Posts Tagged ‘ economy ’

PRESS RELEASE: IntComps site changes hands

HAPA ANNOUNCES TRANSFER OF RESEARCH PROJECT TO UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI

Hayward, CA – The Hayward Area Planning Association (HAPA) has transferred the InternationalComparisons.org website to the University of Missouri. Sherman Lewis, Professor Emeritus of Cal State University Hayward and President of HAPA, and Dustyn Bindel, Research Associate, developed the website over a period of almost four years. Tevfik Murat Yildirim, a Ph.D. student at the University, will be continuing the development of the site as new research is done on evaluating the performance of the world’s advanced nations. Professor Cooper Drury, Chair of the Department of Political Science, edits the Journal, Foreign Policy Analysis, and is the faculty contact for the site. He said, “Understanding the politics in other states is critically important to understand the foreign policy of others and one’s own state.”The site address is http://www.internationalcomparison.org/

Lewis says, “Work on this site has been rewarding but has become too time consuming, and I need to pass the baton onto some institution with fresh energy to continue the work.” Bindel, who ran the website and a related blog, says that “Laying out the site, technically, was quite challenging, but I think we’ve made it quite transparent for any journalist or academic with an interest in national comparative evaluations.” Tevfik states that he “… was excited when I saw an announcement about this website, and as I looked into it more, I decided it was something important—something I really wanted to work on. I feel challenged and honored for the opportunity to work on this important website.”

Sherman Lewis had the idea for this project for many years before he finally got serious, starting with a compilation of all the treaties that other advanced nations had agreed to, but not the United States. In general, he is critical of both ideological attacks on the United States and of simplistic defenses of the U.S. He believes that the United States is seriously behind on many important goals of society and yet also wants to give credit to the U.S. where its performance is good or excellent. Nevertheless, he believes that the U.S. in general has fallen behind other advanced democracies, and people need objective information about this problem.

Lewis: The “Intcomps” website is unique in that it has more topics of comparison for quality of life than any other website in the world today. On the other hand, it looks only at 12 countries, the U.S. and 11 advanced democratic countries: Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. The site combines objectivity with evaluation.

In May 2014, Wikipedia published an article on the general issue of international comparison statistics for 26 policy areas. The article discusses seven databases with this kind of statistical data. Internationalcomparisons.org is the only one that covers every area.
See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_comparisons

On the website, the categorical pages, each containing several columns of statistics, are as follows:

Agriculture     Child Welfare     Competitiveness     Crime     Economy     Education

Energy     Environment     Gender Equality     General Performance     Greenhouse Gases

Health Care     Health Regulation      Health Status     Housing

Income Distribution     International Aid     Lifestyle Risks     Military     Population

Rule of Law     Sexual Health     Social Justice     Technology     Teen Pregnancy

Transportation     Treaties     Voting     Work and Leisure

To learn more about the website or HAPA, please contact Sherman Lewis at sherman@csuhayward.us.

 

The Crisis of the Anthropocene: Part 2

Continued from The Crisis of the Anthropocene: Part 1.

by Dr. Sherman Lewis, Professor Emeritus Political Science, California State University East Bay

Cheap fossils

Peak oil refers to the gradual increase in the cost of extracting fossil fuels causing higher prices, decreasing demand, and declining production. As peak oil is reached, the volume of extraction declines. Peak oil was reached years ago in the US. In 2010 the International Energy Association announced that peak oil may have occurred internationally in 2006. The price of gasoline has been erratically ratcheting up. Conventional petroleum is probably less available at the same time that rapidly growing economies demand more oil. Most Americans are likely to continue to buy gas as if there were no tomorrow and blame politics, oil companies, and speculators for a problem inherent in the earth’s crust. The timing of the ratchet is unpredictable. Crudeoilpeak.info/global-peak has excellent data on the past, but less certain projections for the future.

Credit: theresilientearth.com

Unfortunately, the benefit peak oil might provide to reduce global warming is being more than offset by other fossils, which seem well short of any peak. Higher oil prices so far only serve to stimulate more extraction of oil from risky deep ocean platforms, coal, dirty oil from shale and sand, and natural gas from fracking, which pollutes huge volumes of clean water. Fossil fuels are still in under-priced over-abundance and consumption is even increasing. The earth’s crust appears sufficiently generous in fossils to assure the demise of the climate that supported human development. However great for the money economy, it is not sustainable in the whole economy.

