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Archive for May, 2013

Environmental Problems and Solutions

The Bottom Line: The Environment

In India, Meenakshi, age 16, compares the planet to a sick patient who needs us to be responsible in our daily lives, as by saving water, planting trees, and riding bikes. She advocates, “Adolescents: Be more alert, active and engaged. …One day, our patient might be cured, begin to thrive and become a greener, more beautiful place to live.”[i]

The bottom line is that living beings’ future depends on the environment; climate change especially hurts poor countries by reducing crop production, increasing drought or floods, and rising sea levels. In an increasingly connected world, ozone created in China reaches the west coast of the US.[ii] “Climate is an issue of intergenerational justice,” said Beatrice Yeung, a Hong Kong high school student at the UN climate talks in Qatar, 2012. “Youth see the urgency. Our leaders don’t.”[iii] Youth under 18 were prohibited from attending the conference, as were students who had protested at the previous climate talk in Durban. When NGOs were allowed to speak at official sessions, they were given a one-minute time limit. Yeung said she learned “the hard lesson that world leaders will not lead on this issue. We must create the solutions ourselves.” As usual the conference did not achieve a binding agreement to reduce global warming, agreeing only to implement an agreement in 2020, ignoring the fact that warming increases at an alarming rate.[iv]

While the over one billion people who live in abject poverty consume very little, people in wealthy nations waste resources, emitting gases into the atmosphere that produce global warming harming all the planet’s inhabitants. A spokesperson for indigenous youth organized by the UN, Andrea Landry of the Anishinaabe tribe of Canada, contrasted her traditional with modern attitudes; “We’re in a relationship with the land; it’s a living thing. It’s not a matter of take, take, take. We give to the land and the land gives to us.”[v]

Despite the hazards to our environment, in a One Young World Global Youth survey of global youth leaders, only half of the respondents said current levels of global economic activity aren’t sustainable. The facts aren’t getting to youth, partly because of well-funded disinformation campaigns paid for by oil companies and other corporations fighting regulation.

In the US, a bare majority (57%) of teens think that humans are to blame for global warming and fewer than 20% view the issue as very important to them.[vi] Nearly half said they learned nothing in school about climate change. US schools are afraid to teach about climate change, similar to evolution, so “mostly it’s missing entirely from the curriculum” said Mark McCaffrey, head of the National Center for Science Education.[vii] Most (80%) teachers polled by the University of Colorado report that have faced climate-change skepticism from parents and school administrators.

In a large survey, discussed in Chapter 7, one of the largest US generational gaps was in environmental behaviors; 15% of Millennials said they made no personal effort at all to help the environment, compared to 5% of the Baby Boomers. Only 9% of Millennials said they made quite a bit of effort to help the environmental, compared to 15% of Boomers.[viii] We’ve had 50 years of warning about threats to the environment and failed to respond. A documentary A Fierce Green Fire (2012) explores 50 years of the environmental movement. Following are the realities of environmental degradation.


Global Warming

In India, Harshil, 17, m, advocates a “Green revolution for minimizing global warming in my country.” Carbon dioxide has increased to over 400 parts per million, up 40% from before industrialization, according to the World Meteorological Organization. Coal, oil and natural gas projects in the works in China, Australia, the US, Indonesia, Canada, etc. could warm the planed by 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century.[ix] At the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009 one of the few agreements was that increase in temperature shouldn’t rise beyond two degrees Celsius, about 3.6 Fahrenheit.

NASA scientist James Hansen warned that two degrees of warming is “actually a prescription for long-term disaster,” as indicated by the damage already caused by the current increase of 0.8 Celsius: A third of the Arctic summer sea ice is gone, oceans are 30% more acidic, and the atmosphere over the oceans is 5% wetter leading to floods.[x] As the oceans are warming it’s killing off coral reefs and plankton, the “web of marine life.” The grasses and forests, especially the rain forest serving as the lungs of the planet, that used to contain greenhouse gases, are being destroyed. Even if we stopped increasing carbon dioxide now, warming will continue as carbon lasts a century. We’re also overloading the atmosphere with even more harmful methane, nitrous oxide (mainly from chemical fertilizers), and black soot from burning coal. Yet carbon emissions are predicted to increase by about 3% a year.

Global warming causes droughts, heat waves, and floods, so that parts of the megacity Mumbai, for example, could become uninhabitable due to storms and rising seas. The amount of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is over 400 parts per million, although 350.org experts state that the maximum safe level is 350 parts per million. Extreme weather changes cost about $80 billion a year, according to a 2012 report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.[xi] Despite the inaction of legislators, incumbents in the US are usually reelected.

As temperatures are rising, droughts and floods intensify, making climate change “the No. 1 national security issue for developing countries.”[xii] Between 1991 and 2010, the ten countries most damaged by weather extremes were in the global South, with Bangladesh, Burma and Honduras at the top of the list.[xiii] Climate change is most devastating in the global South where government social programs were slashed by lending agencies like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in order to pay interest on national debt. It’s ironic that although poor countries contribute the least to global climate change, they suffer the most from greatest loss in annual rainfall and climate variability.


