SEF News-Views Digest No. 146 (9-28-16)
Clifton Ware, Editor-Publisher
If you’ve missed receiving the SEF e-newsletter for the past month, it’s because Bettye and I decided to revisit some favorite western national parks and monuments. Although our trip was primarily for pleasure, we could not avoid viewing everything experienced through sustainability lenses. It would be more pleasurable to ignore discomforting observations, but given our sustainability orientation, that’s not an option.
Spending time in America’s incredibly beautiful wilderness areas serves to remind us of how this continent appeared prior to the 15th century. According to historical accountings, European explorers marveled over discovering vast areas of primal lands teeming with flora and fauna (all within balanced ecosystems). Human presence was limited to small tribes of indigenous natives and larger villages of the mound-builder cultures. The more sustainable communities of pueblo dwellers that populated the canyons of the four-corner’s region, including Hovenweep, Mesa Verde, Chaco, and hundreds of other smaller communities, were mostly ruins after the 12th century, the result of extended draught, more population than could be adequately supported, and possibly warfare over resources.
While plenty of open land spaces remain today, there are very few places where human influences are absent. In addition to older developments (roads, fences, buildings, poles, signs, junked equipment), modern intrusions have been established over the past two-three decades, like satellite towers, wind turbines, huge electricity grid towers, and facilities connected with oil, natural-gas, and gasohol processing facilities. Moreover, towns and cities vary considerably in general condition, from very prosperous looking to run down and forsaken, with main street stores boarded up.
Although we traveled in modern-day comfort, enjoying all the technological benefits of human ingenuity and industry, we couldn’t help but compare our relatively luxurious mode of travel with that of early Native-Americans, who relied primarily on foot power (prior to the introduction of horses by Europeans). Nor could we imagine the arduous travel conditions experienced by the initial waves of European-Americans as they made their way slowly westward, camping out in all kinds of weather, and dealing with a multitude of survival issues, including fending off wild beasts and not-so-friendly native tribes (whose lands were being invaded).
Human impact is particularly noticeable in this 100th year celebration of the national park system, and September is considered a prime month for park visitors, including foreign tourists. So crowds were larger than we’ve experienced on previous trips, along with heavy vehicular traffic, particularly in the popular tourist areas, from northern Yellowstone to Utah’s canyon lands, the four-corners region, and the Rocky Mountains. Parking lots for popular trailheads and overlooks were typically filled by 10 a.m.
Weather wise, we experienced light rainfall only on three occasions. Most of the areas visited remain very dry, resulting in several major wildfires, particularly in the Yellowstone area, where main roads were closed at times. Water-shortage problems are widespread. The large reservoirs we passed evidenced severely lowered water levels, up to 20-40 feet. In arid agricultural areas, many farmers continue irrigating and watering large fields of crops, typically depending on ground water, as major aquifers are being depleted. Also, the warming, drying climate has contributed to beetle infestations that have killed off entire pine-forested mountains, most notably in Rocky Mountain NP.
So we rolled merrily along in modern vehicular comfort, covering over 5,000 miles in 28 days. Ironically, the modern technologies we depended upon also enabled us to add more CO2 to the environment, create more waste products (plastic, Styrofoam, paper), and consume more energy in pursuing activities. Yes indeed, we find it very difficult to travel in a sustainable manner. It’s likely current generations will be considered the last high-energy hogs.
Future generations will probably travel more sustainably, by using public transportation or driving energy-efficient vehicles—and camping, which allows for more personal control over finances and consumption of material goods. Living sustainably (within one’s means) will require reducing consumption, reusing existing materials, and practicing cradle-to-cradle recycling—even when traveling for pleasure!
> The News-Sentinel: FARM FILE: Burning Down The Barn (Alan Guebert). It’s farming gospel that in adding two billion people to the world’s population by 2050—or about 30 percent more people in just 34 years—farmers and ranchers will need to grow 60 percent more food than today. How on earth will we sustain that estimated 2:1 food-to-population ratio given today’s fast shrinking “materials” base? The short answer is that we won’t. Not for long anyway. What is certain is that we cannot continue on today’s deadly consumptive path. We need to change. And fast. Maybe a good place to start is looking in our grandchildren’s eyes and tell ‘em the truth: We’re robbing your future to grow $3 corn we don’t need, $9 soybeans we can’t sell, and money-losing 60-cent cotton we’re dumping on world markets. Hey, they need to grow up and face the future. What’s left of it anyway.
