SEF News-Views Digest No. 183 (10-4-17)
Clifton Ware, Editor-Publisher
In our modern world of plentiful energy and dependable services, the series of natural catastrophes in recent weeks have been shocking eye openers. Many people have encountered enormous survival challenges, as normal energy sources and supplies have become unavailable. At times, most so-called “first world” citizens have experienced short-term electricity outages due to storms or mechanical disruptions, but the long-term lack of electricity or other energy sources is relatively rare. That is, was rare, before such catastrophic events as super-powerful hurricanes, like Katrina, Sandy, Irma, and Maria, poured havoc on several U.S. states and territories.
Just consider the disastrous effects of the humanitarian crisis Maria created when sweeping over the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico, leaving extreme devastation in its wake. In addition to deaths of at least 16 citizens, innumerable people sustained injuries, causing damaged hospitals to be overwhelmed with medical needs. The country continues struggling with securing various life-saving essentials, including fresh water, food, fuel, electrical power, and communication services. Another looming threat is a cracked dam upstream of the towns of Quebradillas and Isabela in northwest Puerto Rico in danger of bursting, and causing the evacuation of 70,000 citizens.
It so happens that a book recommended by my wife, Bettye, provided a timely dystopian novel with a realistic story depicting a worldwide collapse of civilization. The uniqueness of this book—When The English Fall, by David Williams— is its focus on what could happen to a relatively self-sustaining community that already lives apart from the rest of the world: the Amish. What makes this book so relevant is its plausibility within a contemporary setting.
For the past decade or so we’ve become somewhat familiar with an Amish community in the southwestern section of Wisconsin, where one of our sons and his wife live on a farm, alongside Amish neighbors. It’s easy to admire their mostly 19th-century simple lifestyle, including their well-maintained homes, barns, and farmlands. Actually, the Amish aren’t as removed from society as many might think. Depending on various communities and individuals, some make limited use of a few modern technologies, such as washing machines, neighbors’ telephones, modern medicine, and perhaps even guns for slaughtering cattle and hunting wild game. However, as a non-violent, peace-loving people, the Amish are opposed to using guns against other people.
The story line of the book is presented from the point of view of Jacob, an Amish man living with his wife, Hannah, and their two children in Pennsylvania. As the story progresses, most Amish communities continue functioning as usual—until the English (non-Amish) come seeking sustenance, including a famished neighboring English family Jacob and Hannah invite to live with them. With increasing English intrusions, including thefts and murders, concerns are raised about how the community can continue upholding principles of nonviolence.
The catalysts causing the English to seek Amish assistance were the catastrophic results of an extremely large solar flare. The unexpected natural phenomenon knocked out all electrical services worldwide, which, in modern times, can affect every survival aspect of life, similar to what we’re witnessing with the major natural disasters inflicted on Puerto Rico, the Houston area, and throughout Florida. Solar flares are giant explosions on the sun that send energy, light, and high-speed particles into space. They are associated with solar magnetic storms known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs), and are an ongoing unpredictable potential threat. A human-made weapon called an “electro-magnetic-pulse” (EMP) weapon, a nuclear bomb exploded at a high enough altitude, can also fry electrical grids and electronic systems over vast areas of the country or world in nanoseconds, which adds to an increased risk factor. It may never happen, but it could happen, as in conflicts with rouge nations like North Korea. Potential threats of any kind raise serious concerns about being prepared for such short-to-long term emergency situations.
Several articles below relate to this topic, notably the first three in the Views section. The question for each of us is: How well prepared are we to cope with any unforeseen catastrophe—as individuals, neighbors, communities, states, and nations? There are lots of people today wishing they had been better prepared for what befell them. May we learn from such disasters and do whatever we can to create greater resilience. [See How To Survive A Global Disaster: A Handy Guide, first article in Solutions]
(Please share this free newsletter with others)
> Resilience: Puerto Rico: A Potential Experiment In Degrowth? (Erik Assadorian). The social and ecological costs of our fossil-fueled consumer culture are apparent—in disease burdens, in obesity rates, in CO2 emissions, and in other ecological costs. Choosing to move away from the consumer economic model could reduce obesity and connected disease burdens, reduce ecological impacts, reduce the stresses of modern day busy-ness, and help rebuild community as people once again work together in community and create webs of interdependence. One model is ecologically restorative, while the other is non-resilient.
