Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Are Christian fundamentalists derailing climate action? Rev Michael Dowd. Then new report from UNEP shows alternative energy strong but slightly down in 2013. Radio Ecoshock 140416

Welcome to Radio Ecoshock, a voice for science and truth, no matter where they lead.

Later in this program we'll reveal the good and bad news about the growth of alternative energy around the world. We go to Stockholm to get the latest from a new United Nations report.

But first we need to tackle a gnarly problem: the marriage of big oil and coal money to large fundamentalist churches in the United States. It appears climate denying preachers are a roadblock to climate action in America.

Download/listen to this Radio Ecoshock show in CD Quality (56 MB) or Lo-Fi (14 MB)


In America, a powerful group religious leaders have declared war against environmentalism and climate science. Allying themselves with Republicans and backed by oil company money, they tell millions of followers that more carbon dioxide is good for the planet.

There is a counter-movement of Christians who embrace reality and science. Chief among them is the Reverend Michael Dowd. He's the author of "Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World". Michael speaks to congregations across the U.S., as a preacher travelling with his wife, author Connie Barlow. Rev. Michael Dowd is currently part of the Great March for Climate Change. He's an author, speaker, and often writes in the Huffington Post.

Download/listen to this Radio Ecoshock interview with Michael Dowd in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Connie Barlow wrote 4 books on biology. She says she was blind-sided by the immediacy of climate change, thinking of the long time changes in past mass extinctions. She founded the group Torreya Guardians to help save this endangered Florida conifer.

Michael has just written an article accusing big-time fundamentalist preachers as barriers to American climate change action.

E. Calvin Beisner from the Cornwall Alliance says more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is good for us and good for creation. Media figures like Glenn Beck agree. It seems like madness to me.

Michael Dowd writes "According to recent polls, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary 46% of Americans still cling to the idea that we live on a ‘young earth’ and 41% believe that we are in the ‘end times’, creating a critical mass of voters whose representatives are blocking urgent legislation on climate change." Those are tough numbers to overcome, aren't they?


The big project now is "The Great March for Climate Action". This is not a religious movement, but has the support of many churches as well. Check out the Great March web site to see when it gets near you. Can you be part of the March? I hope so.

Michael describes it this way:

"The group is The Great March for Climate Action. From March through early November 2014, two hundred or more intrepid activists will march from Santa Monica California through the desert southwest, then up the Colorado Rockies and across the Great Plains, skirting the south side of the Great Lakes, aiming to arrive in Washington D.C. just before the elections."

"Connie and I will rarely be walking with the marchers. Rather, we will be speaking in churches, colleges, and other venues along their route. Our role is to rally citizen support to press for changes that will reorient the incentives of American industries and consumers toward a sustainable, green-energy future.

In the months before the action begins, another volunteer climate group is helping me schedule church venues. This organization is Interfaith Power & Light -- whose tagline is "A Religious Response to Global Warming". Truly, a groundswell of Americans -- religious and secular -- are rising up to demand action for intergenerational justice and to ensure ecosystem viability for centuries to come.

Michael is author of Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World -Viking Adult (June 19, 2008. Find more about the book here.

Follow Michael Dowd at his web site, and on Facebook.

Learn more about the books of his wife Connie Barlow here.

Dowd claims God is speaking to us through science, and fundamentalist beliefs will create "Hell on Earth":

Irresponsible ‘end times’ thinking is condemning our children and grandchildren to rising sea levels and a literal hell on Earth. If humanity doesn’t come into right relationship with Reality soon, we will perish.

His 2009 TEDx talk "Why We Struggle and Suffer" is found here.


In our Radio interview, Reverend Dowd was reticent to tell us exactly who among the religious right claim environmentalism is a dangerous enemy, and that global warming is exaggerated and good for us. After all, he meets many from those churches, and hope to bring them around.

I think it's important to know who used Christianity in the service of fossil fuel corporation profits. Let's name names in this hate movie "The Green Dragon".

