SEF News-Views Digest No. 135 (6-15-16)
Clifton Ware, Editor-Publisher
Citizens for Sustainability: Meeting-Forum, Sat., July 19, 10am-noon, Silver Lake Village Community Center, 3301 Silver Lake Rd. Free & open to public.
In this post I’m relying principally on material borrowed from the first article in the Views section: “Anti-Intellectualism and the Dumbing Down of America” (by Ray Williams). I’ve written on this topic previously, but because it relates so systemically to creating sustainability, I think it’s worth pondering and discussing further, even though the article was written in 2014.
Three quotes provide an introduction to the article:
As the well-known science fiction writer Issac Asimov once stated: “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”
In his article, Ray Williams writes: “We’re creating a world of dummies. Angry dummies who feel they have the right, the authority and the need not only to comment on everything, but to make sure their voice is heard above the rest, and to drag down any opposing views through personal attacks, loud repetition and confrontation.”
And last, a relevant but unrelated summary quote from Mahatma Gandhi: “We will be destroyed by politics without a principle; pleasure without responsibility; wealth without work; knowledge without maturity; business without morality; science without humanity; and worship without gratitude.”
I hope I’ve whetted your appetite sufficiently to read the article, which follows.
> Psychology Today: Anti-Intellectualism And The “Dumbing Down” Of America (Ray Williams). There is a growing and disturbing trend of anti-intellectual elitism in American culture. It’s the dismissal of science, the arts, and humanities and their replacement by entertainment, self-righteousness, ignorance, and deliberate gullibility. Susan Jacoby, author of The Age of American Unreason, says in an article in the Washington Post, “Dumbness, to paraphrase the late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, has been steadily defined downward for several decades, by a combination of heretofore irresistible forces. These include the triumph of video culture over print culture; a disjunction between Americans’ rising level of formal education and their shaky grasp of basic geography, science and history; and the fusion of anti-rationalism with anti-intellectualism.”
> World News Daily: War And Debt Is Why Our Trains Are Broken (Eric Margolis). The American Society of Civil Engineers warns that crumbling roads, rusting bridges, decaying railroads and transit systems are costing the nation $129 billion each year, and that crumbling infrastructure adds $97 billion annually and caused travel delays of $28 billion annually. America’s vast highway system was built during the golden era of President Dwight Eisenhower. Today, America’s infrastructure is backwards, primitive, and humiliating for the self-proclaimed ‘greatest country on earth.’ Americans and their government in Washington have chosen imperialism over taking care of home. While the US crumbles, it pours billions upon billions into foreign military misadventures. In comparison, the Swiss don’t waste a centime on stupid foreign wars. That’s why their beautiful nation works as efficiently as a Swiss watch
> Resilience: A Renewable Energy Economy Will Create More Jobs. Is That A Good Thing? (Bart Hawkins Kreps). In his book, Life After Growth, Tim Morgan uses the apt phrase “energy sprawl” to describe what happens as we switch to energy technologies with a lower Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI). As energy sprawl proceeds, more of us will work in energy production and distribution, and fewer of us will be free to work at other pursuits. As Naomi Klein and the other authors of the Leap Manifesto argue, the higher number of energy jobs might be a net plus for society, if we use energy more wisely AND we allocate surplus more equitably. But unless our energy technologies provide a good Energy Return On Energy Invested, there will be little surplus to distribute. In other words, there will be lots of new jobs, but few good paychecks.
> Common Dreams: ‘Free Trade’ Will Kill Climate Movement, Hundreds Of Groups Warn Congress (Nika Knight). Warning against dangers to “workers, communities, and our environment,” more than 450 environmental advocacy groups called on Congress to reject the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Specifically warning against the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions, which allow multinational corporations sue nations in private, clandestine tribunals for passing laws they don’t like, the groups sent a letter on Monday that stated: “We strongly urge you to stand up for healthy communities, clean air and water, Indigenous peoples, property rights, and a stable climate by committing to vote no on the TPP and asking the U.S. Trade Representative to remove from TTIP any provision that empowers corporations to challenge government policies in extrajudicial tribunals.”
