SEF News-Views Digest No. 165 (3-15-17)
Clifton Ware, Editor-Publisher
According to sustainability expert Richard Heinberg, there exists an untruth that is both durable and bipartisan. It is a perilous omnipresent lie that’s reiterated ceaselessly within the business community, and promoted by most worldwide professional economists and politicians.
So what is this ominous lie? “It is the lie that human society can continue growing its population and consumption levels indefinitely on our finite planet, and never suffer consequences.”
In addition to Heinberg’s stimulating article in the Views section, I direct you to first-class online series of podcasts and webcasts that address various aspects of economic growth, as well as some sensible proposals for transforming a materialistic growth-oriented system to one that is more stable and oriented towards not only creating sufficient material existence for humanity, but also aims to create greater satisfaction and, hopefully, happiness.
Dave Gardner, a professional filmmaker, has created some informative podcasts and webinars featuring prominent experts in various sustainability-oriented disciplines. Conversation Earth podcasts are only 30 minutes in length, and are professionally executed.
I’ve listened to three highly recommended podcasts focused on the topic of economic growth: Reinvent The Economy: Gus Speth (#118); Limits To Growth: Dennis Meadows (#116); and Economic Heresy: Herman Daly (#113). In addition, the Joy of a Steady State Economy webinar (2 hour-long interviews) featuring Brian Czech, a steady-state economics colleague of Herman Daly, has also been converted into a podcast version: Pulling the Rug Out from Under Our Kids: Brian Czech (#204). Space doesn’t allow for elaborating on the information contained in these interviews with distinguished decades-long sustainability advocates, but a few significant points stand out.
Gus Speth bemoans the fact that former President Jimmy Carter was labeled “Bad News Jimmy”, simply because he dared to tell the truth in the 1970s about the perils of constant economic growth, when he warned Americans about potential dangers associated with overuse of fossil fuels, excessive consumption, future climate change disruptions, and overpopulation.
Dennis Meadows, co-author of the 1972 influential and controversial report, The Limits to Growth, claims the present economic system is fundamentally flawed. The political goal is to simply “get through the day”, with little attention given to long-range problems and their solutions.
Herman Daly, a prominent steady-state economist, stresses the reality that the planet isn’t growing, which means the human economy cannot continue growing. He also decries technocrats’ blind faith and idolatry in technology to solve all the world’s looming crises. Brian Czech joins Daly in promoting the need for a stable, steady-state economy.
In addition to these learned experts views, you’ll find more related information about the perils of economic growth in articles by Kurt Cobb and Eirk Lindberg, two bloggers featured regularly in SEF e-newsletters. Moreover, one major experiential downside of too much growth, as occurred in the post-WWII decades, is the deteriorating condition of our nation’s aging infrastructure (see NPR article in News).
Finally, rather than complaining about the world’s problems and blaming those expected of creating them, maybe it will be more constructive for us to proactively seek and find ways of creating greater resilience and sustainability. We need to proceed with progressive activism, not only at the bottom-up grassroots level, but also by addressing the top-down economic-political level. Identifying, promoting, and electing competent, sustainability-dedicated political leaders is an essential step we must be willing to take.
> Post Carbon Institute: The Über-Lie (Richard Heinberg). Heinberg refers to “a lie that is leading us toward not just political violence but, potentially, much worse. It is the lie that human society can continue growing its population and consumption levels indefinitely on our finite planet, and never suffer consequences”. Consider population. There are 7.5 billion, all needing jobs, housing, food, and clothing. 80 million people are added to the planet annually, most of it in developing countries that are experiencing failed states, political unrest, and desperate refugees. While Trump is a symptom of both the end of economic growth and of the denial of that new reality, events didn’t have to flow in his direction. What’s needed is a new hard-nosed sort of optimism (based on an honest acknowledgment of previously denied truths) as an alternative to the lies of divisive bullies who take advantage of the elites’ failures, primarily to promote their own patently greedy interests.
> Resource Insights: Our Search For Economic Growth Invites Fraud (Kurt Cobb). In his book “The End of Normal” economist James Galbraith makes a compelling case that our search for a return to the fast rate of economic growth experienced in the United States from 1945 to 1970 has led to fraud enabled by government actions that sought to “free the economy” from the shackles of “overregulation” and update the regulatory framework to meet “new challenges” such as globalization. Everything went swimmingly for the economy until the 1970s when oil shocks slowed economic activity and led to a puzzling combination of high inflation and high unemployment in the United States. Policymakers opened the way for this pattern by believing (wrongly) that the U.S. economy should be able to sustain the previously high growth rates experienced 1945-1970, without the special circumstances that made that growth possible [including plentiful, cheap energy].