Under-pricing reduces the viability of non-fossil alternatives—solar wind, photovoltaic and thermal energy, energy efficiency, conservation, non-auto modes, and efficient land use.

Water

Humans appropriate more than half the world’s fresh water. Ancient aquifers in the world’s bread baskets, including the Ogallala in the Great Plains, are being drained. California has diverted so much water from the Bay Delta system that its historic ecology has collapsed. The salmon, steelhead, and striped bass are mostly gone, leaving the tiny Delta Smelt as the remaining indicator species. Water shortages are increasing. A federal court recently ordered water released into the Klamath River to prevent fish kills, at the expense of farmers who wanted the water. The San Joaquin Valley has sunk many feet in some places due to over-pumping of ground water.

In December 2012, the Interior Department said by mid-century the Colorado River will not support demand from the seven states it supplies, including California. The main reason is expected population growth in the region from 40 million to as many as 76 million people. “Phoenix continues to grow at one of the highest rates in the country,” said Jerry Karnas, population and sustainability director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “There is no discussion about what the future Phoenix is going to do when the Colorado River is done.”

As rains diminish and the climate dries in some areas, increased pumping from falling aquifers becomes more expensive due to the cost of electricity, itself dependent on water supplies and fossils. As diets improve, demand for food higher up the food chain requires more water. Only 2 percent of major U.S. rivers run unimpeded to the sea. California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta has been entirely re-engineered. The last time the Colorado River reached the Sea of Cortez was in 1998. The Nile, Indus and Ganges rivers have been reduced to a trickle. (See chellaney.net for information on the most pertinent international water issue.)

Credit: thelivingocean.net

 

Pollution

Pollution of water, air, and land comes from burning fossils, hazardous chemicals, excess nutrients, and solid waste. Small amounts of a chemical can devastate amphibians and bees. Residues from 100 million tons of synthetic chemical compounds produced each year commonly appear in polar bear tissues, whale blubber, and human breast milk and umbilical cords. Nitrogen can be a fertilizer; the excess is a problem. Human activity surpasses nature as a source of nitrogen emissions, altering the planet’s nitrogen cycle.

Radioactivity has been an evolutionary background reality and a minor pollutant since the Strontium 90 scares of the 1950s, but is now looming much larger as radioactivity from the Japanese Fukushima Daiichi Reactor melt-down drifts across the Pacific Ocean to the West Coast of North America. Radioactivity has proven deadly from the earliest research to the bombing of two Japanese cities. In theory and most practice radioactivity is one of the most strictly regulated pollutants, but the difficulty of failsafe nuclear energy and the possibility of nuclear war and nuclear terrorism are still there.

Bioengineering is not usually thought of as a pollutant, but at the micro-scale of DNA it could be considered to be one, much like an invasive species in a habitat. So far, research and industry safeguards have prevented acute problems, but secrecy about Genetically Modified Organisms, lack of consumer choice, and industry assurances motivated in part by profit-seeking do not inspire confidence. Wind-blown GMO seeds have already contaminated some organic crops. We are still learning the most basic things about DNA, let alone how it can safely be manipulated.

California has eight of the 10 most air-polluted cities in the country and 725 metric tons of solid waste are washing up on our coast each year.

Higher, higher still Credit: InternationalComparisons.org

Credit: InternationalComparisons.org

Land

Humans have converted more than 40 percent of the earth’s land, usually the most biologically productive land, to cities and farms. Urbanization often destroys prime farmland. Roads and structures fragment the habitat of much of the rest. The increasing need for food and decreasing yields due to climate change, salinization, soil erosion, soil depletion, and conversion to other uses have led to converting more marginal, unfarmed land to crops. Farms and logging are big sources of deforestation and also causes greenhouse gases and loss of sequestration of atmospheric carbon.

Oceans

A third of world fisheries are exhausted or degraded. Forty percent of coral reefs and a third of mangroves have been destroyed or degraded. Most species of the great predator fish are in decline. Ocean acidification, a product of fossil fuel burning, is dissolving calcifying plankton at the base of the food chain. Coral reefs are disappearing as warming, over-fishing, and pollutants cause massive bleaching, i.e., the ejection by the coral of the algae it needs to grow. Less life in the oceans reduces sequestration of carbon. A garbage gyre at least twice the size of Texas swirls in the Pacific Ocean. “We can’t just continue dumping nitrogen into the ocean at the same rate and expect everything to be fine,” Santa Clara University’s Marvier said.

