SEF News-Views Digest No. 161 (1-18-17)
Clifton Ware, Editor-Publisher
This I know: diversity is evident everywhere in our modern world, most certainly within the ranks of sustainability advocates. Indeed, the sustainability community abounds with diverse interests and perspectives.
Some experts describe three major types of sustainability practitioners: light green—those who focus on easy practices, like recycling proper materials and reducing consumption; bright green—those highly optimistic folk who rely on high-tech solutions, such as electric cars, renewable energy, etc.; and dark green—those who are deeply concerned about the converging crises we face, and committed to understanding and promoting all sustainability issues.
In addition, there may be another shade of green that describes some sustainability folk. For instance, how about olive drab, a color normally associated with military uniforms used as camouflage in some environments? People of this type tend to be mostly disenchanted with existing socio-economic and political systems, in some cases electing to bail out of the system to seek new—or old—paths, perhaps in the company of kindred types.
In reality, many sustainability people are associated with more than one category of green. Bettye and I run the gamut, from light green to dark green, depending on specific issues. And there are despairing moments when we even lean toward olive drab. For the time being, however, we work hard at maintaining hope that’s colored with cautious optimism. Otherwise, we would forego the accumulating madness, leaving the world’s problems in the hands of younger, more highly motivated citizens.
Understandably, many people are primarily focused on a favored aspect of sustainability. Some popular causes include: climate change activism; renewable energy and high-tech solutions; environmental conservation measures; agricultural reforms; community building (transition towns); wildlife protection; natural resources management; socio-economic equality and equity; and many others, including the neglected overpopulation issue. Perhaps you are dedicated to one or more such worthy causes.
As I see it, the overall challenge we moderns have is dealing with a world that’s growing ever more complex, year by year. Examples are too numerous to list, but at least one will suffice: the proliferation of entertainment media. In my lifetime alone, the number of TV channels has progressed from three major networks to hundreds. Adding to this complexity is the computer age, which has facilitated untold numbers of websites, including social media. Another major example of complexity exists with the mind-boggling proliferation of bureaucratic government. In sum, we moderns are subject to too many choices!
So why do I raise this particular issue? On January 7th three organizations, including ours, co-sponsored what sponsors assumed was a successful sustainability forum that was attended by 45 persons, including 5 co-sponsors. A follow-up survey was sent to 30 attendees (those listing email addresses), and ten persons responded within the designated timeframe. Results were instructive. Rankings of three speakers and coordinator (me) varied widely, as did written comments about five aspects of the forum that were related to presentations’ contents, expectations met, networking opportunities, and logistical matters. While most people assigned high ratings and wrote positive comments, a minority expressed disappointment with most aspects of the event.
What we learned seems to confirm the points made earlier, namely, that people are mostly interested in specific sustainability issues, and that people’s knowledge and activism can range widely, from light-green to deep-green (and to olive drab). Conclusion: it may be almost impossible to mount a sustainability event that addresses everyone’s interest and needs. As within any discipline or field, adherents harbor distinct preferences and biases, and that’s that. Effective education is a long-term enterprise, allowing people to absorb and understand information over time.
So what’s the best way to deal with this conundrum?
My approach tends towards recognizing, acknowledging, and supporting any worthy sustainability initiative, whether considered a minor activity or a significant project. The objective is to be inclusive and supportive in order to promote, enhance, and further any and all beneficial initiatives. The entire human family is in this crises-ridden world together, so it seems more productive to concentrate on cooperating and collaborating with others (all shades of green) within the sustainability movement. This might suggest a need for convening corporate and business people, high-tech proponents, ordinary citizens and transition folk into a collective exploration of ‘Big Picture Sustainability’.
I realize this fantasy requires a challenge somewhat like herding cats, but I think you’ll agree that we can make more, better, and quicker progress if we can listen to, and learn from, one another. Collectively united, it just might be possible to undertake the requisite sustainable initiatives that can save humanity—and our planet.
> Peak Prosperity: Mad As Hell (Why The Electorate Is So Pissed Off). (Chris Martenson). Just looking at the cost of healthcare alone, we can detect massive fraud and deceit being foisted on the American public today. What emerges from these many rackets is a corrosion of the social contract. The enormous pressures we see across the globe, with the rise of what the mainstream news outlets (aka “largest purveyors of fake news”) are trying to label as ‘nationalism’, are really in large measure simply a reaction to the economic oxygen having been sucked away from the populace of various countries and delivered into the hands of a very tiny elite. Yes, that elite still controls the ‘news’ and therefore the narrative; but increasingly people are waking up and deciding for themselves that ‘something is wrong’. Not unlike a person slowly becoming aware that they have somehow fallen into and been the victim of an abusive relationship.
