SEF News-Views Digest No. 190 (11-22-17)
Clifton Ware, Editor-Publisher
How dissimilar this Thanksgiving week is when compared with last year’s. Although last year the nation was still reeling from the surprising outcomes of the topsy-turvy political races and elections, most Americans still held hopes for a settling down of the socio-political turmoil that had roiled civil society. Little did we suspect that an energized rightwing populist movement would further expand partisan worldviews.
Even more unsettling was the realization that a third of our fellow citizens supported—and continue supporting—an administration rampant with both covert and overt machinations designed to undo and impede numerous progressive policies and actions. Particularly worrisome are the official stances and practices that undermine the findings of peer-reviewed scientists regarding the dangers of climate change. Of course, it’s obvious that denial of human-caused climate change is mostly due to the administration’s support of powerful fossil-fuel corporations.
Nor did we imagine the depths of the radical right’s commitment to creating, in effect, an oligarchical, plutocratic system of government, with an ominous threat of theocracy lurking in the background. The U.S. Constitution emphatically supports the separation of Church and-State doctrine, and rightly so. Yet, “religious right” forces are continually attempting to weaken this principal constitutional requirement for maintaining a genuine democracy.
Nor could we have imagined the record number of disastrous weather-related conditions—droughts, storms, floods, and forest fires—that would leave thousands of people homeless, injured, or dead. And what about the increasing numbers of social conflicts, mass shootings, migrations of refugees, and extinctions of flora and fauna species? The natural world has taken quite a beating, thanks to our predatory species, which adds a net gain (births minus deaths) of 80 million or so more people annually on Earth, further depleting all natural resources.
But enough bad news! There certainly remains much for which to be thankful. To begin with, anyone capable of reading this newsletter must be in comparative good health, with access to adequate healthcare. And despite all of the disruptions in the socio-political sphere, there’s been some so-so upbeat news on the economic front, with the economy managing to stay afloat, so far. According to government statistics, more people are employed, although a large segment of the population lacks sufficient personal savings. As consumers and partakers of the good life, readers of this newsletter are probably doing quite well overall. One reader, a retired pastor and neighbor friend of ours, when asked how he’s doing, enthusiastically replies: “I’m grateful, thanks! How about you?” This infectious positive response is one we should all consider adopting.
Another positive development is the belated awakening of progressives to activism, primarily in response to the radical right’s harsh socio-political discourse and behavior. There are hopeful signs of a progressive grassroots turnaround, which has the potential of reversing the neoliberal, extravagant capitalistic trends that have dominated the economic and political spheres for far too long. A new socio-political-economic-environmental paradigm is emerging, and it’s still possible we might be able to salvage our human dignity and survival as a species. Ideally, we might actually make America great (for the first time), an America vastly improved over past forms. [The first two articles in the Views section provide some insights pertinent to this commentary.]
In closing, may we at all times remain grateful for all the good fortune we enjoy as Americans and world citizens—no matter what happens! And may we warmly express our gratitude for all of the positive, constructive initiatives and achievements of dedicated world citizens serving eco-progressive movements and causes, with the goal of creating greater resilience and sustainability for all living creatures. And, finally, may we give our undying thanks to Mother Earth, the ultimate source of everything that is true, good, and sustaining.
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> Truthdig: Fight The Disease, Not The Symptoms (Chris Hedges). The disease of globalized corporate capitalism has the same effects across the planet. It weakens or destroys democratic institutions, making them subservient to corporate and oligarchic power. Attack the symptoms and the state will be passive. Attack the disease and the state will be ruthless. If we can build counter-capitalist movements that include the working class we have a chance.
