As economies contract, a global popular uprising confronts power elites over access to the essentials of human existence. What are the underlying dynamics of the conflict, and how is it likely to play out?
As the world economy crashes against debt and resource limits, more and more countries are responding by attempting to salvage what are actually their most expendable features—corrupt, insolvent banks and bloated militaries—while leaving the majority of their people to languish in “austerity.” The result, predictably, is a global uprising. This current set of conditions and responses will lead, sooner or later, to social as well as economic upheaval—and a collapse of the support infrastructure on which billions depend for their very survival.
Nations could, in principle, forestall social collapse by providing the basics of existence (food, water, housing, medical care, family planning, education, employment for those able to work, and public safety) universally and in a way that could be sustained for some time, while paying for this by deliberately shrinking other features of society—starting with military and financial sectors—and by taxing the wealthy. The cost of covering the basics for everyone is within the means of most nations. Providing human necessities would not remove all fundamental problems now converging (climate change, resource depletion, and the need for fundamental economic reforms), but it would provide a platform of social stability and equity to give the world time to grapple with deeper, existential challenges.
Unfortunately, many governments are averse to this course of action. In fact, they will most likely continue to do what they are doing now—cannibalizing the resources of society at large in order to prop up megabanks and military establishments.
Even if they do provide universal safety nets, ongoing economic contraction may still likely result in conflict, though in this instance it would arise from groups opposed to the perceived failures of “big government.”
In either instance, it will increasingly be up to households and communities to provide the basics for themselves while reducing their dependence upon, and vulnerability to, centralized systems of financial and governmental power. This is a strategy that will require sustained effort and one that will in many cases be discouraged and even criminalized by national authorities.
The decentralization of food, finance, education, and other basic societal support systems has been advocated for decades by theorists on the far left and far right of the political spectrum. Some efforts toward decentralization (such as the local food movement) have resulted in the development of niche markets. However, here we are describing not just the incremental growth of social movements or marginal industries, but what may become the signal economic and social trend for the remainder of the 21st century—a trend that is currently ignored and resisted by governmental, economic, and media elites who can’t imagine an alternative beyond the dichotomies of free enterprise versus planned economy, or Keynesian stimulus versus austerity.
The decentralized provision of basic necessities is not likely to flow from a utopian vision of a perfect or even improved society (as have some social movements of the past). It will emerge instead from iterative human responses to a daunting and worsening set of environmental and economic problems, and it will in many instances be impeded and opposed by politicians, bankers, and industrialists. It is this contest between traditional power elites on one hand, and growing masses of disenfranchised poor and formerly middle-class people attempting to provide the necessities of life for themselves in the context of a shrinking economy, that is shaping up to be the fight of the century.
2. When civilizations decline
In his benchmark 1988 book The Collapse of Complex Societies, archaeologist Joseph Tainter explained the rise and demise of civilizations in terms of complexity. He used the word complexity to refer to “the size of a society, the number and distinctiveness of its parts, the variety of specialized social roles that it incorporates, the number of distinct social personalities present, and the variety of mechanisms for organizing these into a coherent, functioning whole.”1
Civilizations are complex societies organized around cities; they obtain their food from agriculture (field crops), use writing and mathematics, and maintain full-time division of labor. They are centralized, with people and resources constantly flowing from the hinterlands toward urban hubs. Thousands of human cultures have flourished throughout the human past, but there have been only about 24 civilizations. And all (except our current global industrial civilization—so far) have collapsed.
Tainter describes the growth of civilization as a process of investing societal resources in the development of ever-greater complexity in order to solve problems. For example, in village-based tribal societies an arms race between tribes can erupt, requiring each village to become more centralized and complexly organized in order to fend off attacks. But complexity costs energy. As Tainter puts it, “More complex societies are costlier to maintain than simpler ones and require higher support levels per capita.” Since available energy and resources are limited, a point therefore comes when increasing investments become too costly and yield declining marginal returns. Even the maintenance of existing levels of complexity costs too much (citizens may experience this as onerous levels of taxation), and a general simplification and decentralization of society ensues—a process colloquially referred to as collapse.
During such times societies typically see sharply declining population levels, and the survivors experience severe hardship. Elites lose their grip on power. Domestic revolutions and foreign wars erupt. People flee cities and establish new, smaller communities in the hinterlands. Governments fall and new sets of power relations emerge.
It is frightening to think about what collapse would mean for our current global civilization. Nevertheless, as we are about to see, there are good reasons for concluding that it is reaching limits of centralization and complexity, that marginal returns on investments in complexity are declining, and that simplification and decentralization are inevitable.
Thinking in terms of simplification, contraction, and decentralization is more accurate and helpful, and probably less scary, than contemplating collapse. It also opens avenues for foreseeing, reshaping, and even harnessing inevitable social processes as to minimize hardship and maximize possible benefits.
3. The premise—why contraction, simplification, and decentralization are inevitable
The premise that a simplification of global industrial civilization is soon inevitable is the summarized conclusion of a robust discourse developed in scores of books and hundreds of scientific papers during the past four decades, drawing upon developments in the studies of ecology, the history of civilizations, the economics of energy, and systems theory. This premise can be stated as follows:
- The dramatic increase in societal complexity seen during the past two centuries (measured, for example, in a relentless trend toward urbanization and soaring volumes of trade) resulted primarily from increasing rates of energy flow for manufacturing and transport. Fossil fuels provided by far the biggest energy subsidy in human history, and were responsible for industrialization, urbanization, and massive population growth.
- Today, as conventional fossil fuels rapidly deplete, world energy flows appear set to decline. While there are enormous amounts of unconventional fossil fuels yet to be exploited, these will be so costly to extract—in monetary, energy, and environmental terms—that continued growth in available fossil energy supplies is unlikely; meanwhile alternative energy sources remain largely undeveloped and will require extraordinary levels of investment if they are to make up for declines in fossil energy.
- Declining rates of energy flow and declining energy quality will have predictable direct effects—higher energy prices, the need for increased energy efficiency in all sectors of society, and the need for the direction of an ever-greater proportion of increasingly scarce investment capital toward the energy sector.
- Some of the effects of declining energy will be non-linear and unpredictable, and could lead to a general collapse of civilization. Economic contraction will not be as gradual and orderly as economic expansion has been. The indirect and non-linear effects of declining energy may include an uncontrollable and catastrophic unwinding of the global system of credit, finance, and trade, or the dramatic expansion of warfare as a result of heightened competition for energy resources or the protection of trade privileges.
