To the Editor, The headline on the business page of the Thursday November 16 Providence Journal said it all. “More state help for developer” For the umpteenth time the I-195 commission is giving more money to some very wealthy developer so they can build a building where the highway used to be. We are told this is necessary for economic development.
The reality is that the entire model of real estate development driven economic development is broken. Broken so badly it ought to be abandoned. Economic development experts such as the IMF and the World Bank have repeatedly pointed out that subsidizing the rich to build buildings does not contribute to long term community prosperity and drives much of the inequality that is harming our communities. In Providence we make this worse by focusing on building subsidized buildings for the medical industrial complex, which guarantees that health care will be unaffordable for more and more people.
Some day we shall learn, but as long as Wall St and real estate interests determine our policies, be prepared for more hard times, especially when the next real estate bubble bursts.
Original article https://mystudentvoices.com/steering-the-economy-toward-growth-8f208a8b8a7b
I have a rather different take on slower growth. I agree that rising inequality is a very big problem and undercuts growth, that tax cuts for the rich do not do any good, and that the wealthy do not invest because there really is not all that much that will give them large returns for their investments.
But what Yaneer Bar-Yam seems to be missing is the crash of ecosystems, the depletion of easily recoverable natural resources, especially forests, and climate change.
It is likely that there shall never be a long term return to high growth rates in the USA or the industrial west. More than half of humanity already lives in cities, so there are fewer agricultural and forest communities to send to shanty towns to fuel the next boom. The age of fossil fuels is coming to an end. Plenty of opportunity in renewable energy, but it will not create booms like fossil fuels, and if you look at growth rates in the USA by state and nationally, it is the moving fracking booms that keep the growth rate up, while well more than half the states have growth rates of less than 2% nearly every quarter for the last 10 years.
We should be looking for a steady state economy, or even a slowly shrinking economy in old industrial places so that the truly poor places in the world will be able to grow without destroying the resource base and climate that they depend upon for their daily bread. The billionaires will hate this, means they have to give up some of their power and priviledge. But it is how we shall survive on planet Earth.
After 20 years of organizing it has been really nice not to be involved in the organizing of the 21st Buy Nothing Day Winter Coat Exchange. Pam and Lauren Testoni and doing a fine job which makes it much easier to be gone. But I have in no way given up my public policy practice, so I thought it would still be nice to write my annual Buy Nothing Day essay, a practice I am likely to continue as my active management of the day recedes into the past.
It is hard to know where to begin. Do i begin with the massive loss of insect populations over the last 40 years as recently discovered in Europe? And how that is reflected in bat distribution in Providence’s North Burial Ground? Or how about that the US economy has become one of the most unequal in the world, and is rapidly becoming more unequal? Or how about how all of the economic development schemes in Rhode Island are designed to create economic development for the 10%, while making health care and housing unaffordable for the rest of us? I have devoted more than a few pixels this year to the toxic narcissist and lying blowhard now residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but I do not want to make you sick so I will keep the orange haired monster out of this.
I went to a convention in Houston in 2016 and spent time hanging out around the bayou, so I have written about the flooding of the bayous with the 3rd 100 year flood in 3 years. One essay about Houston was too depressing to include more here. Or we could discuss the refugee crisis flooding the world as a result of the wars the United States government and military have inflamed throughout Africa and Asia that keep blowing up in our faces. And that are made worse by climate change undermining food security and harvests throughout the world. How about the epidemic of police violence in our communities? Maybe I should write about how the entire game of the business climate is a hoax invented by the Koch Brothers, and how pathetic it is that people who know the Koch’s lie about the climate and fund climate deniers around the world, have a hard time believing that they lie about the business climate and try to prevent us from knowing that a state’s business climate has nothing to do with economic growth rates. I can send you the report if you wish. And I could tell you why the whole Idea of building a fracked gas power plant in Burrillville is going to enrich the few, while harming all of us and the climate. Gina Wall St is a real piece of work as she demonstrated again last week in the convention center. So telling that she did not take questions.
But better to write about the marvelous coming together in Rhode island on November 24 in which people all over Rhode Island will find a way to make sure warm clothing that could serve someone in the community gets into the hands of those who need a way to be warmer this winter while creating space in closets that have enough or more than enough in them.
Thank you Pam, Thank you Lauren for continuing this tradition and event while I restore amphibian habitat, make nature videos, remind the RI legislature of their lousy record on the economy and the ecology, write about President Toxic Dump, start to pull together the RI Nature Video Festival for next February, and raise hell, afflict the comfortable, and comfort the afflicted as we travel through this strange new world and feel the quaking beneath our feet and the temperatures rising.
I wrote this very short book after the 2004 elections. Watching the Green Party recently it seems as if what I learned in 2004 might be relevant again these days, so I offer it on theGreenPartyTempest web
Greg Gerritt October 14, 2017
Recently there has been much discussion about the nature of free speech and what it actually means. Here is my interpretation.
Free speech means that the government and the powerful may not suppress or block political statements by anyone. The powerful and the government can not suppress reporting on the news or comments on the issues of the day. No one should be arrested for peaceful protest, government officials shall not arrest people trying to deliver a message. Public spaces shall be freely available for the public to take a stand on the issues.
Free speech only constrains the government and those supporting it. It does not constrain anyone else. Recently there have been outcries because football players used the playing of a song about war to protest police brutality. You may or may not approve, but their actions are completely within the range of PROTECTED free speech activities. You can not arrest someone for refusing to stand for a poem put to the tune of a drinking song. ( A side note, maybe underscoring my understanding of the situation is that a few years ago I visited Fort McHenry and I have seen fully how US government uses the song as propaganda for war).
If President Toxic Dump wants to really put pressure on football players who are sick and tired of Jim Crow and police brutality maybe the best thing is to stop the Pentagon from advertising on football games and stop the military from providing color guards and fly overs. That would be putting his money where his mouth is. And maybe he could use the excuse that it no longer makes sense for the American government to spend tax dollars supporting an industry that is designed to give its participants long term neurological damage often leading to an early death.
Another side of the free speech debate is phenomena of audiences not letting members of the ruling class speak by making lots of noise. First a question. Have you ever seen a musician booed off the stage? I have. The musician in question was probably a fine musician, a well known professional. But when he paused for a breath for the first time after 45 minutes, everyone booed. He had nothing to offer the audience worth having. So we booed. And he left;.
How is that different from booing a police commissioner here to talk about how he racially profiles and locks up kids? You mean to tell me the audience is not allowed to boo? The audience is not allowed to yell when the speaker tells lies? The audience is not allowed to tell the speaker in no uncertain terms that what he is saying is offensive , degrading, disgusting and that the school gave him a microphone was a travesty of justice? The people have a right to free speech, the government does not. The people can never abridge free speech. It is actually impossible. Only the government can do that. Can i arrest the speaker? Can I stop the publication of his book? Can i prevent him from talking to audiences that want to hear what he has to say? If I can not do that, if I can not stop him from delivering his message to all who want to hear it, I am not guilty of being against free speech. But when I boo I practice free speech. And the confusion between what the public does a and what the government does has been ignored in this discussion and totally skews the discussion away from what free speech really is, including what kinds of speech must be protected by the government, or at least not suppressed by the government, and what to call it when an audience works to make sure the speaker understands how disgusting their message is.
There is another facet of this issue that gets conflated with the first two issues. That is when a college or a community decide that allowing an event to go forward will likely lead to violence. No one wants violence over words, though the powerful have been using violence to repress the poor forever (at least 10,000 years). When the oppressed decide that they will stand up when the oppressors come to town occasionally colleges and communities cancel events or deny permits. I am sort of agnostic on this one. Practical steps to prevent a violent outbreak are a good thing. Telling someone they can not speak is offensive. It is going to be a tough call to decide if the event should go forward. I can live with the fact that this is a judgement call that I may disagree with occassionally.
My testimony at the RI Senate Committee hearing on whether or not the state should subsidize the Paw Sox stadium. (well not exactly, I never say it quite like it is written)
Testimony Greg Gerritt September 14 2017
Members of the committee
I am opposed to the State of RI spending taxpayer dollars to build a baseball stadium for the Pawtucket Red Sox for a number of reasons, some of which others will speak of today. My task is to point out things I do not think other speakers will focus on.
One consideration is the recent news that RI has a large and growing budget deficit. How do you spend the taxpayer’s money on baseball with a deficit that threatens people’s health and well being? But what I want you to focus on is why is there such a large and growing deficit. One of the reasons is that RI budget estimates always include an economic growth factor that is systematically too large. RI continually takes actions that are intended to spur economic growth, and yet year in and year out RI’s growth rate is 60 to 80% of the national rate. But the rising growth rate is baked into your calculations, meaning that you will regularly expect more revenue than is generated. I have asked a variety of people associated with the state about this and no one has been able to tell me the assumed growth rate. If you are privy to such information, it should be public knowledge as it is a critical policy issue for RI. This is something to ponder for the stadium as we have been told that so much business will happen around the stadium that it will cost us nothing.
It is not just RI, the growth rate is trending down globally, and more and more it is obvious that only a few places have the particular characteristics that allow them to have a few more years of rapid growth, but the characteristics of RI, specifically our limited natural resource base (so no oil or mining boom) our reduced influx of first time urban dwellers coming from the countryside, and a relatively small population, combined with our industrial history, tell us we will never see rapid growth.
Besides relying on policy proclamations from the Koch Brothers to determine RI economic development policy, policies that every serious study has shown do not increase growth rates, and quite often are correlated with economic slowdowns, RI economic development focuses on two things, real estate development and the medical industrial complex. At the best of times the real estate industry fosters a greater inequality in our communities and often creates the displacement of large numbers of lower income people, often people of color, but when things go bad it can crash the economy. Both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund point out that subsidizing the rich, especially for real estate investments, is among the least useful things you can do for an economy. Maybe we should pay attention.
New research out of Harvard confirms what I have been saying ever since The Miriam Hospital tried to run over my neighborhood a decade ago, the more you use the medical industrial complex to grow the economy, the more healthcare becomes unaffordable, and the more it squeezes the life out of every other segment of the economy. No time today to finish this thought, but here is a link https://prosperityforri.com/comments-on-the-september-2014-ri-economic-development-draft-plan/ that covers several of the topics in this commentary.
Final point, when the legislature of RI ponders what to do on this, one thing to factor into your equation is your rather undistinguished record on large projects. Others will speak of 38 Studios, but the more relevant one is the idea of building a large container port at Quonset. The legislature as a body was all on board, the Governor was on board, the RI Economic Development Corporation was on board. The people were not on board and in the process demonstrated that the entire leadership of RI had been lead around by the nose by con men. But just ponder how much money the taxpayers of RI would have been on the hook for when the new port facilities were ready to go right as the Great Recession started. We took a bath on 38 Studios. If you had your way that would have seemed like a picnic.
If you really believe that Bread and Circus is so critical, then you are saying the empire is collapsing and we need this to prevent the poor from rioting, you have my sympathies. But if you are doing this for any other reason, it would be a mistake.
These comments were sent to the Atlantic States Fisheries Managment Council as public comments on the Menhaden management plan they will be voting on this fall. I urge eveyone to weigh in and protect menhaden. Greg Gerritt
I went for a walk this morning in one of my favorite places, on the very old path along the Seekonk River at the edge of Swan Point Cemetery in Providence. I have been walking there for 21 years, ever since I moved to Providence. It is called a river, but it is really the ocean the northernmost extension of Narragansett Bay, with a dredged channel for boats heading up to the Pier in Pawtucket, and a wide mudflat on the Providence side of the water. The EP side of the is dominated by the sewage treatment plant and the old landfill. The Providence side is one of the most majestic forests in New England, a mile along the river of steep bluff filled with 170 year old hardwoods. Even cooler is that when the old trees fall down,. They leave them there. I often sit on a log that fell into the water just before I moved here 21 years ago. It is seriously decaying, lost all its branches a decade ago, but the trunk leaning down from the stone wall protecting the path from the high tide except in big storms into the sea will still support me when i sit on it, on dry days. Like today.
The spring after I moved here I saw my first RI osprey from that tree, and I have even seen a small flatfish swim under me once. Later that year I saw my first menhaden and was amazed. For 9 months I had been looking into the water every day as I walked the river and saw little life in it, but come August I saw endless streams of 3 inch fish swimming by, almost rivers of fish. I eventually learned what they were. I also started seeing menhaden in August and September downtown in the Providence, Woonasquatucket and Moshassuck Rivers.
I started Friends of the Moshassuck shortly after that, as that little river surely needed friends after its 300+ year industrial history, and i walked by almost every day. Eventually Friends of the Moshassuck developed a video project on urban wildlife in the watershed. The focus is mostly on breeding toads and the restoration of breeding habitat a ways upstream, but come August and September, I walk along Canal Street and the South Water Street waterfront video camera in hand because menhaden continue to fascinate and are the one giant flash of life we see each year in the city. Here is one from early in the 2017 run https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMS4WYM-XE8
But I want to return us to the Seekonk waterfront. This morning, 60 degrees, sunny, calm, the tide was in, lapping the stone wall. And walking along the path for the half mile I covered, almost everywhere were very young menhaden. From 1.5 inches to 3 inches, with of course the majority, the great majority, being the smallest size class. A few times I saw menhaden jumping offshore, larger ones from the size of the splashes, which means they are being hunted from below, while below the osprey’s favorite perch there were the quite stinky remnants of adult menhaden all over the place. Between the stinky adults, the jumpers off shore, and the rivers of tiny ones next to the wall, I could only think of what else happens in menhaden season along the Seekonk. The Osprey have a nest on a platform at the Bucklin Point sewage treatment plant. This year for the second straight, they seem to have 3 youngsters as I occasionally catch glimpses of 5 hunting at one time. All summer we have been seeing one or two, but come August, when the flow of menhaden is at its peak, its time to fledge the Osprey babies, and teach them to hunt. And menhaden is what they learn on, in numbers that even a beginning hunter can make a living on.
But is is not just the Osprey,. The Cormorants are seen all year round, but this time of year they are found in flotillas. Blue Heron numbers multiply, and one never sees Egrets except at this time. Kingfishers are darting everywhere. And even the gulls were fishing. Gulls are not really designed to hunt mobile prey like menhaden, they scavenge and pick up stranded crabs. But this time of year you see gulls sitting on the water trying to catch little fish in the water. I have never seen a gull catch a fish, but clearly it must be a worthwhile source of food as the behavior persists, and one can only think that it works because it is directed at a prey so numerous that even a clumsy gull can catch its fill from prey that floats just below the surface eating plankton.
It was the eating plankton that drew me to an analogy. I went to Yellowstone a few years ago, and there is one place in Yellowstone in which it is easy to see bison, the Madison River Valley. You look over the valley and there are bison everywhere. Bison need to drink pretty regularly, so they need to stay close enough to rivers that they can get to water most days. And then you realize that at one time, 200 years ago, there were herds of bison along almost every river in the grasslands of North America. And now there is one river valley that has a free ranging herd (of course they get shot if they go out of the park) and you remember what we have lost when you see what we still have.
Menhaden are the keystone species of the coastal estuaries in eastern North America. Osprey have returned since we stopped using DDT, but their continued recovery depends very much on menhaden. Eagles eat many as well, and the return of Bald Eagles to Rhode Island is an ongoing wonder. 3 kinds of herons, egrets, and kingfishers all rely upon menhaden to build up a little fat before the hard times of winter. Seals have returned to Rhode Island, Stripped bass and Bluefish make fishermen very happy, and all depend upon the huge schools of menhaden. One way you know this is true is because the schools of little ones always vastly outnumber the schools of big ones. So many die to keep the circle of life flowing.
Straying a bit from the bison analogy, we can not afford to have menhaden in just a few places, and even more than bison, menhaden need the whole sea to do their work, to be food for all things great and small. No park could contain a school. So what we have to do is protect the entire species, make sure that when people take some for our needs, that we leave enough for everything else. That we manage menhaden based on ecosystems needs, not human greed. So I strongly urge you to support menhaden management based on leaving enough in the sea for the circle of life to flow abundantly along our coasts, that we base our management on ecosystems not on a species by species basis, and remember how much of the ecosystem menhaden support and what that means to our communities.
Watershed Steward Friends of the Moshassuck
I think we are all saddened and upset about what is happening in Houston. The worst rainstorm in US history. Houston will be years in recovery and we can only hope that the numbers of people who died in the floods remains fairly small. But I am also thinking about how the ruling class in Houston brought this disaster to their city. And what needs to happen if the proper lessons will be learned. Some folks say wait until the disaster relief is over, But I think it important to call out the culprits now. Otherwise we shall forget to do it and they will slide by and kill again.
I went to Houston for a convention last summer. At the University of Houston. It was 98 and humid with a blazing sun every day. Even at night it was hot. But I needed to walk and found the local bayou. It was about 4 blocks south of the university and this particular section was a designated greenway. It was a steep sided concrete waterway with large drain pipes leading from the community to the bayou. Those walls were about 15 feet high above the water level. I do not know how deep they were as i could not see the bottom in the center. In one place there was a ramp leading down to the water, mostly for maintenance and emergency vehicles. Above the concrete V there was a narrow grass strip then a 10 foot high vegetated bank. On top of this was a walking path, then the streets and a neighborhood. On the side of the bayou I was on the neighborhood was flat, like most of Houston. The reason I kept coming back to the bayou was the school of Alligator Gar in it. Alligator Gar are an ancient (like 300 million years old) fish lineage. They are up to 4 feet long and have a strange bill that reminds one of a small alligator snout. They are intensely cool. Since I was hanging out at the bayou I looked pretty clearly at the infrastructure, stormwater systems being part of my practice for a very long time. And I think about habitat, seeing as I am attempting to restructure a rainwater fed system in Providence so that it better supports breeding toads.
Early one morning I talked to an elderly woman walking her dog on the walking path. Native of east Texas, but not that neighborhood, though she had lived in the apartment facing the bayou for a number of years. Houston has been hit by big floods in the last few years and she noted that the last biggest one came almost to the doorsteps of the buildings on her street facing the bayou. I am guessing that the whole neighborhood is under water this time. All the way to the tracks of Houston’s new trolley system.
I saw today that environmental justice neighborhoods/ communities of color near Houston’s refineries (and waterways) are breathing lots of really bad chemicals that were released in the hasty shutdowns of the plants. The Houston Ship Canal has a HUGE collection of refineries and petrochemical plants, probably the greatest concentration of such plants in the world. Who knows what has gone into the water and if any pipelines have broken. If any place in the world other than Saudi Arabia is the home of the Oil and Gas based business, industry, and commerce, it is Houston. Houston would be a way too hot and humid small town if Texas did not have Oil and Gas. And Oil and Gas interests run Texas. And climate deniers inhabit the board rooms and political theaters of Texas. In other words the ruling class in Texas and Houston has brought his disaster onto the city, by the policies they demand as climate deniers and polluters, and the commerce in the petroleum that they profitably send around the country to go up in smoke. I know I should not say it, but the ruling class of Houston should be prosecuted for crimes against the Earth, and crimes against Humanity as well as vandalism. Exxon, its corporate cohort,and all the executives of oil related industries should pay to rebuild the city.
It is going to take billions of dollars to rebuild Houston, but maybe they should not. It is an incredibly flood prone place, after all most of the city sits on drained and channelized floodplains that drain very slowly due to the clay it is all made of. As the climate deteriorates, the sea rises, and the floods get bigger, Houston is more and more vulnerable. And the infrastructure will never be built big enough to handle what they will face. Maybe they need to move to higher ground? And give up the oil industry., as we can no longer afford to have an oil and gas industry anywhere on the planet if civilization is to survive the next 100 years.
Instead of reinvading Afghanistan, we should allocate all the money we would spend there and all the other places the empire is trying to control the oil supply, along with all the money we confiscate from the oil and gas industries and their executives, and rebuild Houston and rehouse all of its people, in buildings that use zero fossil fuels on higher ground. While completely shutting down industries that contribute to carbon pollution and climate change. At the same time every Texan should vote all the climate deniers out of office. If they will not, they now know exactly what the consequences of their actions are and should understand we may be unable to rebuild them again as so many other places will be facing these disasters as well.
To the editor,
I appreciated the MAGAnomics article in the Sunday July 16 Journal business section. It was a reminder to all Americans, especially those involved in the economic development industry, that growth will be slow, and that all of the gyrations that politicians offer in the name of the business climate (which is exactly what President Trump bases his economic ideas on) have essentially a zero effect on economic growth rates. Deregulation and low taxes do not improve economic growth rates. And all of the data backs that up. President Trump has clearly demonstrated a lack of understanding of the global situation we find ourselves in, and has yet to tell the truth about the economy. Interestingly the entire political leadership of Rhode Island buys into the same ideology offered by Trump, which has failed to deliver for 50 years, and still think it true. And when questioned about it,they babble on. It is long past time when the political leadership of the United States and Rhode Island started telling the truth about the long term downward trends in growth across the entire planet, how little business climates actually matter, and how to create prosperous communities under the circumstances we find ourselves in. It sure would help when the legislature puts together the budget.
Healthcare jobs are no way to improve the economy. Greg Gerritt 4/25/17
For many years I have been pointing out that growing the healthcare economy makes it impossible to keep health care affordable, and that this dilemma makes the RI economic development strategy unlikely to work, seeing as it seems to be based on building new buildings for healthcare businesses. I have copied one snippet of an essay from 2012 in which I make that point.
