SEF News-Views Digest No. 156 (12-7-16)
Clifton Ware, Editor-Publisher
Sustainability is a catchword that has various meanings, depending on who’s using it. Twink.org provides some definitions that seem appropriate. Simply put, sustainability is the ability to continue a defined behavior indefinitely. For more practical detail, sustainability can be viewed in three ways:
Environmental sustainability is the ability to maintain rates of renewable resource harvest, pollution creation, and non-renewable resource depletion that can be continued indefinitely. To be sustainable, rates need to be far lower than at present, given the fact that resource depletion continues in considerable overshoot mode. Since nature is our primary wealth and source of all material products, this ideal interpretation provides fodder for the following two interpretations.
Economic sustainability is the ability to support a defined level of economic production indefinitely. People working in business and finance think of economic sustainability as doing what’s needed to keep the economy humming along, which is typically pegged at an annual desirable GDP growth rate of 4% or more. Because economic prosperity depends on having adequate natural resources to create products, it behooves us to accept the reality that natural resources are finite, which means that long-term economic growth is limited, also that future sustainability will require a diminishing per-capita footprint.
Social sustainability is the ability of a social system, including a nation, to function at a defined level of social well being indefinitely. Since social systems are comprised of flawed people, the psycho-emotional health of individuals and groups is a legitimate concern. The social dimension involves a consideration of values and beliefs, which makes objectivity difficult to achieve, and also explains why disciplines like social science and psychology are considered “soft sciences”.
To my mind, social sustainability lies at the root of all sustainability concerns. If this is so, then determining common values and beliefs is an essential first step in creating consummate sustainability. In other words, there’s plenty of room for suitable kinds of sustainable growth. The reality is that it will become increasingly harder to grow materially, especially as the world’s population climbs to a projected 9-11 million people during this century.
I think we can agree that a worldwide populist movement is afoot, fueled largely by a series of converging crises—overpopulation, climate change disasters, political disarray, institutional complexity, economic opportunities, social-economic inequalities, and civil disorder. Never, in nearly 8 decades of life as an American citizen, can I recall the current disparaging level of incivility, expressed as intolerant, angry, hateful, and violent behaviors. Sadly, the Golden Rule is frequently absent in public interactions.
So, what needs sustaining? We can begin with placing a high priority on providing the essential life-sustaining material needs of all world citizens. Unfortunately, as raw natural resources grow more depleted, some essential materials will likely become harder and more expensive to obtain. But, if and when world population shrinks—ideally to a more sustainable 2-3 million peoples—plenty of used materials (supplies and equipment) will be found in abandoned facilities and infrastructures, most of which can be recycled or refashioned. But the most positive news is that, once civilization is no longer dependent upon extravagant economic consumption, people will be able to concentrate on increasing the quality and amount of non-material growth, contentedly pursuing personal interests, healthy social relationships, and community cohesiveness.
Although cosmologists hold out hope for life beyond Earth, our species—homo sapiens—might well be the most evolved form of life in the universe. It would be a supreme failure were we unable to sustain our species’ most creative accomplishments. At this historical moment, nearing what appears to be a possible environmental tipping point, we would be wise to continue actualizing our species’ ultimate potential. To do so will require gaining more awareness, regarding both our inner human nature and our natural environment. Only when we harmoniously accept our authentic role within the universal ecosystem, as one species among many, will we be able to achieve higher levels of consciousness and spiritual enlightenment.
> The Ecologist: After Brexit And Trump: Don’t Demonize; Localize! (Helena Norberg-Hodge, Rupert Read). In order to move forward, we need to give those who voted for Trump and Brexit something better to believe in. Voters in both countries emphatically rejected pro-corporate globalization, the system that has inflicted so much social and economic insecurity. And that is the silver lining to the dark storm clouds we see. Localization requires a fundamental change of emphasis: away from monoculture for export towards diversification for local needs. By reducing the scale of the economy, the environmental impacts of economic activity shrink as well. Localization also allows us to live more ethically as citizens and consumers, effectively protecting not only our countries and workforces but also the Earth, future generations, and the poor. It is going to take a linking of hands internationally to put new political leaders in place who do not ratify treaties that devastate our present and our future.