> Resilience: Growth As A Solution: Growthism Part 4 (Erik Lindberg). Growth and expansion underlie our political system. Growth is not what keeps us together; it is what allows us to separate [freedom and individualism are assumed to function better in a state of separation]. Lack of growth, in contrast, binds people together in ways we do not yet know how to manage [within the current system]. Politicians and economists are not mistaken about the perils of a no-Growth society, for without growth we become angry and resentful, turn on each other in bitter, tribal rivalries. Where they are mistaken, however, is their misapprehension of Growth as normal, not to mention sustainable. Lack of Growth is not the crime against humanity, per se, as today’s Growthists imagine. Rather, there is at present a historical mismatch between the Individual and the sort of static and steady-state economy that sustainability requires. The Individual is at home only on the range. Growth, now, is not a solution to our problems; Growth is our problem.
> The Washington Post: Americans Have Lost Faith In Institutions. That’s Not Because Of Trump Or “Fake News”. (Bill Bishop). The easiest sell of President Trump’s life is that a “corrupt” media produces “fake news.” After all, fewer than 2 in 10 Americans have “a lot” of trust in news organizations, the Pew Research Center has found, and we live in a “Matrix”-infused “conspiracy culture,” according to social scientists, where one is thought to be impossibly simple to not understand that the world is ruled by collusion and machination. To combat the “fake news” charge, the New York Times has run full-page ads and even bought a television spot during the Oscars declaring that “the truth is more important now than ever.” The leaders of once-powerful institutions are desperate to resurrect the faith of the people they serve. But the decline in trust isn’t because of what the press (or politicians or scientists) did or didn’t do.
> Peak Prosperity: When This All Blows Up…(Chris Martenson). This report marks the end of a series of three big trains of thought. The first explained how we’re living through the Mother Of All Financial Bubbles. The next detailed the Great Wealth Transfer that is now underway, siphoning our wealth into the pockets of an elite few. This concluding report predicts how these deleterious and unsustainable trends will inevitably ‘resolve’ (which is a pleasant way of saying ‘blow up’.) In terms how this will all end, we favor the scenario put forth by Eric Janszen in 1998 called the Ka-POOM theory. This theory rests on the belief that the Federal Reserve along with the other world central decided that, in the wake of Japan’s economic failure, deflationary recessions are to be avoided at all costs—even if that means blowing asset bubbles and then cleaning up the destruction left behind in their aftermath. Thus, the Ka-POOM model calls for limited periods of disinflation, followed by massive money printing sprees that then produce high inflation. The truth is that all paper ‘wealth’ is an illusion.
> Yes! Magazine: The Refugee Crisis Is A Sign Of A Planet In Trouble (David Korten). According to a 2015 UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) report, 65.3 million people were forcibly displaced by conflict or persecution in 2015, the most since the aftermath of World War II, and the highest percentage of the total world population since UNHCR began collecting data on displaced persons in 1951. Syrians make up the largest number, at 4.9 million. According to observers, this results from a combination of war funded by foreign governments and drought brought on by human-induced climate change. Leading scientists tell us the numbers are large and expected to grow rapidly in coming years. All of these trends point to the tragic reality that the world community will be facing an ever-increasing stream of refugees that we must look upstream to resolve. [Note: there is no mention of overpopulation as the upstream source of all converging crises]
> The Nature Conservancy: The Biggest Environmental Challenges Of 2017 (Mark Tercek). The environmental challenges the world faces have never been greater or more complex. And never before have we lived in such an uncertain political climate. Soon more than 9 billion people will share our planet. Increasing demands for food, water, energy and infrastructure are pushing nature to its limits. And the impacts of climate change are touching down everywhere we look. First, we need to address climate change once and for all. Second, we need to increase food production while freezing agricultural expansion and keeping global fisheries healthy. And third, we need to focus on cities—helping them grow sustainably while maintaining healthy lands and waters. Perspectives from global and regional leaders address the most pressing issues facing people and the planet.
