The Power of Words – SEF News-Views Digest

SEF News-Views Digest No. 186 (10-25-17)
Clifton Ware, Editor-Publisher

Many of our socio-political-ideological conflicts today are the result of ineffective communication between opposing parties. Inability to discuss certain topics intelligently and civilly is often associated with the type of language and terminology used in discourse. As an undergraduate philosophy major, the one solid lesson I learned was that, when discussing controversial topics, all debating parties should be expected to define any principal terms used.

For instance, if the topic is socialism, it’s incumbent upon all participants to provide a reputable and, if possible, an agreed-upon definition before proceeding. After all, there are several forms of socialism, including democratic socialism, the form of government found in northern European countries. I mention this particular example, because many people still think of socialism only as communism, an extreme fundamentalist system that has not proven successful in its most radical form, as North Korea exemplifies.

According to Merriam-Webster, socialism is defined as “any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods”. In contrast, more modern definitions are associated with shared wealth (no poor and no super rich folk),  judicious use of natural resources, workers’ ownership of corporations (as with cooperatives), social equality- equity, and, in general, more attention given to the common good rather than focusing mostly the individual. The saying, “All for one, and one for all” aptly applies.

Here’s the definition self-proclaimed democratic socialist Bernie Sanders offered in 2006 when he was asked to define what he meant by the term:  “I think it means the government has got to play a very important role in making sure that as a right of citizenship, all of our people have health care; that as a right, all of our kids, regardless of income, have quality child care, are able to go to college without going deeply into debt; that it means we do not allow large corporations and moneyed interests to destroy our environment; that we create a government in which it is not dominated by big money interest. I mean, to me, it means democracy, frankly.’’ The democratic socialist countries Sanders regularly cites are Canada, Denmark, England, and Germany, although all Nordic countries may also be considered in this pool. It’s worth noting that all of these countries are rated higher on the happiness index than the U.S.

This commentary was born out of my reading John Michael Greer’s latest article, the first one listed in the Views section. He mentions several terms that describe expressions or statements made by people that cause communication to falter, cease, or be misunderstood:

  • Thoughtstopper—a brief, crisp, memorable, and packed with strong emotion; also either absurd, self-contradictory, or irrelevant to the subject to which it’s meant to apply, so that any attempt you might make to reason about it will land you in perplexity, as occurred recently when John Kelly referred to the “sacred” phone call between Trump and the widow of her soldier husband.
  • Vacuous Belch—an absurd, contradictory, or irrelevant utterance with a warm cozy emotional state, such as: “I believe in people,” “Love is the answer” and “God is in charge.” It’s hard to continue discussing a serious topic when such phrases are uttered, although requesting explanations might offer clarity.
  • Vacuous Shriek—an extreme emotional response to a term, like “socialism”, which can elicit negative reactions from right-wing conservatives. Terms like “fake news”, “political correctness”, and “theory of evolution” might also elicit vacuous shrieks that cut off or sabotage communication.
  • One-Way Street—takes the form of a general observation, vague to the point of irrelevance, which looks like it applies to both sides of an argument but only applies to one, for example: “Minds are like parachutes, they function only when open,” or “Oh, I’m sure they’ll think of something.”
  • Undefinition—the insistence that some issue or other can only be discussed if all participants use a label for it that predefines the outcome of the discussion, by erasing all the points that matter to people on one side of the debate, as illustrated with the term “trickle-down economics”.

Greer summarizes by saying: “A great deal of what passes for thought these days consists of the deployment of thoughtstoppers of various kinds, and the habit of deploying them to avoid thinking about unpleasant subjects—for example, how we got into our present predicament, and what kind of changes we will have to make in our own lifestyles in order to cope constructively with the consequences—has played a significant role in putting meaningful change out of reach as our civilization blunders deeper and deeper into an unwelcome future.” Reading the article will help you fully understand Greer’s message.

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> Ecosophia: A Field Guide To Thoughtstoppers (John Michael Greer). The question is why a species with the tolerably impressive intellectual capacities we’ve got has done such a bad job of applying those capacities in the face of civilization-ending threats. From this perspective, our problem can be phrased very precisely: the vast majority of people in today’s industrial world have never learned how to think.