> Resilience: On Surplus, Part 1 (Erik Lindberg). I don’t believe the world owes me a growing economy and increased consumption. Just the opposite, in fact—for an economy the size of our current one has already overshot the planet’s biological capacity for production and regeneration. I know this—and still the lived experience of decline and contraction is more than I can gracefully accept or emotionally process when my back is up against the wall. My wife and are still only beginning to adjust the reality of our material lives so that we might live within the means we can expect. We, too, are still in a position of overshoot.
> Resource Insights: Can The World Go All-Electric? (Kurt Cobb). Transitioning to electric transportation in places that primarily burn coal, natural gas and/or diesel fuel to produce electricity would undermine the goal of lowering greenhouse gas emissions. In thermal power plants, the ones that burn fossil fuels, two-thirds of the energy produced is lost in the form of heat. Only one-third is turned into electricity. Electric automobile manufacturers claiming that their cars get the equivalent of 100 miles per gallon aren’t factoring in the fossil fuel portion of the electricity used to power such cars. And, while electric automobiles reduce emissions to zero at the site where you use them, if they are powered exclusively by electricity generated from fossil fuels, the actual miles per gallon equivalent may drop to between 30 and 40. That would make such electric cars no more climate-friendly than high-mileage gasoline-powered cars and less climate-friendly than some hybrid-electric cars.
> AP The Big Story: Climate Change, Runaway Development Worsen Houston Floods (Frank Bajak, Seth Borenstein). With clay soil and tabletop-flat terrain, Houston has endured flooding for generations. Its 1,700 miles of man-made channels struggle to dispatch storm runoff to the Gulf of Mexico. Extreme downpours have doubled in frequency over the past three decades, climatologists say, in part because of global warming. The other main culprit is unrestrained development in the only major U.S. city without zoning rules. That combination means more pavement and deeper floodwaters. Climate change is increasingly concentrating downpours into smaller areas, with big implications for urban flooding, scientists say. Since 1986, extreme downpours — the type measured in double-digit inches — have occurred twice as often as in the previous 30 years, the AP weather analysis showed. [No mention of overpopulation’s role.]
> Grist: Oregon Explosion Reminds Us That Oil Trains Are “Weapons Of Mass Destruction (Katie Herzog). Last week 16 Union Pacific train cars filled with highly combustible fracked oil from the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota derailed outside Mosier, Ore. Multiple cars caught fire, and about 100 people were evacuated from nearby homes. The oil train that went off the tracks and burst into flames in the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon hasn’t been cleaned up yet, but the railroad is already back to business as usual. And many North Americans are feeling renewed anxieties about the danger of what activists call “bomb trains.”
> Texas Monthly: Unfriendly Climate (Sonia Smith). Texas tech’s Katharine Hayhoe is one of the most respected experts on global warming in the country. She’s also an evangelical Christian who is trying to connect with the very people who most doubt her research. Too bad the temperature keeps rising.
> Grist: Alaska Is Way, Way Hotter Than Normal Right Now (Andrea Thompson). This spring was easily the hottest the state has ever recorded and it contributed to a year-to-date temperature that is more than 10 degrees F (5.5 degrees C) above average, according to data released Wednesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Lower 48, meanwhile, had its warmest spring since the record-breaking scorcher of 2012. The contiguous United States is having its fourth warmest year-to-date; May’s milder weather brought that trend down a bit from April when 2016 was in the No. 2 slot. Temperatures in Alaska have also steadily risen — like the planet as a whole, and the Arctic in particular — thanks to the excess heat trapped by human emissions of greenhouse gases. There is a 99 percent chance that 2016 will be the hottest year on record globally, mainly due to that excess heat.
> Mother Jones: Small-Town America Has A Serious Drinking-Water Problem (Julia Lurie). The town of Sanders, Arizona is one of thousands of rural communities across the country where water quality has quietly evaded federal health standards for years. According to EPA data, roughly 6 million Americans use one of 2,300 public water systems that qualify as “serious violators”—defined as having multiple, continuous, or serious health or reporting problems. Ninety-nine percent of those utilities serve fewer than 50,000 people. Together, they serve a population 25 times the size of Flint.