- Large-scale trade requires money, and so economic growth has required an ongoing expansion of currency, credit, and debt. It is possible, however, for credit and debt to expand faster than the energy-fed “real” economy of manufacturing and trade; when this happens, the result is a credit/debt bubble, which must eventually deflate—usually resulting in massive destruction of capital and extreme economic distress. During the past few decades, the industrialized world has inflated the largest credit/debt bubble in human history.
- As resource consumption has burgeoned during the past century, so have environmental impacts. Droughts and floods are increasing in frequency and worsening in intensity, straining food systems while also imposing direct monetary costs (many of which are ultimately borne by the insurance industry). These impacts—primarily arising from global climate change—now threaten to undermine not only economic growth, but also the ecological basis of civilization.
To summarize this already brief summary—Due to energy limits, overwhelming debt burdens, and accumulating environmental impacts, the world has reached a point where continued economic growth may be unachievable. Instead of increasing its complexity, therefore, society will—for the foreseeable future, and probably in fits and starts—be shedding complexity.
General economic contraction has arguably already begun in Europe and the US. The signs are everywhere. High unemployment levels, declining energy consumption, and jittery markets herald what some bearish financial analysts describe as a “greater depression” perhaps lasting until mid-century (see, for example, George Soros’s comments in a recent Newsweek interview). But even that stark assessment misses the true dimensions of the crisis because it focuses only on its financial and social manifestations while ignoring its energy and ecological basis.
Whether or not the root causes of worldwide economic turmoil are generally understood, that turmoil is already impacting political systems as well as the daily lives of hundreds of millions of people. Banks that innovated their way into insolvency in the years leading up to 2008 have been bailed out by governments and central banks fearful to avert a contagious deflationary destruction of global capital. Meanwhile, governments that borrowed heavily during the last decade or two with the expectation that further economic growth would swell tax revenues and make it easy to repay debts now find themselves with declining revenues and rising borrowing costs—a sure formula for default.
In a few instances, the very financial institutions that some governments temporarily saved from insolvency are now undermining the economies of other governments by forcing a downgrade of their credit ratings, making debt rollovers more difficult. Those latter governments are being given an ultimatum—reduce domestic spending or face exclusion from the system of global capital. But in many cases domestic spending is all that’s keeping the national economy functioning. Increasingly, even in countries recently considered good credit risks, the costs of preventing a collapse of the financial sector are being shifted to the general populace by way of austerity measures that result in economic contraction and general misery.
A global popular uprising is the predictable result of governments’ cuts in social services, their efforts to shield wealthy investors from consequences of their own greed, and rising food and fuel prices. Throughout the past year, recurring protests have erupted in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Europe, and North America. The long-range aims of protesters are in many cases yet to be articulated, but the immediate reasons for the protests are not hard to discern. As food and fuel prices squeeze, poor people naturally feel the pinch first. When the poor are still able to get by, they are often reluctant to risk assembling in the street to oppose corrupt, entrenched regimes. When they can no longer make ends meet, the risks of protest seem less significant—there is nothing to lose; life is intolerable anyway. Widespread protest opens the opportunity for needed political and economic reforms, but it also leads to the prospect of bloody crackdowns and reduced social and political stability.
4. Scenarios for societal simplification
If this premise is correct, then two scenarios can easily be envisioned:
A. Continued pursuit of business-as-usual. In this scenario, policy makers desperately try to re-start economic growth with stimulus spending and bailouts; all efforts are directed toward increasing, or at least maintaining, the complexity and centralization of society. Deficits are disregarded.
This was the general strategy for many governments in late 2008 and throughout 2009 as they grappled with the first phase of the global financial crisis. The U.S. and stronger members of the EU experienced tangible but limited success at engineering a recovery and averting a deflationary meltdown of their economies through deficit spending. However, the fundamental problems that led to the crisis were merely papered over. Most of the largest banks are still functionally insolvent, with temporarily hidden “toxic assets” still weighing on their balance sheets.
The limits of this course of action are revealing themselves as the U.S. “recovery” fails to gain traction, Chinese growth winds down, and the EU slips into recession. Further stimulus spending would require another massive round of government borrowing, and that would face strong domestic political headwinds as well as resistance from the financial community (taking the form of credit downgrades, which would make further borrowing more expensive).
Meanwhile, despite much talk about the potential for low-grade alternative fossil fuels such as tar sands and shale oil, world energy supplies are in essentially the same straits as they were at the start of the 2008 crisis (which, it is important to recall, was partly triggered by a historic oil price spike). And without increasing and affordable energy flows a genuine economic recovery (meaning a return to growth in manufacturing and trade) is probably not possible. Thus financial pump priming will yield diminishing returns.
The pursuit of business-as-usual appears to lead us back to the sort of turmoil seen in 2008; however, next time the situation will be worse, as most of the available stimulus/bailout “ammunition” is already used up. If governments and central banks are able to get ahead of debt deflation and deleveraging by massive “printing” of new money, the eventual result will be hyperinflation and currency collapse.
B. Simplification by austerity. In this scenario, nations pull back from their current state of over-indebtedness and placate bond markets by cutting domestic social spending and withdrawing social safety nets put in place during the past few decades of steady growth. This strategy is being adopted by the U.S. and many EU nations, partly out of perceived necessity and partly on the advice of economists who promise that domestic social spending cuts (along with privatization of government services) will spur more private-sector economic activity and thereby jumpstart a sustainable recovery.
The evidence for the efficacy of austerity as a path to increased economic health is spotty at best in “normal” economic times. Under current circumstances, the evidence is overwhelming that austerity leads to declining economic performance as well as social unraveling. In nations where the austerity prescription has been most vigorously applied (Ireland, Greece, Spain, Italy, and Portugal), contraction is accelerating and popular protest is on the rise. Even Germany, Europe’s strongest economy, is being impacted—its economy contracted in Q4 of 2011. As Jeff Madrick argued recently in the New York Review of Books, policy makers are failing to see that rising deficits are more a symptom of slower economic growth than the cause.
Austerity is having similar effects in states, counties, and cities in the US. State and local governments have cut roughly half a million jobs during the past two years; had they kept hiring at their previous pace to keep up with population growth, they would instead have added a half-million jobs. Meanwhile, due to declining tax revenues, local governments are allowing paved roads to turn to gravel, closing libraries and parks, and laying off public employees.
