SEF News-Views Digest No. 141
Clifton Ware, Editor-Publisher
I’ve been “thinking” about what I consider the greatest freedom to which we humans aspire, and it’s not what typically rolls off one’s tongue. For me, it’s the ability, courage, and will to THINK (to reason, contemplate, ponder, deliberate, consider, meditate, or cogitate). In all definitions, the assumption is that maximum human brain functioning is required to achieve higher levels of consciousness.
There’s plenty of evidence that far too many of us Americans—and worldwide citizens—are not taking full advantage of the innate brainpower we possess. All around the globe, people are acting irrationally and impulsively in response to challenging situations, circumstances, and events that affect them. Examples are too many to list, but some are associated with the radical political views and behaviors currently showcased in connection with the U.S. presidential race.
Globally, irrational thoughts and behaviors have resulted in a growing cadre of failing states. The latest endangered democratic country is Turkey, which seems headed toward totalitarianism, a tyrannical form of government that typically begins with attacks on protesting intellectuals, those who unsurprisingly happen to think rationally and critically. The groundwork for authoritarian rule may be advanced by any extremely conservative group—whatever its socio-cultural, political, or religious affiliation—if the goal is to minimize, malign, and deny freedom of thought and expression. We can only hope America doesn’t head in this direction.
We humans have evolved with brains that allow us to think in a variety of ways, but not always constructively. In contrast to the perceived virtues of critical thought, we also have a unique ability for self-deception, an effective technique that can be used to forget, deny, sublimate, or justify unpleasant thoughts and actions—and also to deceive, mislead, to outright lie in promoting self-enhancing objectives. One result is cognitive dissonance, an extremely uncomfortable feeling that may occur when strongly held core beliefs are contradicted by factual evidence, causing obstinate persons to rationalize, ignore, or deny any contradicting information.
Typically, a deep-thinker is of a curious, inquisitive disposition, and motivated to seek the true nature of things. Such a person questions dubious ideas, claims, or behaviors expressed in politics, religion, socio-cultural norms, economics, education, and other areas of life. For the committed thinker, no topic is off the table for examination and free discussion. In like fashion, a truly free society is committed to encouraging and supporting every citizen’s right to free speech and expression.
As I’ve written previously, there are facts, opinions, and beliefs. Ideally, facts reflect objective reality, as substantiated through reliable observation and testing. Opinions may be considered estimations and judgments made about facts that lead to conclusions (opinions). Beliefs are a cumulative result of thinking processes (or non-thinking in some cases), as formed and influenced by one’s attitudes, perspectives, socio-cultural-religious dogmas, and the like.
When answers are difficult to come by, a human tendency is to rely on faith, which may provide a simple but mostly salutary result when faced with a difficult, inexplicable problem. A deep faith (trust, confidence) may also be derived from careful observations of natural phenomena that can be substantiated scientifically. For example, most of us have great faith in universal natural laws—including a firm belief that the sun will be around to shed it’s light and life-giving energy for ages to come. It also seems we are imbued with deep-seated faith in the potential goodness of humans to act ethically and morally.
Finally, in reference to the satirical red-or-blue cap motto “Make America Think Again”, perhaps it’s a matter of encouraging Americans to not only think again, but to begin thinking more profoundly, as well as acting more responsibly. Let’s not unthinkingly behave like sheep in following charismatic leaders—without questioning their ulterior motives and observable behaviors. May we all put on our best thinking caps—red, blue, green, or whatever favorite color; and, like Rodin’s iconic sculpture “The Thinker” illustrates, get America to thinking!
> Peak Prosperity: Making The Wrong Choices For The Wrong Reasons (Adam Taggart). It’s hard to understand when people embrace the wrong decision even when they have ample evidence and comprehension that doing so runs counter to their welfare. It seems that decision-making isn’t just based on data, but also on beliefs. And when our beliefs don’t align with the data, we humans can be woefully stubborn to changing our behavior, even in spite of mounting evidence that our beliefs are incorrect and possibly even detrimental to us. Using an example from pro basketball, consider how Wilt Chamberlain lost his successful underhanded free-throw record due to a belief that it was a “sissy” way to shoot, that only girls used that technique. When he switched to an overhanded free throw, his success rate fell. This same willful blindness occurs in the financial world, when the central bankers’ credit expansion creates a boom (bubble) that results in an eventual collapse.
