SEF News-Views Digest No. 142
Clifton Ware, Editor-Publisher
> Citizens for Sustainability: St. Anthony Village Fest, Sat., Aug. 6, 10am-4pm, SAV Central Park, Silver Lake Rd. CFS Sustainability Booth (handouts, activities, pollinator pathway project). Lots to see and do!
> Citizens for Sustainability: Sustainability Walkabout, Sun., 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. Info: http://citizensforsustainability.org
As we agonize over the presidential race’s ongoing shenanigans, the impassioned cries of “Let’s take our country back” or “Make our country great again” are omnipresent in the media. Conservatives may be the loudest and most prolific “take backers”, but there are also plenty of disgruntled progressives and independents.
When asked what is meant by these slogans, most people have difficulty identifying their favorite Great American Era. Those who have lived through WWII up to the present might consider the 1950s an idyllic era. Positive explanations included: the post-war economic boom, which provided enhanced economic opportunities; worldwide respect for American power and leadership; and social mores that encouraged ethical and moral behaviors, in turn creating a safe society and socially responsible citizens.
Having graduated from high school in 1955. I attest to these positive attributes. All in all, it was a peaceful era, thanks to the worldwide peace achieved by the collective sacrifices of many thousands of world citizens in ending a horrific war. Special honors are due those who served valiantly in the U.S. and allied armed forces, especially those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
But all was not ideal with the era. For one thing, the country was caught up in a fearful hysteria of communism, a fear that was manifested in the appalling persecutions of citizens embroiled in McCarthyism’s witch trials. Also, there were other long-standing social injustices that had been ignored, including the unjust segregation of black and white citizens, minimal freedom and opportunities for women, and mistreatment of gay citizens. These injustices were gradually acknowledged and addressed throughout the era, and reached a turning point in the volatile 1960s, an era marked by civil rights and war protests that brought social injustices to the forefront of national debate—and hastened the end of the brutal Vietnam War.
On the positive side, I think the best attribute of the 1950s was the generally moderate level of materialism, or consumerism. With renewed prosperity—thanks largely to plentiful, cheap energy (oil)—more Americans were able to achieve middle-class lifestyles. More Americans were able to purchase a modest home (avg. of 1,000 sq. ft., compared to 2,500 sq. ft. today), plus home furnishings and modern appliances (fridge, stove, clothes washer, etc.), a single car, and later on, a black-and-white TV. In terms of material consumption this era might be considered the most sustainable when compared with the growing materialism of later decades. It’s possible that future generations will return to this more sustainable model, based on economic necessity and moral preferences.
It also seems relevant to point out that the population of the U.S. in the 1950s was less than half what it is today. This offered two significant benefits: more democratic participation in political life, with better communication between citizens and national leaders; and a more harmonious balance of humans with the natural environment and its resources. According to population experts, the country is beginning to get top heavy with people (322 million and growing), and will surely be so by 2050, when the population is estimated to be 438 million. That’s an additional 116 million people!
Other mentioned eras include boom-times, from the 1980s through 2006, when economic conditions were in growth modes. But I imagine only top incomers will select the current era due to such undesirable aspects as: declining economic opportunities for average workers; growing personal and national debt; declining natural resources, highlighted by peak oil; accumulating challenges of climate; and a growing population influenced mostly by immigrants and their offspring.
So, the question we need to be debating is this: Do we really want to take America back, or do we want to move America forward? Personally, I vote for moving forward, which involves acknowledging and pursuing our highest common human values, those typically associated with creating safety, freedom, justice, and opportunity for all citizens within a sustainable living environment.