It’s not hard to recognize a self-reinforcing feedback loop at work here. A shrinking economy means lower tax revenues, which make it harder for governments to repay debt. In order to avoid a credit downgrade, governments must cut spending. This shrinks the economy further, eventually resulting in credit downgrades anyway. That in turn raises the cost of borrowing. So government must cut spending even further to remain credit-worthy. The need for social spending explodes as unemployment, homelessness, and malnutrition increase, while the availability of social services declines. The only apparent way out of this death spiral is a revival of rapid economic growth. But if the premise above is correct, that is a mere pipedream.
Both of these scenarios lead to unacceptable and unstable outcomes. Are there no other possibilities? Well, yes. Here are two.
C. Centralized provision of the basics. In this scenario, nations directly provide jobs and basic necessities to the general public while deliberately simplifying, downsizing, or eliminating expendable features of society such as the financial sector and the military and taxing wealthy individuals, banks, and businesses.
In many cases, centralized provision of basic necessities is relatively cheap and efficient. For example, since the beginning of the current financial crisis the U.S. government has gone about creating jobs mainly through channeling tax breaks and stimulus spending to the private sector, but this has turned out to be an extremely costly and inefficient way of providing jobs, far more of which could be called into existence (per dollar spent) by direct government hiring2. Similarly, the new (yet to be implemented) U.S. federal policy of increasing the public’s access to health care by requiring individuals to purchase private medical insurance is more costly than simply providing a universal government-run health insurance program. If Britain’s experience during and immediately after World War II is any guide, then better access to higher-quality food could be ensured with a government-run rationing program than through a fully privatized food system. And government banks could arguably provide a more reliable public service than private banks, which funnel enormous streams of unearned income to bankers and investors. If all this sounds like an argument for utopian socialism, read on—it’s not. But there are indeed real benefits to be reaped from government provision of necessities, and it would be foolish to ignore them.
A parallel line of reasoning goes like this. Immediately after natural disasters and huge industrial accidents, people impacted typically turn to the state for aid. As the global climate chaotically changes, and as the hunt for ever-lower-grade fossil energy sources forces companies to drill deeper and in more sensitive areas, we will undoubtedly see worsening weather crises, environmental degradation and pollution, and industrial accidents such as oil spills. Inevitably, more and more families and communities will be relying upon state-provided aid for disaster relief.3
Many people would be tempted to view an expansion of state support services with alarm, as the ballooning of the powers of an already bloated central government. There may be substance to this fear, depending on how the strategy is pursued. But it is important to remember that the economy as a whole, in this scenario, would be contracting—and would continue to contract—due to resource limits. Think of state provision of services not as utopian socialism (whether that phrase is viewed positively or negatively), but as a strategic reorganization of society in pursuit of greater efficiency in times of scarcity. Perhaps the best analogy would be with wartime rationing—a practice in which government takes on a larger role in managing distribution so as to free up resources for fighting a common enemy.
How to pay for such an expansion of services in a time of over-indebtedness and scarce credit? The financial industry could be downsized by taxing financial transactions and unearned income. Further, the national government could create its own financing directly, without having to borrow from banks. One might think that if government can just create as much money as it wants, then it could do away with scarcity altogether. But in the end it’s not just money that makes the world go ’round. With energy and resources in short supply, the economy would continue to shrink no matter how much money the central government printed; over-printing would simply result in hyperinflation. However, up to a point, efficiency gains and equitable distribution could reduce human misery even as the economic pie continued to shrink.
Some nations have already begun to make policy shifts along the lines suggested in this scenario—Ecuador, for example, has expanded direct public employment, enforced social security provisions for all workers, diversified its economy to reduce dependence on oil exports, and enlarged public banking operations.4
For some large industrial nations, such as the U.S., entrenched interests (principally, the fossil-fuel, financial, and weapons industries) would work to prevent movement in these directions—as they are already doing. Meanwhile, the fact that the economy was still contracting even in the face of strenuous government efforts might lead many people to believe that contraction was occurring because of government, and so popular opposition to government (from some quarters at least) might increase. Government might be motivated to crush such dissent in order to maintain stability (this, of course, is what far-right anti-government groups most fear). A nation that remained stuck in option C for decades would likely come to resemble the Soviet Union or Cuba. It might also resort to extreme efforts to stoke patriotic sentiment as a way of justifying repression of dissent.
In any case, it’s hard to say how long this strategy could be maintained in the face of declining energy supplies. Eventually, central authorities’ ability to operate and repair the infrastructure necessary to continue supporting the general citizenry might erode to the point that the center would no longer hold. At that stage, Strategy C would fade out and Strategy D would fade in.
D. Local provision of the basics. Suppose that as economies contract national governments fail to step up to provide the basics of existence to their citizens. Or (as just discussed) suppose those efforts wane over time due to an inability to maintain national-scale infrastructure. In this final scenario, the provision of basic necessities is organized by local governments, ad hoc social movements, and non-governmental organizations. These could include small businesses, churches and cults, street gangs with an expanded mission, and formal or informal co-operative enterprises of all sorts.
In the absence of global transport networks, electricity grids, and other elements of infrastructure that bind modern nations together, whatever levels of support that can originate locally would provide a mere shadow of the standard of living currently enjoyed by middle-class Americans or Europeans. Just one telling example—we will likely never see families getting together in church basements to manufacture laptop computers or cell phones from scratch. The ongoing local provision of food and simple manufactured goods is a reasonable possibility, given intelligent, cooperative effort; for the most part, however, during the next few decades a truly local economy will be mostly a salvage economy (as described by John Michael Greer in The Ecotechnic Future , pp. 70 ff.).
If central governments seek to maintain their complexity at the expense of locales, then conflict between communities and sputtering national or global power hubs is likely. Communities may begin to withdraw streams of support from central authorities—and not only governmental authorities, but financial and corporate ones as well.
In recent decades, communities have seen it as being in their interest to give national and global corporations tax breaks and other subsides for locating factories and stores within the local tax-shed. Analysis after-the-fact is showing that in many instances this was a poor bargain—tax revenues have been insufficient to make up for new infrastructure costs (roads, sewer, water); meanwhile, most of the wealth generated by factories and mega-store outlets tends to find its way to distant corporate headquarters and to Wall Street investors (see Michael Shuman, the Small-Mart Revolution). Increasingly, communities are recognizing big chain-retail corporations (and big banks as well) as parasites siphoning away local capital, and are looking for ways to support small, local businesses instead.
City and county governments are just beginning to adopt a similar attitude toward federal and state governments. Formerly, larger governmental entities provided subsidies for local infrastructure projects and anti-poverty programs. As funding streams for those projects and programs dry up, local governments find themselves increasingly in competition with their cash-starved big brothers.