> Common Dreams: Let’s Just Admit It: Capitalism Doesn’t Work (John Atcheson). Capitalism leads inevitably to oligopolies, monopolies and obscene income disparities; a system which confuses currency with wealth, encouraging unsustainable consumption of natural capital, the source of real wealth; a system which considers the life-sustaining value of natural systems as “external” to our economic concerns. To make matters worse, our capitalist belief system relies on an infinitely growing economy in a finite world. [See also: Capitalism Is Not the Only Choice]
> Resilience: Drilling, Drilling, Everywhere…(Subhanker Banerjee). What happens in the Arctic doesn’t just stay up north. It affects the world, as that region is the integrator of our planet’s climate systems, atmospheric and oceanic. At the moment, the northernmost places on Earth are warming at more than twice the global average, a phenomenon whose impact is already being felt planet wide. Welcome to the world of climate breakdown—and to the world of Donald Trump..
> Cassandra’s Legacy: The Seneca Paradox: If Mineral Depletion Is A Problem, How Is It That We Don’t See Its Effects? (Ugo Bardi). Depletion, it seems, is still considered a non-problem, especially in the extractive industry. But is it an existential threat to human civilization? Or is it just a marginal problem that can be fixed by some technological improvements? The “Seneca Effect” or the “Seneca Paradox” explains why mineral depletion is a problem but, at present, we are not feeling its effects. We haven’t yet reached the summit of the curve and we are not seeing the cliff awaiting us, especially in relation to oil depletion.
> The Atlantic: The US Isn’t Prepared For The Next Recession (Annie Lowrey). Although the latest data shows the current economic expansion humming along, a recession will hit eventually, and when it does, the country won’t be ready. Although the average household has largely recovered from the Great Recession that began in 2007, millions of people remain in perilous financial shape, with little to buffer them in the event of a layoff. In terms of global circumstances, political will, and fiscal and monetary firepower, the next recession seems in some ways more difficult to fight than the last.
> Strong Towns: Give It Another Century And We’ll See How It Goes (Johnny Sanphillipo). The key to building a stronger town is cultivating dynamic household economies, with all households sustaining each other collectively in a fine-grained interconnected web. Instead, we’re going to continue to do more of what we’ve been doing. And it’s going to fail eventually, with the big pile of overly leveraged 12,000-mile supply chain debt-soaked tech extravaganza breaking down and crashing of its own dead weight. When we finally get back up and dust ourselves off, we’ll have no choice but to reinvent things.
> The New York Times: Billionaires Desperately Need Our Help! (Nicholas Kristof; satire). Congressional Republicans understand that we have to make hard choices, Kids are resilient and can look after themselves, so we must focus on the most urgent needs, such as those of hand-to-mouth billionaires. Our political leaders are so understanding because we appear to have the wealthiest Congress we’ve ever had, with a majority of members now [multi-] millionaires, so they understand the importance of cutting health insurance for the poor in order to show support for the crème de la crème.
> Peak Prosperity: The Great Retirement Con (Adam Taggart). Three decades ago, the shift from dedicated-contribution pension plans to voluntary private savings was a grand experiment with no assurances. Today, of all American workers who are offered a 401K or similar retirement plan through work, 21% choose not to participate. As a result, 1 in 4 of those aged 45-64 and 22% of those 65+ have $0 in retirement savings, and 49% of American adults of all ages aren’t saving anything for retirement, ranging from $480 for families in their mid-30s to $17,000 for families approaching retirement in 2013.
> Post Carbon Institute: Saudis And Trump: Gambling Bigly (Richard Heinberg). With depleting oil sources, low oil prices, religious conflicts (Shia vs. Sunni), tensions among ruling princes, and expensive foreign wars, the situation in Saudi Arabia is growing very precarious. Even worse, population is growing at well over two percent annually (doubling in size every 30 years); and 70 percent of the country is under age 30, with many needing jobs. In seeking reforms, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has put forward an ambitious plan called “Saudi Vision 2030.”
> The New York Times: CO2 Emissions Were Flat For Three Years. Now They’re Rising Again. (Brad Plumer, Nadja Popovich). After a three-year plateau, industrial emissions of carbon dioxide are projected to rise to record highs in 2017, a sign that the world is still far from achieving its goals to limit global warming. Global emissions from fossil fuels and industry are on track to increase roughly 2 percent over last year’s levels, driven in part by a rebound in coal use in China, the world’s largest emitter. Declines in some nations have so far been offset by rising pollution from developing countries.
