SEF News-Views Digest No. 158 (12-21-16)
Clifton Ware, Editor-Publisher
“ ‘Tis the season to be jolly”, but for a large segment of American society expressing merriment—or optimism—may be challenging. Most sustainability supporters, in particular, are dealing with some grim post-election realities, as conservative politicians threaten to impede prime progressive initiatives, with climate change a principal target.
In my entire life, I’ve never experienced such a collective expression of distrust, discouragement, and despair by so many Americans. The daily salvo of shockingly bizarre media reports sends sane persons into surreal dreamscapes.
Thankfully, most of us will have at least a day or two to break away from the negative news, allowing time to focus on pleasant thoughts and activities with loved ones. Perhaps, after celebrating a holiday that customarily fosters peace and goodwill, we’ll be able to feel more hopeful.
My friend and colleague in sustainability, Mike Conley, founder of Weathering The Storm, has recently published a “News Flash” that provides room for hope in facing the anticipated political challenges to come in 2017. In his article, “Traction Trumps Truncation” (first in the Views section), he offers some valid reasons substantiating the inherent power and stamina of progressive climate-change initiatives that are underway. He also suggests three constructive actions citizens of sustainability can take. [Note: Mike will be giving one of three presentations for an event on titled “Sustainability Forum: Threats and Opportunities”; see Events section for more info]
Climate-change topics are featured in several articles, but the second article in Views—“Sustainable Activism: Managing Hope and Despair in Social Movements”—provides some suggestions for developing effective coping techniques, including accepting reality and reconciling intellectual pessimism with willful optimism. This is more easily stated than accomplished, but a worthy objective nevertheless.
In closing, here’s wishing for you and yours a wonderful, “ Happy Holidays”, a “Merry Christmas”, or whatever greeting you prefer. As we approach the end of 2016 and prepare for whatever lies ahead in 2017, may we do so courageously, bolstered by sustaining hope!
> Weathering The Storm: Climate Change: Traction Trumps Truncation (Mike Conley). Election campaign rhetoric is a far cry from the reality of governance; a truism for candidate-elects in all major parties. In truth, climate change initiatives have gained traction at virtually all levels of society—domestic and internationally. The chance of truncating this momentum and traction is simply too strong to overcome. It can be slowed down, but not stopped. There are probably few that want to totally stop it, including our president-elect. The traction in at least five powerful areas makes an abrupt truncation of the climate change movement unlikely: 1) galvanizing forces; 2) market forces; 3) legal and political restraints; 4) world opinion; and 5) the intangibles. One thing is sure; stakeholder interest in climate change is intense. There are at least three things we as individuals can do: 1) stay educated and updated; 2) engage with, support, and seek leverage through non-profit groups devoted to these issues; and 3) connect with local political leaders; express your concerns and hold them accountable.
> Open Democracy: Sustainable Activism: Managing Hope And Despair In Social Movements (Paul Hoggett, Rosemary Randall). In times of intense engagement, many activists make time for giving due attention to self-care and self-reflection. Sustainable activism has what Antonio Gramsci called a ‘pessimism of the intellect’, which can avoid wishful thinking and face reality as squarely as possible. However it also retains an “optimism of the will”, an inner conviction that things can be different. By holding optimism and pessimism in tension, sustainable activism is better able to handle despair, and it has less need to resort to binary thinking as a way of engaging with reality. It can hold contradictions so that they don’t become either/or polarities and can work both in and against the system. Whilst it believes there can be no personal change without political change it is equally insistent that there can be no political change without personal change. Finally, sustainable activism holds that it is never too late.
> Resilience: Reflection On Journey To Earthland (Evelin Lindner; Journey to Earthland by Paul Raskin). Do we, as humankind, understand how dire our situation is, and how radical our responses must be? There is “dewy-eyed sanguinity” and stoic optimism on one side, and “world-weary cynicism” on the other side, while what is needed, is largely missing: a due and measured sense of alarm. It is as if people in a burning house or on a sinking ship discuss their feelings, while failing to act. I observe two blind spots among even the most progressive people around the world—first, regarding emotional-relational intelligence, and second, with respect to the salience of global constitutive rules, and how they constrain what happens locally. No Great Transition will be possible if whole generations are too incapacitated, socially, cognitively, and psychologically, to even embark on it. No Great Transition will be possible if we do not learn to nurture a whole new quality of relationships among each other.
