SEF News-Views Digest No. 163 (2-1-17)
Clifton Ware, Editor-Publisher
Want to live a more simple, value-based life? You’re in luck, as there’s plenty of information about creating a simpler lifestyle. In fact, a worldwide movement is gradually taking hold, mostly in developed nations, where a modern, highly consumptive life can be very stressful. Like many Americans, perhaps you, too, are experiencing an ongoing sense of busyness and frustration that borders on burnout. [By the way, being a minimalist doesn’t require carrying everything you own on your person, and your bike.]
Some simple-living proponents have labeled this movement voluntary simplicity, while others, like to use the term minimalist to describe a person who elects to live more simply and purposefully. This interpretation appears to be an adaptation of a standard definition [dictionary.com], which describes a minimalist in two ways: 1) As a person who favors a moderate approach to the achievement of a set of goals or who holds minimal expectations for the success of a program; or 2) As a practitioner of minimalism, a reductive style or school of modern music or art.
In simple terms (pun intended), the general concept, as related to lifestyle, suggests paring away the excessive material (also non-material) stuff that clutters our lives. By reducing the amount of stuff, we can more easily focus on core values, such as creating safe communities, cultivating human relationships, pursuing meaningful work and service, protecting the environment, and building a legacy that will create a sustainable future for all living things. [For more information, please see the article about minimalism in the Solutions section, and be sure to view the short documentary trailer.]
Recently, In viewing the documentary “Minimalism: A Documentary About The Important Things” on Netflix, I was surprised to observe former president Jimmy Carter in a brief clip. After hearing his impassioned explanation about the 1970s energy-economic crisis, which was peaking during his term in office (1976-1981), I recalled why my admiration for his beliefs and actions led me to vote for him. It seems a primary reason for his not being elected to a second term—in addition to the Iranian Hostage Crisis (he refused to use military action, but was later exonerated when all hostages were released)—was his attempt to deliver the truth to Americans about the underlying causes of the energy-economic crisis.
On at least two occasions, Carter addressed the public on national TV about the crisis (Address to the Nation on Energy), suggesting that conservation measures were needed, with the U.S. needing to scale back dependence on fossil-fuels and moving toward renewable resources. He also implied that the true problems were deeper than energy—a “crisis of confidence”. He acknowledged that the Federal Government was widely separated from the populace, and that special interests wielded too much political influence (sound familiar?). He passionately explained that the overall socio-economic situation demanded sacrifice, both individually and collectively. What was needed, he pleaded, was for the nation to face the truth, and then to change course. He concluded by urging citizens to “have faith in ourselves, in America”. [For more information about Jimmy Carter, see The Carter Center],
Have you heard any politician over the past three decades urging Americans to understand, acknowledge, and accept the truth about how we need to live in order to sustain life on this planet? One contemporary politician who seems to understand what’s needed in Bernie Sanders, a politician who has a record of walking the talk. Most political pronouncements from national leaders have been aimed at making everyone feel optimistic about ongoing Neoliberalism’s love affair with economic growth and development. The mantra, “Sure, we have problems, but if we can just get back to doing what we were doing when times were good, we’ll be just fine.” NOT! It’s time for honest, well-informed politicians, to start telling the truth [listen up, President Trump].
In sum: We must learn to live more frugally, more simply, more humanely, and in harmony with nature. In other words, we need to move toward creating lifestyles based on voluntary simplicity and minimalism. Politicians who courageously state the truth may lose some votes, but in acting morally they will gain greater self-respect, and also earn the respect and undying appreciation of a growing constituency of sustainability folk—like you, and me!
> Star Tribune: The Gospel Of Winning: Trump’s Philosophy, And Its Policy Implications (Stephen B. Young). To understand Trump requires delving into his background. It begins with the Calvinistic influences that evolved into the Presbyterian emphasis on Old Testament theology: Yahweh rewards those who walk in his ways and spurns those who don’t. This winning philosophy was also promoted by Trump’s mentor, Norman Vincent Peale, preacher of positive thinking. Today, Trump’s spiritual advisor, Paula White, is a Prosperity Gospel evangelist who preaches that God rewards those who are right with him. Thus, his governing philosophy is a curious blend of Prosperity Gospel and Social Darwinism, which emphasizes survival of the fittest (winners). [Trump’s mindset seems to be that belief creates reality, a skill he has adapted to the point of appearing delusional, which could explain his ongoing false interpretations of events.]