Pollution and Waste

Will we take action to prevent global warming; pollution of water, land and air; destruction of forests; and toxins in our food and water that estrogenize humans and animals and thus reduce male fertility? Affluent parents in Chinese cities buy expensive air filters to protect their children from pollution that caused 1.2 million premature deaths in 2010.[xiv] Others protest. The film Warriors of Qiugang documents villagers who worked with activist group Green Anhui to end pollution from chemical factories.[xv]  Pollution is a growing problem in Asian cities, where the number of urban dwellers is expected to increase by 1.1 billion over the next 20 years. Clean Air Asia reported that only 16 out of 300 Asian cities were below the recommended pollution level in 2012, mostly in Japan.[xvi]

The World Bank predicted that urban waste will increase by 100% by 2025, although less than half the world’s population has adequate waste disposal.[xvii] The leading culprits in trash production are the US (over 2,000 pounds per person a year) and China, with Germany and Brazil also producing a lot of trash per capita. In developing countries I see burning waste, emitting toxic plastic gas. Waste disposal sites generate 12% of the methane released into the atmosphere, more destructive than carbon dioxide. Toxic waste sites in 31 countries are damaging the brains and IQ of thousands of children with high levels of lead and other chemicals in the soil and water and impairing the health of others who live near the dumps.[xviii] A study found that nearly nine million people live near 373 toxic waste sites in India, the Philippines and Indonesia, causing more deaths than malaria.

The amount of garbage we create is alarming: In the book and DVD about Stuff, Annie Leonard reports on her tour of 30 countries to see factories that make what we consume and the garbage dumps where our trash end up.[xix] In the US each American throws out more than seven pounds a day, but less than a quarter is recycled, unlike the Netherlands, Germany, and Sweden.[xx] They have mostly eliminated landfills with recycling programs and low-emission waste-to-energy plants.


Resource Scarcity and a Growing Population

To search for environmental solutions, the UN set up a panel on global sustainability in 2012 led by Jacob Zuma and Tarja Halonen, the respective presidents of South Africa and Finland.[xxi] Their report warns that by 2030 the world will need at least 50% more food, 45% more energy, and 30% more water. The report’s solutions include the need to listen to women, young people, and the poor.[xxii]

With a growing world population and expanding middle class, increasing demand for meat and cars strains limited resources (China is the #1 consumer of cars). The corn used to make ethanol to fill a 25-gallon gas tank would feed one person for a year. Around 50 million people enter the middle class each year with desire to consume more. I was keenly aware of this contrast after visiting simple homes in Indonesia, Egypt, India and China: See my photos of their rooms contrasted to an English girl’s room.

The documentary film Mother: Caring for 7 Billion (2011) explains that the main environmental problem is the population explosion producing more consumers at a time when birth control and abortion are under fire in the US and other countries. Three billion people were added to the planet in the last 36 years, at a rate of about 78 million more births than deaths a year, as global life expectancy increased to 68 years.[xxiii] A UN Population Division report predicts a world population of over 10 billion by 2100, up from previous projections. The birth rate in Sub-Saharan Africa is twice the global rate (4.5 babies per woman vs. 2.5). Yet earlier concern about the “population bomb” has been silenced.

Family planning methods are needed for the 215 million women in the world without the contraception they want: More than two in five pregnancies are unplanned. Educating girls is the single most powerful influence on family size. Part of the reason poverty has significantly decreased in Latin America since 1990 is the decreasing birth rate, along with economic growth, social programs and expansion of education.[xxiv] Brazil, for example, gives out free condoms, half a billion of them in 2011, which they claim is more than any other government.

A “land grab” is occurring as Asian and Middle Eastern countries with cash buy land and thus access to water in poor countries to guarantee food supply and agro-fuels.[xxv] Wealthy countries including China, India, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia are buying up land in Africa to hedge their bets for future food production. So far, the World Bank calculated that land about the size of Pakistan was purchased, two-thirds of it in Africa. China announced in 2012 that it would lend $20 billion to African governments for infrastructure development. The US is also expanding military bases in Africa and fighting shadow wars in Yemen and Somalia.[xxvi]

A UN report estimates that 135 million farmers may be driven from their land because of soil degradation. When farmers have to leave their land they migrate to cities where some may have no recourse but to resort to illegal ways to make money, as explained in Topic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence by Christian Parenti (2011). He explains that food prices go up with reduced production of basics like wheat, soybeans and soy, a burden for people who spend 40% of their earnings on food like the average Egyptian. Food riots caused by price hikes in 2007-2008 occurred in more than 24 countries. Food shortages can lead to starvation and mass migrations.[xxvii]  A UN report addressed the need for agroecology, the science of sustainable agriculture, endorsed by 59 countries—not including the US and the Nourish 9 Billion campaign.[xxviii]

By 2010, the United Nations reported that almost 214 million people had migrated, mainly to cities (20% of the international migrants moved to the US). Around 44 million more people are refugees fleeing violence or persecution, or recently climate refugees, such as those escaping drought in Africa. This trend will increase, especially for people harmed by sea level rise, loss of arable land, or drying up of underground water aquifers.

