SEF News-Views Digest No. 143 (8-10-16)
Clifton Ware, Editor-Publisher
There are a several articles herein that deserve highlighting, but I’ll limit my choices to three that relate to a recently addressed common theme: How and what we think. What this has to do with creating long-term sustainability is obvious to me, but perhaps not to everyone.
Take, for example, climate change. Those who deny the reality of climate change tend to oppose constructive climate-change initiatives—even when challenged with overwhelming scientific and empirical evidence. This matters greatly, because the majority of climate scientists agree that while it’s too late for humanity to reverse the accumulated effects of rising CO2 levels, we might still be able to mitigate the onrush of climate disasters, chiefly by instituting policies and initiatives that stop the human-induced rise of atmospheric CO2. This example shows that how and what we think makes a huge difference in how society responds to serious concerns. Those who deny or ignore the reality of climate change are effectively undermining positive efforts to mitigate evolving climate-change crises.
The first article, “Take America Backward, or Forward?” by Richard Heinberg, addresses one of the main points I raised in previous posts about seeking the truth (reality) of any issue. Heinberg questions if most people are able to handle the truth. Sadly, I agree.
The second article, “The Importance of Skepticism” by Michael Shermer, echoes my belief that a curious, questioning mindset provides a secure psycho-emotional foundation for seeking truth. The truism that beliefs strongly influence behavior is borne out in the daily media, as evidenced by the many reckless, irrational statements made by major politicians
This brings us to the third and final article, “Understanding Trump” by George Lakoff, a highly renowned researcher in cognitive science and linguistics. This masterful essay provides valuable insights into both conservative and progressive mindsets; but the primary focus is on how and why Donald Trump appeals to many conservatives. It’s a long article, but one that you’ll be glad to have read—if you’re interested in understanding such an enigmatic phenomenon as Trump.
All three articles follow next in the Views section. Enjoy!
> Post Carbon Institute: “You Can’t Handle the Truth!” (Richard Heinberg). At this point most people appear to know that something is terribly wrong in the U.S. of A. But like the proverbial blind man describing the elephant, Americans tend to characterize the problem according to their economic status, their education and interests, and the way that the problem is impacting their peer group. In reality, we have plenty of symptoms indicating an entirely foreseeable systemic crisis, the basic outlines of which were traced over 40 years ago in a book titled The Limits to Growth. Today we are hitting the limits of net energy, environmental pollution, and debt, and the experience is uncomfortable for just about everyone. Blame is cast all around. The Republicans can be called the party of fear and fury, and the Democrats the party of hope. Could “we the people” handle a bit more of the truth? The US and the rest of the world appear to be sleepwalking into history’s greatest shitstorm. Regardless how we address the challenges of climate change, resource depletion, overpopulation, debt deflation, species extinctions, ocean death, and on and on, we’re in for one hell of a century. It’s simply too late for a soft landing. It’s the truth. Can you handle it?
> Peak Prosperity: Michael Shermer: The Importance Of Skepticism (Podcast-script: Chris Martenson with Michael Shermer). As humans, the way we process and react to information is influenced by both the biology of our brains as well as our social and cultural norms. We’ve talked many times here at PeakProsperity.com about the influence—conscious and subconsious—that our beliefs exert on our actions. Our past podcasts on behavioral economics have delved into this in detail. But just because we believe something, doesn’t make it true. Which is why the scientific process is so important: when followed without bias, it enables us to understand reality as it truly is. And such accurate understanding of the facts allows us to make more useful decisions. In this week’s podcast, Chris speaks with Michael Shermer, monthly columnist for Scientific American and founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, about the importance of cultivating a questioning mindset.
