SEF News-Views Digest No. 140
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.
Based on recent tragic police-and-citizen confrontations, it seems timely to give special attention to the ongoing concern about police confrontations with black citizens. This issue is especially relevant in creating a sustainable, viable democracy, as all citizens deserve to live safely, with just and equal treatment—within a humane socio-political system that seeks to maintain law and order.
Safety is a foremost human need, following close behind the essential needs of food, shelter, and clothing. Justice may be considered a more evolved form of safety, for who can be truly safe in an environment void of justice or fairness? Moreover, in creating a safe social net, both police officers and citizens involved in confrontations over violations of laws are due a high level of social empathy or compassion.
This topic is especially pertinent to anyone acquainted with policemen or citizens who have suffered from harmful confrontations. A few members of our local Citizens for Sustainability group, for instance, have had limited contact with the young St. Anthony Village police officer accused of killing a young black man in a suburb of St. Paul recently. Two years ago the officer led a group of cyclists, adults and children, on an hour-long tour of our city, along the way enthusiastically offering instruction in cycling safety. For those of us who remember his effective leadership role with that event, it’s difficult imagining a willful intention to harm anyone. So we can only wonder how he, his family, and friends must be suffering, as they cope with accumulating guilt, shame, remorse, and even social disdain. I certainly don’t mean to suggest that he and his loved ones deserve more empathy and compassion than the victim and his loved ones, only to point out that suffering usually occurs for all persons involved in such awful tragedies.
Possible solutions for creating better relations between police and black citizens are being debated in the media, by social groups, and within law-enforcement circles. It seems a truism that both the general public and law-enforcement personnel need to be better educated regarding how to act, and to react, in a variety of confrontational situations.
According to Norm Stamper, former Seattle Police Chief and author of the well-known book, To Protect and Serve: How to Fix America’s Police, the 18,000 U.S. police departments are too many. He recommends combining departments, standardizing training and supervision, and placing an emphasis on community policing. See NPR: Former Police Chief Has A Plan For ‘How To Fix America’s Police.
Although guidelines for citizens stopped by police officers when driving may vary, I found this video helpful: Coffey Anderson Stop the Violence Safety Video. Having viewed it, I feel more prepared for any future driving-related auto stop, and I think you will, too.
> CNS News: Restoring Principled Leadership, Healing Relationships Between Police And Citizens (Ken Blackwell). After last week’s protests over police practices, mass killing of cops in Dallas, and usual efforts to take political advantage, it should be evident to every American that we face a crisis in public trust and accountability. The only solution is good old-fashioned leadership by men and women of integrity and principle. Politics distorts policing, supplanting both safety and justice. Some departments practice social engineering and politicians protect constituents and interests. Police adapt, doing what is necessary to survive politically rather than focus on what best safeguards the public. Prejudice, bias, and PC help color public perceptions of police conduct, good and bad. Common to all of these problems is leadership. The country needs leaders of character and moral integrity who not only understand who the bad guys are, but what needs to be done to stop crime.
> Think Climate Progress: Americans Are Becoming More Worried About Climate Change. Here’s Why (Joe Romm). Another major public opinion analysis confirms that Americans are growing substantially more “Alarmed” and “Concerned” about global warming, while at the same time becoming less “Doubtful” and “Dismissive.” These findings—and these categories—come from a new analysis of the opinions of some 1200 Americans taken in March and unveiled this week by the Climate Change Communication programs at Yale and George Mason University (GMU). A comparison of some key findings of theirs over the years is listed.
> Cassandra’s Legacy: Would Robin Hood Help Us Fight Climate Change? (Ugo Bardi). Today, a lot of the world’s monetary wealth is in the hands of a tiny group of super-rich people. What would happen if this money were redistributed in some way? Would it change something in terms of climate change and resource depletion? In the end, a substantial redistribution of the world’s wealth in more egalitarian terms would probably have little effect in the short term, but it might have unpredictable ones in the long term. What we can say for sure is that the world is evolving in the opposite direction to the one that Robin Hood would favor: the rich are becoming richer, and the poor poorer. At the same time, we keep emitting greenhouse gases at the highest rates ever observed in history. Are these two trends correlated? Difficult to say, but perhaps moving to a renewable-powered world would be the best way to get a less unbalanced wealth distribution.
