FROM WHERE I STAND: Notes from the desk of peace activist Polly Mann (b. Nov. 19, 1919)


Waning water supply produces civil war
Certainly, most adult Americans are aware that the planet is growing warmer, which is not a good thing, but now we’ve another issue to be concerned about—our water supply. Yes, water, not only for drinking, but as one of the factors necessary for our food supply. Iran in particular is in trouble. Its farmers were encouraged to plant wheat, which needs a lot of water. The result is that 25% of the total water that is withdrawn from aquifers, rivers and lakes exceeds the amount that can be replenished by nature. Iran’s ground water depletion is among the fastest in the world. According to the government, Iran expects a 25% decline also in water runoff (rainfall and snow melt) by 2030. Many of Iran’s lakes have shrunk, including Lake Urmia, once the region’s largest saltwater lake, which has diminished in size by nearly 90% since the early ’70s. The most sobering news of all comes from Syria. Its drought (2006 to 2009) was the issue producing protests and riots to be crushed by Bashar al-Assad. The final result was a civil war that reshaped the Middle East. (Information from The New York Times, Jan. 29, 2017)

Corporate values evolving
It was a most unusual message coming from an important Wall Street source, Lawrence D. Fink, the chief of the Blackrock corporation in a recent issue of the New York Times, which said that, “If a company doesn’t involve itself with the community and its needs, it will not prosper.” This is quite a change from a common belief about the purpose of the corporation, i.e., to make a profit at any cost. While this may have been (and probably was) the goal of corporations, that purpose is changing. The Exxon Company furnishes an example. While once ignoring the connection between carbon dioxide and climate, Exxon agreed to publish climate impact reports. Stay tuned for future notices of shared values of corporations and communities.

What next? Maria Callas comes back to life
I found this pretty amazing! Technology is indeed marvelous and while it can’t take individuals from life to death, it can make some interesting connections. If you happened to read the Art Section of the New York Times of Jan. 16 you have only to note the long article about one of the most talented divas on record—Maria Callas, who died in 1977. She—or rather her hologram specter—sang selections from Bizet’s “Carmen” and Verdi’s “Macbeth.” It’s another milestone for technology—to not only hear but to view her as she sings. The review ends: “ … the holographic Callas tossed Carmen’s cards into the air above her, where they hovered in space for a moment before drifting down.”

The trouble with wealth inequality
If the wealthy continue to grow wealthier that means the rest of us grow poorer and poorer. One wonders when all this will come to a halt. Not to worry. History shows that societies with drastic wealth inequality are much more unstable and more likely to experience drastic economic failure or outright societal collapse. A 2014 study conducted by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center noted that over-consumption and wealth inequality have occurred in the collapse of every civilization over the past 5,000 years. Do you suppose that this prediction might cause the super-rich to give away large portions of their wealth?

I suspect most Americans would guess that Americans top the list of the richest people in the world. Six of the world’s wealthiest people live here in the USA: Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, is No. 1 at $99.6 billion and Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, is No. 2 at $91.3 billion. Warren Buffett; Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook); Larry Ellison (Oracle); Michael Bloomberg (former mayor of New York City); and seven members of the Walton family (Walmart and Sam’s Club) follow. The top tenth of the upper 1% of the nation’s people has nearly as much wealth as the nation’s bottom 90%.

China is also climbing the wealth ladder with 38 billionaires worth a combined $177 billion—a 65% jump that was the largest for any of the 49 countries represented in the 2017 Bloomberg Billionaire Index. Ma Huateng, co-founder of the Chinese company Tencent Holdings, saw his fortune double to $41 billion, making him the second richest person in Asia. Russia’s 27 richest residents didn’t do too badly; they added $29 billion to their incomes to grow to $275 billion total. A recent article in the Washington Post ended with this statement: “These findings are yet another indication that massive accumulation of wealth at the top of the economic ladder is leading to spiraling inequality.” You betcha!

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