Some people would argue that 2016 was the year that the world economy started to come apart, with the passage of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. Whether or not the “coming apart” process started in 2016, in my opinion we are going to see many more steps in this direction in 2017. Let me explain a few of the things I see.
 Many economies have collapsed in the past. The world economy is very close to the turning point where collapse starts in earnest.
The history of previous civilizations rising and eventually collapsing is well documented.(See, for example, Secular Cycles.)
To start a new cycle, a group of people would find a new way of doing things that allowed more food and energy production (for instance, they might add irrigation, or cut down trees for more land for agriculture). For a while, the economy would expand, but eventually a mismatch would arise between resources and population. Either resources would fall too low (perhaps because of erosion or salt deposits in the soil), or population would rise too high relative to resources, or both.
Even as resources per capita began falling, economies would continue to have overhead expenses, such as the need to pay high-level officials and to fund armies. These overhead costs could not easily be reduced, and might, in fact, grow as the government attempted to work around problems. Collapse occurred because, as resources per capita fell (for example, farms shrank in size), the earnings of workers tended to fall. At the same time, the need for taxes to cover what I am calling overhead expenses tended to grow. Tax rates became too high for workers to earn an adequate living, net of taxes. In some cases, workers succumbed to epidemics because of poor diets. Or governments would collapse, from lack of adequate tax revenue to support them.
Our current economy seems to be following a similar pattern. We first used fossil fuels to allow the population to expand, starting about 1800. Things went fairly well until the 1970s, when oil prices started to spike. Several workarounds (globalization, lower interest rates, and more use of debt) allowed the economy to continue to grow. The period since 1970 might be considered a period of “stagflation.” Now the world economy is growing especially slowly. At the same time, we find ourselves with “overhead” that continues to grow (for example, payments to retirees, and repayment of debt with interest). The pattern of past civilizations suggests that our civilization could also collapse.
Historically, economies have taken many years to collapse; I show a range of 20 to 50 years in Figure 1. We really don’t know if collapse would take that long now. Today, we are dependent on an international financial system, an international trade system, electricity, and the availability of oil to make our vehicles operate. It would seem as if this time collapse could come much more quickly.
With the world economy this close to collapse, some individual countries are even closer to collapse. This is why we can expect to see sharp downturns in the fortunes of some countries. If contagion is not too much of a problem, other countries may continue to do fairly well, even as individual small countries fail.
 Figures to be released in 2017 and future years are likely to show that the peak in world coal consumption occurred in 2014. This is important, because it means that countries that depend heavily on coal, such as China and India, can expect to see much slower economic growth, and more financial difficulties.
While reports of international coal production for 2016 are not yet available, news articles and individual country data strongly suggest that world coal production is past its peak. The IEA also reports a substantial drop in coal production for 2016.
The reason why coal production is dropping is because of low prices, low profitability for producers, and gluts indicating oversupply. Also, comparisons of coal prices with natural gas prices are inducing switching from coal to natural gas. The problem, as we will see later, is that natural gas prices are also artificially low, compared to the cost of production, So the switch is being made to a different type of fossil fuel, also with an unsustainably low price.
Prices for coal in China have recently risen again, thanks to the closing of a large number of unprofitable coal mines, and a mandatory reduction in hours for other coal mines. Even though prices have risen, production may not rise to match the new prices. One article reports:
. . . coal companies are reportedly reluctant to increase output as a majority of the country’s mines are still losing money and it will take time to recoup losses incurred in recent years.
Also, a person can imagine that it might be difficult to obtain financing, if coal prices have only “sort of” recovered.
I wrote last year about the possibility that coal production was peaking. This is one chart I showed, with data through 2015. Coal is the second most utilized fuel in the world. If its production begins declining, it will be difficult to offset the loss of its use with increased use of other types of fuels.
 If we assume that coal supplies will continue to shrink, and other production will grow moderately, we can expect total energy consumption to be approximately flat in 2017.