By 2030, if current rates of consumption continue, we would need the resources of two planets, which we obviously don’t have.[xxix] The US is the top consumer. Australian Paul Gilding, author of The Great Disruption: How the Climate Crisis Will Transform the Global Economy (2011), believes we’re using five times more resources than the world can sustain so it would take not two but five planets to support current consumption. The point is we’re running out of resources like oil and fresh water. Gilding believes “The Great Disruption” is inevitable. It started in 2008 with the increase in food and oil prices and ecological changes such as melting ice caps. It takes a crisis to take action and Gilding thinks we’re there. He predicts that new companies will reshape the economy and progress won’t be measured by quantity of stuff produced but by happiness indexes.

Governments measure economic health by growth, increase in consumption that the planet can’t support, so a new standard of success should be quality of life. Bhutan pioneered a new metric with its “Gross National Happiness” model with 72 indicators, including free healthcare, education for girls, and sustainable agriculture. More than half of the country is protected in national parks and reserves and 99% of children are in school. The United Nations General Assembly adopted Bhutan’s 2012 resolution titled “Happiness: Toward a Holistic Approach to Development.” Bhutan’s prime minister told the UN gathering, “The present GNP development model no longer makes economic sense because it compels boundless growth on a planet with limited resources.”[xxx] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for replacing the current economic system with one that recognizes that “social, economic, and environmental well-being is indivisible.”


Renewable Energy

Germany is a leader in producing renewable energy by providing incentives for individuals to install solar panels and other resources. Hawaii is another model of advances in solar energy.[xxxi] Because Saudi Arabia can run out of crude oil, perhaps by 2030, the government has allocated more than $100 billion to develop solar energy. China is the leader in producing renewable energy and has set goals unlike the US.[xxxii] For the US as a whole, most (82%) of the new electrical generation installed in the first three months of 2013 consisted of renewable energy sources (biomass, geothermal, solar, water, wind.)[xxxiii] Solar powered lamps are also available to replace kerosene lanterns: D.light sells them to developing countries, one of the growing number of companies selling to the “bottom of the pyramid.”[xxxiv] A California family was able to eliminate most waste, only an amazing jar full in a year. They describe how on their blog Zero Waste Home.[xxxv]

Living in harmony with our environment doesn’t need to be at odds with lifting people out of poverty. In Bangalore, India, a utility company installed a solar panel, as on a 25-year-old rice farmer’s house. He makes payments for the electric power it generates by using an application on his mobile phone. When he pays off the cost of the system, he’ll have free power instead of dirty kerosene lamps and having to walk 45 minutes to a nearby town to charge his phone. These microgrids for mobile phones in areas without electric utilities are part of the Third Industrial Revolution, says author Jeremy Rifkin.[xxxvi]

As well as solar panels, the electricity revolution uses wind power and biomass generators as in Germany, the world’s largest renewable power producer. Utilities pay a high rate to individuals or companies that produce electricity with clean energy. The funding comes from a small increase in monthly utility fees. The Energy Biosciences Institute at the University of California, Berkeley is developing fuel made from sugar sources such as corn, grasses, and eucalyptus—any fast growing plant. Globally, investments in renewable energy surpassed investments in fossil fuels for the first time in 2010.

Buildings can generate energy to put back in the grid, as does the Richardsville Elementary School in Bowling Green, Kentucky. It earns about $2,000 a month using solar power and geothermal power, with solar tubes piping sunlight into classrooms. It employs an energy manager to improve school efficiency and students are involved in monitoring energy use. The Bullitt Center in Seattle was built according to a green building certification program called the Living Building Challenge, which includes generating the structure’s own solar energy and water. Rainwater showers are available for workers who bicycle to the building and composting toilets produce compost for farming.

A 19-year-old Dutch engineering student, Boyan Slat invented a device to help clean up the five plastic debris clustered in giant gyres—the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is about twice the size of Texas.[xxxvii] The recovered plastic can be recycled to help pay for the cleanup. The cleaner is powered by solar and waves.


Angry Youth Environmentalists

So far, UN climate change conferences haven’t been able to make binding agreements for specific ways to stop global warming. The Durban conference in 2011 agreed to work towards an agreement that all countries would have the same requirement to reduce greenhouse gases by 2020 and extended the Kyoto Protocol for five more years. Abigal Borah, a 21-year-old US college student, was a member of the youth delegation. She interrupted the proceedings to say, “I am scared for my future. 2020 is too late to wait [for binding emission cuts]. We need an urgent path to a fair, ambitious and legally binding treaty. We need leaders who will commit to real change, not empty rhetoric.” She was led out by police as seen on YouTube.[xxxviii]

Nations couldn’t agree in 2012 about how to divide emissions cuts and little progress was made towards a global climate pact. Part of the problem is a 2011 study found that nine out of ten climate change deniers were linked with Exxon Mobil.[xxxix] In 2012, the Rio+20 Earth Summit addressed the need to create a paradigm shift from continued growth to a “green economy,” as specified in a UN report available online, but nothing tangible resulted as in Rio, Kyoto, Copenhagen, and Durban or Qatar.[xl] Nothing was done to cut emissions that are raising temperatures.