If communities are being hit by declining tax revenues, competition with larger governments, and the predatory practices of mega-corporations and banks, then non-profit organizations—which support tens of thousands of local arts, education, and charity efforts—face perhaps even greater challenges. The current philanthropic model rests entirely upon assumed economic growth—foundation grants come from returns on investments. As growth slows and reverses, the world of non-profit organizations will shake and crumble, and the casualties will include thousands of aid agencies, environmental organizations devoted to protecting regional habitat, symphony orchestras, dance ensembles, museums, art galleries, and on and on.
If national government loses its grip, with local governments pinched simultaneously from above and below, and with non-profit organizations starved for funding, from where will come the means to support the local citizenry? Local businesses and co-ops (including cooperative banks, otherwise known as credit unions) could shoulder some of the burden if they are able to remain profitable and avoid falling victim to big banks and mega-corporations before the latter go under.
The next line of support would come from the volunteer efforts of people willing to work hard for the common good. Every town and city is replete with churches and service organizations. Many of these would be well placed to help educate and organize the general populace to facilitate survival and recovery—especially some of the more recent arrivals, such as the Transition Initiatives, which already have collapse preparedness as a raison d’être. In the best instance, volunteer efforts would get under way well before crisis hits, organizing farmers’ markets, ride- and car-share programs, local currencies, and “buy local” campaigns. There is a growing body of literature intended to help that pre-crisis effort; the latest worthy entry in that field is Local Dollars, Local Sense: How to Shift Your Money from Wall Street to Main Street and Achieve Real Prosperity, by Michael Shuman.
The final source of support would consist of families and neighborhoods banding together to do whatever is necessary to survive—grow gardens, keep chickens, reuse, repurpose, repair, defend, share, and, if all else fails, learn to do without. People would move into shared housing to cut costs. They would look out for one another to maintain safety and security. These extreme-local practices would sometimes fly against the headwinds of local and national regulations. In those cases, even if they’re in no place to help materially, local governments could lend a hand simply by getting out of the way—for example, by changing zoning ordinances to allow new uses of space. (See, for example, this helpful article on how counties can use land banks and eminent domain to take over unused real estate and make it available for community use.5) Thus enabled, neighborhood committees could identify vacant houses and commercial spaces, and turn these into community gardens and meeting centers. In return, as neighborhoods network with other neighborhoods, a stronger social fabric might re-invigorate local government.
As discussed above, movements to support localization—however benign their motives—may be perceived as a threat by national authorities. This is all the more likely as the Occupy movement organizes popular resistance to traditional power elites.
Where national governments see local citizens’ demands for greater autonomy as menacing, the response could include surveillance, denial of public assembly, infiltration of protest organizations, militarization of the police, the development of an increasing array of non-lethal weapons for use against protesters, the adoption of laws that abrogate the rights to trial and evidentiary hearings, torture, and the deployment of death squads. Chris Hedges, in a recent article6, tellingly quoted Canadian activist Leah Henderson’s letter to fellow dissidents before being sent to prison: “My skills and experience—as a facilitator, as a trainer, as a legal professional and as someone linking different communities and movements—were all targeted in this case, with the state trying to depict me as a ‘brainwasher’ and as a mastermind of mayhem, violence and destruction. . . . It is clear that the skills that make us strong, the alternatives that reduce our reliance on their systems [emphasis added] and prefigure a new world, are the very things that they are most afraid of.”
Altogether, the road to localism may not be as easy and cheerful a path as some proponents portray. It will be filled with hard work, pitfalls, conflicts, and struggle—as well as comradeship, community, and comity. Its ultimate advantage—the primary trends of the current century (discussed above) seem to lead ultimately in this direction. If all else fails, the local matrix of neighbors, family, and friends will offer our last refuge.
Scenarios are not forecasts; they are planning tools. As prophecies, they’re not much more reliable than dreams. What really happens in the years ahead will be shaped as much by “black swan” events as by trends in resource depletion or credit markets. We know that environmental impacts from climate change will intensify, but we don’t know exactly where, when, or how severely those impacts will manifest; meanwhile, there is always the possibility of a massive environmental disaster not caused by human activity (such as an earthquake or volcanic eruption) occurring in such a location or on such a scale as to substantially alter the course of world events. Wars are also impossible to predict in terms of intensity and outcome, yet we know that geopolitical tensions are building. It is just possible (not very, but just) that some new energy technology—such as cold fusion—could reset the collapse clock, enabling the global economy to lurch along for another couple of decades before humanity breaches its next crucial natural limit. The simplification of society is likely to be a complicated and surprising process. Nevertheless, the four scenarios offered here do provide a rudimentary map of some of the main possibilities.
These scenarios are not mutually exclusive. A single nation might traverse two, three, or all of them over a period of years or decades.
If our premise is correct, then Strategy A (the pursuit of business-as-usual) is inherently untenable even over the short term; it must soon give way to B, C, or D.
Strategy B (austerity) seems to lead, via social and economic disintegration, quickly to D (local provision of the basics), as evidenced in a recent New York Times article about Greeks reverting to subsistence farming in the face of government cutbacks.
Strategy C (central provision of the basics) would probably lead to D as well, though the path would likely take longer—possibly much longer—to traverse. In other words, all roads appear to lead eventually to localism; the question is—how and when shall we arrive there, and in what condition?
The route via austerity has the virtue of being quicker, but only because it induces more misery more suddenly.
Centralized provision of essentials might be merely a way of prolonging the agony of collapse—unless authorities understand the inevitable trend of events and deliberately plan for a gradual shift from central to local provision of basic needs. The U.S. could do this by, for example, enacting agricultural policies to favor small commercial farms and subsistence farms while removing subsidies from big agribusiness. Outsourcing, off-shoring, and other practices that serve the interests of global capital at the expense of local communities could be discouraged through regulation and taxation, while domestic manufacturers could be favored. (This “protectionism” would no doubt be decried both domestically and internationally.) Altogether, the planned transition from C to D may constitute its own scenario, perhaps the best of the lot in its likely outcomes.
The success of governments in navigating the transitions ahead may depend on measurable qualities and characteristics of governance itself. In this regard, there could be useful clues to be gleaned from the World Governance Index, which assesses governments according to criteria of peace and security, rule of law, human rights and participation, sustainable development, and human development. For 2011, the U.S. ranked number 32 (and falling—it was number 28 in 2008)—behind Uruguay, Estonia, and Portugal, but ahead of China (number 140) and Russia (number 148).