Many healthcare professionals have agreed with my analysis, though the economic development crew seems to be immune to my consultations. In the Sunday April 22 2017 New York Times there is an op-ed by Chad Terhune (link below) that makes exactly the same points. He quotes Katherine Baicker, a Harvard University Health Economist
“The goal of increasing jobs in health care is incompatible with the goal of keeping health care affordable:”
Terhune discusses this issue in the context of the efforts to replace Obamacare and how cutting money out of the system will lead to job losses in the industry, and the fact that many Rust Belt cities (like Providence) have used the growth of the medical industrial complex to replace the manufacturing jobs that slipped away.
Terhune sticks to his main points, while my analysis is much wider, but essentially Terhune concludes we have ourselves a wicked problem. We can not afford healthcare as currently configured and paid for in the USA, but if we cut the money out of the system (as President Toxic Dump is threatening to do) the economic dislocations will be massive. And the health of our nation will suffer, especially lower income people.
I always think that if you want to solve a problem, the first thing to do is stop digging the hole you find yourself in. This means that the first thing to do is stop trying to use the health care system to create more jobs. Stop offering cheap land and tax breaks to the medical industry. I offer the snippet below to point out how long I have been reminding Rhode Islanders of the stupidity of our economic devleopment scammers, and i want to0 say I am glad the mainstream is catching up, though I doubt the folks on Smith Hill will get a clue soon.
August 30 2012
The medical industrial complex
One of the industries Rhode Island is always encouraged to pursue is the medical industrial complex. This is one of the bulwarks of the knowledge economy, but a closer examination gives us many reasons to be cautious about using the medical industrial complex as the engine of economic growth. Over the last 50 years health care has become the largest component of our economy, now responsible for 18% of the total national income. Medical costs have now become the largest cause of bankruptcy other than the housing bubble. Thousands of Americans seek bankruptcy protection each year due to the burden of health care costs, with the number growing every year. This even effects people with insurance, as often their insurance is inadequate once they actually get sick, or by virtue of being unable to work they lose their health care coverage.
Part of how Rhode Island will eventually dig out from the burden of health care costs is with single payer health care. Many refer to this as medicare for all. While i support single payer, very strongly support single payer, that alone will not solve the health care cost crisis. If we continue on our current health care industry path, even with a single payer system, costs will continue to go up two to three times as fast as costs in the rest of the economy, funneling ever more money into the medical industrial complex and causing other sectors of the community to fail due to disinvestment. There are more than a few people who want to do business in RI or start new businesses who have been stymied because of the cost of medical care and insurance.
Beyond single payer and the removal of the insurance companies from the health care field we need to do several things to stop the outrageous run away costs. One aspect of this is prevention. As long as our lifestyles and environment continue to be more toxic, people will demand high tech quick fixes to the problems our industrial civilization causes like asthma, heart disease, and cancer. While magic bullets would be nice, the pursuit of magic bullets is a chimera. Magic bullets are very expensive, which makes them much less magical for the poor, and often just perpetuate the problems rather than addressing the root causes. While we do not directly pay for all of the research that creates drugs and procedures, ultimately every penny paying the high salaries (the reason the economic development community wants these jobs here) of the people doing health care research comes out of the pockets of the public, either through governmental support of basic research, or in the cost of the procedures and drugs we use. It is fabulous that we can cure people and save lives that a generation ago would have been lost, but because of the cost of this care a few get rich providing the research and the care, while more and more people enter debt and bankruptcy. It is more of a drain on our communities than a boon, a hallucination of prosperity.
The American public may or may not be willing to shoulder the cost of the modern medical miracle. We also know it is nearly impossible to deny folks treatments that can save lives no matter what the price. But ultimately a lower tech approach, based on prevention (clean environment, healthy food, less stress economy) will return the resources to the communities of Rhode Island, rather than siphoning into the hands of the 1% the way the current system does, and no longer deny folks timely health care.
An example of how far from prevention we have drifted can be found in this comparison. 60 years ago Americans spent 15% of their income on food and 5% on healthcare. Now we spend about 13% of our income on food (the 2nd lowest percentage in the world) and over 18% on health care (the highest percentage in the world). A good year is one in which health care costs do not rise 8%. The industrialization of our food supply means that we have more obesity, more heart disease, more diabetes,. The phony trade off is that we can cure more of the cancers that the industrialized food system creates, and we have elaborate procedures that can prolong the life of the very ill for a month or two. This trade off in the costs of health care and food has less of an effect on average life spans than basic public health expenditures like sewage treatment plants. It also leads to a bankruptcy and governmental budget crisis, blocks 50 million Americans from basic care, and gives us the industrial world’s worst health care delivery system. I am not sure an expansion of the medical industrial complex is going to help RI attain prosperity.
Greg gerritt 4/14/2017
The headlines the other morning were that President Toxic Dump is starting to do big flip flops now that he is President. From buddies with Putin to strong foes, from cracking down on China to cozying up, from staying out of Syria to bombs and boots on the ground amid aircraft carriers going to North Korea. Wall, No Wall and dismantling health care before or after tax deform. Putting the Nazi sympathizer Steve Bannon on the NSC, then taking him off.
The whole sordid affair points out the incompetence of President Toxic Dump and the cluelessness he brings to the office, But even more it shows that an unprincipled outsider can be captured by the Washington DC swamp even as he claims to be draining it. Just about every position and action Toxic Dump has flipped or flopped to is the exact same position that the last few presidents have ended up at. On some level one might think, ah, he is getting a clue, but the reality is that the policies all of the presidents have subscribed to over the last 30 years have been an unmitigated disaster for everyone in the US and for everyone on the planet, except the 1%. So as totally expected, President Toxic Dump’s true colors are a party for the 1% and pissing on everyone else. He has joined the establishment, and the easiest way to tell is that as soon as things go wrong, he starts dropping bombs on those he declares an enemy of people or whatever else he wants to call them, though the usual name is people fighting to protect their communities from the craziness of the American War Machine.
General Eisenhower, upon retiring from the White House, warned us about demagogues like President Toxic Dump, but we all know that demagoguery wins in troubled times. The 1% have so thoroughly looted America that the hard times and insecurity have left people looking for a demagogues to make them feel good. And demagogues kill people. Especially demagogues with a huge and totally out of control, military machine that is designed primarily to stuff huge wads of cash into a very few well placed hands, while undermining democracy and convincing governments around the world to buy more guns and use them on people who demand justice and healthy communities.
I tend to use the term Potomac Fever to describe the feeling in Washington DC that American governments are free to kill everyone around the world with impunity and disregard all normal international standards of conduct, in other words it is the only disease that only kills those who do not have it. I have a friend who tells me my definition is wrong, but we clearly need a shorthand way to describe the feeling that Americans are allowed to kill for world domination while pretending we are a peaceful democracy loving country that really honors the words on the statute of Liberty. One pretty much has to go to Washington DC to find people truly committed to such a stupid idea, an idea no normal human being would call sane or in tune with the values American claims to support.
Toxic Dump’s flip flops show that within 3 months what little attention span the orange haired blowhard has is now going to be directed to killing for the next 4 years to cover up the inability to achieve either peace or prosperity, and the damage his administration will do globally on the issues of climate. The Chamber of Commerce is celebrating , they have a president who will let them steal anything. But no one else in America asked for an administration that would so readily deny facts and prepare the way for poisoning your kids. And use bombing runs to cover up the bad headlines just like every other president.
Yup, President Toxic Dump has flip flopped. As expected he lasted a couple of months as an outsider, though one with no clue, and now has found his way to the levers that will be used just like all the other insiders, to the ever lasting detriment of life on earth.
I wonder where China thinks it will get the wood to build this new city. Or rather what south east Asian country will allow the Chinese to buy forest concessions and throw the original inhabitants off the land to end up in shanty towns or dead? As the forests of Asia (and everywhere else) disappear, this urge to build cities to spur growth will be come a less and less useful model. I know, we do not build wooden buildings in big cities. But today I walked by a typical urban downtown construction site, and while i do not believe a stick of wood has yet been incorporated into the actual building, there are vast quantities of wood being used on the site. You can not build cities without vast quantities of wood. Nor provide all the paper. And the loss of forests is making wood harder to come by, more expensive, and more valuable standing alive in the forest than cut down.
Ironically, according to the World Bank leaving the forest in the care of the original inhabitants instead of selling off concessions creates stronger local economies and generates more tax revenues for the various levels of government than do the concessions. And it is much less dangerous for the planet as intact forests are critical for moderating the climate., providing clean water, and maintaining biodiversity.
China, and every other place on the planet with rural migrants expanding the cities, is going to build cities as long as it thinks it can, but the slowdown in growth in China is already suggesting it is bumping up against ecological limits, and not only that they can not breathe the air. And this time it is not only in the neighborhood, it is global. The loss of forests is telling us we need a new approach to economic development.
We live in an age of alternative facts and destructive doctrines based on outright lies. This is not the first time Western Civilization has come face to face with its ugly side. The Dark Ages of Medieval Europe was filled with millennial cults, and very little knowledge. Powerful institutions decided what was true, the facts be damned. The soil, economy, and public health deteriorated.
But we broke out of it. Sort of anyways. Eventually everyone had to admit the Earth went around the Sun and so did planets like Venus, Jupiter, Mars and Saturn. Stars were distant, and we now know them to be in some ways similar to The Sun. And they too have planets.
The Enlightenment in a few ways, for a few people, pushed back the darkness and reminded us of the power and importance of actual observations beyond dogma. Galileo pointing a telescope at the sky and reporting exactly what he saw, Newton doing the math of gravity, the users of microscopes seeing one celled creatures in the water and learning how a few of them cause diseases, created a factual basis for knowledge and then knowledge became something that we could use to create better communities. It meant you could actually stop a cholera outbreak and save thousands of lives today, and build functional sewage treatment plants so outbreaks do not happen in the future.
I March for Science because the current mania for alternative facts creates a real risk to the public health, and to the health of the planet that we depend upon for our daily bread. We must have clean water, clean air, a climate safe economy, healthy food if we are to thrive. It is just that simple. And Science, Truth, the public health are under attack from the forces that have done this before. The denying of evolution and climate change, or that smoking cigarettes causes cancer, the use of alternative facts, is being used by ideologues in high office to promulgate policy positions that threaten modern civilization based on their apocalyptic and market oriented fantasies. It is only by demanding that we go back to a truth based system, a system based on accurately studying and measuring what is happening in human beings, in our communities, on our planet, and in the Universe, that we can design real solutions for real problems like climate change and the scourge of war rather than phony problems like how like how the election was rigged by illegal immigrants and they are stealing all the jobs.
The United States, like every industrialized nation, has supported science and reaped massive benefits in proportion to that support. Research and development is responsible for the wonders of the modern world as well as many of its worst horrors like nuclear weapons. But it is only a closed minded few that think it makes sense to cut off the flow of new information about how the world works or to stop using the knowledge we already have. That those who wish to live in a fact free universe rule our nation today, and have made clear that they want to make the world safe for poisoning again, tells me how important science is to the proper functioning of our communities. So we March for Science.
I have been conducting a several year study of a population of amphibians in an urban cemetery. The pond they use for breeding is filling in. Amphibians are a global canary in the coal mine disappearing faster than any other group animals on the planet, and this pond, silting in from inappropriate land management practices that could easily be remedied if facts ruled, and threatened by climate change, needs a little restoration. To do this I have to demonstrate that I understand how the system currently operates, and how my modifications to the system will improve the health of the amphibian populations. I wish the process were easier to navigate, but I am also very happy that a fact based system based on real wetland biology, governs what I can do to a little rainwater pool. And that same real world understanding ought to govern every land use decision being made. But that real world understanding is exactly what the government is about to kick to the curb so that looting the planet can be faster as the world gets hotter and our communities less secure. So I March for Science.
Toxic economics Greg Gerritt March 31 2017
President Toxic Dump has decided that the best way to stimulate the American economy is to open the spigots and poison your neighborhood and the planet. President Toxic Dump is a true believer that eliminating regulations on banks and all polluting industries is the way to get the GDP growth rate up to 4% a year and make the good times roll. President Toxic Dump is a narcissistic pathological liar, and every economist on the planet will tell you 4% a year GDP growth in the USA is NOT happening.
The President has repeatedly demonstrated an inability to learn and an unwillingness to face facts. That is why it is so easy for him to buy into the Great American Myth of the efficacy of the business climate. Every intellectually honest and professional study of how business climates affect growth rates has shown that the effect is vanishingly small, so small as to be unnoticeable by the public. And yet the well heeled forces that prepared the ground for the Toxic Dump Presidency, the Koch Brothers and their ilk, and the think tanks they fund like the criminally insane Heritage Foundation, have pushed the myth that cutting taxes and regulations will speed up growth. I have written about this many a time, so today i want to just list a few reasons why President Toxic Dump, and all the other lying politicians promising growth if we stop helping the poor, cleaning the environment, protecting endangered species, working to stop climate change, and preventing corporate fraud and crime are just plain wrong. And they have the totally wrong prescription about what to do to create prosperity in our communities. Every assumption in their economic planning is based on some other planet than Earth.
Global GDP growth has been trending down for a number of years. Last year it was 3.4%. This year it is predicted to be 3.1%. That means that many many places will have growth rates below 3.1%. Old industrial places like Rhode Island and much of Western Europe have a hard time getting much above 2/3 of the global average. The USA has had GDP growth of between 2.2 and 2.4% for 8 years running, the slowest bounce back form a recession in our history., and likely permanent.
A number of authors have tackled the issue of the long term trend of slowdown in the GDP growth rate recently. One suggests a slowdown in productivity because all the really amazing stuff that increased productivity and employment together are already in use and that new innovations are not as earth shattering commercially. Another suggests energy issues will permanently slow growth. Another wants us to understand how the disappearance of forests affects economies and others talk about the importance of immigrants from rural areas to cities as a factor driving growth. I tend to think you will never find the one silver bullet, but that these factors are all connected and its all of the above and then some as to why growth is not coming back
Lets just face the reality, growth is essentially dead in the industrialized west and it will play almost no role in the lives of most people in my community, or rather it is likely to make their lives harder. The exception are the owners of capital who continue to amass capital and a pretend we have a growing GDP even as communities crumble.
Even within this slow growth environment there are going to be be places experiencing rapid GDP growth. Places with mineral or energy booms will see short term boom/bust growth followed by a crash. North Dakota had 15% growth in one year during the fracking boom, but it went bust pretty fast and left North Dakota scarred. The other environment for rapid growth is cities being flooded by rural migrants entering urbanity for the first time. No other places will experience rapid growth. In a 3.1% growth world, old industrial places are going to see economic retraction, of necessity, in order for the hungry places of the planet to experience the growth that will provide enough to eat for everyone. If Rhode Island and places like it are growing 4% a year you can be sure famine is gripping large swaths of the world.
Here is a short list with a short statement of the issues and some of the implications.
For the USA, anything cutting off the flow of migration from Africa, Asia, and Latin America is a sure fire way to slow the economy despite the rhetoric. These are the new people keeping the population growth rate and the GDP growth rate up in American cities. American communities tend to complain when population drops, it usually means that the economy has changed and the world has passed it by. But what we need to think of is smaller cites can be much more self reliant and less growth oriented while maintaining prosperity. Turning vacant land into food and greening the city can go along way if we let it.
The formula for growth is especially dependent upon the urbanization of rural populations as they are displaced from the land. The cities then become places of vibrant growth as more people generates more commerce. China is building cities rapidly, but even in China the growth rate has come down from 10% a year to 6%. Already more than half of China lives in cities, so the rate of urban population growth is slowing, along with the economic growth rate. India is behind the curve from China, but is also one of the rapidly growing places with a huge population of rural dwellers being forced into shanty towns.
To supply and provision the growth of cities necessary to keep the GDP growth rates up one must have wood. Cities immediately devastate the forest where they occur, and to keep growing must import wood (try building buildings without wood) (or supplying a city with paper). China’s forest disappeared long ago, so to fuel its boom it has taken the forests of Southeast Asia. China did not actually conquer these countries, the traditional way of stealing forests. But the forest concession business that feeds the Chinese demand for wood, has deforested much of Southeast Asia, with devastating ecological consequences, displacing millions of people, and increased the likelihood of climate, fire, and flooding disasters. And putting a long term damper on growth as finding new forests to turn into cities is getting harder to do. Well over 50% of the global forest is gone and the global forest will not stand up to urbanizing the next 5 billion people.
It is not just wood and forests. Soils, fish in the sea, biodiversity, clean water. Everything is deteriorating with 90% of the large fish gone, 50% of wildlife gone in the last 50 years. We use up all of the biologically available resources on the planet each year by August 8. That means we are depleting ecosystems at at least 1% a year. We deplete capital and call it income.
The rate of Energy Returned On Energy Invested for is dropping. Extreme energy like fracking and deep water drilling requires more energy to extract the oil and gas. It is estimated that when the EROEI ratio drops below 10 to 1 growth stops. It is getting close.
Clean energy is already responsible for more jobs than coal and oil and gas can be produced with fewer and fewer workers. There is no way President Toxic Dump will see more coal mining jobs. And climate change will be a disaster if we do not mitigate it and build resilience into our communities rather than continuing to make the problem worse by drilling, mining, and burning more.
By an honest or full cost accounting growth in most communities in the western world is already near zero or negative. Increasing the amount of harm does stimulate GDP as fixing disasters and treating cancers is expensive. But is this really adding to GDP in any way that improves lives? Is this really growth when just fixing problems that were created by the demand for growth?
In the low growth economy that we find ourselves in the eliminating regulations and taxes is an ineffective tools for speeding up growth.
The Heritage Foundation/Koch Brothers/Gina Raimondo/Nicholas Mattiello/President Toxic Dump./Chamber of Commerce model of the economy, neoliberalism in some circles, is designed for conditions that do not exist and is based on models that are unproven but simply match the ideology of the oil and real estate industries, not the actual conditions of our communities.
Subsidizing the rich has proven an ineffective way to do anything except make rich people richer. Even the World Bank has figured it out, why not American politicians? Tax breaks for millionaires has no demonstrated positive effect on low income communities and usually results in communities getting poorer. How can anyone tout growth in which 90% of the people get poorer?
Currently nearly all “economic development planning” is done around real estate. But the real estate industry is broken. Clearly the models do not work. Or rather the system is rigged so that it can be manipulated by the powerful to line their pockets when nothing else works fast enough. When cities give real estate tax breaks so wealthy people will build new buildings downtown, who really benefits? It is the people owning commercial property who benefit. No one else. And if the industry can not function without tax breaks it needs a totally new model or those “capitalists” should start calling themselves socialists. The jobs created in these new buildings are accessible to only a small segment of the population, rarely the people being impacted by the construction/reconstruction, and it serves to raise rents driving people ever further from housing security if they do not get a job in a gazelle industry. And with robots taking more and more jobs we need to rethink work and livelihoods to keep our communities functioning.
The Heritage Foundation model is based on making the rich (their donors) and only the rich, richer. The result of these policies is growing inequality, and growing inequality harms economies and slows their growth. As Piketty and others point out, it is not just wages, it is assets that determine the fate of economies. Our inequality in wages is overwhelmed by our inequality in assets. The outcome will be bad.
Environmental regulations have had a very large positive effect on the economy of the USA. The Clean Air and Clean Water Acts have generated at least 10 times and maybe 40 times as much in revenue for businesses as they cost in compliance. Regulations have also stimulated innovation creating not only value but new industries. Then add in tourism and fishing, and despite having a few places that were dependent upon some polluting behemoth that is no longer operational (usually because it was too old or depleted to keep running) having hard times, the overall effects of healthier environments and ecosystems is greater prosperity. Communities with greater biodiversity are just plain healthier and more prosperous. There is no intellectually honest study that has found environmental regulations and protections hurt economies. NONE. And since cities are where new value is created and cities in the western world grow based on attracting talent with their qualities of life, the entire attack on environmental protections is likely to have a boomerang effect, destroying much more than it enhances. Especially with Climate Change a factor. Clean water is good for the economy. Losing your beaches to sea level rise is NOT.
Past technological advances have increased employment in urban areas tremendously. But the new innovations seem to be destroying jobs faster than they are being created in many industries., At least some authors believe that the life and economy changing/growing innovations such as telephone, automobile, airplanes, computers, will not be duplicated. New innovations are likely to reduce employment and unlikely to change the nature of our civilization in fundamental ways. This means less growth in productivity, and therefore GDP over time.
We are constantly bombarded with the need to invest in biotech. Unfortunately the model of innovation in the drug industry and the medical industrial complex is completely broken. It is designed to satisfy the investors, not help people be healthy. It gives us the most expensive and least effective healthcare system on the planet. The one part of this that escapes scrutiny is that using the healthcare industry to grow the economy as they are trying to do in Rhode Island is a sure fire way to make health care in your community unaffordable. And subsidizing the growth of the industry with tax dollars is adding insult to injury for all the people who went bust when they had a medical emergency.
The military industrial complex is the money hole of all money holes. Trillions of dollars down the rat hole. And all along making the world less safe, it is making it less safe for democracy, especially in the USA. The tendency of those in the DC Swamp to want to kill people around the world who do not like American imperialism is a staggeringly stupid approach to the world and a huge drain on finances. We would be safer if we gave up being the bully, and we could save billions of dollars and employ millions of additional workers with that money while shrinking government spending by reducing the size of the military to that appropriate for protecting us at home and international peace keeping. Lets use some of the money to rebuild our infrastructure and communities and move to a carbon free economy. War is the biggest source of the government debt. Debt could also be tackled by allowing the government to build infrastructure by spending money into the economy at a reasonable rate instead of borrowing it from the banks. The current system is guaranteed to create frequent bubbles and crashes, which only work to the advantage of the looting class.
