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A look back over 2012 - Jan 3

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What we learned in 2012

Ugo Bardi, Cassandra's Legacy

2012 was a special year. So many things happened, and so many things didn't happen. That gave us a chance to learn a lot; probably more than we would have liked to learn. So, we learned that:

- It is so easy to scare people with fancy stories and so difficult to use logic and data to persuade them of real and imminent dangers.

- It is incredibly easy to convince people that resources are abundant and will last decades. They will believe that even if it is based on faulty data and sloppy reasoning.

- Climate change is hitting us faster than anyone could imagine. It is in this year that we realized in horror that it is going to affect us, and not just future generations. Even more in horror, we realized that nobody is going to do anything about it.

- When people are hit hard by climate disasters, such as droughts, floods, hurricanes and the like, they narrow their viewpoint to their most immediate concerns and forget all about climate change.

- People convinced that climate change is all a conspiracy will never change their mind, no matter what happens. Their capability to construct complex logic arguments to deny the evidence is bewildering.

- When the economic situation becomes difficult, the first reaction is to cut on renewable energy and conservation.

- We can only fiddle with small problems, while we just don't seem to be able to solve big problems.

- The monoculture won the battle for our hearts and minds. Not only we can't solve big problems, we can't even see that they exist.

- We are stuck on this planet and this planet seems to have had enough of us.

(31 December 2012)


2012: What We Can Learn From Drought, Disaster, And Devastating Violence

Carolyn Baker, Speaking Truth to Power

On some level, it is tempting to say, “goodbye and good riddance” to 2012. For all the positive experiences it may have brought us, those were overshadowed by losses that will live with us for a very long time. But no matter how much we would like to “put them behind us” and declare their end, the truth is that they mark the beginning of a new era of deepening loss and cultural chaos. I assume that the reader understands this, but at the same time, I believe it is crucial to evaluate the lessons which this formidable year offers us.

2012 was the year in which more citizens and luminaries on earth verbalized the reality of climate change than ever before. Undoubtedly, the magnitude of drought and natural disasters throughout the planet rendered continued denial absurd, but so did a plethora of documentation of warming temperatures, polar ice melting, and rising sea levels. [See my recent article “The Sixth Extinction”] It is now obvious that it may only be a matter of decades, not centuries, before humans will have produced a planet where significant portions of it are uninhabitable.

Drought

In the summer of 2012 the United States experienced the worst drought since the Dust Bowl of the Great Depression era. As the drought expanded to encompass nearly two-thirds of the nation and as other droughts around the world signaled unprecedented warming of the planet, a plethora of reports began attributing this ecological and economic tragedy to climate change. US farmers were economically devastated by scorched crops that could only be plowed under, and many were forced to sell large amounts of livestock which they had no hay to feed.

As we approach Christmas Day, the American drought continues with insignificant amounts of precipitation experienced in the Midwest and Eastern Seaboard, with the exception of Superstorm Sandy and its devastation. The water level of the Mississippi River is so low that a shipping crisis on the river is imminent. It is entirely possible, perhaps likely, that the drought of 2012 will subtly or blatantly continue throughout the winter and on into yet another record-breaking, torrid summer of 2013. In any event, 2012 has dramatically broken records for heat, drought, and weather extremes.

Disaster

2012 also broke records for natural disasters around the world, and myriad studies and reports are linking those with climate change. Climate Central reports that “studies have increasingly found that global warming is already making certain types of extreme weather events, such as heat waves and precipitation extremes, more likely to occur and more severe.

From wildfires in the mountain West to an above-normal number of tornados in the Midwest to Superstorm Sandy in the New York and New Jersey areas, 2012 may rank as the second-most disastrous year since 1980. Moreover, for the first time in our history an American governor, Andrew Cuomo of New York, made a direct link with natural disasters and global warming saying that “Hurricane Sandy Shows That We Need To Prepare For Climate Change.”

Devastating Violence

As I write these words, funerals for 20 children and 6 adults are beginning in Newtown, Connecticut where on December 14, 20 year-old Adam Lanza massacred them at an elementary school then took his own life. This at the end of a year in which a number of other dramatic mass shootings occurred such as the July 20 massacre at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, another a few days later at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and yet another at a Portland, Oregon shopping mall just three days before the carnage in Newtown. [For a complete list of mass shootings in the US in 2012, see this Washington Post report.]

