SEF News-Views Digest No. 139
Clifton Ware, Editor-Publisher
Citizens for Sustainability: Meeting-Forum, Sat., August 13, 10am-noon, St. Anthony Village Community Center, 3301 Silver Lake Rd. Free & open to public.
Stormy weather conditions have always existed around the globe, but there’s growing evidence that conditions are becoming more common and severe. The intensity, frequency, and duration of extreme storm events—droughts, floods, tornados, hurricanes-typhoons, etc.—inflict considerable short and long-term damage to both natural and human-made environments. Many climatologists confirm that climate change is the primary cause—wrought chiefly by rapidly expanding humankind’s vast consumption of fossil fuels.
Proposals regarding what humanity can and should do in effectively addressing the challenges of climate change—in tandem with a series of related converging crises—are diverse and plentiful. R. Michael Conley, a highly respected Minnesota-based futurist is founder and manager of Weathering The Storm, an organization dedicated to awakening, engaging, and helping humankind weather the gathering storm. The metaphor of a “gathering storm” is an apt one to use in describing what I, and others, often refer to as “converging crises”.
According to information on the website, this is humankind’s challenge: “We are hurtling toward a perfect storm. Climate change, energy tsunamis, and global economic bubbles—in collision—are nearing a tipping point. Clueless, we are fueling the storm and mortgaging the American Dream in our quest to sustain the unsustainable.”
Free materials offered through the website include:
- Storm Warnings, a quarterly newsletter that provides timely information, trends, and ideas that explain the looming storm and its potential impacts
- News Flash, an email that provides up-to-date, pertinent information
- The Perfect Storm: OLLI Course Curriculum, a full course covering all areas of sustainability (a PDF outline of topics is available)
- Lethal Trajectories, a novel set in 2017, with a plot centered around a catastrophic crisis in the making
- a podcast series, including an introductory interview with Conley
The latest message I received from Weathering the Storm was a “Best Practices” email penned by Matt Hoiland. It began by listing a concise, widely accepted definition of sustainability: “the ability to meet the needs of today without compromising the ability to meet the needs of tomorrow.” He goes on to say that sustainability will not be possible if the global community continues on the trajectory that began with the Industrial Revolution. For any hope of creating a sustainable world, we must give attention to addressing all needs associated with the Triple Bottom Line: People, Planet, and Profits. Hoiland suggests this practical-approach paradigm is the one modern society must embrace.
I highly recommend Weathering the Storm as a very useful source of sustainability information and guidance. Please check it out.
> Peak Prosperity: Our Future Is (Literally) Crumbling Before Our Eyes (Chris Martenson). Our global leaders always seem to opt for short-term thinking, so near-term priorities dependably get precedence over doing the right thing for the future. Selfishly motivated actors throw tomorrow’sgenerations under the bus today. We’re simply not going to make it unless we get much more serious about our efforts than we have been to date. I’d like us to focus on the more practical issues of the energy investment required to build a new energy infrastructure, not to mention the longevity and durability of the components we’d be installing. (See time-lapse video of giant wind-tower construction, requiring 96,000 pounds of reinforcing steel, and 53 cement trucks used to pour the windmill’s base.) Because steel reinforcing rods eventually corrode, causing concrete to break down, literally everything visible today that’s made of concrete will need to be replaced within a hundred years of its installation.
> Resilience: Undoing The Ideology Of Growth (Marcus Schmelzer). Overcoming the ideology of growth (or the “growthocene”) demands a thorough understanding of what we are up against. The degrowth movement set out to dismantle a paradigm with deeply embedded historical roots supported by powerful institutions and structures, such as the nation state, capitalism, established understandings of “the economy”. Most importantly, however, growth has arguably become one of the key justificatory ideologies of capitalism. Not only large-scale inequalities and the divergence of uneven development between rich and poor nations are justified as of a temporary nature—to be overcome by more growth in the future—but similar societal cleavages along the lines of class, race and gender. In order to dismantle the hegemony of growth, degrowth has to develop a profound, critical understanding of the real societal contradictions, hierarchies, and power dynamics that shape capitalism, and transform them in new ways.