What’s sadly missing from the presidential race is any mention of the real crises that lie ahead. The hoopla about making America great again is still wedded to the worn-out narrative extolling economic growth and material prosperity, which many experts legitimately question. Why can’t—or won’t—some honest national leaders tell it like it is, without fear of political fallout or retribution? It’s possible that most politicians don’t really grasp the enormity of the converging crises ahead. But assuming some do, then a candid conversation with the American public could be delivered, preferably with an attitude of cautious optimism, suggesting that practical solutions may be possible—but only if we all pull together in moving forward to a bold, new future. Here’s a brief hypothetical outline of what I’d like to hear:
“My fellow Americans, we are all painfully aware of the many grave challenges our nation—and the world—is facing, challenges that will only grow more demanding in coming years. In preparation, our leaders propose a comprehensive national effort in addressing all challenges head on. With the goal of achieving true prosperity—which is neither wholly synonymous nor compatible with material prosperity—we propose moving forward with these broadly defined initiatives: 1) reducing unnecessary consumption; 2) adopting cradle-to-cradle recycling; 3) conserving resources (oil, minerals, water); 4) expecting wealthy citizens and corporations to contribute more of their income for the common good; 5) drastically cutting CO2 emissions; 6) stimulating the economy through job creation in public works (restoring infrastructure) and renewable energy; 7) strengthening educational systems, from pre-school through higher education; and, finally, 8) seeking humane ways for lowering population growth to a sustainable level. In previous eras, Americans have demonstrated the ability and resolve to achieve greatness, as evidenced by the galvanizing all-out American effort during WWII, when material sacrifices were required of all non-combat citizens. And now it’s our turn. We cannot afford to fail. Let it be said by future generations, that this was our nation’s defining era, as we collectively strove to create a sustainable existence on planet Earth.”
The first article in Views—“How To Make America Strong Again: Start Telling The Truth” by Charles Hugh Smith—addresses this topic.
> Information Clearing House: How Do We Make America Strong Again? Start Telling The Truth (Charles Hugh Smith). The only way to make America strong again is to start telling the truth and insisting on the truth. “Making America Strong Again” is a potent political narrative. For some, it’s a code-phrase for bullying—forcing other nations to do our bidding. For others, it describes a re-emergence of widespread domestic economic vitality. Another audience sees the rebuilding of a social contract and social cohesion as the essence of strength. As laudable as some of these interpretations of strength might be, to me “being strong” boils down to only one principle: tell the truth, however painful and unwelcome it might be. As a nation we have grown accustomed to the cowardice of half-truths, half-confessions, half-apologies and a financial system that rewards fraud in all its variations of artifice, deception and lies. Telling the truth, and insisting on the truth, requires courage and strength.
> NPG: The Sources and Effects of Growth (Short video series). Environmental issues are on the minds of most Americans today – yet many of the facts and statistics of overpopulation remain largely unknown to the general public. As a way to raise awareness of this critical issue, NPG has produced a series of three short videos running approximately 2 minutes each. Each film captures a different aspect of the debate over U.S. population growth.
> Resource Insights: Are You Anti-Science If You Don’t Like Gmos? (Kurt Cobb). People who oppose the cultivation of genetically engineered crops are criticized for being anti-science. But if science is an open enterprise, then it should welcome discussion and challenges to any prevailing idea. Of course, genetic engineering of crops is also big business. Many people have a lot to lose if the public rejects genetically modified organisms (GMOs). We are not by any measure in the preliminary phases of this technology, nor are we considering it or calmly debating it before its release. We have long since been launched into an uncontrolled mass experiment, the results of which are unknown. We are playing a game of Russian roulette with many genetic engineering techniques that are very risky and should be banned. Ruin is too great a price to pay no matter how big the perceived benefits are—and the supposed benefits of GMOs are hotly disputed.
> Our Finite World: Overly Simple Energy-Economy Models Give Misleading Answers (Gail Tverberg). If we want the current economy to hold up better against the forces it is facing, we need a more complex model that explains the economy’s real problems as we reach limits. Running out of energy supplies is assumed to be our overwhelming problem in the future, but a more complete model suggests that our problems are likely to be quite different: growing wealth disparity, inability to maintain complex infrastructure, and growing debt problems. Energy supplies that look easy to extract will not be available because prices will not rise high enough. Several dynamics may push the economy toward collapse: 1) debt rising faster than GDP, especially as increasing quantities of capital goods are added; 2) the cost of resource extraction rising due to diminishing returns; and 3) the “overhead” of a complex system (all costs) tends to increase, leaving less for wages for the many non-elite workers of the world.