Speaking against the climate and fate of future generations in the trailer for the CD series are:

* Bryan Fischer, American Family Association

* Pastor jack Hibbs, CAlvary Chapel California

* E Calvin Beisner, Founder Cornwall Alliance

* Tony Perkins, President Family Research Council

* Richard Land, Southern Baptist Convention

* David Barton, Founder Wallbuilders

* Tom Minnery, Focus on the Family

* David Noebel, Summit Ministries

* Wendy Wright, former President of Concerned Women for America

* Harry Jackson, Hope Christian Church

* Frank Wright, President National Religious Broadcasters

* Michael Farris, Home School Legal Defense and Patrick Henry College

* Steven Hayward, Author

...and of course the hostess for the film, Janet Parshall. On her radio show, for example, one of her guests was Mark Musser, author of “The Nazi Origins of Apocalyptic Global Warming Theory”; “Green Lebensraum: The Nazi Roots of Sustainable Development” and other such books. That was on May 6, 2012. Find out more here.

We can add to this list the Canadian educated professor of Physics and Computer Science at Presbyterian College, James A. Wanliss. He's the author of the book "The Green Dragon: Is Global Warming a Religion", and a second book published by the Cornwall Alliance titled "Resisting the Green Dragon: Dominion Not Death".

Several points in the CD promotion trailer for this Green Dragon film caught my interest. First, Calvin Beisner of the Cornwall Alliance and Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention are worries that environmentalists will bring in new regulations on greenhouse gases. That's the first step to total tyranny they tell us. They don't say it could also hurt the oil companies and fossil fuel magnates who funnel large amount of money into their foundations and causes.

They accuse the greens, who have been far from power, of trying to take over the world. That's laughable, when we consider the wealthy 1% are always trying to take over the world, if they haven't already.

Second, these ministers, who demand total obedience from their flocks, right down to denying a scientific education to their children, call environmentalism a cult. Who are the cult leaders here?

The trailer and a shorter promo piece were posted on You tube, and on other web sites. The comments are almost entirely negative. Viewers reject this as the nonsense it is. Only the true believers will accept anti-science, and even in this film they admit their young leave the church, never to return, as soon as they become adults. Is this a dying gasp of older white folks, mostly white men, clinging to the fossil age?

What would Jesus think?

If you don't mind getting mad, check out the Green Dragon promo on You tube.

Or watch the whole awful 12 minute trailer here.

Finally I say this to any parents whose pastor or preacher tells them global warming science is not true, or still uncertain. How can you not speak out for your children? How can you let authority deny them a safe climate to grow up in, the patterns you and your ancestors depended upon? I hope mothers at least, if not fathers, will tell such religious leaders that Hell on Earth is not worth anybody's profits or positions of authority.

The God of love would never approve of wrecking creation for a buck. As Reverend Dowd says, God is not a terrorist.

Please keep in mind, I am not bashing Christianity here. There are plenty of climate leaders who believe deeply. Bill McKibben founder of is an elder in his Church. South Africa's Bishop Tutu has spoken out against climate change. The two most recent Popes have call climate distruption a "sin". The last Archbishop of Cantebury was very outspoken for climate action. Many churches are spearheading the move out of fossil fuel investments, and corporate responsibility. We need the support of good Christians to help stop this fossil fuel juggernaut.

But the Christian climate deniers need to be called out. Others have tracked the trail of oil wealth, from Exxon/Mobil to the Scaife family, pouring money into front groups like the Cornwall Alliance and the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow or (CFACT). CFACT received $542,000 from ExxonMobil, $60,500 from Chevron, and $1,280,000 from Scaife family foundations, whose money came partly from Gulf Oil. The head of the Cornwall Alliance is on the Board of CFACT, and they all share the sam eoffice in Virginia. Find more about all this from the Climate Progress blog.

Right Wing Watch continues to watch these Green Dragon participants/conspirators here.