> Common Dreams: How The Deranged Took Over America (John Atcheson). In 2016 the neoliberal Economist’s Democracy Index, dropped the US down to a “flawed democracy.” No longer are we simply living in an oligarchy that controls Republican’s goals financially, but we’ve also become a nation suffering from full-on psychosis, with Trump as the logical endpoint of the coup’s reliance on fear, distraction, hate, anger and xenophobia. The press’s decades long devotion to balanced, as opposed to accurate reporting, is why Trump’s [and the right-wing’s] assault on the press has been successful.

> Peak Prosperity: Are You Infuriated Yet? (Chris Martenson). Both the pension and healthcare crises are infuriating people, and causing self-inflicted wounds. Anybody who studies the [economic] system and its math comes to the same conclusion: the corporations have all the power and they are misusing it for private gain. An easy prediction to make is that this simmering anger of the populace is going to start boiling over more violently in the coming years. Welcome to the Age of Fury.

> Common Dreams: 2 Or 3 Things I Know About Late-Stage Capitalism (Phil Rockstroh). The bughouse crazy environment of late stage capitalist culture evokes classic flight or flight responses attendant to episodes of severe anxiety and panic attacks. Experiencing anxiety is among the ways our innate animal spirits react to the capitalist cage. The Trump presidency should be regarded as a high probability variable of late-stage capitalism and empire building. Empires are death cults that long for their own demise.

> Weathering The Storm: Geopolitical Polarization (Mike Conley). The perfect storm countdown has accelerated. As the storm forces gather, the greatest threat for triggering the storm now appears to be in the geopolitical arena. Recent polarizing policies and events are exacerbating the threat and need to be understood in the context of their longer-term implications. It’s a reminder that wars are easy to get into and hard to get out of; and that global treaties are difficult to consummate but easy to break.

> MinnPost: Why Tackling Carbon Emissions Is Good For The Economy (Tim Brennan). The Unitarian Universalist Association is an active shareowner of over 500 companies, and we have found that companies that are actively cutting emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases and preparing for the uncertainties of climate change are companies that perform well too. That’s why we support policies that help the markets factor in the costs of pollution and the risks of a warming climate.

> P2P Foundation: There’s Only One Way To Avoid Climate Catastrophe: ‘De-Growing’ Our Economy (Jason Hickel). Our prospects for avoiding future climate-change crises are slim, simply because the cuts we’re making to greenhouse gas emissions are being more than cancelled out by economic growth. De-growth is the opposite of austerity. By sharing wealth more equitably, we will be able to sustain and even improve human wellbeing, without the need for endless economic expansion. [See also podcast-script: Tim Jackson: The High Price Of Growth]


> Think Progress: Warm Waters Juiced Ophelia Into The Most Powerful Eastern Atlantic Hurricane Ever Seen (Joe Romm). Ex-hurricane Ophelia smashed into Ireland Monday morning with -breaking gusts of up to 119 mph. The powerful extra-tropical storm—which has already killed two people and blacked-out some 360,000 Irish homes and businesses—is what’s left of the most powerful Eastern Atlantic hurricane ever seen.

> Washington Post: Worrying New Research Finds That The Ocean Is Cutting Through Antarctic Ice Shelf (Chris Mooney). A new scientific study has found that warm ocean water is carving an enormous channel into the underside of the Dotson ice shelf, a key floating ice shelf of West Antarctica, the most vulnerable sector of the enormous ice continent. The new study calculates that as a result of this highly uneven melting, the ice shelf could be melted all the way through in 40 years, rather than 170 years were the melt were occurring evenly.

> Forbes: Global Warming Could Make This Lurking Climate Threat Even Worse (Sam Lamonick). Like carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide (laughing gas) traps heat in Earth’s atmosphere. Although it’s thought to account for only about 6% of the greenhouse effect today, it is about 300 times worse for the climate than CO2. One major source is runoff from farms and fields. Models of fertilizer use and emissions predicted that about 5% of the nitrogen applied to fields would end up as nitrous oxide emissions.

> Washington Post: ‘This Is Very Alarming!’: Flying Insects Vanish From Nature Preserves (Ben Guarino). Along with motorists experiencing fewer insects hitting windshields, especially in summer, a small but growing number of scientific studies suggest that insects are on the wane. It is estimated that wild insects provide $57 billion worth of custodial services in the United States each year, including burying animal dung, preying on pests, and pollinating plants.

