SEF News-Views Digest No. 149 (10-19-16)
Clifton Ware, Editor-Publisher
One of my favorite futurists is John Michael Greer, a profound thinker and prolific writer of thought-provoking, informative publications. He might appear to conventional folks as an eccentric intellectual, and they might be right.
One of Greer’s latest writings—An Afternoon In Early Autumn—was posted last week on his website, The Archdruid Report. This challenging article inspired me to contemplate the subject of time, particularly “deep time”, a term coined by science writer Stephen Jay Gould.
The article’s primary thrust explores how we humans think about and measure humanity’s existence on Earth, which Greer positions into a contextual time frame that includes our planet’s entire existence, from birth 4.5 billion years ago to projected death 1.2 billion years from now. Typically, we tend to be mostly concerned about our human time on Earth, beginning with the emergence of homo sapiens, approximately 50-100 thousand years ago. But we give minimal attention to concerns about how long we might continue existing as a species. At this point, it’s apparent that our survival will depend largely on managing a series of serious converging crises, including the accumulating effects of climate change, depletion of natural resources, pollution of air, water, and soil, extinction of flora and fauna, geo-political conflicts, overpopulation, and the increasing polarization of ideological worldviews.
Lest I explain too much, I recommend you read Greer’s article. I think you’ll find his metaphorical adaptation of our human-devised 12-month year to represent the entire past and projected life cycle of Earth (including our short-term lifespan) a very intriguing concept to ponder. This metaphorical framework illuminates the very short timespan of humanity within the very long time frame of our planet’s complete lifecycle.
Greer calculates that, based on an origin of terrestrial life around 3.7 billion years ago, and the projected demise of our Sun at an estimated 1.2 billion years from now, the total timespan for our planetary biosphere is approximately 5 billion years. Assuming these figures are in the ballpark, that suggests our current human time on Earth falls on September 26, hence Greer’s title, “An Afternoon in Early Autumn”. Other metaphors associated with the fall season are also apropos, including the need to prepare for winter (hard times), by building resilience in order to create sustainability. Note that other sources provide different figures, such as Timeline Shows Death Of Earth And Universe 100 Quintillio Years In The Future. The BBC Future timeline lists the timespan remaining for humans at only 100,000-plus years, and for life on Earth 2.8 billion years. Nevertheless, Greer’s basic metaphorical concept seems feasible.
The main lesson I glean from this article is the confirmation that there is something far greater in the universe than our lonely species, something so vast that it boggles our limited imaginations. Space scientists claim that outer space is expanding, endless, and features billions of stars and planets of various sizes and ages—in addition to harboring mysterious events and phenomena, like black holes, dark matter, and dark energy. It’s easy to understand why so much scientific information about the universe challenges our human comprehension.
To counteract sensations of being overwhelmed, we can choose to celebrate the wondrous evolutionary manifestations that inspire us, causing us to think profoundly about all aspects of life on Earth, including humanity’s era within the greater framework of universal deep time and space. In closing, here’s one big question we might ask ourselves, and try to answer: How long can humanity be sustained on a planet that’s increasingly under siege—by us?
> Resource Insights: Deepwater Horizon And Our Emerging ‘Normal’ Catastrophes (Kurt Cobb, Deepwater Horizon Trailer). For fail-dangerous systems, we believe that failure is either unlikely or that the redundancy that we’ve build into the system will be sufficient to avert failure or at least minimize damage. Today, we live in a society full of “normal accidents” waiting to happen that will be far more catastrophic than the Deepwater Horizon tragedy. One of those “accidents” is already in progress, and it’s called climate change. Climate change, of course, isn’t the only place where we have normalized procedures that appear to be reducing risk, when, in fact, we are increasing it. [Some examples: monocrop farming, industrial fishing, energy supply systems, and infrastructure.] In general, what we as a society have chosen to do is to create narratives of invincibility, rather than heed these warnings. We are, in effect, normalizing highly risky behavior.