Here is another good piece on the whole Green Dragon ploy by fundamentalist churches and their corporate backers.

That is a great expose on this whole Green Dragon play, written by a group called Right Wing Watch. Look for the report "The "Green Dragon" Slayers: How the Religious Right and Corporate Right are Joining Forces to Fight Environmental Protection".

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Who knows how many millions have poured into fundamentalist churches and their schools from wealthy oil and coal men and their well-hidden foundations?

These are the lobbyists who work connections in the Tea Party, in the Republican Party, and in State Legislature to gut environmental regulations, to deny climate change, to even pass laws outlawing any provisions or preparations for climate change. I have to say it: they are traitors to our children, the future, and all species. And so far, they appear to be winning.


The Guardian newspaper reported last week, a leaked advance copy of the next IPCC Working Group Three concludes: greenhouse gas emissions grew nearly twice as fact in this new century, from the year 2000 to 2010, as in the previous 30 years. The economic troubles did not slow down that outpouring of carbon pollution.

Every year of delay kills more species, kills more changes of living in a world worth living in.

As the retired professor Guy McPherson reminds us there is about a 30 year delay in the full impact of greenhouse gases. The serious disruption we are experiencing now, all around the world, is from emissions in the 1970's and 1980s. We know this for a scientific fact. That means we are already assured of worse to come, from our accumulated and even higher emissions so far this century. All that will strike humanity in the 2020's and 2030's.

With the combined positive feedback effects already triggered, things like melting permafrost, Greenland glaciers, Arctic methane, dying forests, we may already be beyond the point where human intervention can save us. Nature's great wheels of a massive climate shift appear to be already engaged.

There are things we can do. We can probably prevent the climate from soaring up 6 or 8 degrees Centigrade within the lifetimes of the young now on Earth. We can probably still prevent total disaster unfolding over the next century or two. We can certainly begin to prepare a civilization flexible and sustainable enough to maintain a human social life, and preserve many of our fellow species. We can do that.


The United Nations Environment Program, UNEP, has just released a report on the growth of renewable energy around the world. It's good news and bad. The UNEP report is called "Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2014". It was launched in the second week of April.

Eric Usher is responsible for renewable energy and sustainable energy finance for UNEP's Division of Technology, Industry and Economics. To get the latest, we reached him in Stockholm, Sweden.

Download/listen to this Radio Ecoshock interview with Eric Usher in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

According to the report, investments in renewables went down in 2013 despite our hopes and all the hype. But the better news is that is partly because of a steep fall in the cost of solar panels. Even better, "renewables account for 43.6% of year's newly-installed generating capacity".

In fact, you need to know these key findings from the UNEP Press release:

"Frankfurt / New York, 7 April 2014 - Renewable energy's share of world electricity generation continued its steady climb last year despite a 14 per cent drop in investments to US$214.4 billion, according to a new report released today.

According to Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2014 - produced by the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre for Climate & Sustainable Energy Finance, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Bloomberg New Energy Finance - the investment drop of $US35.1 billion was partly down to the falling cost of solar photovoltaic systems. The other main cause was policy uncertainty in many countries, an issue that also depressed investment in fossil fuel generation in 2013.

Globally, renewables excluding large hydro accounted for 43.6 per cent of newly installed generating capacity in 2013. Were it not for renewables, world energy-related CO2 emissions would have been an estimated 1.2 gigatonnes higher in 2013. This would have added 12 per cent to the projected 2020 emissions gap that needs to be closed to remain within the global target of a 2 degree Centigrade temperature increase (the temperature rise we need to stay under to avoid catastrophic effects of climate change).

We discuss the burst of renewable energy in China. They started making solar panels and wind machines on a huge scale for export. As export markets fell in tougher economic time, more Chinese sustainable energy production was applied in China itself.

I was surprised at some of the countries who spent more on renewable energy. They include Canada, Chile, Israel, and New Zealand.