> Resilience: What Will Spark A Degrowth Movement In The USA? (Sam Bliss). Degrowth is the idea that humans and other species might live better if the former had a smaller economy. It is a purposeful, equitable slowing of the rate at which we transform nature into stuff. Our politicians pledge economic growth like priests promising eternal paradise in heaven. According to a 2015 study, the United States’ yearly material footprint measures about 27 metric tons per capita. In other words, 163 pounds of nature is extracted every day to feed, house, clothe, entertain, and satisfy the average U.S. resident. Degrowth means: 1) downscaling the human enterprise to share the world nicely with other species and our grandchildren; and 2) distributing wealth equitably and prioritizing needs over wants. America needs new narratives about what the good life is and how to achieve it. In the end, it is not about the word, it is about sparking socio-ecological change toward a fairer, smaller, and simpler economy.
> Population Connection: How Does Population Growth Impact Rapid Urbanization? (Katie Luoma). While people are moving from place to place more and more, the world is undergoing the largest wave of urban growth in history. More than half of the world’s population is living in cities and this is increasing at rate of 1.5 percent. This rapid urbanization coupled with population growth is changing the landscape of human settlement, posing significant risks on living conditions, the environment, and development. Some negative concerns include: 1) lack of water and sanitation; 2) slums and informal settlements; 3) urban-to-suburban sprawl; and 4) rural-to-urban migration. Rapid urbanization matched with continuous population growth will put big pressures on infrastructure, the environment, and the social fabric of cities. How the world meets the challenge of sustainable development in the face of rapid urbanization will continue to be at the forefront of public policy.
> Cassandra Legacy: Tiffany’s Fallacy: The Mineral Pie Is Shrinking, And Most Of What’s Left Is In The Sky (Ugo Bardi). The essence of propaganda is not so much telling lies, but presenting only one aspect of the truth. That’s true also for the depletion debate [of fossil energy & minerals]. Mineral resources are like Tiffany’s jewelry that you may get only if you have the money to pay for it. It costs money to produce anything and nothing is produced if it can’t return a profit when it is sold on the market. So, in the case of minerals, extraction costs keep increasing because, of course, we extract the cheapest resources first. And when something costs more than what you can afford, you may as well say that you “ran out” of it, no matter what you read in terms of reserves that should exist somewhere underground. The mineral pie is shrinking and most of what’s left is in the sky. [See also: Peak Oil In A Fact-Free World: The New “Oil Bonanza” In West Texas].
> Resilience: Consciousness And The New World Order (David MacLeod). The “economic growth theory” has become something our entire society is built upon and is dependent upon, and has become ingrained into our collective structure of consciousness. Peter Pogany (d.2014), author of Havoc, Thy Name Is Twenty-First Century!, believed that the challenge to develop a sustainable world system is so great that it will require a major transformation of individual consciousness structures; and yet, the average individual would be incapable of becoming so transformed as long as current socioeconomic conditions prevail. So, the current system is holding up our personal transformation, and our lack of personal transformation is holding up the transformation of the system. According to cultural philosopher Jean Gebser, we’re currently at the tail end of the fourth structure, the mental-rational structure, and are facing the chaotic transition that we hope will lead us to the fifth “integral” structure of consciousness.
> Quartz: Trump’s Climate Change Denial Will Lead To Thousands, Maybe Millions, Of Deaths (Travis N. Rieder). If the US drops its commitment to cut national emissions, in the best-case scenario all nations other than the US keep (and strengthen) their commitments. Recent modeling suggests that a Trump presidency results in “only” an additional 3.4 billion tons of carbon emitted compared to a Hillary Clinton presidency. For most of us, moral responsibility for the harms of climate change gets diluted, thanks to the sheer scale of the problem. This will not be true, however, for Donald Trump. He has the power, as an individual, to undermine or protect US environmental policy. And so he also bears the moral responsibility for the death and human suffering that may occur as a result. He can act as he indicated he would, with the predictable result that many thousands, if not millions, of people will die needlessly. Or, he can prove his open-mindedness and reconsider.
