One week down, 51.5 weeks remaining in 2018, and every week the media provides a plethora of news—from good to fair to awful. This past week’s list of articles, provided largely by reliable non-profit progressive-leaning websites, feature some reflections on 2017, as well as projections and hopes for 2018 and beyond. The Solutions section contains some articles that focus on creating a new economy, including concepts of de-growth, which involves working with nature instead of against it.
On another topic: Bettye and I are musicians, she an experienced pianist-teacher, and I a professor emeritus of vocal music with almost 50 years of teaching experience, including 37 at the U of MN-TC School of Music. Our dedication to studying and promoting sustainability causes, a long postponed interest, began in earnest when I retired in 2007.
The reason for explaining our combined musical and sustainability interests rests with an informative and inspiring presentation by Richard Heinberg, who happens to be both a skillful amateur violinist and a highly respected sustainability expert. In his key position as Senior Fellow in Residence with Post Carbon Institute, Heinberg has distinguished himself as a prolific writer, lecturer, and promoter of sustainability and resilience issues.
Heinberg’s performance and speech in December to students and faculty at the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music in Boston can be viewed on video or read as a transcript. But viewing the video will give you an opportunity to observe his sensitive violin playing, in collaboration with an accomplished guitarist colleague.
In this unique presentation, Heinberg offers a capsule history of modern civilization’s growth and development, which he reasonably claims has been driven largely by the world’s increasing dependence on fossil-based energy sources. After his historical summary, he turns to explaining the role of artists in transforming society, particularly in influencing the public’s perceptions about social, political, economic, and environmental concerns, by addressing the True, the Good, and the Beautiful dimensions of life. It was this part of his talk that touched me deeply.
In all of my performing and teaching, I have encountered very few musical compositions—songs, oratorio, musical theater, hymns, instrumental works, etc.—that address contemporary society’s crucial issues, notably climate change, extinction of species, exploitation of natural resources, overpopulation, and growing economic inequality. Social and political issues are addressed in some compositions, but rarely.
Somewhat in the folk-style song composition as Pete Seeger created in his “earth songs”, we’ve composed 13 Eco Songs on various sustainability topics, but it would have more impact if renowned composers were to create and promote them. The written word has been more successful as an art form in addressing some issues, but rarely have the best-known novelists addressed serious environmental issues, one exception being Barbara Kingsolver.
I hope you’ll make time to view or read Heinberg’s presentation below, the first article in Views. Also, the second article in Views featuring transition leader Rob Hopkins’s interview with Sven Birkerts on a “ crisis of imagination” that’s relative to this topic. I think you’ll find both articles worth reading.
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> Post Carbon Institute: Post-Carbon Music (Richard Heinberg). On Nov. 30, 2017 at the New England Conservatory of Music, Post Carbon Institute Senior Fellow Richard Heinberg performed Paganini’s “Sonata Concertata For Guitar And Violin” and spoke about what the future might mean for today’s young musicians and artists, and the important role they have to play in the societal transformation ahead. In this video presentation (with transcript) he offers a brief historical overview and summary of developments that have placed humanity and nature in a precarious position.
> Rob Hopkins Blog: Sven Birkerts On Imagination, Attention And Resisting “Electronic Enchantments” (Interview). Birkerts is author of The Gutenberg Elegies (1994), which explores the demise of reading and the rise of digital culture, and Changing the Subject (2015), which provides update on digital media. He claims that it’s not just that this faculty of taking hold of the world in a steady way through waning of imagination, but our whole essential status as independent individuals is changing. We’re becoming much more subjected to vast systems that deplete us, a crisis of contemporary living in a sense. The antidote really is offered to us in the experience that art offers.
> Weathering The Storm: The Perfect Storm Report Card For 2017 (R. Michael Conley). Unlike the first cold war, which was heavily focused on ideology, this one will be fought over control of such things as global markets, scarce resources, currency systems, seaways, and international levers of power in combo with a toxic mix of regional conflicts, religious extremism, nuclear proliferation and asymmetric threats—as in cyber warfare. The old cold war playbook is obsolete. One thing seems certain: This is the only planet we’ve got, and we’re running out of time.
> Civil Notion: Here Come The (Trump) Judges: Their Potential Environmental Impact (Joel B. Stronberg). In its haste to deregulate and defund, Administration officials from Donald on down are often failing to follow the rule of law, as established by the Administrative Procedures Act and such legislation as the Clean Air and Waters Acts. Enforcement of the rules is increasingly being left to the courts as a result. Federal judges rule over every aspect of our lives including the time at which we are declared human and eligible for Constitutional protections.