I could go on and on. But I leave you with this. The basic assumptions of what the economy will do and who it will work for no longer work in the 21st Century. The so last century neoliberalism with a twist is based on lies and is failing. On a highly populated, resource depleted, climate crazy planet the situation demands a different approach to economic development. Polluting industries, building in wetlands, allowing more corporate raids on the public trust and pocketbook, and starting imperial wars around the world is not gong to bring prosperity to our communities. You will not see a noticeable improvement in the economic prospects of our communities, at least not if you use the index of the number of people standing on corners with signs asking for help on North Main St index with the Toxic Dump and Heritage Foundation models. . Unless President Toxic Dump reduces that index (and not by locking up the poor) he will have done nothing except cause damage to our home planet, many of his own voters, and the rest of us, so we have to keep him tied up. Of course he will help us keep him tied up by hiring those as incapable of learning as himself. Trump’s economic plans will fail, he will blame others, but his failure will be based on his complete unwillingness to look at the facts and act appropriately.
Saving the planet, the steady state imperative.
We live in an age in which economic growth, the yearly growth of the Gross Domestic Product, seems to be the dominant value of the political elites all over the world. All policy is directed towards speeding the rate of growth. And yet the growth rate languishes and falls.
The obsession with economic growth by the wealthy and misguided, is probably one of the most damaging public policy coups ever foisted on human beings. The policies developed to “grow” the economy as defined by neoliberalism, have been responsible for tremendous damage to planetary ecosystems and our communities. The only way to get away with tearing up ecosystems for profit is to disempower the people who already live there. The only way to build a pipeline across Native lands is with water cannons. And if that does not work, live bullets.
Many years ago I started calling the work I was doing seeking “Prosperity”, contrasting it with growth. Since then the literature has exploded.
Robert Gordon is among the authors suggesting that the rate of growth has slowed because the technology that gave us the boost in growth rates revolutionized the world, and new technologies are unlikely to do the same, especially when robots take over more and more functions and more and more folks are unemployed. Emmanuel Wallerstein in his work on World Systems suggests that growth is concentrated in cities experiencing rapid immigration from the countryside, and growing cities are dependent upon rapidly consuming forests, and therefore we need to pay attention to the state of the forest when we think about growth rates. Thomas Piketty pointed out that growing inequality slows growth rates as well, and you can not get much more unequal that 8 people having as much wealth as 3.6 billion people, which was recently reported. More and more the meme is that using extreme fossil fuel energy sources means that the energy returned for energy invested is falling, and is slowly reaching the point where fossil fuel use can not support the industrial economy we have created. Take your pick, or try to integrate the entire system to understand it better, but do not count on growth to solve your problems. Just as a reference point, the global growth rate is predicted to be close to the 3.4% seen over the last few years, while the US rate, about 2.4% in recent years, is expected to drop to 1.9% over the next few years according to the Federal Reserve. The US does not meet Wallerstein’s criteria for rapid growth, rapid immigration from the countryside and exploiting previously uncut forests, and therefore has to be expected to be growing much more slowly than the global average propped up by China and India. Old industrial places like New England will be growing even more slowly. And all of the benefits are going to 5% of the population while everyone else gets poorer.
If growth is not helping, and is actually harming our communities, we have to replace it with a different overarching principle as well as specific policies.
A contrast with the growth mentality is seeking a “steady state” , though that has to be taken as short hand for a dynamic equilibrium rooted in natural systems and rhythms. On a healthy planet, you just keep doing what you are doing, but on a severely damaged planet, like the Earth, restoration is needed. In a steady state economy each year the health of the system has to improve so that people can actually get what they need.
A steady state economy is therefore one in which human consumption is less than the system has readily available so that the systems can build resilience for long term health. Agriculture must build soil, the creation of forest products is done in the context of repairing and restoring forests (over half the global forest is gone, and along with it a big buffer on the climate) . Growing inequality is not a steady state, it is a death spiral.
You may have heard of Overshoot Day. This is the day when all of the Earth’s biological productivity for the year, has been appropriated by humans for their needs. In a steady state world there would be no overshoot day. Biological resources would be undiminished from year to year. With Overshoot Day in 2016 on August 8, it means that we are using the biological resources of 1.6 Earth’s. With the obvious result of a diminishment of the biological capacity of the earth by about 1% each year. So the first thing to do to achieve a steady state is reduce human intake by about 40%. Since there are many people on the planet in absolute poverty, clearly there are many people who’s consumption of resources needs to go up. Which means that for the industrialized world consumption on average must go down quite a bit if we do not want to destroy the planet’s capacity to support humans.
We ask more of the planet each year. Less than 50% of the global forest remains, 90% of the large fish are gone from the sea, and in 50 years the number of wild animals has been reduced by at least 50%. The flip side is ever more and ever larger deadzones in the oceans often caused by runoff from inappropriate agricultural systems brought into being to feed 7 billion people. it is going to be harder and harder to feed 9 billion if the soil is in the bottom of the sea and the nutrient overloads are reducing marine life. A steady state means keeping your soils on the farm. And enlivening them.
Maybe you get the picture, but in some ways it is an alien concept in modern America. We live under the concept of grow or die. The fact that what we are doing requires us to kill millions of people and destroy huge swaths of the earth is irrelevant. We can grow forever. There is always more. The next mall, which will burn itself out even faster than the last one, is the newest, biggest, most expensive ever. We have 12 Aircraft Carriers and no one else on the planet has more than 2. I sometimes despair of being able to turn the ship and resort to black humor.
A steady state economy is one in which healing ecosystems and economic justice are defining characteristics. Damaged ecosystems impair our ability to make a livelihood and therefore any economy that is not healing the ecosystems we depend upon is not holding steady and will see increasing food insecurity. An economy in which a significant proportion of the population is getting poorer can also not be considered to be in a steady state, and is a lie to consider it a growing economy. It is simply one in which the looters tell us the numbers and facts do not matter. We can not simply slow the rate of destruction and expect it to be sustainable or able to support a steady state.
Wind power and solar power are catching up to and replacing fossil fuels, though only a few are willing to acknowledge that in the long run we have to use a lot less energy and stuff to avoid paving the whole planet. Organic agriculture is growing much faster than conventional agriculture all over the world. I remember when it was hard to find a farmers market, now every town and city in Rhode island has at least one per week in the warmer seasons and food incubators are sprouting up, though in a steady state economy how many gourmet doggie treat stores can we support?
Can the health care industrial complex survive in a steady state economy? Can we have healthier people while spending less, and spending what the society can actually afford while still advancing knowledge? I think the answer is that we can sustainably have healthy communities. But as long as the political class tries to use health care as a growth industry, as a part of the efforts to grow the economy and attract millennials to their communities, we shall never have affordable healthcare for all nor an economy that works for the 99%.
An important consideration in a steady state economy is the difference between biologically renewable resources and non renewable resources such as minerals and fossil fuels. You can roughly determine how much of the biological productivity of the planet humans can consume each year while simultaneously healing the biological systems upon which we depend. In other words we can measure that there are more hectares of real forest, the soil is healthier and full of life, and there are more fish in the ocean each year. That kind of stuff, maybe matched with reduced flooding, increased resilience in agriculture, less CO2 in the atmosphere and the like. For mineral resources there is no amount of consumption that is sustainable. No matter how little humans use, there will be less each year. But what we can do is reduce the throughput to the point where the deposits available will last a really long time, recycle ferociously, spread the economic benefits of usage widely amongst the people, and be sure the planetary sinks can easily absorb the pollution without overloading. In regards to a steady state economy and mineral resources, we might have to look at shrinking consumption gently each year while seeking a mining/extraction industry that has no fossil fuel emissions, does not disturb communities, never harms waterbodies, and cleans up all of its pollution.
Why we should embrace a Steady State Economy may be the hardest question. Anything less than a total devotion to economic growth is unAmerican. Even if it no longer works for most of our communities the dream dies hard especially among the ruling class. No one ever got elected saying they would shrink the economy. But the world has changed, and what we need to do to survive has changed. The squandering, the excessiveness, the inequality, and the violence are leading us off the cliff, but those who benefit from those conditions still have power. But striving for a steady state is a very powerful tool if we want to restore democracy and heal the climate and ecosystems we need to survive and thrive.
Most of the people in the US already live in a no growth environment, the average worker is making less than they did 20 years ago even as fortunes of the 1% have soared. Moving to a steady state economy is going to be easier than imagined. If over 90% of the growth in income is going to 1% of the population, and a bit going to the next 9% in the income scale, clearly most of the 90% has to be getting poorer for it to all add up, and therefore it ought to be very little hardship for most people when we shift to a steady state economy.
So lets go back to forests
No one, no community, has ever given away their forest. Until the empires of the ancient world,10,000 years in a homo sapiens history of 200,000, the most valuable things on earth were forests, and even now forests have incredible value for the people who live in them, it is just that those running empires did not realize how valuable they were since they could simply steal them, and they did. Until there were empires in each and every neighborhood on planet Earth, people who lived in forests got everything they needed from the forest. Food, shelter, fuel, clothing, culture, religion, things to trade, a place to hide. Empires, and the cities they rule from, are also totally dependent upon forests, but in a different way. You can not build a city with out stealing a forest. The people who lived in the forest have to be displaced in order for the empire to build its cities and grow more grain. It was true 10,000 years ago, it is still true today. China could not have transformed itself over the last 40 years without the wholesale destruction of the forests of southern and southeastern Asia. Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia and others sacrificed their forests and forest people to provide raw materials for Chinese factories and the wood to build China’s cities
Most people do not connect the slowing of the economic growth rate to ecological overshoot. They do not connect it to the health of the soil, the health of the forest, whether there are more fish to catch in the sea. They insist that no matter what the state of the forest, getting the tax rates right, and eliminating pesky environmental regulations will let the good times roll.
How did we get to this place? A world in which economic growth is the thing the elites want most, and the very thing that is growing more and more elusive, ever harder to achieve, and more damaging when it arrives for a spell? How did we get to a world in which the trend in the growth rate is down and the elites scream about more growth ever louder instead of acknowledging their destructive tendencies? . China no longer grows at 10% a year. The US has seen 2.2 to 2.4% growth for years. Western Europe has seen little growth. The growth tends to be concentrated in a few developing countries, a few mineral boom neighborhoods, and rapidly growing cities. But despite the obvious trend, politics still calls for ever faster growth, resulting in policies that enrich the wealthiest and shrink the economy for everyone else.
I can not tell you what a steady state will look like, but you will know it when you see it. Childhood poverty will be eliminated, infant mortality will not depend upon your zip code, your food supply will be more local, more secure, and less chemical. Everyone will have things to do that bring them a sense of satisfaction as well as provide a living. The forests will be regrowing and there will be more fish in the sea. And government will actually be of, by and for the people.
I have been watching the turtles in the pond at the North Burial Ground for 6 years. Until today I had never seen a turtle before March 12. Today is February 25. A full 2 weeks before the earliest ever appearance. I know one can not prove that this crazy early warm weather is the result of excess CO2 in the atmosphere, but if you do not think climate change has something to do with February turtles, you need to think again. I think for those of us in Rhode Island, it should cause us to redouble efforts to stop the development of new fossil fuel infrastructure. greg
No urbanization is sustainable. You can not build cities without eating forests. The forest may already be gone where the city is sprouting, but it just means someone else’s forest will be stolen and destroyed. Forests are also critical for the management of stormwater and their disappearance even hundreds of miles upstream, exacerbates flooding issues in cities.
The issue of economic growth is also an important one. GDP growth on a planetary basis is down, and due to ecological collapse and growing inequality the rate will stay low. Developing countries will grow faster than old industrial countries, but with climate change and ecological collapse, the growing cities are in for tough sledding., and can not count on economic growth to pay for the infrastructure they need. What cities need to think about in developing sustainably is how to grow enough food, and how to be resilient in the face of climate change and re3source shortages. Most of what I see by cities is skirting around the margins, They are too beholden to real estate speculation to mange the land and development properly. They are faking sustainability. i know mine is and it claims to be a leader.
If you can donate a coat, please do so., If you can organize a coat collection, please do so. If you need a coat, please come take one off the racks. Free, no questions asked.
2016 Buy Nothing Day Winter Coat Exchange
Sites and Schedules
Coat Drive Date: Friday November 25th, 2016
Providence: State House Lawn – Across from the Mall
RAIN LOCATION: Gloria Dei Church 15 Hayes Street
Coats given away and collected November 25 from 9 AM to 1 PM
Greg Gerritt: 331-0529 email@example.com
Phil Edmonds firstname.lastname@example.org
Lauren and Pam Testoni – email@example.com
Drop off location
Bell St chapel 5 Bell Street Coats can be dropped off between 9:30 – 1:30 M-F at the house next to Chapel and on Sundays from 8:30-12:00. There will also be a box on the porch for drop off coats.
Rochambeau Library 708 Hope St Coats may be dropped off during Library Hours until November 22
Other Participating Sites:
Cumberland: St. Patrick’s Church Lawn – 301 Broad Street
Coats given away and collected November 25 from 9 AM to 11 AM
Contact Molly Cabatingan at (401) 334-9639 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Newport: St. Paul’s United Methodist Church – 12 Marlborough Street
Coats given away and collected November 25 from 10 AM to 2 PM
Contact: Office Administrator: Ralph Petrarca 401- 846-0966 email@example.com
Office hours are 9AM – Noon, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday
Pawtucket: Salvation Army 102 High St Multipurpose room
Coats collected and given away Friday, November 25 10AM -2PM
Coats accepted at many other locations in Pawtucket all through November during business hours including:
- Paul’s Church, 50 Park Place
- City of Pawtucket, City Hall- Mayor’s Office and Slater Park Office
- Pawtucket Library, 13 Summer Street
- Pawtucket Credit Union-all Pawtucket branches 1200 Central Ave, 727 Central, Broadway, Smithfield Ave.
- Ama’s Variety Store, 957 Main Street
- Woodlawn Community Center, 210 West Avenue
- Ahlers Designs, 999 Main Street- Studio 707
- Providence Yarn, 50 Division St
Drop-off sites in other communities to be distributed in Pawtucket
- Brown University Campus- Collecting November 1-18th ONLY
- Camera Werks – 766 Hope Street Providence, RI
- Gent’s Barbershop/Spa – Cranston, RI
- Home and Hospice Care of RI – 1085 North Main Street Providence, RI
- It’s Your Body’s Symphony – Johnston, RI
- Villa at St. Antoines –North Smithfield, RI
Contact: Arthur Pitt 401-369-1918 firstname.lastname@example.org
Wakefield: St. Francis Assisi Church – 114 High Street
Coats Collected and given away November 25 10AM to Noon
Contact: Dana Hawkins email@example.com
Warwick: Woodbury Union Church – 58 Beach Avenue Conimicut Village
Coats collected and given away November 25th from 10am to 12 noon
Good condition winter coats, jackets, vests, gloves, mittens, and scarves. Winter wear for all ages available to pick-up.
Church phone number: 401-737-8232. E-mail contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Greater Providence YMCA Sites
Collection and Distribution
All sites collecting coats throughout November
Most sites distributing coats on November 25 9AM to 1PM
Bayside YMCA – 70 West Street, Barrington
Collection and distribution site
Distribution Friday November 25th
Contact: Tricia Driscoll 401-245-2444
Drop off and pick up site
Cranston YMCA – 1225 Park Avenue, Cranston
Collection and distribution site
Distribution Friday November 25th
Contact: Senior Director Andrea Champagne 401-943-0444 email@example.com
Kent County YMCA – 900 Centerville Road, Warwick
Collection and distribution site
Distribution –Friday November 25th
Contact: Gwen Redmond
West Bay Family YMCA Branch – 7540 Post Road, North Kingstown
Collection and distribution site
Distribution Friday November 25th 9 AM – 1 PM
Contact: Gwen Redmond
South County YMCA
Distribution Friday November 25th 9 AM – 1 PM
165 Broad Rock Rd, Peace Dale, RI 02883
East Side/Mount Hope – 438 Hope Street, Providence
Drop off coats throughout November
Not a distribution site – Collection only
Contact: Laurie Pansa
Newman YMCA – 472 Taunton Avenue Seekonk, MA
Drop off coats throughout November
Not a distribution site – Collection only
Contact: Welcome Center Director Paula Roy 508-336-7103 firstname.lastname@example.org
Providence Youth Services – 640 Broad Street, Providence
Drop off coats throughout November
Not a distribution site – Collection only
Contact: Welcome Center Director Christy Clausen 401-521-0155 email@example.com
I am Greg Gerritt coordinator of the Environment Council of Rhode Island’s Compost Initiative. I am going to give you something a bit different today. While I am an experienced home composter, getting my start cleaning sheep barns in rural Maine 35 years ago for a cut of the manure, I am not the person to explain all of the nuance of compost chemistry, hot composting, anaerobic digestion, vermiculture, using compost to create hot water, or any of the other variations and permutations in compost.
Most of what ECRI’s Compost Initiative does these days is put on the annual RI Compost Conference and Trade Show, the next one will be March 9 at RIC, happy to talk to you today about participating, so I do try to be aware of what is going on in RI so I can find good speakers and exhibiters. ECRI has a lobbying arm, so in the early years of the Compost Initiative I took a role in getting new compost legislation and regulations put into place so that the industry could gain a foothold and grow in Rhode island.
Compost is incredibly important to the future prosperity of our communities. As the climate changes, California runs out of water, and the economy slows, Rhode Island is going to need to grow an ever greater percentage of the food consumed here. 5, 10, 20 times what we grow now. And the only way to make this happen is to capture every compostable and get it composted and back onto the soil. Compost is also part of what we need to do to reduce our carbon footprint to zero as methane generated in landfills from food scrap is a major greenhouse gas contributor.
So far the only new medium to large scale compost business success I know of in Rhode island since we started the annual compost conferences is the Compost Plant which hauls compostables from many large institutions and food businesses. I saw them picking up at the hospital in my neighborhood this weekend. At the community scale the last few years we have seen a major increase in home composting, many new community garden compost programs, the development of a Vermiculture cooperative, a compost tea operation, and a few microbusinesses/cooperatives.
Many of you are experts on some part of this equation, compost, solar energy, digesters, and are looking for business opportunities. I am a green activist who has been part of sustainability efforts for more than 35 years. So I am going to talk about what I understand sustainability is. Maybe this will help us put a little more context around our discussions at this conference and beyond.
Most of the definitions of sustainability refer to the triple bottom line, community, business, and environment. Nice idea, but I have yet to see anything coming out of that intersection that meets my criteria for sustainable. My criteria is that if something is to be sustainable, it must heal the fabric of the ecosystem and the community. It is not enough to merely slow down the rate of destruction, the destruction must be reversed. The reason I say that is because the ecosystems of our planet are already so severely damaged that only by reversing the damage, by healing the systems, can we reach a place were we are finding the resources we need to thrive without doing more harm.
I do not know how many of you know about Overshoot day. The idea of Overshoot day is that at some point during the year people have exploited and appropriated all of the biologically renewable production of the planet for the whole year. This is just what people use, it does not even take into account all of the resources needed to feed the wild animals. This year it was earlier than ever, August 8. Last year it was August 13. That means that every tree cut after August 8 this year, every bit of soil washed to the river and to the sea, every fish in the ocean captured was depleting the capital of the Earth. Which means for 4 months each year, for 1/3 of all the biological resources taken by people this year, we are diminishing the biological richness of planet Earth. The result. The global forest shrinks each year, more species go extinct, more rural people experience hunger, and there are fewer fish in the sea and animals in the forest. If there is less each and every year, how can we call that sustainable? Within a couple of years we shall need two planets just to supply us with the resources we use each year. And what about the wild? 50% of the wild animals on earth have disappeared in the last 50 years, and the pace is picking up. Unless Overshoot day is December 31 each year we are in for tough sledding.
Do not get me wrong. I care how many green features or alternative energy systems go into the buildings, I put solar panels on my house in 1985, we need them desperately. But if we are doing them in the context of the continued destruction of planetary ecosystems, then we are pissing into the wind.
This same principle applies to all the discussion of how much more efficient we are, and how that is sustainable. The simple reality is that all of the efficiencies we have garnered have still not actually reduced consumption in any meaningful way. If it is cheap and efficient many more people join the market and the overall effect is still faster depletion, more pollution and a faster increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. So while you save money and energy, more CO2 ends up in the atmosphere. And it seems to work like this for almost everything., Show me examples of when we became more efficient the overall use of a substance on planet earth went down. Iron? Steel? Wood? Concrete? Plastic? Rare earths? We just keep using more and that is not sustainable on planet Earth.
A key factor to think about when pondering a sustainable economy is that infinite growth is not possible on a finite planet. I have never heard any mainstream discussion of sustainability without the terms sustainable growth being used. There is no sustainable growth on a finite planet. According to more and more experts, the economic growth rates seen routinely between 1948 and 1973 were likely the highest growth rates that will ever be seen for a generational period on a global basis. Right now the global GDP growth rate is about 3% and no one is predicting it will go up any time soon. Or ever. If places like China are growing 6% a year, and India and Indonesia are growing at 5%, then places like the USA and Europe are going to be filled with many many pockets of growth in the 1 – 2% range like Rhode Island usually has. Simple math.