> Daily KOS: Reverse Mortgages: The Final Blow Killing Middle Class Wealth (Egberto Willies). Many fellow Americans that have worked their entire lives, and faithfully paid their mortgages for decades are now being taken advantage of once again. Most have followed all the rules necessary to be considered fiscally responsible, yet because of “legal fraud” by the financial sector and policies promoted by purchased politicians, their years in retirement will be compromised. The Plutocracy, the one percent, has walked away with a large percentage of their 401Ks, their SEPs, and to some extent their financial security. Because of stagnant or falling real wages, much of the working middle class have maxed out on their credit in the attempt to maintain their standard of living. For a Plutocracy that feeds on perpetual growth, from where will it feed now? An old and well-crafted financial instrument—known as the reverse mortgage—is being marketed on steroids to a baby boomer population.
> Resilience: Hooked! The Unyielding Grip Of Fossil Fuels On Global Life (Michael Klare). The good news: wind power, solar power, and other renewable forms of energy are expanding far more quickly than anyone expected, ensuring that these systems will provide an ever-increasing share of our future energy supply. And the bad news: the consumption of oil, coal, and natural gas is also growing, making it likely that, whatever the advances of renewable energy, fossil fuels will continue to dominate the global landscape for decades to come, accelerating the pace of global warming and ensuring the intensification of climate-change catastrophes. The contradictory and troubling nature of the energy landscape is on clear display in the 2016 edition of the International Energy Outlook, the annual assessment of global trends released by the Energy Information Administration this May. Anyone with even the most rudimentary knowledge of climate science has to shudder at such projections.
> Resource Insights: M. King Hubbert And The Future Of Peak Oil (Kurt Cobb). Almost synonymous with the term “peak oil” is M. King Hubbert, perhaps the foremost geophysicist of the 20th century, who first theorized about the eventual decline of oil production in the 1930s. Science writer Mason Inman, in a new biography entitled The Oracle of Oil, has now chronicled Hubbert’s life. Some pertinent information: 1) peak does NOT mean running out of oil, but means the trend of rising oil production reverses into a decline; 2) forecasting peak oil is NOT tantamount to forecasting disaster; 3) he was NOT anti-oil, having worked for Shell Oil Company for 20 years in production research; 4) he took technological improvements into account when calculating his forecasts for peak; 5) he was aware of unconventional sources of oil, but realized that these sources would be challenging and expensive to exploit; and 6) he held a lifelong skepticism about exponential economic and population growth.
> Strong Towns: The End Of The Extraction Economy (clif Moser). Strong Towns has recently been reporting on the role of the modernist economy and its creation of suburbia, as well as its diminishing effect on the future of community infrastructure. Effectively displacing the retail middleman of the past, the big-box retailing is the modernist representation of the public’s access to wholesale warehouses. Our modernist economy needs Big-Box retailers as a centralized resource hub, where mono-cultured activities are zoned and streamlined—clothes, produce, dairy, and electronics all in one place. However, this efficiency is just a continuation of our extraction economy, with Big Boxes as mines to be filled up and exhausted. Big Boxes and Suburbia match the extraction industry’s economics as well. Zoning in our modernist economy doesn’t enable easy adaptation, so retrofitting is difficult. Flexible zoning based on incremental adaptation builds a community platform that supports economic diversity.