> Huffington Post: Understanding Trump (George Lakoff). In the 1900s, as part of my research in the cognitive and brain sciences, I undertook to answer a question in my field: How do the various policy positions of conservatives and progressives hang together? The answer came from a realization that we tend to understand the nation metaphorically in family terms: We have founding fathers. We send our sons and daughters to war. We have homeland security. The conservative and progressive worldviews dividing our country can most readily be understood in terms of moral worldviews that are encapsulated in two very different common forms of family life: The Nurturant Parent family (progressive) and the Strict Father family (conservative). What do social issues and the politics have to do with the family? We are first governed in our families, and so we grow up understanding governing institutions in terms of the governing systems of families.
> Resilience: Competing Skyscrapers (Rob Dietz). The worldwide growth of cities (upward and outward) and all the companies driving that growth are the stuff of “development,” the economic activity that provides modern comforts. But this “development” entails substitution. We are adding to the banking districts in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur while subtracting from the natural districts of Krabi Province. So while we get more of every conceivable material convenience, we also get fewer intact ecosystems, and less resilience in the planet’s life-support systems. To get through the bottleneck we need an economics of enough. Why always chase more, especially when more in the economy impoverishes nature? Will we see nature’s skyscrapers with a renewed sense of awe and purpose? Or will we sit atop our manmade towers enamored with our position in the clouds, continuing to pull foundational blocks out from under ourselves until we ride the wave of collapse to the ground?
> Resource Insights: Oil Price And Economic Growth Get Married (Kurt Cobb). The relationship between debt and energy may indicate why oil prices seem much more correlated to the health of the overall economy than they used to be. First, oil remains the central energy source for the world economy, especially critical as transportation fuel. Second, our desperation for additional sources of oil led to a debt-fueled boom in the U.S. debt, used by drilling companies to reach deep shale deposits and release oil found in them through a new version of hydraulic fracturing. The simple explanation for our slower growth is that cheap energy has been the cornerstone of booming growth in the industrial economy. But as it becomes expensive, growth declines for most sectors of the economy, as more and more resources are sent to the energy sector. Far from a sign of good things for the economy as whole, declining oil prices now tend to indicate a weakening economy that was already in a weak state.
> Cassandra’s Legacy: Power Is Nothing Without Control: Lessons From The Failed Coup In Turkey (Ugo Bardi). We seem to be facing the same problems that the Romans faced two thousand years ago: how to maintain control over a complex system that turns out to be unstable and prone to fighting against itself? The Romans solved the problem by drastically simplifying the system. Overall, what we are seeing is all part of the behavior of complex systems, something that we still don’t understand completely. We know that these systems are thermodynamical dissipative structures that evolve and change in order to maximize the dissipation rate. This is a phenomenon that goes on along an irregular path, sometimes taking the shape of the “Seneca Cliff“, an abrupt and uncontrollable decline that often marks the end of those stupendous structures that we call “empires.” Will we ever be able to overcome these cycles of boom and bust? So far, we haven’t.
> Counter Currents: Depletion: If A Jellyfish Stings You, You Know Why (Ugo Bardi). There has been a big change in the fish population in the sea, and the cause is overexploitation, which has depleted the fisheries. In modern times, mentioning depletion and overexploitation is often met with scorn especially from economists who remain convinced that market mechanisms can optimize all economic activities. The cycle of growth and decline of many fisheries can be described by a simple model that assumes that the main factor that affecting productivity is the abundance of the fish stock. And the model shows that, as the fish stock declines, fish are removed from the sea faster than stock can be replenished by reproduction.
> World Population Balance: The Overpopulation Podcast: Choosing Childfree (Podcast Episode 5: Dave Gardner, with Laura Carroll). Laura Carroll is the author of The Baby Matrix: Why Freeing Our Minds From Outmoded Thinking About Parenthood & Reproduction Will Create a Better World, and Families of Two: Interviews With Happily Married Couples Without Children by Choice. For over the last 15 years, she has been researching the childfree choice and those who make it, and has interviewed thousands who’ve made this choice. The discussion includes our pro-natal culture and where to get support, myths about family size, the cost of raising children, and of course doing your part to solve overpopulation.
