Everything’s Accelerating—The Good and Bad – SEF News-Views Digest

SEF News-Views Digest No. 164 (2-8-17)
[NOTE: The next newsletter will be sent March 15th]
Clifton Ware, Editor-Publisher

Thomas L. Friedman, an extraordinarily well-informed journalist, has produced yet another important, timely book: Thank You for Being Late. The subtitle—”An Optimist’s Guide To Thriving In The Age of Acceleration”—suggests that it’s an essential read for anyone seeking to understand and cope effectively with the accelerating economic, environmental, political, and social realities of modern life.

Since the two-paragraph synopsis of the book is succinctly summarized on Friedman’s website, I’ve chosen to list it verbatim (italics):

In his most ambitious work to date, Thomas L. Friedman shows that we have entered an age of dizzying acceleration—and explains how to live in it. Due to an exponential increase in computing power, climbers atop Mount Everest enjoy excellent cell-phone service and self-driving cars are taking to the roads. A parallel explosion of economic interdependency has created new riches as well as spiraling debt burdens. Meanwhile, Mother Nature is also seeing dramatic changes as carbon levels rise and species go extinct, with compounding results.

How do these changes interact, and how can we cope with them? To get a better purchase on the present, Friedman returns to his Minnesota childhood and sketches a world where politics worked and joining the middle class was an achievable goal. Today, by contrast, it is easier than ever to be a maker (try 3-D printing) or a breaker (the Islamic State excels at using Twitter), but harder than ever to be a leader or merely “average.” Friedman concludes that nations and individuals must learn to be fast (innovative and quick to adapt), fair (prepared to help the casualties of change), and slow (adept at shutting out the noise and accessing their deepest values). With vision, authority, and wit, Thank You for Being Late establishes a blueprint for how to think about our times.

The amount, quality, and relevance of information Friedman provides would gain from periodic revisiting, with the goal of pondering anew the causes and effects of an exponential existence on Mother Earth, today, as well as for future projected outcomes. Based on a first reading, I am especially impressed with the author’s big-picture perspective, which also includes information about relevant historical influences on current national and world events.

The only topic that Friedman seems to have downplayed is the role of fossil-based energy in facilitating the acceleration of everything he discusses. Only two listings of “energy” are found in the appendix, and both lead to minimal information. I think most sustainability experts will concur that all of the positive technological marvels and concomitant economic growth—plus the negative environmental degradation, overpopulation, and geo-political discord—are systemically related to the discovery, extraction, processing, and use of fossil-based energy, namely coal, oil, and gas.

Upon Friedman’s most recent visit to view his family’s home and neighborhood in St. Louis Park, a suburb of Minneapolis, the major change noticed was how large the originally planted trees had grown, resulting in a more shaded landscape. Interpreting this “tree-growth” vision metaphorically, he states: “The most important personal, political, and philosophical lesson I took from the journey that is this book is that the more the world demands that we branch out, the more we each need to be anchored in the topsoil of trust that is the foundation of all healthy communities. We must be enriched by that topsoil, and we must enrich it in return.”

I hope you will read this book. You’ll be glad you did!


> Resource Insights: Trump’s Wall And The Imaginary Lines We Draw (Kurt Cobb). Animals don’t really respect borders the way we’d like them to. Humans can detect the human signs of a border. But they tend to think about how to get across it rather than how to stay on one side. Many people cross the border daily, simply by walking or driving through regular border crossings. The wall will have to allow for current bridges and land crossings. And, it will have to allow rivers on the American side to flow into the Rio Grande or out of and into Mexico where it touches the Colorado River basin. Unless guards attend to the wall all along its length, people will just find ways over it or possibly under it. The maelstrom of change now sweeping over American culture (and much of the world) can overwhelm those without secure anchorage. The globalism that promised to put to rest old divisions has instead reawakened them. We are obliged to cross lines into uncharted territory to discover a new politics and a new economics. [See video: Adam Ruins Everything – Why Building A Border Wall Makes No Sense]

> Post Carbon Institute: Trump Versus The Media: This Could End Badly (Richard Heinberg).  The first week of the Trump presidency has seen an extraordinary and unprecedented confrontation between, on one hand, the new leader and his spokespeople, and on the other, mainstream American media outlets. Don’t expect Donald Trump to back down; it’s not in his character. For their part, the media are hardening their own position. So, how will this shooting match end? Here are two of the more easily identifiable possibilities. First, the Trump administration will be tamed (highly unlikely) or discredited. In the second possible end game, the president will find an excuse to proclaim emergency powers, then effectively shut down the mainstream media (putting them out of business or merely forcing them to toe the line). Press censorship is standard operating procedure in authoritarian regimes. Think of the Trump team, then, as a presidency in search of an emergency. The way forward may be scary to contemplate.