> Huffington Post: Don’t Panic: There’s No People Shortage (John Seager). Some pundits seem panicked about declining birth rates in countries like Japan, South Korea, Italy, Spain, Germany, and the United States. A new book, The Good Crisis (free download here), discusses why we needn’t worry about declining birth rates While industrialized countries have seen a decline in birth rates, the world continues to add some 83 million people each year. By 2100 our planet will be inhabited by 11.2 billion people, according to the latest UN projections. This rapid growth has real consequences for all of us, especially in heavily populated urban areas in the developing world. As our population continues to grow, access to food and clean water decreases and CO2 emissions and fossil fuel consumption increase. Despite lower birth rates, the GDP in the developing world has continued to grow. Instead of worrying about a people shortage, let’s improve the quality of life for our planet and all people
> NPG: Overpopulation: The Ultimate Exploiter (Karen Shragg). Every problem is affected by this overpopulation, a great exploiter that diminishes our resources, landscapes, water supply, and the ability of our climate to regulate itself. Our poor and disenfranchised are overwhelmed by this issue, which swims in ridiculous taboos. In today’s political and cultural discourse, it is deemed more politically correct to focus on all troublesome issues—except the one that could truly permit success. Overpopulation has become the great taboo—both because some deliberately hid it under the rug, and because others let them get away with it. That has to stop, but only if we want to be successful in our downstream activities. This invitation to move upstream is only for those who want to be successful in bringing about a more sustainable, just, and peaceful world. [See downloadable pdf version]
> Think-Climate Progress: Democratic Platform Calls For WWii-Scale Mobilization To Solve Climate Crisis (Joe Romm). The platform makes for the starkest possible contrast with a party that just nominated Donald Trump—a man who has called climate change a hoax. In contrast, one party in this country has finally embraced the blunt—and scientifically accurate—language of climate hawks as to what those measures actually entail: We believe the United States must lead in forging a robust global solution to the climate crisis. We are committed to a national mobilization, and to leading a global effort to mobilize nations to address this threat on a scale not seen since World War II. In the first 100 days of the next administration, the President will convene a summit of the world’s best engineers, climate scientists, policy experts, activists, and indigenous communities to chart a course to solve the climate crisis. [At last, there is some serious attention given by some US leaders to the greatest challenge the world is facing]
> E & E Publishing: POLITICS: GOP Climate Activists See Party Developing 2020 Vision (Jennifer Yachnin). There’s no unifying moniker for the host of conservative green groups that descended on the Republican National Convention here this past week, but activists did agree on this: Their ranks are growing, and they believe they can turn the tide on climate policy in the GOP before the 2020 election. Leaders say the numbers of green-minded Republicans have grown since the 2012 cycle, both with the addition of organizations like the GOP-aligned ClearPath Action Fund and through newer grass-roots efforts like republicEn and Young Conservatives for Energy Reform. And they all portend a potential attitude shift in the party’s platform before the next presidential race. While the group’s mission is to appeal to millennial voters on issues like long-term tax credits for wind and solar power and a national portfolio standard, it avoids making fossil fuels the villain of its narrative.
> MPR/NPR: Scientists Report The Planet Was Hotter Than Ever In The First Half Of 2016 (Christopher Joyce). The latest temperature numbers from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say the first six months of 2016 were the hottest on record around the planet. Scientists took temperatures from around the world and got a June average. What they found was a world that was 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the average June in the 20th Century. Every month in 2016 has been warmer than ever, at least since people started keeping reliable records—that was 1880. How much warmer is 2016 so far? Overall, this year has been almost two degrees warmer than what people experienced in the 20th Century. Another effect of prolonged warming is melting of sea ice in the Arctic. NASA scientists say this year it’s melted down to its lowest extent since the late 1970s, when satellite measurements began.
> Common Dreams: Scorching Middle East Beats All-Time Heat Records For Eastern Hemisphere (Deirdre Fulton). Kuwait and Iraq reached record-shattering temperatures this week, with Weather Underground reporting that the measurements could be the hottest ever seen in the Eastern Hemisphere. The temperature in Mitribah, Kuwait climbed to an “astonishing” 54°C (129.2°F) on Thursday. And on Friday, Basrah, Iraq International Airport reported a high temperature of 53.9°C (129°F).” The Washington Post notes, “It’s also possible that these 129.2-degree readings match the hottest ever reliably measured anywhere in the world.” A study published earlier this year in the journal Climatic Change predicted that by the end of this century, “climate change and increasing hot weather extremes in the [Middle East and North Africa], a region subject to economic recession, political turbulence and upheaval, may exacerbate humanitarian hardship and contribute to migration.”
> Florida Today: Algae Is Blooming In Waterways All Around The Country (Jim Waymer). Nationwide, 2016 seems the summer of algae, with the tiny plants fouling water supplies and swimming holes from Florida to California, as record summer heat fuels toxic waters and blue-green algae. Blue-green algae also is blanketing inland lakes and rivers throughout the country, feeding off farm and residential fertilizers, leaking sewage, El Niño’s heavy winter and spring rains, and now record summer heat. That’s set the stage for a witch’s brew of algae blooms this month in the southern Indian River Lagoon, as well as lakes and rivers in North Dakota, Minnesota, Utah, Southern California and Ohio, to name a few, prompting health warnings, beach closings and swimming advisories. A blue-green algae toxin, called microcystin, is linked with short and long-term health risks.