> Our Finite World: 2017: The Year When The World Economy Starts Coming Apart (Gail Tverberg). The situation for 2017 is very concerning. Many things could set off a crisis, including: 1) Rising energy prices of any kind (hurting energy importers), or energy prices that don’t rise (leading to financial problems or collapse of exporters); 2) Rising interest rates: 3) Defaulting debt, indirectly the result of slow/negative economic growth and rising interest rates; 4) International organizations with less and less influence, or that fall apart completely: 5) Fast changes in relativities of currencies, leading to defaults on derivatives; 6) Collapsing banks, as debt defaults rise; and 7) Falling asset prices (homes, farms, commercial buildings, stocks and bonds) as interest rates rise, leading to many debt defaults. Things don’t look too bad right now, but the underlying problems are sufficiently severe that we seem to be headed for a crisis far worse than 2008. The timing is not clear. Things could start falling apart badly in 2017, or alternatively, major problems may be delayed until 2018 or 2019.
> Resilience: Standing For The Future (David McLeod). The former pastor, Rev. Michael Dowd, is best known as the author of the best-selling book, Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World. Dowd is a religious naturalist (“Religious naturalism (RN) combines a naturalist worldview with perceptions and values commonly associated with religions”), an eco-theologian and a pro-science evangelist. His passion for proclaiming a nature-honoring message of inspiration—what he calls “Right Relationship with Reality” —has earned him the title “Rev. Reality.” Michael and his science writer and climate activist wife, Connie Barlow, have dedicated themselves to an itinerant life of permanent travel across North America, speaking out about our sacred responsibility to future generations. According to their website, their core message is this: “What matters most now, individually and collectively, is to honor Grace Limits (carrying capacity) and be a stand for the future, in word and deed.”
> Resource Insights: To Confront Power, One Must First Name It: Neoliberalism And The Sustainability Crisis (Kurt Cobb). Scientific findings concerning the natural world have become an embarrassment for the neoliberal worldview. British writer Geroge Mondiot explained in a talk last year that neoliberal ideology is embraced by leaders of both the political right and left throughout much of the world. 19th-century neoliberalism champions a return to laissez-faire economics, including privatization of public services and property, fiscal austerity, deregulation and free trade. Of course, the marketplace alone cannot address environmental crises, like climate change, so neoliberalism must prevent ideas about limits in nature from taking root, by pretending such problems either do not exist or are a subject to ready technical fixes. This message is inconvenient for both right and left in that it suggests that we must dispense with the growth economy and structure our economic lives based on other principles, say, sustainability above all and solidarity through shared sacrifice. It is important to understand that neoliberalism as originally conceived and now practiced is hostile to social democracy.
> Peak Prosperity: Shaun Chamberlin: Surviving The Aftermath Of The Market Economy (Adam Taggart; podcast, with Chris Martenson and Shaun Chamberlin). Following the death of David Fleming, author of Lean Logic, his writing partner Shaun Chamberlin distilled the book’s prime conclusions into the more accessible Surviving The Future: Culture, carnival, and capital in the aftermath of the market economy. Shaun, who has also been deeply involved with Rob Hopkins in the Transition Movement since its inception, stresses that localized communities that pursue developing as much independence from the central economy as possible will be the foundations for creating a sustainable, enjoyable future.
> Resilience-An Outside Chance: Fake News As Official Policy (Bart Hawkins Kreps). In Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed’s new book Failing States, Collapsing Systems: BioPhysical Triggers of Political Violence, he writes: “The Global Media-Industrial Complex, representing the fragmented self-consciousness of human civilization, has served simply to allow the most powerful vested interests within the prevailing order to perpetuate themselves and their interest”. Moreover, “the doctrine of unlimited economic growth is nothing less than a fundamental violation of the laws of physics. In short, it is the stuff of cranks―yet it is nevertheless the ideology that informs policymakers and pundits alike.” One key task is “generating new more accurate networks of communication based on trans-disciplinary knowledge which is, most importantly, translated into user-friendly multimedia information widely disseminated and accessible by the general public in every continent.” Also, see the first part of this review: Fake News, Failed States.