While politicians turn themselves inside out to make this an issue of gun control—or not, the horror of gun violence in the United States is beyond the scope of anything that could be done to alleviate it through legislation. Once again, the compulsion to “do something” rather than thoroughly explore the roots of the madness that penetrate into the depths of the American psyche leaves our hearts and souls even more disquieted because it signals yet another band aid that guarantees many more senseless bloodbaths.

If we were to undertake a thorough, incisive, painfully honest exploration of the psychology of gun violence, we would quickly discover that the dynamics of our species that allow us to murder the planet and render it uninhabitable are the same dynamics that allow us to murder each other with impunity. If industrial civilization is killing the planet and everything on it as Guy McPherson and Derrick Jensen have been proclaiming for some time, then we as a species have become profoundly homicidal and suicidal. And as Jensen argues, we really can’t kill a planet and live on it at the same time...

Carolyn's forthcoming book is Collapsing Consciously: Transformative Truths For Turbulent Times. She is available for life coaching and for workshops locally. She may be contacted at [email protected]

(18 December 2012)


Best of the Blog: Top 12 PPS Posts of 2012

Staff, Project for Public Spaces

2012 was a big year in general here at PPS—and the same was true for the Placemaking Blog! We’ve had a blast communicating with Placemakers around the world through our blog, as well as through Facebook and Twitter. And so, to end the year on a reflective note, we thought we’d put together a round-up of our top posts from the past year, organized by popularity. See anything you missed??...


(30 December 2012)


Revolutionary resolutions for 2013

The Editors, Waging Nonviolence

Mark Twain once said, “New Year’s is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, and friendly calls and humbug resolutions.” Although there isn’t much evidence to dispute such a claim, perhaps it’s time to create some.

With that in mind, we decided to reach out to some truly bold social movement thinkers and ask for their revolutionary resolutions — the things they are most looking forward to in their own work for the coming year, and what they hope can come from people-powered struggles for justice in 2013. May these offerings spark your own imagination and help you ring in the New Year with some dangerous ideas for a better world.

“I’ve pledged myself since I was a young student back in Burma to advocate for human rights for every human being while ensuring that contemporary consumerist capitalism will not persist, for the sake of humanity and the environment. One thing I’m looking forward to is to start working on UNESCO’s upcoming Fourth Annual Regional Forum in Uruguay sometime in fall of 2013, as well as to launch an innovative project in Burma to provide basic education to children who are working over 16 hours every day at local teashops.” – Tim Aye-Hardy, chairperson of the UNESCO Chair International Forum Planning Committee and Burmese human rights activist

“Kids are the target of violence and hatred all over the world, from Damascus to Detroit, Herat to Hartford, Najaf to Newtown. As a new parent, I ache and weep and rage at each new story. I wonder about how to care for and raise my own kids and be a full and active participant in movements for peace and justice while being in relationship with those on the margins. In the coming year, I want to explore that balance within parenting — nurturing new life, feathering the nest, delighting in each step and word and move, while organizing and fighting to make the world welcoming, equitable, safe, sustainable and peaceful for all children. It may even be easier than giving up sugar or practicing my concertina, right?” – Frida Berrigan, organizer with Witness Against Torture and WNV columnist

“My revolutionary resolution is to make decisions from a place of love… really. In the wake of the recent storms, tragedies and inexplicable loss of lives close to me, and as a parent of a pre-teen in a world going to hell in a climate handbasket, I don’t know what else to say that means anything. In order to mobilize the masses needed to win against egregious corporations and big banks, it’s imperative that we all bridge from outrage to the courage to stand up for what we love — our families, friends, health, land, water, communities. To take care of each other, believe we can make change and fight from love.” – Nadine Bloch, trainer, activist and WNV columnist

“To use the signs of climate change I experience daily not as a motive for depression but as a basis for connecting with other people. To hold up the possibility of common preservation in the midst of mutual destruction.” - Jeremy Brecher, author of Save the Humans: Common Preservation in Action and Strike!