> Common Dreams: Climate Change And The Coming ‘Humanitarian Crisis Of Epic Proportions (Deirdre Fulton). Climate change’s resultant natural disasters could lead to a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions, senior military figures reported recently. Specifically, the experts echoed a recent warning from the UN that without radical action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the number of global climate refugees will climb. Natural disasters displaced 36 million people in 2009, the year of the last full study. Of those, 20 million moved because of climate-change related factors. Dozens of military and national security experts issued a similar admonition in September, in the form of a Briefing Book for A New Administration (pdf) that warned of “the potential for ongoing climatic shifts to contribute to near and/or over-the-horizon instances of instability,” including mass migration. But it’s not clear these words of caution will be absorbed or acted on by the incoming Trump administration.
> Resource Insights: The Post-Fact World And The Need For A New Consensus (Kurt Cobb). The media is full of opinions and opinions parading as facts and facts that are not facts and sometimes just crazed fantasies posing as facts. We are now having a public discussion about so-called “fake news”. The bar for facticity for many people has been lowered to ground level it seems. In an era that has become increasingly distrustful of experts, we are seeing results that we don’t like when we follow or are forced by law or policy to follow the advice of experts we have come to believe, are often merely self-interested profiteers or hired spokespersons for wealthy interests trying to deceive us. Debate is no longer a means to find the truth by testing ideas against the questions and criticisms of other, but mostly propaganda designed to win no matter what the truth is. To move forward in such a poisoned and difficult social and political environment we need to bring about a new consensus.
> Peak Prosperity: Money Under Fire (Chris Martenson). One serious predicament we face is that the current leaders in the halls of monetary and political power do not appear to understand the dimensions of our situation. The mind-boggling part about it is that the situation is easy to understand: Nothing can grow forever. Sooner or later, everything must cease growing, or it will exhaust its environs and destroy itself. The Fed is busy doing everything in its considerable power to get credit (debt) growing again so that we can get back to what it considers to be “normal.” But the problem is—or predicaments—is that the recent past was not normal. It is simply not possible to grow your debts faster than your income forever. However, that’s been the practice since 1980. Now debts are climbing again at a quite nice pace. That’s mainly due to the Fed monetizing U.S. federal debt just to keep things patched together. There’s a preponderance of data that shows the world’s major asset markets are dangerously overvalued.
> The Archdruid Report: Why The Peak Oil Movement Failed (John Michael Greer). The peak oil movement was the victim of its own failed predictions. The unexamined assumption was that geological realities rather than economic forces would govern how fast the remaining reserves of conventional petroleum would be extracted. As it turned out, though, the unexamined assumption was wrong. Geological realities imposed, and continue to impose, upper limits on global petroleum production, but economic forces have determined how much less than those upper limits would actually be produced. That doesn’t mean that peak oil has gone away. The movement didn’t have to fail the way it did, and it could still be revived and gotten back on a more productive track, by placing the movement squarely in the abandoned center of contemporary politics. It probably has to be said up front that no single project will keep the end of the industrial age from being an ugly mess. See also: 2016 Tight Oil Reality Check (Post Carbon Institute).
> Reuters: West Coast States To Fight Climate Change Even If Trump Does Not (Ned Randolf). The governors of the three U.S. West Coast states have vowed to step up their efforts to fight climate change in the face of the incoming administration of President-elect Trump, who has dismissed global warming as a hoax. Democratic governors Jerry Brown of California, Jay Inslee of Washington and Katherine Brown of Oregon made stark warnings that climate change was already harming the Pacific Ocean along which their states lie. The three governors said they had joined the alliance, a group of U.S. states and countries including Chile and France dedicated to reducing rising acidity in the oceans, a phenomenon tied to climate change that threatens fish, coral reefs and other marine life. The actions marked the latest in a series of moves by Democrats, led by California, to position themselves to fight efforts by Trump to undo progressive policies on the environment, immigration, healthcare and other issues.
> The Guardian: Inside The Largest Earth Science Event: ‘The Time Has Never Been More Urgent (Alan Yuhas). Few of the 20,000 Earth and climate scientists meeting in San Francisco this week had much to say about the president-elect, Donald Trump—though his incoming administration loomed over much of the conference. For some, the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) —the largest Earth and space science gathering in the world—was a call to action. California’s governor, Jerry Brown, addressed the scientists, telling them, “the time has never been more urgent or your work ever more important. The danger is definitely rising.” Not far away, a team of lawyers with the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund met with scientists to discuss the threats ahead. Some scientists are taking action on their own, including Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist who has started one of several “guerrilla archiving” efforts to preserve public climate data on non-government servers.