Japan's investments in alternative energy went up an astounding 80% following the shut-down of their nuclear reactor fleet. Perhaps there was a small silver lining to the radioactive cloud that is the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Find a brief summary of key findings, and other links to follow up on thie UNEP report here.


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Alex Smith

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Climate Change Has Arrived

Coming up in this program: a new report from the World Meteorological Organization tallies the big weather hits in 2013. Is it rampant climate change? Norway decides how to spend almost a trillion petrodollars, and Indian solar loses out. Plus direct from Yokohama Japan, the IPCC press conference promising we can somehow "manage" climate change, a food crisis, and maybe the sixth great mass extinction. Science and hopium on Radio Ecoshock 140409

"Politicians discussing global warming" by Isaac Cordal of Berlin. Great stuff.

Download/listen to this Radio Ecoshock show in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


If you live in eastern north America, it felt like the ice age is returning. Meanwhile millions of people in Europe got a winter of mild rain. So what is it, global cooling or global warming? We don't have to guess. Scientists measure temperatures all over the world, on the ground and by satellite. That information pours into the U.S. National Climatic Data Center. Jessica Blunden is a climate scientist and lead editor writing reports there.

Here is a blurb from NOAA:

"Have you ever wondered who writes the monthly global climate reports? Her name is Jessica Blunden, and she is a climate scientist with ERT, Inc., working here, at NCDC. In addition to writing those reports, which analyze global temperature and precipitation, Jessica is a lead editor for the annual State of the Climate series that is a supplement to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

Jessica’s academic training is in atmospheric chemistry and air quality. She did her fieldwork and research in this area for both her Master’s and Doctorate degrees, but she wasn’t always an atmospheric scientist. Before she became a scientist, Jessica spent several years working in the hospitality and tourism industry. During that time, she always felt something was missing. 'I eventually came to the realization that atmospheric science was my true calling,' Jessica said. Her love of weather and climate first blossomed in Mrs. Heath’s eighth grade science class. Jessica found her teacher fascinating and loved studying clouds and weather phenomena.

The State of the Climate series doesn't attribute causes for changes in weather, doesn't suggest policy, and doesn't make predictions about the future. It's an accurate, triple-checked reliable assessment of Earth's climate, month by month, and year by year.

Although it was still pretty cold by our standards, the Arctic was way above average this past winter. The non-scientist, the average person, wonders whether that forced some wicked cold weather further south. What is behind the infamous Polar Vortex that kept pounding Eastern North America?

The World Meteorological Association just released their new report titled "WMO statement on the status of the global climate in 2013". Find a good meaty press release summarizing the report here.

Read the full WMO 2013 report online for free here.

You can also access a fascinating interactive map showing the extreme weather events here. Be patient. It takes a bit to load, but it's worth it.

Get the latest climate reporting about the past winter from NOAA here. Despite what you may have experienced, it was the 8th hottest winter Earth has seen since we began measurements.

Find all the global and national reports on climate from NOAA's National Climatic Data Center here.

Jessica edits the monthly and annual State of the Climate Report.

Download/listen to this Radio Ecoshock 18 minute interview with Jessica Blunden in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


Norway, right up to the Prime Minister, made important promises this spring. With a state investment fund of almost a trillion dollars, Norway suggested they would divest from coal, and invest heavily in renewable energy.

Pundits estimated Norway could put 5 to 10% of it's oil and gas fund into solar and wind energy. That would be 50 to 100 billion dollars! Considering the whole world invested about $215 billion in renewables in 2013, that would be a boost of almost 20%. It could make a HUGE difference in the markets and progress toward safer energy.

Justin Guay of Sierra Club India, and author Jigar Shah invited Norway to plug the gap of a measely $500 million needed to finance solar power for about 200 million people in India. They didn't want a grant or charity, it would be a good investment which could change a lot of lives.