> Guardian: Moral Panic Over Fake News Hides The Real Enemy – The Digital Giants (Terry L.) Will the fake news crisis be the cause of democracy’s collapse? Or is it just a consequence of a deeper, structural malaise that has been under way for much longer? The ease with which mainstream institutions, from ruling parties to think-tanks to the media, have converged upon “fake news” as their preferred lens on the unfolding crisis says a lot about the impermeability of their world view. The big threat facing western societies today is not so much the emergence of illiberal democracy abroad as the persistence of immature democracy at home. This immaturity, exhibited almost daily by the elites, manifests itself in two types of denial: the denial of the economic origins of most of today’s problems; and the denial of the profound corruption of professional expertise. The problem is not fake news but the speed and ease of its dissemination, and it exists primarily because today’s digital capitalism makes it extremely profitable to produce and circulate false but click-worthy news. Democracy may or may not be drowning in fake news, but it’s definitely drowning in elite hypocrisy narratives.
> Post Carbon Institute: The Peak Oil President? (Richard Heinberg). Peak oil could be within the next few years, when the maximum-ever rate of world oil production is actually achieved, to be followed by terminal decline. It’s too early to make a definitive claim, but evidence is starting to stack up, with mind-boggling implications. Several highly respected oil analysts, including geologist Jean Laherrère, energy-economy analyst Gail Tverberg, earth scientist David Huges, and others explain tight oil, and why petroleum depletion can result in low oil prices and a temporary supply glut, as consumers’ ability to afford oil declines faster than actual oil production does. [Heinberg expects the new U.S. Administration will likely encounter some serious energy problems that have been predicted but not fully acknowledged and accepted. How the administration’s policies and actions will be assessed in a few years is anybody’s guess.]
> The Archdruid Report: The Embarrassments Of Chronocentrism (John Michael Greer). Chronocentrism is the parallel insistence, on the part of people living in one historical period, that the social customs, esthetic notions, moral standards, and so on of that period are universally applicable, and that people in any other historical period who had different social customs, esthetic notions, moral standards, and so on should have known better. The claim that a certain set of social changes in the United States and other industrial countries in recent years result from the “evolution of consciousness,” unfolding on a one-way street from the ignorance of the past to a supposedly enlightened future, doesn’t help make sense of the complicated history of social change. It needs to be remembered in this context that the word “evolution” does not mean “progress.” Evolution is adaptation to changing circumstances, and that’s all it is. When people throw around the phrases “more evolved” and “less evolved,” they’re talking nonsense, or at best engaging in a pseudoscientific way of saying “I like this” and “I don’t like that.”
> Huffington Post: More Than 600 Companies Urge Trump Not To Renege On Climate (Lydia O’Connor). Over 630 companies signed a letter released January 10th urging Trump, members of Congress and outgoing President Barack Obama to continue low-carbon policies, increase investments in renewable energy and keep commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement―which Trump has threatened to quit. The U.S. ratified the accord last year. The companies that signed the letter together have more than $1 trillion in annual sales and nearly 2 million employees, organizers said. The signatories include those known for environmental activism, such as outdoor gear retailer Patagonia, paper and cleaning supplier Seventh Generation, and disposable products retailer Eco-Products. They also include California utilities provider Pacific Gas and Electric, and solar energy companies Sungevity and SolarCity. plus DuPont, General Mills, HP, Johnson & Johnson, VF Corp. and Unilever.
> The Washington Post: Methane May Not Last Long In The Atmosphere — But It Drives Sea Level Rise For Centuries (Chelsea Harvey). In addition to melting glaciers, there’s another major element affecting global sea levels, and research suggests that it could be a factor for centuries to come. The process is called “thermal expansion,” and the science behind it is relatively simple: When greenhouse gases go into the atmosphere, they cause air temperatures to rise. Some of the heat ends up being absorbed into the oceans, causing the water to expand in volume. Even if humans stopped emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere tomorrow, the expansion effect would continue in the oceans for centuries more, making it effectively irreversible in our lifetimes. For now, researchers suggest that the best strategy is to follow through with commitments to halt greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, keeping in mind that their influence on the planet will far outlast our lifetimes.
> Reuters: Beijing Launches Environmental Police Force To Tackle Air Pollution (Reuters). The smog-hit Chinese capital of Beijing will establish a police force to deal specifically with environmental offences as part of its efforts to clean up its air and crack down on persistent polluters. The smog police will crack down on open-air barbecues, garbage incineration, biomass burning and dust from roads, Beijing’s acting mayor Cai Qi said on Saturday, according to the official Xinhua news agency. Nearly three years into a “war on pollution”, large swathes of northern China were engulfed in smog over the New Year, with dangerous air quality readings in major cities like Beijing, Tianjin and Xian forcing many people to stay indoors.