> The Washington Post: By 2030, Half The World’s Oceans Could Be Reeling From Climate Change, Scientists Say (Chelsea Harvey). More than half the world’s oceans could suffer multiple symptoms of climate change over the next 15 years, including rising temperatures, acidification, lower oxygen levels and decreasing food supplies, new research suggests. By midcentury, without significant efforts to reduce warming, more than 80 percent could be ailing—and the fragile Arctic, already among the most rapidly warming parts of the planet, may be one of the regions most severely hit. The study, published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications uses computer models to examine how oceans would fare over the next century under a business-as-usual trajectory and a more moderate scenario in which the mitigation efforts promised under the Paris Agreement come into effect. In both scenarios, large swaths of the ocean will be altered by climate change. Some parts of the ocean are already experiencing certain climate-driven changes beyond the limits of their natural conditions.
> International Business Source Of Enormous Pacific Methane Pool Is Found (Martha Henriques). The source is a tiny bacteria that’s only found in a very restricted part of the methane zone stretching from Panama to Mexico to the Hawaiian Islands, but the pools of methane they release are enormous. A paper published in the International Society for Microbial Ecology Journal finds that these bacteria live in the top 2cm of the seafloor where it reaches depths of between 350 and 650 metres on the edge of the continental shelf. Analysis of seafloor sediment and of the methane content of the water column above it showed that the methane-producing bacteria are confined to this ‘Goldilocks zone’, even though the plumes of methane they release spread for many thousands of kilometres. Scientists predict these low-oxygen zones will get larger and closer to the surface when the oceans warm, possibly increasing the risk of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, being released to the atmosphere.
> NPR: Engineers Say Tax Increase Needed To Save Failing US Infrastructure (David Schaper). The nation’s roads, bridges, airports, water and transit systems are in pretty bad shape, according to the civil engineers who plan and design such infrastructure. The new report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers gives the infrastructure of the United States a D-plus. That nearly failing grade should boost President Trump’s efforts to get a plan to invest up to $1 trillion in rebuilding everything from highways and bridges to tunnels and dams, even though the engineers’ group is recommending something the president and his party are unlikely to support: a huge increase in the gasoline tax. In addition, America’s water systems are leaking trillions of gallons of water, more than 2,000 dams are at high risk of failure, and there are 59,000 structurally deficient bridges around the country. Mass transit earns the worst grade of all, a D-minus.
> NRDC: The Trump Administration Is Putting EPA Programs On The Chopping Block (Bobby McGill). The Trump administration wants to “zero out” many climate-related programs and grants that help state and local governments enforce environmental laws, according to a memo sent this week to state governments by the National Association of Clean Air Agencies. It’s part of a proposal to cut the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s $8.2 billion budget by 25 percent. The proposal recommends that the EPA cut its staff by 20 percent and slash grants to states by 30 percent. State grants and EPA programs proposed to be fully shuttered include those addressing climate change, energy efficiency, diesel emissions, environmental justice, and a variety of other issues. If the EPA funding to states dries up, states may lose the ability to monitor air and water quality, build clean water infrastructure, and provide environmental information to the public
> The Guardian: Solar Power Growth Leaps By 50% Worldwide Thanks To US And China (Adam Vaughn). New solar photovoltaic capacity installed in 2016 reached more than 76 gigawatts, a dramatic increase on the 50GW installed the year before. China and the US led the surge, with both countries almost doubling the amount of solar they added in 2015, according to data compiled by Europe’s solar power trade body. Globally there is now 305GW of solar power capacity, up from around 50GW in 2010 and virtually nothing at the turn of the millennium. The industry called the growth “very significant” and said the technology was a crucial way for the world to meet its climate change commitments. Solar is still a relative minnow in the electricity mix of most countries, the figures show. Even where the technology has been embraced most enthusiastically, such as in Europe, solar on average provides 4% of electricity demand.
> NPR: Wind Energy Takes Flight In The Heart Of Texas Oil Country (Ari Shapiro). Georgetown, Texas, is a conservative town in a conservative state. So it may come as something of a surprise that it’s one of the first cities in America to be entirely powered by renewable energy. Mayor Dale Ross, a staunch Republican who attended President Trump’s inauguration, says that decision came down to a love of green energy and “green rectangles” — cash. As a state, Texas is by far the No. 1 producer of wind energy in the United States; it produces more wind energy than the next three states combined. In fact, if it were its own country, Texas would be the fourth-largest largest wind-producing country in the world by the end of 2017. Already, the fastest-growing job in the U.S. is wind turbine technician.