In a way, this is an optimistic assessment, because we know that efforts are underway to reduce oil production, in order to prop up prices. We are, in effect, assuming either that (a) oil prices won’t really rise, so that oil consumption will grow at a rate similar to that in the recent past or (b) while oil prices will rise significantly to help producers, consumers won’t cut back on their consumption in response to the higher prices.
 Because world population is rising, the forecast in Figure 4 suggests that per capita energy consumption is likely to shrink. Shrinking energy consumption per capita puts the world (or individual countries in the world) at the risk of recession.
Figure 5 shows indicated per capita energy consumption, based on Figure 4. It is clear that energy consumption per capita has already started shrinking, and is expected to shrink further. The last time that happened was in the Great Recession of 2007-2009.
There tends to be a strong correlation between world economic growth and world energy consumption, because energy is required to transform materials into new forms, and to transport goods from one place to another.
In the recent past, the growth in GDP has tended to be a little higher than the growth in the use of energy products. One reason why GDP growth has been a percentage point or two higher than energy consumption growth is because, as economies become richer, citizens can afford to add more services to the mix of goods and services that they purchase (fancier hair cuts and more piano lessons, for example). Production of services tends to use proportionately less energy than creating goods does; as a result, a shift toward a heavier mix of services tends to lead to GDP growth rates that are somewhat higher than the growth in energy consumption.
A second reason why GDP growth has tended to be a little higher than growth in energy consumption is because devices (such as cars, trucks, air conditioners, furnaces, factory machinery) are becoming more efficient.
Growth in efficiency occurs if consumers replace old inefficient devices with new more efficient devices. If consumers become less wealthy, they are likely to replace devices less frequently, leading to slower growth in efficiency. Also, as we will discuss later in this post, recently there has been a tendency for fossil fuel prices to remain artificially low. With low prices, there is little financial incentive to replace an old inefficient device with a new, more efficient device. As a result, new purchases may be bigger, offsetting the benefit of efficiency gains (purchasing an SUV to replace a car, for example).
Thus, we cannot expect that the past pattern of GDP growing a little faster than energy consumption will continue. In fact, it is even possible that the leveraging effect will start working the “wrong” way, as low fossil fuel prices induce more fuel use, not less. Perhaps the safest assumption we can make is that GDP growth and energy consumption growth will be equal. In other words, if world energy consumption growth is 0% (as in Figure 4), world GDP growth will also be 0%. This is not something that world leaders would like at all.
The situation we are encountering today seems to be very similar to the falling resources per capita problem that seemed to push early economies toward collapse in . Figure 5 above suggests that, on average, the paychecks of workers in 2017 will tend to purchase fewer goods and services than they did in 2016 and 2015. If governments need higher taxes to fund rising retiree costs and rising subsidies for “renewables,” the loss in the after-tax purchasing power of workers will be even greater than Figure 5 suggests.
 Because many countries are in this precarious position of falling resources per capita, we should expect to see a rise in protectionism, and the addition of new tariffs.
Clearly, governments do not want the problem of falling wages (or rather, falling goods that wages can buy) impacting their countries. So the new game becomes, “Push the problem elsewhere.”
In economic language, the world economy is becoming a “Zero-sum” game. Any gain in the production of goods and services by one country is a loss to another country. Thus, it is in each country’s interest to look out for itself. This is a major change from the shift toward globalization we have experienced in recent years. China, as a major exporter of goods, can expect to be especially affected by this changing view.
 China can no longer be expected to pull the world economy forward.
China’s economic growth rate is likely to be lower, for many reasons. One reason is the financial problems of coal mines, and the tendency of coal production to continue to shrink, once it starts shrinking. This happens for many reasons, one of them being the difficulty in obtaining loans for expansion, when prices still seem to be somewhat low, and the outlook for the further increases does not appear to be very good.
Another reason why China’s economic growth rate can be expected to fall is the current overbuilt situation with respect to apartment buildings, shopping malls, factories, and coal mines. As a result, there seems to be little need for new buildings and operations of these types. Another reason for slower economic growth is the growing protectionist stance of trade partners. A fourth reason is the fact that many potential buyers of the goods that China is producing are not doing very well economically (with the US being a major exception). These buyers cannot afford to increase their purchases of imports from China.