> Science Daily: Understanding The Coevolving Web Of Life As A Network (Tim Stephens). A recent paper in the journal Nature reports that a group of ecologists and evolutionary biologists from five universities has attempted to understand how species coevolve within large webs of mutualistic species. The study yielded surprising findings about the relative importance of direct and indirect effects within such networks, indicating that rapid environmental change can destabilize networks of interacting species.

> USA Today: Global Pollution Is The World’s Biggest Killer, Threat To Mankind’s Survival (Doug Stanglin). The report by the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health blames pollution for an estimated 9 million premature deaths, about 15 times more than all wars and other forms of violence. It concludes that pollution “endangers the stability of the Earth’s support systems and threatens the continuing survival of human societies.”

> NPG: Overpopulation In Your State (Staff). NPG created this interactive U.S. population map to stimulate greater interest in population issues at the state level. It illustrates how population growth effects each state now, and—in many cases—how it will have an even more devastating effect in the future. Also, an interactive chart from the U.S. Census Bureau shows population size, change, density, and representational apportionment.

> The Atlantic: The Decline Of The Midwest’s Public Universities Threatens To Wreck Its Most Vibrant Economies (Jon Marcus). Federal funding for basic research—more than half of it conducted on university campuses—has effectively declined since 2008, failing to keep pace with inflation. This ominous reality could widen regional inequality, as brainpower, talent, and jobs leave the Midwest and the Rust Belt.

> Common Dreams: Under Trump, Brags Mike Pompeo, CIA Will Be ‘Much More Vicious Agency’ (Nadia Prupis). Speaking Thursday at a Foundation for Defense of Democracies forum, the CIA director Mike Pompeo, who has signaled support for torture, said “we’ve now laid out a strategy for how we’re going to execute our strategy with incredible vigor. We’re going to become a much more vicious agency in ensuring that we are delivering this work. We are going to go to the hardest places with some of the hardest people and of our organization to crush it.”


> National Geographic: Preparing For Floods, Droughts And Water Shortages By Working With, Rather Than Against, Nature (Sandra Postel). For the last two centuries, we have been trading nature’s services for engineering services. Fortunately, just when it’s crucially needed, a new mind-set about water is taking shape. It’s one that blends engineering, ecology, economics, and related fields into a more holistic approach that recognizes the fundamental value of nature’s services.

> Countercurrents: Wildfires, Hurricanes, Tornadoes! (Sally Dugman). Many people can’t seem to understand that if we want lessening climate change problems and curtailment of other sorts of devastation like massive spills and air pollution, we need to use less fossil fuels. We also have to stop taking away more and more of the natural world for economic development, stop personally using up ever more resources to climb up the socio-economic ladder and stop increasing the human population.

> Water Deeply: What Needs To Be Done To Stop Wildfires In Drought-Killed Forests (Matt Weiser). It’s now widely understood that a century of misguided policies over the past 100 years produced forests too densely packed with small trees and vulnerable to possibly catastrophic fires. Water supplies are also a concern, because the forests are nature’s water-storage sponges. A new California report recommends some changes in state law and new contracting practices. It also suggests some changes in public attitudes.

> Permaculture Association: Hornshurst Forest Garden – Growing Food In A Forest Clearing (Anna Locke). The Hornshurst Forest Garden is an acre site, deer and rabbit fenced, within a much larger 160-acre woodland. I have been designing it for the wood owner, Doro Marden, for about 3 years. Techniques used include soil enrichment (mulching, etc.), grafting, and gravity-fed irrigation to grow fruit-bearing trees and shrubs and vegetables.

> Common Dreams: Agroecology: Radically Changing How We Face Food Insecurity And Climate Change (Josianne Gauthier). What we need is a profound and radical transformation of the current agribusiness world food system to an agroecological system. We must be tackling the root causes of worldwide hunger, not increasing production. For agroecology to thrive, we need a systemic policies that enable people and small-scale farmers to access land, seeds and resources.

> University of Minnesota: Map Of Micronutrients Shows Importance Of Small And Medium Farms (Staff). New research published in the The Lancet Planetary Health is the first to map production of micronutrients worldwide on farms of different sizes, spanning 41 crops, 7 livestock products, and 14 fish groups. The researchers discovered that worldwide, small and medium farms (≤ 50 hectares) produce more than half (51–77 percent) of nearly all commodities and nutrients examined in the study.

