shift into a completely different climate regime. If we cross such a tipping point, ecosystems won’t have time to adjust, species won’t have time to evolve, and human societies might not have time to adapt.
> Resource Insights: We Are All Albertans Now (Kurt Cobb). It would be too easy to point to the wildfires that have devastated huge areas of northern Alberta near Fort McMurray, the hub of tar sands mining in Canada, and say that Albertans are reaping what they have sown. The source of the current catastrophe is that the boreal forest surrounding the tar sands has been turned into a tinderbox because of increasingly warm, dry weather that used to be uncharacteristic of this area of Alberta. What is happening in Alberta was predicted decades ago to be one of the consequences of unchecked global warming. Having said all that, we should remember that the warming we are experiencing today is actually the result of greenhouse gases dumped into the atmosphere as of 40 years ago or so. If this is the case, what Albertans are experiencing today has almost nothing to do with the climate effects of tar sands exploitation since there was very little production from Alberta’s tar sands that long ago. [What has been happening in recent decades portends mega problems.
> Carbon Brief: What Does The Paris Agreement Mean For The Oceans? (Jean-Pierre Gattuso, Alexandre K. Magnan). The world’s oceans absorb about a quarter of the CO2 and more than 90% of the heat that accumulates in the atmosphere because of human activity, modulating the climate changes we see at the surface. But they do so at huge cost. The excess heat and CO2 alters the physics, chemistry and ecology of the oceans, as well as affecting valuable ecosystem services such as fisheries, coastal tourism and coastal protection. Some impacts are already visible, with reef-building corals and bivalves in mid-latitudes at particularly high risk. How serious will the impacts of climate change be on the oceans by the end of the century? The answer to this question strongly depends on the pathway we choose for our greenhouse gas emissions between now and then. We need to move away from theoretical visions of the future risks of climate change to the oceans towards scenarios that are better rooted in the real world.
> The Guardian: April Breaks Global Temperature Record, Marking Seven Months Of New Highs (Michael Slezak). The latest figures smashed the previous record for April by the largest margin ever recorded. It makes three months in a row that the monthly record has been broken by the largest margin ever, and seven months in a row that are at least 1C above the 1951-80 mean for that month. When the string of record-smashing months started in February, scientists began talking about a “climate emergency”. Figures released by NASA over the weekend show the global temperature of land and sea was 1.11C warmer in April than the average temperature for April during the period 1951-1980. It all but assures that 2016 will be the hottest year on record, and probably by the largest margin ever.
> The New York Times: Global Warming Cited As Wildfires Increase In Fragile Boreal Forest (Justin Gillis, Henry Fountain). Scientists have been warning for decades that climate change is a threat to the immense tracts of forest that ring the Northern Hemisphere, with rising temperatures, drying trees and earlier melting of snow contributing to a growing number of wildfires. In Russia, about 70 million acres burned in 2012, new statistics suggest, much of that in isolated areas of Siberia. Alaska, home to most of the boreal forest in the United States, had its second-largest fire season on record in 2015, with 768 fires burning more than five million acres. Global warming is suspected as a prime culprit in the rise of these fires. The warming is hitting northern regions especially hard: Temperatures are climbing faster there than for the Earth as a whole, snow cover is melting prematurely, and forests are drying out earlier than in the past
> Grist: The Alberta Wildfire Is Dumping Mercury Into The Atmosphere (Melissa Cronin). The Fort McMurray fire, which merged with another smaller wildfire last week, has displaced residents and cleared nearly everything in its path, including swaths of the region’s dense boreal forests. The combined blaze has already released the equivalent of 5 percent of Canada’s annual carbon dioxide emissions and is expected to continue to burn for the next few months. The fires have also filled Fort McMurray’s air with dangerous contaminants, ozone, and nitrogen dioxide, pushing its air pollution to off-the-charts levels. Along with all that carbon, the fires are releasing mercury into the atmosphere. When a huge fire rages through a boreal forest, it is probably going to hit some peatlands, 80 percent of which are located in high latitudes. Peatlands are largely stable sinks for mercury — until a wildfire comes along.
> Zero Hedge: For The American Farmer “It’s Death By A 1,000 Knives”- Us Farmland Values Plunge Most In 30 Years (Tyler Durden). Not so long ago, US farmland was considered by many to be the next asset bubble. Then, exactly one year ago, the fairytale officially ended, and as reported in February, US farmland saw its first price drop since 1986. It was also about a year ago when looking ahead, very few bankers expected price appreciation and more than a quarter of survey respondents expect cropland values to continue declining. According to several regional Fed reports released last Thursday, real farmland values in parts of the Midwest fell at their fastest clip in almost 30 years during the first quarter. Another reason for America’s farmland recession: the drop in land values has been accompanied by deteriorating credit conditions, with more loans taken out to cover farm operations even as repayment rates fell on existing debt.
> MinnPost: U.S. Air Pollution Better Than The Global Average — But The Bar Is Low (Ron Meador). About 1 in 10 U.S. cities exceeds World Health Organization (WHO) standards for particulate air pollution (think smoke and soot). And, considering the state of affairs globally, that’s the good news for today. Across Europe, according to WHO data released yesterday, three-in-five cities are above the health standards for particulates, including Paris, Rome, and London. In assessing 3,000 cities around the world, WHO found that 80 percent of their combined population was exposed to unhealthy particulate concentrations. In the lowest-income regions, that rose to 98 percent of the population. Even in the wealthiest regions, more than half the population (56 percent) was breathing unhealthy air. 37 U.S. cities exceeded the WHO standards, and most are in California, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. None are in Minnesota.