With these growing headwinds, it is quite possible that China’s total energy consumption in 2017 will shrink. If this happens, there will be downward pressure on world fossil fuel prices. Oil prices may fall, despite production cuts by OPEC and other countries.
China’s slowing economic growth is likely to make its debt problem harder to solve. We should not be too surprised if debt defaults become a more significant problem, or if the yuan falls relative to other currencies.
India, with its recent recall of high denomination currency, as well as its problems with low coal demand, is not likely to be a great deal of help aiding the world economy to grow, either. India is also a much smaller economy than China.
 While Item  talked about peak coal, there is a very significant chance that we will be hitting peak oil and peak natural gas in 2017 or 2018, as well.
If we look at historical prices, we see that the prices of oil, coal and natural gas tend to rise and fall together.
The reason that fossil fuel prices tend to rise and fall together is because these prices are tied to “demand” for goods and services in general, such as for new homes, cars, and factories. If wages are rising rapidly, and debt is rising rapidly, it becomes easier for consumers to buy goods such as homes and cars. When this happens, there is more “demand” for the commodities used to make and operate homes and cars. Prices for commodities of many types, including fossil fuels, tend to rise, to enable more production of these items.
Of course, the reverse happens as well. If workers become poorer, or debt levels shrink, it becomes harder to buy homes and cars. In this case, commodity prices, including fossil fuel prices, tend to fall. Thus, the problem we saw above in  for coal would be likely to happen for oil and natural gas, as well, because the prices of all of the fossil fuels tend to move together. In fact, we know that current oil prices are too low for oil producers. This is the reason why OPEC and other oil producers have cut back on production. Thus, the problem with overproduction for oil seems to be similar to the overproduction problem for coal, just a bit delayed in timing.
In fact, we also know that US natural gas prices have been very low for several years, suggesting another similar problem. The United States is the single largest producer of natural gas in the world. Its natural gas production hit a peak in mid 2015, and production has since begun to decline. The decline comes as a response to chronically low prices, which make it unprofitable to extract natural gas. This response sounds similar to China’s attempted solution to low coal prices.
The problem is fundamentally the fact that consumers cannot afford goods made using fossil fuels of any type, if prices actually rise to the level producers need, which tends to be at least five times the 1999 price level.
(Note peak price levels compared to 1999 level on Figure 6.) Wages have not risen by a factor of five since 1999, so paying the prices that fossil fuel producers need for profitability and growing production is out of the question. No amount of added debt can hide this problem. (While this reference is to 1999 prices, the issue really goes back much farther, to prices before the price spikes of the 1970s.)
US natural gas producers also have plans to export natural gas to Europe and elsewhere, as liquefied natural gas (LNG). The hope, of course, is that a large amount of exports will raise US natural gas prices. Also, the hope is that Europeans will be able to afford the high-priced natural gas shipped to them.
Unless someone can raise the wages of both Europeans and Americans, I would not count on LNG prices actually rising to the level needed for profitability, and staying at such a high level. Instead, they are likely to bounce up, and quickly drop back again.
 Unless oil prices rise very substantially, oil exporters will find themselves exhausting their financial reserves in a very short time (perhaps a year or two). Unfortunately, oil importers cannot withstand higher prices, without going into recession.
We have a no win situation, no matter what happens. This is true with all fossil fuels, but especially with oil, because of its high cost and thus necessarily high price. If oil prices stay at the same level or go down, oil exporters cannot get enough tax revenue, and oil companies in general cannot obtain enough funds to finance the development of new wells and payment of dividends to shareholders. If oil prices do rise by a very large amount for very long, we are likely headed into another major recession, with many debt defaults.
 US interest rates are likely to rise in the next year or two, whether or not this result is intended by the Federal reserve.
This issue here is somewhat obscure. The issue has to do with whether the United States can find foreign buyers for its debt, often called US Treasuries, and the interest rates that the US needs to pay on this debt. If buyers are very plentiful, the interest rates paid by he US government can be quite low; if few buyers are available, interest rates must be higher.