> Skeptoid: The Simple Proof Of Man-Made Global Warming (Brian Dunning). There are some simple factual observations anyone can make, that unambiguously prove human activity is driving warming of the Earth. There are two “smoking guns” by which we know that global warming is happening. They are simple to understand, and they are based on basic science everyone should remember from school. They do not depend on models or predictions, but upon simple direct observations: 1) that the rising C02 (carbon dioxide) in the atmosphere is definitely produced by human activity; and 2) that that same C02 is warming the planet. Nothing in this episode is disputed, or is subject to alternate explanations, but too few people are aware of these facts. We can carbon date the C02 in the atmosphere, and tell exactly how much of it comes from humans burning fossil fuels. It’s a hard measurement, and leaves no room for interpretation. Opinion and ideology-driven spin are completely out of the picture.
> The Washington Post: Trump Says ‘Nobody Really Knows’ If Climate Change Is Real (Juliet Eilperin). In an interview with “Fox News ” host Chris Wallace, Trump said that “nobody really knows” whether climate change is real and that he is “studying” whether the United States should withdraw from the global warming agreement struck in Paris a year ago. He’s “very open-minded” on whether climate change is underway but has serious concerns about how President Obama’s efforts to cut carbon emissions have undercut America’s global competitiveness. There is a broad scientific consensus that human activity—including the burning of fossil fuels for transportation, heating and industrial manufacturing—is driving recent climate change. In its most recent report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that it is “extremely likely” that, since the 1950s, humans and their greenhouse gas emissions have been the “dominant cause” of the planet’s warming trend.
> E&E Publishing: TRANSITION: Climate Deniers Prepare For Domination (Scott Waldman). It’s a new dawn for climate skepticism, denial and doubt. At a recent event held at the conservative Heritage Foundation headquarters in Washington, the side of the climate fight that has viewed the last eight years of increasingly aggressive environmental regulations as a setback laid out its plan of attack. Finally, it said, the time has come to significantly shift climate science away from the place it has held during the Obama years. Speaker after speaker repeated the notion that they would now win over the American public and that a new war had begun against those who have essentially forced them underground and out of favor for almost a decade. Among the ideas raised by speakers: a fight to end “political” science at federal agencies, including using the U.S. EPA to generate educational materials for schoolchildren.
> NPR: Arctic Warming At ‘Astonishing’ Rates, Researchers Say (Christopher Joyce). Scientists released this year’s so-called Arctic Report Card , and it is a dismal one. Researchers say the Arctic continues to warm up at rates they call “astonishing.” They presented their findings at the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting in San Francisco. “The Arctic as a whole is warming at least twice as fast as the rest of the planet,” says Jeremy Mathis, climate scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and one of the report card’s authors. The cause of the warming is in part due to a feedback loop unique to the Arctic’s northern climate. Normally, the region stays cool because snow and ice reflect a lot of sunlight back into space. But warmer temperatures are melting that snow and ice. The melting snow exposes darker ground and water that absorb more of the sun’s heat. That makes the Arctic warm up even faster.
> Wired: Thousands Of Invisible Oil Spills Are Destroying The Gulf (Emma Grey Ellis). After traveling across the Atlantic Ocean, Hurricane Ivan stirred up a massive mud slide on the sea floor. The mudslide created leaks in 25 undersea oil wells, snarled the pipelines leading from the wells to a nearby oil platform, and brought the platform down on top of all of it. And a bunch of the mess—owned by Taylor Energy—is still down there, covered by tons of silt-like sediment. Also, , the mess is still leaking, and will continue to leak for the next century. Every year more than 30,000 of so-called small spills occur around the country, and even a few thousand gallons of spilled oil is consequential. SkyTruth contributed to a study comparing oil companies’ estimates to more objective satellite data, and found that on average, the volume of oil spilled is at least 13 times higher than reported. The U.S. government provides subsidies for oil companies, but doesn’t hold them accountable for providing safety controls.
> World Wildlife Fund: Falling To The Plow: North America’s Grasslands Losing More Habitat Than The Brazilian Amazon (Staff). In the 19th century the west was an idealized paradise of endless possibilities for settlers seeking better lives for their families. Now, a landscape that once seemed to offer the promise of endless resources is being lost to the plow faster than deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. Since 2009, 53 million acres of grassland—an area the size of Kansas—have been converted to cropland across the Great Plains alone. That represents almost 13% of the 419 million acres that remained intact in 2009. If things continue on their current trajectory, the future may leave the antelope very little room to survive, much less play. WWF is dedicated to slow this alarming trend by focusing on conserving the grasslands of the Northern Great Plains, a 180 million-acre region that largely remains intact.