> Occupy.com:  All Change Or No Change? Culture, Power And Activism In An Unquiet World, Part I (Martin Kirk, Jason Hickel, & Joe Browser). 2016 was the most tumultuous year most of us can remember. One thing everyone seems to agree on is that we are experiencing some sort of inflection point, with old certainties breaking down, an expanding chasm between people and the large institutions that govern them, and a degrading of belief in things that until recently had been thought inviolable, from the capitalist model to democracy itself. In this essay, we approach the world from a whole-system perspective. This means looking at those rules, laws, norms and trends that affect the whole planet, rather than any individual nation, region or issue. When you stand back far enough, it becomes clear that dramas of 2016, though vitally important, are nothing like as profound as many are suggesting. In truth, the core logic of the global operating system is going unchallenged. There are hopeful signs from the vanguard of activism, but they are tentative and vulnerable. We are in a race against time.

> Resilience: Reaching Trump Supporters With The Promise Of Vision (George Lakey). Arlie Russell Hochschild’s new book Strangers in Their Own Land gives us an in-depth picture of middle- and working-class members of the Tea Party, the foot soldiers of the Republican right. In particular, she reports on Southern Louisiana, chosen for its right-wing politics combined with the devastating impact of capitalism. Among the subgroups—Team Player, Worshipper, Cowboy, and Rebel—there is a recurrent bit of folk wisdom: “You have to take the bad with the good.” This helps explain why fracking (bad environmentally) is accepted, because it provides jobs (good economically). Right-wingers don’t really come to a new issue freshly, to judge “on the merits.” (Most of us don’t, either.) They start with a frame of reference that strongly pre-judges the outcome. What they lack, however, is a big-picture vision. By comparing systems—the Nordics’ (universal services for all) vs. that of the United States (welfare for some)—a fresh dialogue can replace the shouted exchange of epithets that we have today. The challenge for progressives is to pay attention to the promise of vision.

> Humanity’s Test: Renewable Electricity Generation In North America – A Realistic Assessment (Roger Boyd). Taking into account fugitive methane emissions from the production and distribution of natural gas, the U.S. electricity-generating sector may not reduce overall climate-warming emissions at all during the foreseeable future. Nor has it in the previous decade, as claimed by the U.S. government. As of 2015, U.S. electricity generation was provided predominantly by coal (33%), natural gas (33%), nuclear (20%), and hydroelectric power (6%). Wind provided 4.7%, and Solar 0.6%[1]. Over 80% of natural gas is made up of methane, a gas that has many times the climate-warming impact of CO2. On a CO2 equivalent basis (converting all climate change gases into CO2 equivalents) the U.S. electricity sector has not reduced climate change emissions as claimed by the U.S. government.

> The Archdruid Report: Perched On The Wheel Of Time (John Michael Greer). Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West is the go-to source [for the cyclical theory of history] because he’s dealt with the sciences and arts to a much greater extent than other researchers into historical cycles. The theory’s not just a vague generalization, either. Specific stages that appear in order [from beginning to end], have occurred in all past civilizations. Dissidents holding a linear perspective of history typically argue two “ignorant” responses: 1) Things will ultimately improve, because of the inevitable evolutionary forward march of progress; and 2) Something new might pop up to make things work out well. It seems we happen to be perched on this particular arc of the wheel of time, when our civilization’s Age of Reason is visibly crumbling and the Second Religiosity is only beginning to build up a head of steam.

> Resilience: Alternative Geologies: Trump’s “America First Energy Plan (Bart Hawkins Kreps). With remaining resources increasingly represented by unconventional oil such as that in the Permian basin of Texas, there is indeed abundant fossil fuel—but it’s very expensive to get. Therefore if oil companies are to remain profitable, oil has to be more expensive. Or there can be abundant fossil fuel at low prices, but oil companies will lose money hand-over-fist (a short-term situation). There can also be fossil fuel which is both profitable to extract and cheap enough for economies to afford—it just won’t be abundant. For that reduction in demand to occur, there would have to be some combination of dramatic reduction in energy use per capita and a rapid increase in deployment of renewable energies. A rapid decrease in demand for oil is anathema to Trumpian fossil-fuel cheerleaders, but it is far more realistic than their own dream of cheap, profitable, abundant fossil fuel forever.