On the other hand, “collapse preparedness” (Dmitry Orlov’s memorable phrase) may co-exist with governmental practices that appear inefficient and even repressive in pre-collapse conditions. In his book Reinventing Collapse, Orlov makes the case that the Soviet Union, for all its dreariness and poor governance, provided more collapse preparedness than does the U.S. today, partly because people’s expectations in the USSR were already low after decades spent barely getting by. Or was the USSR’s high level of collapse preparedness largely a matter of its having long guaranteed the very basics of existence to its people? No one became homeless when the Soviet system disintegrated, since no one had a mortgage to be foreclosed upon; when the economy crashed, people simply stayed where they were.
In the era of economic contraction governmental competence will not determine all the prospects of nations. Demographics will also be decisive—Egypt’s political and social tumult has been driven not just by weariness with corruption, but also by high birth rates—which have led to 83 percent unemployment for those between 15 and 29, inadequate education, high poverty rates, and a growing inability of the nation to feed itself (about half of Egypt’s food is now imported). Perhaps it could be argued that one of the first signs of competent governance is effective population policy.
For the sake of any national policy maker who may be reading this essay, here are a few take-home bullet points that summarize most of the advice that can be gleaned from our scenario exercise:
- Guarantee the basics of existence to the general public for as long as possible.
- At the same time, promote local production of essential goods, strengthen local social interconnectivity, and shore up local economies.
- Promote environmental protection and resource conservation, reducing reliance of fossil fuels in every way possible.
- Stabilize population levels.
- Foster sound governance (especially in terms of participation and transparency).
- Provide universal education in practical skills (gardening, cooking, bicycle repair, sewing, etc.) as well as in basic academic subjects (reading, math, science, critical thinking, and history). And finally,
- Don’t be evil—that is, don’t succumb to the temptation to deploy military tactics against your own people as you feel your grip on power slipping; the process of decentralization is inexorable, so plan to facilitate it.
One wonders how many big-government centralists of the left, right, or center—who often see the stability of the state, the status of their own careers, and the ultimate good of the people as being virtually identical—are likely to embrace such a prescription.
6. Final thoughts
To reiterate the theme of this essay one last time—The decline in resources available to support societal complexity will generate a centrifugal force breaking up existing economic and governmental power structures everywhere. As a result there is a fight brewing—a protracted and intense one, impacting most countries if not all—over access to a shrinking economic pie. It will manifest not only as competition among nations, but also as conflicts within nations between power elites and the increasingly impoverished masses.
History teaches us at least as much as scenario exercises can. The convergence of debt bubbles, economic contraction, and extreme inequality is hardly unique to our historical moment. A particularly instructive and fateful previous instance occurred in France in the late 18th century. The result then was the French Revolution, which brought with it war, despotism, mass executions—and an utter failure to address underlying economic problems. (See three excellent short videos about the French Revolution here, here, and here). So often, as in this case, nations suffering under economic contraction, rather than downsizing their armies so as to free up resources, double down on militarism by going to war, hoping thereby both to win spoils and to give mobs of angry young men a target for their frustrations other than their own government. The gambit seldom succeeds; Napoleon made it work for a while, but not long. France and (most of) its people did survive the tumult. But then, at the dawn of the 19th century Europe was on the cusp of another revolution—the fossil-fueled Industrial Revolution—and decades of economic growth shimmered on the horizon. Today we are just starting our long slide down the decline side of the fossil fuel supply curve. Will we handle the inevitable social conflicts more wisely than the French did? Will we learn from history?
Sometimes historic social conflict has taken the form of right-wing groups fighting to oppose and overthrow left-democratic national governments (Germany in the 1920s), sometimes as leftist groups battling center-right or far-right governments (Nicaragua in the 1960s and ’70s). There is plenty of potential for both brands of conflict within today’s countries, which vary greatly in terms of their likely trajectories. If you’re a mobile global citizen who has the luxury of choosing a country of residence, perhaps this essay can help in assessing your prospects.
Thinking in big-picture terms is useful for those who have access to information and time for reflection; it provides a sense of perspective and a potential for more effective action. For those of us who sit, Arjuna-like, before the battlefield of the 21st century, the question presents itself—What is our appropriate role? Shall we engage in conflict? Or would it be better to prevent conflict, resolve conflict, or avoid conflict? Differing circumstances and personal temperaments will lead to differing answers. If this essay were a polemic, it might incite readers to resist and oppose those wielding centralized political and economic power. But that is not my purpose here; rather, it is merely to survey the landscape of conflict so as to see where the points of leverage may lie; it is up to readers to do with this very rudimentary analysis what they will.
If the premise and scenarios outlined above are even vaguely accurate, then localism will sooner or later be our fate and our strategy for survival. It seems fairly clear that, whatever our stance regarding conflict, efforts spent now to learn practical skills, become more self-sufficient, and form bonds of trust with neighbors will pay off in the long run.
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2. Navigating the Jobs Crisis - Pavlina R. Tcherneva, The Huffington Post
3. Why Climate Change Will Make You Love Big Government - Christian Parenti, Energy Bulletin
4. Could Ecuador be the most radical and exciting place on Earth? - Jayati Ghosh, The Guardian
5. Occupy the Neighborhood: How Counties Can Use Land Banks and Eminent Domain - Ellen Brown, Truthout
6. What Happened to Canada? - Chris Hedges, Truthout
By Dirk Lorenzen
2021 begins as a year of Mars. Although our red planetary neighbor isn't as prominent as it was last autumn, it is still noticeable with its characteristic reddish color in the evening sky until the end of April. In early March, Mars shines close to the star cluster Pleiades in the constellation Taurus.