> Other News: Life On Earth Is Dying (Robert J. Burrowes). On the day that you read this article, 200 species of life on Earth (plants, birds, animals, fish, amphibians, insects, reptiles) will cease to exist., another 200 species will vanish forever. The human onslaught to destroy life on Earth is unprecedented in Earth’s history. Planet Earth is now experiencing its sixth mass extinction event and Homo sapiens is the cause. Moreover, this mass extinction event is accelerating and is so comprehensive in its impact that the piecemeal measures being taken by the United Nations, international agencies and governments constitute a tokenism that is breathtaking in the extreme. One of the hidden tragedies of modern human existence is that we have been terrorized into believing that we are not personally responsible. And every time we decide to do nothing and to leave it to someone else, we demonstrate why no-one else should do anything either.
> Oil Price: Not So Prolific: U.S. Shale Faces A Reality Check (Nick Cunningham). The collapse of oil prices has forced the U.S. shale industry to slash production costs. In order to improve the “breakeven” costs for the average shale well, the industry has deployed three general strategies: improving techniques and technology, such as drilling longer laterals or using more frac sand; focusing drilling on the sweet spots; and demanding lower prices from oilfield service companies. All three of those strategies led to a decline in the breakeven price for a shale wells. But while the industry plays up the efficiency gains, highlighting enhanced technology and better management, merely focusing on the sweet spots has been almost twice as important than better technology in reducing drilling costs. In other words, about three-quarters of the cost reductions have come from trends that will not ultimately improve the overall recovery of oil.
> Institute for Policy Studies: Historic CEO Pay Tax Proposal Passes In Portland (Sarah Anderson). The city council in Portland, Oregon, adopted a new local tax rule on Dec. 7th that sets a landmark precedent for cracking down on excessive CEO pay. In a 3-1 vote, the council agreed to add a surtax on the city’s existing business license tax for firms that pay their CEOs more than 100 times what their typical worker receives. This will be the nation’s first tax penalty for extreme CEO-worker pay gaps. The city has identified more than 500 corporations that do enough business in Portland to be affected by the surtax, including many that regularly dominate the highest-paid CEO lists, such as Oracle, Honeywell, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, and General Electric. The measure will generate up to $3.5 million in annual revenue to support public services.
> Resilience: Hearing More About Climate Change (David Stookey). Why is there a big gap between Americans’ stated interest in global warming and our discourse about it? 70% of Americans say they rarely or never talk with family and friends about global warming. And almost no one (10%) hears others discussing it. How can we get passionate and mobilize action against the causes of climate change if the subject seldom comes up? How about changing the images and stories around global warming. Maybe it’s time to encourage talk about brown playing fields and parks, flooded basements, the ski area that’s closed this winter, and price of fish and beef. These concerns have a better chance to connect people viscerally with climate change. We’ll engage the emotions and resolve of our neighbors and our family when news and discourse begin to change from how to save the planet to how to save our community—even if climate or warming are never mentioned
> Common Dreams: Chorus Of Groups And Citizens Demand 100% Percent Renewable Energy By 2050 (Nadia Prupis). On Dec. 14th more than 450 organizations and individuals delivered a letter (pdf) calling on U.S. Congress to pass legislation that would work toward a 100-percent renewable energy economy by 2050. Known as H.Res. 540, the twin bills would set the goal of meeting the country’s energy needs with 100 percent renewable energy and ensuring that all people, especially those in frontline communities, have access to clean resources. The signatories range from organizations such as Earthjustice, the Working Families Organization, and Public Citizen, to various state chapters of 350.org, Environment America, and Physicians for Social Responsibility, as well as dozens of elected officials and academics. The letter and the legislation come as a new poll finds that fully seven in 10 Americans believe that the U.S. should cut down on greenhouse gases and pursue renewable energy goals.