> Common Dreams: Fear Of A Living Planet (Charles Eisenberg). A cynical wariness [in responding to “the Earth is alive” or “all things are sacred”] comes from a wound of crushed idealism and betrayed hopes. We received it on a cultural level when the Age of Aquarius morphed into the Age of Ronald Reagan, and on an individual level as well when our childish perception of a living, personal universe in which we are destined to grow into magnificent creators gave way to an adulthood of deferred dreams and lowered expectations. Anything that exposes this wound will trigger our protective instincts, including cynicism, which rejects and derides as foolish, naive or irrational anything that affirms the magic and idealism of youth. Our perceived worldview has cut us off, often quite brutally, from intimate connection with the rest of life and with the rest of matter. No longer can we hide from our grief and love behind the ideology that the world is just a pile of stuff to be used instrumentally for our own ends.
> NPR: We Pay Billions For Greener Farms, So What Does That Buy Us? (Dan Charles). Farming has huge impacts on water, wildlife, and air, especially from animal feeding operations. Many environmentalists agree that the federal government does little to regulate farmers, and even makes things worse by providing subsidies that cushion farmers from the impact of low prices, encouraging them simply to plant more corn and soybeans, the crops that cover most of the Midwest. But the government also provides some financial incentives for farmers to reduce their environmental impact, the main tool for getting farmers to do things that aren’t in their economic self-interest, but benefit the environment. Under the Freedom of Information Act, researchers filed suits to collect details on every conservation payment, now assembled into a database. Anyone now can go online to see where the money went and what agricultural practices it was supposed to encourage.
> Yale Global: Prepare For The 21st Century Exodus Of Migrants (Joseph Chamie), In his highly-detailed article, UN consulting-demographer Chamie warns that current migration figures—and the resulting population growth models—are dangerously underestimating future migration. While the older populations of many of the migrant receiving countries are growing slowly with some even declining, the younger populations of the migrant sending countries are growing rapidly. Chamie also explains that most estimates do not factor in: desire to immigrate, plans to migrate in the next year, and having “taken steps necessary for migration.” He warns: “If those taking steps necessary to migrate were to immigrate to desired destinations, the result would expand UN-projected annual numbers for major migrant-receiving Western countries by more than tenfold.”
> Resiience: Trade Winds Of Change: Charting A New Course (Juliette Majot). Corporate-driven trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), both of which have become publically unacceptable and therefore politically unpalatable, aren’t about what is or is not best for America or for that matter, any other country. For the most part, they aren’t even about trade. With their negotiations guarded from public scrutiny, trade agreements are written and negotiated by corporate interests whose primary concern is to regulate the public sector so that the public sector can no longer regulate them. Trade agreements must no longer be wielded by the economically and political powerful as equal opportunity sledgehammers to pound away at those with less power. Trade aimed at solving problems, instead of fueling them, is the only trade worth having.
> Common Dreams: We Never Voted For Corporate Rule (David Korten). As individual corporations grow in size, global reach, and political power, we see a corresponding shift in the primary function of national governments—from serving the interests of their citizens to assuring the security of corporate property and profits. They apply police and military powers to this end, subsidize corporate operations, and facilitate corporate tax evasion. They let corporations off the hook with slap-on-the-wrist fines for criminal actions. Rarely, if ever, do they punish top executives. The corporatists globalized their agenda in the 1990s through international agreements like NAFTA and international organizations like the World Trade Organization (WTO). Step by step, they co-opted politicians and reduced the ability of governments of all countries to protect and advance community social and environmental interests if doing so might reduce the anticipated profits of a transnational corporation.