Came the day of the announcement last Friday April 4th, the Norwegians pulled back. Instead they promised to study the whole problem for another year (another year of record greenhouse gas emissions on Earth). Even the coal investments stayed in place. There will be plenty of pressure on Norway to keep to their former promises. And along the way, the Norwegians got rid of their pesky ethics committee too. That should solve the problem.

Groups from India have been seeking this $500 million all over. They tried the World Bank, which definitely should have funded this, instead of the failed and dangerous coal plants in India. No luck.

What we're talking about here are millions of people who have no light when the sun goes down. Children can't do homework, home business must close, there are no fans for the brutal summer heat.

Those who have light pay far more than your or I, being forced to buy polluting kerosene for lamps. That's the irony, the poorest people pay more for light than the richest.

A project to install solar in Africa has really taken wings. It's called "Lighting Africa". Instead of having to buy panels up front, a prohibitive cost for the poor of sub-Saharan Africa - companies make loans so the consumer pays as they use the energy. That works!

Next door to India, the renewables company Grameen Shakti is installing solar in 30,000 to 40,000 homes a month. Bengladesh has over 1 million solar installations, already ahead of much bigger India.

As Justin Guay tells us, India doesn't need more centralized plants and money wasted on a huge inefficient grid. They've been trying that for decades, and failed for over 200,000 million residents still without power. Solar takes power right where it is needed, without the 50% loss of energy associated with big energy grids.

Tune in to this Radio Ecoshock interview with Justin Guay here in CD Quality or Lo-Fi.

Here are some helpful links:

Jigar Shah is the solar entrepreneur and author of the influential book for developing countries, "Creating Climate Wealth".

Sierra Club India on the state of solar in that country. And this piece on solar in Uttar Pradesh, one of India's poorest states, with over 200 million people. Find Justin's piece on solar investment in India here and another here. These are all good reads with hard-to-find info seldom touched by the mainstream media.


IPCC REPORT - My take for Radio

No doubt you've heard the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has released it's second major report. This one is not about proving climate change is triggered by human emissions.

Nor does it suggest how to reduce that greenhouse gas pollution of the atmosphere and ocean.This report says climate change has arrived already, and that further warming will occur. It tries to use science to outline who is most vulnerable to coming impacts, where the greatest risks lie, and how humans can best adapt to changes in everything from rainfall to violent storms, rising seas and a hotter world.

The lead authors present very severe impacts, but remain strangely optimistic that humans will find a way to manage these risks. They assume global governments will react to public pressure, and find rational solutions. In the press conference, co-chair of Working Group II, Chris Field from the Carnegie Institute, still talked about making a better world, as did other speakers on the panel.


Let's go to my recording of the press conference held in Yokohama Japan on March 31st, 2014. First, Dr. Michel Jarraud of the World Meteorological Organization says we now have no excuse for ruining the planet. We cannot claim ignorance.

Then I play you about 10 minutes from the presentation by Co-Chair Dr. Christopher Field, founding director of the Carnegie Institution Department of Global Ecology.

As you hear, several lead authors remain optimistic we will somehow "manage" the risks of climate change, even as they conclude agricultural production could drop as much as 50% by the year 2100, even as human population increased by billions. At another point they admit some scientists fear we are already entering the sixth great mass extinction. One source of their optimism is due to the assumptions in the reporting process. Pressed by a reporter in the Q and A, Dr. Field admits they did not consider global warming beyond two degrees, because they had no dependable science to predict such a scenario. I've had dozens of scientists on Radio Ecoshock who fear we will go well beyond 2 degrees C of warming. That's a big one to leave out!

Remember that every word of this IPCC report has to be approved by consensus by all world governments. Of course it's going to be political, and watered down, despite this feel-good approach by Dr. Rajendra Pachauri.

To be fair, Dr. Pachauri was the most realistic in his other assessments of our predicament, and I regret we didn't have time to run more of what he said. Pachauri warned that if we cannot reduce emissions soon, the whole of human society is in grave danger. Considering emissions have continued to rise despite more than 20 years of IPCC reports, it's hard to know where he finds even "guarded optimism".