> Macroscope: Local Food Is Great, But Can It Go Too Far? (Jonathan Foley). The local food movement has done a lot of wonderful things, especially reconnecting people with the food system. But some new efforts — which move crops indoors, inside artificially lit, energy-intensive, high-tech containers — go too far, negating the benefits of local agriculture. Foley is not the only critic of indoor, high-tech, energy-intensive agriculture. Other authors are starting to point out the problems with these systems too (read very good critiques here, here, here, and here). An interconnected network of good farms — farms that provide nutritious food, with social and environmental benefits to their communities — is the kind of innovation we really need. And the local food movement is making much of this possible.
> Cassandra’s Legacy: The Sower’s Way: The Path For The Future (Ugo Bardi). The title of the article takes inspiration from a strategy well known to ancient farmers, the fact that they had to save something from their current harvest for the next one; it is the origin of the common saying “don’t eat your seed corn!” Starting from this ancient wisdom, we performed a quantitative calculation of how much “seed” we need in the form of fossil fuels in order to have enough energy to build a new “harvest” of renewable energy that can replace the old one. All that without emitting so much CO2 that we would go over the 2°C limit and without anyone being left out. Our calculations don’t confirm the pessimistic assumptions of those who see humankind as doomed. At the same time, we don’t confirm the overoptimistic assumptions of some people who see the transition as easy. The paper is open access on IOP Environmental Research Letters.
> NPG: Report Cites 21st Century As “Greatest Turning Point For Mankind” (http://www.npg.org/library/press-releases/pr-09142016.html) In “The Singular Century,” Dr. Walter Youngquist looks at economic and demographic realities. He refers to three great revolutions in history: the agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution, and the forthcoming revolution of sustainability—which he declares “the most important revolution of all in that its outcome will be the framework in which all humanity will have to exist for the indefinite future. ”Central to his research is the fact that the world will have to contend with a projected 11 billion people by 2100. He states: “That population… is unlikely to be sustainable on renewable resources. Population will be in an ‘overshoot mode’ for a brief time as it exhausts the great inheritance of fossil fuels and borrows unsustainably from the future by degrading and losing topsoil and depleting both surface and groundwater supplies.”
> Peak Prosperity: Hell To Pay (Chris Martenson). The final condition for a market crash is falling into place. The big problem with central bank policies, besides driving the largest wealth and income gaps in all of recorded history, is that they’ve massively deformed the financial and economic landscape. Too-cheap money has distorted just about everything, and has badly warped corporate incentives. There’s literally no place one can look and not find an economic or financial distortion. “Gains” (such as they are) have gone to holders of financial assets, and corporations have opted to buy back their own shares and to not re-invest in property, plant, equipment or people. All of this will work right up until the day it doesn’t. And then we’ll experience a financial and economic crisis likely to be the largest we ever live through. And these distortions are not only everywhere, but they are all at record levels—as in never higher in human history.
> Common Dreams: Want National Security? Dismantle The War Machine (David Korten). We currently spend roughly $598 billion on defense, which is more than the next seven biggest military spenders combined: China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United Kingdom, India, France, and Japan. This represents 54 percent of federal discretionary spending. In return, we get an ability to rapidly deploy conventional military power anywhere in the world. The United States bears no risk of invasion by a foreign military force. And the terrorist threat, which comes from bands of loosely affiliated political extremists, is substantially overblown. Furthermore, it is fueled by the much greater security threats created by environmental abuse, global corporate overreach, and the social divisions of extreme inequality. This all suggests we need a deep rethinking of how we prioritize and respond to security threats. The greatest threat to national and global security is climate destabilization.
> Resilience: No, Capitalism Isn’t Making Us All Richer and Richer (Kevin Carson). Finally someone in the mainstream press—the Washington Post, no less—is pointing out the truth (C, “The Stuff We Really Need Is Getting Expensive. Other Stuff Is Getting Cheaper,” Aug. 17). Yes, computers, smart phones and big screen TVs are getting a lot cheaper. But a lot of much more fundamental stuff is not. The prices of textbooks and higher education nearly tripled. Over the past several decades they’ve all been increasing in price at several times the rate of inflation. And for a rapidly growing segment of the working class, job security is becoming a thing of the past. The fastest growing sectors of the job market are precarious jobs with “independent contractor” status where there’s little assurance of being employed next year, next month or even next week. And precarity overlaps with financial fragility. It’s time for libertarians to stop putting a positive spin on how wonderful things are under capitalism.