Back when Saudi Arabia and other oil exporters were doing well financially, they often bought US Treasuries, as a way to retain the benefit of their new-found wealth, which they did not want to spend immediately. Similarly, when China was doing well as an exporter, it often bought US Treasuries, as a way retaining the wealth it gained from exports, but didn’t yet need for purchases.
When these countries bought US Treasuries, there were several beneficial results:
The effect of these changes was somewhat similar to the US having its own special Quantitative Easing (QE) program, paid for by some of the counties with trade surpluses, instead of by its central bank. This QE substitute tended to encourage world economic growth, for the reasons mentioned above.
Once the fortunes of the countries that used to buy US Treasuries changes, the pattern of buying of US Treasuries tends to change to selling of US Treasuries. Even not purchasing the same quantity of US Treasuries as in the past becomes an adverse change, if the US has a need to keep issuing US Treasuries as in the past, or if it wants to keep rates low.
Unfortunately, losing this QE substitute tends to reverse the favorable effects noted above. One effect is that the dollar tends to ride higher relative to other currencies, making the US look richer, and other countries poorer. The “catch” is that as the other countries become poorer, it becomes harder for them to repay the debt that they took out earlier, which was denominated in US dollars.
Another problem, as this strange type of QE disappears, is that the interest rates that the US government needs to pay in order to issue new debt start rising. These higher rates tend to affect other rates as well, such as mortgage rates. These higher interest rates act as a drag on the economy, tending to push it toward recession.
Higher interest rates also tend to decrease the value of assets, such as homes, farms, outstanding bonds, and shares of stock. This occurs because fewer buyers can afford to buy these goods, with the new higher interest rates. As a result, stock prices can be expected to fall. Prices of homes and of commercial buildings can also be expected to fall. The value of bonds held by insurance companies and banks becomes lower, if they choose to sell these securities before maturity.
Of course, as interest rates fell after 1981, we received the benefit of falling interest rates, in the form of rising asset prices. No one ever stopped to think about how much of the gains in share prices and property values came from falling interest rates.
Now, as interest rates rise, we can expect asset prices of many types to start falling, because of lower affordability when monthly payments are based on higher interest rates. This situation presents another “drag” on the economy.
The situation is indeed very concerning. Many things could set off a crisis:
Things don’t look too bad right now, but the underlying problems are sufficiently severe that we seem to be headed for a crisis far worse than 2008. The timing is not clear.
Things could start falling apart badly in 2017, or alternatively, major problems may be delayed until 2018 or 2019. I hope political leaders can find ways to keep problems away as long as possible, perhaps with more rounds of QE.
Our fundamental problem is the fact that neither high nor low energy prices are now able to keep the world economy operating as we would like it to operate. Increased debt can’t seem to fix the problem either.
The laws of physics seem to be behind economic growth. From a physics point of view, our economy is a dissipative structure. Such structures form in “open systems.” In such systems, flows of energy allow structures to temporarily self-organize and grow. Other examples of dissipative structures include ecosystems, all plants and animals, stars, and hurricanes. All of these structures constantly “dissipate” energy. They have finite life spans, before they eventually collapse. Often, new dissipative systems form, to replace previous ones that have collapsed.
The one thing that gives me hope is the fact that there seems to be some type of a guiding supernatural force behind the whole system that allows so much growth. Some would say that this supernatural force is “only” the laws of physics (and biology and chemistry). To me, the fact that so many structures can self-organize and grow is miraculous, and perhaps evidence of a guiding force behind the whole universe.
I don’t know precisely what is next, but it seems quite possible that there is a longer-term plan for humans that we are not aware of. Some of the religions of the world may have insights on what this plan might be. It is even possible that there may be divine intervention of some type that allows a change in the path that we seem to be on today.
Reprinted by kind permission of the author, from OurFiniteWorld.com
Interview Excerpt: Why There is No Oil Price that Works
From an interview of Gail Tverberg by Chris Martenson,
Chris Martenson: Certainly. Let’s talk about the floor/ceiling dynamic of this.