> MPR: Designing Neighborhoods To Fend Off Heat Waves (Elizabeth Dunbar). Minnesota may be one of the coldest states in the country, but folks here know the Twin Cities can feel just as hot as cities in the South. Heat waves are a health concern, especially in cities where buildings and pavement make things even hotter, and people don’t always have access to fans and air conditioning. A group of researchers and urban planners from across the country met this week to discuss how to design a neighborhood in Minneapolis to make it more resilient to heat waves. A day after touring the Prospect North site in Minneapolis, across the street from the Witch’s Hat tower, researchers and planners pored over giant maps of the neighborhood. They made lists and plastered Post-It notes all over the maps with ideas of how to design the community.
> Strong Towns: The Shopping Mall Death Spiral (Charles Marohn). The shopping mall is the epitome of America’s Suburban Experiment. As kind of an indicator species in this great auto-oriented paradigm we’ve created, the shopping mall is in what one industry insider calls “a death spiral.” This dinosaur of another age is finding it hard to exist amid an ecosystem that has more nimble, adaptable competition. That’s what happens when we have a one-size-fits-all tax system mashed together with a winner-takes-all development pattern; we end up with too much of the easiest thing to generate quick cash. After the malls, the big box stores will be the next species to falter and go on the endangered list. Strip malls and drive-through restaurants may hang around longer and may, in some places, find ways to adapt, but their general model is going to die as well. Cities that still have a pulse in their core neighborhoods will have a chance at renewed prosperity.
> U.S. News: The U.S. Government Is Living Dangerously In Debt (Paolo Mauro). Key economic indicators show the U.S. economy is well on the mend. But the Great Recession has left long-lasting scars, including higher government debt ratios and, crucially, diminished prospects for economic growth during the next decade. The combination of high debt, mounting spending pressures from an aging population, and moderate growth pose the risk of fiscal/financial crisis—a low probability event but one with potentially enormous costs for the U.S. and global economies. Recent research shows that economic growth is even more vital for a nation’s ability to sustain its public debt than economists used to think. Statistical analyses reveal that many debt crises in emerging economies have been caused by declines in growth. Living with high debt is living dangerously.
> Common Dreams: US Failing Dismally On Sustainable Development, Despite Vast Wealth (Nika Knight). Rampant poverty, mass incarceration, a too-high murder rate and too little renewable energy were a few of the reasons for the poor ranking given to the U.S., according to the Washington Post. The sustainable development goals are “a global agenda to fix climate change, stop hunger, end poverty, extend health and access to jobs, and vastly more—all by 2030”. While some on the left have critiqued the UN’s highly-touted goals for focusing too much on economic development and argued that achieving sustainability requires a more radical shift away from Western capitalist thinking, many progressives have also praised the goals’ call for a renewed international focus on social responsibility and environmental sustainability. On those counts, the U.S. is failing dismally, says the report. The wealthiest country in the world is ranked 25th out of 83 on sustainability and social goals.
> Weathering The Storm: The Perfect Storm: A Hopeful Sign (R. Michael Conley). The U.S. Energy Information Administration, held its EIA 2016 Energy Conference last week in Washington D.C. It not only dealt with energy matters, but went far deeper. A key thrust of the conference was clean energy, particularly its role in the fulfillment of the Paris Accords, the Clean Power Plan and its pivotal part in a circular economy. The international speakers, business leaders, and policymakers affirmed their bias for proactively addressing several of perfect-storm challenges; a hopeful sign of collaborative resilience. They challenged the underlying assumptions of the linear economy—the “take, make dispose” model and offered instead the advantages of the circular economy model, which by design is restorative and regenerative. It provides a viable way of sustainably growing within the confines of a finite resource base and reducing our carbon footprint, while creating a host of new economic growth engines.
> Strong Towns: Resilient Suburbia (Morgan Mailoie). The suburbia we’ve built is costly to maintain in both infrastructure and energy, provides an uncomfortable environment that’s poor in walkability and civic life that sentences its denizens to ever-increasing hours of car commutes. It generates a sedentary lifestyle, and cuts rapaciously into valuable habitat, creating health impacts that transcend human communities to adversely affect other species, which reverberate back to damage our interconnected ecosystem. But we shouldn’t discard the suburban investment we’ve already made. For example, suburbia is also better positioned than urbia to produce food locally, reducing its dependence on frequent, centralized food shipments. Also, its decentralized form offers a unique advantage in economic innovation, with ample space that includes lawns for gardening, garages for building, and enough residential square footage to spare for commercial enterprise and denser living.