The important factoid is that Rhode Island does not have the conditions for rapid GDP growth. The two main factors for rapid growth are a population experiencing rapid growth through immigration by displaced rural populations becoming the first generation city dwellers, or a natural resource boom. There are a few cities in the USA that do meet that criteria, often the latter part, but a few places are still seeing immigration of first generation urban dwellers. Rhode Island sees only a trickle. Nor do we have an abundance of previously untapped natural resources, with the exception of wind and sun and food scrap. No one is going to reopen the coal mine in Garden City, bog iron is not worth mining these days, we do not have the forests to burn to smelt it, and we do not have any shale formations with gas to frack. If you look at the USA, (or for that matter any country on planet Earth) nearly every state with high growth rates is having some kind of fossil fuel (coal or fracking) or mineral boom, In Rhode Island we shall get an economic wind power boost, and we need more agriculture, but no matter what we will be a low growth rate state, with what little growth we get siphoned off by the 1% if we continue on our current trajectories. So how do we create prosperity in a zero or very low growth environment? That is a question our politicians are not asking, and I think that an alternative economic strategy built around community sustainability might be much better for the 99% than the current real estate investment driven economic development strategy that only benefits those who already own property and a thin slice of highly educated folks, while driving everyone else out of their homes with gentrification and making their skills obsolete. How do we create prosperity in the nearly jobless future?
Another factor to include in your thinking about the future of the economy is the state of the global forest. It is interesting that at about the same time we have destroyed half the global forest half of the global population has become urbanized. But we are unlikely to be able to build a true Earthcity simply because we shall run out of forests first. It is virtually impossible to build cities without cutting down a huge swath of forest. And as the forests disappear the ones we cut to build cities are in ever more remote places, and ever more important to keep standing as a bulwark against runaway climate change.
I spent a number of years working to save Maine’s forests from clearcutting. Eventually it was documented that wood was being cut 20% faster than it was growing each year. In the counties in the heart of the industrial woods it was being cut 3 to 4 times faster than it was growing. This at a time when the entire industry, from woods to mills, was already shedding jobs. We pointed out that current cutting practices were going to end very soon and that the loss of forest would bring many headaches to Northern and Western Maine. We lost that campaign, but within 5 years the cutting practices had changed and the amount of wood being cut was reduced to less than was growing each year. Unfortunately the jobs never came back.
Recently more and more economists are looking at the role of debt in our society and realizing that debt is being used to move wealth from the community to the 1%. The problem with this is that just like cutting more wood than grows each year, siphoning off money to the 1% grinds economies to a halt and everyone, or nearly everyone, ends up owing more to the banks than they can reasonably pay back in a low growth economy. Creditors take the house, the farm, the whatever. Eventually many societies in the past had to do one of two things to escape the debt trap. Either declare jubilee and wipe out debts to the banks, or undergo revolution and kill the landlords. Only very occasionally have societies opted for more democracy and banned debt peonage and restricted what the banksters could do in order to allow the people to escape crushing debts. Austerity is not sustainable.
The larger lesson is that using debt to fuel an economy guarantees that the basic goal will be enriching the very richest instead of creating a general prosperity, and it will do horrible things to the planet and our communities. Including this year threatening democracy itself. Clearly Wall St came out ahead even when they crashed the economy in 2008 simply because they could buy Congress and threatened them with no consulting gigs after an electoral loss if they did not buy into the idea that the only way to save the economy was by giving the banks money instead of bailing out the debtors. A strategy that gave us the slowest and weakest recovery in history.
Hold that thought.
Now lets go back to Overshoot day. In order to pay the debts that have compound interest attached to them, people have to wrench more and more from the planet each year just to stay even. This always reminds me of the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland running faster and faster just to stay in place. Hence we get crazy schemes like trying to build a fracked gas power plant in Burrillville that is guaranteed to prevent us from reducing fossil fuel emissions in RI for as long as the plant remains functional. And forces us to pay for it even after we close it down as too polluting. The banksters must be paid even when everyone loses money. Clearly the path is takes us over the cliff.
Right now in Providence some of the downtown landlords are scheming to move the poor out of the center of the city so their real estate, which is highly subsidized by the other taxpayers in the city, will be even more valuable. This catering to the high end attracts other high end folks, setting off the gentrification of further neighborhoods in the city without ever replacing the housing no longer available to lower income families. The price of housing goes ever higher until the only way to put a roof over your family’s head is on an interest only liars loan with the prayer that real estate values will skyrocket, making it even harder for people to find shelter they can afford but allowing you to sell at a profit. The direct result of current economic development strategies is that In Providence every available street corner with traffic has someone standing there asking for money.
Here is a sidebar
How many of you know what the correlation between a good business climate ranking and a state’s economic growth rate is? The answer is that there is no correlation. Rhode Island is the poster child, horrible business climate index rankings. But where do we rank in per capita income and growth rates? Right in the middle. In other words business climate rankings are a political tool designed to tilt the economy towards the already wealthy. And guess what? When you change the rules so that the wealthiest are accommodated it slows your development. Piketty demonstrated that a few years ago and it has not been refuted.
Back to the people asking for money at the corner.
Beyond the social and economic disruption of a population living on the edge, the strategy of moving the poor out of the center of the city is actually guaranteed to fail. Ever since the beginning of cities 9000 years ago cities have been a magnet for the displaced. Depending upon how they have been displaced people head for cities, or the artificial cities called refugee camps. Taking in displaced rural dwellers is actually the only way city populations grew until the invention of modern sewers because of epidemics and very high childhood death rates from diarrhea.
The displacement and subsequent urbanization of the rural poor, and gentrification and displacement in the cities, is accompanied by an increase in the amount of fossil fuels burned, a condition exacerbated by growing inequality in which upgrades in efficiency are not available to the poor in rental or shanty housing. That raises sea level by expanding the size of the ocean as it heats up and the melting of glaciers and ice-sheets such as Greenland and the West Antarctic. Every time you hear a new prediction it says the seas will rise faster than the last estimate. So the strategy of economic development by creating downtown enclaves for the wealthy is exactly the opposite of sustainable as it drives more poor folks to the center of the city and drowns the filled in marshes of downtown even faster.
One can not address community sustainability in a coastal city without considering climate change. If we do not get our carbon footprint down to zero in the next 10 years, (if we have not already passed some tipping points) we are going to see floods, droughts, storms, heat waves, that will rock us, and the inexorable rise in sea level will eventually flood the city. If the sea level comes up 10 feet in the next 100 years, totally possible if we do not shut the fossil fuel industries down completely very soon, what is it going to take too protect the coastal cities of the world? I think we are going to have to begin a serious retreat from the coast, with the goal of moving every person and building to where they are at least 15 feet above sea level. Rebuild the marshes and the coastal forests. Remove the walls and help beaches and marshes get reestablished. Walls will just make the problems worse. Step back a few hundred feet.
It is not sustainable to stay on the coast. It is not sustainable to keep expecting the economy to grow when the resource base is collapsing.and the forests are disappearing and the 1% is stealing everything they can. Those of you at conferences like this need to get serious about the task at hand, get serious about how deep the damage is and what needs to be done to repair both the fabric of the planet and the fabric of our communities. How much democracy it is going to take to do this, how much undoing of rule by the rich? I do not know. But I do know that without more justice, more economic equality, less wealth in the hands of the landlords and banksters, our communities will continue to be crushed and ground up and they shall neither be sustainable nor prosperous. If you want sustainable communities, they will be created around repairing ecosystems, growing food, clean energy, and more democracy.
Communities must/will always have the right to say no to industries that are incompatible with decent community life if they are to be sustainable. In fact that is rapidly becoming the most useful indicator of democracy on planet Earth. Where the people can not say no to powerful interests to protect their community from harm, there is no democracy.
We must close the war machine and stop building new and better ways to kill. The war machine is exactly the opposite of sustainable. I think of it as digging a big hole and throwing all your money in it, and it gets worse if you actually use the stuff you build. It is a huge parasite on the taxpayers, and leaves devastation in its wake. It breaks countries, it does not repair them. And creating enemies makes us less secure, not safer. Or is the war machine sustainable because we keep finding new enemies to kill for the simple crime of wanting the US to stay out of their country and leave them alone? The problem with trying to keep the empire going is it bankrupts us and then bankrupts us again paying for the health care of all the people broken by the wars. As Country Joe said, plenty of money to be made supplying the army with the tools of the trade. We now have a 50 year legacy of destroying villages to save them, which is such incredible double speak that the country that came up with that saying should have to permanently give up war and spend its money cleaning up the fossil fuel mess that provides the context for so many wars.
Sustainability at its core has to be just. Slavery and empires are not sustainable. Growing inequality and rising poverty are not sustainable. The destruction of the global forest, the displacing of the rural poor and the indigenous is not sustainable. Building new fossil fuel facilities is not sustainable. At its core a sustainable economy is one in which there is a commitment to enough for everyone,. We have enough food on earth, it is just too many are too poor to buy it and they no longer have land to grow it.
We could power all of humanity without fossil fuels. We may move around a bit less, may need to grow food locally in much larger quantities, but we shall still eat well, and maybe better than the overprocessed foods we now are offered by the Monsanto’s of the world that put farmers out of business and drives them off the land by creating monopolies for the frankenfoods that are often the only foods sold in low income neighborhoods.
A song writer once noted that the darkest hour is just before the dawn. We are still in the tunnel going off the edge ecologically, economically, culturally. The rich steal more every day and rig the system further. Climate change is hurtling at us like a hungry bear. The war machine and the empire seem to find new places to kill people every day. But the resistance is growing. We are stopping power plants and pipelines that should not be built, Black Lives Matter, The Native People of North America have united to stop pipelines. When clowns like the former mayor of Providence decide to move the poor out of downtown so they can make more money, they get laughed at, there are new community gardens every year, the residents of the Amazon are standing up to Dams and big money interests trying to steal the forest. And people like you are working on alternatives to polluting and climate destroying technologies. The resistance is not yet winning, but it must if we are to have healthy communities.
You can not heal ecosystems without ending poverty, you can not end poverty without healing ecosystems. As you undo the harm of specific technologies remember the injustice and the poverty that our communities live with, and know that if what you do does not directly impact issues of justice and equality, it is not sustainable no matter what the talking heads tell you.
Friends and colleagues. Each year I write an essay reflecting on the Buy Nothing Day Winter Coat Exchange and the state of the world that calls us to put on this event. 20 years ago a few of us started this event because we wanted to shine a light on the damage consumerism and the cult of more and more for the rich does to our communities and the planet we live on. We needed to find something that was a bit humorous, and did some actual good in the community, as well as shine the light on greed. We decided to collect and give away winter coats on the official start of the Christmas shopping season.
We have built quite an event. Something like 14 sites will be actively participating on November 25, and thousands of people donate and or receive winter coats on that day in Rhode Island, with a few other sites around the country based on our model.
On the other hand, the war machine continues eating the planet, the amount of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere continues to skyrocket, as do the temperatures and strange storms, democracy is failing, the planetary ecosystem is collapsing, and the answer to every question seems to be cut taxes for the rich, bail out the bankers, and give more subsidies to the landlords so they can drown the coastline faster with their economic undevelopment policies.
Poverty has not gotten better in the US. If anything we have more poverty than 20 years ago, since bailing out the bankers has done nothing to revive the economies of our communities. But facts seem to be irrelevant in America, with a prime example being the absolute belief that giving tax breaks to the rich and reducing environmental regulations creates jobs, without one shred of evidence that this is true. In other parts of the world many people are less poor, but the cost in terms of deforestation, climate change, pollution, desertification, cultural destruction, and genocide has been extraordinarily steep. The places that have made the leap forward have built giant cities and forced people out of the countryside while creating air pollution that kills millions each year and poisons the rivers. The economic transformation of China means fewer are hungry, fewer can breathe, and the forests of Asia have disappeared.
Close to home I have to give a shout out to the people of Burrillville for steadfastly resisting the Invenergy Fracked Gas power plant. It is only their resistance, aided and abetted by the resistance of the FANG Collective and all of the other people from all over the state who have lent support, that has kept us in the struggle The FANG Collective opened up the political space that all of us could help fill.
That the governor insists that putting us in debt for a plant that we know should not be built if we want to actually stop climate change is a good thing. It shows just how out of touch the 1% is, and how little the policies they tout will do for out communities.
The opposite of the resisters in Burrillville, one of the villains of this story, is found among the downtown Providence landlords who still think that giving them tax breaks to redevelop downtown buildings is useful for the community. The evidence is overwhelming. Tax breaks for the rich do not do one bit of good for communities. In fact they make it harder for communities to do the right thing. And when these beneficiaries of the public largesse start trying to force the poor out of the center of the city so their real estate would be even more valuable, we are rapidly progressing through oligarchy to despotism. You would think the owners of downtown real estate would know that the first law of cities is that they are magnets for the poor and displaced and efforts to remove them so that real estate will be more valuable are doomed to failure. Maybe the clowns who own downtown need tyo take their monopoluy money and buidl the kind of housing we really need in RI rather than just offices and condos for the 1%.
For a long time I have been thinking of democracy and how it is melting away under the power of money. And the richest candidate of all says he might not abide by the election because it is rigged. Clearly he has no clue about the fact that the only thing that is rigged is that the winners all kowtow to big money.
I have started to understand democracy as existing only when communities can decide that they can not be run over by big business. If communities can not say no to being sacrifice zones for money for the few under the cover of economic development, then we do not live in a democracy. We seem to be losing our rights to protest just when we need it most.
Which is why we have to give away winter coats each fall. The rest of us are being made obsolete. We seem to live in the throw away society that eats its young and the planet faster and faster in a futile effort to keep the economy growing so the banksters will not lose all their money. But face it, econmic growth that beneifts communities is dead, and never coming back. That we keep getting sold that bill of goods is just part of the big lies of the rich so they can keep stealing. As nobel Laureate Bob Dylan noted in one fo his songs “Steal alittle and they put you in jail, steal a lot and they make you king”.
I guess community destruction and the end of democracy is what one must come to expect from a government and a 1% that spends more and more on new and better ways to kill so that it will have enemies and therefore can justify ever greater expenditures on new and better ways to kill. In response sometimes I help give away winter coats, sometimes i speak truth to power, sometimes i build gardens and compost, sometimes I stand on street corners with petitions and signs and help a presidential campaign based on truth and honesty and good policy for the 99% reach the voters of Rhode Island (Jill Stein Green Party for the curious) . Then i go make videos of tadpoles and turtles and great blue herons because they help me learn to see.
We do what we can. And hope that it moves the needle towards justice and healthy communities. Do it with joy and thank you for participating in the Buy Nothing Day Winter Coat Exchange
Urban Ecosystem Observations 2016. Lessons learned in the Moshassuck valley and the surrounding community. Greg Gerritt Oct 4, 2016
There is much to learn from studying the urban section of a small watershed, and each year I watch the lower reaches of the Moshassuck River and its environs more carefully and with greater understanding. Every year I learn new things and see things I have never seen before. While I am familiar with the watershed all the way to the headwaters in the Limerock section of Lincoln, I pay special attention to the forest at Providence’s Collyer Field, the North Burial Ground, the ancient travel corridor on the even older river terrace that is now North Main St, and the tidewater along Canal St until its current confluence with the Woonasquatucket River just south of Citizens Plaza. I also try to keep the larger context in mind as I deal with the creatures great and small and use the observations of nature in my other projects..
I spent last fall and winter mapping the forest that Friends of the Moshassuck has planted over the last 18 years at Collyer Field http://www.themoshassuck.org/treeplanting.php . We digitized the map and it is now on our website. http://themoshassuck.org/trees_table/ We have planted trees in this tangle of Japanese Knotweed for 18 years, just the few trees a year we could water with a bucket from the river in the summer heat We have almost covered the site, about an acre in all. Over the years we have planted about 95 trees, and 89 of them are still growing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQfWmu3UZMg This gives a pretty good picture of what the site looks like https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xNCecyutjQ There are also a few trees that were growing prior to FOTM beginning work in 1998 along the edges of the site, especially right along the river. I used to refer to it as a gallery forest, but the planted forest and the river forest have since merged. The long term goal was to create a semi wild New England forest that would shade out the knotweed. I am starting to doubt that we shall completely obliterate knotweed on the site with shade, knotweed begins growing each spring before the leaves come out on the hardwood trees, so it survives even though it stunts as soon as the tree leaves come out. The tallest trees are now 30 feet tall, and many parts of the site are in shade all day once the leaves come out. We may never obliterate the knotweed, but the forest is walkable in ways it never was when the knotweed ruled unchallenged. It would be interesting to know how the fauna has changed since the forest began, but we have neither baseline data nor current studies. Anecdotally I would say more birds use the site, but what would be really telling is the the health of the salamander population. We have seen salamanders every few years., but other than presence we know nothing. So we can not even ask has the development of the forest improved the habitat? Though we know it has.
Friends of the Moshassuck has no legal right to use the site. We squat based on a handshake deal I had with the station manager when it was owned by Bonanza Bus line. The current ownership will not speak to Friends of the Moshassuck. It is their way of avoiding legal liability for what goes on on the land. But it might be time Peter Pan realized that it is time for a change since it is so close to the river and almost completely in the zone protected by the updated wetland regulations. It is also on a dead end street with a city park between the corner and the site. FOTM has suggested that the City of Providence ask Peter Pan to donate or sell the site to the city to expand the park. I have communicated this thought to the Parks Department leadership, and while it is looked on favorably, the capacity to pull this off seems to be missing. The City also has concerns about maintenance costs, but the site is already maintained by Parks Department crews and FOTM could assume a portion of the burden. If Peter Pan will not donate the land (and take a nice tax break) I am sure we could raise enough money to buy an unbuildable acre of protected wetlands. If anyone has pull that I do not, and can get the right ear to move this forward, I would love to hear from you. This land has value for ecosystem services, and as a hotspot for biodiversity in a very damaged ecosystem. It could easily (well maybe not easily) be turned into a site to explore urban forest restoration and the ecology of damaged urban rivers.
I walk much of the length of North Main Street in Providence nearly every day, walking the ancient path along the terrace of a river that lost most of its flow 13000 years ago, leaving a spectacular view across a valley much too big for its river. . North Main Street and Pawtucket Avenue constitute the easiest way to walk from the waterfront in Providence to the falls in Pawtucket, crossing the divide into the Blackstone Valley at a low spot with a low angle hill up to the ridge. Runners can make the trip in about 30 or 35 minutes and walking time is about 2 hours if you keep moving. I am guessing that there was much foot traffic back and forth between the villages and waterfronts for thousands of years. It is such an appropriate travel corridor that Ben Franklin used it as part of the Post Road he laid out from New York to Boston. The anomalous site in the trip is the side hill from the waterfront along the tidewater of the Moshassuck up to the terrace rising from just beyond the corner of Smith St. and N Main to Olney St. and the end of Benefit St. My guess is that there is something in the terrain there that made it the easiest way out of the river bottom, maybe a stream, but I can not tell what it was due to the walls built throughout the cut. Once up on the terrace you are near University Heights and University Marketplace. The shopping center is full of tenants, but from there north to the city line more than 25% of the store fronts are vacant. That may be a higher commercial vacancy rate than any other main street in the city. People have been wondering what to do about it for decades, and no solution has arisen. It is a land out of time, a long time traditional path that has lost its way. Neither Providence nor Pawtucket revolve around the head of navigation or the downtown waterfront any longer, so there is no real connection or commerce between the two places that requires a people oriented corridor along the terrace, and the quick route by car is I-95 along the river bottom until it cuts through the cliff/watershed divide at the beginning of the curves in Pawtucket. I think the steepness of the hill on both sides of N Main also contributes to its lack of commercial walkability, which is reflected and amplified by it being difficult to cross.
At the North Burial Ground I use the gate across from the Armory to enter as it is the gate closest to home. Ever since some of us in the neighborhood convinced the Parks Department to unlock the gate, the Burial Ground has become much more of a community resource with more walkers every year. It is also an amazing wildlife sanctuary.
The limestone steps lead down from the river terrace to what were once wetlands and flood plains below. Moshassuck means where the moose drink, and moose are denizens of swampy areas as they eat water plants. The draining of the wetlands and conversion to agriculture probably started early on once the Europeans controlled the land, but the original burials in this ancient (1700) cemetery were on the higher ground. Digging the Blackstone Canal from Saylesville to the waterfront in Providence required dredging and deepening the lower half of the Moshassuck River, and likely drained some of the wetlands in this area. The lower elevations of the Burial Ground are an outwash plain, an area of sand deposition, laid down as the glacier melted, with a relatively small esker snaking through the plain in the northern half of the cemetery. The esker’s sand deposit shows signs of being mined at one point, but is currently covered by the largest contiguous stretch of forest in the Burial Ground. Just to the east of the esker is a small pond. The pond is about 300 ft long by 100 ft wide, less than an acre. It is fringed by trees ands shrubs around most of the circumference, with an inflow in the Southwest from the storm sewers of the cemetery and an outflow going west towards the river in the north. There is also a small mowed peninsula sticking into the pond from the center of the west side.