> Huffington Post: Agroecology And Industrial Farming: Leveling The Playing Field (Eric Holt Gimenez). The negative consequences of industrial agriculture—from climate change to antibiotic-resistant bacteria—have been extensively documented. Agroecology, the “cleaner and greener” alternative to industrial agriculture, has also been extensively documented. Contrary to popular belief (and to a lot of industrial propaganda) agroecological methods can be just as productive as industrial methods. While a few techniques have crossed the agroecological-industrial divide, they rarely challenge the monoculture mantra. Most large-scale farmers in the United States are locked-in to the markets of industrial agriculture and are reluctant to make sweeping changes to their farming system. Farming is a multi-million-dollar proposition, a marketer’s dream. Inputs lead to chronic crises of overproduction and falling farm gate prices, causing farmers to increase production and acreage.
> The Guardian: The Climate Crisis Is Already Here – But No One’s Telling Us (George Monbiot). Each of the past 14 months has beaten the global monthly temperature record. But you can still hear people repeating the old claim that global warming stopped in 1998. Arctic sea ice covered a smaller area last winter than in any winter since records began. In Siberia, an anthrax outbreak is raging through the human and reindeer populations because infected corpses locked in permafrost since the last epidemic in 1941 have thawed. India has been hammered by cycles of drought and flood, as withering heat parches the soil and torches glaciers in the Himalayas. Southern and eastern Africa have been pitched into humanitarian emergencies by drought. Wildfires storm across America; coral reefs around the world are bleaching and dying. To pretend that newspapers and television channels are neutral arbiters of such matters is to ignore their place at the corrupt heart of the establishment.
> Truth-Out: Alaskans Witness Collapsing Mountains, Shattered Lives (Dahr Jamail). The impacts of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) across Alaska are devastating to witness. In late June, due to glaciers melting at unprecedented rates, the side of a mountain nearly a mile high in Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park and supported by glacial ice collapsed completely. This has been happening more often in recent years in the northernmost US state. Also in June, Arctic sea ice had melted down to a record low, with 29,000 miles disappearing each day. The Mendenhall glacier, an icon of capitol city Juneau, is now in record retreat and causing record flooding. Meanwhile, across the Bering Sea from Alaska, Russia’s Yamal Peninsula in Siberia is also seeing its permafrost melting at a record pace with temperatures in the mid-80s of late. Worldwide, forest fires and water shortages caused by droughts are a growing problem, as are ongoing wildlife extinctions and rising sea levels.
> Grist: We’re Starting To Understand Just How Zika And Climate Change Go Together (John Upton). The Zika virus has exploded throughout South America, and now into Florida. The initial Brazilian outbreak appears to have been aided by a drought driven by El Niño, and by higher temperatures caused by longer-term weather cycles and by rising levels of greenhouse gas pollution. This combination of human and natural forces is emerging as the possible incubator of a disease that’s painfully elusive to detect, despite its cruel effects on unborn children. Climate Central research recently showed that warming temperatures have lengthened the mosquito seasons in three quarters of major cities in the United States. For Americans unaccustomed to fearing tropical diseases at home, the northward march of the outbreak is delivering an exotic threat. Researchers are warning that the disease could reach the halls of power in Washington D.C. and the dense metropolis of New York.
> Common Dreams: Melting Greenland Ice Cap Will Expose Military’s Cold War-Era Toxic Waste (Nika Knight). The rapidly warming climate will melt Greenland’s ice cap to such an extent that thousands of tons of hazardous waste left in the 1960s by a secret U.S. military base (Camp Century) will be unearthed by the end of the century. The biological, chemical, and radioactive waste will then seep into the ground and the sea, endangering humans and animals alike. The study publishedThursday in the journal Geophysical Research Letters discovered that if today’s rate of global warming continues unabated, within the next 75 years more ice will be melting than will be replaced by new snowfall. The looming threat of unearthed nuclear and other hazardous waste “represents an entirely new pathway of political dispute resulting from climate change,” the study’s authors observed.