“2013 will be the year of training for nonviolent change. Nonviolence training is the backbone of successful people power movements. It provides a vision of how social change works, the tools to make it happen, and the grounding for individuals and groups to face the challenges and opportunities that come with changing the world. Over the next 12 months, Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service will work with other nonviolence training organizations to nurture the emergence of a comprehensive network of trainers and to help establish local, regional, and national trainings to support a wide range of campaigns and movements for powerful social change.” – Ken Butigan, Waging Nonviolence columnist, director of Pace e Bene and author of Pilgrimage Through a Burning World: Spiritual Practice and Nonviolent Protest at the Nevada Test Site

“I ended 2012 with a peace pilgrimage to Afghanistan, a powerful experience where I witnessed the horrors of war and poverty, but also the hope of the Afghan Peace Volunteers, a beautiful group of young people committed to nonviolence. In this New Year, I’m interested in plumbing anew the inner spiritual depths of peace and nonviolence in the midst of my activism and public work, that I might discover deeper causes for hope. Can I become more a person of prayer, and discover the connections between the inner work of disarming the heart and the public work of disarming the world? Dare I push the mystical boundaries of peace, and engage a new kind of dangerous holiness that threatens war, empire, corporate greed and nuclear weapons, and so radiate a universal, compassionate, forgiving, nonviolent love for everyone, and remain centered in the eternal present moment of peace? That kind of peacemaking, I believe, is spiritually explosive, globally revolutionary and astonishingly hopeful, and I find it the highest goal worth seeking.” – Rev. John Dear, activist and author of 30 books on peace and nonviolence, most recently Lazarus, Come Forth!

“As 2012 wound down, low-wage workers started to stand up — at Walmarts, McDonald’s, car washes and grocery stores across New York, warehouse workers in Illinois and California, security workers at JFK airport. We’ve been stuck with a low-wage economy for too long, and these workers are doing something to change it. In 2013, I expect much more — more strikes, more struggle, more wins. It’s going to be a long slow process of changing the way our society thinks about and treats its lowest-paid employees, but it’s one of the most important fights I can think of. And my resolution is to be there for as much of it as I can.” – Sarah Jaffe, independent journalist and WNV contributor

“This year I resolve to be the best bridge-builder I can be. I believe 2013 will be a year of connection and synergy. This February will see the largest mobilization yet to stop the Keystone XL oil pipeline with new and renewed alliances across the spectrum of social movements. In June 350.org and our allies are bringing together 500 youth from over 75 different countries in a convergence called Global Power Shift in Istanbul to build skills, share strategy and build political alignment to tackle the root causes of the climate crisis. Our friends working to stop fossil fuel extraction (fracking, oil, coal, gas) are bringing together people across different struggles and movements in the Extreme Energy Summit. The U.S. Climate Justice Alignment process is bringing together frontline communities in an Our Power gathering hosted by the Black Mesa Water Coalition on the Navajo Reservation. Students and community groups are on fire with campaigns to divest from fossil fuels, bringing new allies and stakeholders into the movement. All of this work inspires me, and I think we will see our movements swell with broader alliances, new entry points for people who never considered themselves ‘activists,’ and new bold strategies.” – Joshua Kahn Russell, author of Organizing Cools the Planet and U.S. actions coordinator for 350.org

“As 2012 came to a close, televised reports showed demonstrations in Iraq with tens of thousands of Sunni demonstrators in Anbar province protesting the allegedly sectarian policies of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The images remain in my mind as a signal of the widening awareness of the field of nonviolent struggle; aggrieved Iraqis, who comprehend the logic of nonviolent resistance, were fighting with political tools rather than IEDs. The exact outcome remains unclear, but the imagery on Al Jazeera prompts my personal resolution: I shall work even harder in 2013 for depth of worldwide understanding of how civil resistance can be used to press for serious social and political change in acute conflicts, without bloodshed.” – Mary Elizabeth King, WNV columnist and author of A Quiet Revolution: The First Palestinian Intifada and Nonviolent Resistance

“Our resolution at 350.org is to take the fight to the fossil fuel industry as hard as we can–we’re tired of playing around with their puppets in D.C. and eager to take on the guys pulling the strings.” – Bill McKibben, environmental author, activist and founder of 350.org