> The Guardian: Global Warming Continues; 2016 Will Be The Hottest Year Ever Recorded (John Abraham). We know the world is warming—no factor can explain it aside from human emissions of greenhouse gases. We have enough data this year to call 2016 as the hottest year ever record—and we have three more months left to go. So, just how hot is 2016? It doesn’t matter whose data you use (NASA, NOAA, JMA, Hadley Centre) the results are the same. 2016 is going to blow 2015 out of the water. Before we get too anxious, it is almost certain that 2017 will be cooler than 2016, and we may not set another record for a few years. But just as a few hot years doesn’t prove global warming, a few cooler years won’t disprove it. The long-term trend is clearer upwards through and the models are spot on. See also: 2016 Locked Into Being Hottest Year On Record, NASA Says
> Carbon Brief: 7 Key Scenes In Leonardo Dicaprio’s Climate Film “Before The Flood” (Leo Hickman). Leonard DiCaprio, the Oscar-winning actor and environmentalist, has spent the past three years asking a wide variety of people around the world about climate change. His collection of interviews in the film covers the science, impacts, vested interests, politics and possible solutions. In his introductory comments at the European premier, DiCaprio said: “I’ve been studying this issue for the past 15 years, I’ve been watching it very closely. What’s incredibly terrifying is that things are happening way ahead of the scientific projections, 15 or 20 years ago…We wanted to create a film that gave people a sense of urgency, that made them understand what particular things are going to solve this problem”. Before the Flood is considered the most significant film about climate change since Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth was released a decade ago.
> Think Progress: A Collapse In Arctic Sea Ice Volume Spells Disaster For The Rest Of The Planet (Joe Romm). The sharp decline in Arctic sea ice area in recent decades has been matched by a harder-to-see, but equally sharp drop in sea ice thickness. The combined result has been a warming-driven collapse in total sea ice volume — to about one quarter of its 1980 level. Unfortunately, what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic. The accelerated loss of Arctic sea ice drives more extreme weather in North America, while speeding up both Greenland ice sheet melt (which causes faster sea level rise) and the defrosting of carbon-rich permafrost. A 3D animation video illustrates the total Arctic sea ice melt from 1980 to 2016.
> Vox: That’s 4 Straight Debates Without A Single Question On Climate Change. Good Job, Everyone (Brad Plumer). After three debates without a single moderator asking about climate change, Fox News’s Chris Wallace also avoided an issue that will greatly affect future generations and shape the next 10,000 years of life on this entire planet. And it’s not just a question of whether our grandchildren might have to pay somewhat higher taxes, it’s a question of whether multi-century droughts will ravage the Southwest, of whether the city of Miami will drown beneath the rising seas, of whether vital coral reefs will vanish forever. But no one asked about global warming at all. Hillary Clinton name-checked the topic, briefly, but that was it. Humanity is departing from the stable climatic conditions that allowed civilization to thrive, yet the most powerful nation on Earth can’t set aside five minutes to discuss the issue.
> Resilience: People Vs. Big Oil: Washington Victory Over Shell Signals A Turning Tide (Matt Stannard). From Standing Rock Reservation to the Florida Everglades, 2016 has been an unprecedented year in people’s resistance to the fossil fuel economy. October especially has been a banner month: Mass convergence around the indigenous-led Dakota Access Pipeline protests, activists in three states audaciously (and illegally) shutting down three pipeline valve systems, and groups in the state of Washington forcing Shell to abandon a dangerous oil train unloading facility it had proposed in Anacortes in the northwest corner of the state. The earth-burners have had a difficult month. The pushback has been unprecedented. We are witnessing a full-on social movement against Big Oil’s unsafe and brazen transport practices—both pipeline and rail. Shell’s announcement concerning the Puget Sound refinery follows other pullbacks this year, including at San Luis Obispo and Benicia, CA.
> Green Tech Media: 11.4 Million Evs Are Expected On America’s Roads By 2015. Will The Grid Be Ready? (Olivia Chen). With a market value of over $400 billion, the growth in EV adoption will create complexity for grid operators and other electricity market stakeholders. In GTM Research’s new report, The Impact of Electric Vehicles on the Grid: Customer Adoption, Grid Load and Outlook, these complexities are discussed and analyzed in order to provide insight into how customer adoption and grid load will unfold. Improving economics supports EV adoption and a growing sentiment that electrified transport can support decarbonization. However, questions about grid impacts still remain. Factors including policy, incentives and overall renewables penetration present challenges in different U.S. geographies and may impact the regions’ respective grid operations.