Auto-dependency

The world is rapidly increasing the number and use of cars, while other, healthier, modes of transportation, especially walking, are shrinking in proportion. Underpricing of fossil fuel drives land use dispersion, resulting in a suburban system which makes other modes uneconomic and unavailable. Californians own 32 million registered vehicles for 29 million people aged 16 and older.

Misconceptions

The problem is not consumption as understood by economists, but rather the over-consumption of some things due to their under-pricing which fails to consider full economic cost and allows externalization of costs, degrading the whole economy: “problem consumption.” The whole economy includes values of obvious economic worth that are not reflected in prices. We cannot conceive a sustainable economy because it is too complex, but we can have policies which push us towards one, with sustainable consumption replacing the unsustainable over time, and an improving status of women reducing population growth.

There is no “birth dearth,” at least, not yet. World fertility rates have fallen from 4.9 births per woman in the 1960s to the current 2.6, still too high. The rate in about half the world—Japan, Western Europe, China, Vietnam, Brazil, Iran, Thailand, and other emerging economies—is below the 2.1 births per woman needed for zero growth. The United States, the world’s third-largest country behind China and India, and the only rich country still growing, nevertheless recently saw its birth rate fall to 1.9.

The improvement in the status of women has driven birth rates down through education, economic opportunity, legal protections, family planning, and, to a small extent, therapeutic abortion. Across cultures, women choose to provide a better life for fewer children.

The revolution, however, is incomplete because high economic costs are still imposed on most women who choose to have children. Historically, the duties of child-rearing have been assumed by women, but, with improved status and given a choice, women reduce the burden. Once a developed country chooses to tax itself to ease the cost, women, if need be, are ready, willing, and able to have more children, because few things in life are more fulfilling.

While the population gets older, the ratio of dependent seniors on younger workers does not tell us what we need to know. The ratio is less relevant, possibly irrelevant, because health is increasing faster than age, and many older people want to work at work they choose. Also, if there are tax penalties, like loss of retirement income if one works, people will work less for money and more at other things. I retired to avoid tax penalties and to work voluntarily on sustainability analysis and advocacy. My wife retired and is almost fulltime at granddaughter care so that our kids can work for money. Rebalancing incentives for having children and for older working can solve problems, if they occur.

Major source: Carolyn Lochhead, San Francisco Chronicle Washington correspondent, SF Chronicle, Sept. 3, 2013.

The Crisis of the Anthropocene: Part 1

by Dr. Sherman Lewis, Professor Emeritus Political Science, California State University East Bay

Overview

Science, though often behind the actual pace of change, is still our best source of information. For the first time in the history of the earth, a species by its own conscious decisions is ending one geological epoch, the Holocene, and starting another, the Anthropocene.

credit: Planet Under Pressure

For decades, scientists have been discovering and warning about a series of interconnected threats to human welfare. In May 2013, the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere, consisting of more than 1,000 scientists, signed a consensus report at Stanford University that “Earth is reaching a tipping point.” “The evidence that humans are damaging their ecological life-support system is overwhelming,” said the report. “By the time today’s children reach middle age, it is extremely likely that the Earth’s life-support systems, critical for human prosperity and existence, will be irretrievably damaged.” Michele Marvier, chair of environmental studies at Santa Clara University, says that “humans dominate every flux and cycle of the planet’s ecology and geochemistry.”

A recent article in Nature stated “Localized ecological systems are known to shift abruptly and irreversibly, from one state to another when they are forced across critical thresholds. Here we review evidence that the global ecosystem as a whole can react in the same way and is approaching a planetary critical transition as a result of human influence.” Human “ ‘forcings’ far exceed, in both rate and magnitude, the forcing evident at the most recent global scale state shift, the last glacial-interglacial transition.” (Be sure to read the David Roberts and David Perlman articles from which the above quotes have been taken.)

Population

From 1950 to 2012 world population tripled, to 7.1 billion, and continues to climb by more than 1.5 million people a week. The world population is expected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050. Joseph Speidel, a professor at UCSF’s Bixby Center on Global Reproductive Health, says, “The annual increment is rising quite dramatically. …We are still adding about 84 million people a year to the planet.” The addition in just 62 years will be greater than the human population growth for thousands of years to 1950. The World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank, estimates that by mid-century the world will need 70 percent more food, because as people grow wealthier they eat more meat, requiring more grain to feed livestock.