> Counter Currents: Energy Limits: Why We See Rising Wealth Disparity And Low Prices (Gail Tverberg). In this post Tverberg discusses the portion of a recent presentation that explains several key issues: 1) why we are right now seeing so many problems with respect to wealth disparity and low commodity prices; 2) why the quest for growing technology leads to growing wealth disparity; 3) why rising debt is an integral part of the energy/economy system; 4) why commodity prices can suddenly fall below the cost of production for a wide range of products; and 5) why the Brexit vote may be related to falling energy per capita in the UK. She also touches on the topic of why a steady-state economy is not possible, unless we can live like chimpanzees. Her analysis has as its premise that the economy behaves like other physical systems. It needs energy–and, in fact, growing energy–to operate. If the system does not get the energy it needs, it “rebalances” in a way that may not be to our liking.
> Resilience: For Better Or For Worse (Alex Smith, Richard Heinberg: Radio Ecoshock podcast). Heinberg and David Fridley, co-authors of Our Renewable Future, claim that it’s unrealistic to assume that alternative energy sources will supplant fossil fuels by 2030, as claimed by Mark Jacobson (Scientific American in 2009). They mention all of the hurdles to surmount in reaching true renewable energy, including the essential need for fossil fuels in all aspects of life (food production, transportation, manufacturing goods, etc.), the difficulty in living with less stuff, and the problem of intermittency in renewable energy. A free online reading and download of this important book is available at: OurRenewableFuture.org.
> Negative Population Growth: Overpopulation: The Ultimate Exploiter (Karen I. Shragg). Written by longtime naturalist, speaker, and author Dr. Karen I. Shragg, this new NPG Forum paper reviews the cultural phenomena that have wrapped the issue of “population growth” in layers of controversy—particularly within the United States. Harnessing her extensive background in overpopulation activism, Shragg demonstrates that the U.S. has a host of problems that stem from population growth. Shragg highlights the dangerous consequences of “buying into the story” that infinite population growth is possible on a planet with finite natural resources.
> Investing.com: GMO Industry: The Dumbest Guys In The Room (Kurt Cobb). The GMO industry has managed to hire the worst public relations strategists in human history. By supporting a deeply flawed GMO labeling bill in the U.S. Congress—some would say intentionally deeply flawed—the industry is about to open a Pandora’s Box of PR nightmares for years to come. GMO, of course, means genetically modified organism, which more properly refers to genetically engineered crops and animals. GMO industry leader Monsanto and its competitors such as Bayer, Dupont, Dow Chemical, and Sygenta have all been fighting a fierce battle in the United States against labeling foodstuffs derived from genetically engineered crops. What concerns the industry is that increased consumer awareness could create a movement that would lead to a ban on the cultivation of GMO crops, a ban already implemented by 19 countries in Europe.
> The Guardian: Climate Change: The Missing Issue Of The 2016 Campaign (Ed Pilkington, Mona Chalabi). The race for the White House is failing to grapple with the key issues of the day, especially the urgent need to combat climate change before atmospheric changes become irreversible, a slice of the American electorate believes. The Guardian asked readers to identify the “one issue that affects your life you wish the presidential candidates were discussing more”. Resoundingly, the largest group of participants pointed to climate change. Of the 1,385 who responded to the call-out—from all 50 states—one in five expressed discontent at the relative silence from candidates around a subject that they believed to be of supreme and epochal importance. Nor surprisingly, most of the respondents were liberal leaning, and, poltically, most were Bernie Sanders supporters.
> Midwest Energy News: Q&A: In ‘The Madhouse Effect,’ Climate Scientist Uses Satire To Convey Difficult Truths (Kevin Featherly). Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, continues to build on his work as a climate educator and will have his third book published in September. His latest—“The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, And Driving Us Crazy”— is a satire illustrated by the Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Tom Toles. Says Mann: “When you see the hypocrisy of politicians who know better — but who nonetheless deny that climate change is real and knowingly subject people to huge potential costs and damages by refusing to act—that has to be called out. Satire is an effective way to do that”.
> Common Dreams: Arctic Sea Ice Hits Record Low For June Amid Escalating Warnings (Nadia Prupis). Arctic sea ice plummeted to a record low in June, shrinking 56,900 square kilometers (22,000 square miles) per day last month, according to new figures from the National Snow & Ice Data Center. June’s “sea ice extent” was 260,000 square kilometers (100,000 square miles) below the previous record low for the month, set in 2010—even dropping beneath the 1981-2010 long-term average. As the Guardian notes, that means a vast expanse of ice the size of Texas has vanished over the past 30 years. Apart from March, every month in 2016 has surpassed the record for retreating sea ice levels, as the year shapes up to be the hottest in documented history.