> Common Dreams: Disaster In Puerto Rico A Chance To Build Back Sustainably And With Resilience (Richard Heinberg). Puerto Rico is experiencing a shrinking economy, a government unable to make debt payments, and a land vulnerable to rising seas and extreme weather, a premonition of global events in coming years, due to climate change. Advice offered in 2013 still applies: 1) Invest in resilience; 2) Promote local food; 3) Treat population decline as an opportunity; 4) Rethink transportation; 5) Repudiate debt (create a sharing economy); and 5) Build a different energy system. [See also: Puerto Rico Is Our Future]
> Peak Prosperity: Upon The Next Crisis, The Rules Will Suddenly Change (Charles Hugh Smith). The core imperative of every central state is to expand its reach and control. Once control is gained, it is loath to relinquish it, inviting chaos. Those enforcing state control have an immense vested interest in retaining control. This reality leads to a non-formalized two-tier system: one for commoners and one for the power elite/New Aristocracy. When crises arise, the state first protects its own authority and control. Its second priority is securing the wealth and power of the elite.
> Post Carbon Institute: Energy And Authoritarianism (Richard Heinberg). Flawed democracies may be particularly vulnerable when energy supplies decline. Political polarization and saturation with “fake news,” make them more likely to succumb to demagogues who promise to return the nation to a condition of abundance if granted extraordinary powers. A more widespread understanding of the role of energy in society, and of the likely limits to future energy supplies, could be extremely beneficial in helping the general populace adapt to scarcity and avoid needless scapegoating and violence.
> Resilience: Scenes From A Regenerative Revolution (Rajiv Sicora). The ravaging of rural communities is caused by some of the same forces that are driving climate change and economic inequality: huge monopolies that dominate our political system, hell-bent on extracting maximum profits while poisoning the earth and the people. The regenerative movement is the foundation of a new food system that can help solve the climate crisis, rather than drive it. [See also: Why True Cost Accounting Is Not A Good Concept For Markets And Public Policy]
> Feasta: The Tyranny Of Enlightenment (Patrick Noble). Without further enlightenment, we know that we must stop burning both fossilized biomass and living biomass. Further accumulation of knowledge does not help with the question, what should I do? We know that our fossil fuelled way of life is impossible. We cannot improve, or green it. It must be abandoned.
> Peak Prosperity: What Really Matters (Adam Taggart). Sebastian Junger, author of Tribe, says we are wired to live in connection with our community (tribe), especially in ways that protect that community from adversity. So you can make the argument that community + adversity = authentic living. In other words, when we pull together with those around us in times of crisis, we are truly living as nature intended. While there are some sizable unavoidable disasters ahead, we can only control *how* we will cope.
> Scientific American: Puerto Ricans Could Be Newest U.S. Climate Refugees (Daniel Cusick). Hurricane Maria’s destruction on Puerto Rico could spawn one of the largest mass migration events in the United States’ recent history, as tens of thousands of storm victims flee the island territory to rebuild their lives on the U.S. mainland. Another major question facing places like Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands is how to rebuild in a way that provides greater resilience against future storms.
> The Washington Post: Majority Of Americans Now Say Climate Change Makes Hurricanes More Severe (Emily Guskin, Brady Dennis). According to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, a majority of Americans say that global climate change contributed to the severity of recent hurricanes in Florida and Texas. This is a significant shift of opinion from a dozen years ago, when a majority of the public dismissed the role of global warming, based more on political beliefs than scientific findings.
> Zero Hedge Fund: Fema Director Urges Americans To Develop “A True Culture Of Preparedness” But No One Is Listening (Tyler Durden). FEMA director Brock Long says no one is immune to disaster, that we have a long way to go to get people to understand the hazards based on where they dwell, where they work, and how to be prepared financially, how to be prepared through insurance, how to have continuity of operations plans for their businesses, so that we can avoid the suffering, the strife, and the loss of life. It’s truly disappointing that people won’t heed the warnings.
> Ensia: After 350 Million Piñons Die, Scientists Fear For This Forest’s Future (Jim O’Donnell). Across its Southwestern U.S. range, the piñon pine is a multi-million dollar part of the economy. A warming and drying climate and the Ips bark beetle pose dying threats to this keystone species. Scientists consider the piñon to be one of the most important trees in the American West. So many wildlife and plant species depend on the piñon that its loss would have drastic impacts.
> Carbon Brief: Tropical Forests Are ‘No Longer Carbon Sinks’ Because Of Human Activity (Daisy Dunne). The world’s tropical forests now emit more carbon than they are able to absorb from the atmosphere (a net loss of around 425m tons of carbon from 2003 to 2014) as a result of deforestation and land degradation, a new study says. The research challenges the long-held belief that forests act as “carbon sinks” by storing more carbon than they emit due to natural processes and human activity.
> MinnPost: In A Reversal, Climate Scientists Now Say Goal Set In Paris Accord Is Within Reach (Ron Meador). In an analysis published recently in the respected journal Nature Geoscience, a team of chiefly British scholars concludes that the Paris Agreement’s goal of holding the line on Earth’s rising temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius in fact possible but challenging. Challenging, but maybe not as excruciating as it looked at the time the global goal and national targets were established in December 2015.