Entire interview available at Chris Martenson's Peak Prosperity site.
EPA Pick Pruitt's "Radical Record" and Abundant Conflicts Probed by Senate Dems
by Deirdre Fulton, Common Dreams staff writer
Donald Trump's pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, is facing new scrutiny over his ties to fossil fuel companies and his role in ongoing litigation against the very agency he's been chosen to lead.
The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works announced Thursday that Pruitt's confirmation hearing would take place next week, on January 18. Also Thursday, Senate Democrats on that committee sent letters to the independent Office of Government Ethics (OGE) and the EPA's ethics official seeking more information about Pruitt's conflicts of interest.
Their letter to the OGE charges that "[d]uring his tenure as attorney general of Oklahoma, Mr. Pruitt has blurred the distinction between official and political actions, often at the behest of corporations he will regulate if confirmed to lead the EPA."
The Democrats cite reporting based on Freedom of Information Act requests that "illustrate[s] how Mr. Pruitt and his staff have worked closely with fossil fuel lobbyists to craft his office's official positions." Specifically, they point to Pruitt's role as chairman of the Republican Attorney Generals Association (RAGA), which "has received nearly $4 million from fossil fuel-related entities, many of which are either companies regulated by EPA or industry trade associations."
"Did Mr. Pruitt provide OGE any information about his positions with RAGA, any role he played soliciting money for RAGA, what resulted from those solicitations, or any promises made or actions taken by him or RAGA in exchange for donations made to it?" the senators ask.
The letter to EPA ethics official Kevin Minoli, meanwhile, focuses on potential "legal conflicts of interest arising from his representation of the state of Oklahoma in litigation against the EPA."
As Common Dreams and others have reported, Pruitt spent his time as Oklahoma attorney general launching multiple legal attacks against the EPA and its efforts to protect the environment and public health. Now, the Democrats on the Environment and Public Works committee want to know how the EPA will ensure that Pruitt is recused from involvement in those cases.
The ethics agreement entered into by former EPA administrator Carol Browner included a clear and permanent recusal of her participation in any EPA matter in which the state of Florida was involved as a party... Our understanding of Mr. Pruitt's ethics agreement is that he has made no such unequivocal pledge. Why has EPA concluded that a more lenient arrangement for Mr. Pruitt's conflicts is appropriate?
Additionally, they point to Pruitt's shadowy association with the Rule of Law Defense Fund (RLDF), a right-leaning public policy organization that receives funding from Freedom Partners—a Koch Brothers super PAC—and has passed "hundreds of thousands of dollars" back and forth with RAGA. "Mr. Pruitt has agreed not to participate in any particular matter involving the RLDF without prior authorization," the senators write. "RLDF's activities and donors are largely secret. Without more extensive disclosures about RLDF and Mr. Pruitt's role in in, how will you determine whether a particular matter involves the RLDF?"
The senators are not alone in raising concerns about Pruitt's nomination. On Thursday, the League of Conservation Voters "departed from [its] standard procedure" in sending a letter to senators warning that their vote on Pruitt's confirmation would be scored on the group's annual environmental scorecard.
"Given Scott Pruitt's radical record and the far-reaching damage he could do at the helm of the EPA, this is not the time for standard protocol," wrote LCV president Gene Karpinski.
"The mission of the Environmental Protection Agency is to protect human health and the environment—our air, water, and land," he continued. "Unfortunately, Scott Pruitt's record is completely antithetical to this vitally important mission. Not only does he deny the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is real and caused by human activity, as Oklahoma attorney general he has sued the EPA on numerous occasions to block efforts to cut carbon pollution and weaken safeguards for our air and water."
And members of the Moms Clean Air Force converged on Capitol Hill this week to add their voices to the mix. Pruitt "has been against every single clean air protection we have gained," the group wrote on Twitter on Friday, following two days of meeting with lawmakers urging them to vote against the nominee. "Bad choice for our families."
Republished with kind permission of Common Dreams, this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
Not long ago, I saw a comment on an online article about the rise in protests for black civil rights.