> Post Carbon Institute: In Conversation: Food After Fossil Fuels (Michael Bomford, Asher Miller). While its slice of the overall energy pie may seem relatively low, the modern American food system is figuratively awash in fossil fuels. On average, roughly 12 calories of (mostly fossil fuel) energy go into producing just one calorie of the food that we consume. The use of fossil fuels in every phase of the food system—from fertilization, treatment, and harvesting to manufacturing, packaging, distribution, and preparation—has utterly transformed what we eat, how we eat, where we eat, and how our food is grown. Since our current food system is so heavily dependent on fossil fuels, major changes to agriculture, farm labor, food processing, food transport, and food packaging are likely as we move toward the renewable future. The transition to 100% renewable energy thus raises some profound questions for the future of our food system. [Live discussion, with transcript]
> The Archdruid Report: Climate Change Activism: A Post-Mortem (John Michael Greer). What happened to all the apparent political momentum the climate change movement had ten or fifteen years ago, and why a movement so apparently well organized, well funded, and backed by so large a scientific consensus failed so completely? The most important mistakes are these: 1) the climate change movement was largely led and directed by scientists, and people with a scientific education suck at politics; 2) the movement made the same mistake that the Remain side made in the recent UK Brexit vote, with a campaign formulated in purely negative terms; 3) the climate change movement self inflicted a disastrous goal by insisting that nobody with scientific credentials ever claimed that an ice age was imminent (not true); 4) a rising culture of intolerance in the movement, which demonizes dissent; and 4) failing to respond to the interests of the general public’s interests, instead pushing for changes that will penalize the majority of Americans who depend on hourly wages for their income.
> Common Dreams: Scorching Global Temps Astound Climate Scientists (Nika Knight). Record global heat in the first half of 2016 has caught climate-scientists off guard, reports Thompson Reuters Foundation. Indeed, extreme weather events are currently wreaking havoc around the world. In Southern California, firefighters are battling one of the “most extreme” fires the region has ever seen. Meanwhile, Reuters reported Tuesday that in India’s northeast over 1.2 million people “have been hit by floods that have submerged hundreds of villages, inundated large swathes of farmland and damaged roads, bridges and telecommunications services. And in Iraq, temperatures last week reached such unprecedented heights that a chef literally fried an egg on the sidewalk. The U.S. federal government’s climate prediction center is forecasting hotter-than-normal temperatures for the next three months for “every square inch” of the country.
> Think Progress: The Link Between Armed Conflict And Climate Change Just Got A Bit Stronger (Alejandro Davila Fragoso). The factors making a country experience conflict include poverty, income inequality, weak governance, and ethnic animosity. As human-caused climate change brings a rise in extreme weather events, scientists have now increasingly looked into the climate as another significant driver of conflict. A study from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research reported that climate disasters increase the likelihood of armed conflict outbreaks in highly ethnically divided societies, though researchers didn’t find a direct triggering effect. According to the study, some 23 percent of conflicts in the 50 most highly ethnically fractionalized countries coincided with climate calamities occurring in the same month. Studies have found that human-caused climate change is a major security risk that can precipitate conflict.
> Reuters: Climate Change Risk Threatens 18 US Military Sites: Study (Valerie Volcovici). Rising sea levels due to hurricanes and tidal flooding intensified by climate change will put military bases along the U.S. East Coast and Gulf Coast at risk, according to a report released on Wednesday. Nonprofit group the Union of Concerned Scientists analyzed 18 military installations that represent more than 120 coastal bases nationwide to weigh the impact of climate change on their operations. Faster rates of sea level rises in the second half of this century could mean that tidal flooding will become a daily occurrence for some installations, pushing useable land needed for military training and testing into tidal zones, said the report titled “The U.S. Military on the Front Lines of Rising Seas.” By 2050, most of these sites will be hit by more than 10 times the number of floods than at present, the report said, and at least half of them will experience daily floods.
> Think Progress: Nuclear Power Advocates Claim Cheap Renewable Energy Is A Bad Thing (Joe Romm). The New York Times in particular keeps running slanted articles talking up nuclear and talking down renewables. That culminated in a truly absurd piece last week, “How Renewable Energy Is Blowing Climate Change Efforts Off Course,” which is the exact opposite of reality, as Goldman Sachs has detailed in its recent reports on “The Low Carbon Economy.” The big picture reality is this: The world is finally starting to take some serious action to avoid catastrophic climate change, which means first the electric grid will decarbonize, and then the transportation system. That means global coal use peaks or plateaus first—and then oil does.