A Landing Like a James Bond Movie<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUyOTIwMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3MDU5MDQ2Nn0.aLE-s5r9YhoJs40XbavhUwUXdY97iykXqo0OO0S5eso/img.jpg?width=980" id="19fa1" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c758d3cd0d3e11fbd5290bb95da86396" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="700" data-height="394" />
NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover (shown in artist's illustration) is the most sophisticated rover NASA has ever sent to Mars. Ingenuity, a technology experiment, will be the first aircraft to attempt controlled flight on another planet. Perseverance will arrive at Mars' Jezero Crater with Ingenuity attached to its belly. NASA<p>The highlight of this year's Mars exploration is the landing of the NASA rover "Perseverance" on February 18. Once the spacecraft enters the atmosphere it will be slowed down by friction. The heat shield will surpass 1,000 degrees Celsius. Later, parachutes will deploy to slow it down even more. Roughly two kilometers above the planet's surface, a sky crane comes into play. Four thrusters keep the crane properly oriented.</p><p><span></span>The rover is connected to the crane by nylon tethers. Upon approach of Mars' surface, the sky crane will lower Perseverance down about 7 meters. Once the rover has touched down, the tethers are cut and the sky crane flies off to land somewhere else on the surface.</p><p>Entry, descent and landing takes just seven minutes – the so-called seven minutes of terror. The flight team can't interact with the spacecraft on Mars. Experts have to sit and watch what's happening more than 200 million kilometers away. Radio signals from the spacecraft need about 11 minutes to travel in one direction. When the control center in Pasadena, California receives the message that entry has begun, Perseverance will already be on the ground. There is only one chance for a smooth landing. Any error could mean the mission is lost. The audacious sky crane maneuver would be a great feat in any action movie. But NASA knows how to do it – the Curiosity rover landed with a sky crane in 2012.</p>
Life on Mars?<p>Scientists want to use Perseverance to explore whether there is or ever has been life on Mars. Today the planet is a hostile environment – dry and cold with no magnetic field shielding the harsh radiation from space. Life as we know it can't survive on the Martian surface right now. But billions of years ago, Mars was hotter and wetter and had a shield against radiation. So it is at least plausible that simple microbes developed there. Maybe they live in the soil now, one or two meters below the surface. Perseverance will collect samples to find out. A future mission by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) will pick up the samples and return them to Earth. But this won't happen before 2030.</p>
The Long Wait for James Webb<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUyOTIxMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2OTM1MDUzNX0.0Jmw-vIz6zuOa7eNsVX2oVzc0L6AFp05cAs4QbzdK6c/img.jpg?width=980" id="9cf3e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d46a2f73a4a2e32a9775087750c92431" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="700" data-height="394" />
The Hubble Space Telescope has been orbiting the Earth for more than 30 years. NASA<p>The Hubble Space Telescope's images of planets, nebulae, star clusters and galaxies are legendary. The cosmic eye, launched in 1990, is likely to fail towards the end of this decade. The James Webb Space Telescope will be its successor. It is scheduled to launch on October 31 with a European Ariane 5 rocket from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana.</p><p><span></span>The launch date is about 14 years later than planned when the project began in 1997. At almost $10 billion (€8.2 billion), the telescope is more than ten times as expensive as originally conceived. Its namesake James Webb was the NASA administrator during the height of the Apollo project in the 1960s.</p><p>Astronomers expect completely new insights from James Webb Telescope images, such as how the universe came into being, how it developed and how galaxies, stars and planets are formed. The instrument will observe the earliest childhood of the cosmos and photograph objects that already existed in the universe 200 to 300 million years after the Big Bang. James Webb, as the experts call the telescope for short, may even provide information about possibly inhabited exoplanets – planets like ours orbiting stars other than the Sun. </p>
A Sensitive German Camera<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUyOTIxNS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxOTE0MzY3Mn0.o3aPaW5t0MFkEgeJl0HQ1V9lz6WDxKVGXyYWvpfoYyk/img.jpg?width=980" id="6ff49" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="187458ae2291c2aeb3bd36bc1ed777e0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="985" data-height="657" />
The fully assembled James Webb Space Telescope with its sunshield and unitized pallet structures that will fold up around the telescope for launch. NASA<p>The mirror of the James Webb Space Telescope is 6.5 meters in diameter and consists of 18 hexagonal segments. The entire instrument unfolds in 178 steps over a period of several months. Only then – probably in the spring of 2022 – will we see its first images.</p><p>Many communication or reconnaissance satellites only unfold in space. However, not every micrometer is as important as with this telescope. </p><p>NIRSpec, one of the four cameras on board, was built at Airbus in Ottobrunn near Munich. It is made of an unusual material: ceramic. Both the basic structure and the mirrors are made of this very light, hard and extremely temperature-insensitive material. With good reason – the large camera has to withstand a lot in space. It is cooled to around -250 degrees Celsius in order to register the weak infrared or thermal radiation from the depths of space. Plastic or metal bend and lead to blurred images. Ceramic, on the other hand, remains in perfect shape.</p><p>The NIRSpec instrument will examine, among other things, emerging stars and distant galaxies. The ceramic camera is incredibly sensitive – it could register the heat radiation from a burning cigarette on the Moon. Thanks to this precision, astronomers will get completely new insights into the cosmos with the James Webb Telescope and NIRSpec.</p>
No Flight to the Moon but to the ISS<p>It's not very likely that the Orion spacecraft from NASA and ESA will start its maiden voyage to the Moon before the end of 2021. As part of the Artemis-1 mission, it will remain in space for four weeks and will orbit the Moon for a few days. There will be no crew on board for the first flight, but two dummies from the German Aerospace Center, which use thousands of sensors to measure the conditions that human beings would be exposed to. The Orion capsule comes from NASA, while the ESA supplies the service module. The service module, which is being built by Airbus in Bremen, provides propulsion, navigation, altitude control and the supply of air, water and fuel. After problems with an engine test in mid-January, the new NASA large rocket Space Launch System (SLS), with which Orion is supposed to be launched, is unlikely to be operational until early 2022.</p><p><span></span>Matthias Maurer from Saarland is scheduled to fly to the International Space Station (ISS) in October. The flight will be in a Crew Dragon capsule from Cape Canaveral. Maurer will live and work in the orbital outpost for six months. He is currently training to work on numerous scientific experiments. Maurer will be the twelfth German in space.</p><p>So far, Germany has only sent men into space. In mid-March, ESA will start the next application process for astronauts. A few years ago, the private initiative Die Astronautin ("She is an astronaut") showed that there are numerous excellent female applicants.</p>
Two Lunar Eclipses<p>Even if there is no flight to the Moon, sky fans are looking forward to two eclipses this year. On May 26, there will be a lunar eclipse between 9:45 and 12:53 UTC. From 11:10 to 11:28 UTC, the Moon will be completely in the Earth's shadow. It can then only be seen in a copper-red light. This is sunlight that is directed into the Earth's shadow by the Earth's atmosphere – reddish, like the sky at sunset. This eclipse can be observed throughout the Pacific, and will be best viewed in Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, and Antarctica. In Europe, the Moon will be below the horizon and therefore the eclipse will not be visible.</p><p>This also the case for the partial lunar eclipse on November 19. From 07:18 to 10:47 UTC, the Moon will be partly in the shadow of the Earth. In the middle of the eclipse (around 9:03 UTC) 98% of the Moon will be eclipsed. The spectacle will be best seen in North America, Greenland, East Asia and much of the Pacific, such as Hawaii and New Zealand.</p>