Is is part of a culture of "hopium" at the point where science interfaces with governments?

In a couple of weeks, we'll have another brief round of media attention, as Working Group three releases their report on how to cut emissions. For one day, and one day only, the words climate change made the Google list of top story topics in the news. Considering we risk our future, and the whole ecosphere, should it not be a permanent fixture? Instead of the Karadashians or the latest juicy murder story?

This newest IPCC report is an improvement over the past reports. It has more current reporting, and is more blunt about the challenges we are facing. Even in it's watered-down form, it should be taught in every classroom in the world, starting next week. But who can tell the children what we try so hard to hide from ourselves?

I suggest you spend an hour of your life to watch the IPCC press conference in Yokohama on You tube.

Find the full IPCC Working Group II report "Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability" free online here.

Get my full report on this IPCC release, complete with the key quotes from the Yokohama press conference, here in CD quality or Lo-Fi.

As always, you can help get the word out by reposting those links, or the whole audio piece.


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Just 15 people can make a huge difference keeping our big archives free and open for thousands of downloads each week, from all over the world. Subscribers also help me cover costs when equipment needs to be replaced, distribution costs, telephone bills, and all that.

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Take a look at our new SoundCloud page!

Trying to reach still more listeners using every medium, I've opened up Radio Ecoshock on Soundcloud. Please tell your friends. It's a good way to shop around different shows, and download the ones you want.

This will be filed every week. But all the past programs are still at Head over there, and browse through our free downloadable programs from the past 7 years of broadcasting!

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It's hard to find lively Royalty free music that's affordable for non-profits. Believe me I know. I started writing my own music, to save the costs of buying expensive short pieces for the show.

Let me know if getting some of my music interests you. You can write any time, to radio //at//

I'm Alex Smith, working for you, the listener, and maybe for some other species who cannot speak for themselves. Thanks for listening!

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Rapid Collapse

Are we headed for collapse? A study partly funded by NASA says a combination of crisis could bring down the global system we count on. It's not guaranteed to happen, and we can't know when. But the world supply chains, just-in-time, makes the possibility of a sudden unravelling more possible. Would you believe everything from food to power to gasoline could disappear in just a matter of weeks? From Ireland, David Korowicz explains how. Radio Ecoshock 140402.

Download/listen to this Radio Ecoshock show in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


There is a small industry of pundits warning something is about to collapse. A large and growing public who suspect they are right. It's hard to pin down what sets analyst David Korowicz apart from the pack. Maybe it's his detailed big picture outlines that just make sense. Is that why he's in demand across the world, advising governments, business, and non-profits alike? Strangely, most of those organizations could become dis-functional very quickly, if David Korowicz is right.

It doesn't hurt that David is based in Dublin. Ireland just went through an economic beating ahead of us all. He's part of an organization named Feasta, advises government there, and runs his own business called "Human Systems Consulting". We're going to talk about two of his papers that explain why fragile systems, from the economy to the environment, could fall apart much faster than we think.

Here are the two papers we discuss:

1. "Trade-Off: Financial System Supply-Chain Cross-Contagion: a study in global systemic collapse"

This paper is available free from here.

2. The second is: "Catastrophic Shocks Through Complex Socio-Economic Systems: A Pandemic Perspective"

Download that paper as a free .pdf file here.

First, we note Ireland didn't go into the Dark Ages when it hit a financial brick wall a couple of years ago. Public services still work, the roads are open, the supermarkets well-stocked. Why did Irish society surive its flirtation with utter bankruptcy? David explains.

On You tube, I watched one of David's lectures. It was titled "The Modern Economy, Civilization, Complexity, and Collapse". He began with a picture of life in Kyrgyzstan, and how that local and resilient economy will be sucked into our globalized scheme, like everybody else. Won't they be better off? Yes probably, but they will be dependent on a super-system which is in itself very fragile, and open to rapid collapse.