> Common Dreams: Over 15,000 Scientists Just Issued A ‘Second Notice’ To Humanity. Can We Listen Now? (Andrea Germanos). The new warning was published Monday in the international journal BioScience, and marks an update to the “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity” issued by nearly 1,700 leading scientists 25 years ago. Among the “especially troubling” trends, they write, are rising greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, agricultural production, and the sixth mass extinction event underway. [Constructive measures for preventing catastrophe are mentioned]
> The Guardian: Climate Change ‘Will Create World’s Biggest Refugee Crisis’ (Matthew Taylor). Tens of millions of people will be forced from their homes by climate change in the next decade, creating the biggest refugee crisis the world has ever seen, according to a new report. Senior US military and security experts have told the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) study that the number of climate refugees [mostly from Africa] will dwarf those that have fled the Syrian conflict, bringing huge challenges to Europe.
> Garden Earth: Our Food System – A Health Hazard (Gunnar Rundgren). A recent report from the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems identifies five mechanisms by which the current food system makes people sick, and calls for a reform of the food and farming systems to be made on the grounds of protecting human health. Many of the most severe health hazards are caused by core industrial food and farming practices, such as chemical-intensive agriculture; intensive livestock production and the mass production and mass marketing of ultra-processed foods, which are in turn stimulated by the deregulated global trade.
> MinnPost: A Wide Diversity Of Bugs Share Our Homes With Us — No Matter How Tidy We Are, Study Finds (Susan Perry). A fascinating study published last Friday in the journal Scientific Reports explains that we share our homes with “uninvited biodiversity”. And a growing body of evidence suggests that many of our chronic, modern diseases are associated with our failure to be exposed to biological diversity, particularly that of microbes, some that may be carried inside by insects. Ironically, more kinds of bugs may well be healthier for us.
> Think Progress: Natural Gas Has No Climate Benefit And May Make Things Worse (Joe Romm). A shocking new study concludes that just the methane emissions escaping from New Mexico’s gas and oil industry are “equivalent to the climate impact of approximately 12 coal-fired power plants.” Natural gas is not a “bridge” fuel to a carbon-free economy for two key reasons. First, natural gas is mostly methane (CH4), a super-potent greenhouse gas, which traps 86 times as much heat as CO2 over a 20-year period. Second, other studies find that natural gas plants only replace very low carbon power sources like solar, wind, nuclear, and even energy efficiency.
> The New York Times: America’s ‘Renaissance’ To Gains For Renewables: Global Energy Trends (Stanley Reed). From the rise of renewable power to the transformation of the U.S. into a heavyweight producer of oil and gas, the global energy market is going through major upheaval. The International Energy Agency, the organization based in Paris is publishing its annual World Energy Outlook on Tuesday, a document that tries to project current trends as far out as 2040, and sees an industry at the nexus of various powerful trends.
> Common Dreams: Millennials Fall Far Behind As World’s Richest 1% Hoard Half Of Global Wealth (Julia Conley). Anti-poverty advocates on Tuesday implored world leaders to combat the massive wealth gap described in the annual Global Wealth Report released by Credit Suisse, which showed that the world’s richest one percent of people own just over half of the global wealth.
> Green Tech Media: America First? Trump Energy Cuts Would Eliminate Billions Of Dollars In Direct Savings To Consumers (Emma Foehringer Merchant). The Trump administration has attempted to systematically dismantle nearly every energy program with direct benefits to American consumers, from efficiency standards to weatherization programs for low-income families. A tally of top programs on the chopping block, such as Energy Star and appliance standards, shows that consumers will lose out on hundreds of billions of dollars in cost savings under Trump administration proposals.