Two Solar Eclipses: One Annular, One Total<p><span>In 2021, the Moon will pass right in front of the sun, twice. On June 10, the moon will be nearly in the furthest point of its elliptical orbit around Earth. So it will be too small to cover the sun completely. In the middle of this eclipse, an annulus of the sun will remain visible. The sun's ring of fire appears between 9:55 and 11:28 UTC for a maximum of four minutes – but it will only be visible in the very sparsely populated areas of northeast Canada, northwestern Greenland, the North Pole and the far east of Siberia.</span></p><p>In the North Atlantic, Europe and large parts of Russia, an eclipse will be seen at least partially. Between 8:12 and 13:11 UTC, the Sun will appear like a cookie that has been bitten into as the Moon covers parts of the bright disk. In some places, the eclipse will last about two hours. In Central Europe, a maximum of one-fifth of the sun will be covered.</p>
Dark Sun Over Antarctica<p>The celestial event of the year will be a total solar eclipse on December 4. In a 400-kilometer-wide strip, the New Moon will cover the sun completely. For a maximum of one minute and 54 seconds, day will turn to night. For that short time, the brightest stars can be seen in the sky and the flaming solar corona can be seen around the dark disc of the Moon.</p><p><span></span>Unfortunately, hardly anyone will get to see this cosmic spectacle because the strip of totality only runs through the Southern Ocean and the Antarctic. From 7:03 to 8:04 UTC the umbra of the Moon moves across the Earth's surface – and perhaps some ships' crews will enjoy the solar corona.</p><p>Only during the few minutes of totality is it possible to look safely at the Sun with the naked eye. During the partial phase or in the case of an annular eclipse, suitable protective goggles are necessary to watch the spectacle. Normal sunglasses are not safe. Looking unprotected into the sun can lead to severe eye damage or even blindness.</p>
Two Giant Planets in Northern Summer and Southern Winter<p>Venus, our other neighboring planet, will be behind the sun on March 26. It is not visible for the first few months of the year. From the end of April through Christmas, it will be visible as an evening star in the sky after sunset. The planet, shrouded in dense clouds, is the brightest object in the sky after the Sun and the Moon. The best visibility will be from September to December.</p><p>The giant planet Jupiter is in its best position of the year on August 20. It then shines in the constellation Capricorn, only disappearing from the evening sky at the beginning of next year. The ringed planet Saturn is also in the constellation Capricorn and can be observed particularly well on August 2. </p><p>Jupiter and Saturn are the stars of summer in the Northern Hemisphere and those of the long winter nights in the Southern Hemisphere. They are in the same area of the sky, almost forming a double star with Jupiter being the brighter of the two.</p>
Shooting Stars in August and December<p>There are certain periods when the Earth crosses the orbital path of a comet and shooting stars are much more likely than on other nights. Many small stones and dust particles are scattered on comet orbits, which light up the Earth's atmosphere for a moment when they enter.</p><p>The Perseids are particularly promising: August 9-13, a few dozen meteors (the technical term for shooting stars) will scurry across the sky per hour. The traces of light will seem to come from the constellation Perseus, near the striking celestial W of Cassiopeia. The Geminids – meteors coming from the constellation Gemini – will be similarly exciting with up to 100 shooting stars per hour, December 10-15.</p>
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Michael Svoboda, Ph.D.
Despite a journey to this moment even more treacherous than expected, Americans now have a fresh opportunity to act, decisively, on climate change.
The authors of the many new books released in just the past few months (or scheduled to be published soon) seem to have anticipated this pivotal moment.
- 10 Best Books On Climate Change, According to Activists - EcoWatch ›
- New and Recent Books About Hope in a Time of Climate Change ... ›
By Katy Neusteter
The Biden-Harris transition team identified COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity and climate change as its top priorities. Rivers are the through-line linking all of them. The fact is, healthy rivers can no longer be separated into the "nice-to-have" column of environmental progress. Rivers and streams provide more than 60 percent of our drinking water — and a clear path toward public health, a strong economy, a more just society and greater resilience to the impacts of the climate crisis.
Public Health<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUyNDY3MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MDkxMTkwNn0.pyP14Bg1WvcUvF_xUGgYVu8PS7Lu49Huzc3PXGvATi4/img.jpg?width=980" id="8e577" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1efb3445f5c445e47d5937a72343c012" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="3000" data-height="2302" />
Wild and Scenic Merced River, California. Bob Wick / BLM<p>Let's begin with COVID-19. More than <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank">16 million Americans</a> have contracted the coronavirus and, tragically,<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank"> more than</a> <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank">300,000 have died</a> due to the pandemic. While health officials encourage hand-washing to contain the pandemic, at least <a href="https://closethewatergap.org/" target="_blank">2 million Americans</a> are currently living without running water, indoor plumbing or wastewater treatment. Meanwhile, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/23/millions-of-americans-cant-afford-water-bills-rise" target="_blank">aging water infrastructure is growing increasingly costly for utilities to maintain</a>. That cost is passed along to consumers. The upshot? <a href="https://research.msu.edu/affordable-water-in-us-reaching-a-crisis/" target="_blank">More than 13 million</a> U.S. households regularly face unaffordable water bills — and, thus, the threat of water shutoffs. Without basic access to clean water, families and entire communities are at a higher risk of <a href="https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/news/2020/08/05/488705/bridging-water-access-gap-covid-19-relief/" target="_blank">contracting</a> and spreading COVID-19.</p><p>We have a moral duty to ensure that everyone has access to clean water to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Last spring, <a href="https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/03/coronavirus-stimulus-bill-explained-bailouts-unemployment-benefits.html" target="_blank">Congress appropriated more than $4 trillion</a> to jumpstart the economy and bring millions of unemployed Americans back to work. Additional federal assistance — desperately needed — will present a historic opportunity to improve our crumbling infrastructure, which has been <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/23/millions-of-americans-cant-afford-water-bills-rise" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">grossly underfunded for decades</a>.</p><p>A report by my organization, American Rivers, suggests that <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/09223525/ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-2020.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Congress must invest at least $50 billion</a> "to address the urgent water infrastructure needs associated with COVID-19," including the rising cost of water. This initial boost would allow for the replacement and maintenance of sewers, stormwater infrastructure and water supply facilities.</p>