> Resilience: We’ve Used Up Nature’s Resource Budget For The Year Earlier Than Before (Will Yeates). August 8th was Earth Overshoot Day, which marks the point our annual demand on nature’s resources exceeds what the Earth can regenerate in that year. For example, we emit more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than our oceans and forests can absorb, and we deplete fisheries and harvest forests more quickly than they can reproduce and regrow. And this year, the day has come earlier than it has ever done before. As population and consumption have increased, almost every year since 1971 has seen the day fall earlier in the year. Fifteen years ago the day fell in late September. Last year, it fell on August 13. Researchers at Global Footprint Network (GFN) produced this data, by measuring humanity’s demand for and ecosystems’ supply of resources and services.
> Grist: Humans Are Gobbling Up Natural Resources At A Terrifying Rate (Katie Herzog). A new U.N. report on the use of natural resources found that, from the food we eat to the homes we live in to the fuels we burn, our rates of consumption are just unsustainable. That’s not too surprising, but the real shock is that our extraction of the primary materials used to make all of our stuff has more than tripled in the past 40 years. Unfortunately, it’s a trend that’s likely to continue. Unless we drastically change our systems of production, according to the U.N., the world’s population will require almost three times the amount of resources we currently use by 2050. Rich nations, especially, are overusing materials, sucking up 10 times more than the world’s poorest nations and twice the global average. (See Also: Sustainable Consumption And Production).
> Star Tribune: Congestion Is Bad, Likely To Get Worse In Twin Cities, MNDOT Says (Tim Harlow). Congestion on metro area highways and freeways jumped by 2 percentage points in 2015 over the previous year, and traffic on the metro’s busiest corridors is only expected to worsen in the coming years as the population grows and increased demand pushes the system closer to capacity, the Minnesota Department of Transportation concludes in a new report. (To view the complete 2015 Metropolitan Freeway System Congestion Report, click here.) With transportation funding already stretched, MnDOT can’t continue adding lane capacity, so MnDOT’s efforts have turned to congestion management. By 2040 transportation experts expect an additional 750,000 people to live in the region. It’s not practical to build more highways. Without an expansion of the regional transit system, roadways will only continue to get more congested.
> Grist: GMO Labels Are Now The Law Of The Land (Nathanael Johnson). We’re officially a country that labels GMOs now. President Obama signed a bill on Friday that requires food companies to label products with genetically engineered ingredients. They can do this by writing it on the box, slapping on a symbol, or applying a Quick Response (QR) code—something like a barcode. For more on the law, check out our previous coverage. The U.S. Department of Agriculture now has two years to figure out how to define a GMO. There will undoubtedly be fights during the rule-making process.
> Think Progress: Nuclear Power Is Losing Money At An Astonishing Rate (Joe Romm). Half of existing nuclear power plants are no longer profitable. The New York Times and others have tried to blame renewable energy for this, but the admittedly astounding price drops of renewables aren’t the primary cause of the industry’s woes—cheap fracked gas is. The point of blaming renewables, which currently receive significant government subsidies, is apparently to argue that existing nukes deserve some sort of additional subsidy to keep running—beyond the staggering $100+ billion in subsidies the nuclear industry has received over the decades. But a major reason solar and wind energy receive federal subsidies—which are being phased out over the next few years—is because they are emerging technologies whose prices are still rapidly coming down the learning curve, whereas nuclear is an incumbent technology with a negative learning curve.