> Ensia: What Does The Environment Have To Do With Your Immune System? (Lindsey Konkel). In the last three decades, IBD (inflammatory bowel disease, e.g. Crohn’s disease) has begun to crop up in newly industrialized parts of the world like Hong Kong and China’s big cities. Other conditions, such as type-1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis, are becoming more common, too. These diseases affect different parts of the body, but they all have one thing in common—they’re marked by a malfunctioning immune system. Doctors call these illnesses immune-mediated diseases. More than 100 conditions fall into this category. Genes likely play a major role, but it’s likely that factors in the environment trigger immune disorders in genetically susceptible individuals. This encompasses all the things we eat, drink and breathe—from food to industrial chemicals and the drugs we put into our bodies. Suspected causes include airborne pollution and even sedentary lifestyles, especially in dense urban areas, as populations in China’s major cities are experiencing.
> MPR: U.S. Had Near Record Heat, Costly Weather Disasters In 2016 (AP). The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Monday that 2016 was the second hottest year in the U.S. as Alaska warmed dramatically and nighttime temperatures set a record. The U.S. also notched its second highest number of weather disasters that cost at least $1 billion in damage: 15 separate ones together caused $46 billion in damage and 138 deaths. The average temperature last year in the Lower 48 states was 54.9 degrees (12.7 Celsius), nearly 3 degrees above the 20th Century average of 52 (11.1 Celsius). It’s the 20th consecutive year that the United States was warmer than normal.
> The Guardian: Giant Iceberg Poised To Break Off From Antarctic Shelf (Hannah Devlin). Predicted to be one of the largest break-offs ever recorded, separation of this iceberg could trigger breakup of most northern major ice shelf, Larsen C. A thread of just 20km of ice is now preventing the 5,000 sq km mass from floating away, following the sudden expansion last month of a rift that has been steadily growing for more than a decade. Scientists fear the loss of ice shelves will destabilize the frozen continent’s inland glaciers. And while the splitting off of the iceberg would not contribute to rising sea levels, the loss of glacial ice would. Several ice shelves have cracked up around northern parts of Antarctica in recent years, including the Larsen B that disintegrated in 2002.
> Public News Service: Study Calls For New Solution To Plastic Problem (Veronica Carter). A report by Rochester Institute of Technology estimates 22 million pounds of plastic end up in the lakes every year. The study also shows debris travels differently in the Great Lakes than in the ocean. The ocean has floating “garbage patches,” but plastics in the Great Lakes are carried by wind and lake currents to shore, and often end up in another state or even across the U.S.-Canada border. Last year, scientists discovered masses of floating plastic particles in lakes Superior, Huron and Erie. This summer, they’re expanding the search to lakes Michigan and Ontario. Previous studies highlighted the pollution coming from micro beads, which are used in cosmetic products. How this affects wildlife and humans is not fully understood.
> Inforum: Farmers Cut Winter Wheat Acreage To 107-Year Low On Supply Glut (Mark Weinraub, Reuters). U.S. farmers slashed their winter wheat plantings to the lowest in more than a century as supplies of the grain ballooned to a 29-year high, the U.S. Agriculture Department said on Thursday, Jan 12. USDA also dialed back its harvest estimates for the U.S. soybean and corn crops but 2016/17 marketing year production of both commodities remained at record levels. Corn and soybean supplies rose to record levels following the bumper harvest during the fall. The production cuts caused USDA to drop its U.S. ending stocks outlook to 2.355 billion bushels for corn and 420 million bushels for soybeans.
> USA Today: Millennials Are Falling Behind Their Boomer Parents (AP). With a median household income of $40,581, millennials earn 20 percent less than boomers did at the same stage of life, despite being better educated, according to a new analysis of Federal Reserve data by the advocacy group Young Invincibles. The analysis being released Friday gives concrete details about a troubling generational divide that helps to explain much of the anxiety that defined the 2016 election. Millennials have half the net worth of boomers. Their home ownership rate is lower, while their student debt is drastically higher. The median net worth of millennials is $10,090, 56 percent less than it was for boomers. This decline has occurred even though younger Americans are increasingly college-educated.
> Local Futures: Regenerative Agriculture: Our Best Shot At Cooling The Planet? (Jason Hickel). In order to keep within the threshold of rising world temperature to 1.5 to 2 degrees Centigrade, we need to start reducing emissions by a sobering 8-10% per year, from now until we reach “net zero” in 2050. If that doesn’t sound difficult enough, here’s the clincher: efficiency improvements and clean energy technologies will only win us reductions of about 4% per year at most. How to make up the difference is one of the biggest questions of the 21st century. There are a number of proposals out there, but there is one simple solution. Soil is the second biggest reservoir of carbon on the planet, next to the oceans, holding four times more carbon than all the plants and trees in the world. Worldwide, scientists and farmers are pointing out that we can regenerate degraded soils by switching from intensive industrial farming to more ecological methods—organic fertilizer, no-tillage, composting, and crop rotation. As soils recover, they regain their capacity to hold CO2, and actively pull additional CO2 out of the atmosphere.