> Common Dreams: ‘Say Goodbye To Local Media,’ As Trump FCC Opens Corporate Merger Floodgates (Jessica Corbett). Last week the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rolled back media ownership regulations under the guise of trying “to modernize its broadcast ownership rules and to help promote ownership diversity.” Like the FCC decision last month to revise rules about local studio ownership—a “death sentence for local media”—critics charge that the rollback is just the latest “massive handout” by large media companies, including Sinclair Broadcast Group, a major conservative broadcasting company. . [See also: Trump’s Secret Weapon Against A Free Press]
> The Guardian: Ban On Killer Robots Urgently Needed, Say Scientists (Ian Sample). Technology now exists to create autonomous weapons that can select and kill human targets without supervision as UN urged to outlaw them. A short, disturbing film is the latest attempt by campaigners and concerned scientists to highlight the dangers of developing autonomous weapons that can find, track and fire on targets without human supervision. They warn that a preemptive ban on the technology is urgently needed to prevent terrible new weapons of mass destruction.
> Anima/Soul: Waste Not, Want Not (Jody Tishmack). The annual holiday celebrations have arrived and it seems a good time to think about what we are really celebrating. It seems the historic and religious significance of these holidays has been overshadowed by consumerism. Thanksgiving and Christmas have become celebrations of consumption filled with opportunities to eat, drink, and make merry with food and gifts.
> Resilience: Food As Medicine (Jody Tishmack). Our industrial agriculture and food manufacturing practices are making food with lower nutritional value. Processed food has nutritional supplements added back in along with preservatives and artificial color and flavors, and many other food additives, while fresh minimally processed ‘whole’ food contains nutrients important for our health. We no longer think of food as medicine, or expect it to be medicine. Plants have provided our medicine for most of human history. Also, consuming whole food is healthier and less expensive.
> MPR: A Bipartisan Solution For Saving Nature (staff). The fact that there is a big partisan divide in America is not news to anyone. But lawyer and environmentalist Frederic Rich of New York says there is more disagreement between Democrats and Republicans about the environment than any other issue. What he calls “the great estrangement” has resulted in no major environmental legislation passing in the past 25 years. [Conservation Minnesota sponsored the event, and Gary Eichten moderated a Q/A session: Listen Story audio]
> VOX: 4 Ways Cities Can Become Climate Heroes (David Roberts). Cities will need not only new policies, but also new procurement strategies, financing instruments, means of gathering and sharing information, and ways of engaging the public. Here are four major ways to lower CO2 emissions: 1) Decarbonize the electricity grid; 2) Make buildings work better; 3) Change how people get around; and 4) Use less and waste less.
> Food Tank: The Global Partnership Working Around The Clock To Save Wild Relatives Of Major Crops (Michael Peñuelas). The Crop Trust, the Millennium Seed Bank at Kew, and their partners are confronting this problem on a global level by identifying gaps in the world’s collections of CWRs, supporting the collecting efforts of 24 national programs to fill those gaps, and working with more than 40 institutions to develop pre-breeding materials that will help adapt crops to a changing climate.
> Ensia: As Golf Courses Close, Nature Gets A Chance To Make A Comeback (Travis Wood). During the 1980s through early 2000s more than 4,000 golf courses were built to feed an expected growth for baby-boomer golfers. But the cost and time commitment eroded demand, putting courses across the country out of business. 211 courses closed in 2016. Once acquired, a golf course must be readied and upgraded for restoration. Repurposed courses offer large tracts that can attract native wildlife, restore ecological functions and provide opportunities for citizens to interact with nature.
> Ars Technica: To Think Critically, You Have To Be Both Analytical And Motivated (John Timmer). Overall, a tendency for analytical thinking did provide consistent protection against conspiratorial thinking and other irrational beliefs, but only if it was accompanied by a belief in the value of critical thinking. The moralizing version of this belief, where you think everyone should be approaching things critically, didn’t seem to have any influence on holding irrational ideas.
> PhysOrg: The Changing Colors Of Our Living Planet (Kate Ramsayer). This fall marks 20 years since NASA has continuously observed not just the physical properties of our planet, but the one thing that makes Earth unique among the thousands of other worlds we’ve discovered: Life. But the space agency’s scientists have also discovered long-term changes across continents and ocean basins, discoveries that point to important questions about how ecosystems will respond to a changing climate and broad-scale changes in human interaction with the land. [View remarkable time-lapse photos]
> 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: 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/
> 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.
> 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 – Census Bureau.
> 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