> Market Watch: Saudi Oil Minister Says Many Non-OPEC Countries Will Join Deal To Cap Output (Sara Sjolin). Speaking at the “Oil & Money” conference in London, Saudi oil minister Khalid Al-Falih said the flagging oil market is at the end of its “considerable downturn” and that a range of factors point to higher prices for the rest of 2016 and next year. The 14-nation cartel in September agreed to limit oil production at 32.5 million to 33 million barrels a day, effectively pledging to cut output from the current level of about 33.6 million barrels. However, 60% of global oil production comes from countries outside the cartel, raising the need for OPEC and non-OPEC members to work together to aide the oil market, Al-Falih said. Industry players and analysts, including the delegates in London this week, have started to doubt the producer group will put action behind its words and implement the agreed targets.
> Climate Central: U.S. Energy Shakeup Continues As Solar Capacity Triples (Bobby Magill). Solar power capacity in the U.S. will have nearly tripled in size in less than three years by 2017 amid an energy shakeup that has seen natural gas solidify its position as the country’s chief source of electricity and coal power continue to fade, according to monthly data published by the U.S. Department of Energy. Cutting carbon dioxide emissions from electric power plants is a major part of the U.S. strategy for tackling climate change as the country seeks to meet its obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement and keep global warming from exceeding more than 2°C (3.6°F). Reducing those emissions requires changing the fuels used to produce electricity, including using more natural gas and renewables than coal. Renewables still make up only a fraction of the U.S. power supply—8 percent this year. That’s expected to grow to 9 percent next year, and the biggest driver of that growth is solar.
> Common Dreams: Millions Face Hunger By 2030 Without ‘Deep Transformation Of Agriculture: UN (Nadia Prupis). A new report from the United Nations released warned that, without putting immediate environmental safeguards into place, more than a hundred million more people could be driven into extreme poverty and hunger by 2030. Up to 122 million more people around the globe could be forced into extreme poverty by 2030 as a result of climate change on small-scale food producers, the report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) found. The report warns there is “no doubt that climate change will affect the agriculture sectors and food security and that its negative impact will become more severe as it accelerates. In some particularly vulnerable places, such as small islands or in areas affected by large-scale extreme weather and climate events, the impact could be catastrophic.”
> RINF: The Warnings Of A New World War (Gilbert Doctorow). The U.S.-Russia confrontation over Ukraine and now Syria is far more dangerous than is understood by mainstream U.S. analysts, as Russia lays down clear warnings that are mostly being ignored, writes Gilbert Doctorow. In an interview with the Bild newspaper on Oct. 8, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier described the present international situation in the following woeful terms: “Unfortunately it is an illusion to believe this is the old Cold War. The new times are different; they are more dangerous. Previously, the world was divided, but Moscow and Washington knew each other’s red lines and respected them. In a world with many regional conflicts and dwindling influence of the great powers, the world becomes more unpredictable.” The end result of the official silence in the U.S. about Russia’s message of defiance and is that the U.S. is flying blind.
> Shareable: How Freelancers Are Reinventing Work Through New Collective Enterprises (Christopher D. Cook). The 9-to-5 job market has shattered and splintered over the past 25 years in ways that have both liberated and trapped millions of workers. Growing numbers of workers are breaking away and creating their own work communities, based on a mix of autonomy and interdependence. Combating precarious economics and social isolation, freelancers are using new open-source technology and old-fashioned shoe-leather organizing to create new ways to work and to work together—in collectives and cooperatives. The freelance and gig workforce has exploded, with 55 million people in the U.S. alone (35% of the labor force) in 2016. Despite vast ranges in worker empowerment and income, this is a precarious group, according to a 2015 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Today’s freelancer collectives and cooperatives are sometimes also driven by a passion for social change at community and societal levels.
> Midwest Energy News: Q&A: New Report Challenges Assumption That Bigger Solar Is Better (Frank Jossi). In a time when hundreds of megawatts of large solar projects are underway in Minnesota, a new report suggests that smaller-scale solar projects could be just as good at delivering low-cost electricity. John Farrell, director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Energy Democracy Initiative, argues in a recent paper that smaller-scale solar—and to a lesser degree wind—can be just as effective as utility-scale projects. He states that transmission costs from remote wind and solar farms, having the source closer to users begins to make sense. He says, “Given the cost trajectory for solar and the inflation history of electricity prices, I have no doubt that rooftop solar will be competitive at the retail level in the next five years in Minnesota, without any local incentives and maybe even without the federal tax incentives”.