> Think Progress: ‘Other’ Form Of Solar Energy Can Run At Night, And It Just Got A Big Backer (Joe Romm). Converting sunlight directly into electricity, the photovoltaic (PV) solar panel industry has dominated the solar generation market recently because of its astounding price drops. Prices have fallen 99 percent in the past quarter century and over 80 percent since 2008 alone. This has also helped to slow the growth of the “other” form of solar, concentrating solar thermal power (CSP), which uses sunlight to heat water and uses the steam to drive a turbine and generator. Fortunately, one country appears to be making a major bet on CSP—China. SolarReserve (the company that built the Crescent Dunes plant) recently announced a deal with the Shenhua Group (the world’s largest coal provider) to build 1,000 megawatts of CSP with storage in China. And the country as a whole has plans to build some 10,000 megawatts of CSP in the next five years.
> Environment & Energy Publishing: OIL: U.S. Leads The World In Reserves (Nathanial Gronewold). The United States tops the globe in crude oil reserves, according to an Oslo, Norway-based industry research group. Rystad Energy declared on Independence Day that the United States is home to more recoverable oil reserves than even Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil producer. U.S. oil reserves are also greater than Russia’s, the company announced, based on an “apple to apple” comparison of worldwide oil fields. Shale oil discoveries in the United States form the basis of Rystad’s claims. The true estimate of total U.S. oil reserves, when taking into account the current down business climate, may be unknown but is likely in decline. Despite the bullish tone, Rystad’s newest assessment also agrees that future oil supply may not match demand if demand expands at a higher rate than some analysts are expecting.
> Bloomberg: Big Oil’s $45 Billion Of New Projects Signal Spending Revival (Rakteem Katakey). Two projects worth $45 billion announced this month show the world’s largest oil companies are regaining the confidence to make big investments, emboldened by rising crude prices and low costs that promise to trigger more expansion ahead. Chevron gave the go-ahead to a $37-billion expansion in Kazakhstan, the industry’s biggest undertaking since crude started tumbling two years ago. BP signed off on the $8 billion expansion of a liquefied natural gas plant in Indonesia. Crude’s recovery from a 12-year low and a decline in project expenses have emboldened executives to start spending again after cutting more than $1 trillion in planned investments amid sinking earnings. While protecting balance sheets is important, explorers need to at least begin a new phase of investment in exploration and production to ensure future growth.
> Grist: Congress Passes GMO-Labeling Bill (Nathanael Johnson). The bill, passed Wednesdaywith strong Republican support, requires food companies to tell consumers if there are any genetically engineered ingredients in their products. Companies wouldn’t necessarily need to do that by writing “contains GMOs” on the package — they could provide that information with a scannable QR code and small businesses could comply by simply providing a phone number or website. More details here. Republicans did most of the heavy lifting: 47 voted for the measure along with 18 Democrats, giving it enough votes to withstand a filibuster. Both pro and anti-GMO partisans oppose the bill, but there are a lot of folks in the middle that support it, including everyone from the Organic Trade Association to the generally conservative American Farm Bureau Federation.
> e360 Yale: Vanishing Act: What’s Causing Sharp Decline In Insects And Why It Matters (Christian Schwagerl). Many insect populations worldwide are in severe decline, limiting food supplies for larger animals and affecting ecosystem services like pollination. In Europe and the United States, researchers have documented declines in wild and managed bee populations of 30 to 40 percent and more due to so-called colony collapse disorder. Other insect species, such as the monarch butterfly, also have experienced sharp declines. Scientists cite many factors in the fall-off of the world’s insect populations, but chief among them are the ubiquitous use of pesticides, the spread of monoculture crops such as corn and soybeans, urbanization, and habitat destruction.
> The New York Times: The Power of Altruism (David Brooks). To simplify, there are two lenses people can use to see any situation: the economic lens or the moral lens. When you introduce a financial incentive you prompt people to see their situation through an economic lens. Instead of following their natural bias toward reciprocity, service and cooperation, you encourage people to do a selfish cost-benefit calculation. The institutions that arouse the moral lens have withered while the institutions that manipulate incentives—the market and the state—have expanded. Now economic, utilitarian thinking has become the normal way we do social analysis and see the world. We’ve wound up with a society that is less cooperative, less trusting, less effective and less lovely. By assuming that people are selfish, by prioritizing arrangements based on selfishness, we have encouraged selfish frames of mind. Maybe it’s time to build institutions that harness people’s natural longing to do good.