A 17-year-old environmental activist addressed the Rio+20 Earth Summit sponsored by the UN in 2012, with a similar message to that given 20 years ago at the first Rio Summit by 12-year-old Severn Suzuki from Canada. Both girls’ speeches are on YouTube. Brittany Trilford told the representatives of 188 nations at the largest-ever summit that she represented the world’s three billion children who demand action so they can have a future. In an interview with radio host Amy Goodman she said that youth are a powerful force, but they sometimes underestimate their strength and should “take power” as “the voice of youth is so strong, so clear, so truthful.”[xli]

The 2012 Rio+20 environmental conference bowed to Vatican pressure and didn’t include references to reproductive rights and gender equality in its final document or any other real action items, despite being physically surrounded by pollution in Rio’s water and air. Youth activists called the UN Major Group for Children and Youth responded from Rio de Janeiro on their webpage in disgust: “You failed to liberate yourself from national and corporate self-interest and recognize our need to respect a greater more transcendental set of boundaries.”[xlii] They wrote defiantly,


So get out of our way and…

We will create strong global institutions

We will create new paradigms of wealth and prosperity

We will act as the voice for future generations, one that you so willfully ignored.

We will stand united beyond borders and bridge the national interests that divide us

We will implement what you have not.

 We are moving forward decisively with action. We are not deterred.


The official conference report “The Future We Want” was mocked outside the plenary hall in the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition’s handout titled “The Future We Bought.” They formed an Occupy-style protest with the human microphone and consensus decision-making as people stopped to see what the crowd was about. After two hours they decided to leave their badges in protest, chanted “Walk out—don’t sell out,” and joined the people’s summit in another part of Rio. The National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds predicts that little action will be taken by these conferences in the next decade but has hope that technology will develop cheaper and cleaner fuels like natural gas.

In response to inaction in the UN climate change conference in Qatar in 2012, youth met at the Change-Course-Conference in Switzerland to focus on grassroots local actions to help communities adapt to climate change.[xliii] A leader of the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change, Ibrahim Ceesay (27) said solutions rest on young people. He explained, “They are innovative, energetic and can make the bridge between those who make the policies and those who are affected by them. When I go back to Gambia, my task will be to tell a woman in a village how she is going to be affected by the warming of the planet.”

The UN and other websites provide information for youth who want to protect the environment.[xliv] School environmental education projects are provided by organizations like the Center for Ecoliteracy so that youth can be more informed about the science of climate change and what to do about it, such as painting flat urban roofs white would be equivalent to removing half the cars off the worlds’ roads.[xlv]

Activist youth environmental organizations in the US include Generation Waking up, the iMatter Movement, and Yes! The website It’s Getting Hot in Here explains that it is “the voice of a growing movement-–a collection of voices from the student and youth leaders of the global movement to stop global warming. Originally created by youth leaders in 2005, It’s Getting Hot in Here has since grown into a global online community with over 300 writers from countries around the world.”[xlvi]

Seven teenagers and the iMatter Youth Council sued the US government in 2011, asking the government to reduce carbon emission by 6% each year, cap emissions at 2011 levels, and do reforestation.[xlvii] The leader of the iMatter Movement is 17-year-old Alec Loorz, who was initially galvanized at age 12 by watching Al Gore’s video An Inconvenient Truth. At age 18, another youth leader, Andy Lipkis founded TreePeople in Los Angeles where he leads agencies to work together to utilize water to mitigate flooding and drought and has planted over two million trees.[xlviii] Los Angeles high school students are involved in greening their schools, as are students in South Africa as shown in a video.[xlix] Other youth environmental groups are listed in the previous endnote. University students are taking the lead in environmentalism: The Sierra Club’s annual ranking of the greenest colleges in 2012 put UC Davis at the top of the list, followed by Georgia Institute of Technology, Stanford, and the University of Washington.

A Yale University dropout founded what he says is the largest youth organization in the world to address the climate crisis: Billy Parish became the head of Energy Action Coalition when he was 25. His organization developed campaigns to have colleges commit to zero carbon pollution, started a company called Solar Mosaic where the public can invest in ecological enterprises, and wrote Making Good: Finding Meaning, Money, and Community in a Changing World with co-author Dev Aujla. Parish says, “Change starts with the simple belief in progress.”  He recommends, “Choosing the right people to work with is the single biggest factor that will impact your success.”

Solutions to these world problems have a common theme: Think globally, act locally. For example, environmentalist Bill McKibben’s solution for how to slow pollution is to do more locally, smaller, and slower in the communities where we live (see www.350.org), as well as campaigning for large institutions to divest oil stocks. Students are actively lobbying their universities to divest with some successes.[l] A model of this act locally approach is provided by a privileged Indian named Sanjit Roy visited a rural village for the first time when he was 20. As a consequence, he decided to start a Barefoot College in Rajasthan to teach poor women from around the world to make simple green technology like solar panels and cookers, and other assists to rural development.[li] Books provide models for how to develop local economies and communities.[lii]

An evolutionary biologist, David Sloan Wilson described how he applied biology to improve local quality of life in Binghamton, NY, in The Neighborhood Project: Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Time (2011). In order for groups to cooperate successfully he found they need to utilize eight design principles: strong group identity and sense of purpose, seeing reward for your work, consensus decision-making, a way to monitor progress, reasonable and graduated sanctions for those who don’t follow the principles, fair conflict resolution, local autonomy and decision-making with coordination with larger groups. Other suggestions for neighborhood building are listed in an article about “10 Ways to Love Where You Live” and The Village to Village Network.[liii]

In order to solve the climate crisis, various grassroots movements need to work together: anti-GMO, anti-fracking, anti-natural gas extraction, traditional farming activists vs. Confined Animal Feeding Operations responsible for up to half the greenhouse gas emissions, conservationists, natural health advocates, and the climate movement. If we remain passive, farming land will turn to dust bowls in parts of the world, the oceans will rise, more species will go extinct, and extreme weather become the norm.[liv]


[i] Youth panels interviewed by the UNICEF, 2011.


