SEF News-Views Digest No. 191 (12-6-17)
Clifton Ware, Editor-Publisher
What are we compassionate humans willing to do in assuring a sustainable existence for Earth’s future life forms? More specifically, what personal sacrifices are we willing to make—as soon as possible?
In raising this query, I think of the long trips Bettye and I have taken—and would like to continue taking, using all means of transportation, including our personal vehicle and public transportation. Are we willing to forego enjoyable mind-expanding traveling experiences in order to reduce our carbon footprint? The best answer I can conjure is “We’d very much like to, but it would be so much easier to do in company with a cadre of like-minded activists, who would collectively commit to a massive-scale conservation movement”. Otherwise, we’re inclined to continue indulging in personal travel, while continuing our regular conservation practices of reducing consumption, reusing items, and recycling as much as possible.
What moral guidelines are needed in making life-death decisions that will affect Earth’s future species? Some philosophers, such as 19th-century British philosophers Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill—both known as classical utilitarian thinkers—proposed that the right moral action is always the action that produces the most good. Consequentialism, a later derivation of utilitarianism, suggests that the right action is understood entirely in terms of consequences produced. In brief, the utilitarian view maximizes the overall good, or greater good, that which affects others as well as one’s self. So the utilitarian moral objective is to bring about the greatest amount of good for the greatest number, whether in reference to plants, animals, or people. Examples of extraordinary personal sacrifice are prevalent in tragic situations, as when individuals sacrifice themselves in order that others may live.
Utilitarianism is also distinguished by impartiality and agent-neutrality, and is somewhat akin to realism, the attitude or practice of accepting a situation as it is and being prepared to deal with it accordingly— objectively, pragmatically, and sensibly. We humans are, by nature, irrational and hyper-emotional creatures. Subverting feelings associated with here-and-now life issues—a suffering loved one, a natural catastrophe, and so on—to act wisely on behalf of unknown future world life forms, requires a certain detachment, somewhat like ER medical personnel acquire in dealing with suffering, dying and death. If the future scenario currently envisioned by deep-ecology futurists is anywhere near plausible—with an over-depleted, over-heated, over-flooded, and over-populated planet—future humans will be compelled to make life-and-death decisions unheard of today.
So what can we do, if anything? Some futurists propose a comprehensive systemic reformation of human cultures, beginning with advancing profound changes in attitudes and world views, that in turn promote constructive behaviors. The main challenge is to convince folks in developed nations to voluntarily reduce consumption and commit wholeheartedly to actively reducing, reusing, and recycling as much as possible. This herculean objective will require extraordinary widespread promotion and education, in addition to abundant political will and innovative incentives. Of course, reducing consumption will also depend on reducing population growth, the main driver of all consumption, especially life essentials (water, food, clothing, shelter, and healthcare).
The worldwide transition community is at the forefront of this issue, and currently organizing members to mount a massive promotion campaign aimed at creating a powerful eco-cultural awakening, both from the bottom up and the top down in society. Understandably, it won’t be enough to focus only on grassroots activism—unless that activism is also aimed at creating more responsible governmental and civic leadership at the top echelons. This will require developing and working with collaborative partners, all the while rejecting authoritarian dominators.
Assuring a sustainable future existence on this planet will require committed ongoing personal sacrifices, especially by those who understand the various challenges involved in making systemic reforms in all realms of society—environmental, economic, political, and social. As American author-thinker Jean Houston reminds us:
We are among the most important people who ever lived. We will determine whether humankind will grow or die, evolve or perish.
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> Common Dreams: Every Friday Is Black Friday: Why Our Addiction To Consumption And It’s Killing Us (George Monbiot). The promise of private luxury for everyone cannot be met: neither the physical nor the ecological space exists. Climate breakdown, soil loss, the collapse of habitats and species, a sea of plastic, and wild life extinction, are driven by rising consumption. Green consumerism, material decoupling, and sustainable growth are all illusions, designed to justify an economic model that is driving us to catastrophe.
> Open Democracy: The Movement To Replace Neoliberalism Is On The Ascendency – Where Do We Go Next? (Laurie Laybourn-Langton). We think there is now broad intellectual convergence across groups around a shared critique of the failings of neoliberalism [the political-economic ideas and policies that have dominated public life over the last 40 years] and the need for a new paradigm largely centering on equity, sustainability and democratization. The lack of emerging common narratives or policy solutions may be due to material barriers to progress, rather than profound differences between groups.