> UM-Twin Cities: Growing Fresh Greens Year-Round (Staff). U of M Extension’s Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships (RSDP) is helping small- and mid-scale farmers to grow fresh greens all year by using Deep Winter Greenhouses. These greenhouses maximize solar energy use and can be attached to an existing structure. Stored heat percolates from an underground rock bed. In a partnership with the College of Design Center for Sustainable Building Research, RSDP is supporting construction of five prototypes around the state. Farmers and community members will have the opportunity to see the technology in action. Learn More About Deep Winter Greenhouses.
> Resilience-Grassroots Economic Organizing: What We Need Is Some Culture: Part 3 (Michael Johnson). This post is Part III of an essay—Developing a Democratic Praxis. An overview of the whole essay is on his blog, which begins with listing four arguments: 1) democratic institutions emerge from democratic cultures not from think tanks; 2) democratic processes can be one of the most effective ways to minimize polarization and find common ground among our working and middle-classes even in the face of strong disagreements and persistent racial and gender disunities; 3) developing and widely promoting powerful pedagogies for civic/popular education programs are essential for re-vitalizing grassroots democratic processes; and 4) the vibrant local democratic cultures that can emerge from this re-vitalization will probably be the most hospitable environment for cooperative/solidarity economic projects.
> Permaculture News: The Moral And Ethical Weight Of Voluntary Simplicity: A Philosophical Review (Samuel Alexander, Jacob Garrett). A vast and growing body of scientific literature is impressing upon us that human economic activity is degrading planetary ecosystems in ways that are unsustainable. Taken as a whole, we are over consuming Earth’s resources, destabilizing the climate, and decimating biodiversity. At the same time, we also know that there are billions of people around the world who are, by any humane standard, under-consuming. Alleviating global poverty is likely to place even more pressure on an already over-burdened planet. By clarifying our moral obligations, we argue that this line of reasoning can challenge us to rethink our consumption practices in ways that could greatly reduce human suffering. Five approaches to voluntary simplicity are discussed: 1) utilitarianism; 2) Kantianism; 3) virtue ethics; 4) Christianity; and 4) Foucault’s ethics.
> MPR: Why Going Organic Just Got Easier For Farmers (Dan Charles). Farmers in the Midwest growing conventional corn and soybeans find the times tough right now, with prices down. So growing organic might make sense, except for the strict three-year rules governing organic products (no synthetic fertilizers, pesticides). The Organic Trade Association, which represents America’s biggest organic food companies, wants to make it easier for farmers to get over this hurdle, with a proposal just approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture: a new certification for food grown during this transition period. This certification, the OTA hopes, will put money in farmers’ pockets and encourage them to take the leap into organic certification.
> Shareable: Cool Block Shows How Neighborhoods Can Create Climate Resilience (Cat Johnson). The Cool City Challenge is a program of the Empowerment Institute, a consulting and training organization that aims to reduce the carbon footprint of cities. The group also runs Cool Block, an initiative that helps neighbors connect with each other, share resources, and collaborate on climate and disaster resilience projects. A Cool Block project starts with the simple act of someone reaching out to neighbors. Once participants have gone through the program, the plan is to roll it out to three cities and engage a minimum of 25 percent of their residents. This is the Cool City Challenge. In addition to creating a critical mass of awareness about climate and disaster solutions, Cool Block creates local networks that go beyond disaster planning and carbon-reduction.
> Vital Aging Network: Aging With Gusto. Saturday, January 28, 2017
12:30 PM to 4:30 PM Oakdale Discovery Center 4444 Hadley Avenue North Oakdale, MN. FREE.
> Alliance For Sustainability: Training For Citizen Volunteers To Support Energy and Climate Action With Your City, Thurs., Jan. 19, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Ridgedale Library, 12601 Ridgedale Dr., Minnetonka. For details: www.allianceforsustainability.com/sustainablecommunities/ ; RSVP
> BIGMN: Ennio Schmidt Residency (Basic-income expert), Feb. 3-6. For details, see: BIGMN – Basic Income Guarantee Minnesota
> Growth Busters: Free Webinar-End Overpopulation Or Stop Overconsumption? Replay of Webinar, Weds, Dec. 14, 9-10 p.m. (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/
> 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