History shows that once a country decides to join the global economy, its difficult if not impossible to go back to self-sufficiency.

We all like to blame the bankers or Wall Street manipulators for the current economic woes, David disappoints many a conspiracy theorist by saying there is no real organizing power behind the global economy. It works the way a forest does, he says. Things work together, but there is no one in charge. That's difficult for us to accept, so this was a good talk.

We also look into how a shut-down of relatively small commodities could ripple into really big events. We discovered that when just one or two factories in Japan shut down after the Tsunami of 2011, much larger car plants in the US and Europe had to close temporarily.

Some system losses are more critical than others. A failure in the perfume supply chain is survivable. A failure in our electrical, food, or sewage systems may not be. Even a small or publicly unknown component, such a rare earths, could trigger a much larger event.

One of the cases we examine in detail is the fuel truck protest on the United Kingdom in September 2000. Refineries were blockaded, and local gas/petrol stations ran out. All sorts of business and government offices had to close or go to a skeleton staff. Supermarket shelves were about to become empty, when leaders in the food industry warned the government to take action. It was a valuable lesson.

So what could happen. Korowicz looked at the case of a failure in the European banking system. We all know Spain, Italy, and Greece banks are close to bankruptcy, requiring aid. If there is a major failure, that will not stay in Europe, Korowicz says, but echo all over the world. In just a few weeks, masses of people could lose their jobs, and maybe their food supply. It's amazing how fast those coupled system breakdowns can happen in these modern times.

It is frightening to realize that most of our goods are no longer in warehouses. The rolling trucks are the only storage for outfits like Walmart or Tesco. If the trucks stop, for any reason, supplies end, with no backup. We see this in miniature when severe weather closes roads. How many days food supply does the average city have now? Maybe 3 to 5 days worth?

The second of his papers considers what could happen if a virulent disease erupts somewhere. It could be a new strain of Bird Flu in Asia, or SAARS or something we haven't seen before. With international air travel, it could spread widely in the world in just days. Our health systems might be overwhelmed. People would be afraid to go to work.

What if 50 million people died, as happened in the 1918/1919 outbreak of Spanish influenza? David tells us when at least one third of Europeans died during the Black Plague, around 1348-50, society was far less specialized. No technology was lost. But today, if we lose just a small number of key scientists, experts, or highly specialized workers, others cannot simply fill in those gaps. Systems begin to collapse.

I won't go on about solar storms - other than to say even the U.S. Federal Electricity Regulatory Commission, FERC, quietly admitted that if just 9 key electric substations went down, the whole of the United States could be without power for weeks, or maybe even months. Don't believe me? Check it out here, here, and here (last one is a paywall Wall St Journal).

These substations could be attacked by terrorists, as we now discover happened last year when a unit was shot up by snipers. A single solar storm could do it. Or they may just fail because the U.S. hasn't invested in it's electricity system in decades.

Picture a modern country without electricity. No gas pumps, no supermarket checkouts, no heating or cooling. Municipal water systems would fail. You wouldn't have a TV or the Internet to hear about it. Social chaos is guaranteed.

That's just one scenario among many. We return to David Korowicz, who studied the possibilities due to an infectious disease, like Bird Flu, SAARS or even Ebola getting loose. Are you ready? Nobody is.

Don't miss this in-depth interview. Find out more about David at his web site or on Facebook.

Still hungry? Try this History Channel special, packed with experts, on what happens with a global pandemic, on You tube.


Radio Ecoshock is listener-supported radio. My thanks to those who keep it going. Download this program, and all our past programs as free mp3s from our web site at

As we close up shop for today, I've got one last musical comment on the push to distract everyone with a new version of the old Cold War. The TV talking heads and right-wing politicians want you to get pumped up for a new enemy, 1984 style. Never mind the weather has gone strange. A nice little war, and some fat military spending, might cover up the holes in our economy, the shady banks, and all the coal and oil we burn every day.