[iii] Stephen Leahy, “Civil Society, Youth Pushed to the Margins at Doha,” Inter Press Service, December 3, 2012.


[v] Marzieh Goudarzi, “Indigenous Youth Step up to Protect their Roots,” Inter Press Service, February 17, 2013.


[vi] A survey of 13-to-17 year-olds by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, 2011.


[vii] Edward Humes, “An Inconvenient Subject,” Sierra Club magazine, September, 2012, p. 16.


[viii] Jean Twenge, W. Keith Campbell, and Elise Freeman, “Generational Differences in Young Adults’ Life Goals, Concern for Others, and Civic Orientation, 1966-2009.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, March 5, 2012.

[ix] “Point of No Return,” February 11, 2013, Greenpeace.


[x] Bill McKibben, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” Rolling Stone, July 19, 2012.


[xii] Walden Bello, “Weapons for the Weak in the Climate Struggle,” August 16, 2012.


[xiii] Stephen Leahy, “Extreme Weather is the New Normal,” Inter Press Service, April 3, 2012.


[xvi] Bettina Wassener, “Asian Cities’ Air Quality Getting Worse, Experts Warn,” The New York Times, December 5, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/06/world/asia/asian-cities-air-quality-getting-worse-experts-warn.html?_r=0

[xvii] Stephen Lacey, “Waste Expert, Think Progress: Climate Progress,” June 20, 2012.


[xviii] Stephen Leahy, “Toxic Waste on Par with Malaria as a Global Killer,” Inter Press Service, May 9, 2013.


[xx] Edward Humes, “Garbage In, Garbage Out,” Sierra Magazine, March, 2012.


[xxi] Jacob Zuma and Tarja Halonen, “Seizing Sustainable Developments,” Project Syndicate, February 6, 2012.


[xxii] “Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosinghttp://www.un.org/gsp/report

[xxiii] Malcolm Potts, et al., “Editorial,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society Biological Sciences, 2009. http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/364/1532/2975.full.pdf

[xxiv] Alicia Bárcena, “Growing Out of Poverty,” FINANCE & DEVELOPMENT, March 2012, Vol. 49, No. 1


[xxv] Graham Peebles, “The Ethipian Land Giveaway,” Redress News, June 2, 2012. http://www.redress.cc/global/gpeebles20120602

[xxvi] Nick Turse, “Obama’s Scramble for Africa,” Huffington Post, July 12, 2012.


[xxvii]Michael Klare, “Post-Apolcalyptic Fantasy Becomes Everyday Reality,” The Nation Institute, August 7, 2012.


[xxx] Costas Christ, “Happy Talk in Bhutan,” National Geographic Traveler, October, 2012, p. 34.


[xxxi] Erin McCoy, “Building a Solar Economy: 4 Lessons from Hawaii,” Yes! Magazine, April 8, 2012.


[xxxii] Janine Zaharia, “Saudis Investing to Go Green,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 4, 2013.


[xxxiii] Energy Infrastructure Update Report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Energy Projects. The rest came from natural gas. Wind was the leading producer.

Click to access mar-energy-infrastructure.pdf

[xxxv] www.zerowastehome.blogspot.com, plus a book of the same name by Bea Johnson (Scribner, 2013). Their five Rs are : refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot (compost).

[xxxvi] Benn Sills, et al., “Farmers Foil Utilities Using Cell Phones to Access Solar,” Bloomberg News, April 11, 2012.


[xxxix] Mihai Andrei, “9 out of 10 Top Climate Change Deniers Linked with Exxon Mobil,” Zmie Science, May 10, 2011.


[xlii]  http://uncsdchildrenyouth.org

[xliii] Isolda Agazzi, “Youth Call for ‘Change of Course’ to Solve Climate Crisis,” AlterNet, December 11, 2012.


[lii] Rob Hopkins. The Transition Handbook: For Oil Dependency to Local Resilience. Chelsea Green Publishing, 2009.

Jay Walljasper. All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons. The New Press, 2010.

[liii] Ross Chapin, “10 Ways to Love Where You Live,” Yes!, June 14, 2012.


Beacon Hill Village’s The Village Concept: A Founders’ Manual. http://www.beaconhillvillage.org/content.aspx?page_id=22&club_id=332658&module_id=77064

Jay Walljasper. All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons. New Press, 2010.

[liv] Zack Kaldveer and Ronnie Cummins, “Food, Farms, Forests and Fracking: Connecting the Dots,” Organic Consumers Association, May 9, 2013.


Does Electronic Communication Lead to Isolation?