> Resilience: Donald Trump And Economic Growth: A Brief Interregnum On Growthism (Erik Lindberg). Both liberals and conservatives have shared the belief that our common good resides in an expanding and growing world of material improvements, with infinite growth. The only differences involved how to map our progress and chart our course “forward” towards this ever-receding horizon of limitless possibility. This view has come to an end with Donald Trump’s new metaphorics of economics. To the question, “What is wrong with the economy?” Trump answers: we have made bad deals. Implied in his focus on the deal and the bargaining table are a number of unique assumptions. Chief among these, I think, is that the total amount of goods and services available are, at some level, fixed. In a world where growth has stalled, he becomes the hero of the masses and the president of the land. But, in reality, Trump may be a symptom of the end of growth. Yet to emerge is a widespread post-growth political movement grounded in universalism, cosmopolitanism, empathy, and sharing.
> NPG: The Impact Of U.S. Population Growth On Global Climate Change (Edwin S. Rubenstein). In the particular case of climate change, the following variation of the IPAT (Impact=People x Affluence x Technology) equation has been suggested: Example: CO2 emissions = P (GDP/population) x (energy/GDP) x (emissions/energy). Over the past four decades, population has increased steadily while the other three factors in the equation have either stumbled or are in long-term decline. Over the long run, U.S. population growth is the most important factor in CO2 emissions emanating from this country. When it comes to global warming, U.S. environmentalists have focused on policies aimed at curbing new sources of fossil fuels, increasing the efficiency with which fossil fuels are used, and encouraging the use of renewable fuels such as wind, solar, and battery power. They have studiously avoided the “demand” side of the energy equation—the role U.S. population growth plays in increasing the demand for goods and services, which require energy.
> GrowthBiasBusted: Don’t Make America Mate Again (Dave Gardner). In a Bloomberg article (Make America Mate Again), University of Georgia associate professor of history Stephen Mihm laments that the U.S. population grew a subdued 0.7 percent, the lowest growth rate since the Great Depression years of 1936 and 1937. He claims that the demographic slowdown, should it continue, likely puts a damper on future economic growth. He posits that the post-WWII baby boom propelled the economic boom and the resultant consumer demand, averting a return to the gloomy days of the 1930s. Like many of the economists who ignore the limits of the biosphere in which our economy exists, Mihm just focuses on the dollars. He assumes a bigger economy is better than a smaller one, and therefore we need more people consuming more stuff. This is really problematic. I’ll refer Mihm to read up on limits to growth. If you want to know the truth, the evidence is clear that the scale of the human enterprise has outgrown the planet. The purpose of the economy is to meet the needs of the people [not the wants].
> Counter Currents: Trump: The Defeat Of Science (Ugo Bardi). The public normally rates scientists as much more trustworthy than, say, journalists or politicians. And modern climate science, as part of the field of Earth sciences, is nothing less than a triumph of human knowledge. One problem is the reality that people don’t normally care about data and factual evidence: they care about the consistency of the message in their social environment. Donald Trump was elected because his political message didn’t trigger people’s lie detector, so Trump the unthinkable became Trump the unavoidable. The message of climate change is intimately linked to the need of making sacrifices. Scientists are taking two different and incompatible roles: that of doomsayers and that of gift-givers. And “inconsistency” is just a polite way to say “lie.” Some solutions: First, scientists should stop asking money for things that we know won’t work (think “hydrogen-based economy”). Then, we should crack down on predatory publishers, fight data fabrication, establish transparent standards for scientific publications, provide for free results of science to those who pay for it (the public), get rid of the huge number of irrelevant studies performed today, and more. Personally, I would also like a science that’s more of a service for the community and less of a showcase for prima donnas in white coats.
> Ensia: How Renewable Energy Advocates Are Hurting The Climate Cause (Paul McDivitt). It’s understandable that environmental organizations and activists would want to build public enthusiasm for renewable energy. But making wind and solar seem like they’re doing better than they really are could come back to bite proponents—and the climate. If members of the public think we’re well on our way to throwing fossil fuels into the dustbin of history and replacing them with renewables, they’ll be less likely to demand new policies and take actions to lower their own carbon footprints. The public may even come to see wind and solar as capable of outcompeting fossil fuels on their own and therefore undeserving of government subsidies and helpful regulations. If the goal is to limit warming to anywhere near the level world leaders agreed to in Paris in 2015, significant challenges remain—and pretending like everything is going great is not going to fix them.