> The Hill: Greens Gear Up For Long Court Fight Against Trump (Timothy Cama). With the executive and legislative branches of the government controlled by Republicans and unlikely to adopt their priorities, green group leaders said they will increasingly lean on the judiciary to push their agenda, along with public campaigns and traditional lobbying. Obama’s efforts were built almost entire on executive actions and regulations, making them particularly vulnerable to dismantling by Trump. And courts traditionally give federal agencies great leeway in how they regulate and interpret laws from Congress, so green lawsuits are likely to face uphill battles. Trump made undoing major Obama rules a central piece of his energy agenda on the campaign trail. But greens are hopeful that by shifting the battlefield to the federal courts they can prevent a complete reversal. Green groups argue the plans that Trump has outlined on the campaign trail are legally vulnerable. [See also NPR: Environmentalists Gird For Battle With A Trump Administration]
> Think Progress: Priebus Confirms That Climate Denial Will Be The Official Policy Of Trump’s Administration (Joe Romm). Chief of staff, Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus, embraces Trump’s hard-core climate denial. Trump is appointing countless climate science deniers to key positions, which tells you vastly more about what he believes and what he’ll do than his latest semi-coherent ramblings. Trump’s repetition of the phrase “open mind” during his Times interview was meant to distract from his constant repetition of long-debunked denier talking points (and it worked). So the chief of staff can help stop climate action and the public discussion of climate in a Cabinet filled with climate experts. In the Trump White House, Priebus will just be one of many making sure his boss doesn’t stray from his default denial of reality. Open mind?
> MinnPost: Gatlinburg’s Suffering Illustrates A Worsening, Widening Wildfire Pattern (Ron Meador). The biggest blazes are not only larger and more intense but are occurring well outside their normal range of California, Arizona, Idaho and elsewhere in the arid West. This year seems to be the Southeast’s turn, with more than 160,000 acres burned in fires of unusual size and intensity. (That’s not much territory in the West; in the Southeast it is historic.) “Chimney 2” is the name given to the fire that has now emptied Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and also the most-visited national park in America; it was closed to visitors after the park headquarters lost electric power and phone service. Of course, the 2015 fire season was the worst in the U.S. for any year with record keeping. Some 10.1 million acres burned; suppression costs ran to $1.72 billion and 13 firefighters’ lives. Five civilians died in California and 4,500 homes were lost. [See also: Climate Links Evident As ‘Fire For The History Books’ Ravages Tennessee]
> City Labs: 30 Years Of Oil And Gas Pipeline Spills, Mapped (George Joseph). Protests over the construction of The Dakota Access Pipeline have pushed the debate over the safety of oil infrastructure into the national spotlight. Oil industry supporters argue that pipelines are safer alternative to hauling fuel by tanker trucks or freight trains. Over the last twenty years, more than 9,000 significant pipeline-related incidents have taken place nationwide, according to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The accidents have resulted in 548 deaths, 2,576 injuries, and over $8.5 billion in financial damages. (Not counted in this total are thousands of less “significant” pipeline-related malfunctions.)
> Bloomberg: Can The U.S. Become An Energy Superpower In 2017? (Dave Merrill, Christine Buurma). Today, America is becoming a global supplier of oil and natural gas in its own right. This year, for the first time ever, the U.S. started turning gas from prolific shale formations into liquefied natural gas (LNG) and sending it overseas. In 2017, the country may be exporting more of the heating fuel than it imports for the first year since the 1950s. Just a decade ago, gas supplies from conventional wells were drying up. The technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, allowed drillers to pull the fuel out of layers of shale rock, touching off the U.S. shale revolution. It’s less clear who will purchase all this U.S. gas. Price is another concern. The shale revolution has undoubtedly put America on a path to becoming a global gas powerhouse. The ability to find more buyers as U.S. capacity increases at a competitive price will dictate how dominant the U.S. will become as an energy power in 2017 and beyond.
> NPR: We Tracked Down A Fake-News Creator In The Suburbs. Here’s What We Found (Laura Sydell). John Jansen is head of engineering at Master-McNeil Inc., a tech company in Berkeley, CA, helped track down the owner of Denverguardian.com. It turned out to be Jestin Coler, the founder and CEO of a company called Disinfomedia. He and his family live in a middle-class LA neighborhood, and he earns a respectable salary from his highly successful fake-news business. Ironically, Coler is a registered democrat, who says he got into fake news around 2013 to highlight the extremism of the white nationalist alt-right. He says his 20-25 writers have tried to write fake news for liberals—but they just never take the bait. He makes money from the ads on his websites. However, he insists this is not about money. It’s about showing how easily fake news spreads.