> Population Matters: Sir David Attenborough Speaks About Population. Sir David Attenborough, renowned broadcaster and naturalist presents the 2011 RSA President’s Lecture. The dangers facing the Earth’s ecosystems are well known and the subject of great concern at all levels. Climate change is high on the list. But there is an underlying and associated cause—population growth. Indeed, in Sir David’s view, there is no major problem facing our planet that would not be easier to solve if there were fewer people; and no problem that does not become harder—and ultimately impossible to solve—with ever more. And yet there seems to be a taboo on bringing the subject into the open. View the 22-minute video.
> Wall Street Journal: How America Could Go Dark (Rebecca Smith). Dozens of break-ins examined by The Wall Street Journal show how orders to secure the power grid have still left tens of thousands of utility substations vulnerable to terrorist saboteurs. The U.S. electric system is in danger of widespread blackouts lasting days, weeks or longer through the destruction of sensitive, hard-to-replace equipment. Yet records are so spotty that no government agency can offer an accurate tally of substation attacks, whether for vandalism, theft or more nefarious purposes. Most substations are unmanned and often protected chiefly by chain-link fences. Many have no electronic security, leaving attacks unnoticed until after the damage is done. Even if there are security cameras, they often prove worthless. In some cases, alarms are simply ignored. The grid was cobbled together during the electrification of the U.S. over the past 125 years. It is a fragile, interdependent system.
> The Archdruid Report: Scientific Education As A Cause Of Political Stupidity (John Michael Greer). Engineers and other scientists are trained to figure out what works in solving problems. What science doesn’t teach you is how to question the problem. A specific blindness seems to be hardwired into popular modes of scientific and technical education, a possible downside being political ignorance, as Neil deGrasse Tyson has demonstrated in pronouncements supporting GMOs. In all socio-political decisions, what’s at issue are values (judgments) on the one hand, and interests (costs, benefits) on the other. The values and interests of affluent classes, for instance, have dominated the lower classes in the industrial world for the last four decades or so. In science, interests are entirely irrelevant in theory. Solving complex issues isn’t helped by the increasingly common habit in the scientific community of demanding that questions having to do with values and interests should be decided, not on the evidence, but purely on the social prestige of science.
> Ensia: If Carbon Pricing Is So Great, Why Isn’t It Working? (Peter Fairly). Earth’s atmosphere has long served as a free dump for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases generated by humans. That is changing as policy-makers embrace economists’ advice that the best way to cut greenhouse gas emissions is to charge an atmospheric disposal fee. Governments are increasingly tacking on a price for carbon when fossil fuels are sold and/or consumed, allowing their economies to internalize some of the social and economic costs associated with burning coal, oil and natural gas. Industries that can affordably cut, do so. Those that can’t, pay the price. What carbon-pricing pioneers have yet to prove, however, is that it can deliver on its potential. To date most carbon prices remain low—“virtually valueless” according to Bloomberg it in a recent review of carbon pricing. Some economists question whether carbon pricing’s theoretical elegance may be outweighed by practical and political hurdles.
> Zero Hedge: Housing Bubble 2.0 – Are You Ready For This? (Tyler Durden). 2006/07 was the peak of the largest housing bubble in history with affordability never better vis a’ vis exotic loans; easy availability of credit; unemployment in the 4%’s; the total workforce at record highs; and growing wages, then what do you call “now” with house prices at or above 2006 levels; worse affordability; tighter credit; higher unemployment; a weakening total workforce; and shrinking wages? Whatever you call it, it’s a greater thing than the Bubble 1.0 peak. The bubble regions have one thing in common: STEM. As such, if the tech and biotech sectors hit a wall, which some believe has already begun, so will these housing regions.