> Common Dreams: There’s A Strategic And Deadly Attack Aimed At The US Republic, But It’s Not The Russians (John Atcheson). Forty-six years ago a group of wealthy conservatives funded foundations and think tanks designed to discredit government, while portraying free markets as the source of salvation. To accomplish it they established a conservative presence in the press, educational institutions, and civil society to promote private corporations and smaller government—with spectacularly success. A democratic response requires fighting the attacks on net neutrality and the FCC.
> Resource Insights: Agriculture And Climate Change: Is Farming Really A Movable Feast? (Kurt Cobb). As climate change overheats and dries areas in lower latitudes, the notion that our agricultural production can simply migrate toward the poles is highly unlikely. One assumption behind this falsely reassuring idea is that soil quality is somehow roughly uniform across the planet. Also, that deforestation might make such lands arable, but the loss of carbon storage that trees offer would only make climate change worse. Experts promoting adaptation propose these types of “solutions”.
> Carbon Brief: The Carbon Brief Interview: Dr Katharine Hayhoe (Robert McSweeney, interviewer). Dr. Hayhoe was a lead author on the Climate Science Special Report, part of the fourth US National Climate Assessment, author of A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions, and also writes and produces an animated series on YouTube called “Global Weirding”. She says that one of the most important things that people need to know is the fact that there’s not a 50-50 debate on this [reality of climate change]. Scientists agree. [script and videos provided]
> Resilience: GDP, Jobs, And Fossil Largesse (Nate Hagens, D. J. White). The good news is that GDP is an insane metric for success, as was “giant stone heads” of Easter Islanders (though at that time they had no evidence their belief was nuts, while in 2016 we have demonstrable proof that the conclusions of neoclassical economics are refuted by basic science). If we decide that we value happiness, quality of life, and a healthy planet with uncounted thousands of human generations left, we could in principle jettison GDP and do things differently. It won’t be easy, only necessary.
> Peak Prosperity: You’re Just Not Prepared For What’s Coming (Chris Martenson). Growing financial bubbles—blown by central bankers serially addicted to creating them (and then riding to the rescue to fix them) – are the largest in history, and when they finally let go potentially the most destructive. Millions of households will lose trillions of dollars in net worth. Jobs will evaporate, causing the tens of millions of families living paycheck-to-paycheck serious harm. For so many reasons, including excessive debts and many asset price bubbles, none of this is sustainable.
> Restoring Mayberry: Children And Nature (Brian Kaller). The fact that children stay home so much also means that they have little contact with Nature, a connection that keeps us grounded and healthy, and allows us to care about the world around us. U.S. author Richard Louv coined the phrase “Nature-deficit disorder,” which comes from children no longer exploring woods or bogs and having adventures. Children obsessed with computer games miss the restorative effects that come with the nimbler bodies and sharper senses that are developed during random running-around in wild places.
> Grist: Ice Apocalypse (Eric Holthaus). Rapid collapse of Antarctic glaciers could flood coastal cities by the end of this century. The glaciers of Pine Island Bay are two of the largest and fastest melting in Antarctica. Together, they act as a plug holding back enough ice to pour 11 feet of sea-level rise into the world’s oceans—an amount that would submerge every coastal city on the planet. All this could play out in a mere 20 to 50 years—much too quickly for humanity to adapt. With marine ice cliff instability, sea-level rise for the next century is potentially much larger than we thought it might be five or 10 years ago
> The Washington Post: A Growing Number Of Young Americans Are Leaving Desk Jobs To Farm (Caitlin Dewey). For only the second time in the last century, the number of farmers under 35 years old is increasing, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest Census. They tend to be highly educated, ex-urban, first-time farmers operating small organic farms (50 acres or less), and capitalizing on booming consumer demand for local and sustainable foods and could have a broad impact on the food system.
> AgWeek: Parkinson’s Disease Isn’t Understood Well, Farm Pesticides May Contribute (Mike Rosman). Parkinson’s Disease occurs in about 2 percent of the general population; it is the 14th leading cause of death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How Parkinson’s develops isn’t fully understood, but it is known that several agricultural fungicides, fumigants, herbicides and insecticides increase its occurrence.