> Resilience: The Great Transition Experiment: New Economy Alternatives (Pamela Boyce Simms). The unbridled pursuit of profit over people is responsible for the abuse of the Earth, disproportionate environmental injustice suffered by the voiceless, poverty, and the chasm of income disparity. Featured articles shed light on how the monetary system—the guiding mechanism in the economies of all nations—shapes our worldview and perspective. Contributors offer choices—alternative escape routes from the debt-based, infinite growth monetary-market system. They encourage us to redirect our economic activity so as to circumvent the debt-service system. Authors speak to the need to strengthen local economies, value work in spheres that are currently undervalued and/or exploited by the market economy, and show how neighbors can take responsibility for creating economic models that meet people’s needs outside of the mainstream monetary system.
> Resilience: Keep It Local! The Complementary Currency Alternative (David McCarthy, Maria Reidelbach). New alternative and complementary currencies are a growing worldwide trend, and many states in the US have created their own local currencies. Our local alternative currency, the Hudson Valley Current, has members in several counties straddling the Hudson River, just above New York City. “Alternative currency” simply means money other than the official government-issued currency. The term “complementary currency” highlights the quality of functioning alongside the existing monetary system, rather than attempting to replace it. The local type of alternative or complementary currency is created to strengthen local economies and it strengthens Transition efforts to create more resilient communities.
> The Daily Good: Want To Save The Environment? Work Fewer Hours, Says UN (Kate Ryan). According to the United Nations, all we need to do to save the environment is scale back our workweek. In a report released by the U.N.’s International Resource Panel on Wednesday, we’ve tripled our use of raw materials over the past 40 years. But how much is that exactly? According to the report, 70 billion tons of raw materials were extracted from the Earth in 2010, a shocking increase compared to the 22 billion extracted in 1970. An expanding global middle class means we’ll have to drastically rethink the way we gather resources if we want to prevent total environmental collapse. However, the report explains that gains in efficiency could lead to lower costs, which will only escalate overall demand—something that is not so great for a sustainable economy and environment.
> NPR: Wal-Mart, America’s Largest Grocer, Is Now Selling Ugly Fruit And Vegetables (Maria Godoy). Over the past few years, so-called ugly fruit and vegetables have been gaining a host of admirers, and Wal-Mart has officially joined the bandwagon. Starting this week, America’s largest grocer says it is piloting sales of weather-dented apples at a discount in 300 of its stores in Florida. Ugly fruits and vegetables are a fact of life on the farm. Sometimes the dents and scars are so minor that you wouldn’t think twice about buying them. They’re perfectly edible, delicious and just as nutritious as their unmarred brethren, but their cosmetic challenges have traditionally kept them out of retail stores. Imperfect produce often ends up in landfills instead, contributing to food waste, which, in turn, is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. But efforts to help consumers and U.S. retailers see the inner beauty of gnarly produce have stepped up of late.
SUSTAINABILITY INFO & EVENTS
> Casket Arts Building Summer Shindig: Bikes vs. Cars Outdoor Movie Showing, Thurs., Aug. 4, 5-11:30pm, 681 17th Ave. NE, Mpls. Featuring NE bike-shop “Recovery” owner. Donation: $5-10 for filmmaker. RSVP: The Casket Cinema Facebook event.
> St. Anthony Village: Village Fest, Sat., Aug. 6, 10am-4pm, SAV Central Park, Silver Lake Rd. CFS Sustainability Booth (handouts, activities, pollinator pathway project).
> Citizens for Sustainability: Sustainability Walkabout, Sun. Aug. 7, 11am, Guided tour begins at St. Anthony Village High School Cafeteria. Self-guided tour includes a solar home site, a rain garden, 2 pollinator gardens, the city’s LED technologies and Water ReUse Tank, and low-energy vehicles.
> 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.
> The World Counts: World Population Clock Live – Population of the World Today Watch the population increase minute by minute.
> Bloomberg News: Bloomberg Carbon Clock. A real-time estimate of the global monthly atmospheric CO2 level.
> US Debt Clock: U.S. National Debt Clock: Real Time. Every aspect of the economy is documented.