“Metta’s main contribution to a nonviolent future is an ambitious scheme called Roadmap that lays out a three-phase, long-term nonviolent strategy for ‘the great turning.’ It builds up to resistance through personal empowerment and constructive program. Roadmap will be on the inside front cover of the January issue of Tikkun, etc. and we are creating an interactive tool on our website so that anyone can participate at whatever level feels right. We particularly invite Occupiers to come have a look at Roadmap as we go forward: our emphasis on constructive program should resonate well with their most recent (and brilliant) “occupations”: Sandy relief and the Rolling Jubilee.” – Michael Nagler – President of the Metta Center for Nonviolence and author of Search for a Nonviolent Future

“In the year 2013, I expect even more affirmation of people power and its basic concepts. We can expect tough nonviolent struggles for democracy, human rights and social justice worldwide, from Rangoon to Cairo, from Madrid to New York, from Moscow to Male. If there is one thing I may wish it is that we all learn how to best educate, promote and support hundreds of thousands brave activists engaged in this conflicts.” – Srdja Popovic, former Otpor leader and founder of the Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS)

Churchill is reported to have declared that “History is written by the victors.” How the history of the Arab Spring is written will have a profound effect upon the future of nonviolent struggle and the type of action used to conduct future campaigns. It is possible that 2013 will see the field locked in a battle of analysis over how the victories and losses of recent years have come about and whether these events have led to positive changes for the societies in which these struggles were waged. A victory for strategic nonviolent struggle on the ground could be rolled back by the lack of careful analysis and documentation of the events based on historical reality. Access to information about the requirements for success of nonviolent struggle can help people understand past struggles, and help to make future ones more effective. The Albert Einstein Institution is looking forward to expanding its programs and activities this year in order to contribute to increasing that knowledge and understanding. - Jamila Raqib, Executive Director, The Albert Einstein Institution.

(1 January 2013)


What's up for 2013? "We simply do not know" but:...

Gerard Epstein, TripleCrisis

Prognostication is a fool’s errand…maybe that’s why we economists like to do so much of it, especially this time of year.

John Maynard Keynes was no fool, but even he couldn’t help making forecasts. Keynes famously predicted, for example, that over time there would be such abundance of capital that investments would yield close to 0%, bringing about the “euthanasia of the rentier.” Though interest rates are now quite low, the rentiers are still, unfortunately, going strong.

Keynes’ willingness to engage in such forecasts is all the more interesting because, better than most economists – then and now — Keynes understood the pitfalls of economic prediction. As emphasized by my colleague James Crotty, among others, central to Keynes’ economic thought is the notion of “fundamental uncertainty.” That is, the economy is constantly in a state of flux, especially in times of profound structural change, so about the future “we simply do not know.”

This idea of “fundamental uncertainty” is, of course, a far cry from the “rational expectations” theory dominant in mainstream economics for so long: that a blanket application of the “correct” economic model “accurately” predicts the future (with the exception of some inescapable random noise). This idea is a key underpinning of the efficient market hypothesis that unregulated financial markets deliver optimum economic outcomes as investors with rational expectations make optimal long term financial decisions. Oops….

Nonetheless, the idea that “we simply do not know” the future was just the starting point, not the ending point, for Keynes’ understanding of how people make economic decisions, as Crotty has so well described. Keynes understood that people have to make decisions, one way or another, so they adopt a number of social conventions. For example, they assume the future will look a lot like the past, in the absence of significant information which would lead them to change their assessment. Per another convention, they follow the leads of others people believe are better informed than they are. Finally, they follow traditional rules of thumb right up until they stop working.

So what’s up for the economy in 2013?

We simply do not know. But, we can make some guesses, using some of John Maynard Keynes’ social conventions...