This pond may have more life per acre than any parcel in the city. The pond is the home to a population of Painted turtles, and one or two Snapping turtles and a red eared slider that someone must have let go. In the spring the Painted turtles line up on one log in the southwest corner for morning sun, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNDdCljQtyA and it is from that site I have been able to count as many as 17 turtles at one time, with at least 5 different year/size classes present. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RfPruv9ZWm0 Once the summer warms up the turtles are more likely to be seen swimming around the pond. Over the course of the summer I also occasionally saw, and filmed, a very young turtle sunning on a small stick in the northwest part of the pond in the hours that that sector received sun. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ex3uBtOuCh0 Another, somewhat larger, turtle would set up on another small log in the water nearby. When I started closely observing the turtles there were 6 painted turtles in the pond. The next year there were 9, the following year twelve, and the last few years hovering at about 16 or 17. I have not tried individual identification, but there are clearly differences in size between those born in different years, so it might be possible. I have enough raw footage that never made it to youtube for anyone who wishes to do a study using video. Turtles nearly always are difficult to video well. I suppose with the right filter it is possible, but my camera almost always offers up purple light reflecting off the shell and head
The biggest thrill this year was the regular appearance of muskrats, starting just before the first of the year, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wv_I339c01g and continuing into summer with some young ones in addition to the adults. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPPfUqvns54 Took me a while to figure out what I had when i saw the babies grazing in the little meadow at the north end of the pond, but I figured it out in a day or so. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2hL-2VmbKk and watched as much as I could. They are manic eaters, but if you stayed far enough away they would let you watch with the camera as they mowed through the vegetation.
I saw bats frequently in the evenings for a few weeks in spring. I only got a bit of bat video this year, so I include its link in a short video wth a variety of other creatures later on in the section highlighting hawks. The only hopeful news I hear for bats is scientists are starting to find treatments for White Nose disease. We shall be much poorer if the bats to do come through this.
If cuteness is not a factor,(the baby muskrats and tadpoles win on cute) the most charismatic megafauna that is seen regularly at the pond are the herons. The pond is frequently visited, usually at times when food is abundant, by Green Herons, Black Crowned Night Herons and Great Blue Herons https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkTl-UdYoZo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YkJuGAeaaHA I have watched for enough years to realize that each of the birds that comes by has their own personality. Not only between species, but individually within a species. This spring a Great Blue Heron showed up that was more skittish than any I had ever seen before. Setting up at the places I would normally set up the camera to catch the action caused this particular heron to fly off, whereas normally Great Blues would stay and continue to hunt while I watched. The Night herons are rather easy to catch in pixels. They tend to stay on the far side of the pond, with no access behind them through the tangles. From that side of the pond they are content to let you watch and film. The Green Herons are much harder to video. They tend to hunt among, and stay close to, the brush along the edge of the pond, so they are hidden as you approach the pond and take off before you see them and are ready to film. I am hoping next year I am more prepared. There were two Green Herons around on at least one day, but I usually saw only one on any particular day. Kingfishers are another predator that frequents the pond. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6175AHjsGTU
The reason the herons come visit so often and often stick around for a few days, is that there is an abundance of food in the pond. The pond is a murky brown all summer, both from runoff and algae. The water seems relatively clear in the early spring, but very soon acquires a murk. Considering how many ponds in New England are named Mud Pond, it is a pretty normal pond despite the fact that it is at least partially a human created stormwater system. Lots of vegetation and an abundance of organic matter like leaves and acorns provide a strong foundation for the food chain. Insects are abundant, including water striders https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zEsf-O0HktE and dragonflies https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yLAMAfRDzyw Insects are an important component in the diets of critters higher up the food chain, Sunfish eat many different small creatures, and clearly there is much food as they have a rather large colony of nesters each year. I have noticed the nests for several years, but this year i was able to get some pretty decent footage and was able to see the fish on their nests repeatedly during the several week mating season. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jtvzUMSZx70 I know Blue Herons feast on the little fish and have a video record of one heron catching two fish in the space of 5 minutes. I am starting to suspect that Herons target the pond twice a year, when the sunfish are breeding in the shallows and when the frogs have emerged in July after overwintering as tadpoles.
Frogs have been described as being a very intermediary player in the food web. Bullfrogs eat almost anything they can catch from dragonflies to other frogs, and get preyed on extensively by everything that is bigger than them, including people. This year I ended up focusing more on bullfrogs than in past years. I was able to video the tadpoles much more extensively https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nybSrrEeYxI especially tadpoles in the water after the previous years cohort turned to frogs. Some especially good footage of tadpoles swimming up from the bottom to breach the surface has finally convinced me that the bullfrog tadpoles are surfacing for oxygen rather than anything else. I am guessing the pond is pretty anaerobic due to the decomposition of repeated algae blooms. Methane bubbles are frequent anytime the bottom is disturbed. Bullfrog tadpoles occasionally fall prey to predators, but once the tadpoles from the previous year turn to frogs in July they are much more vulnerable. I have watched this cycle in past years, but this year really documented the decline of the Bullfrog population between mid August and Mid September. There were hundreds of little frogs lining sections of shoreline, but after the herons visited you might see two or three. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bYbWjPxibuI
Before moving on it should be noted that over the last few years the number of Canada Geese regularly visiting the pond and eating in the burial ground has grown significantly, and that mallards live there as well in differing size communities at different times of the year. Neither species appears to rear young there. Wood ducks and Northern Shovelers were also seen at the pond this year along with a plethora of small birds.
Leaving the pond heading southwest you have a good view of I-95 and the traffic whizzing by. Often one sees Red tailed hawks in this area. I think the resident hawks do not like the fact that I take their pictures so they have developed the habit of flying around me and calling as i walk by. I offer up some flying hawk video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2IXb1JQMq2Q I learned that snakes are an important part of Red Tailed hawk diets. I have seen hawks feeding on snakes several times in recent years, and include a segment of eating a snake in this video highlighting early spring animal appearances. It also highlights flying bats. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WaQ-Yk47S3A
My video work in the NBG first focused on the life in a little wetland near the maintenance building. I stumbled upon a congregation of little black tadpoles one spring day, and have been visiting regularly ever since. The last 4 years with a video camera. The tadpoles inspired the whole video project which lead to much more in depth study of the pond, and a study of tadpole development in Fowler’s Toads, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UpFEc8u1k_A one of the two amphibians that breed there https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9zXQ-C3ZyU I have video’d not only the Toads https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFZ8tmyu7HU https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3qd91gBW8g https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfrcqqi50L0 but also the insects that frequent the pond https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tj4F3Y6GV9E
When i first moved to Rhode Island 20 years ago I ended up part of the stakeholder process looking into what to do about Combined Sewer Overflows in stormy weather. Eventually a large tunnel under the city was built to store combined rainwater and sewage until it could be treated at the Fields Point Sewage Treatment Plant. This system, and the associated infrastructure, some of which is still in process, has dramatically reduced pollution in the bay. One slightly sour note, the Moshassuck River hosts one of the largest Combined Sewer Outfall, number 220, that has not yet had its sewage captured or treated, something that clearly shows up in fish surveys https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iGe0KK0zQV8 which we conducted in partnership with the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council, our neighbors across the western divide. My role 20 years ago was to advocate for what is now called Green Infrastructure or Nature Based Solutions, which over the last 20 years has become the way to manage stormwater in more and more situations, but it was a new concept back then. As I studied the little wetland I came to understand it not only as a biological system, but as a rainwater runoff catch basin https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNli3vk0FUc . This has lead to further exploration of the use of new stormwater systems as a way to create amphibian habitat as amphibians are among the most endangered taxa on the planet and continue to lose wetland habitat at a high rate. I am not sure where the exploration will go, but more and more people are looking at the requirements of amphibians and how we might use rainwater to provide habitat. RI stormwater regulations currently do not permit the creation of stormwater systems that hold water long enough to allow amphibian breeding cycles, but there is no doubt that there are places in Rhode island in which this is not only possible, but would provide real community benefits. As part of my work in the Green Infrastructure Coaliton I am pushing to include biodiversity and habitat creation as factors to keep in mind when creating ways to clean runoff. It will be a long slog, equivalent to moving the needle on compost laws and regulations, but I think it is an idea who’s time is coming. I now know how much water it takes to fill the pond (1.5 inches of rain) and that if it is full it will have some water in it for at least 10 days, though I am wondering about the changes occurring as the vegetation in the pond covers more and more of the bottom with both cattails and pickerel weed spreading. When i started the project a dry period in the spring or summer would present cracked mud all over the pond. Now vegetation blocks the view and binds the bottom sediments as well as sucking up water.
I am also pondering what might be done to this particular rainwater system to improve its performance. This year the basic lesson was the resilience of the Fowler’s Toad system,. Unlike many amphibians, Fowler’s Toads breed over an extended season, I heard mating calls at least 15 evening this past spring. Maybe this winter I will see if anyone has info on how often females can lay eggs over the course of a month. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWXSJdHbXmw The extended breeding season has been critical to breeding success as the last two years the early cohort of tadpoles have all died when the pond went dry, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-e3e9zDFJUo only to be followed by a second wave that made it through to hopping toadlets when the pond stayed full long enough in the summer rains. Considering this record, that Fowler’s toads have successfully fledged a large cohort each of the last 5 years, I am unsure it is wise to modify the pond. But I think the continued high sedimentation rate from the sand piles at the NBG is both helping the cattails expand in the pond, and shortening the hydroperiod. I am looking to bring in some experts to help me ponder these questions, and help me think about what data would capture the conditions best. What factors make it a Fowler’s toad haven? And can we apply what is learned here to other locations.
Heading further downriver the Moshassuck River becomes tidal, the northern most extension of the bay into the city, just as Charles Street crosses a little bridge and becomes Canal St. The stretch south to Smith St is very shallow, though fish are occasionally present, but below Smith St river life flourishes despite the shopping carts, old pilings, and street runoff. The view is from the sidewalk. Eels, carp, and blue crabs are seen occasionally throughout the warmer months. Menhaden have been described as “the Most Important Fish in the Sea” for their role as the base of the vertebrate food chain, and by mid August the river fills with the flashing of silver as the sun reflects off menhaden from 2 inches to 14 inches in length. The young swim around in large schools with their mouths open filtering water and eating the zooplankton they find. https://youtu.be/AnJTFUpgb9o Usually you see over the course of the fall menhaden in small, medium, and large sizes, with 3 or 4 year old fish topping out at about 14 inches. They often stick around until November, and last winter stayed until early January before heading out to sea. There are probably millions of little fish in the urban rivers, but this year there has been a school of at least 10,000 adults slowly swimming the area around Citizens Bank and RISD and they seem to dominate the arena. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rAAlUmB8OI All of the herons are known to stop by the Canal St section of the Moshassuck on occasion, as would be expected based on the amount of food available. This year for the first time small river herring have been seen in the fall coming down from the rivers at the head of the bay and heading to sea to grow.
From Citizens Bank Plaza I have two choices when heading to work, south along the Providence River to the Point St bridge or going through downtown. The trip along the river often provides fish viewing opportunities in the warmer months with the canoe landing along S Water St a favorite spot to check for fish. This part of the Providence River has been resculpted numerous times since Roger Williams arrived. From a salt marsh beginning it became a very busy port, now it is park lined with granite walls. Water quality is way better than it was 50 years ago (there have been Cholera epidemics in the Moshassuck basin) if not yet good, and there seems to be more life than in the recent past. Downtown provides a different perspective, and there is a need to focus on it for a bit. Most of downtown Providence, between the East Side (College Hill), Weybosset Hill, and Smith Hill was formerly wetlands. It is for this reason that I enter the fray of discussing downtown real estate and the Rhode island economy. Several hills were cut down in order to provide the materials used to fill this area. It means that downtown is rather a low spot, and subject to storm surges from hurricanes (1938, 1954) and very vulnerable to rising sea levels.
A big question, one I came up with just the other day when sitting at Senator Whitehouse’s Energy and Environment day, “Is it going to be cheaper to start an orderly retreat from the coast now, starting with everyone below 10 feet above sea level, or should we just wait for the big disaster and then retreat with lives in tatters?” Of course an orderly retreat from the coast goes against everything the US has been built on, the can do eat the planet attitude. I suppose you could fill another 10 feet higher every 100 years and keep burning carbon until it is all gone. But that seems a much worse alternative than an orderly retreat and green energy. My guess is in the places poor folks live near the water, the government will improvise a retreat, but where rich folks own land and in the centers of major cities, they will try to armor the sites, go up, or go with buildings that are designed to flood. More saltmarsh is probably a better solution.
The fortifications to preserve downtown ultimately will be overwhelmed if we keep burning fossil fuels, but in the short term will have the effect of further distorting our economy in the favor of the rich and further increasing poverty and unemployment in the rest of our communities. Providence and RI continue to cling to the old ways, with real estate development continuing to line the pockets of the rich and the campaign contributors, especially those taking advantage of huge tax loop holes available to commercial real estate development. In an age in which many Americans lost considerable sums of money from trying to put roofs over their families heads, the favoring of commercial real estate interests and banks is both politically stupid, and likely to lead to further crashes, bubbles and various and assorted financial shenanigans as well as greater inequality, which makes the bubble/bust cycle run faster. All of which undercut our communities and our ability to respond to climate change in ways that make us more resilient and and slow down the pollution and the changes. I do not have video of this, though occasionally when i speak out I end up on RI Future but until Rhode Island adopts policies reflecting this statement “You can not end poverty without healing ecosystems,. You can not heal ecosystems without ending poverty. And if you do not shut down the war machine, hard times are coming”, we are likely to have downtown landlords fattening on public subsidies until the sea floods it all, while more low income people stream into the center of the city as they get pushed out everywhere else.
For all the Rhode Island politicians who talk the talk on climate change, i have seen few walk the walk and actually take concrete measures to reduce Rhode Island’s carbon footprint in a meaningful way. One has to say folks are not serious about climate change if they are supporting the construction of any new fossil fuel infrastructure as that will overwhelm any of the cuts we make due to efficiency, the use of Green energy, and improvements in the transportation system. The big thing these days is natural gas. It is touted as a bridge fuel, but it is a bridge to hell, bringing hotter weather and higher water, and anyone offering us a future with more gas is just kicking the can down the road and making it harder to repair the fabric of the climate and of our communities.
It is so interesting that the development strategy so touted in RI, using real estate development in pursuit of meds and eds to drive economic growth, will have such adverse effects on Rhode Island that it will ultimately undermine all of the gains the landlords hope garner by speeding up the sea level rise that will cover the lower parts of the city over the next few decades and drawing more displaced people into the center of the city. I am hoping common sense, and self preservation for our communities prevails, but the science denial that has swept the country, and the mountains of money in the political system make it likely that a self defeating strategy of ever more stuff, driven by ever higher subsidies to the rich and the permanent loss of place for the poor will lead towards climate collapse, economic collapse, and community collapse as the storms and droughts upset the planet. I said publicly when the speculators were building the Providence Place Mall that we would be better off with saltmarsh. And what I have learned traversing my watershed with eyes open these past 20 years, tells me that saltmarsh sounds like an even better idea now.
Joe Paolino’s boomerang Greg Gerritt 9/26/2016
The some of the landlords who own downtown Providence, and some of their allies, have decided that Kennedy Plaza and its surrounding area would become much more valuable real estate if they could cause the bus depot and all of the low income people who are drawn to the bus depot and/or the city center in general, to disappear. Seems former mayor Joe Paolino decided that he no longer cared about the community, he wanted more valuable properties, so he started a campaign against the poor.
Every rational person in Rhode Island then told Mr Paolino that his plan was very strange as it went against all constitutional law and common sense. But in the very weird world in which nearly all public policy decisions are made by and for the people with a lot of money, i guess he became so out of touch with reality that the thought it made some kind of sense.
There are several major flaws in Joe Paolino’s proposal. Some of which have come out in the public discussion, some that need lots more exploration.
We need a real plan to end poverty, because no matter what you do, low income people are drawn to center cities. This is a hard and fast rule that is as old as cities, 8000 to 10000 years. When people have almost nothing, when they are displaced from their land, conquest or mechanization have the same effect, or the factories have closed, the only place they can go is to the city. Elites can try to move them around the city, but all that does is move them, it does not end the poverty or the magnetic attraction cities have for the displaced. Mayor Elorza and all of the advocates are right, its a phony plan without jobs or even a whiff of a brighter future for the people being moved around so landlords can claim bigger depreciations.
In the future a bus hub right downtown is going to be more critical to our survival than it is now. Instead of marginalizing transit, to reduce our climate footprint and keep Providence above sea level, Providence needs to eliminate almost all automobile entrance to the city and get everyone riding transit, biking, boarding, or walking. Mr Paolino has not considered the climate implications of his monstrosity, or maybe he does not care. But in any case, the bus hub belongs downtown, and you sound like a scoundrel wanting to push low income people away from your real estate properties and into someone else’s neighborhood and make it harder for people catching buses.
But you have already heard those points from others. What you are not hearing is that your economic development strategy is self defeating, An economy based on the needs of the real estate, finance, and insurance industries (you know the FIRE that burned down the economy in 2007) is guaranteed to swing wildly between bubble and bust while pumping up the assets of the landlords and the banks, and displacing many other people. Piketty has made it quite well known that the greater the inequality in your community, the less well the economy will perform. Economies that have reached the point where real estate redevelopment is the underpinning of other economic activity are in big trouble. They become the early adopters of being a place with no work for most workers,. So they try to displace them away from their properties. But as the inequality and the end of jobs as we know them further displaces people, as you get more climate refugees, you get more people (and water) flooding downtown right onto the very properties you want more money from.
It is time for economic development from the bottom up. We can not rely on churning buildings downtown to create jobs for the people who do not have one. We can not rely on the wetlabs, communications businesses, dirty industry infrastructure, and app developers to create jobs for the people who need them, as they never will. The meds and eds strategy creates only a small number of jobs, most of those higher paying jobs, mostly to be filled from away, while creating few for the people already here. In other words displace the poor and have many more join those already on the streets is exactly what is intended, as it is the only way for the rich to steal more as the global economy and ecology strangle and overheat. There are now people asking for money at every street corner, people who feel permanently displaced from the economy.
The answer to our woes is not more concentrations of wealth, though that is the preferred economic development strategy these days. So maybe I am pissing into the wind. But he wall is cracking in the face of the resistance. We are not letting you build any more fossil fuel infrastructure what so ever, and we are going to stop the running of economies to benefit the landlords of downtown and the bankers. We want clean power and we need democracy. When real estate and finance rule, the people suffer. The debts choke an economy, causing it to squander resources.
A most excellent way to understand the difference between the preferred solutions of the 1% and reality is to compare business climate rankings with various measures of the strength of an economy. No actual study has ever found a correlation between business climate rankings and economic performance. None. No study has ever found a correlation between strong environmental regulations and weak economic performance. None. Piketty demonstrated that inequality harms economic performance too. You want an example? How about Rhode Island. We get the worst rankings in the business climate indexes, but if you look at economic performance we are pretty close to the middle in growth rates, median income, and other performance based evaluations, and hardly a week goes by without the quality of life and new business start up culture being highlighted in the national media.
In other words on balance what the state and other institutions are doing to promote the profits of the 1% is harming us. Cutting taxes for the rich is useless for everything except lining their pockets and causing cities to neglect basic infrastructure. It does not help us systematically end poverty or stop climate change. Trickle down economics is like getting peed on. Which is why there are more and more efforts to restrict democracy and corral the people. Which is why the resistance grows. Daily and on many fronts simultaneously.
The former Mayor, Governor Wall St, the funders of the political machines that pull the strings on Smith Hill, they are all in need of some education on where the economy is going to go and why as the climate crisis rolls on and economic growth slows with the destruction of the resource base and greater “natural” disasters. The future is going to be more locally self reliant. We are going to locally generate renewable clean power. We are going to grow more of our own food. Our transport systems will be less automobile oriented. And the FIRE industries will not be allowed to burn down the economy again. If your plans to revitalize downtown do not take these things, including a slowing of economic growth, the odds of success are pretty slim.
Good afternoon, I am Greg Gerritt, and today i am wearing my Green Party hat, As you know, we all fulfill a variety of roles in the community, Today is Green Party, tomorrow I lead the fence building party at the community garden we are building in my neighborhood. I note the garden because some of the other hats I wear to RIC in my work in the community, hats related to sustainability, food security, and compost, led me to people who were willing to invite Jill Stein to speak on campus, and made the process of organizing the event much easier. Thank you to the RIC Environmental Club for inviting Jill Stein, and thank you club adviser and compost conference partner Jim Murphy for smoothing the way. Truly appreciated. And thank you to the administration of RIC for allowing Dr Stein to speak here.
I want to tell you how much of a treat you are in for this afternoon. Dr Jill Stein is a breath of fresh air in the campaign season. Yes, I am biased. I helped found the Green Party 32 years ago, but even if you are not a supporter, Jill Stein is running the type of Presidential campaign that all Americans long for. A candidate that is out on the stump meeting people, talking with people about what is really going on in their lives and communities, and offering common sense proposals that work for communities and the planet rather than the war machine and Wall St.
Do we not all long for a candidate with transparency, compassion , intelligence, common sense, good judgement, and the ability to connect with crowds and people’s higher sense of purpose and values. A candidate who personifies American virtues in a way we wish all of our presidential candidates would. I could say much more, but I an not introducing Dr Stein, I am just a warm up act, and have a different task today, The task of suggesting why you might want to work with the Green Party here in Rhode Island post November 2016. Besides, you are actually going to see Dr. Stein speak this afternoon. Tell me after if it is not a breath of fresh air in the rancid landscape of American politics. Even if you are not voting for her.