> ABC-Religion and Ethics: Life Without Limits: The Delusions Of Technological Fundamentalism (Robert Jensen). In a mass-consumption capitalist society, there’s the delusion that if we only buy more, newer, better products we all will be happier. This ideology of human supremacy leads us to believe that our species’ cleverness allows us to ignore the limits placed on all life forms by the larger living world, of which we are but one component. Playing god got us into this trouble, and more of the same won’t get us out.
> Cassandra’s Legacy: Are We Decoupling? (Not Really, But Happy 2018 Anyway!) (Ugo Bardi). LED lighting is far more efficient than whale oil. So if we can do the same things with much less energy, then we could grow the economy without using more energy, solving the climate problem and also the depletion problem. But there has to be something wrong with this concept (“dematerialization” of the economy), because it’s not happening, at least at the global scale. Society needs energy to function and the idea that we can do more with less with the help of better technologies seems to be just an illusion.
> Cassandra’s Legacy: The Golden Rule Of Technological Progress: Innovation Doesn’t Solve Problems, It Creates Them (Ugo Bardi). Something is wrong with the way we approach what we call “problems”, with a naive faith in technology that becomes increasingly pathetic. Decades of work in research and development taught me this: First, innovation does not solve problems, it creates them (like nuclear energy); and Second, successful innovations are always highly disruptive (like autos creating suburbs). The “Seneca Effect” demonstrates how obsolete technologies can collapse very fast.
> Common Dreams-Environment America: Top 10 Environmental Stories In A Difficult Climate (Bret Fanshaw). Cities and states around the country made substantial progress in 2017 to help us create the clean, green, healthy planet we deserve—in sharp contrast to the federal government, which spent the year rolling back protections for our air, water, land and health. Here are ten “good news” stories.
> AXIOS: 10 Ways America Is Falling Behind (Shane Savitsky). On a variety of fronts, the U.S. is falling farther and farther behind both other developed nations and its own lofty standards. From health care to education, the U.S. is starting to see notable declines in the areas that matter the most to regular citizens, including: 1) Life expectancy is falling; 2) Rising student debt; 3) Homes are out of reach for millennials; 4) Mass shootings result in a shrug: 5) The opioid crisis is staggering; 6) Our education system is middling; 7) Our infrastructure is falling behind; 8) Days off from work are minimal; 9) We drink too much; and 10) Fewer people want to visit with others.
> Think Progress: 2017 Crushed A Major Temperature Record And Scientists Are Sounding The Alarm (Joe Romm). It’s been very cold over North America for days, but globally, 2017 has ended up smashing the record for the hottest year on record without an El Niño. And that has scientists worried, since the warmest years usually happen when the long-term human-caused global warming trend gets a short-term boost from an El Niño’s enhanced warming in the tropical Pacific. The fact is that without global warming, “all the natural influences should have made the year cooler than normal; not hotter.
> Press Reader-The Washington Post: Climate Change Conundrum (Chris Mooney). Cold spells don’t refute the reality of global warming. The far harder question is how climate change will alter winter itself. It will—it already has. U.S. scientists are focused on a curious winter “dipole” that warms the West and freezes the East, which occurs when a ridge of high pressure sets up over the western U.S., as a low-pressure trough sets up over the East. “Bomb cyclones” could intensify going forward.
> VOX: Energy Markets, Not Coal Bailouts, Will Keep The East Coast Warm This Week (Umir Irfan). More than a dozen people have died in the U.S. from the extremely cold weather. Also, a “bomb cyclone” blanketed swaths of the East Coast in cold and snow this week, causing even higher demand for heat. This highlights the fact that heating is a lifesaving necessity in periods of extreme cold. And as temperatures drop, energy demand shoots up, with people spending more time indoors and switching on furnaces. What worked well in the 2014 cold snap was wind energy and demand response, where utilities work with their customers to cut demand at critical times.
> The New York Times: Trump Moves To Open Nearly All Offshore Waters To Drilling (Lisa Friedman). The Trump administration has decided to allow new offshore oil and gas drilling in nearly all U.S. coastal waters, giving energy companies access to leases off California for the first time in decades and opening more than a billion acres in the Arctic and along the Eastern Seaboard. The plan favors the energy industry over environmental groups and states that oppose offshore drilling, like Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott. Finalizing the new plan could take as long as 18 months, with lawsuits to litigate.
> Common Dreams: Trump Administration Condemned For Plan To ‘Recklessly’ Expand Offshore Drilling (Jessica Corbett, Julia Conley). Environmental groups are responding with fury and condemnation to the Trump administration’s new plans, announced Thursday by the Interior Department, to “recklessly” expand offshore drilling for gas and oil in the Gulf of Mexico, around Alaska, and all along the East and West coasts of the U. S. “At a time when we need to put the brakes on fossil fuel development, Trump continues to double down on dirty energy.