> Yale Environment 360: After Paris, A Move To Rein In Emissions By Ships And Planes (Fred Pearce). Although these the aviation and shipping industries currently contribute 6 percent of all manmade CO2 emissions, they have managed to remain outside international control. But in the wake of the historic United Nations climate agreement reached in Paris in December, the pressure is finally on to rein in these two big freeloaders. International aviation and shipping emissions were excluded from the Paris pact, which introduced limits on greenhouse gas emissions for all nations starting in 2020. With power generation, manufacturing, domestic transport, deforestation, and even changes in land use all now constrained, calls are growing for these two big sectors to be tamed as well. While airlines are backing emissions controls, the shipping industry remains in denial.
> Circle of Blue Water News: America’s Water Infrastructure Requires New Mindset (Carol Kozacek). Cities poisoned by lead-contaminated drinking water and toxic algae, along with crippling droughts and dwindling groundwater reserves, make it increasingly clear that the nation’s water systems urgently require an overhaul. Experts convened this week in New York City during H2O Catalyst, an interactive town hall event broadcast live. Listeners from around the world joined the broadcast, which focused on the extent of repairs needed to upgrade old and inadequate pipes and treatment plants, and redesign the way water is collected and treated. All will require: 1) massive financial and political investments; and 2) reshaping how Americans view the relationship between water providers and consumers. Necessary water infrastructure investment in the United States is set to face a funding gap of $US 105 billion over the next decade.
> Ensia: What’s A National Park To Do About Climate Change? (Greg Breining). The jewels in the Crown of the Continent are vanishing. The glistening ice fields for which Glacier National Park is named are retreating higher into their alpine valleys. Of the approximately 150 glaciers present in 1850, only 25 remain big enough to be considered functional glaciers today. A computer-based climate model predicts that some of the largest will vanish by 2030. National Park Service director Jonathan Jarvis in 2010 called climate change “fundamentally the greatest threat to the integrity of our national parks that we have ever experienced.” All parks are threatened, from coastal areas to desert areas to northern forests and mountains.
> Low-Tech Magazine: How To Get Your Apartment Off The Grid (Kris De Decker). The typical solar PV power installation requires access to a private roof and a big budget. However, wouldn’t it be possible to get around these obstacles by installing small solar panels on windowsills and balconies, connected to a low-voltage direct current (DC) distribution network? Here’s a primer on what’s needed and how to go about setting up a feasible solar supply system.
> The Wall Street Journal: FDA Approves New Nutrition Panel That Highlights Sugar Levels (Annie Gasparro, Mike Esterl). U.S. food regulators took aim at sugar in their most radical nutrition overhaul in decades, part of push to help Americans avoid a raft of health problems and pressure companies to make less-fattening products. The Food and Drug Administration said a new nutrition-facts panel on the back of packaged food and beverages will list how many grams of sugar have been added by manufacturers, and what percentage of the recommended daily maximum that represents. The new rules aimed at curbing the country’s sweet tooth could shock consumers and are expected to deal a blow to food and beverage makers, especially those in the soft-drink industry. A 20-ounce bottle of Coke, for instance, contains about 130% of the daily-recommended maximum for added sugar.
> Mother Jones: This Chemical Reaction Revolutionized Farming. It’s Also Destroying The Planet (Sarah Zhang). What seemed ingenious 100 years ago is running into problems in 2016. The Haber-Bosch process burns natural gas (3 percent of the world’s production) and releases loads of carbon (3 percent of the world’s carbon emissions). If relying on fossil fuels to give the world electricity and heat is unsustainable, so is relying on fossil fuels to grow its food. So interest in a Haber-Bosch alternative is heating up. Last month, the Department of Energy issued a funding opportunity announcement for a sustainable way to make ammonia. The challenge isn’t just making ammonia without fossil fuels—scientists can already do that—but to do it at a scale and price that can compete with an industrial process perfected over 100 years. And that ultimately might take more than just a technological breakthrough.
> Grist: Organic Industry Sales Put Monsanto’s To Shame (Nathanael Johnson). If there was some stock index fund that covered organic food businesses, I’d want to invest my savings in it. In the United States organic food sales have grown steadily at around 10 percent a year since the Great Recession (and at higher rates before that), which puts the stock market to shame. In 2015 organic product sales revenue grew 11 percent, while the rest of the food market grew at a rate of 3 percent, according to the Organic Trade Association’s annual survey of the industry. Total sales reached $43.3 billion, which makes the organic industry a force to be reckoned with. For comparison, Monsanto brought in just under $15 billion in revenue last year, and Whole Foods brought a little over $15 billion. Organic food still only amounts to five percent of the U.S. market, which suggests that there’s room for more growth.
SUSTAINABILITY INFO & EVENTS
> Climate Generation: Summer Institute For Climate Change Education. June 21-24, Macalester College, St. Paul, MN. Contact:612-278-7147; firstname.lastname@example.org
> 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.
> MN350: Climate Campaigns And Projects.
> Clean Energy Resource Teams: Clean Energy Accelerator. Metro CERT – offering rapid energy assistance to cities, counties, & schools.
> 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.