Here are a few things that may inspire you to work with the Green Party in your neighborhood going forward
I hope everyone who is in the room votes Yes on question 6 this November. It is the bond to create a $35 million fund to build Green Infrastructure projects, Manage stormwater, build new parks, reduce sedimentation and pollution. The Green Party came in to the world of Green Infrastructure twenty years ago, with the Green Party forcing the Narragansett Bay Commission to put in a public document, the documents that allowed the Combined Sewage Overflow project to go forward, a long term commitment to Green Infrastructure, though no one knew what to call it back then. As usual, we were just slightly ahead of our time, but the world has followed. 18 years later the NBC called me up and asked me to come back and help them finally start to implement GI in the last phases of the $500+ million project. But they are still a bit reluctant.
When the conmen came to town in 2004 they convinced Governor Almond, the Economic Development Corporation, and all of legislative leadership that if the state of Rhode Island spent a billion dollars to build a port they could get shipping companies to turn it into one of the biggest ports in the world. It was touted as the economic miracle rhode Island had been waiting for since 1920. You think 38 studios was a disaster, this one would have been epic. People all over Rhode Island rallied against the monstrosity on the bay, and finally we pushed hard enough for the con men to be exposed as shysters who had been running this scam, to no avail, all over the world. What the Green Party brought to the discussion, was the exploration of unfair trade, deforestation around the world, climate change, the murder of the indigenous to steal the forest to build the products in the containerships, and how a container port would undermine Rhode island workers. Again the first ones to put out the call on issues that have become the main currency of the resistance to globalization. And to put it to practical use when working on policy issues in our community
And that is why we need you now. More than ever the empire is heading us for the rocks. The frackers are destroying both the water and the air. Wall St. continues to steal. The economic development strategy offered by Governor Wall St is riches for the 1% and greater poverty for most of us. We have the worst health care system in the industrial world.
But the most hopeful thing is the resistance. The resistance to pipelines and fracking, the resistance to militarism, the resistance to Wall St and real estate speculators continuing to loot us and create another bubble and crash rather than a sustainable economy. The two party system , as George Washington noted, is the worst of all possible worlds. The people always lose. There is already a political party completely lined up with the resistance, one open to all the members of the resistance. Maybe it is time to help it evolve into a more potent force.
As the Jefferson Airplane sang “We are all outlaws in the eyes of Amerika”. There is a warrant on Jill for resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline. Any other presidential candidates on the front lines? When Black Lives Matter was evolving in Providence, the Green Party did not play a leading role, we played a supportive role, bringing a few people together to smooth planning the early rallies, and offering up our bullhorn for them. We also encouraged members of the resistance to think broadly about the nature of the resistance and all of the different ways we could synergize.
Finally, in an age in which the 1% are grabbing more and more and the rest of us get poorer, we need to directly confront the economic development strategies that elected officials offer us on behalf of their Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate industry donors. You know the FIRE sector, it is the one that burnt down the economy in 2008. The Green Party of Rhode Island is the only organization in Rhode Island participating in the development discussions that makes sure that the end of growth, dealing with climate change and food insecurity, and the transformation to clean energy are recognized as the only practical the economic development strategy for the future. An economy based on real estate deals by downtown developers and builders of suburban office parks, or catering to the medical industrial complex is a dead end.
Right now only the Green Party is pointing out that there is no correlation between a state’s “ Business climate” and the health of its economy, and therefore easing the regulations that keep the planet and our communities a bit healthier than they might otherwise be is actually the WORST development strategy if we want a widespread and shared prosperity. The current strategy is focused on enriching the the 1% by giving them ever greater shares of the natural and built wealth often using debt to bind communities to destructive projects and practices. Maybe 10% of the population does well economically with this strategy. Everyone else is being replaced and displaced. Robots may be signaling the end of work.
So the Green Party offers both a critique of what is wrong and the Green New Deal. A program to put everyone to work fixing the infrastructure, the food system, and the energy production system and transforming it into a totally clean Green system. Informed by the idea that “you can not heal ecosystems without ending poverty, you can not end poverty without healing ecosystems, and if you do not close the war machine all else will fail”, nothing less will help us transform our relationship with climate change into one of true prevention and healing while creating communities that work for everyone.
Join the party of the resistance. We have flyers, sign up sheets, facebook pages, twitter. Find us. And vote Green in 2016.
I wrote this in response to an article by Steve Alhquist on RI Future on powerplant resistors at the ISO hearing. . It was originally posted there as a comment, reacting to the article and one of the commentators who was chastising demonstrators for not opposing the powerplant the way he wanted them to. greg
First to recognize Steve’s very useful analysis of the players and their connections. Always helps to understand the powerful forces arrayed against us. And yet we resist.
That ISO has recognized, as have the states, that the current system is biased against dealing with climate change and justice is a good thing. years behind the curve, but a good thing.
I also want to echo salgal in reminding Bill that there are many different ways to change the world, and we never know which ways will be effective until we try them. We also find that different ways are effective for different people. And right now we need every different way to contest the corporate monster eating the planet. We need people going to hearings to remind the ruling class that they do not have a monopoly on wisdom or information. And sometimes by talking when you are not supposed to. We all need people writing letters to the governor and calling in political favors. We need football players taking a knee instead of standing for the anthem. We need business people funding giant windfarms in the ocean and we need community gardens, solar panels, Watershed Watch, the Burrillville Land Trust, and the Audubon Society.
I try to do those things I do well so that i can most efficiently and effectively contribute to the health of my community and my planet. I often end up with tasks no one else seems to be ready to do. Writing about things no one else is talking about. Being on the cutting edge where I can to bring new things to the discussion. Should I stop doing that because you think I should be writing about something else. One of my favorite quotes is from Stephen Biko who was murdered in a South African prison by the government. He said “I write what I like”. Which gave him and others who follow that creed, the ability to write about what is important.
I have friends across the entire spectrum of the resistance. From those chaining to gates and spray painting bulldozers, to those who talk back to the ruling creeps in hearings and will not sit down, to those who file law suits and endure the state house. None of us know what it will take to defeat the powerplants, pipelines, and liquefaction facilities. So join your colleagues in honoring all of their work in its diversity, and also recognize that those who do it one way today, may be doing something you like tomorrow, and vice versa.
Urbanized communities have always destroyed forests and either absorbed or killed all of the forest people. The forests close to the coast, close to harbors, with abundant water and good soils, the people who lived in them were urbanized or killed centuries or millennia ago. What we see is the urban people of the planet seeking the last remaining forests because civilization as we know it must have forest products, wood, paper, and other items, in order to thrive. As a person of wild spaces as well as cities, I know that the remaining indigenous communities are our last chance to save the plane. Understanding how civilizations eat forests makes me not only fearful for the forest and mountain people, it helps me understand the demise of urbanized places as well. We need to move to an economy no longer based on growth to preserve forests and forest people and the rest of us.
Another short essay written in response to an on line article
Time for the people to start leaving the places with no water before they turn into refugees and the rest of us starve. It seems as if most of the states in the west are run by climate deniers. Therefore they are very unlikely to do any real planning for what to do as the water evaporates. I sure hope by the time they walk to Rhode Island they have figured out they better start thinking very differently about climate change.
To the Editor,
John Kostrzewa, in his September 4 article “Pipeline would be a conduit for jobs” trots out the same tired, and long since disproven arguments for building more climate destroying fossil fuel facilities. In this case a pipeline to bring us more gas. Study after study has demonstrated that the gas crunch is a fiction and nothing has shown that the gas pipelines will do anything to reduce the cost of energy in New England. Read the studies by the Acadia Center and the Conservation Law Foundation. The reality is that our future is solar and to put baskets of money into fossil fuel infrastructure threatens to burden us with a debt that will prevent a smooth transition to green energy and bring down the economy.
Big business and their shills in the chattering classes have tried to sell Rhode Islanders these same old tired myths for years. Sometimes they slide one by and we get a 38 Studios. Other times the people send them packing, saving us a fortune. This time the climate is too important for anyone to buy the lies and the economic analysis describes a world no one has seen for decades. The people of Burrillville and the Southside of Providence have spoken very clearly. We do not want projects that harm the environment and our communities that would be better off replaced with clean alternatives, especially when the long term economic benefits of going green are so apparent. No new fossil fuel infrastructure.
The demise of a boondoggle. Greg Gerritt August 23 2016
Governor Raimondo has a dilemma. She has to accept and spin the demise of the Clear River Energy fracked gas power plant. She has to find a way to preserve her fiction of the efforts to create a better “business climate” while allowing the demise of a plant that the community fought tooth and nail, that made no sense economically or environmentally, violated and overwhelmed all the good we are doing to stop climate change.
Her problem is compounded by the keystone kops way in which Invenergy went about the project with applications filled with information about projects that were not being proposed, and almost none on what was actually on the table. If she blames the people for stopping a bad project she gets real political heat and encourages challenges to her reign from the left. If she blames the regulatory apparatus for rejecting an amateurish proposal that did not meet the letter or the spirit of Rhode Island and Federal clean air and climate actions and legislation, she throws her own efforts at being business friendly under the bus.
Nope, she has to say the system worked, that the project is not appropriate for Rhode Island and its high standard and concern for the quality of life of its community, She has a great comparison to use. DeepWater Wind. Who went above and beyond in meeting environmental standards and in producing quality work from day one to completion. Rest assured that if Invenergy was something other than a keystone kops outfit, and produced a good application that really demonstrated their concern for doing it right, we still would have rejected a fracked gas plant that would prevent us from meeting any of our climate goals. But in this case Governor Raimondo would score points with the public and reduce the fallout from the stopping of some big deal project, by emphasizing both climate issues and the incompetence of Invenergy.
The governor also has to gain much more acceptance of democracy. Trying to shove projects like this down the throats of communities does not work any longer. The governor ought to embrace the wisdom of the people who have prevented boondoggles foisted upon us by the ruling elites in the past. She might want to get her speechwriters working now so that she can strike the right tone when the inevitable crumbling of the Clear River project occurs. And she might want to clearly articulate that gas is not the answer and that only by going completely clean energy can RI prosper in the future so this kind of living in the past proposal will not get her approval again.
Vote Green in 2016
We need smarter cities, but in order to make rural communities work better we need to raise the price of food and the price farmers get. Without that you will never keep people in rural areas. The other thing we need to do is stop shoving people off the land. As long as the palm oil plantations and the oil companies and the miners keep killing rural people who want to keep their land slowing the growth of cities is a fantasy. Maybe start with rural peasants and the original inhabitants of the land get land rights. Without that the article is a fantasy.
To the Editor,
The little note about Professor Lardaro’s index of the RI economy that appeared on Wednesday August 10 again reflects a set of biases that distort how the RI economy is doing. According to Dr Robert Gordon, an economist at Northwestern University, economic growth has dramatically slowed since 1973, and the fundamentals of the economy are trending towards a steady state economy. When this is combined with ecological collapse, climate change, and little population growth in our cities, it is unrealistic to expect rapid economic growth in Rhode Island. Professor Lardaro also reflects the bias that the Koch Brother funded anti think tanks offer that taxes and regulations hurt the RI economy. Despite the business climate ratings showing RI in 50th place for the last few years RI has had a growth rate matching the national median, 1.8% in the first quarter of 2016.
Old industrial places that have been urbanized for a long time will never grow at the rate that Wall St thinks they should. When the politicians and professors adopt the out dated and wrong headed indexes about the economy and use it to trash us they harm all Rhode Islanders. It is time to ignore the business climate indexes that are biased against workers and throw out the indexes that are biased towards a growth that will never come back. Tax cuts and deregulation will not solve our problems. Only working to create prosperity in a low growth environment will.
Head of Research ProsperityForRI.com
The idea of using real estate development to restart cities is as old as cities, Unless it is truly based on looking out for the interests of the ecosystem and the marginalized, it is not going to work for the community. Most of the time these schemes benefit the wealthy few who own land rather than the workers or the children. They look better on paper than in reality. It is also interesting that the examples used in the article are primarily public projects like parks and flood control and resettling displaced people. If we are to have these public private partnerships the governments should not be giving sweetheart deals and tax breaks without great public scrutiny. But the marginalized get left out of the negotiation and the planet never gets a seat at the table. The thing that then makes the plan work. The people get rowdy and get in the streets and come to even the sham hearings. Because the track record is that when the public actually gets involved things are much more likely to work than when the are excluded.
greg gerritt 7/20/16
I am glad you acknowledge the history of racial violence in America. One that continues to this day. I have always stated that until the government gives up violence, gives up militarism and the glorification of killing, we shall not have peaceful streets. Ponder that a while.
if we want peaceful communities we need to give up the empire. We need to give up on the idea that it is our oil, or that we have any right to demand people sell it to us or let us drill for it in their country. The impunity of the oil business overseas also extends to our communities in which so much of our pollution and damage to climate is exempted from regulation.
I understand the politics is ridiculously stupid. We are the only country with a cliamte denying major party. Probably because we do everything we can to eliminate 3rd parties, including hold candidates in black cells in Chicago while a debate was going on. (Jill Stein was held in Chicago for 7 hrs during a debate in chicago in 2012. Zip tied to a chair. When the debate ended they let her, and VP candidate Cheri Honkola, go. )
We have to end the militarization of the police, our youth, and our schools and communities if we want peaceful communities. We have to stop breaking young people in crazy invasions, occupations, surgical strikes. They bring the trauma home. We have to stop the drug war and the class war, provide real health care, and stop poisoning communities. I consider it totalitarianism when a community can not stop big business from polluting them and sickening their kids. That is what the legislature and governor Raimondo just did to the people of Burrillville. they took away their right to petition and vote and to protect themselves from large corporations doing incredibly idiotict hings like build more infrastructure for fossil fuels. Infrastructure that will become stranded assets when we close it down.
You have to know that there is no way in hell we have a livable community if we run gas plants for the next 30 years. it will HAVE to be shut down well before that to keep Providence from drowing in the lifetime of your grandchildren.
Our inability to deal with climate is tied up with the violence that this nation was founded upon, genocide and slavery. it is always someone else who will suffer, so we are allowed to continue the abuse.. The poor will suffer as the rich pay congressmaen to speak lies and deny science. Anti science thinking is definitely related to patriarchy, you know rule by the most violent sexist men. Knowledge of what they do is taboo. They keep everyone in line with ignorance and violence.
We need a new national myth, the current ones are killing us and the planet.
Open for Business, the Business Climate, the actual climate, and economic development in RI. Greg Gerritt 7/8/16
The perennial question in Rhode Island, and many similar places around the world, is “how do we bring prosperity to our communities”. Actually I wish it was phrased that way. What we actually get is a “promise” the percentage of year on year GDP growth will go up if you do as they say. The reality in Rhode Island and many other old industrial neighborhoods is that 3% growth only happens at the crazy phase of a real estate or other speculative bubble, and signals that a crash is coming soon to a neighborhood near you.
What is missing in Rhode Island is a realistic assessment of the economy and what is actually possible in Rhode Island. AND a plan to increase the general prosperity in the slow to no growth system that we live in. The context is that every reputable global oriented economist has stated that the growth machine is slowing down. Global growth will now average just over 3% for the foreseeable future. Clearly there are places like China and India that are keeping the average high as they urbanize and industrialize. China has already seen its growth slow (now at 6%) as it attempts to shift towards a consumer economy rather than a production economy. They just can not afford to kill more people burning coal. The populace gets restless when they can not breathe the air. China is leading the way in solar power and speeding up its phaseout of coal. India is instituting a carbon tax.
Economic Growth in the 21st Century is concentrated in 3 types of places, with nearly every other place on earth experiencing 2% or less a year growth, most of which is just sucked up by the 1%. The places with 3+% growth a year include those with natural resource exploitation expansions such as fracking booms or deforestation for soybean or palm oil. Another category of rapid growth regions is large and mega cities in the developing world where people are being drawn into the cities as the mechanization of agriculture and the creation of giant plantations is costing them their land and livelihoods. These first generation urbanites are powering growth throughout the tropics, usually by leaving devastated the rural areas. Now they live in shanty towns in cities bulging at the seams and unable to provide basic services. The informal economy is how people get by, real jobs are reserved for the elites. The third category of places with above average growth are very large metropolitan areas in the developed world that are providing financial, cultural, or intellectual services to the world.
If growth is 3% globally, and above that in a specific places on the planet for reasons that are readily discernible with current knowledge, then one must realize that half of the people in the world are going to live in slower growing communities.
Rhode Island does not fit any of the categories for rapid growth, despite the constant yapping by our political and corporate elites as they pretend we fit the third category. We can argue about how well RI fits the category, but what seems to be of out of bounds for discussion is the effect the economic development strategy that is employed to further the growth of the financial, cultural, and intellectual services on everyone else in the community. Maybe if the economy of Rhode Island could grow at more then 3% a year without creating bubbles, the current strategy would have a chance of working, but when growth is about 1.8% the strategy fosters inequality and ecological destruction, which further damages the prosperity of communities.
The “intellectual” tool that the political, financial, and corporate elites use to beat us about the head is called “The Business Climate”. The entire point of the business climate, with indexes funded by the same folks who fund climate deniers and told us smoking cigarettes does not cause cancer, is to make it easier for rich folks to get richer as the global economy spirals down.
Lets be very clear. There is actually no correlation between rankings in the various business climate surveys (which often contradict each other) and the GDP growth rate or other measures of prosperity in a particular place. There is a very weak correlation between lower tax rates and growth, but no other indicators used in these very flawed indexes actually have any positive relationship with a healthy economy. Other factors are MUCH more important, including the economic history and culture of a community. Vermont ranks low on business climate indexes, NH high. The unemployment and growth rates have been neck and neck since the Great Recession. Kansas cut taxes, and crashed the state economy as well as short changing the schools. Missouri acted more conservatively (you know conserved some resources and programs that actually helped folks) and weathered the storms much more easily. Wisconsin elected a darling of the Tea P:arty, and enacted the requisite cuts in taxes and spending. Minnesota skipped the stupidity and is doing much better than its neighbor. You want the economy of California or Mississippi?
The manifestations of business climate insanity in Rhode Island are the ever louder efforts to reduce protections for the environment, lower taxes for the wealthy, further restrict the rights of communities to protect themselves from inappropriate development, and the use of real estate subsidies as the basic tool of economic development. The net result is that 90% of the people get poorer and the owners of land and those few who get jobs in the high tech or cultural global marketplace reap all the benefits. Growing inequality makes it much harder to run a consumer society, along with the ecological problems that growth and consumerism on a finite planet bring.
A simple way to tell that despite all the rhetoric and hot air, and all the stupid things the clowns on Smith hill have done, the growth rate in Rhode Island continues to hover at about 60 to 75% of the national average year after year. This is EXACTLY what one would expect given the actual conditions in Rhode Island and our not participating in the fracking boom. The 1.8% growth rate we have experienced in RI , is pretty close to the median in the US, Only half the states have rates above 1.8 the last few years even when the mean for growth in the US is hovering between 2.2 to 2.4%, So the politicians and the developers tell us, just go harder, double down on inequality, ecological destruction, and handouts to the rich. They keep telling us it will work, and it keeps not working.
One of the results of this pathetic bipartisan development scam is that the people have become wise to the scam. RI elites have a habit of looking for the next big thing so hard that they get taken for a ride regularly. Time after time the elites have offered some mega project with the intent of solving the RI economic dilemma once and for all. We have been offered the biggest and most stupendous Nuclear Power plants, Gas fired power plants, violent video game companies, ports, casinos, and baseball stadiums. The track record is that the projects they snuck through before we could stop them turned into real disasters. And in retrospect, if built, all the projects we stopped also would have been disasters. The gas infrastructure in Burrillville, Washington Park, and assorted other communities in and near Rhode Island is just the latest boondoggle being offered. You would think with such a pathetic track record they would quit already, but power corrupts and money is the root of evil, so the corporations keep coming back for more figuring the bought politicians will stay bought and not let the people ruin the game.
What may be the most galling about this whole thing is that we have an elite touting the economy of the past, dragging us backwards into the fossil fuel dependency we are trying to escape, dragging us towards back room deals for inside players while the rest of us struggle. The rich and powerful are always the last to know that the economy has changed and the old games do not work at all. We need a really new plan. One based on ecological healing, stopping climate change, building resilience to climate change, growing our own food, and creating a healthcare system that is based on prevention and is actually affordable for the entire community. Our future is not in building power plants, nor in giving huge subsidies to giant corporations so they will create 50 jobs that hardly anyone who already lives here could get.
So we keep resisting. Which brings us to the Clear River Energy plant proposed for Burrillville. The people of Burrillville are massively opposed to building the plant. They have turned out in large numbers time and again. So have activists from across the state. Reports have been written by experts pointing out how little the plant is needed, how it will not cut our energy bills, and how it will not function as anything resembling sustainable development. The community has pointed out the long term effects on health. We also know the plant will be shut down long before its expiration date as the climate crisis worsens and solar energy powers the land, Building a plant that we know will be shut early will cost the people of Rhode Island a bundle of money. It is the economy of the past, passed off as the Great White Hope.
The politicians and the corporates have this new slogan. Many states are adopting it after years of browbeating by the Koch Brother funded anti think tanks. Your state here is open for business. Its on billboards and on the lips of governors. It Is saying we shall restrict democracy and not give the people the right to say no to big corporations. In other words the elites would like to make sure the people can not stop their boondoggles, or the giveaways, the ecological harm, or the lower taxes for the rich when the schools are starving and so are the kids. That is what open for business really means, Yes we shall let the rich rob and pillage, we shall encourage greater inequality despite how it harms communities and the economy. In other words when the politicians and business elites are saying RI is closed for business it means we are not buying any of their boondoggles any more, that we want democracy, justice and healthy communities.