High school students in the East Coast interviewed by MIT professor Sherry Turkle told her that instead of feeling connected to friends by constant texting, they feel lonely because of the lack of face-to-face focused attention, hence the title of her book Alone Together. They also feel pressure to respond quickly to a text and sometimes are confused by the real intent of a message without being able to read someone’s facial expressions. Teens “write for effect” on Facebook, trying to show they’re cool. They also grew up with multitasking parents who talked on their cell phones and texted, some even at the family dinner table. I’ve noticed this focus on the device rather than the child when I take my grandson to playgrounds. I’m the only adult who goes down the slides with my little one. Turkle reported that it’s common to hear children and teens describe the frustration of trying to get their parents’ attention.[i] In her conversations with therapists, they tell Turkle about the increasing number of patients who come in “detached from their bodies and seem close to unaware of the most basic courtesies. Purpose-driven, plugged into their media, these patients pay little attention to those around them.”[ii]

[i] Sherry Turkle. Alone Together. Basic Books, 2011, p. 268.


[ii] Ibid, p. 293


Who Participated in the Arab Spring Revolutions?

Although youth led the revolution, looking at the main supporters of the revolution, it wasn’t youth, according to a statistical study of participants in the Egyptian (sample size of 98 people) and Tunisian Revolutions (192).[i] Only 8% of students who were surveyed were active in demonstrations in Egypt, compared to 35% in Tunisia. Only 13% of the Egyptian demonstrators were aged 18 to 24, (compared to 35% in Tunisia) and 31% were aged 25 to 34 (25% in Tunisia). The authors concluded, “These simple statistics give lie to folk theories that the Arab revolutions were caused primarily by youth frustration.” Keep in mind that only 8% of the Egyptian sample reported participating in the demonstrations, compared to 16% in Tunisia, so the authors were working with a small sample.

In Egypt, using data from the Second Wave Arab Barometer administered in 2011, the three authors concluded that the Tunisian Revolution was comprised of a younger and more diverse class background than in Egypt. Both revolutions were supported disproportionately by the educated middle class and by males (76.5% of the demonstrators in Egypt and 79% in Tunisia). In Egypt the participants were more likely to be middle-aged, middle class, professional, and religious. In Tunisia the rebels were younger (likely to be students), more secular and from more diverse class backgrounds.

Although the outcome of the uprisings was free elections, the primary motivation for rebels—including youth– in both countries was economic grievances, and to a lesser extent anger about corruption, rather than a desire for democracy. In Egypt, the second greatest motivation was they were against Mubarak’s son Gamal as heir to the throne. Being unemployed wasn’t a significant predictor of participation in either country and the poorest people had the lowest rate of participation. For the minority of rebels who prioritized democracy, in Egypt they were likely to have participated in civil society associations, while in Tunisia they had higher levels of income. Few in either country wanted an Islamic regime, but the participants were not less religious than non-activists in the sample. The fact that democracy was not the top goal helps explain why Islamic parties were elected in both countries.

Despite young people’s beliefs that they made the revolution, a Harvard scholar agreed with the Princeton scholars that increasing support for democracy by the middle class was the main force behind the revolution.[ii] Ishac Diwan based his conclusion on the 2000 and 2008 World Value Surveys that showed “little inter-generational differentiation” in Egypt by 2008. Support for democracy jumped from 24% to 52% over the survey period. He believes that class has more impact than other explanations for increasing support for democracy and thus the Arab Spring: modernization (secular rational values), the youth bulge (associated with less democracy and more political violence), splits within the governing coalition as when the army supported the uprising, political Islam, or conflict between the rich and the poor over resources with the latter in favor of democracy.

Diwan argues that the middle class was motivated by the rise in skilled unemployment and frustration over economic inequality to abandon support for the regime. He included educated youth in the middle class and their more modern views. He concludes, “While the movement towards democratization was initiated by the youth, it spread among the poor and especially the middle class by 2008,” partly due to the Muslim Brotherhood’s support of democracy starting with the 2005 elections.

Two other academics use their data to emphasize the impact of expansion of education and rising expectations combined with job scarcity.[iii] This combination creates discontent, plus an unresponsive autocratic government, equals the uprising of the Arab Spring. The key role of education is enhanced by the finding that educated people are more likely to be politically active. A poll conducted in Egypt in April 2011 asked participants in the protests what motivated them—64% cited “low living standards/lack of jobs,” while only 19% mentioned lack of democracy. This seems to conflict with Diwan’s emphasis on class and desire for democracy although the middle class is more likely to be educated. When I asked him about this, he emailed, “My results do not contradicts theirs – I find that democracy is a means to an end, and that most people that shifted from support for “order” in 2000 to support for democracy in 2008 have done so because of their grievances.” Regarding youth, the co-authors state that the not-so-young group aged 25 to 39 were a bigger share of the population in countries where uprisings occurred and they suffered from the high unemployment rate. The authors suggest that this formula for revolution can be applied to other countries in the future.

[i] Mark Beissinger, Amaney Jamal, and Kevin Mazur, “Who Participated in the Arab Spring? A Comparison of Egyptian and Tunisian Revolutions.” Princeton University, APSA conference paper, 2012.


[ii] Ishac Diwan, “Age or Class? Leading Opinions in the Wake of Egypt’s 2011 Popular Uprisings,” Youth Policy, December 2012.


[iii] Filipe Campante and Davin Chor, “Why was the Arab World Poised for Revolution?” Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 26, No. 2, Spring 2012, pages 167-188.