(2 January 2013)


Year in Review: 10 Things You Should Know about Food and Agriculture in 2012

Sophie Wenzlau and Laura Reynolds, Nourishing the Planet
Although Aunt Mabel’s Christmas trifle might top your list of current food concerns, there are a few other things about U.S. food and agriculture worth considering as you look back on 2012, and forward to 2013:

1. Farm Bill Deadlock. The 2008 Farm Bill, which established the most recent round of policies and support programs for the U.S. food system, expired in September. Although the Senate has passed a new version of the bill, the House has not; congressional leaders are deadlocked on the issues of cutbacks in crop subsidies and reductions in food stamps. If the House does not reach an agreement, U.S. farm policy will revert to the last “permanent” Farm Bill, passed in 1949. With 1949 policy, many innovative programs that invest in sustainable agriculture (like low-interest loans for new, female, or minority farmers) could be forced to shut down; the price for dairy products could double in January; and antiquated farm subsidies could increase by billions of dollars, likely leading to greater overproduction of commodity crops like corn and soybeans (to the benefit of agribusiness and the detriment of small and medium-sized farms).

2. Enduring Drought. Although media attention has faded, nearly 80 percent of U.S. agricultural land continues to experience drought conditions, according to recent data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), making this year’s drought more extensive than any experienced since the 1950s. The drought is expected to make food more expensive in 2013 (the USDA predicts a 3 to 4 percent increase in the Consumer Price Index), particularly meat and dairy products. To boost agriculture’s resilience to drought and other forms of climate variability, farmers can increase crop diversity, irrigate more efficiently, adopt agroecological practices, and plant trees in and around farms. Consumers can support small-scale farmers, eat less meat, and pressure the government to enact food policies that support sustainable agriculture.

3. Acceleration of Both the Food Sovereignty Movement and Agribusiness Lobbying. Achieving food sovereignty, or a food system in which producers and consumers are locally connected and food is produced sustainably by small farms, is increasingly a priority for communities in the United States and worldwide. According to the USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory, the total number of farmers markets in the United States increased by 9.6 percent between 2011 and 2012, while winter markets increased by 52 percent. But also accelerating is agribusiness lobbying: campaign contributions from large food production and processing groups—including American Crystal Sugar Company, the Altria Group, American Farm Bureau, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, California Dairies, Monsanto, Safeway Inc., and Cargill—increased from $68.3 million in the 2008 election cycle to $78.4 million in 2012, a 12.8 percent change.

4. Failed GM Labeling Bill in California. Although 47 percent of Californians voted in favor of Prop 37, a measure that would have required food companies and retailers to label food containing genetically modified (GM) ingredients, the initiative failed to pass in November. According to California Watch, food and agribusiness companies including The Hershey Co., Nestlé USA, Mars Inc., and Monsanto contributed $44 million in opposition of the initiative, while those in favor of GM labeling contributed $7.3 million. Also notable: the first independent, peer-reviewed study of GM food safety, published in the August issue of the Journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology, found that rats fed low-levels of Monsanto’s maize NK603for a period of two years (a rat’s average lifespan) suffered from mammary tumors and severe kidney and liver damage. Although the science is not yet conclusive, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should urge consumers to familiarize themselves with the potential health risks of GM food consumption, and should conduct additional studies.

5. Corn Ethanol Found to Be Environmentally Unfriendly. A study released by the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology in September found that the increased production of corn for ethanol creates environmental problems like soil acidification and the pollution of lakes and rivers. Although corn has long ruled the biofuels industry (ethanol accounted for 98 percent of domestic biofuel production in 2011), its relative energy-conversion inefficiency and sensitivity to high temperatures—in addition to its environmental footprint—make it an unsustainable long-term energy option. Perennial bioenergy crops like willow, sycamore, sweetgum, jatropha, and cottonwood, however, grow quickly; require considerably less fertilizer, pesticide, and herbicide application than annual crops; can thrive on marginal land (i.e., steep slopes); and are often hardier than annual alternatives like corn and soy.

6. Red Meat Production Increases. According to the USDA Economic Research Service, while domestic beef production isprojected to decline in 2012, overall monthly red meat production is up from 2011 levels (due to an increase in pork, lamb, and mutton production). Americans eat a lot of meat: per capita, more than almost anyone else in the world. In 2009, the most recent year for which U.S. Census consumption data is available, the United States consumed nearly 5 million tons more beef than China, although the Chinese population was four times larger. U.S. consumers could significantly reduce per capita greenhouse gas emissions by eating less red meat (the production of which is input intensive). A study published in theJournal of Environmental Science and Technology suggests that switching from a diet based on red meat and dairy to one based on chicken, fish, and eggs could reduce the average household’s yearly emissions by an amount equivalent to driving a 25 mile per gallon automobile 5,340 miles (approximately the distance from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. and back).