When the people are able to resist really stupid projects it gives the impression that the powerful can not deliver anything the rich ask for, anything the corporations demand,. It ties their hands when the people have a say and demand the right to prevent bad things from happening in their communities to prevent the politicians from selling them down the river,. In other words the practice of precaution, the practice of democracy, listening to the wisdom of the people instead of the dollars of the lobbyists and connected law firms has to go since it means we have a hard time saying we are open for business. In other words democracy is bad for business, so it has to go.
That is the real meaning of “ Open for Business”. Cut benefits for the poor. Relax environmental standards, give lots of subsidies to big corporations who when the contracts run out will go out to bid for bribes again. Excuse me, but this strategy has failed us for 50 years, and under the conditions of slower global growth and climate change, has to be among the stupider strategies on the planet, one simply designed for the rich to get richer and the poor poorer. Is it any wonder that we have more and more people begging at intersections. We have created development for the few, not the many.
The questions one gets after a rant like this are how are you going to feed, clothe and shelter everyone if the economy is not constantly growing. First of all the reality is that since 1973 for most Americans income has barely changed after inflation is taken into account. Fewer people own homes, fewer people have retirement accounts, more people have credit card and student loan debt. And for more and more people the only economy they are in is the informal and gig. So first of all the situation is not so rosy now. Whereas for the few, for the 10% with advanced degrees or the ownership of lots of real estate, life is good. They got bailed out in 2008, and have made up for all their “losses” while for the average American net assets remain well below what they were in 2008.
While we are loathe to admit it in public forums, the medical industrial complex is bankrupting us, along with the military industrial complex and the stupid breaking of the Middle East in pursuit of tame oil producers. At the same time the food supply becomes more and more fragile as the gene pool of plants shrink and superbugs and weeds develop. Now add in the climate chaos effects on agriculture. Rhode Island, like many places in the industrial world, is going to have to reinvent its agriculture and find a way to grow 20 times as much food as it does now. We need to produce 20% because places like California are going to be unable to supply us as the water supply diminishes and our willingness to incur climate chaos from shipping food diminishes. And guess what. If RI grows 20 times as much food as it does now, that is going to create the thousands of jobs they keep promising industry will bring, despite off shoring.
You know an elite has lost touch with the community, and become unmoored from economic realities when they work harder and harder to convince us that stuff we know is stupid is the next panacea. Open for business is a scam to steal from the poor and the workers and give to the rich. It is a scam to destroy ecosystems for short term profits, not create a sustainable prosperity. Lets deal with the real climate crisis, not the manufactured crisis of the business climate. Slow growth is our future, lets create prosperity for communities, not beat them around the head to give money to the rich.
Letter to the editor sent to Projo June 5, 2016
The June 5, 2016 op ed by Laurie White and Michael Sabitoni “Poison ill aimed at power plant” is a commentary by two people who have lost sight of where the Rhode Island economy is going. The Chamber of Commerce and the construction unions have chased after every boondoggle they have ever seen, offering us projects like the Quonset container port that was offered by con artists and would have opened just as the economy crashed in 2008. They have not shown good judgment.
They offer a program of let the rich do anything they want even if everyone else knows it is a very bad idea that will hurt the community and needlessly damage the planet and the climate. The power plant is a very short term fix and a very bad investment for Rhode Island. By the time the plant reaches the end of its useful life, much more of Rhode Island will be under water and the people will have demanded that the damn thing be shut down.
The politicians, the Chamber, and labor unions have to understand the economy has changed and the way forward for our communities is ecological healing and economic justice.
Right now the only difference between authoritarian states and democracies is that in democracies the people can stop the corporate raiders with their votes and demand rules that keep the planet and their kids healthy.
That you call out against democracy and for special interests shows what this struggle is really about.
Communing with the Toads
I have been trying to figure out when the Fowler’s Toads were going to start arriving at the temporary pond in the North Burial Ground for the annual ritual of reproduction. Over the years the criteria that I have arrived at is first and foremost a pond with sufficient water. When the pond is too dry, it would be a wasted effort even for gamblers like toads, with 2 or 3 years out of 5 with complete cohort failure, The next criteria I can only verify by my own observations, I have never seen it in a book or on line, though I can not be the first to see this. Fowler’s Toads seem to require temperatures near 60 degrees Fahrenheit as it gets dark. Until Monday May 9 no evening in recent weeks, or when there was water in the pond, had been warm enough.
On Sunday May 8 I saw a toad burrow in the sandbank above the temporary pond. I only found these last year, so I do not know the timing of burrow digging. By the end of winter all the holes were filled back up. But it is clear the first one was re-excavated over the weekend. It was excavated into one of the zones that are eroding/filling in after being used last year.
I have been going out nearly every evening, especially since the pond filled last week with all those little rains. Monday May 9 the evening temperature was near 60. Since I saw the new burrow I had to assume at least one toad was around. So I was a bit hopeful that the3 warmer temperatures would prove fruitful.
I arrived at the pond sometime after 8:20, and it seems the first singer was just getting started. As the night grew darker the first singer was joined by at least one, and probably 2 other singers. Though Fowler’s Toads are not at all melodic. They were going strong when I left about 9:30, though no new singers had joined for a while. Interestingly, I did not see any new burrows when I walked by this afternoon (May 10) maybe only the females make burrows, as sometimes it seems the boys just stay at the pond through the whole mating season, which can go from early May to Early July.
I usually give a narration of what is going on in my videos, but in this case I want you to concentrate on the toads and not on the narration. So I did no narration. Hence this little note. The video is a progression from about 8:20 to 9:20, but i just include here a few short samples. If you want the whole 30 minutes I taped, come on down to the pond some evening real soon. Life is better than memorex. I am happy to go with you. The video starts as dark descends with one toad singing. As it gets darker another two toads eventually join the chorus. The 3 all sound a bit different, and standing by the pond I could discern at lest a few feet of separation of two of the callers.
The political class in Rhode Island seems to be oblivious to the growing resistance. It may cost some of them their jobs.
Between quality of life issues, the fact that it will not save us any money once the gas starts being exported, and climate change, it is only the political and business classes who wish to maintain the old order and their power who support such a retrograde project. It is going backwards to build any additonal fossil fuel infrastructure and it will be useless, dangerous, and obsolete before it is finished being paid for. This will leave the people of RI on the hook for stranded costs for a plant that should never be built.
The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have openly recognized that everyone else on the planet has already opted for a clean energy future right now, with the only exceptions being the rich and the powerful.
In Rhode Island the elite has regularly tried to push on us some high priced or mega project for the supposed jobs that it would bring. When the public has been involved in the discussion we have stopped a bunch of stupid stuff like the Quonset megaport. When the public is kept out we get 38 Studios. It is clear the public has more wisdom about these things than the political class. Do not let the politicians drown the state No power plant in Burrillville and no more fossil fuel infrastructure anywhere. Clean energy and clean energy jobs are the future.
To the Editor,
On April 15 2017 the Projo published another in the long series of lies and deceptions from the Heritage Foundation, “Inquisition against Deniers begins”. The Heritage Foundation was founded in 1973 as part of a larger strategy to undo democracy, racial equality and a clean environment by some of the biggest corporate criminals in the world, For over 40 years it has been wrong about just about everything, while helping to create a world in which science, truth, justice, and freedom have become an endangered species. Yet today the Heritage Foundation, and friends are complaining that they are being persecuted for lying.
The science of how additional carbon dioxide and methane overheat the planet is 100% certain and been known for 120 years, but businesses are allowed to lie. They do it all the time. But where they do not have the right to lie, and where it becomes fraud, is when people get hurt or die, or their homes are destroyed. Climate change is already among the leading cause of wars and refugees on the planet, and thousands are dying in extraordinary heat waves and the strongest hurricanes ever recorded. Rhode Island shore communities are watching beaches, houses, and marshes disappear, the drought in California threatens the American food system and the water pollution and toxic chemicals of fracking is poisoning thousands.
I wish the Providence Journal was more interested in the truth than in helping perpetuate the big lie of the climate deniers.
37 6th St
Providence RI 02906
New meme. Burning dinosaurs so that earth will be as hot as when T. rex roamed the land.
Greg Gerritt April 1, 2016
I went to the hearing in front of the Rhode island Energy Facility Siting Board in Burrillville on March 31t about the proposed Clear River gas fired power plant. Hundreds of people turned out. When we arrived at 5:45 we had to go beyond the High School parking lot into the neighborhood to park. Upon walking up to the school what you saw were about 100 guys in union t-shirts. Inside the room got very full and I heard that 100 more people stayed outside . There were at least 4 police officers at the event to help keep the peace.
Invenergy provide the usual dog and pony show. Too many slides full of words. The guy needed an energy boost and a much better power point. He pretended to address the issues. But did not. You could tell he really did not want to be there. He was introduced by the company’s local RI lawyer one of the usual faces I see at the state house. I do not think the lawyer was very happy to see the sea of humanity opposing the project either.
Testimony from the public was OVERWHELMINGLY against the plant. The two towns folk who spoke in favor had nothing to say and were roundly booed. The rank and file union guys were a mixed bag. Some spoke for jobs and some where incoherent. The union leaders were more articulate, but still,. Stuck in the old paradigm. The opposition to the plant was lead by folks who live right in the neighborhood of the proposed plant. Noise, light pollution, toxics, odors, water and the destruction of their dreams and relatively pristine community were sited repeatedly. Many of the local residents also spoke passionately about climate, and the larger context, as did a few of us outsiders.
If public opinion matters, then the Energy Facility Siting Board has an easy decision. NO. if the political fix is in and the powers demand that it get built, the EFSB will be shut down as useless. If they can not determine that the plant will prevent us from ever meeting our greenhouse gas emissions goals, pollute the local environment, and create all sorts of hazards and burdens for the community, the EFSB is hiding. If they want to drown Providence they are fools.
I think what I took away from the hearings the most is how out of touch the union leaders are with where the economy is going and where their future jobs are going to be. I worked in construction for many years. It is an honorable way to make a living. But the unions need to learn to stop building things that are bad for communities because that eventually undercuts prosperity and their support in the community. They need to say no to the corporate criminals and stand with communities against destruction. They need to stop being dependent upon corporate criminals for their work and start developing their own projects. They should act more like a cooperative rather than pick up the dregs from the rich and tell communities that this is the way to create jobs. It harms their workers to be seen as harming communities. And in a low growth environment, they need to be even more careful.
There is a lot that needs to be built right now. We need housing that people can actually afford to live in. We need non polluting energy sources, new stormwater management systems, better roads, bike paths and rail corridors. But all the union executives seem to do ( and maybe this is because the most visible private sector unions are in construction, and the only projects big enough are those that are based on the public’s money) is shill for the worst corporate criminals, in this case an industry that has lied about the harm it does for the last 50 years, that knew greenhouse gases were going to cause big problems, and hid the information.
You have to ask why the pipe-fitters and the steel workers, with their pension funds, do not invest directly in their own workers. Why are they not building their own windfarms or their own solar arrays? Have they bought into the subservient to capital model that tells them to be shills for every stupid project that comes down the road so their members can get jobs?
Of course the politicians are also to blame. They refuse to understand the political and economic climate. They think they can muscle communities for corporates and base their careers on looting communities to benefit the rich. When do they get that taking care of communities, ecological healing and economic justice, are the road to prosperity, not burning dinosaurs to make the climate as hot as when the dinosaurs lived? And how can anyone who lives in Rhode Island not realize that pretending real estate development is economic development is a scam. Even the World Bank, IMF and OECD tells us that subsidizing the rich works AGAINST community prosperity. But then again, an analysis I read of the World Economic Forum in Davos pointed out that the politicians and the corporate criminals they consort with are the only ones in the whole world who are not ready for a new economy based on justice and healing ecosystems.
I said one thing at the end of my 2 minutes that i think I will repeat here. If we stop this power plant, it will be a shot heard round the world. The fossil fuel industry must be stopped,. Stop the coal mining, stop the pipelines, stop the fracking, stop the building of new infrastructure that ties us into the old system for the next 40 years. If we stop this plant it will be a beacon for people around the world that the empire can be stopped. That we can have a green future.
Little Rhody has a future as a leader, but the economy that gets us there is not the one that governor Wall St is leading us towards. We have reminded her of this before, and I hope she gets a clue soon.
Greg Gerritt Biodiversity, Climate Resilience, and the built environment
We are looking at a rainwater pond in Providence’s North Burial Ground, It drains a few roads a little grassland. The pond goes up and down very regularly with the rain and sun. Filling with 2 inches of rain, drying out in 3 weeks of no rain. Most drainage systems are designed to infiltrate water, but for some reason, this pond does not drain in the deeper parts though the soil around the edge is very well drained.
Biodiversity is one of the key indicators of community resilience. Urban, rural, it does not matter, when biodiversity is high, the people are happier, healthier, and better fed. Under conditions of climate change this is even more important, because in Rhode Island biodiversity is associated with forests, trees, and clean water, all things that are critical for keeping our cool.
In discussing the built environment, such as stormwater runoff systems, it seems we have an opportunity to use our reconfiguration of the built environment to create habitat with some of the water. This strategy will not necessarily be useful in every place, and when pondering the vulnerable biota in Rhode Island, there are many pitfalls that could dramatically reduce the effectiveness of a particular effort. But it is clear from the videos behind me that there is the possibility of doing it in a way that creates sustaining populations. And amphibians, resilient as they are, are bellwethers of pollution, drought, flood, and many of the other ills of civilizations in climate upheaval.
In about 3 weeks I am convening some of the experts in RI and New England to discuss using stormwater to create amphibian habitat. My goal is for us to think about what guidelines there should be for such efforts, how we might design filtration systems and ponds so that the water is clean enough and the pond goes dry at about the right rate to both nurture amphibians and discourage predators and then ponder places where such ponds might do some good.
It is no longer good enough to slow down the damage, ecosystems are already in free fall around the world. Our job as people working for the health of the planet, is to work on the restoration of the ecosystems, biodiversity and climate. What I offer for amphibians and stormwater can apply to almost all aspects of the built environment. Could your walls hold bat houses or trellis for growing vines, Could your roof produce energy and hold flowers for bees? Can we have solar roads? Can every building have a garden, compost bin, rainwater reuse systems, and produce more energy than it uses to keep people comfortable?
One last thought on ecology. You can not have more forever on a finite planet. It is only if we use less and share more that our communities and ecosystems will work, and these guys can keep eating.
Greg Gerritt March 3 2016
I have been asked to provide a bit of context and contrast this evening about the economic environment we find ourselves in.
Economic growth is dead in the old mill towns of the industrialized west, and it is never coming back. There will still be economic growth in the tropics and Asia, the places there are still untapped natural resources and indigenous communities to plunder and the cities are swelling with people streaming out of the countryside. But in the eastern United States and western Europe what passes for growth is simply the financialization of the economy that is letting the 1% scoop up all of what is called growth while everyone else gets poorer, the ecosystems collapse, and the infrastructure fails.
On January 31 2016 the entire front page of the Sunday New York Times Book Review section was devoted to three books exploring the end of economic growth. It is time for those working in economic development to understand the new environment better and to prepare plans that match its opportunities rather than repeat the old stories. Don’t try to spin the growth machine faster, that makes it worse for most of us. We must adapt RI economic development to the low growth environment and work to create a more widespread prosperity through reviving ecosystems and economic justice.
The Brookings report offers Rhode Island jobs for 20 to 25% of the population, with no plan on how to create jobs in the neighborhoods that need jobs at a living wage. It promises riches if we take orders from the Koch Brothers, underfund our infrastructure and our schools by cutting taxes, and bet on industries that are harmful to the community or make jobs disappear. We are admonished to follow the dictates of the business climate indexes, but there is no correlation between a state’s business climate rankings and the health of its economy. While simple and efficient processes are important, the history, resource base, and culture of a community are much more important than the business climate in determining economic success, and there is no evidence that lax environmental, public health, and safety standards improves the economy in our neighborhoods any more than subsidies to the 1% to build baseball stadiums.
Our response to climate change is much more important than the business climate. Our willingness to end the use of fossil fuels, create zero net energy buildings, generate electricity from the sun and wind, grow much more of our own food, and sequester carbon in the soil will determine our fate.
As growth and jobs fade into the sunset reducing inequality in the ownership of assets becomes much more important. As Piketty notes, the growing inequality in and of its self is grinding down the economy. An economic plan offering subsidies to the rich for industries that are shedding employment, and chock full of subsidies to the real estate industry is one that leaves our communities behind.
I would like to have more time to devote to the relationship between what is happening in the forest and what is happening in Rhode Island. The World Bank says that keeping the forest in the hands of the forest people, and assets in the hands of the poor, gives better outcomes than any other strategy for development and may be the only chance we have to stop climate change. This information needs to inform how we redevelop our old riverine neighborhoods. The disempowered, disenfranchised and marginalized people of our Environmental Justice communities mirror many of the problems rainforest people have in dealing with development, and the solutions in the forest work here too. Build economies from the bottom up, not the top down.
A holistic approach to the health of our communities; reducing pollution, reducing harms, good nutrition, serves our communities better than our current obsession with using high tech biomedical businesses to grow the economy. Here is one little fact. It is absolutely impossible to have affordable healthcare for all if you use the medical industrial complex to drive economic growth. When the healthcare industry grows faster than our wages the industry draws investment while most of us still can not afford to go to the doctor.
Finally, pay attention to the resistance. It is global, and brings the wisdom of the world to your neighborhood. Building more fossil fuel infrastructure such as gas pipelines and power plants will create stranded assets, pollute vulnerable communities, and add to the climate disasters
We can live in Flint, we can live in Ferguson or we can have prosperous communities that heal ecosystems and practice justice. It’s your choice.
The silly season has begun on Smith Hill (home of the RI Capital Building) and we suffer from a string of pronouncements about what the RI legislature and governor will do to fix the economy and create jobs. These pronouncements, stated with all the pomp that politicians can muster, are exactly the same as these folks and their predecessors have been saying for all of the 20 years I have lived in Rhode Island, and they are still just plain wrongheaded and backwards.
The problem for Rhode Island, and many places around the country, is that economic policy as is currently practiced, is strictly a fact free zone. The ideology of the rich, give us more and more, seems to be the only directional signal Rhode Island politicians respond to despite the abundance of evidence that the only place it is leading us is over a cliff.
Here are some of the facts that seem to be ignored in RI as the politicians determine the economic development programs to push.
For brevity’s sake i will not provide references here, but they can be obtained by contacting me.
Inequality, social and economic, makes your economy worse. Thomas Piketty and many others have pointed this out.
Providence is the 5th most unequal economy in the country among cities. The metro region is the 14th most unequal. Policies being offered on Smith Hill are guaranteed to make inequality in Rhode Island worse. And we wonder why it does not work very well?
Tax breaks for “job creators” does not improve your economy and the data points out that providing millionaires with tax breaks and subsidies actually slows the economy. This definitely applies to real estate tax breaks which may do more to promote inequality than any other kind.
Business climate studies are a sham. There is no correlation between a state’s rank in any of the business climate indexes (and often they disagree on rankings) and economic performance. They are an ideological game rather than any scientific study of what it takes to make an economy work well.
Growth rates are determined buy the global economy, economic history, natural resources, labor and many other factors. Improving the “business climate” is a tiny sliver of what effects an economy, and the evidence points out that only one part of business climate rankings holds any water, taxation rates. The Kansas Inc study noted that lower tax rates may add up to 5% to your growth rate, an increase that is not noticeable on the street as it would mean going at most from a 1.7% growth rate to a 1.8% growth rate.
Taxes on the wealthy do not drive them out of the state, and often contribute to the improvements in infrastructure and public services that keep a community vibrant such as good roads, parks, cultural amenities, and schools. This has been noted for many years, but the myth keeps popping up as a way to beat the poor over the head.
There is no evidence what so ever that states that do a poor job of protecting the environment have stronger economies. In fact the data suggests that the reverse is true. If weak laws were good Mississippi would be an economic powerhouse and NY and California would be in the dumps.
If you want to eliminate poverty or at least reduce it dramatically, the most important thing is to make sure the economic assets of our low income communities end up in the hands of the lowest income folks, and especially low income women. This is of interest in our environmental justice communities as we redevelop brownfields. Gentrification lines the pockets of developers and displaces the community. It increases inequality. If our brownfields are to be an engine of prosperity the benefits need to stay in the community, not leak out.
Here are a few more things that probably do not rise to the level of facts, the research is not in, but have been much discussed by a number of prominent scholars as long term trends.
The era of rapid economic growth in the industrial west is long gone. Growth rates are going to continue to trend downwards.
Even in a recovery from the Great Recession the US has only had growth rates of 2.2 to 2.4% per year. Europe’s rates are lower. In the US old industrial cities lag behind the boomtowns of the south and west and the places destroying their water supplies with fracking.
Rapid growth is only likely in places experiencing rapid urbanization, with people leaving the farms and streaming into factories for low wage work. In other words if the US wanted rapid growth, we would have an open door for everyone who had the gumption to move here from Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
With more than half of China’s population now urbanized growth rates are slowing. The growth rate is still above that of the west, but the trend is clear. India is slightly behind in urbanization and industrialization so its growth rates, while never approaching the fastest growth years of the Chinese economy, may not trend downwards as fast. Propping up the real estate booms of Chinese cities only worked for a few years, and now the pigeons are coming home to roost.