> Green Tech Media: Week 1 Of The Trump Presidency: Infrastructure Plans, Budget Cuts, Appointees, And More (Julia Pyper). We’re just seven days into the Trump presidency and a major shift in U.S. energy policy is already underway. It’s been such a whirlwind of a week that it’s been tough to keep track of all the developments. In this recurring series, GTM tracks the latest energy and climate policy changes under the new administration to help you stay up to date. Several of Trump’s cabinet nominees have also weighed in on climate and energy policies in recent days. So in this edition we also chronicle the highlights from last week’s confirmation hearings. The latest developments are listed.
> The Hill: California Proposes Ambitious New Climate Goals (Timothy Cama). On January 2oth California formally proposed a 40 percent slash in the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, minutes after President Trump was inaugurated. The state’s Air Resources Board said that 40 percent cut by 2030, compared with 1990 levels, would be the most ambitious climate goal in North America. The California plan proposedFriday would extend its cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gases through 2030, cut the carbon intensity of fuels used for transportation and put more than 4 million zero-emission vehicles on the roads. Scott Pruitt, Trump’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, said at a confirmation hearing this week that he would consider ending California’s decades-old authority to enforce its own limits on emissions from cars and trucks, alarming the state’s liberal leadership.
> Climate Central: Decoding Trump’s White House Energy Plan (Bobby McGill). The White House’s new energy plan repackages Trump’s campaign promises to reignite America’s declining coal industry, kill the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan and exploit all of America’s fossil fuel reserves to achieve energy independence—an idea that ignores that America’s oil and gas is part of a truly global fossil fuels market. Here is a paragraph-by-paragraph analysis of the plan: Energy is an essential part of American life and a staple of the world economy. The Trump Administration is committed to energy policies that lower costs for hardworking Americans and maximize the use of American resources, freeing us from dependence on foreign oil. Few people question that energy is essential, but Trump’s statement that his administration is committed to low-cost energy and maximizing the use of American resources is seen by many as code for unfettered exploitation of oil, coal and natural gas in the U.S. [see also: Strangling A Huge Climate Policy Machine Won’t Be Easy For Trump]
> The Tyee: Expanding Tar Sands Will Kill Paris Targets And Climate Stability, Report Finds (Andrew Nikiforuk). Canada can’t increase tar sands production or build more pipelines if the world is to achieve the targets on global carbon emissions set by the Paris Agreement on climate. That’s the central conclusion of a new report by Oil Change International (OCI), a U.S. research and advocacy group dedicated to exposing the full costs of fossil fuel extraction. The problem, explains the report, is not just bitumen’s high carbon footprint (about 17 per cent more than conventional oil) but that pipelines drive bitumen expansion and that high-cost tar sands mining projects can last for 50 years. In addition, the bulk of emissions come from the processing and upgrading of high-carbon bitumen, a tarry crude, as well its eventual burning in the form of gasoline. The report says that only way forward is to stop all new fossil fuel developments and begin “a carefully managed decline of the fossil fuel industry towards an economy powered by clean energy.”
> Los Angeles Times: Standing Rock May Be The First Battle Site In Trump’s War On The Environment (David Horsey). On Tuesday, President Trump signed executive orders that took the first steps toward reversing two Obama administration rulings against oil pipeline projects: 1) A ruling by the State Department rejected the application for the Keystone XL pipeline that would carry oil from the tar sands of Alberta to refineries and shipping points in the United States; and 2) The Army Corps of Engineers told owners of the Dakota Access pipeline to come up with alternative routes that would not endanger the water supply of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota. More reports surfaced about the administration’s attempts to muzzle anyone in any government agency who has views on the environment that are out of step with the new regime. Since Trump’s election, scientists have been scrambling to copy vital climate research onto private servers before the climate change deniers who dominate policy in the new administration can do anything to harm the data.
> Quartz: Americans Overwhelmingly Support Clean Energy, Even If Their New President Doesn’t (Cassie Weber). Throughout his campaign to become president of the United States, Donald Trump promised to bring back coal jobs and pump up fossil fuel production. The promises won him points in some constituencies, but his plans are in direct confrontation with the opinion of a majority of Americans—especially young people—who overwhelmingly prefer to focus on renewable power, and are increasingly getting jobs in clean energy. Just 27% of Americans surveyed this month by the Pew Research Center, a think tank, said they thought the US should prioritize expanding the coal, oil, and gas industries, while 65% thought alternatives like wind and solar should be the priority. Trump has barely indicated what his plans are for renewable energy in the US specifically. But the signs are that he’s unlikely to prioritize policies designed to help mitigate climate change.