> Resilience: Sustainability – The Simpler Way Perspective (Ted Trainer), I believe most discussions of sustainability fail to grasp the magnitude of the problem, and therefore fail to realize that it can’t be solved without extremely radical change. I also believe the transition to the required Simpler Way could easily be made … if we wanted to do that, and that it would greatly improve the quality of life. First, present ways are grossly unsustainable and, second, the solution must involve far lower rates of production and consumption and GDP, frugal and self-sufficient lifestyles in small, localized, and largely self-governing communities, in a zero growth economy not driven by market forces. The most difficult element in the transition will be cultural, that is moving from competitive, individualistic acquisitiveness to being able to enjoy non-material life satisfactions in stable and cooperative local communities.
> Land Stewardship Project: Making Our Farm & Food System Accountable (George Boody). “Cheap (fast, junk) food” actually comes with significant costs: air and water pollution, de-populated rural communities, damage to public health and economic disparities, just to name a few. Costs that aren’t reflected in an item’s price tag are called “externalities,” and they are accumulating to the point where they threaten our country’s very ability to sustain a viable food and farming system long into the future. In short, we can’t “afford” food that inflicts so many costs upon the public. Addressing the true costs of our current food system will take many practical and structural changes. A number of conference speakers at the True Cost of American Food Conference in San Francisco this spring acknowledged the beneficial role farming systems that integrate animals onto the land via pastures and diverse cropping systems can play in reducing the externalized costs of agriculture.
> Resilience: 30 Ways Cities Can Prepare For Global Warming (Wayne Roberts). The agriculture in urban agriculture is not in the same league as production agriculture, which usually requires heavy machinery and ample fields with no other function than food production. By contrast, the agriculture in urban agriculture is inherently multifunctional and produces more than food. It’s as likely to grow personal skills, community capacity, neighborhood cohesion and resilience as food. The food from urban ag will do much to prevent the worst from global warming. Much more important, however, the process of urban ag—both in terms of relations with nature and relations among people—will be significant. I can’t think of anything more urgent for cities to undertake in preparation for the coming climate changes.
> Grist: Forget Recycling. Let’s Turn Old Plastic Into Fuel (Samantha Lee). One possible way to mitigate the mind-boggling volume of plastic waste is to make it valuable. Scientists envision a future where, instead of dumping more plastic trash into the sea, we convert it all into fuel. Chemists at UC Irvine recently devised a new method to break down polyethylene—the most common form of plastic—into its constituent elements, including diesel. A new process uses certain hydrocarbons and a metal catalyst to scramble plastic molecules into useful fuel compounds. Their process, report the scientists, is both less toxic and twice as energy efficient as alternatives. But it may not be developed, as it has not been proven to work. The best thing to do is to not use more plastic. Or—stretch goal—we could build a society with walkable cities and zero-waste economies.
> Utne Reader Online: Walking Makes Strides In All Kinds Of Communities (Jay Walljasper). More time on your feet provides an opportunity to reflect on your life (you feel more energetic and creative now that you’re not driving all the time) and your community (it feels more alive now that everyone walks more). Even driving is more fun than it used to be with fewer cars clogging the streets. Any community can become more walkable if people are willing to get off the couch to make a difference. That’s what my colleagues and I at the Every Body Walk! Collaborative and America Walks discovered researching our new book America’s Walking Renaissance, which can be downloaded here for free. The rise in walking for recreation, transportation and exercise is also being fueled by new research showing it’s good for us in many ways besides better health.
SUSTAINABILITY INFO & EVENTS
> Environmental Initiative: Building Minnesota’s Climate Action Plan, Climate Solutions And Economic Opportunities Analysis: What We Learned And What’s Next, Wed., July 20, 1-4 p.m., Science Museum of MN, (http://www.environmental-initiative.org/our-work/environmental-policy/climate-solutions-economic-opportunities)
> 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/
> The World Counts: World Population Clock Live – Population of the World Today. Watch the population increase minute by minute.