7. Stanford Study on Organics Leads to Emotional Debate. A Stanford study titled “Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier than Conventional Alternatives?” provoked emotional debate in September. The study found that the published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods, although it also found that consumption of organic foods can reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The study’s results were misinterpreted by many, including members of the media, to imply that organic food is not “healthier” than conventional food. In reality, the study calls into question whether organic food is more nutritious than conventional food, and affirms that organics are indeed less pesticide-ridden than conventional alternatives (the primary reason many consumers buy organic).

8. World Food Prize Recognizes Water-Saving Potential of Drip Irrigation. In October, the World Food Prize was awarded to Israeli scientist Daniel Hillel in honor of his contributions to modern drip irrigation technology. Drip irrigation is the precise application of water to plant roots via tiny holes in pipes, allowing a controlled amount of water to drip into the ground. This precision avoids water loss due to evaporation, enables plants to absorb water at their roots (where they need it most), and allows farmers to water only those rows or crops they want to, in lieu of an entire field. Drip irrigation can enhance plant growth, boost crop yields, and improve plant nutritional quality, while minimizing water waste, according to multiple sources (Cornell University ecologists, and a study conducted by the government of Zimbabwe, among others). Agriculture account for 70 percent of water use worldwide; numerous organizations, including the Pacific Institute, have argued that the efficient and conservative use of water in agriculture is a top priority, especially as overuse and climate change threaten to exacerbate situations of water scarcity.

9. Rio+20 Affirms Commitment to Sustainable Development in Agriculture. The Future We Want, the non-binding agreement produced at the United Nations’ Rio+20 conference in June, acknowledges that food security and nutrition have become pressing global challenges, and affirms international commitment to enhancing food security and access to adequate, safe, and nutritious food for present and future generations. In the document, the international community urges the development of multilateral strategies to promote the participation of farmers, especially smallholder farmers (including women) in agricultural markets; stresses the need to enhance sustainable livestock production; and recognizes the need to manage the risks associated with high and volatile food prices and their consequences for smallholder farmers and poor urban dwellers around the world. But overall, the agreement was heralded as a failure by many groups, including Greenpeace, Oxfam, and the World Wildlife Fund. According to Kumi Naidoo, the head of Greenpeace, “We were promised the ‘future we want’ but are now being presented with a ‘common vision’ of a polluter’s charter that will cook the planet, empty the oceans, and wreck the rain forests…This is not a foundation on which to grow economies or pull people out of poverty, it’s the last will and testament of a destructive twentieth century development model.”

10. White House Calls for More Investment in Agricultural Research and Innovation. A new report, released by an independent, presidentially appointed advisory group earlier this month, argues that the federal government should launch a coordinated effort to boost American agricultural science by increasing public investment and rebalancing the USDA’s research portfolio. The report cautions that U.S. agriculture faces a number of challenges that are poised to become much more serious in years to come: the need to manage new pests, pathogens, and invasive plants; increase the efficiency of water use; reduce the environmental footprint of agriculture; adapt to a changing climate; and accommodate demands for bioenergy—all while continuing to produce safe and nutritious food at home and for those in need abroad. Overall, the report calls for an increase in U.S. investment in agricultural research by a total of $700 million per year, to nurture a new “innovation ecosystem” capable of leveraging the best of America’s diverse science and technology enterprise for advancements in agriculture.

Although they might not be sexy, agricultural issues are worth caring about. The way we choose to grow, process, distribute, consume, and legislate on behalf of food can affect everything from public health, to greenhouse gas emissions, to global food availability, to water quality, to the ability of our food system to withstand shocks like floods and droughts. By familiarizing ourselves with these and other food issues, we as consumers can make informed decisions in both the grocery store and the voting booth, and can generate the action needed to move our food system in a healthy, equitable, and sustainable direction in 2013.

Sophie Wenzlau and Laura Reynolds are Food and Agriculture Staff Researchers at the Worldwatch Institute.