> University of MN-TC: U Study Provides Global Picture Of Crop Production Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Staff). Global food systems contribute about one-third of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. With demand for food and fiber expected to grow, reducing emissions from agriculture is imperative. Researchers from the U of M Institute on the Environment used models and geospatial data to determine which crops and cropping practices are the biggest emissions culprits, notably conversion of carbon-rich peat lands to agriculture, and cultivating rice paddies, which releases methane. The study provides the first subnational, crop-specific estimates of emissions from cropland management. It also delivers methods, data, and maps for estimating emissions and reducing emissions from the agricultural sector.
> Scientific American-Reuters: Only 60 Years Of Farming Left If Soil Degradation Continues (Chris Arsenault). Generating three centimeters of topsoil takes 1,000 years, and if current rates of degradation continue all of the world’s topsoil could be gone within 60 years, a senior UN official said . About a third of the world’s soil has already been degraded, Maria-Helena Semedo of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) told a forum marking World Soil Day. The causes of soil destruction include chemical-heavy farming techniques, deforestation which increases erosion, and global warming. According to experts, policymakers too often ignore the earth under our feet. Soils play a key role in absorbing carbon and filtering water, the FAO reported. Soil destruction creates a vicious cycle, in which less carbon is stored, the world gets hotter, and the land is further degraded. Volkert Engelsman claims that “organic (farming) may not be the only solution but it’s the single best (option) I can think of”.
> Mercy For Animals: Terrifying Drone Footage Of Massive Factory Farms (Mark Davies, Director) This 1.5 minute video is one of several films highlighting the drastic environmental effects of some corporate farming, including maltreatment of animals, pollution of land and water due to animal waste disposal, huge amounts of water usage, methane production, and diversion of corn and other materials from human use to domestic animals used for producing meat and other products.
> The Guardian: Obama Administration Rushes To Protect Public Lands Before Trump Takes Office (Oliver Milman). Barack Obama’s administration is rushing through conservation safeguards for large areas of public land ahead of Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House, presenting a conundrum for the new president’s goal of opening up more places for oil and gas drilling. Protected areas include Yellowstone NP, the Arctic Ocean off Alaska, and Montana Blackfeet land. Obama’s administration has also cancelled 25 oil and gas leases in Colorado since Trump’s election win and further executive action is expected soon. Environmentalists expect some protection to be placed upon the Bears Ears landscape in Utah, Gold Butte in Nevada, and the greater Grand Canyon area. A permanent ban on drilling in the Arctic is also on the wish list, but is considered less likely. Obama has protected more land and water—more than 265m acres—via executive action than any other president.
> The Washington Post: Trump Could Face The ‘Biggest Trial Of The Century’ — Over Climate Change (Chelsea Harvey). Some experts say this groundbreaking lawsuit outcome could rewrite the future of climate policy in the United States. The case, brought by 21 youths aged 9 to 20, claims that the federal government isn’t doing enough to address the problem of climate change to protect their planet’s future, which they claim is a violation of their constitutional rights on the most basic level. The case has already received widespread attention, even garnering the support of well-known climate scientist James Hansen, who has also joined as a plaintiff on behalf of his granddaughter and as a guardian for “future generations.” It’s been called the biggest trial of the century, the first time the fossil fuel policies of the entire United States of America are going to confront the climate science put forth by the world’s best scientists.
> Yes! Magazine: In Stripping Away Our Hope, Maybe Trump Has Done Us A Favor (David Korten). Since we cannot expect action from the upcoming administration and Congress on any measure that puts environmental and social interests ahead of the interests of corporations and the very rich, there will be no point during the next two to four years in the old discussions of what might be politically feasible. We can instead focus on building popular support for what is necessary and desirable and transforming the political landscape to press the rule makers to follow. Because of the depth and breadth of the change our circumstances require, we will need to organize on many fronts, including the following four: 1) resist the forces of corporate rule; 2) grow community; 3) democratize political institutions; and 4) advance a new public narrative.