> Clean Energy Resource Teams: Minnesota Greenstep Cities In The Spotlight For Their Sustainability Efforts (Dan Thiede). This sense that ‘everyone’s doing it’ with sustainability is in part due to a statewide program called Minnesota GreenStep Cities, a voluntary challenge, assistance, and recognition program designed specifically for Minnesota that now has over 100 participating cities. “Over 40% of Minnesota residents now live in a city that participates in the GreenStep Cities program,” noted Don Reeder with the League of Minnesota Cities. “An overwhelming number of cities are actively working on actions that fall into the five best practice categories of Building and Lighting, Land Use, Transportation, Environmental Management, and Economic and Community Development.” Five cities have attained Step 4 (the highest), including St. Anthony.
> Twin Cities Daily Planet: North Minneapolis Takes Back Food Systems, Land Through Urban Agriculture (Cirien Saadeh). North Minneapolis is one of the most marginalized communities in Minnesota, but it is also the site of community resistance and liberation movements around a whole assortment of issues. Reclaiming food systems is one way organizers and leaders are taking action. But access to fresh, healthy food is not the first priority, nor is it the end-goal. Transforming the community and its residents is the main goal of Northside food system organizers, who are using food as a tool to aid in that transformation. The Story Garden is one of 25 gardens operated by Project Sweetie Pie in North Minneapolis Fifteen of those gardens are taken care of by Project Sweetie Pie gardeners, the other 10 are through partnerships with the organization.
> Post Carbon Institute: In Conversation: Communities And Infrastructure In A 100% Renewable World (Podcast: Daniel Lerch, Hillary Brown, Warren Karlenzig). Transportation accounts for over 40% of U.S. energy end use, and over 95% of that transportation runs on oil. Lighting, heating and cooling buildings also consumes an enormous amount of energy, much (but not all) of it powered by electricity. But we can’t simply replace all our cars with electric models, convert all our furnaces and air conditioners to electric heat pumps, and power it all with massive amounts of new renewable energy. Instead, the renewable future will require deep rethinking of how we design our communities and build the infrastructure that serves them. The transition to 100% renewable energy raises profound questions for the future of our communities and infrastructure. Click here to view the chat transcript.
> The Archdruid Report: Retrotopia: Unnoticed Resources (John Michael Greer). This is the twenty-first installment of an exploration of some of the possible futures discussed on this blog, using the toolkit of narrative fiction. Our narrator discovers that the differences between the Lakeland Republic and his own country (Atlantic Republic) include a sharp variance in vulnerability to sudden political and economic shocks.
> Resilience: DIY System Change: Transitioning To A Just Economy With Timebanking (Stephanie Rearick). Timebanking is a simple and elegant way to catalyze, value, and reward work in spheres that tend to be undervalued and/or exploited by the market economy. These spheres include creativity, community building, caregiving, and civic engagement; the type of work that it’s fair to say is invaluable. Transition Town coordinators are using timebanking to structure, recruit and compensate people to do various types of work that supports the “transitioning” of their local community from fossil fuel dependency toward resilience. Timebanking is a natural experiential learning tool and paradigm shifter. It doesn’t impose things on people, it provides a way for people to come together to care for each other, learn from each other and pool our resources toward common goals.
> Mother Jones: Italy Wants Its Citizens To Embrace Doggy Bags (Alexander Sammon). Italy just became among the first countries to pass legislation targeting food waste at farms, grocery stores, and restaurants. The facts on food waste are stomach-turning. In the United States, a full 40 percent of food produced never gets consumed, resulting in 133 billion pounds of food wasted every year. For every person in the country, 1,249 calories worth of food ends up filling landfills instead of hungry bellies every single day. In Europe, food waste estimates also hover near 40 percent of food produced, almost 200 billion pounds per year in the EU alone, enough to feed 200 million people. Legislators in the United States will likely be keeping a watchful eye on the efficacy of both laws, as they scramble to put together their own food-waste bills.
SUSTAINABILITY INFO & EVENTS
> 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/
> 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/
> 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.
> Happy Planet Index. The HPI Index measures what matters: sustainable wellbeing, life expectancy, inequality of outcomes, and ecological footprint. America limps in at a thoroughly miserable 108th. About the HPI