“We gave you a president,” wrote the commenter. “We gave you your damn Oscar. What more do you want?”
Never mind the White House. What many black people still long for is any house at all.
In 1966 at Chicago’s Soldier Field, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. expounded on this dream. “We are tired of living in rat-infested slums,” he said. “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children.”
That door to opportunity is home ownership — which, for most Americans, is their single most valuable asset.
Yet more than half of African Americans don’t own homes. A recent report by the Institute for Policy Studies highlights that only 41 percent of black families are homeowners, compared to 71 percent of white families.
White people don’t own homes at greater rates because they picked themselves up by their bootstraps while black people sat around. After the Great Depression, the federal government started subsidizing housing for white folks to help them get back on their feet.
Wealth inequality expert Chuck Collins, a coauthor of the IPS report, explained on NPR’s Marketplace: “In the decade following World War II, our nation made unprecedented public investments to subsidize debt-free college education and low-cost mortgages. These wealth-building measures benefited millions of mostly white households.”
But if you weren’t white, you missed the boat. In fact, the report notes, just 2 percent of Federal Housing Administration loans went to non-white households in the years following World War II.
Meanwhile, discriminatory housing practices have held African Americans back.
Throughout the 20th century, realty associations and discriminatory financial institutions conspired to disenfranchise would-be black homeowners. Real estate agents, explains Morehouse professor Marc Lamont Hill, “followed an unwritten edict: Sell homes in white neighborhoods to black buyers and you will lose your license.”
Even when some blacks were beginning to successfully build wealth, it was taken away. Under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, “slum clearance” measures spread rapidly throughout the country, leading to widespread demolitions of black middle-class homes. In the name of expanding public housing, many black families literally lost the roof over their heads.
More recently, subprime lending has emerged as the most dangerous attack on African-American homeowners. Thanks to predatory mortgage practices, black families lost three to four times as much wealth during the Great Recession as white families.
This may have been no accident. Federal investigations after the crash revealed that Wells Fargo loan officers referred to black customers as “mud people” and called black mortgages “ghetto loans.”
To reverse these trends, we need to create a housing boom for low-income and first-time minority homeowners, invest in financial literacy and career readiness programs, and bring middle-class and high-wage jobs into newly developed black neighborhoods.
“A society has a moral obligation to make a large, aggressive investment,” President Obama said recently, “in order to close those gaps” between black and white Americans.
A truly “aggressive investment” would ensure not only equity for African Americans in this country, but would also expand middle-class America, reduce crime in America’s major cities, and improve schools in urban communities.
Without that, Dr. King’s dream is still deferred.
Kenneth Worles is the Newman Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Distribution and permissions thanks to OtherWords.org.
The incoming Republican government is waging a war against regulations.
“For every one new regulation, two old regulations must be eliminated,” Donald Trump promised after the November vote. Since then, Republicans in Congress have voted to give themselves broader authority to strike down federal rules of all kinds.
The way I see the difference between liberals and conservatives is, in part, in their different approaches to our flawed body of regulations. Liberals think we should keep them and improve them. Conservatives would rather scrap many of them altogether.
Both approaches confront the same problem: No government run by humans will ever be perfect. Some regulations give us clean drinking water and safe food, whereas others may be outdated or poorly written.
And when you’re the one on the wrong side of the red tape — the small business owner hindered by regulations written for enormous corporations, or the innocent person wrongfully placed on the No Fly List — your anger and frustration are justified.
Yet regulations are, at their core, intended to protect us.
Some are designed to keep terrorists off airplanes or keep violent felons from buying guns. Others ensure that pharmaceuticals are safe and effective, and that food is free from Salmonella and E. coli. Still others keep our air and water clean.
When we get down to the details, no doubt we’ll differ over what our regulations ought to be. We can debate over what the latest science supports, and what’s in the best interest of the American people.
Each of us will have different interests of our own, too. If you put representatives of the pesticide industry, conventional and organic farmers, consumers, and doctors around a table, you’ll probably hear a wide range of views about how pesticides ought to be regulated.