> Star Tribune: Hennepin County To Give Cities Incentive To Start Organics Recycling (Kelly Smith). Hennepin County wants cities to start curbside organics recycling, and it’s planning to pay more to those that do next year. It’s part of a shift in recycling across the country to focus more on organics, or food waste. Hennepin County’s own move toward organics is part of a gradual increase in funding that the county envisions, aiming for half of recycling dollars to go toward it by 2020. A report released Nov. 15 by Hennepin County showed that food waste is the top item residents are throwing away that could be recycled. In that report, the results of sorting trash from three Minneapolis neighborhoods last summer, 25 percent of trash is food waste that could have gone to organics recycling. In 2015, cities across the county collected 98,000 tons of recyclable materials and 1,400 tons of organics from 352,000 households.
> Shareable: Portugal Announces World’s First Nationwide Participatory Budgeting Project (Cat Johnson). Participatory budgeting is becoming increasingly popular, with more than 1,500 programs worldwide. The concept is simple: People submit ideas for what government should spend a portion of its money on and then vote on the best ideas. Until now, however, the process has been limited to cities and regions. Recently, Portugal became the first county to instate a nationwide participatory budgeting (PB) process with Orçamento Participativo Portugal. While the amount allotted for the project is relatively small in its first year—€3 million, as opposed to the €100 million spent in 2016 in Paris, the world’s largest PB project—it’s a step toward engaging people both in cities and in rural areas. It also gives government officials a better idea of what people want and need in their lives and communities.
> BBC News: Time To Take Out The Space Trash (Rebecca Morelle, narrator of 7-minute video). Scientists are warning there’s now so much space debris in low-Earth orbit that action needs to be taken. Estimates include 22,000 pieces of junk more than 10cm wide, amounting to 7,000 tons, all sailing through space at super speeds and capable of taking out space stations and satellites. Next year, a new mission plans to boldly go where no refuse collection has gone before.
> Ensia: What Would It Take To Mainstream “Alternative” Agriculture? (Maywa Montenegro, Alastair Iles). The industrialized food system, studies have shown, is linked to greenhouse gas emissions, algal blooms, pesticide pollution, soil erosion and biodiversity loss, to name a few ecological troubles. Add to this a long list of social ills, from escalating rates of obesity to the demise of the family farmer and deadening of rural landscapes and rural economies across much of the U.S. To achieve real change in how food is produced and eaten, we need to change people’s expectations of what “normal” agriculture should look like: Agroecology. To attain “thick legitimacy”, acroecology needs to pursue three interconnected pathways: 1) develop scientific legitimacy; 2) garner legitimacy in policy, practical and civic arenas; and 3) focus attention on the ethics and values of food systems. With a focus on what’s right about agroecology, we can give agroecology the credibility and authority it well deserves.
> Growth Busters: Free Webinar-End Overpopulation Or Stop Overconsumption? Weds, , (EST). Featuring Paul Erhlich, Madeleine Somerville, & Dave Gardner. Register Here . Also, see free film–GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth (https://www.growthbusters.org/free-screening-signup/)
> Sustainability Forum: Threats and Opportunities, ., Columbia Heights Library, 3939 Central Ave., Columbia Heights, MN. Featuring three 30-minute presentations: Mike Conley—The Perfect Storm: Our Sustainability Challenges; Alan Ware—Making the Connection: Overpopulation and Sustainability: Matt Hoiland—Beyond Boom & Bust. FREE EVENT!
> 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/
> Post Carbon Institute: Six Foundations For Building Community Resilience. Download a free PDF copy of an informative, well-researched and formatted handbook.
> National Geographic: Before The Flood Documentary & Years of Living Dangerously. Watch “Before The Flood” via streaming; narrated by actor-environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio. Link: Leonardo DiCaprio “Before the Flood” Full Movie (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N26b4lgWMVI); also,
> National Geographic Series: “Years of Living Dangerously.” On cable TV see past episodes free on-line here; also see Years of Living Dangerously Premiere Full Episode
> USA Today: New Climate Publication (A 40-page publication featuring a variety of articles related to climate change; http://ee.usatoday.com/emag/Default.aspx?href=USAM%2F2016%2F09%2F19&pageno=1&view=document)
> Michael Moore: 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
> World Population Balance: Listen To Our Overpopulation Podcast! Several podcasts on the topic of overpopulation and its effects on the quality of life on Earth.
> Population Growth: Population Clock – Poodwaddle World Clock. 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