Meat Production Adds More Greenhouse Gases than Transportation

The UN Millennium Project report points out that the population in developing countries is increasing while food prices are rising, fresh water resources are drying up, corruption and organized crime are on the rise, and climate change is accelerating. The researchers point out that we know how to solve these problems. They look hopefully to the coming biological revolution to bring answers more profound than even the industrial or information revolutions. This revolution may develop synthetic life forms for food, water, medicine and energy. Information sharing via computers and the Internet could lead to tele-education and tele-medicine to make this information available to half the world’s population that lives in poverty.

The UN report suggests that a simple step forward is eating less meat as it adds more greenhouse gases (18%) to the atmosphere than transportation. It takes 2,400 liters of water to make a hamburger: The average American eats, on average, 200 pounds of meat a year. The livestock industry produces up to 51% of greenhouse gas emissions and requires eight times more fossil fuel that what’s required to produce non-animal protein.[i]

[i] Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang, “Livestock and Climate Change,” World Watch Magazine, July 2010.



Loss of non-violent activism in Egypt?

After two years of ongoing conflict with the Morsi regime and the Muslim Brotherhood, some young people turned to civil disobedience such as the general strike supported by around 10,000 people in Port Said the end of January, 2013. They were protesting the court’s rulings about the soccer riot the year before. Others gave up on non-violent protest after numerous accounts of police kidnapping, torture, beating, and aiming their bullets at the protesters’ eyes. The catalyst was the police attack on a peaceful sit-in at the Presidential Palace in Cairo in December 2012. Five—or some say 10–demonstrators were killed and sparked “a generation born of the blood of the martyrs.” The faces of these youths are painted on Cairo walls. Hassan, 20, an engineering student and co-administrator of a Facebook page, explained to a reporter, “After the palace events we saw that the Brotherhood were very organized. We had to organize ourselves. Basically, the idea is to defend the revolutionaries” and the spirit of the revolution.

A month later the Black Bloc announced its formation via the Internet. A video filmed in Alexandria at night with a hard rock audio background proclaimed its opposition to a religious dictatorship, a “fight against the fascist regime and their armed wing. Get ready for hell. Chaos against injustice.” Their Facebook page quickly got over 35,000 fans. The roots of Black Bloc go back to young people wearing black clothes and black mask who were willing to destroy property to protest nuclear plants (Germany, 1980s), the World Trade Organization (Seattle, 1990, broke windows and spray painted graffiti), and Black Bloc members breaking windows at Occupy demonstrations in the US (Oakland 2011). In Egypt, they’re not anarchists although some of their black flags carried in demonstrations include the letter “A” for anarchy. It includes female members.

Their goals are to change the new constitution with its attempt to institute Shariah law, to establish secular democracy instead of “fascist tyrants,” and to protect women, foreigners and others harassed on the streets. They make their own Molotov cocktails, firebombs, and grenades and some members have shotguns. The Black Bloc acknowledges attacks on Muslim Brotherhood offices in various cities on its multiple Facebook pages. It also has its own rap song. Black baklavas are sold on the streets for who ever wants to join the demonstrations. Some wear gas masks or Guy Fawkes masks used by the group Anonymous. A participant in the Jan25 uprising told reporter Jared Maslin, “I think whoever is behind them is very immature. All they’ve done is given the government more excuses to clampdown on protests.”[i]

Blogger Gigi Ibrahim concluded on a positive note, “People have found their voice, they are not afraid and they know their way onto the streets.” Much work remains as the military controls much of the economy, many officials are ex-generals, it is funded by over a billion dollars from the US each year, and insists on shaping the constitution to keep some of its power. Youth succeeded in making a revolution but not in long-term planning.

[i] Jared Malsin. “Egypt’s Black Bloc—An Exclusive Interview,” HBO Vice,

http://www.vice.com/read/we-met-some-members-of -egypts-black-bloc


Science Fiction Authors Predict the Future

Science fiction writers have accurately predicted future outcomes, as in Jules Verne’s 1869 novel about a submarine, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey, the 1968 science-fiction novel that was made into a film. Physicist and author Dr. Michio Kaku commented that it’s the most accurate portrayal of quantum mechanics and super string theory—the study of the smallest building blocks of matter, such as quarks, and possibly vibrating strings as the smallest of all. Dr. Kaku says the science fiction film Contact also is based on physics, except for the ending.

Science fiction writers portray what will happen if we continue to increase the gap between the rich and poor and destroy the environment. The best-selling film of its time, Avatar refers to an earth where there is no green left. Corporations turn to other planets to rob their resources with the same lack of regard for the damage they caused on Earth. In contrast, the indigenous Navi stay in harmony with nature and their planet, Pandora, stays beautiful. Shehroz recommends watching the movie WALL-E, in which “humans are shown as lazy, fat, techno-addicted beings who cannot move without the use of machines.” Gary Shteyngart’s 2012 novel, Super Sad True Love Story (2010), portrays the near future where the US is collapsing, media controls what people think, books are no longer in use, and there’s only one political party. Ronald Wright’s A Scientific Romance (1999) is another dystopian novel. A social scientist’s view of corporate domination and the future is written by Chris Hedges in his Empire of Illusion.