> Strong Towns: Suffocating Cities (Stephen Hardy). Air pollution is a full on, flashing lights, health emergency. And to make matters worse, planners, city officials, and the rest of us aren’t doing much about it. That’s what I learned after diving into mySidewalk’s new air quality data (EPA’s Respiratory Health Index). According to a recent MIT study, air pollution can be directly attributed to 200,000 premature deaths in the U.S. every year. That is more than murders (16,100), automobile fatalities (32,700), and deaths from strokes (128,000) combined. Another fascinating part of the research is that the leading contributor to this statistic is air pollution from road transportation (followed closely by pollution from electricity generation). The number of vehicles, traffic, speed, and the type of traffic (ex: heavy diesel) are all contributors to this “on-road” pollution. This pollution is most concentrated within 600 feet of major roadways creating a corridor of bad air coursing through major metropolitan areas.
> BlogNature: Watershed Degradation Costs Global Cities $5.4 Billion in Water Treatment Annually (Rob McDonald). There is a large body of scientific evidence from particular water utilities that urban water-treatment costs depend on the water quality at the city’s source, which in turn depends on the land use in the source watersheds. And there is a lot of anecdotal evidence from particular source watersheds that land-use has really degraded water quality. But nobody had a good estimate of how significant this process was globally. In our study we found that globally urban source watershed degradation is widespread, with 9 in 10 cities losing significant amounts of natural land cover in their source watersheds to agriculture and development. Watershed degradation has impacted the cost of water treatment for about one in three large cities globally, increasing those costs by about half. If you add up the impact globally, that is around $5.4 billion a year in economic impact.
> Resilience: Planned Gas Pipeline Construction On East Coast Puts Climate At Risk: Report (Sharon Kelly). Nineteen now-pending pipeline projects, if constructed, would let enough natural gas flow out of the Appalachian basin to cause the entire US to blow through its climate pledges, ushering the world into more than 2-degrees Celsius of global warming, a newly released report by Oil Change International concludes. Even if the Environmental Protection Agency’s recently—announced methane rules manage to slash leaks from new natural gas infrastructure as planned, building those pipelines would be catastrophic for the climate, the researchers warn. The 19-pipeline projects matter so much because building pipelines sets in motion changes that will last for decades. Globally, there is a rapidly closing window to make key infrastructure decisions—a window that could close as soon as next year.
> Climate Progress: 6 Human Activities That Pose The Biggest Threat To The World’s Drinking Water (Natasha Geiling). Population growth and pollution are threatening to seriously undermine the availability of clean drinking water in many of the world’s major cities. According to a study published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, water treatment costs have risen by 50 percent in a third of large cities around the world. Getting clean, pure drinking water to people has become an increasingly difficult task, requiring cities not only to pay for expensive treatments, but pay for the construction of treatment plants to dole out said expensive treatments. All told, the study estimated that the total cost of degradation to our drinking water— n terms of treatment costs—is around $5.4 billion annually. The study looked specifically at how three kinds of water pollution—sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorus—have degraded the watersheds that provide our drinking water.
> Peak Prosperity: The Burrito Index: Consumer Prices Have Soared 160% Since 2001 (Charles Hugh Smith). The price of the author’s local burrito in 2001 was $2.50, and it’s $6.50 today, a 160% increase, and 4.5 times greater than the official rate of inflation. The Burrito Index is a rough-and-ready index of real-world inflation. To insure its measure isn’t an outlying aberration, we also need to track the real-world costs of big-ticket items such as college tuition and healthcare insurance, as well as local government-provided services. When we do, we observe results of similar magnitude. The takeaway? Our money is losing its purchasing power much faster than the government would like us to believe. The reality is real-world inflation in big-ticket essentials is crushing every household that doesn’t qualify for government subsidies of higher education, rent and healthcare
> Grist: A Solar-Powered Plane Just Flew Around The World (Kate Yoder). The scrappy plane we’ve all been rooting for just completed the first solar-powered flight around the world, no fossil fuels burned. On Tuesday, Solar Impulse 2 ended its epic 24,500-mile journey and landed back home in Abu Dhabi. The one-seat plane, sporting 17,000 solar cells on its wings, is as wide as a Boeing 747 but light as light as a car. Though the 16-month trip was largely a stunt to promote renewable energy, it’s a milestone for aviation as well. Bertrand Piccard, one of two Swiss pilots who flew the Solar Impulse, predicted that medium-size electric planes will begin carrying passengers within the next decade. The EPA recently announced plans to begin limiting carbon emissions from airplanes since they pose a threat to public health.