(31 December 2012)


9 stories that will change your world in 2013

Sarah Van Gelder, Yes! Magazine

While the Earth didn’t end on December 21, 2012, the year’s end was marked by a new awareness of the urgency of the climate crisis. Americans are becoming increasingly aware of the preciousness and fragility of life on Earth. That and other cultural shifts are setting the stage for significant change in the year ahead.

Nine key trends tell the story:

1. Climate Crisis: Alarm Translates Into Action

The climate crisis is the top story of 2012, with record-breaking heat, severe drought that led to the declaration of more than half of U.S. counties as disaster zones, wildfires that burned more than 9 million acres, and superstorm Sandy, with costs reaching into the billions. Four out of five Americans now believe that the climate problem is serious, according to an AP-Gfk poll.

The Obama administration has done little to address this problem—in part because of congressional resistance—but did set higher fuel emissions standards for automobiles, an important step in curtailing greenhouse gases.

The real action, though, is at the grassroots. Bill McKibben and 350.org launched a national movement in the fall of 2012 to press colleges and universities to divest their holdings in big energy companies. Texas and Nebraska landowners, Canadian tribes, and environmentalists everywhere are taking action to block the construction of a tar sands pipeline to ocean ports. Thousands turned out at hearings in Washington state to oppose the transport of millions of tons of Powder Basin coal through the region for export to China. And resistance to natural gas fracking is spreading throughout the Northeast.

Meanwhile, coal plants across the U.S. are closing, and a West Virginia coal company is giving up mountaintop removal as a result of pressure from environmental groups and falling demand in the wake of low prices for natural gas.

With widespread alarm at the extreme weather events, conditions are now ripe for a strong popular movement to take on the fossil fuel industry and its threat to human civilization.

2. U.S. Politics Get More Colorful

2012 saw the number of babies born to families of color exceed the number for white families. But the clout of non-whites is growing for other reasons. African Americans, Asians, and Latinos, along with women of all races, overcame discriminatory voter suppression tactics to hand President Obama the majority he needed to win a second term. The growing clout of communities of color has consequences, putting immigration reform firmly on the national agenda.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party’s radical platform has alienated large majorities of women and people of color, and more than half of Americans call Republican policies “extreme.”

The failure of policies unfriendly to women, people of color, and many others in the 99 percent has the Republican Party in disarray. There is now space for a progressive and inclusive agenda to emerge aimed at raising everyone up (including white men, but not privileging them).

3. Tolerance for Gun Violence Runs Thin

The school shooting in Newtown, Conn., may be the event that finally turns public opinion firmly against tolerance of gun violence. The Sandy Hook tragedy came on top of mass shootings in an Aurora, Col., movie theater, in a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisc., in a shopping mall in Clackamas, Ore., and elsewhere, for a total of 151 killed and injured, according to Mother Jones. This continues a trend of more than 2,000 children and teens killed by guns each year, according to a 2012 study by the Children’s Defense Fund.

The good news is that a majority of Americans now supports bans on assault weapons, and, in spite of spikes in gun sales, the number of American households that own guns is actually down from the last few decades. Research shows that having a gun in the house increases the risk of homicide and suicide in that household.

4. U.S. Global Military Posture in Question

Pursuing the most globally aggressive military posture on the planet is causing a level of blowback little discussed in mainstream media. U.S. drone attacks are killing and terrorizing civilians in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It remains unclear how the United States will extract itself from Afghanistan and wrap up the longest war in U.S. history. And American men and women in the armed services are now killing themselves at a higher rate than they are dying from any other cause, including combat. The year ended with the apparent suicide of Job W. Price, a Navy Seal.

The long-term costs to service members and their families coupled with the financial costs of carrying out wars, responding to the inevitable blowback, preparing for hypothetical wars, maintaining hundreds of foreign military bases, and paying top dollar to military contractors may be doing to the U.S. what Al Qaeda couldn’t do. Other empires fell after exhausting their people’s morale and treasure through protracted warfare. The United States is in danger of falling into a similar trap, while neglecting to invest in sources of real security, like the well-being and productive employment of citizens, and the abundance and resilience of the natural systems that supply food, water, livelihoods, and a stable climate.

In 2013, look for a reassessment of our policies of international violence. We will see efforts to rebuild our national self-worth, not based on our capacity to project death and mayhem, but on our contributions to health and well-being, climate stability, and life-enhancing technology.