> The Washington Post: Oil And Gas Industry Is Causing Texas Earthquakes, A ‘Landmark’ Study Suggests (Ben Guarino). An unnatural number of earthquakes hit Texas in the past decade, and seismic activity is increasing. In 2008, two earthquakes stronger than magnitude 3 struck the state. Eight years later, 12 did. In addition to natural phenomenon, humans also cause earthquakes, including mining and dam construction, and in recent years natural gas extraction—including hydraulic fracturing, which produces a lot of wastewater that, under pressure, disrupts ancient underground cracks.
> Sustainable Food Trust: Generation Waste: Why Are Millennials Throwing Away So Much Food? (Kathleen Steeden). A recent study highlighted generational differences regarding food waste, and a large number of media outlets reported that millennials are the worst culprits when it comes to throwing away food and contributing to the annual 7.3 million tons of food wasted by UK households. Apparently an obsession with social media and a ‘live to eat’ attitude are to blame, as the millennial generation views food less as a necessity than as a social currency. [The author questions this view]
> Christian Science Monitor: Keystone Pipeline Leaks More Than Predicted In Risk Assessments (Valerie Volcovici, Richard Valdmanis). TransCanada Corp’s existing Keystone pipeline has leaked substantially more often in the U.S. than indicated in risk assessments provided to regulators prior to operation in 2010. The 2,147-mile Keystone system, from Hardisty, Alberta, to the Texas coast, has had three significant leaks in the U.S. since 2010, including a 5,000-barrel spill this month in rural South Dakota, and two of about 400 barrels each in South Dakota (2016) and North Dakota (2011).
> University of MN: Carbon Emissions By Plant Respiration Will Have Large Impact On Climate (Staff). New findings by researchers from the University of Minnesota College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS), who partnered with scientists from across the world, suggest plant respiration is a larger source of carbon emissions than previously thought [likely 30 percent higher], and warn that as the world warms, this may reduce the ability of Earth’s land surface to absorb emissions due to fossil fuel burning.
> Climate Progress: Warning To Local Governments: Adopt Climate Adaptation Strategies Or Face Credit Downgrades (Mark Hand). Moody’s Investors Service, one of the big three credit rating agencies, released an in-depth report on Tuesday that explains how it takes climate change into consideration when analyzing the financial health of state and municipal governments. The growing effects of climate change, including climbing global temperatures and rising sea levels, are forecast to have an increasing economic impact on state and local governments in the United States.
> Inside Climate News: 5500 US Schools Use Solar Power, And That’s Growing As Costs Fall (Lindsey Gilpin). As renewable energy prices drop, schools are saving millions, while teaching students about technology. Their solar capacity has nearly doubled in three years.
> Ensia: We’re Pouring Millions Of Tons Of Salt On Roads Each Winter. Here’s Why It’s A Problem (Greg Breining). A recent study of 371 lakes in North America — most in the northern states and southern Canada — showed road salt chloride concentrations rising in more than a third, with more than two dozen nudging toward levels harmful to aquatic life. About 7,770 U.S. and Candian lakes may be experiencing elevated chloride concentrations. As much as 66 million tons may be applied worldwide each year, resulting in damaged vegetation, polluted groundwater and unsafe waterways.
> Common Dreams: Averting The Apocalypse: Lessons From Costa Rica (Jason Hickel). Our chances of keeping global warming below the 2C danger threshold are only about 5%, simply because cuts to greenhouse gas emissions are being cancelled out by economic growth. Costa Rica, perhaps the most efficient economy on earth, produces high standards of living with low GDP and minimal pressure on the environment, due to universalism: the principle that everyone should have equal access to generous, high-quality social services as a basic right. “De-growth”, a downscaling of 4-6% in consumption per year, is needed.
> 99% Invisible: Car-Free Cities: “Gridlock Sam” And The Drive To Reclaim Urban Roadways (Kurt Kohlstedt). Around the world, other countries are also looking at new ways to reduce or eliminate car traffic in downtown areas, aiming to reduce collision danger as well as air and noise pollution. London famously levies a “congestion charge,” Barcelona is developing car-free “superblocks,” Hamburg has a 20-year plan to eliminate cars downtown and China has talked about building a city free of cars from scratch.