> Independent: US Solar Power Employs More People Than Oil, Coal And Gas Combined (May Bulman). The latest report from the US Department of Energy (DOE) reveals solar energy accounts for the largest proportion of employers in the Electric Power Generation sector, with wind energy the third largest, while the coal industries have declined in the past 10 years. Solar energy employed 374,000 people over the year 2015-2016, making up 43 per cent of the sector’s workforce, while the traditional fossil fuels combined employed 187,117, making up just 22 per cent of the workforce, according to the report. According to the report, 6.4 million Americans now work in the energy industry and 2016 added 300,000 new net jobs, which made up 14 per cent of the entire job growth of the US for that year. According to an Ernst & Young LLP survey published last month, the US stands to lose its position as the top-ranked renewable-energy market for investors under the Trump administration.
> Minnpost: Thanks To One Primate Species, Most Others In The World Are Facing Oblivion (Ron Meador). I learned a new word over the weekend: defaunation, meaning the removal of animal species from ecosystems. Not just extinction or extirpation but all the progress toward those outcomes, typically steady and usually directed by our own terminating species. It came up in the context of a new study reaching the awful conclusion that in the next quarter-to-half century, nearly two-thirds of the world’s apes, monkeys, lemurs, lorises and other primate species will disappear. The data show that some 75 percent are already in steep decline. The principal problem is people and a range of mostly industrial activities that are wiping out our primate cousins through habitat destruction to produce more crops, timber, minerals, and fuel, and, more directly, by commerce-based hunting for their meat. A new paper, “Impending extinction crisis of the world’s primates: Why primates matter,” provides a dire forecast.
> The Minimalists: Minimalism: A Documentary About The Important Things (Trailer). Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus, known as “The Minimalists” to their 4 million readers, help people live more meaningful lives with less through their website, books, podcast, and documentary. Their message: When you add it all up, the actual cost of owning a thing is nearly immeasurable. So we better choose carefully what things we bring into our lives, because we can’t afford every-thing. Of course, letting go is not only freeing, it’s free—no purchase necessary.
> Peak Prosperity: When The Rich Become Preppers, It’s Time To Worry (Chris Martenson). The concept of taking at least some responsibility for your own future wellbeing by increasing your self-reliance is finally moving towards the mainstream. It’s puzzling that most private citizens fully expect their government to be prepared for disasters, yet don’t see similar wisdom in practicing a similar approach to preparation in their own life. A resilient nation is built from the bottom up, starting with resilient households. So taking steps to be partially self-sufficient in the basics of life—food, warmth, shelter and water—and have useful experience or skills (medicine, fixing things, building, distilling, to name just a few) just makes sense. Disaster prepping is now acceptable enough that this week’s article in The New Yorker (Doomsday Prep for the Super-Rich) had no trouble finding high-profile executives to talk to on record. People are growing skittish as a result of increasing tensions, which are as high as they have ever been across the social fabric. Unfortunately, very few people make decision based on logic and/or rational calculations.
> Inequality: A Viable Billionaire Tax? (Josh Hoxie). In his new discussion paper, The Case for Billionaire Tax, Oxfam economist Didier Jacobs sees a global tax on concentrated wealth as something that could fund universal access to basic education and health care and spur economic growth, an ethically justified and politically feasible catalyst for change. Jacobs envisions a 1.5 percent tax on net wealth over $1 billion, a levy that could in theory generate $70 billion in annual revenue from the 1,800 or so billionaires around the world. Steps to implement his plan are: 1) The UN General Assembly asks for individuals to annually contribute 1.5 percent of their net wealth above $1 billion to international development and to ask for member states to process such contributions; 2). Have major corporations incorporate the billionaires tax notion into their social responsibility agendas and ask their wealthy founders to commit to the idea; and 3) Require real legislation, passing the UN resolution at the national level in the tax code of each country.
> Grist: In The Trump Era, All Climate Progress Will Be Local (Ben Adler). California Gov. Jerry Brown is arguably the most pro-climate governor in the country. This type of can-do climate attitude has swept the country in recent years. And now that a climate science–denier is moving into the White House, activists, mayors, and state legislators from across the country are setting more aggressive goals. They’re pushing for more wind and solar power, trying to block coal exports, and planning to put more electrical vehicles on the road. All this progress at the local level may seem paradoxical when we’ve just elected a climate science denier as president. But even most Trump voters don’t agree with his climate policies. That’s why activists are urging local politicians to adopt an ambitious climate agenda.