> Reuters: Ditch Metal And Plastic And Turn To Wood To Save The Planet (Magdalena Mis). Furniture, floors and doors made out of wood require less energy to produce than aluminum or plastic, and on top of that wood continues to store carbon for years, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said. Carbon stored by wood products offsets nearly all of the greenhouse gas emissions related to their production, FAO said in a report published this week. FAO estimates that using recycled wood in construction and then burning it as fuel could lead to a reduction in carbon emissions by up to 135 million tons a year, which is more than Belgium’s total carbon emissions each year.
> Ensia: What Would It Take To Mainstream “Alternative” Agriculture? (Maywa Montenegro, Alastair Iles). Our current food system, led by industrial farming, becomes terribly inefficient on almost all counts. In the U.S. alone, up to 40 percent of food produced is wasted somewhere from on the farm field to the household refrigerator. Globally, it’s thought that around a third of the food produced for human consumption every year is lost or wasted. What gives industrialized agriculture such staying power despite its adverse impacts, even as alternatives offer such benefits? And how can more wholesome food production methods such as agroecology become conventional instead of alternative? Agroecology can attain thick legitimacy through three interconnected pathways: 1) build on and revise existing research practices, developing scientific legitimacy; 2) garner legitimacy in politcal, practical and civic arenas; and 3) focus attention on the ethics and values of food systems themselves.
> Hartford Courant: Connecticut’s Campaign To Cut Food Waste (Gregory B. Hladly). The old, bruised, wilted, inedible rejects and left-overs arrive here from Stop & Shop stores all over Connecticut: nearly 20 tons a day of “food waste” that is now being biologically recycled rather than buried in landfills. The company’s new “Green Energy” plant is also being fed from the chain’s supermarkets in Massachusetts and Rhode Island as hundreds of trucks bring in bins filled with overripe bananas, aging lettuce, stale bread, dead flowers and thousands of other un-sold and damaged food items. About 95 tons of food waste is now being processed daily by one of the nation’s largest “anaerobic digester” facilities, which uses wasted vegetable material to produce clean energy and compost for fertilizer. The plant, which opened in April, is on the cutting edge of a growing movement that aims to dramatically reduce the $218 billion worth of food Americans waste each year.
> Resilience: 21st Century Revolution: Review (David Fagleman). The constant mantra of modern progressives should be: change is inevitable, so never despair and look for the good. Bruce Nixon, in the opening pages of his new book The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness, claims that ‘the challenges are enormous, but so are the opportunities’. In his book, he takes the courageous decision to prove not only a discussion on what has gone wrong but also solutions to create a better future. Bruce calls for the transformation of democracy and a new social contract between the state and its citizens. As he rightly points out, we have for too long lacked positive and visionary leadership. Such an environment is fertile ground for populism, which is growing globally. In the second half of his book, Bruce provides an encyclopedia of ideas to create a new economy and a polis for a better future.
> Slow Money: Changing The Culture And Changing Ourselves (Narendra Varma). Our Table, a cooperative business near Portland, Oregon, has three distinct but interdependent membership groups or classes: workers, regional producers, and consumers. The cooperative brings this diverse group of stakeholders together to the proverbial table to solve a common problem, and collectively, its members own and control the business and share the profits. Every attempt is made to price our food at what it truly costs to produce right here in our community, in a sustainable and closed-loop way. The result is that too many people in our community, including our own workers, find it difficult to purchase this appropriately priced food. Our real task is to change the culture and the only way to do that is to change ourselves, the way we think and act in relation to everything we deeply value.
SUSTAINABILITY INFO & EVENTS
> Earth Overshoot Day, August 8, 2016, when we will have used as much from nature as our planet can renew in the whole year.
> Citizens for Sustainability: Forum-Meeting, Sat., Aug. 13, 10am-noon, St. Anthony Village Community Center, 3301 Silver Lake Rd.
> 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.