> Food Climate Research Network: Organic Agriculture For 10 Billion People (Adrian Muller). Organic agriculture can feed the world. What “feeding the world” basically means high shares of animal products in diets and that a third of production is wasted, which makes no sense. For organic agriculture to play a role in sustainable food systems and contribute to food security, it will require feeding 10 billion people in 2050, all the while reducing negative environmental impacts of the food system, such as biodiversity loss and greenhouse gas emissions.
> Democracy Now: Scientists Issue Dire Warning On Climate Change And Key Researcher Urges “Changes In How We Live” (Amy Goodman). A group of 15,000 scientists have come together to issue a dire “second notice” to humanity, 25 years after a group of scientists issued the “first notice” warning the world about climate change. We speak with the co-author of this report (“Can the Climate Afford Europe’s Gas Addiction?”), Kevin Anderson, one of the world’s leading climate scientists. As much as possible, he practices a low-carbon production lifestyle.
> Resource Insights: Be Kind, It’s All Connected (Kurt Cobb). The modern worldview that guides human behavior has all the hallmarks of a religion, which is at the root of our ecological predicament. Changing the current perilous trajectory of humankind would entail the adoption of an ecologically sound religion to replace it. A simple replacement might be founded on a humble thought: “Be kind, it’s all connected.”
> NBC News: Why Wave Power May Be The Next Big Thing In Green Energy (Joseph Bennington-Castro). A wave energy converter off the shore of the Hawaiian island of Oahu is one example of a new renewable energy technology that transforms ocean waves into electrical power. If the technology proves feasible, arrays of wave energy converters moored along coastal regions of the U.S. will be providing power to millions of homes in coming decades, up to a third of total electrical energy useage. Like solar and wind power, wave power harnesses energy that comes ultimately from the sun.
> Common Dreams: In Face Of Climate Crisis, Environment And Trade Union Movements Finding Common Cause (Susann Scherbarth). Environment and trade union movements have come together to call for a ‘just transition’—a transition that is fair and secures workers’ jobs and livelihoods through the creation of decent opportunities. It is inspiring to see the diversity and strength of the movement demanding transition from an extractive economy to a regenerative in a fair and fast way. What unites this movement is our shared recognition of the gravity of the climate crisis and desire for justice.
> Yes! Magazine: When Buying Nothing Gives You More Of Everything (Erin Sagen). This year, Americans are predicted to spend up to $682 billion during the holidays, 4 percent more than last year. One option is The Buy Nothing project, which promotes sharing free gifts of unwanted or unused items. In addition to reducing consumption and saving money, an occasional hassle of giving and getting free stuff helps you feel the physical and mental burden of having to gift every item you no longer want in your home, and it’s an embodied lesson in the cost of consumerism that’s quite effective.
> NPG: How Millennials Are Slowing U. S. Population Growth And Enhancing Sustainability (Edwin Rubenstein). If Millennials’ trends continue, the goal of a sustainable America is attainable. There is a growing acceptance among economists that a shrinking population is not necessarily a bad thing. GDP growth may slow, but GDP per capita may well benefit. Some contributing factors to Millennialism include the Great Recession; the professionalization of women in the work force; the devaluation of such status symbols as homes and automobiles; and preference for a “sharing economy” over ownership.
> MPR News: Many Minnesota Homes Would Benefit From An Energy Audit (Martin Moylan). Many Minnesota homes still have lots of room for energy savings. “Any home built before 1970, there’s no guarantee that there’s any insulation in the walls,” said Stacy Boots Camp, outreach coordinator for the Minnesota Center for Energy and the Environment. The group helps homeowners cut their energy use. In addition to supporting home energy audits, both Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy offer energy-saving products for free or at reduced prices. [See also: Home Energy Squad].
> Yes! Magazine: New Study Links Living Near Forests To Healthier Brains (Tom Jacobs). In a German study of older urban dwellers, it found living in close proximity to forestland is linked with strong, healthy functioning of a key part of the brain. This indicates that, compared with those who live in a mostly man-made environment, people who dwell on the border between city and forest may be better able to cope with stress. Only proximity to forestland (not parks) had this apparent positive effect.
> 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