> Think Progress: Epa Proposed New Emergency Limits For Radioactive Drinking Water, And They Don’t Look Good (Alejandro Davila Fragoso). On Monday, the EPA proposed new guidelines for radiological emergencies — like a nuclear meltdown or a dirty bomb, a weapon that combines conventional explosives such as dynamite with radioactive material. During a radiological emergency, radioactive material could be released into the rivers, lakes, and streams used by public water suppliers. EPA is proposing non-regulatory guidance that authorities can use “to protect residents from experiencing the harmful effects from radiation in drinking water following an emergency.” Guidelines influence radioactive limits that trigger safety measures like local water use restrictions or deploying alternative water supplies. The EPA calls these guidelines the Protective Action Guide, or PAG.
> Yale Environment 360: Hard-Pressed Rust Belt Cities Go Green To Aid Urban Revival (Winifred Bird). What is emerging in Gary and other cities of the Rust Belt — which stretches across the upper Northeast through to the Great Lakes and industrial Midwest — is urban greening on a large scale. The idea is to turn scrubby, trash-strewn vacant lots into vegetable gardens, tree farms, storm-water management parks, and pocket prairies that make neighborhoods both more livable and more sustainable. The broader vision is to concentrate economic development in a number of “nodes,” each surrounded by leafy corridors of “re-greened” land that separate the nodes, giving each neighborhood a more distinct identity, bringing residents the benefits of open space, and serving as pathways for wildlife moving between existing natural areas. A land-use plan for preserving Gary’s core green space is in place, and city officials are currently revising zoning regulations to make redevelopment easier.
> Vox: Burning “Liquid Sunlight” Instead Of Fossil Fuels Is Getting Closer To Reality (David Roberts). If we’re ever going to get to net zero emissions, we badly need zero-carbon liquid fuels that can substitute directly for fossil fuels in those areas that can’t be electrified. So what to do? Happily, there is an alternative: solar fuels, sometimes known as artificial photosynthesis. Plants absorb light, water, and carbon dioxide and produce oxygen and plant fuel. What if we could replicate that process, only make it faster and more efficient, and produce fuels that serve in place of fossil fuels? Turns out it’s possible! It’s something scientists have been working on fitfully ever since the 1970s, but in the last decade or so the field has moved forward by leaps and bounds, with a range of breakthroughs. It’s all still lab-bound at this point, but commercial viability is, if not right around the corner, at least on the horizon.
> Climate And Capitalism: Food Sovereignty And Climate Change (Valter Israel da Silva, Facundo Martin). The notion of Food Sovereignty was launched by Via Campesina in 1996 in Rome, during a World Forum for Food Security that was organized parallel to the World Food Summit organized by Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). At the time of its launching, Food Sovereignty was defined by Via Campesina as “the right of each nation to maintain and develop their own capacity to produce foods that are crucial for national and community food security, respecting cultural diversity and the diversity of means of production”. The seven principles are: food, as a basic human right; land reform; protection of natural resources; reorganization of trade in foods; eliminate the globalization of hunger; and social peace.
> Shareable: The Sustainability Commons: Using Open Source Design To Address Climate Change (Cat Johnson). A growing movement that combines open source design with sustainability is creating an exciting alternative to profit-driven, proprietary sustainability products. As we face urgent issues like climate change, the ability of open source communities to quickly and inexpensively create solutions makes increasing sense. One project that clearly recognizes this big opportunity for impact is POC21, an international innovation network whose participants create open-source, sustainability-related products like the 30$ Wind Turbine, Aker (open source urban gardening infrastructure), and Faircap (open source portable water filter). Co-organized by Ouishare co-founder Benjamin Tincq, POC21 has brought together hundreds of designers, makers and organizers to “prototype the fossil free, zero waste society.”
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; Info: http://www.climategen.org/what-we-do/education/professional-development/summer-institute/summer-institute-2016/
> Conversation Earth: Exploring Our Place on the Planet (Dave Gardner, Interviewer). This weekly Radio Series & Podcast provides surprising perspectives from leading thinkers on the most important issues of our time.
> MN Environmental Partnership (MEP) Upcoming Environmental Events. See website: http://www.mepartnership.org/events/ (search by month)
> 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).
> 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.