> E&E Climatewire:  Once Unthinkable, ‘Planned Retreat’ Enters The Climate Dialogue  (Erika Bolstad). As sea levels rise, U.S. communities have several strategies to cope with the effects of climate change, the president of the National Academy of Sciences said yesterday. There’s triage for high-dollar assets, like airports and military installations and even the Statue of Liberty, Marcia McNutt said. But more and more, she added, “organized retreat” is a part of the conversation. That strategy, once politically unpalatable, has emerged from the shadows in recent months as scientists, community leaders and governments try to figure out how to move people out of the way of coastal flooding and other hazards. Adapting early will also help people with changes people already are experiencing and that scientists know are coming. Because of the greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere, sea levels will rise and climates will change even if the U.S. and other countries meet global emission targets—a big “if.”

> Reuters: Now Trump Stirs U.S. Scientists To March (Sebastien Malo). U.S. scientists will mark Earth Day April 22 by marching on Washington in protest at U.S. President Donald Trump’s stance on climate change and on science they consider under threat from ideology, organizers said on Thursday. Since launching a website for the anti-Trump march on Monday, more than 40,000 people have registered interest, saying they planned to attend the march or a satellite event. Some 325,000 people have also liked a Facebook page announcing the “March for Science”. Organizers said the march would span other scientific issues beyond global warming. Protesters will also make their voices heard on other areas of science they feel are under threat, from public health to federal funding for research.

> USA Today: Sundance: Al Gore’s ‘Inconvenient Sequel’ Has Added Timeliness With Trump (Patrick Ryan). Sequel (which Paramount will release in theaters July 28) surveys the alarming effects of climate change in the decade since Gore’s Academy Award-winning 2006 documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. The 99-minute film is centered on Gore as he travels around the country giving presentations in his “climate leadership training” sessions: spouting off troubling statistics about air pollution levels and melting polar ice caps, but also citing improving trends in solar and renewable energy worldwide. Despite worries that Trump will cut climate and energy funding when he takes office, Gore stuck to his encouraging message as he addressed festivalgoers at the Eccles Theatre. Reviews have so far been positive for Sequel, whose premiere the night before Trump’s inauguration many critics found apt and even beneficial.

> Washington Post: Trump Wants To Scrap Two Regulations For Each New One Adopted (Steven Mufson).  President Trump signed an order last week aimed at cutting regulations on businesses, saying that agencies should eliminate at least two regulations for each new one. The White House later released the text of the order, which added that the cost of any new regulation should be offset by eliminating regulations with the same costs to businesses. It excluded regulations regarding the military. The impact of the order was difficult to judge based on the president’s remarks. It could be difficult to implement under current law and would concentrate greater power in the Office of Management and Budget, which already reviews federal regulations. Business groups applauded this latest move. But experts on government policy said Trump’s formulation made little sense.

> Carbon Brief: Two Charts Show How Fossil Fuels Could Peak By 2020 (Simon Evans). Energy firms have been criticized for being slow to adjust their outlooks in response to changing circumstances. They say that the world will continue to rely on coal, oil and gas for decades to come and that the energy sector, like an oil tanker, is slow to change course. Today’s research suggests that they could be wrong, and that global demand for fossil fuels could soon start to decline. It does so by using different, but still plausible assumptions about the future path of technology costs and climate policy. You can explore a range of assumptions, and the implications for fossil fuel demand, in an interactive tool developed by the team.

> Huffington Post: Beached Whale Found With 30 Plastic Bags Crammed In Its Belly (Mary Papenfuss). A rare goose-beaked whale that repeatedly beached on a Norwegian shore was so ill that it had to be euthanized—and experts soon found out why. The 2-ton animal had about 30 plastic bags and other garbage packed in its stomach. The plastic—as well as candy wrappers, smaller bread bags and other garbage—was discovered during the necropsy. Researchers believe the animal may have thought the bags were squid it could eat, according to Sky News. The goose-beaked whale, also known as a Cuvier’s beaked whale, is the first to ever be found off the coast of Norway. The animal was just the latest of a mounting tally of victims claimed by plastic pollution of the ocean. A 2015 study by researchers at the University of California, Davis and Hasanuddin University in Indonesia found that one-quarter of fish sampled in fish markets in California and Indonesia had plastic or some other fibrous garbage in their bellies.