> Yes! Magazine: The Hopeful Work Of Turning Appalachia’s Mountaintop Coal Mines Into Farms (Catherine V. Moore). Southern West Virginia nonprofit Coalfield Development runs Refresh, Reclaim, and a family of three other social enterprises. In an environment where finding secure employment is hard, Coalfield offers low-income residents a two- to two-and-a-half-year contract to undergo training in sustainable construction, solar technology, and artisan-based entrepreneurship.

> Common Dreams: The Collapse Of Trumpcare And The Rise Of Single Payer (Zachery Berger, Adam Gaffney). In conjunction with the collapse of Republicans’ ACA repeal efforts, proposed single-payer bills could signal a new era in American healthcare politics. The bills—or something like them—could serve as a framework for legislation under a new government. Lawmakers from across the political spectrum are taking notice.

> Ars Technica: First Floating Wind Farm, Built By Offshore Oil Company, Delivers Electricity (Megan Geuss). A new 30MW wind farm floating15.5mi from Scotland will produce, at full capacity, enough electricity to power 20,000 Scottish homes. Five 6MW turbines are the first commercial turbines to lack a firm attachment to the seafloor, held in place using three giant suction anchors, which are commonly used in offshore oil drilling. A 2013 video illustrates how the installation works.

> Yes! Magazine: The Essential Ingredient Of Democracy (Frances Moore Lappe, Adam Eichen). The biggest threat to democracy may be that we’re almost too social, with an overpowering need for a sense of belonging so important that it’s frightening to break with our tribe. The current extreme breakdown in common decency requires “civil courage” in opposing all injustices. A stunning 85 percent of us agree that the “political money system needs fundamental changes or a complete rebuild.”


> Conservation Minnesota: Getting To Green: Saving Nature: A Bipartisan Solution, (Frederic C. Rich), Monday, Oct. 30, 7:00 p.m., Westminster Presbyterian Church Sanctuary (1200 S Marquette Ave). Please reserve your ticket.

> World Population Balance: Overpopulation WeekendThurs., Nov. 9-12, Minneapolis, MN; Events include two Meetups, a Film Fest, and a Potluck Supper. [For more info, see:]

> Transition Twin Cities: Groups And Activities: Transition ASAP • Transition Longfellow • Corcoran Grows • Transition North Suburbs • Transition West St. Paul/West Side • Transition NE.

> 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).


> Alliance For Sustainability: Linking Citizens, Congregations And Cities For Sustainable Communities. Extensive listings of Minnesota news, events, and projects:

> Clean Energy Resources Teams (CERTS). MN Energy Stories & Upcoming Events;; New job board:

> MN Environmental Partnership (MEP) Upcoming Environmental Events. See website: (search by month)

> Climate Generation, A Will Steger Legacy, Information: In The News • Upcoming Events • Full E-News

> Citizen’s Climate Lobby: Regular Meetings And Events (; Meetings in 18 MN locations on the 2ndSaturday of each month to focus on bi-partisan Carbon Fee and Dividend Legislation40 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:


> The New York Times: Climate Change Is Complex. We’ve Got Answers To Your Questions  (Justin Gillis). Excellent brief explanations for the most asked questions. Please share.
> 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.

> World Population Balance: Overpopulation Podcast (Dave Gardner). Listen here;  One Planet, One Child (; See: Webinar – Fewer Children: A Moral Responsibility

> WTS: Weathering The StormMichael Conley, Founder-Speaker-Author, Seminars & Presentations; Several offerings: News FlashNewsletterInformation ServicesOLLI Course Hand-outsBest PracticesBuy 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

By Clifton Ware

Sustainability Education Forum Editor-Publisher Dr. Clifton Ware is an international figure in the world of voice pedagogy. During the the past fifty years of teaching students how to sing -- both nationally and internationally -- Clif developed his signature "Efficient and Authentic Voice Technique". What distinguishes his method is its holistic approach, simplicity, and effectiveness. Siingers find that they are able to ensure their vocal health while cultivating their own unique, expressive sound. This approach stands in sharp contrast to faddish techniques that encourage mimicking the vocalism, style, and qualities of other singers, possibly limiting their own vocal imprint and even harming their vocal instrument. The "Efficient and Authentic Voice Technique" produces singers that enjoy vocal power, range, ease, individuality, and a liberating learning process.

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