> Shareable: How To Create An Outdoor Living Room In Your Neighborhood (Cat Johnson). BenchesCollective, a grassroots community organization, wants to spark neighborly conversations by inspiring and teaching people how to create outdoor living rooms. The project is a reminder that our sidewalks are shared spaces, and reinforces the notion that having a sense of ownership of our public spaces is vital to creating thriving neighborhoods and cities. The benches connect people who might not otherwise be brought together. Suggestions: 1) Choose a good spot in your street to hang out with your neighbors; 2) Think of a nice activity, dish, or drink to share; 3) Arrange a nice bench of seating area to host your activity (a private bench or a public bench on your street); 4) Open your bench on: bankjescollectief.nl/en/join/, so it is visible online; 5) Make a Facebook event, share your bench on Nextdoor, and inform local press; 6) Invite your neighbors to enjoy a fun afternoon.
> American Conservative: An Infrastructure Fix (William Lind, Glen Bottoms). Highways are favored over all other modes—rail, air, and water—to a degree that is shameful. The $42 billion we spend annually on the federal level for highways dwarfs what we spend on other transit: $11.8 billion. Rail transit—commuter trains, subways, light rail, and streetcars—carry large numbers of people, including poor and middle class citizens. People also want more intercity passenger trains, and better ones, too. Every city should be encouraged to designate a grid of streets, sufficient to go anywhere, as “Bicycles Only” in event of a gas shortage (which we can expect). Money for these proposed programs should come from raising the gas tax, as well as raising the cost of gas, based on supply and demand. When it comes to two vital networks, water and electric power, national security should lead President Trump to take action. Our water and power systems, especially the former, also need manual backups.
> Resilience: Degrowth In Movement(S) – A Dialogue Between Alternatives (Christiane Kliemann). Finally it is done: all texts from the project “Degrowth in Movement(s)” to be published in English are now available online. Representatives from different social movements share their perspective on degrowth and illustrate commonalities, differences and points of critique. In Germany, last year’s publication of the respective German texts, videos and pod casts marked the kick-start for an open dialogue between the participating movements in order to foster mutual learning and developing common strategies. The dialogue is still going on—urgently needed in times where the many alternatives to right-wing opposition to the status quo seem to lack visibility.
> Ensia: Now More Than Ever We Need To Address Environment And Human Rights Together (Judy Hatcher, Lisa Palmer). Three big news items of 2016—the national dialogue sparked by Movement for Black Lives, indigenous-led actions across North America to stop new oil pipelines, and the U.S. presidential election—highlight how critical it will be in 2017 to keep equity and human rights at the center of activism. The Building Equity and Alignment for Impact initiative, launched by the Overbrook Foundation, is bringing environmental justice groups and large traditional environmental groups together. National multi-million-dollar institutions have adopted climate justice principles. Campaigns to stop oil drilling and pipelines from Canada to the Gulf Coast, led by Native peoples and communities most affected by extractive industries have captured the imagination of millions of people. The emerging food justice movement offers Americans an opportunity to examine how separate issues—including workers’ rights, public health, agriculture and conservation—are fundamentally interconnected and systemic.
> NPR: Food As Medicine: It’s Not Just A Fringe Idea Anymore (David Gorn). A small revolution is brewing across California. The food-as-medicine movement has been around for decades, but it’s making inroads as physicians and medical institutions make food a formal part of treatment, rather than relying solely on medications. By prescribing nutritional changes or launching programs such as “Shop with Your Doc,” they’re trying to prevent, limit or even reverse disease by changing what patients eat. Studies have explored evidence that dietary changes can slow inflammation, for example, or make the body inhospitable to cancer cells. In general, many lifestyle medicine physicians recommend a plant-based diet—particularly for people with diabetes or other inflammatory conditions.
> BIGMN: Ennio Schmidt Residency (Basic-income expert), Feb. 3-6. For details, see: BigMN – Basic Income Guarantee Minnesota
> U of MN Institute On The Environment: Upcoming Frontiers Events: “An Artist, A Scientist, And A Silver Camper: Adventures In Community Engagement” Feb. 8, R-380 LES, St. Paul; and “Is Energy Storage The Game Changer We’ve Been Looking For?” Feb. 23, 402 Walter. Both, at 12:00-1:00 p.m., will also be live online. Join in person or online at: environment.umn.edu
> GrowthBusters: Joy Of A Steady State Economy (Podcasts featuring Brian Czech, founder of Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy), Wed., Feb.15. Members–Free; Non-Members–$8. Recent Blog Posts: Bill Nye, Think Again About Overpopulation; Koch Spin Bets We Are Stupid; Don’t Make America Mate Again
> 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/
> World Population Balance: The Overpopulation Podcast: Episode 8: Small Family Campaigns & Incentives (Ethicists Colin Hickey & Jake Earl, with Director Dave Gardner); Listen here
> 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