5. The 99 Percent Got Inventive (and Got Some Respect)

By early 2012, as the Occupy camps were disbanded, many thought the Occupy Movement had died out. But this fall, Strike Debt arose and the Rolling Jubilee raised thousands of dollars to dissolve millions of dollars of medical debt of individuals. Both actions raised questions about why we allow the banking system to transfer so much wealth from the 99 percent to the 1 percent.

Then, when Superstorm Sandy hit, a movement that had become expert at leaderless mobilization rose up to help those harmed by the storm. Occupy volunteers hiked up stairwells to supply elderly tenants of high-rise housing projects with food and water. Distribution centers were set up throughout neighborhoods that had been flooded and lost power. Police, who had once arrested occupiers, were themselves aided by Occupy Sandy volunteers when their neighborhoods were flooded. Even the big disaster relief agencies began referring volunteers and those in need to Occupy Sandy.

The Occupy movement is inventing new forms of action and grassroots power, reinventing social movements, and building the solidarity and ethics of a new society. Watch for more powerful and creative interventions ahead in 2013.

6. Low-wage Workers Stood Up

This was a year of new labor militancy, with Walmart workers picketing for basic rights, Hot and Crusty bakery workers winning a union contract, and the original Republic Windows and Doors workers founding a worker-owned enterprise in Chicago. Still, there remains powerful pushback against labor rights. A so-called right to work bill passed in Michigan—one of many similar bills promoted by the corporate lobby group, ALEC. And the new “free trade” deal, the TransPacific Partnership, looks likely to prevail and to further benefit large transnational corporations at the expense of workers.

Look for labor organizing to continue taking creative and original forms in 2013, mobilizing unorganized workers, confronting low-wage poverty, drawing in formerly middle-class workers who are now confronting the reality of surviving in a low-wage economy, and challenging the power of the 1 percent.

7. Election 2012 Spending Spurs Backlash

What does it mean to hold an election costing nearly $6 billion? Thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, 2012 was the year we learned just how many annoying advertisements billions of dollars can buy. The fundraising arms race boosted the power of those in the 1%, since their contributions became more essential than ever to both parties’ victory strategies.

Eleven states have now passed resolutions recommending a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United ruling. More than 300 town councils have done likewise, and President Obama has endorsed the movement. The election of Elizabeth Warren to the U.S. Senate showed you can take on Wall Street and win. Look for more efforts to confront the power of corporations in 2013.

8. Love Won

In an otherwise bitter political sphere, love showed up. The image of Michelle and Barack Obama embracing became the most tweeted and Facebook “liked” image of all time. Our hearts broke when we learned of the loss of the children and the brave teachers and staff who gave their own lives to protect their students in Newtown, Conn. The president encouraged a response to the Sandy Hook shootings built on the love of our children rather than on vengeance, on the complexity of the issue rather than on simplistic solutions. He led the national mourning with his tears.

An archetypically feminine approach (to respond to a crisis with “tend and befriend” responses that look out for the best interests of all) could come to balance out the “fight or flight” responses that frequently dominate political discourse. Having record numbers of women elected to Congress in 2012 can’t hurt.

9. More Love: An Outbreak of Marriage

Here’s another place love stepped in. In an election that saw the defeat of candidates promoting an anti-gay/anti-women platform, gay marriage initiatives passed in Maine, Maryland, and Washington. The Seattle City Hall opened at midnight on the first day such marriages were legal to accommodate the flood of weddings; judges and city staff volunteered their time, and well-wishers, both straight and gay, lined the entrance to throw petals and rice, and to cheer on the newlyweds. The festivities were an eruption of unexpected joy on a cold December day.

2012 was the year when the word “love” made a comeback. This valuing of each and every life could undercut partisan bickering, a culture of violence, and political attacks, and set the tone for a new radically inclusive agenda for change.

2013’s Big Story?

The year 2013 may offer our last chance to take on the climate crisis. If we fail to take action that is up to the challenge, we may be like the passengers of the Titanic, arguing over entertainment choices while the real threat looms. With climate disasters mounting, 2013 must be the year we commit ourselves to action at the scale needed to—literally—save our world.

(2 January 2013)

 

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