Urbanization and rapid growth are highly dependent upon new sources of forest products. Chinese growth has emptied the forest of southern Asia and the Pacific basin. The planetary forest has now be reduced by MORE than 50%, which means that further growth will be affected by diminished opportunities to exploit new forests. In addition with our growing understanding that forests need to be preserved to protect the planet from rapid climate change, and that the best way to protect the forest and reduce poverty in forest communities is to keep the forest in the hands of the local community and not let it be stolen by outside forces, the growth of consumable forest products is slowing down and with it global economic growth.
Climate change will be a very important factor in our economic future. Creating clean renewable energy, eliminating fossil fuels, building soils and forests, moving people out of vulnerable places, and making sure the food supply is secure are going to be more important than real estate speculation for the people who live in Rhode island.
While specialty foods are accepted as part of the future of the RI economy by the political class, what they really seem to forget is that due to climate change and other factors, food security and even access to food, will become more difficult in Rhode Island. Especially for the poor.. A serious effort to make sure Rhode Island grows at least 20% of its food within the next 20 years provides food security when the next drought overwhelms the agricultural heartlands of the world like California, and creates jobs here.
It is absolutely impossible to have affordable healthcare if one of the main thrusts of economic development policy is to grow the medical industrial complex. The healthcare industry is already a drag on business development and is among the leading causes of bankruptcies as people already can not afford it. If the healthcare industry is to grow, especially if it is to grow faster than other sectors of the economy, then it is clearly impossible to hold down the costs on healthcare. There must be more money in the system each year, 5, 6, 8% more, and we have to take it out of our pockets, directly or indirectly, to pay for that. A few people get very high paying jobs, everyone else gets poorer.
While education is important, the education industry is another of the industries that is harming our communities more than helping as the price of education is growing much more rapidly than everything in the economy except health care costs. The high costs make it much less accessible to lower income people (increasing inequality) and coming out of school with huge debts gets in the way of people innovating.
Here are a few suggestions as to what might be done in Rhode Island to improve the economic health of our communities.
Stop fantasizing about rapid economic growth. It is not going to happen and all the things we do to chase the growth make things worse in many of our communities. Greater prosperity will be found in a steady state economy than in a growth economy that grows for the rich and makes everyone else poorer.
Do not build any more fossil fuel infrastructure. No more LNG compressors, no more pipelines, no more power plants. We need to reduce both the total amount of energy consumed and dramatically reduce the amount of fossil fuels we buy. Any money that would under the current system be spent on fossil fuel infrastructure should be spent on efficiency, insulation, solar power and wind power. Over the lang term that will create many more jobs than fossil fuels, and the money generated will stay here rather than going to places poisoning their water supplies or damaging the climate.
Grow more food. A lot more food. In the cities, in the suburbs, in the rural areas.
Single payer health care with a focus on community health. Sewers, clean water, and better nutrition have contributed far more to increases in life expectancy in the US (and around the world) than all the high tech medicine ever will.
Heal ecosystems. People eat from the ecosystem. If our soils and forests are healthier they hold more carbon and provide more food and fiber. Ocean ecosystems are very much overfished. Create refuges and stop all overfishing.
Create tax policies that reduce inequality. Tax capital gains and other wealth at higher rates. Put a price on carbon to reduce e carbon pollution and rebate some of those costs back to consumers, while using some of the money to reduce our carbon footprint.
Stop subsidizing the rich,. Stop giving tax breaks for real estate speculation. If the Rhode Island market will not see cranes in the sky without bankrupting the poor then we need a new strategy based on ecological healing and economic justice. One can not create a sustainable economy if it is based on ever more churning of real estate.
Get the money out of politics. As long as the rich call the tunes in politics and government, we shall continue to slide into anarchy and poverty.
January 13 2016
I was disgusted by the actions of the government of Rhode Island yesterday. The Energy Facilities Siting Board, following upon the route laid out by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission decided that the people shall not be heard. Yes there will be public hearings about the ridiculous effort to build a gas fired power plant to poison the planet in Burrillville, but the EFSB is going to do everything it can to prevent the public from asking the hard questions. Telling the community that it can not intervene means that the criminals in the fossil fuel industry, those dedicated to destroying the planet and democracy, will not have to answer questions under oath from the community. It means the truth will not come out. I am guessing that the EFSB will do just what its name says, site a facility despite the fact that it will harm the lives of those in Burrillville, poison the water and air all along the gas pipelines and in the fracking fields, and create an extraordinary financial burden on Rhode Islanders that will drain our resources long after we close the power station because of its effect on the climate.
The governor and her lackeys seem to have no clue about stranded assets, the upstream and downstream effects of the gas industry on communities, or even how the economy works. If they were so worried about jobs as they claim, they would know that the only thing that creates fewer jobs for $700 million dollars is building things designed to kill people. Another thing that seems to be missing form the EFSB discussion is the fact that recent studies have shown that Rhode Island has enough electricity in the market without this power plant.
The fact that Rhode Island has committed itself to reducing its carbon footprint, and this proposed facility, if built, makes it absolutely certain that if built we shall never meet our obligations to reduce our carbon footprint, makes this proposal one of the all time stupid proposals RI politicians have ever tried to foist on us, right up there with the Quonset Megaport, 38 Studios, and moving the Pawsox.
Response to article in RI future
Economic development in Rhode Island does not work because it is based on tax subsidies for real estate specualtion. The IMF and the World Bank have repeadtedly pointed out that tax breaks for the rich provide no benefits and can harm economic performance. Picketty pointed out that anything that makes an economy more unequal, which subsidies to the rich clearly do, harms an economy’s performance.
Rhode Island uses tax subsidies for the rich as its basic economic development strategy because of a complete lack of understanding of where the economy is going in the 21st century. We need to focus on ecological healing, food security, and building resilience to climate change. We also need to understand that we shall not see any more real economic growth. Until we actually understand that the economy needs to be more equal as it shrinks, we shall be stuck in the 38 studios model of give money to the rich and watch them squander it.
We are repeatedly told that nothing gets built in Providence without subsidy. That is a perfectly good reason to quit waiting for resal estate speculation to improve our economy. No self respecting capitalist would actually take a subsidy. But then again, the real estate barons in RI have always been crooks with a very weak understanding of how the economy works. All they want to do is line their pockets. If you can not do a project without subsidy, it is the wrong project.
What we really need is for the price of real estate to come down to what the market can actually afford. The subsidy game just artifically inflates the price of real estate rather than allowing it to come down to what is actually affordable.
To my great surprise this morning in the newspaper there was an op-ed from the wackos at the RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity that I mostly agreed with. It happens to be an issue that I have written about previously and have talked to the General Treasurer’s office about as well. What the author pointed out was that the return on the investments for the RI state pension fund in the last year was about 0.88% and that the expected return of 7.65% is totally unrealistic, and has been unrealistic for years.
The author provides much data to corroborate his point, and I totally agree that the pension crisis is far from over because returns on the investments have not matched what the state predicts for years.
The wackos of course do not offer any explanation of why returns are so low, and my guess is that they think if we just let the dogs of capitalism loose that the returns would be better, but all they do is point out that the taxpayers are on the hook for the difference.
It is my opinion that the pension fund investments will NEVER again reach 7.65% because the economy will never work that way again. We have reached the end of economic growth and therefore a return of 0.88% is about what will be generated. If you look at what are the conditions necessary for rapid economic growth, and therefore high rates of returns on investments, the US meets none of those criteria. And never will again as the ecosystems collapse due to over exploitation.
The right wing wackos say we can never find the money to make up for the slow investments, so I am guessing that they would like to cut pensions for the working people. But that is just stupid and would trash the RI economy even worse than their policies usually do.
What we find is that the rich are still getting VERY comfortable retirements, and are quite happy to keep stealing from the community to pay for it. What Rhode Island actually needs to do to make up for the shortfalls in the pension funds is raise taxes on the rich, raise taxes on corporations, and quite giving tax breaks to the rich for real estate speculation. That would allow us to fund the pensions for the workers who deserve them, and restore a bit of equity and justice into the economy, which will help it to work better.
Finally we need to be very clear that economic growth has gone away, and is not coming back. We need to figure out how to have more prosperous communities in a world of shrinking economies. Unfortunately the General Treasurer, the Governor, and the leaders of the legislators are all wearing blinders and are unwilling to admit the looting by the rich, when combined with ecological collapse, is harming our communities.
The intersection of ecological collapse and looting by the rich, fueled by the desire for ever faster growth is a killer. The best thing RI could do is ban all fossil fuel use and take serious steps to increase by 2000% the amount of food grown in RI. Nothing less will actually help the RI economy or prepare us for the storms ahead.
To the Editor, On Tuesday December 15 2015 the Providence Journal published its monthly report on Professor Len Lardaro’s RI monthly economic index “RI takes hit in economic index”. I have followed the discussion of the RI economy for quite some time, and more and more Professor’s Lardaro’s index reflects a lack of understanding of the conditions Rhode Island is immersed in. The very fact that the index is biased towards growth, at the same time that the long term growth machine of modern economies is grinding to a halt is indicative of a economics profession that has lost touch with what is actually needed in our communities.
The index is biased towards the desires of the rich and completely ignores how climate change and ecological collapse are being driven by the demands of growth. It also completely misses the economy most Rhode Islanders are living in, as what is reported as growth is usually just the poor getting poorer as the economy becomes less equal.
What is even more problematic is reports like this are then used to bludgeon the community into giving even more goodies to the rich. Considering the amount of information now coming out that says giving tax breaks to the rich is among the dumbest ways to try to make an economy work, Professor Lardaro would be doing Rhode Island much more of a service if he started measuring the things that are really going to help our communities.
20 years ago I told folks in the ski and snowmobile industries in western Maine they needed to get serious about a non polluting ways to ride and travel to the snow belt or they were going to lose their snow. 1995/1996 they were not ready to listen, but maybe they are now.
I have never found the essays of Peter Morici to be of much value, he is a strict ideologue. But his most recent offering in the December 3, 2015 Providence Journal, “Another bad deal for America” takes the cake. Morici is an economist, and most mainstream economists have totally missed the boat on the relationship between climate change and the economy. Morici tells us that only polluting is good for the economy, while all the evidence tells us that solar power and wind power are the future, and that pollution kills economies as well as people. Even in China folks are protesting.
Morici, acknowledges that climate change is real, and the world is on track for a really bad time. Where he goes off track is by saying that if other folks do not commit to reducing carbon enough to really stop climate change, then we should and just use our money for mitigation so we can grow our economy faster. Morici has apparently missed the ever building evidence that the growth machine has permanently gone off the tracks, not only here, but throughout the world. Polluting more is not going to bring back American jobs or the economies of our communities any more than more tax cuts for the rich will. Healing our ecosystems and creating more justice are the road to future prosperity.
The growth doctors keep overpredicting growth. Greg Gerritt November 2015
This past week Reuters published an article “Watchdogs struggle to explain optimism bias in rosy GDP forecasts” http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/11/04/global-economy-bias-idUSL8N12S4QR20151104 by James McGreevy.
The article goes on to explain that of the last 30 forecasts on the global growth of the Gross Domestic Product by the IMF and the World Bank 28 were too optimistic. In other words growth has consistently been lower than the economists have forecast. The article goes on to explain that if the forecasts were based on a proper understanding of the economy the direction of inaccuracy would have been mixed. But it seems everyone in the profession is consistently wrong and the experts seem to have no idea why they are consistently wrong. The article ends with a quote that seems very relevant “Everybody assumes that there’s mean reversion, which is what happened pre-2008 happens now,” said David Blanchflower, professor at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and another former policymaker at the Bank of England.
“They don’t get that it’s a different world now.”
For a while I have been pointing out (see links at the end of this essay) that the bias towards growth infests nearly everyone thinking about economic development, and that their bias towards growth, and their lack of understanding that it is a different world now, means that often they push policies and actions that they think will lead to growth, only to find that the world economy is gradually slowing down and the old levers do not move the economy forward,
“There’s no single answer for why, but economists say explanations include an under-appreciation of the damage done by the 2007-2008 financial crisis both to consumer demand and to banks’ willingness and ability to lend; the poorly-understood effects of increased global debt levels and a failure to predict surprisingly weak productivity. http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/11/04/global-economy-bias-idUSL8N12S4QR20151104#S11LZOT36sphibLq.99”
I think the experts are barking up the wrong tree and really lack an understanding of just how fundamental the changes in the economy are and the reasons for the changes. I am sure the factors mentioned above have something to do with slow growth, but a big part of why the policy experts over estimate how much growth is going to happen is that they actually refuse to look at the role of ecological collapse (including climate change) and inequality in downshifting the long term structural rate of growth for the economy. I also believe that the analysts are unwilling to look at how the resistance to the corporate order is changing the investment climate for the fossil fuel industries and other industries gobbling up the planet to build malls and fill them with plastic. The bias for growth extends even to the language. A shrinking economy has negative growth, do we need more evidence of bias in thinking. They can not imagine a world without growth. But they need to get used to it.
I doubt anyone in the US policy establishment, especially those working on development at the municipal or county level, is thinking about how the fires in Indonesia in pursuit of palm oil, are negatively impacting productivity, speeding up climate hell, damaging the health of millions of people, and sparking the resistance of millions in Indonesia and around the world. Both the fires and the resistance portend a world in which there is much less growth, and with growth concentrated in the places that are now the poorest. The old industrial world has passed its growth peak and is moving towards a steady state economy.
The fires are just one of hundreds of examples in which ecological catastrophe and public health crisis are jointly ripping holes in the global economy. Thankfully the resistance grows daily. Another example is fracking and the resistance to all of the gas infrastructure that is building in communities from Providence to Peru, to Oregon, where Portland just passed a city ordinance directing the zoning regulators to zone out fossil fuel export facilities. I do not think any prudent investor is betting on a huge pipeline infrastructure getting built in the US between the earthquakes, floods, droughts, methane leaks, hurricanes, spills, and a resistance that is everywhere. I do not have to discuss the jobs picture other than to say pipelines create very few, whereas solar creates neighborhood jobs. Economically, If we just do not need it, and if the money does not get spent, GDP is smaller but the community is better off. A prime example is that if local forest communities are allowed to maintain ownership of the forest instead of forest concessions being sold to global commercial interests, and the community manages the forest in traditional or ecologically sound ways including selling forest products to the local markets, it raises living standards in the community, increases revenue in the national treasury, and protects the forest and biodiversity. I really appreciate that leaving the forest in the hands of the community increases tax revenue significantly more than the concession model, at least partly due to much less corruption.
Until the economists start to truly account for the damage being done to the planet and our communities in the pursuit of ever faster growth, they will continue to predict growth, they will continue to offer growth oriented policies that more and more often fail, and they will tell us growth will come if we just deregulate and let the corporados shut down democracy a bit more. Unfortunately for our communities the wrong headed policies and actions based on those wrong headed policies continue to benefit the 1% and therefore the political class, so it is just fine for the experts to be wrong in a consistently biased way. It helps constrict the policy space to what the rich want, even if those policies are almost guaranteed to make the situation worse for most communities.
It is quite clear that old industrial places are furthest along on the road to the end of growth. Rhode Island is much more likely to achieve a general prosperity if it gave up on real estate lead speculative growth and high tech health care and concentrated on local self reliance, solar energy, food security, and community health. No matter what policies Rhode Island appears to adopt, no matter what gyrations we perform to appease the wealthy in their ever greater quest for more, no matter what tax breaks we give to millionaires, it is not going to speed up our rate of growth. A GREAT business climate on a good day, will bring your growth rate up 5% a year, which in Rhode Island means the gyrations and business friendly politics may bring our growth rate from 2% to 2.1%. No matter what policies we adopt Rhode Island is going to lag the national and global growth rates. We are not in a resource boom, Fracking was the only thing that kept US GDP growth last year above 2%. Global growth is more and more going to be concentrated in low income countries. It should be no surprise that giving tax breaks to the rich does not work. Even the IMF says that giving tax breaks to millionaire “job creators” is a big waste of money as it does not work and actually makes your economy work less well. My guess is that giving tax money to millionaires to build buildings increases inequality and as Picketty noted, inequality is very bad for an economy.
In the 21st century we have reached the point where cutting more forests does not actually build your economy, it just creates refugees and brings more floods. Where the easy to reach mineral deposits of high grades are long gone and it takes ever more effort to mine and refine the same amount of iron or copper or drill for oil. Where we need to leave the fossil fuel deposits underground beneath healthy forests and soil. Where soil health and reforestation provide a lot more value than clearcutting and it has become clearer and clearer that the only way to keep our communities healthy is to keep the forest people in charge of the forests instead of allowing outsiders to squander them.
We need, and I mean need, for the policy people at all levels, and especially in old industrial places like Rhode Island, to understand that growth is going away and that it is going to take a very different approach to economic development to keep our communities prosperous in a world where things are truly different and our communities and the planet need a lot of healing. Many authors and thinkers have offered us a vision of a different economy over the last 50 years. Much of what was in the Whole Earth Catalog is coming to pass. Almost all of the predictions in “The Limits to Growth” are coming to pass. Much of what was once considered truly radically out there is now mainstream. The climate disasters are already here, we need a different economic model and new practices that focus on healing, not ripping more holes in the fabric of our lives. The old guard wants to continue in power, the new world demands democracy and an end to the fossil fuel industries and throw away culture.
The issue of running an economy based on growth for the 1% or for prosperous communities is going to be the same kind of struggle we who have to resist the empire have long endured. We can only hope that we make the voyage of true ecological and community healing faster than we have been traveling that road in the past. Holding to the policy and power dynamics of the past is holding us back and offers no way forward.
The following are fully referenced articles on ProspeirtyForRI.com that have the links to the more sources.
Recently 350.org reminded everyone on their email lists that the Paris meeting (COP 21) on Climate Change starts at the very end of November and called for marches and other events the weekend of November 28th to remind everyone how important it is to rein in the runaway climate train. So I signed the BND Winter Coat Exchange in RI up as a site. Climate change is one of those issues that truly demonstrates the effects of overconsumption, consumerism, and economic inequality on the planet as well as on our communities. Hence the very close alignment between stopping climate change and ending poverty and the Buy Nothing Day Winter Coat Exchange.
In case anyone needs reminding, this past week the most powerful hurricane winds ever in the Western Hemisphere were part of Hurricane Patricia. That it hit sparsely populated areas, that the word to batten down the hatches was listened to, and that it tore itself up on some mountains just inland is the reason that Mexico is not in mourning. 2015 is on track to be the hottest year ever and the extra warm oceans are fueling some very powerful storms. And some incredible rainstorms in the places the hurricanes are missing like South Carolina and Texas. But it will still be cold in Rhode Island this winter and folks are still going to need winter coats.
Ultimately those who will be harmed most by climate change are those that have burned the least amounts of fossil fuels, the poor living in the lowlands of the tropics. Those least vulnerable to climate change are those living in mansions on the hill, whether it is College Hill or the wealthy suburbs of Rio de Janeiro, and they have burned the most fuel, with big cars, big houses, and lots of airplane rides. And politically the wealthy are also those most preventing nations from moving forward on climate and equality.
To me it seems as if we moved much more radically towards economic justice the economy would work better and we would be much more adept at solving our social ills as well as stopping ecological catastrophes such as climate change. But the Koch Brothers think Democracy is for sale and therefore justice has no place at the table.
In addition to participating in the struggle to stop climate change by creating justice, this year on Buy Nothing Day I would like to salute the owners of the Pawtucket Red Sox for their tin ears and lack of understanding. Tearing up a beloved institution simply because you are rich enough, and thinking you can get what you want from Rhode Island’s legislature because you know a bunch of guys is the same thinking that brings us unrestrained climate change, and just as deadly. I am proud that I was able to contribute to the efforts that stopped the looting of the RI treasury to fill the pockets of the millionaires who constantly told us that they would negotiate with legislative leadership even as we reminded them how little Rhode Islanders like their legislative leadership because leadership is always giving the candy store to their friends and sticking it to the poor in the name of being business friendly. In other words rarely does the legislature do the right thing, So why would we like you stealing $150 million to stick in your pockets based on their say so. I seriously doubt any community is going to be foolish enough to give them millions and millions of dollars from the tax payers as it is becoming more and more evident that building baseball stadiums is NOT economic development. In fact the IMF even went so far as to say giving tax breaks to millionaires in the name of economic development is stupid as it does not work and often makes things worse. And yet this is the only strategy that seems to be on the table in Rhode Island.
And with give aways to the rich the only thing on the table, is it any wonder that more and more Rhode Islanders struggle to keep food on the table, struggle to afford health care, struggle to keep a roof over their heads. Rhode Island is going to move forward, develop into a great place for the 21st Century, only when it eliminates the use of fossil fuels, stops the give aways to the rich, and really gets the idea that healing our ecosystems is absolutely critical if we are to eliminate poverty. It is likely that growing food will be a much bigger part of our economy when we get there. It is this nexus between justice, equality, ecosystem healing, and democracy that will determine whether or not Rhode Island moves forward or backwards in the 21st Century. Buy Nothing Day each year gives us an opportunity to remind the chattering class how wrong headed the policies they offer are, while taking steps that actually benefit the poor and the community. I hope you will join in this celebration on November 27 and donate a winter coat if you can, or come get one if you need it. Volunteers are welcome and needed at all sites.