> PR Web: NPG Releases New Forum Paper On Millennials’ Impact On U. S. Population Growth And Sustainability (Craig Lewis). NPG President Don Mann finds strong evidence for that view in a new Forum paper by NPG’s senior economist and demographic researcher Edwin Rubenstein on How Millennials Are Slowing U. S. Population Growth And Enhancing Sustainability. Mann hails the author’s finding that, should the Millennials’ trends continue, NPG’s goal of a sustainable America is attainable.
> NRDC On Earth: Three Trends That Should Make Environmentalists Hopeful About 2018 (Jeff Turentine). The new year will be a crapshoot, to be sure—but these trends augur well for climate and sustainability: 1) Electric cars will continue to surge; 2) Food will move even further toward sustainability; and 3) Wind and solar energy will continue to outperform expectations, and arguments for renewables are just getting better.
> White Wolf Pack: Seven Resolutions For A Better Earth In 2018 (Staff). Here are the top seven resolutions for the Earth in the New Year. Take it away, Mother Nature: 1) Prevent species from going extinct; 2) Preserve the rainforests; 3) Protect areas with high biodiversity; 4) Curb water pollution (Water Is Sacred); 5) Consume less; 6) Resolve to get trained up on making change; and 7) Protect What you love.
> Yes! Magazine: Feeling Burned Out? When We Gather, We Get Energized (Sarah van Gelder Research shows that ordinary people have close to zero influence on policymaking at the federal level while wealthy individuals and business-controlled interest groups hold substantial sway, according to an analysis published in Perspectives on Politics. But local power is by nature grounded in ourselves, in our values and in our family, in our community and culture, and in our ecological home. It is the foundation for changing things, nationally and globally.
> Resilience-ROAR: Unearthing The Capitalocene: Towards A Reparations Ecology (Jason W. Moore). It’s easier for most people to imagine the end of the planet than to imagine the end of capitalism. Some humans are currently killing everything, from megafauna to microbiota, at speeds one hundred times higher than the background rate. We argue that what changed is capitalism, that modern history has, since the 1400s, unfolded in what is better termed the Capitalocene. The result is seven cheap things: nature, work, care, food, energy, money, and lives. There is hope in “reparation ecology”. [See also: A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things]
> The Great Transition: The Fight For A New Economy (Steward Wallis). I always believed that the purpose of a business should be to do something worthwhile in the world, but when profits become paramount, any social purpose is compromised. The goal of the new economy is to meet the needs of all human beings while operating within ecological limits. It seeks to maximize the wellbeing of all species, human and other. Its proponents believe that economics is embedded in, and dependent on, the Earth’s ecosystems.
> Resilience: De-growth is Feasible: People Want a New Economy (Jason Hickel). The single greatest problem of our century is how to enable human flourishing while reducing emissions and material throughput. I offer three thoughts that provide hope: 1) People over-consume not because it aligns with their inner values, but because our economy is structured so as to incentivize it; 2) Our vision of a different economy requires the exercise of democracy against the violent tyranny of growth; 3) We are already building the de-growth economy, which calls for redistribution of public goods, in order to render growth unnecessary.
>Yes! Magazine: The Fierce Urgency Of “How” (Peter Buffett). Homo sapiens and our modern culture of doing/consuming/acquiring has created an insular bubble that is about to burst. There is nothing to make great again. There is only a future that’s coming—and that we can help create through re-establishing our connection to nature, to remembering our interdependence with all of life, by choosing cooperation, altruism, and generosity over the psychotic logic of the invisible hand and individual opportunism. And how will we live? Look to the people and communities weathering the early storms.
> Great Transition Initiative: How Do We Get There? The Problem Of Action (Paul D. Raskin). The vision of a better world beckons, and the conceptual framework for addressing this challenge rests on four pillars that address four associated questions: Where are we? Where are we going? Where do we want to go? How do we get there? These questions urge—in ascending degree of difficulty—critique of the existing order, analytic exploration of alternative global scenarios, normative visions of desirable outcomes, and collective action for shaping social evolution.
> MinnPost: As Modern Life Retreats From Nature, Science Documents Its Healing Powers (Ron Meador). Florence Williams, an accomplished journalist with an environmental bent, addresses “our epidemic dislocation from the outdoors”, represented by a wide range of mental and some physiological disorders caused by particular stresses of the modern, high-pressure, ever-accelerating lifestyle, which is pursued largely indoors and may be especially problematic for the youngest among us. David Strayer at the University of Utah believes that brain activity changes during encounters with nature. Even watching National Geographic videos might provide the same mental impact as camping in the wilderness.
> Alliance For Sustainability: Linking Citizens, Congregations And Cities For Sustainable Communities. Extensive listings of Minnesota news, events, and projects: http://www.afors.org/.
> 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
> 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; 62 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