> The Washington Post: The Diversity Of Life Across Much Of Earth Has Plunged Below Safe Levels (Chris Mooney). In an ambitious study scientists have found that across a majority of the Earth’s land surface—including some of its most important types of terrain and its most populous regions—the abundance or overall number of animals and plants of different species has fallen below a “safe” level identified by biologists. The reason is not exactly a surprise. From grasslands to tropical forests, humans are using more and more land for agriculture, to live on, to build roads and infrastructure upon. This doesn’t always cause extinctions, but it does reduce the abundance of species and what researchers call the “intactness” of ecosystems—and when biodiversity levels fall too low, it can mean that larger ecosystems lose their resilience or even, at the extreme, cease to function. Original species are only about 85 percent as abundant as they were before human land-use changes.
> Inside Climate News: Number Of Americans ‘Alarmed’ By Climate Change Rises (Zahra Hirji). A new analysis of voter preferences shows more Americans are passionate or “alarmed,” about climate change, with the percentage of poll respondents in this category rising sharply to 17 percent compared to 12 percent last year. Researchers polled 1,204 eligible American voters four months ago and used their responses to classify what they call “Six Americas”—six categories of people based on their opinion on climate change. These categories ranged from “alarmed” to “dismissive.” About 10 percent of the respondents were classified as dismissive, which was not a statistically significant drop from 11 percent in 2015. Researchers say there hasn’t been such a wide gap between the extreme pro-climate supporters and climate change deniers since 2008, right after Barack Obama was first elected president. That was also the year they started this analysis. See also: Americans Are Becoming More Worried About Climate Change. Here’s Why.
> Climate Central: Warming Is Shifting Around Earth’s Clouds (Andrea Thompson). The warming of the planet over the past few decades has shifted a key band of clouds pole-ward and increased the heights of clouds tops, exacerbating Earth’s rising temperature, a new study released Monday suggests. The reaction of clouds to a warming atmosphere has been one of the major sources of uncertainty in estimating exactly how much the world will heat up from the accumulation of greenhouse gases, as some changes would enhance warming, while others would counteract it. The study, detailed Monday in the journal Nature, overcomes problems with the satellite record and shows that observations support projections from climate models. But the work is only a first step in understanding the relationship between climate change and clouds, with many uncertainties still to untangle, scientists not involved with the research said.
> Politico: Threatened Oil Industry Rethinks Climate Stance (Andrew Restuccia, Elana Schor). The American Petroleum Institute is making quiet efforts to revamp its climate messaging, creating a task force that could revisit the industry’s long-held opposition to taxing greenhouse gas emissions. The Democratic party’s Sunday endorsement of a carbon price in its platform promises to fuel speculation further about future policies. The industry faces a fierce campaign by climate activist groups who want federal regulators to block additional drilling and keep fossil fuels in the ground. That includes an escalating effort to target ExxonMobil, the nation’s biggest oil company. Also weighing on Big Oil is a two-year collapse in global prices, Obama administration’s environmental regulations and the international climate agreement that the U.S. negotiated last year in Paris. The industry’s harshest critics are unconvinced that oil companies will embrace a change of heart.
> Christian Science Monitor: Insurers, Banks, And Pension Funds Could All Be Hurt By Climate Change (Joseph Dussault). According to the Global Risk Institute (GRI), a nonprofit based in Toronto, it may be. In a new report, GRI warned that global warming could present significant risks for financial institutions. The study targeted three at-risk groups: insurers, banks, and pension funds. But it’s not just banks and insurance companies. Investors may soon be sweating over climate change, too. The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), a nonprofit chaired by Michael Bloomberg, found that 93 percent of public companies in the US face some degree of climate risk, and for the most part, companies are not disclosing that risk.
> Washington Post: Is The Car Culture Dying? (Roy Samuelson). There are signs that the car and its many offshoots (SUVs, pickup trucks) are losing their grip on the American psyche and pocketbook. The car culture may be dying, or slumping into a prolonged era of eclipse. The only question is whether the signs of change are clear. Young Americans, particularly millennials (ages 18 to 35), have lost their zest for buying and driving cars, it’s said. Theories abound to explain this shift. One emphasizes cost; it’s too expensive to own a car, especially after the high unemployment and meager wage gains of the Great Recession. Uber and other on-demand transportation services make this choice more practical. Other theories focus on lifestyles and values. Young Americans “just don’t think driving is cool—or even necessary. The most fascinating theory is that the Internet has displaced the automobile. But, overall, the main reasons are due to economic considerations.