> Of Two Minds: The Three Stages Of Empire (Charles Hugh Smith). The three stages of Empire are: 1) first stage of expansion services interests of the few; 2) the benefits of Empire are spread more broadly; and 3) increasing inequality, as evidenced in the U.S. currently. I consider it self-evident that we are in the third and final stage of self-serving Imperial decay. That said, we don’t have to follow that trajectory; we can fashion a much better future outside the status quo, as I outline in A Radically Beneficial World.
> Reuters: Climate Change Could Cross Key Threshold In A Decade (Laurie Goering). The planet could pass a key target on world temperature rise in about a decade, prompting accelerating loss of glaciers, steep declines in water availability, worsening land conflicts and deepening poverty, scientists said this week. Last December, 195 nations agreed to try to hold world temperature rise to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, with an aim of 1.5 degrees Celsius. But the planet is already two-thirds of the way to that lower and safer goal, and could begin to pass it in about a decade, according to Richard Betts, head of climate impacts research at the UK Met Office’s Hadley Centre.
> Reuters: More Than 300 Scientists Warn Over Trump’s Climate Change Stance (Ian Simpson). The 375 members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, including 30 Nobel Prize winners, said in an open letter that a U.S. abandonment of the agreement would make it far harder to develop global strategies to lessen the impact of global warming. The National Academy of Sciences is a private society of scholars who advise the United States on science and technological matters. The signers of the letter said they did so as individuals and not on behalf of the Academy or their institutions. Among the signers are biologist E.O. Wilson, physicists Stephen Hawking and Claude Canizares, astrophysicist Simon D.M. White, and Nobel winners Thomas Steitz, Michael Levitt and William Daniel Phillips. See also:
> Grist: Obama Forces National Security Agencies To Consider Climate Change (Emma Foehringer Merchant). On Wednesday, the White House announced a collaboration between 20 federal climate and security agencies, meaning that, for the first time, U.S. agencies and intelligence workers will incorporate findings on climate change into their planning and policies. It will hopefully shed light on where instability due to drought, famine, or climate-fueled migration is most likely. This could apply to situations ranging from conflict in drought-stricken Mali to civil war-torn Yemen’s reduced ability to cope with a devastating cyclone. Military experts and the Pentagon itself agree with Obama’s more nuanced approach: that national security and climate change are linked.
> Scientific American: Obama Warns Of ‘Mass Migrations’ If Climate Change Is Not Confronted (Jean Chemnick). Speaking before a high-level summit on migrants convened at U.N. headquarters, Obama told the assembly of world leaders and foreign ministers that the problems they are seeing would only worsen in a warming world. “If we don’t act boldly, the bill that could come due will be mass migrations, and cities submerged and nations displaced, and food supplies decimated, and conflicts born of despair,” he said.
> The Guardian: Greenland’s Huge Annual Ice Loss Is Even Worse Than Thought (Damian Carrington). The melting Greenland ice sheet is already a major contributor to rising sea level and if it was eventually lost entirely, the oceans would rise by six meters around the world, flooding many of the world’s largest cities. New research shows that the ice melting is not a short-term blip but a long-term trend. Global warming is driving major melting on the surface of Greenland’s glaciers and is speeding up their travel into the sea. In April, very high temperatures led to a record-breaking early onset of glacier melting in Greenland, while another satellite study in August reaffirmed the rapid loss of ice.
> Star Tribune: Report Finds A New Pollutant – Tiny Bits Of Plastics And Fiber – Building Up In The Mississippi (Josephine Marcotty). Microscopic fibers and pieces of plastic are posing a rising threat to fish and other wildlife and reflecting changes in urban life along its banks. A new report on the health of the Mississippi has found that tiny fragments from artificial materials like clothing, plastic bags, tires, carpeting and plastic bottles are found in high concentrations in the river’s sediment, especially downstream of a wastewater treatment plant. This is the first time they’ve been documented in Minnesota’s greatest river. Although the river is relatively healthy (phosphorus levels are half of what they were 40 years ago), many species of fish carry health advisories on consumption because they are contaminated with mercury and other toxins.