Economic Recovery<p>Investing in water infrastructure and healthy rivers also creates jobs. Consider, for example, that <a href="https://tinyurl.com/y9p6sgnk" target="_blank">every $1 million spent on water infrastructure in the United States generates more than 15 jobs</a> throughout the economy, according to a report by the Value of Water Campaign. Similarly, <a href="https://tinyurl.com/yyvd2ksp" target="_blank">every "$1 million invested in forest and watershed restoration contracting will generate between 15.7 and 23.8 jobs,</a> depending on the work type," states a working paper released by the Ecosystem Workforce Program, University of Oregon. Healthy rivers also spur tourism and recreation, which many communities rely on for their livelihoods. According to the findings by the Outdoor Industry Association, which have been shared in our report, "Americans participating in watersports and fishing spend over <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/30222425/Exec-summary-ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-June-30-2020.pdf" target="_blank">$174 billion</a> on gear and trip related expenses. And, the outdoor watersports and fishing economy supports over <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/30222425/Exec-summary-ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-June-30-2020.pdf" target="_blank">1.5 million jobs nationwide</a>."</p><p>After the 2008 financial crisis, Congress invested in infrastructure to put Americans back to work. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act <a href="https://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/economy-a-budget/25941-clean-water-green-infrastructure-get-major-boost" target="_blank">of 2009 (ARRA) allocated $6 billion</a> for clean water and drinking water infrastructure to decrease unemployment and boost the economy. More specifically, <a href="https://www.conservationnw.org/news-updates/us-reps-push-for-millions-of-restoration-and-resilience-jobs/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an analysis of ARRA</a> "showed conservation investments generated 15 to 33 jobs per million dollars," and more than doubled the rate of return, according to a letter written in May 2020 by 79 members of Congress, seeking greater funding for restoration and resilience jobs.</p><p>Today, when considering how to create work for the <a href="https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">10.7 million</a> people who are currently unemployed, Congress should review previous stimulus investments and build on their successes by embracing major investments in water infrastructure and watershed restoration.</p>
Racial Justice<p>American Rivers also recommends that Congress dedicate <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/09223525/ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-2020.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">$500 billion for rivers and clean water over the next 10 years</a> — not just for the benefit of our environment and economy, but also to begin to address the United States' history of deeply entrenched racial injustice.</p><p>The <a href="https://www.epa.gov/npdes/sanitary-sewer-overflows-ssos" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">23,000-75,000 sewer overflows</a> that occur each year release up to <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/2020/05/fighting-for-rivers-means-fighting-for-justice/#:~:text=There%20are%20also%2023%2C000%20to%2075%2C000%20sanitary%20sewer,to%20do%20with%20the%20mission%20of%20American%20Rivers." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">10 billion gallons of toxic sewage</a> <em>every day</em> into rivers and streams. This disproportionately impacts communities of color, because, for generations, Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other people of color have been <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/flooding-disproportionately-harms-black-neighborhoods/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">relegated</a> to live in flood-prone areas and in neighborhoods that have been intentionally burdened with a lack of development that degrades people's health and quality of life. In some communities of color, incessant flooding due to stormwater surges or <a href="https://www.ajc.com/opinion/opinion-partnering-to-better-manage-our-water/7WQ6SEAQP5E4LGQCEYY5DO334Y/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">combined sewer overflows</a> has gone unmitigated for decades.</p><p>We have historically treated people as separate from rivers and water. We can't do that anymore. Every voice — particularly those of people most directly impacted — must have a loudspeaker and be included in decision-making at the highest levels.</p><p>Accordingly, the new administration must diligently invest in projects at the community level that will improve lives in our country's most marginalized communities. We also must go further to ensure that local leaders have a seat at the decision-making table. To this end, the Biden-Harris administration should restore <a href="https://www.epa.gov/cwa-401#:~:text=Section%20401%20Certification%20The%20Clean%20Water%20Act%20%28CWA%29,the%20United%20States.%20Learn%20more%20about%20401%20certification." target="_blank">Section 401 of the Clean Water Act</a>, which was undermined by the <a href="https://earthjustice.org/news/press/2020/tribes-and-environmental-groups-sue-trump-administration-to-preserve-clean-water-protections#:~:text=Under%20Section%20401%20of%20the%20Clean%20Water%20Act%2C,seeks%20to%20undermine%20that%20authority%20in%20several%20ways%3A" target="_blank">Trump administration's 2020 regulatory changes</a>. This provision gives states and tribes the authority to decide whether major development projects, such as hydropower and oil and gas projects, move forward.</p>
Climate Resilience<p>Of course, the menacing shadow looming over it all? Climate change. <a href="https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/IFRC_wdr2020/IFRC_WDR_ExecutiveSummary_EN_Web.pdf" target="_blank">More than 100 climate-related catastrophes</a> have pummeled the Earth since the pandemic was declared last spring, including the blitzkrieg of megafires, superstorms and heat waves witnessed during the summer of 2020, directly impacting the lives of more than <a href="https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/IFRC_wdr2020/IFRC_WDR_ExecutiveSummary_EN_Web.pdf" target="_blank">50 million people globally</a>.</p><p>Water and climate scientist Brad Udall often says, "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQhpj5G0dME" target="_blank">Climate change is water change</a>." In other words, the most obvious and dire impacts of climate change are evidenced in profound changes to our rivers and water resources. You've likely seen it where you live: Floods are more damaging and frequent. Droughts are deeper and longer. Uncertainty is destabilizing industry and lives.</p><p>By galvanizing action for healthy rivers and managing our water resources more effectively, we can insure future generations against the consequences of climate change. First, we must safeguard rivers that are still healthy and free-flowing. Second, we must protect land and property against the ravages of flooding. And finally, we must promote policies and practical solutions that take the science of climate disruption into account when planning for increased flooding, water shortage and habitat disruption.</p><p>Imagine all that rivers do for us. Most of our towns and cities have a river running through them or flowing nearby. Rivers provide clean drinking water, irrigate crops that provide our food, power our homes and businesses, provide wildlife habitat, and are the lifeblood of the places where we enjoy and explore nature, and where we play and nourish our spirits. Healthy watersheds help <a href="https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/03/1059952" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mitigate</a> climate change, absorbing and reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Healthy rivers and floodplains help communities adapt and build resilience in the face of climate change by improving flood protection and providing water supply and quality benefits. Rivers are the cornerstones of healthy, strong communities.</p><p>The more than <a href="https://archive.epa.gov/water/archive/web/html/index-17.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">3 million miles</a> of rivers and streams running across our country are a source of great strength and opportunity. When we invest in healthy rivers and clean water, we can improve our lives. When we invest in rivers, we create jobs and strengthen our economy. When we invest in rivers, we invest in our shared future.</p>
Fifteen states are in for an unusually noisy spring.
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