> BBC: Are Walkers Smarter Than Drivers? (Brian Lufkin). A report published last month says metropolitan areas in the United States that were found to be more pedestrian-friendly also often had higher levels of GDP—and their citizens were better educated. The study was conducted by Smart Growth America, an urban advocacy group based in the District of Columbia. It looked at the 30 biggest metro zones in the US, and ranked them by how much office, retail, and residential area was conducive to walking. If cities want to be filled with smart people ready to boost the GDP, there better be enough sidewalks to go ‘round.
> The Nation: The United States And NATO Are Preparing For A Major War With Russia (Michael T. Klare). For the first time in a quarter-century, the prospect of war between the major powers was on the agenda of Western leaders when they met at the NATO Summit in Warsaw, Poland July 8- 9. Dominating the agenda in Warsaw (aside from the UK “Brexit” vote) will be discussion of plans to reinforce NATO’s “eastern flank”—the arc of former Soviet partners stretching from the Baltic states to the Black Sea, now allied with the West but fearful of military assault by Moscow. Until recently, the prospect of such an attack was given little credence in strategic circles, but now many in NATO believe a major war is possible and that robust defensive measures are required. The United States, of course, is deeply involved in these initiatives. The U.S. and NATO are setting in motion forces that could, in the end, achieve precisely that outcome.
> Star Tribune: More Minnesota Lakes, Rivers Listed As Impaired (Jeremy Olson). The Mississippi River headwaters and two Lake Superior beaches, along with hundreds of other lakes and river segments, have been added to the state’s list of waterways that are “impaired” due to pollutants or other problems that threaten fish, plant life or public health. The additions, outlined in a report by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), are part of federal environmental reporting requirements as well as a 10-year effort by the state to assess all 80 of its watersheds. More than halfway complete, the inventory has found impairments in roughly 40 percent of the bodies of water that it has checked statewide. Mercury is the leading contaminant, accounting for one-third of the listings. Nutrient imbalances such as excessive phosphorus are the second most common problem. See also: Minnesota’s Impaired Waters List.
> The Guardian: Half Of All US Food Produce Is Thrown Away, New Research Suggests (Suzanne Goldenberg). Americans throw away almost as much food as they eat because of a “cult of perfection”, deepening hunger and poverty, and inflicting a heavy toll on the environment. Vast quantities of fresh produce grown in the US are left in the field to rot, fed to livestock or hauled directly from the field to landfill, because of unrealistic and unyielding cosmetic standards, according to official data and interviews with dozens of farmers, packers, truckers, researchers, campaigners and government officials. Produce is lost in fields, warehouses, packaging, distribution, supermarkets, restaurants and fridges. When added to the retail waste, it takes the amount of food lost close to half of all produce grown, experts say. Food experts say there is growing awareness that governments cannot effectively fight hunger, or climate change, without reducing food waste.
> NRDC: Can Pokémon GO Get Gamers To Care About Real Wildlife, Too? (Jason Bittel). Since its launch last week, Pokémon GO, the augmented reality app where gamers search the physical world around them for digital beasts, has metamorphosed into a full-fledged cultural phenomenon. Some scientists are embracing the game that is getting some 7.5 million people outdoors and interested in biodiversity—even if that diversity inhabits an imaginary ecosystem. Late Sunday night, entomologist Morgan Jackson had an idea: If people were all of a sudden spending a lot of time outside, they’d probably be more likely to run into real-world wildlife, too. And maybe they’d stop Pokémon-ing long enough to wonder what those beasts in the flesh were. So Jackson offered his expertise on Twitter, and the next morning, someone had used the hashtag to ask a question about a “fat otter”—probably a muskrat—and the name game was on.