But when it comes down to it, most liberal and conservative voters alike want a safe, healthy, and prosperous country for all. They just don’t agree on how to get there.
We all want to be sure that food we buy from the store is honestly labeled and safe to eat. We all want the water coming out of our taps to be safe to drink. We don’t want the environment polluted so that our kids get asthma, or more people get cancer. We want the pharmaceuticals we buy to work.
We want to be secure. We want law enforcement to be effective. We want good roads and schools. We want consumer goods we buy to be safe. We want a thriving economy. At their best, that’s what regulations give us.
Sometimes, of course, they don’t.
But is the answer to wage war on “regulations” as a whole, or to review them and improve them?
A good regulation protects American citizens in some way. A good regulation is effective and based on the latest science. A good regulation is only imposed where necessary, because the government should avoid restricting the activities of private citizens and businesses wherever possible.
Should we prune away regulations that aren’t fair or effective? Absolutely.
And we’ll have ideological differences between liberals and conservatives, as well as between different interest groups, over what constitutes a fair and effective regulation.
But there’s no need to vilify regulations altogether. When they serve a purpose protecting the American people, they’re in fact part of what makes this country great.
OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. Distributed by OtherWords.org.
The United States, anyone could reasonably argue, has the most accomplished elite athletes in the world. The best evidence? In Rio this past summer, young American men and women finished at a comfortable first place in the Olympic final medal tally.
But what if we compared nations on the fitness of average young people, not elite athletes? How would the United States stack up then?
Not too well, concludes a global study just published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. This new research — conducted by a team of academics from Canada, the United States, and Australia — looked at the fitness levels of 1.1 million young people aged 9 to 17, from 50 different nations.
In this competition, young people in the United States didn’t finish first. They finished an appalling 47th out of 50.
“If all the kids in the world were to line up for a race,” report author Dr. Grant Tomkinson summed up, “the average American child would finish at the foot of the field.”
How could the United States, a nation that prides itself on nurturing Olympic champions, have an overall population of young people so unfit?
The new study doesn’t answer that question directly. But it does make a fascinating connection. In nations with smaller gaps between rich and poor, young people show higher levels of fitness.
Income inequality, as the study puts it, appears to be a “strong structural determinant of health” in children and youth.
This linkage won’t surprise anyone who’s been following research on inequality. In recent years, investigators have detailed that people in societies with lower levels of inequality live longer than people in nations with high inequality, like the United States.
Residents of more equal nations also trust each other more, bully each other less, and enjoy better mental health.
But why should social indecency and ill health thrive in unequal places? And, more pointedly, what explains the link between inequality and youth fitness?
No one knows for sure, but analysts have some ideas.
Some lean toward a fiscal explanation. In unequal nations, they point out, wealth and political power tend to concentrate in the hands of an awesomely affluent few. These privileged individuals typically don’t use public services and often resent having to pay taxes to help fund them.
In deeply unequal nations, this combination of political power and resentment ends up generating government budgets that gut public services the rich seldom use — everything from public parks to public education.
Amid the resulting fiscal austerity, public parks start closing. Public schools start charging parents hefty fees if their kids want to play school sports.
As a result, fewer kids get to play and exercise. A top-heavy distribution of wealth translates, in effect, into less-active childhoods.
Other analysts take a more physical approach and focus on the stress that inequality inevitably generates. This ongoing stress pounds relentlessly on our immune systems. And the things we take for relief from that pounding — drugs or sugar-packed snacks, for instance — typically leave us less fit.
Both these fiscal and physical explanations have merit. And both help us understand the importance of doing all that we can to reduce inequality.
If we want to see all kids have the chance to become champions in life, we’ll need to start adopting, as the authors of the new global fitness study conclude, “policies aimed at reducing the gap between rich and poor.”
Sam Pizzigati, an Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow, co-edits Inequality.org. His latest book is The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970. Follow him on Twitter @Too_Much_Online. Distributed by OtherWords.org.
by Lauren McCauley, Common Dreams staff writer
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License
Now that we know that the tipping points are tipping against us -- warmer surface temperatures are driving carbon (mostly as methane) into the atmosphere -- we can understand why the global temperature increase looks like a "hockey stick" -- with a sharply rising nature.