> Common Dreams: ‘Justice League’ To Serve As Alt-Cabinet For Fact-Challenged Trump (Deirdre Fulton). Dubbing itself an “online Justice League” of sorts, a progressive “Shadow Cabinet” launched Monday, filled with “citizen secretaries” tasked with debunking President Donald Trump’s lies and putting forth substantive, democratic, and justice-based alternatives to his administration’s right-wing agenda. The group wrote in a statement posted Monday morning on Twitter that . . . “Starting today, we’ll be a comprehensive, one-portal stop of ‘citizen secretaries’—officials and scholars who will comment agency-by-agency not just on small ‘lies’ but especially on false narratives in the service of political ends.” Fourteen well-known progressive-leaning “secretaries” are named, including Robert Reich.
> Resilience: Teaching Resilience And Sustainability To Young People (Dev Carey). Carey runs a Gap Year Program amid the mountains and organic farms of Colorado, and one of her main goals is to help students be successful in living their sustainable and resilience-centered values. Over the years she has honed in on three general skill areas: 1) Communication and group governance skills—The ability to feel valued and connected in a group; to use the full intelligence of group members to make wise group decisions, and work as a team; 2) Mastery of choice and freedom—The ability to see options and take ownership of one’s choices, to consciously make and keep agreements, to perceive adventure and abundance, to avoid victim or savior mentality; and 3) Money Management and practical vocational skills—The ability to live within one’s means and stay out of debt; the development of a trade or vocation that is needed in any community and that can align with one’s values.
> Ensia: We Need Farms That Support Farmers AND The Environment (Andrea Basche). The past several years have been rough for many U.S. farmers and ranchers. Net farm incomes this year could fall to 50 percent of 2013 levels in a fourth consecutive year of income declines that is leading some producers to seek alternatives. At the same time, rural and urban Americans share growing concerns related to agriculture: worries that water pollution will be increasingly costly and harmful, that water supplies are at risk from extreme swings in rainfall, and that global warming due to fossil fuel burning threatens our food system and will necessitate changes in how we farm. In a commentary published this week in the scientific journal Elementa, we contend that agroecology offers a promising approach to solving food system problems while mitigating, water and energy concerns—and propose a way to overcome the obstacles to fully embracing it.
> The Great Change: Cicero And The Summer Of 45 (Albert Bates). The philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero introduced the Romans to the chief schools of Greek philosophy and was likely the most influential philosopher in ancient times. Cicero wanted to know, what is pleasure, what is good — what motivates us? Why are we here? What constitutes a good life? The easy path is to downsize expectations and simplify your lifestyle. This path requires giving up certain ways of looking at the world in order to embrace other, more survival-oriented ways. Carl Honoré, a spokesperson for the Slow movement, suggested some painless ways to slow down that will fit any budget: 1) Walking instead of driving; 2) Giving children more free time; 3) Reading instead of watching television; 4) Eating home-cooked meals with family and friends; 5) Taking up relaxing hobbies such as painting, gardening, or knitting; 6) Practicing yoga, tai chi, or meditation; 7) Unplugging from technology; 8) Indulging in leisurely love-making; 9) Simply resisting the urge to hurry unnecessarily.
> Columbia University: Tapping into Ocean Power – State of the Planet (Renee Cho). Humans have been trying to harness ocean energy for centuries, beginning with a French engineer named Pierre-Simon Girard in 1799. The constant pounding of the waves and the ebb and flow of tidal currents, as well as other properties of the ocean, if harnessed, could produce 20,000 to 80,000 terawatt hours of electricity, according to the International Energy Agency. Some probable ocean-power systems are based on a variety of innovations that involve either wave energy or tides and currents. Legitimate concerns are raised about potential long-term pollution caused by mechanical failures, leakage of chemicals, negative affects on overall ocean ecosystems (wave action, water temperatures, etc.), and even bio-fouling due to colonization of sea creatures.
> UM Libraries & Nature Conservancy: Elizabeth Kolbert Event (author of Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History), Thurs., April 13th, 7:30 p.m., Northrop Auditorium, 84 Church St. S.E., Mpls.
> Clean Energy Resources Teams (CERTS). MN Energy Stories & Upcoming Events, Event calendar: Calendar.MnCERTs.org
> Beyond Pesticides: The 35th National Pesticide Forum: Healthy Hives, Healthy Lives, Lands: Ecological and Organic Strategies for Regeneration, April 28-29, U of MN Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Mpls.
> Transition Twin Cities: General Transition Mailing List (click here to sign up). NOTE: The National Transition Gathering, July 27-31, Macalester College, St. Paul, MN (first
> 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