Falling birth rates do not quickly translate into falling growth rates because of “demographic momentum.” The absolute numbers keep rising for decades due to births to the large number of people in their child-bearing years. It took 12 years to add the last billion by 2011 and will take 14 more years to add the next billion, a slow decline in rate allowing a huge increase in numbers.

In developed countries falling birthrates are outweighed by the impacts of increased “problem consumption” per capita. Problem consumption refers to consumption which places the most stress on the earth. The United States is expected to grow from 313 million people to 400 million. California has 38 million people, including 10 million immigrants, and has grown 10 percent in the last decade. By 2050, projections show 51 million people living in the state, more than twice as many as in 1980.

In many less developed countries high population growth is being reduced somewhat by famine, hunger, disease, civil violence, and war. At least 2 billion people are malnourished, which increases death rates and reduces birth rates. Also, given lack of family planning, about half of unplanned pregnancies end in unsafe abortion. Nevertheless, in sub-Saharan Africa, Afghanistan and Yemen birth rates are exceptionally high. In 2012 U.N. demographers sharply raised their population projections, adding another billion people by 2100, reaching nearly 11 billion. African fertility rates have peaked at more than five births per woman. From now until 2050, poor countries will add the equivalent of a city of 1 million people every five days, said a report last year by the Royal Society, a top British scientific organization.

The Guttmacher Institute, a family planning research group, said more than 40 percent of the world’s 208 million pregnancies each year are unplanned. Half of U.S. pregnancies, about 3 million a year, are unintended, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, a Washington advocacy group.

Population growth is primarily caused by the low status of poor women, especially in less-developed countries. Low status refers to a number of related problems—poverty, low education, lack of legal protections, lack of jobs, lack of health care and family planning, and abuse by dominant males. Rising status always lowers birth rates, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or culture.

The Guttmacher Institute said it would cost $4.1 billion a year in the $3.8 trillion U.S. budget to provide family planning for the 222 million women in the world who lack access to family health services. Republicans in the US Congress oppose funding that would allow poor women to choose how many children they have. In 2013 a House Appropriations panel again slashed money for family planning aid.

Biodiversity

As human population waxes, the population of species in nature wanes. Scientists have identified the Anthropocene as the sixth mass extinction in the earth’s 540 million-year history. A quarter of known mammal species, 43 percent of amphibians, 29 percent of reptiles and 14 percent of birds are threatened. African elephants may be extinct within a decade.

Biodiversity is collapsing because of appropriation of biomass, habitat fragmentation, dewatering of rivers and wetlands, land conversion, pollution, invasive species, over-hunting, and over-fishing. Each year, humans appropriate up to 40 percent of the earth’s biomass, the product of photosynthesis, earth’s basic energy conversion necessary to all life. “Even in poorer nations that don’t have the impact that the average American has on the planet, population as it grows squeezes out other species because people need space to live, and the other species need space to live,” said Jeffrey McKee, an anthropologist at Ohio State University. Other wealthy countries have similar impacts, but less per capita.

California alone has 157 known endangered or threatened species.

Climate

People have altered the composition of the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels and causing emissions of other global warming gases like methane. Atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased from about 250 parts per million to about 400, and continues to rise. As the atmosphere holds more heat, temperatures rise, especially at the poles. The seasons move “pole-ward,” with earlier springs and later falls. Increased evaporation leads to more precipitation. On equatorial and temperate land masses, which have little water, droughts are increasing, as in the African Sahel. Increased heat energy in the ocean and atmosphere increases the intensity of extreme weather events. Glaciers, the Greenland Ice Cap, and the poles are melting. The permafrost is melting. More flooding occurs from precipitation, thermal expansion of the ocean, melt water from land-based glaciers, rising oceans, and extreme storms. Many species are affected, moving pole-ward if they can. Some species depend on altitude and run out of up. In the Monteverde Cloud Forest of Costa Rica, the golden toad ran out of mountain and was extirpated. Less sea ice is reducing polar bear population, which depend on it to hunt seals. Climate change reduces yields by decreasing rainfall in many large farming areas. Forest fires are increasing in extent and frequency.

Credit: fasteconomy.com

To be covered in Part 2 on Thursday: Cheap Fossils to Auto-dependency and Misconceptions