> The Telegraph: UN Fears Third Leg Of The Global Financial Crisis – With Prospect Of Epic Debt Defaults (Ambrose Evans-Pritchard). The third leg of the world’s intractable depression is yet to come. If trade economists at the United Nations are right, the next traumatic episode may entail the greatest debt jubilee in history. It may also prove to be the definitive crisis of globalized capitalism, the demise of the liberal free-market orthodoxies promoted for almost forty years by the Bretton Woods institutions, the OECD, and the Davos fraternity. The UN’s diagnosis is that “shareholder primacy” and the entire edifice of liberal market finance are among the key culprits, all made worse by stringent fiscal austerity that has starved the global economy of sufficient demand. Its prescription is radical. The world must jettison neo-liberal ideology, and launch a “global new deal” with a blitz of investment on strategic sectors.
> The Tyee: US Study Confirms Rapid Increase Of Methane Emissions By Oil And Gas (Andrew Nikiforuk). Another U.S. scientific study has confirmed that methane emissions from oil and gas activity are increasing more rapidly than previously estimated, and that these increases were happening at the same time that the North American shale gas boom and related fracking frenzy took off. Methane is a much more dangerous greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. It can be 34 times more potent than CO2 as a disruptive climate changer over a 100-year frame, and 86 times more potent than CO2 over a 20-year time horizon. A 2016 University of Michigan study concluded that the Bakken formation, an oil and gas field in North Dakota and Saskatchewan, was now responsible for two per cent of the globe’s ethane emissions, or much of the globe’s total increase in ethane levels. Ethane, like methane, can damage air quality and destabilize the climate.
> Common Dreams: Because ‘We’re Running Out Of Time,’ World Leaders Finally Commit To Tackling Superbug Scourge (Andrea Germanos). World leaders are gathering for a historic high-level meeting at the UN General Assembly, where they have committed to a coordinated approach to discuss how to fight the scourge of “superbugs“—or antimicrobial resistance, which poses a fundamental threat to human health, development, and security. The commitments made today must now be translated into swift, effective, lifesaving actions across the human, animal and environmental health sectors. A report released this week by a coalition of environmental and public health organizations found that pharmaceutical companies are contributing to the rise of superbugs through their industrial waste, which pollutes local soil and water systems. Also, a Reuters investigation published earlier this month found “the US hasn’t taken the basic steps needed to track drug-resistant infections”.
> Yes! Magazine: At Standing Rock, A Sense Of Purpose: “This Is How We Should Be Living” (Sarah Van Gelder). The purposefulness here [Dakota Access Pipeline] overcomes everything—the determination that this time the damage will be stopped. This time, before the water is poisoned or another sacred site is bulldozed, the protectors will step in. That sense of purpose pervades the camp. While some plan the next direct action or post on social media, others split wood for fires, sort the river of donations flowing unabated into the camp, or cook for thousands of people in makeshift camp kitchens. Life at the water protectors’ encampment is much like life was for millions of years of human evolution—close to the earth, near a river, clustered in family and community camps. There’s a rightness to these connections and to the feeling that people here will help you when you need it. This is how we should be living. We give what we have to give, and take what we need.
> Midwest Energy News: Industry Study: Microgrids To Become ‘Fundamental Building Block’ (David J. Unger). Used primarily to ensure reliability and access in military and other critical applications, microgrids have emerged in recent years as a niche interest for utilities and communities looking to bring more renewables online and increase resilience in the face of extreme weather. Despite the heightened profile, microgrids—island networks of generation and distribution—remain a small part of the U.S. energy system (between 100-200) making up a fraction of a percent of the nation’s total power generating capacity. That is poised to change, according to a report released earlier this month by the National Electrical Manufacturing Association (NEMA), an industry group representing electrical, medical imaging, and radiation therapy manufacturers.“[The grid is] moving away from a passive to an active grid,” said Steve Griffith, an industry director at NEMA.