> Clean Technica: Extreme Heatwaves Like Recent “Lucifer” Heatwave To Become Normal In Europe By 2050s (James Ayre). The recent “Lucifer” heat wave brought lingering heat in excess of 40° Celsius (104° Fahrenheit) to many regions. The intensity of heat waves in Europe has also increased by 1° to 2° Celsius since 1950. Such weather will become typical in southern Europe by mid-century if greenhouse gases continue to increase in the atmosphere.
> Common Dreams: ‘What A Rigged Economy Looks Like’: Top 10% Now Own 77% Of American Wealth (Jake Johnson). An analysis by the People’s Policy Project (3P) published Wednesday found that the top 10 percent of the income distribution now owns a “stunning” 77 percent of America’s wealth while those in the bottom ten percent are “net debtors,” owning -0.5 percent of the nation’s wealth.
> USA Today: Long-Term Care Costs Are Surging, Survey Says (Tom Murphy). The most expensive option—a private nursing home room—may soon top $100,000 per year. Growing labor expenses and sicker patients helped push the median cost of care that includes adult day care and assisted living communities up an average of 4.5% this year. The cost of home health aide services climbed the most, rising 6%, to $21.50 an hour. Medicare coverage program for people over age 65, provides limited help.
> The Progressive: In Maria’s Wake, Could Puerto Rico Go Totally Green? (Harvey Wasserman). Puerto Rico’s best hope for a safe, prosperous, sustainable energy future is to take control of its power supply with a mix of renewable generation, protected backup storage, and a decentralized, local-based network of community-owned microgrids.
> The Guardian: How To Survive A Global Disaster: A Handy Guide (Keith Stuart). Academic author Nafeez Ahmed, who has studied global crises and mass violence offers some guidelines: 1) Don’t hole up alone; 2) Go semi rural; 3) Have access to water and land; 4) Establish communications; 5) Don’t completely trust government or law enforcement; and 6) Plan on being self sufficient for the long term.
> Resiience: Our Bodies Are Made For Walking (Jay Walljasper). Ancient wisdom, now backed up by modern science, proves that walking can as little as 30 minutes daily can relieve stress, instill creativity, and boost health. The United States as a whole gets a failing grade in the following subjects: 1) pedestrian safety; 2) pedestrian infrastructure; 3) walking opportunities for children; 4) business and non-profit sector policies; and 5) public transportation. Creating safe walkways for citizens is a first step.
> Low Tech Magazine: How To Run The Economy On The Weather (Kris De Decker). Before the Industrial Revolution, people adjusted their energy demand to a variable energy supply. Our global trade and transport system—which relied on sailboats—operated only when the wind blew, as did the mills that supplied our food and powered many manufacturing processes. The same approach could be very useful today, especially when improved by modern technology.
> Sierra Club: Sprawl Overview (Staff). Poorly planned development is threatening our environment, our health, and our quality of life. In communities across America “sprawl”—scattered development that increases traffic, saps local resources and destroys open space—is taking a serious toll. But runaway growth is not inevitable. Hundreds of urban, suburban and rural neighborhoods are choosing to manage sprawl with smart growth solutions.
> Conversation Minnesota: Getting To Green And Saving Nature: A Bipartisan Solution (Frederic C. Rich), Monday, October 30th, 7:00 p.m., Westminster Presbyterian Church Sanctuary, Mpls.
> MN Department of Health: Climate and Health 101 Webinar, one per month through December and will continually update our webpage with information (registration links, copies of the PPT deck and webinar recording). See: http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/climatechange/communication.html
> Alliance For Sustainability: Linking Citizens, Congregations And Cities For Sustainable Communities. Extensive listings of Minnesota news, events, and projects: http://www.afors.org/.
> MN Environmental Partnership (MEP) Upcoming Environmental Events. See website: http://www.mepartnership.org/events/ (search by month)
> Citizen’s Climate Lobby: Regular Meetings And Events (www.citizensclimatelobby-mn.org); Meetings in 18 MN locations on the 2nd Saturday of each month to focus on bi-partisan Carbon Fee and Dividend Legislation; 40 members of the US House on the Climate Solutions Caucus are involved.
> MN350: Climate Campaigns And Projects. For a listing of campaigns, projects, and events, see: http://www.mn350.org/campaigns-projects/
> Resilience: Think Resilience – Preparing For The Rest Of The 21st Century. This course, consisting of 22 video lectures by Post Carbon Institute Senior Fellow Richard Heinberg, totaling about 4 hours), may be taken at your own leisure ($20). View the video.
> Conversation Earth: 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.
> WTS: 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)
> 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