The sad truth is that the so-called "Anthropocene" was very brief -- about the length of the Industrial Revolution that was built on fossil fuels.
Now that we have unwittingly ended the Anthropocene, the era when we took control of Earth's climate, we find that we are entering the post-Anthropocene, where humans have lost any ability to control even carbon emissions, because the positive feedback loops we unleashed have taken over.
James Hansen and Makiko Sato
Year after year we see the corporate-controlled press writing optimistic stories about new technologies that will supposedly allow reduced emissions. And a worldwide recession is said to have reduced direct emissions for a time. But direct emissions no longer matter much -- see curve below . . . the overall annual increase in atmospheric concentrations of heat-trapping gases is increasing at an increasing rate, just as the temperature profile above is.
by Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams staff writer
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Protest Stopped the Predators. They Will Be Back.
DTS stands for Drain the Swamp, of course, although we’re sure many of our progressive brethren would prefer bawdier acronyms involving the president-elect himself. Nonetheless, many are claiming it was these very dispatches from fearless leader that turned the vote around. But read his words carefully: He’s more concerned about bad timing; he has no great love for the OCE.
Bill Moyers is the managing editor of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com. His previous shows on PBS included NOW with Bill Moyers and Bill Moyers Journal. Over the past three decades he has become an icon of American journalism and is the author of many books, including Bill Moyers Journal: The Conversation Continues, Moyers on Democracy, and Bill Moyers: On Faith & Reason. He was one of the organizers of the Peace Corps, a special assistant for Lyndon B. Johnson, a publisher of Newsday, senior correspondent for CBS News and a producer of many groundbreaking series on public television. He is the winner of more than 30 Emmys, nine Peabodys, three George Polk awards.
Michael Winship, senior writing fellow at Demos and president of the Writers Guild of America-East, was senior writer for Moyers & Company and Bill Moyers’ Journal and is senior writer of BillMoyers.com.
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January 5, 2017
Reprinted with kind permission of StrongTowns.org, a national nonprofit membership organization. The mission of Strong Towns is to support a model of development that allows America's cities, towns and neighborhoods to become financially strong and resilient.
Yesterday we shared five ways in which federal infrastructure spending is making cities poorer. That piece included this observation:
Reprinted with kind permission of StrongTowns.org, a national nonprofit membership organization. The mission of Strong Towns is to support a model of development that allows America's cities, towns and neighborhoods to become financially strong and resilient.
Five Ways Federal Infrastructure Spending Makes Cities Poorer
5. Federal infrastructure spending blinds local governments to better projects they could do themselves right now.
Reprinted with kind permission of the author and StrongTowns.org, a national nonprofit membership organization. The mission of Strong Towns is to support a model of development that allows America's cities, towns and neighborhoods to become financially strong and resilient.
The next year will be momentous in every sense of that word. The Rube Goldberg booby-trap at the heart of our national governance has snapped again, and it remains to be seen whether America survives as a functioning nation or whether the elevation of a complete sociopathic narcissist to head the executive branch -- with the other two branches totally dominated by rank partisans -- is the Rubicon moment for the crackup of democracy in America.
So that will dominate much of what goes on.
But in the meantime, OregonPEN is, first and foremost, about Oregon, and about ideas for making Oregon better. Better meaning more just, more successful, more resilient to challenges, and more intelligent about how it governs itself.
The Oregon Public Empowerment News (Oregon PEN), is an, all-digital weekly newspaper that focuses entirely on giving readers news and commentary that empowers and engages, providing the knowledge and insights needed for making Oregon better.
This year, OregonPEN will enter the next phase of its progress, soliciting and accepting paid legal and public notices, with the purpose of devoting the net proceeds from the revenue to continue the mission of making Oregon better. Stay tuned for announcements on that front.
But the end of the year and the upcoming change to a more commercial entity provides a good opportunity to review some of the ideas that OregonPEN will continue to advance in the year ahead, the items that make up the OregonPEN Agenda.