> Bloomberg: World Energy Hits A Turning Point: Solar That’s Cheaper Than Wind (Tom Randall). As 2016 comes to an end, transformation is happening in global energy markets worth noting: Solar power, for the first time, is becoming the cheapest form of new electricity. Unsubsidized solar is beginning to outcompete coal and natural gas on a larger scale, and notably, new solar projects in emerging markets are costing less to build than wind projects, according to fresh data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. In countries that are adding new electricity capacity as quickly as possible, renewable energy will beat any other technology in most of the world without subsidies. The world recently passed a turning point and is adding more capacity for clean energy each year than for coal and natural gas combined. Peak fossil-fuel use for electricity may be reached within the next decade.
> The New York Times: Investment Funds Worth Trillions Are Dropping Fossil Fuel Stocks (John Schwartz). Investors controlling more than $5 trillion in assets have committed to dropping some or all fossil fuel stocks from their portfolios, according to a new report tracking the trend. The report, released, said the new total was twice the amount measured 15 months ago — a remarkable rise for a movement that began on American college campuses in 2011. Since then, divestment has expanded to the business world and institutional world, and includes large pension funds, insurers, financial institutions and religious organizations. It has also spread around the world, with 688 institutions and nearly 60,000 individuals in 76 countries divesting themselves of shares in at least some kinds of oil, gas and coal companies, according to the report. The movement has also received a boost from last year’s Paris climate agreement, which set targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
> Resilience: Meet The Scrapers: Reducing Energy Use On The Cheap (Claire Schosser). The Scrapers consist of two resident adults (the RAs) and two children (Cs). This post looks at how a financially strapped family could choose which actions to take and in what order to take them so that the savings from actions taken earlier finance actions taken later on. Even better, the energy savings will continue past the end of the work, yielding further savings that can be used for other purposes. They began by organizing their list of actions into four categories: 1) Demand reduction: use less; 2) Loss reduction: keep it around longer; 3) Source substitution: do it differently; and 4) Efficiency improvements: do it more efficiently. The Scrapers began with some free changes, which fall into the demand reduction category, and proceeded over time to a list of loss reduction actions (caulking, etc.), source substitution projects (hand washing dishes, etc.), and ended with efficiency improvements (insulating, etc.).
> Midwest Energy News: Report Offers Roadmap For Overhaul Of U.S. Electrical Grid (David J. Unger). The power grid is in need of an upgrade, according to “Utility of the Future,” released . Designed for last century’s rigid, analog and centralized world, the grid must now be recalibrated for today’s flexible, digital and decentralized landscape. MIT Energy Initiative in collaboration with the Institute for Research in Technology at Comillas Pontifical University in Madrid, Spain developed the report. It documents electricity’s intersection with two major technological shifts: the rise of distributed, renewable energy resources and a telecommunications revolution that has transformed how information flows. The report’s recommendations fall under two broad headings: 1) Charge consumers for electricity in a way that takes into account when and where it is produced and used, and 2) Reform regulations and policies to level the playing field between traditional, centralized power producers and emergent, distributed ones.
> Yes! Magazine: a Healthier Democracy Starts Right Where You Live (Andy Lee Roth). Why are the rights of neighborhoods and cities essential to resisting corporate-driven environmental degradation? The documentary We the People 2.0 depicts the middle-class city of Broadview Heights, where Bass Energy and Ohio Valley Energy have developed many of the nearly 90 wells within city limits. A majority of the city’s 19,000 residents sought to oppose the companies’ rights to drill, first by turning to local government and then by involving the appropriate state and federal regulatory agencies. This process provided the community with a quick and devastating lesson in how established legal doctrine—including pre-emption, the Constitution’s commerce clause, and corporate personhood—effectively protects the interests of the oil and gas industries at the expense of community rights, autonomy, and health. What was thought to be a fracking problem is actually a democracy problem.
> Sustainability Forum: Threats and Opportunities, ., Columbia Heights Library, 3939 Central Ave., Columbia Heights, MN. Featuring 3 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, limited seating; please register: firstname.lastname@example.org
> Growth Busters: Free Webinar-End Overpopulation Or Stop Overconsumption? Replay of Webinar, Weds, Dec. 14, (EST). Featuring Paul Erhlich (Population Bomb), Madeleine Somerville (All You Need Is Less), & Dave Gardner, at: https://vimeo.com/195741116/5542ed175d; sign up to learn about future webinars at: http://tinyurl.com/growthbusterssubscribe; and learn what GrowthBusters is doing at: https://www.growthbusters.org/youll-want-to-be-a-part-of-this/
> 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/
> National Geographic: Before The Flood Documentary. Watch this powerful new movie streaming; narrated by actor-environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio.
> 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
> 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