> The Hill: The Transportation Trifecta: How Car Sharing And EVs Can Save The World (Reed Hundt). The technology cornucopia is about to deliver three different breakthroughs that, combined, could revolutionize American transportation and produce sure victory in the battle against climate change. The next Congress should grant the tax breaks that will catalyze the potential of this magic combination into real benefits for Americans. The 250 million gas-powered vehicles on U.S. streets and in driveways, garages and parking lots present a big problem in reducing Co2 emissions. But three technological breakthroughs—conceived separately with different motives—could solve the automobile emissions problem: 1) the semi-autonomous or autonomous car; 2) the electric vehicle; and 3) the use of mobile apps and data analytics to make ridesharing easy, affordable, and popular. So imagine a future using accessible and shared semi-autonomous or autonomous electric cars.
> Inequality: Taking The CEO Pay Fight Local (Steve Novick). Inequality in the United States has exploded in the past four decades, and most of the concentration has gone to the very richest earners of the top 1 percent—the top 0.1 percent. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission adopted a rule in 2015 requiring public companies to disclose the ratio of the compensation of its chief executive officer to the median compensation of its employees. Portland city councilman Novick is proposing a surtax on the City’s existing Business License Tax for publicly traded companies that report a ratio of CEO to median worker pay of 100:1. The tax code is often used to promote certain social policies, including charitable giving. If adopted, this proposal would promote a more equitable distribution of income. The City’s Revenue Bureau estimates that this proposal will raise $2.5 to $3.5 million annually, revenue that might to pay for services to help homeless people—or avoid homelessness altogether.
> Ensia: To Build A Sustainable World, Academics Need To Tear Down The Ivory Tower (Anthony D. Barnosky, Elizabeth A. Hadly, Paul R. Ehrlich). Until recently, Earth was so big compared with humanity’s impacts that its resources seemed limitless. But that is no longer the case. Thanks to rapid growth in both human population and per capita consumption, we are now on the edge of irrevocable damage to our planetary life support systems. If we want to avoid locking in long-lasting impacts, it is imperative that we quickly solve six intertwined problems: population growth and overconsumption, climate change, pollution, ecosystem destruction, disease spillovers and extinction. Most pressing among these today is climate change. As for academicians, to implement knowledge that arises from basic research, we must establish dialogues and collaborations that transcend narrow academic specialties and bridge between academia, industry, the policy community and society in general.
> Ensia: Bringing Nature Back To Cities Is Good For Plants, Animals And Humans (Nate Berg). Recognizing the threat urban development posed for the river ecosystem, Edmonton, Canada embarked on an ambitious effort to accommodate growth while at the same time protecting wildlife and habitat. In 2007, the city built its first wildlife passage—a culvert that allows small mammals to pass between two sections of ravine that had been cut up by a road. More were soon planned. Led by the city’s planning department, the city has now built 27 wildlife passages, reconnecting habitat and enabling the safe movement of animals of all sizes. Taking lessons from conservation biology and applying them to the built environment, cities are proactively creating habitat for certain animals, increasing urban tree canopies and even reintroducing species that have long been displaced by roads and buildings. It’s a concept known as urban rewilding, and it’s good for plants, animals, and people.
> Growthbusters Webinar: Overpopulation: The New Conversation, (), Registration here: Overpopulation: The New Conversation.
> World Population Balance: Solve World Overpopulation Potluck (Food, Conversation & a Report from WPB Staff), Sat., Oct. 29th, , Minneapolis Friends Meetinghouse, 4401 York Ave. S. RSVP: Email
> 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)
> Growthbusters: 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. Also, here are direct Links to 1st Episodes of Paving Paradise: #1 – World Population Day & Water in the West; #2 – The Local Growth Machine; #3 – Drinking the Pro-Growth Kool-Aid
> Live Population: World Population Clock Live. 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