> Climate Progress: These Deep Red States Are Going Green (Jeremy Deaton). Americans of all ideological stripes love clean energy. Across the country, deep-red states are leading the charge on zero-carbon power. Deep-red Texas now boasts more wind generating capacity than the next three biggest producers combined, according to the Department of Energy. As a portion of total generating capacity, Oklahoma, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Iowa lead the nation. Iowa siphons nearly a third of its power from the sky. Soon, Carbon County, Wyoming, home of the state’s first coal mine, will cut the ribbon on the largest wind farm in North America. On solar, a similar story plays out. Sun-drenched Arizona ranks second in the country for potential solar capacity. North Carolina comes in third. Reddish-purple Nevada boasts more solar power per capita than anywhere in the country. The trend toward clean energy has motivated tremendous job growth.
> USA Today: Obama Signs Bipartisan Chemical Safety Bill (Gregory Korte). The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act is the first major update to environmental legislation in two decades, overhauling the process for regulating toxic chemicals, allowing the Environmental Protection Agency to ban substances like asbestos, and limiting the secrecy around those chemicals after 10 years. But that’s not the only reason why President Obama chose to sign the bill Wednesday in a public ceremony at the White House: It’s also a rare example of bipartisanship from a Congress widely seen as unable to agree on much of anything. The bill passed the House 403 to 12 and the Senate by voice vote.
> Grist: The Hot New Trend In American Infrastructure: Unpaved Roads (Katie Herzog). All over the country, roads are getting de-paved. Transportation agencies in 27 states have ripped up roads they can’t afford to maintain. Even with congressional spending on infrastructure going up, it doesn’t match the rising cost of concrete, asphalt, and cement. Municipalities still can’t afford to pay for road upkeep, so instead they de-pave. This may have consequences on your struts, but unpaved roads can have a few net benefits if done right. Paving materials not only absorb heat and make the area around roads hotter, they also contribute to surface runoff and can cause erosion, water pollution, and flooding. Plus, the cement industry is a huge producer of carbon dioxide—responsible for about 5 percent of all global emissions. So while de-paving might not be the sexiest solution to our infrastructure problem—and only goes to show how little we’re spending—it really isn’t the worst that could happen.
> Resilience: What We As A People Can Do (Richard Heinberg & David Fridley, co-authors of Our Renewable Future). Sound climate policies are crucial in organizing a transition away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy, one that is orderly enough to maintain industrial civilization, while speedy enough to avert catastrophic ecosystem collapse. We must put all possible pressure on all responsible leaders to take politically difficult decisions to severely limit carbon emissions, requiring collective action on a scale that has yet to be seen. Most likely, it will be a long-term plan that will be implemented in stages, requiring some investments in reducing personal energy use, adopting energy-saving habits, promoting renewable energies, combining community economic and social resources, creating energy-efficiency policies related to infrastructure maintenance and zoning, re-localize economic activity, and learn from successful movements, such as climate activist groups.
> The Simplicity Collective: Telling New Stories As The Old Book Closes (Samuel Alexander). A link leads the author’s free essay: ‘Prosperous Descent: Telling New Stories as the Old Book Closes‘, which was recently published in the Griffith Review, Australia’s most prestigious literary journal. The essay tells the story of Wurruk’an, the ‘simpler way’ demonstration project that formed the basis of the new documentary ‘A Simpler Way: Crisis as Opportunity‘ which was co-produced with Jordan Osmond of Happen Films.
> Yale Environment 360: How Growing Sea Plants Can Help Slow Ocean Acidification (Nicola Jones). Since the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide in the air has seeped into ocean waters and boosted acidity by 30 percent. Globally, the oceans’ pH has dropped from 8.2 to 8.1, and could drop another 0.4 units by the end of the century. The problem is worse off the west coast of North America, where acidic bottom-waters are brought up to the surface by onshore winds. Corrosive waters like those suck up the building blocks for shells, and can literally eat away at the skeletons of corals. Researchers are finding that kelp, eelgrass, and other vegetation can effectively absorb CO2 and reduce acidity in the ocean. Growing these plants in local waters, scientists say, could help mitigate the damaging impacts of acidification on marine life.
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.
> Alliance For Sustainability: Linking Citizens, Congregations And Cities For Sustainable Communities. See Projects: http://www.afors.org/
> 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.