In The Handmaid’s Tale, Canadian Margaret Atwood’s futurist novel that was made into a film, most women can’t reproduce because of damage caused by environmental toxins. Atwood said she didn’t put anything in that book that hasn’t happened somewhere on the planet. She points to natural disasters including fires, floods, and hurricanes as evidence of global warming to illustrate that the world as we know it is gone.

In another dystopian novel, The Year of the Flood, Atwood writes about a future ecological religion called God’s Gardeners that blends religion and science. Their saints are environment leaders like Rachel Carlson, Al Gore, E.O. Wilson, St. Francis of Assisi, and Diane Fossey. The book tells the story of corporate greed and lack of ethics, with a walled area for the corporate elite and their families, and lawlessness outside the walls. Biotech and pharmaceutical companies ruled until a plague kills most people so the remaining few have to live off the land. Before the plague, Atwood’s corporate scientists created genetically altered animals and “perfect people.” What they thought was ideal was to create different skin colors, they don’t get old or have body hair, don’t need to wear clothes or eat food except leaves, purr like cats, and turn blue when in heat to “eliminate romantic pain.” Atwood’s novel describes how the characters manage to live by recycling everything.[i] If Atwood’s fears come true, technology will lead to ruin and a return to nature. Along this line, an Indonesian teen would like to “flatten the buildings and allow people to live wildly, with nature” (Kazu, m, 17).

“What are the odds of this world getting drastically better rather than worse?” asks Mouse, 16, f, California. Ecofiction imagines a brighter future.[ii] A progressive view of the future where people live collectively and environmentally is found in the 1975 utopian novel Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach. More utopian novels are listed in the endnote.[iii] Futurist Alvin Toffler, author of The Third Wave and Future Shock, maintains that major change is driven by technological inventions: the plow for the Agricultural Era (which began 12,000 years ago), steam engines for the Industrial Era (1760s), and the computer for the Information Age (1950s), sometimes called Postmodernism. Change occurs faster and faster due to technological advances. Toffler predicts a major trend will be the creation of wealth in outer space with technology like global positioning satellites, and even more expansion of global information and commerce made possible by the Internet.

Physicist Fritjof Capra says the Age of Biology will follow the Information Age, as the environment is the dominant issue.[iv] “A 4°C warmer world can, and must be, avoided – we need to hold warming below 2°C,” warned World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim:[v] “Lack of action on climate change threatens to make the world our children inherit a completely different world than we are living in today. Climate change is one of the single biggest challenges facing development, and we need to assume the moral responsibility to take action on behalf of future generations, especially the poorest.”

[ii] Jim Dwyer. Where the Wild Books Are: A Field Guide to Ecofiction. University of Nevada Press, 2010

[iii] Jim Dwyer, cited above, lists young adult books which he says tends to be utopian or at least not discouraging. Mari Sandoz, Joseph Bruchac’s Dawn Land series, Watership Down, Jim Lynch’s The Highest Tide, Ice Trek and Flight of the Osprey by Ewan Clarkson, R.D Lawrence’s Cry Wild and The White Puma, Strong Feather by Richard Inglis Hopper, Star Trek 4, Lloyd Hill’s The Village of Bom Jesus, Seth Kanter’s Ordinary Wolves for older teens, Isabel Allendes’s City of Beasts, Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story, Jean Stafford’s The Mountain Lion, Rudolpho Anaya’s Bless Me Ultima, When Coyote Howls by Robert Gish.

Wikipedia provides an overview of utopian fiction, including feminist novels.

Poor Health Outcomes in the US

Money doesn’t guarantee health. Even though the US spends more on health care than other countries, they are less healthy than people in comparable countries and have a shorter life expectancy, according to a report by the US national Research Council and the Institute of Medicine.[i] The US loses more years of life to alcohol and other drugs. Many of these health problems disproportionately affect children and adolescents. US teens have the highest rate of pregnancies of affluent countries and are more likely to have sexually transmitted diseases. Deaths from injuries and homicides are higher than in comparable countries, as is obesity.

Kids in wealthy countries suffer from obesity and lack of exercise. Obesity levels doubled in every region of the world between 1980 and 2008, contributing to increased rates of diseases such as cancer and diabetes, according to the World Health Organization.[ii] The highest obesity rates are in English-speaking countries and Mexico.[iii] The health costs associated with about 12 million obese American children are huge, including the increase of diabetes. Childhood obesity rates have climbed in the US for 30 years, with the exception of cities like New York City, Philadelphia and Los Angeles that developed programs such as standards for healthy foods in school cafeterias. Overeating junk food and lack of exercise contribute to the fact that American men ranked at the bottom of life expectancy and women only one step from the bottom in a 2011 study of 17 industrialized nations. The gap has widened in the past three decades rather than improved.[iv]

[i] “Americans Have Worse Health Than People in Other High-Income Countries,”National Academy of Sciences, January 9, 2013.


[ii] Simeon Barnett, “Global Obesity, Hypertension Rates Rise, WHO Says,” Bloomberg.com, May 16, 2012.


[iii] “Why Are 6 of Top 7 Fattest Countries English-Speaking Ones?” Medical News Today, September 24, 2010. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/202473.php

[iv] Jim Toedtman, “Face the Mortality Gap,” AARP Bulletin, March 2013.


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