> Grist: Wave Power Has Finally Come To The United States (Kate Yoder), Less than a mile off the shores of Hawaii, two buoys are hard at work, bobbing up and down as they turn energy from the ocean’s movement into electricity. That electricity travels ashore to Oahu’s power grid through an undersea cable. It’s a test project, producing only enough power for about a dozen households. But it’s the first successful wave-energy project in the United States so far (in the wake of an abandoned project off the Oregon coast), despite experiments that date all the way back to the 19th century. But harvesting energy from waves is complicated, which may explain why it’s taken so long. Generators would ideally capture both up-and-down and side-to-side movement, in addition to withstanding strong storms and saltwater conditions. We still might be five or 10 years from wave power as an affordable alternative to fossil fuels.
> The Archdruid Report: A Time For Retrovation (John Michael Greer). Most people in today’s industrial society believe in progress: that is, that human history has a built-in bias that infallibly moves it from worse things to better things over time. That belief in progress most often attaches itself to the increasing complexification of technology that allows so many people to keep slogging through the wretchedly unsatisfactory and steadily worsening conditions of the present. It so happens that in very many cases, older, simpler, sturdier technologies work better, producing more satisfactory outcomes and fewer negative side effects, than their modern high-tech equivalents. That was the genesis of Retrotopia: the attempt to show by means narrative fiction that deliberate technological regression as public policy didn’t amount to a return to the caves, but rather a return to things that actually work, or retrovation: the strategy of using the past as a resource for problem solving in the present.
> MPR: Farmers Enlist Chickens And Bugs To Battle Against Pests (Kristofor Husted). In an effort to turn away from chemical pesticides, which have the potential to damage the environment, some farmers are looking in a new direction in the age-old struggle against pests. They’re warding off intruding insects and noxious weeds with bugs and chickens. Researchers are testing natural predators for other agricultural pests, too, including stink bugs and the infamous emerald ash borer, which has been devastating to ash trees all over the country. Another proven strategy is to plant more beneficial insect plants to attract the ladybugs and dragonflies, which eat pest bugs.
> Resilience: Carbon Tracker Analysis: ‘Renewables Are Already Outcompeting Fossil Fuels (Victoria Seabrook). Clean technologies are already cheaper, on average, than the incumbent fossil fuel technologies, and the advantage is widening, argued Anthony Hobley, chief executive of Carbon Tracker. A September energy event in London marked the launch of a new report, ‘End of the load for oil & gas?’ by the financial think tank, which analyses the impact of climate change on capital markets and investment in fossil fuels. A shift in the public’s mindset would be one of the changes that needs to occur to enable the transition to clean energy, which can be achieved through the types of messages put out by policy-makers as well as through accurate media reporting on energy and climate change.
> Ensia: Scientists Uncover Surprising Source Of Carbon Storage Hidden In Plain Sight (Kristin Satre Meyer). Agroforestry—integrating trees into cropland or pastureland — is often discussed as a promising strategy for helping to ease the threat of climate change because trees are particularly good at sucking carbon dioxide from the air and socking it away for the long term. However, most global and regional calculations of carbon capture and storage, including those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, ignore farm forests. That could change, thanks to a new study published in Scientific Reports that takes a look at trees on agricultural land and quantifies the powerful role they play in sequestering carbon.
> Minnesota Renewable Energy Society: Sustainable Home Tour, Sat., Oct. 1. See renewable energy in action and talk to owners with real-life experiences living sustainably. Learn more: The MRES website.
> CFS: Forum-Meeting. Sat., Oct. 8, 10am-noon, St. Anthony Village Community Center, 3301 Silver Lake Rd.
> Jon Goldstein Memorial Lectures: Can Economics Reduce Global Pollution Deaths? Maureen Cropper, speaker, Thurs., Oct. 20, 6pm; U of MN Memorial Hall, McNamara Alumni Center, Info: email@example.com; 612-625-6353.
> 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/
> Alliance For Sustainability: Linking Citizens, Congregations And Cities For Sustainable Communities. See Projects: http://www.afors.org/
> Michael More: Where To Invade Next, Trailer “The American Dream” is alive elsewhere, and needs to be imported back. Countries visited and lessons learned.
> Weathering The Storm, Michael Conley, Founder-Speaker-Author, Seminars & Presentations; Several offerings: News Flash; Newsletter; Information Services; OLLI Course Hand-outs; Best Practices; Buy The Book (Lethal Trajectories)
> Conservation Earth: 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.
> 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