> The Washington Post: Endangered Animals Are Already Cut Off By A Border Wall. Trump Wants It To Be Much Bigger (Daryl Fears).  The “big, beautiful wall” that President Trump vowed again this week to build along the Mexican border won’t block just humans. Dozens of animal species that migrate freely across the international line in search of water, food and mates would be walled off. A list of animals that dwell near the 1,300-mile expanse that the proposed wall would cover seems endless. In May, in a report called Trump Wall, Outside magazine, using information compiled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, pointed out more than 100 species between California and Texas that are listed as threatened and endangered under the Endangered Species Act, or are candidates for a spot on the list. Large animals, especially cats, are threatened, and inbreeding is also a concern.


> Shareable: How Sharing Can Help Change Consumption Culture (Jacquelyn Ottman). Worldwide local communities are exploring fresh new ideas for stretching resources, cutting down on waste, and making social connections. We can begin the process of shifting our consumption culture to one that is less wasteful and more regenerative for our society and economy. The possibilities are endless, including these five ways: 1) Use public services such as Stop ‘n’ Swaps and free public community reuse events run by GrowNYC at local greenmarkets; 2) Give items away on FreeCycle, and sign up for NextDoor.com, a new website that allows neighbors to borrow items from each other; 3) Encourage more local library branches to lend items of interest to local residents, like Sacramento’s Library of Things; 4) Declare Sunday evening as “clear out the fridge night” and invite neighbors and friends to pool still edible leftovers; and 5) Repurpose a used carton into a “Free Stuff” box in your own building or workplace.

> Scoop: Going Local: The Solution-Multiplier (Vimeo). Produced by Local Futures, this short cartoon graphic illustrates in simple terms the advantages of giving more attention to grassroots localism, rather than globalization.

> Resilience: How Does Your Local Food Grow? (Wayne Roberts).  I want to propose the idea of going beyond the one-way and linear supply chain thinking of agribusiness, and make the case instead for civic food webs—based on partnerships among local governments, local public and community institutions, social movements, citizen groups, community-oriented businesses, neighborhood groups, and engaged individuals and families. Place-based economies are suited to circular economies that internalize their waste and problems in each region, where they can be dealt with promptly. By contrast, the linearity of chain economies inevitably ends up externalizing waste and other problems faraway, where it is hard to deal with. Today, community groups, civil society organizations and local governments can access the technology, skills, policies and social capital to launch the necessary food infrastructure. [See also: The Local Food Movement Is Flourishing And Shows No Signs Of Stopping]

> Yes! Magazine: How Neighbors Turned Unused Buildings Into A Thriving Community Hub (Christa Hillstrom). As rents rise and independent businesses in Minneapolis lose their leases to large national chains, a first-of-its-kind co-op found a solution. A deserted building in Northeast Minneapolis that’s owned collectively by around 200 local people is destined to become a central hub for the community. They’re part of the Northeast Investment Cooperative (NEIC), a first-of-its-kind co-op in the United States that pools members’ money to invest in commercial real estate. They share profits, decision-making, and the community rewards of having, among other things, locally owned shops they want in their neighborhood. Cooperatives can help stabilize real estate markets. With more than 800, Minnesota has the largest number of co-ops in the country, a list that includes Fortune 500 companies.


> U of MN Institute On The EnvironmentUpcoming 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 at12:00-1:00 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.15Members–Free; Non-Members–$8. Recent Blog Posts: Bill Nye, Think Again About Overpopulation;  Koch Spin Bets We Are StupidDon’t Make America Mate Again

> Transition Twin Cities: General Transition Mailing List (click here to sign up). NOTE: The National Transition GatheringJuly 27-31, Macalester College, St. Paul, MN

> 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 CommunitiesSee 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 FlashNewsletterInformation ServicesOLLI Course Hand-outsBest PracticesBuy 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

By Dan Kunitz

Dan Kunitz is a Minnesota native interested in decarbonization. He is a business analyst at the University of Minnesota and volunteers his website and design skills to Citizens for Sustainability.

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