Feel free to use my new song in any way you like, except selling it. I'm Alex Smith. Thanks so much for listening to Radio Ecoshock, and caring about your world.

Listen to this song, "Let's Have A War" or download it, here.

It was all written using my beloved DAW program Ableton Live 9 and the Massive Synthesizer from Native Instruments. My thanks to the Ableton crew in Germany for getting me this software at a big discount to help Radio Ecoshock's non-profit effort.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Center Sees the Edge: Methane, Science, and Future Food

This week it's all about new science that matters. A study funded by a founder of fracking finds the natural gas industry is still bleeding tons of methane into our atmosphere. The top body for American Scientists warns we must act now to prevent climate catastrophe. And an international team confirms the world food supply will be hit hard in a changing climate. Radio Ecoshock 140326

Download/listen to this Radio Ecoshock show in CD Quality (56 MB) or Lo-Fi (14 MB)


Suprise, suprise. A new study finds methane emissions from natural gas systems have been greatly Underestimated. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Is gas worth the risk? Is it better than coal?

Let's find out from the lead author of a new study looking at methane escaping from the gas system. Dr. Adam R. Brandt is with the Department of Energy Resources and Engineering at Stanford University.

The latest report on this problem is found in the paper "Methane Leaks from North American Natural Gas Systems". It was published in the February 14th edition of the journal "Science".

Find the paper summary here.

Brandt was part of a big team, with many names I recognize from universities, NOAA, the Lawrence Livermore Lab, even the U.S. Department of State. So we know this isn't going to be an attack piece on fracking or the gas industry. In fact, Adam tells me right off the bat, this study was funded by the foundation established by one of the wealthy pioneers of fracking, the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation.

This is part of my continuing coverage of methane emissions from natural gas. What could be more timely after a deadly blast in New York City, and a barrage of ads from the industry saying how green they are. Please notice I take care in the first story to let you know who funded this assessment of the industry, and some of the energy-friendly government labs who took part in it. Even so, they found a lot of leaking methane, and super-emitters in some states.

The study found that previous Environmental Protection Agency figures on methane emissions from gas production and distribution were low by about 50%. But that excess gas, Brandt tell us, isn't necessarily from fracking, but from the gas industry as a whole. For example, natural gas processing and compression plants have been underestimating their emissions.

In past weeks on Radio Ecoshock, we heard how studies of Boston, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. found between 3 and 7% of all gas entering the city leaks out on a daily basis. Some of those leaks are large enough to be explosive, but authorities and industry have been slow to act. No wonder we see some tragedies.

Brandt's study found that a tiny percentage of equipment in the gas industry is leaking most of the methane. If those broken pipes, connections, and valves could be located inexpensively, it wouldn't be too hard to greatly reduce the methane loss. Scientists and industry are working on cheaper locating devices. It's not easy, because there are over 200 million miles of natural gas pipes under the United States alone!

Download/listen to my interview with Dr. Adam Brandt here.

Here are a few links to follow up. A decent summary of this study is here. Stanford's press release is helpful here.

I also liked this article in Technology Review, and check out the further links it contains, to track the problem further.


Scientists know we are heading over a climate cliff, something not seen in human times on Earth. Why are they not speaking out? They are. The American Association for the Advancement of Science is launching a new report called "What We Know".

To talk about it, I reached Dr. James McCarthy - Alexander Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography, at Harvard University.

Find some good articles articles covering the release of this report here, here, and here.

And check out this short and realistic video, and get the report from the AAAS here!


I seldom interview wall Street players about climate change and industry responsibility. So this release by the triple AAAS was a good chance to do just that.

Bob Litterman is a former partner and risk manager at Goldman Sachs. With other Goldman alumni, he's now with fund manager Kepos Capital. He was a Partner at Goldman Sachs, as the legendary "grandfather" and originator of "Quant" trading!

To open, I ask Bob about the Carbon Tracker report outlining the huge risk that stranded assets of unburnable fossil fuels pose to the world financial system. Litterman was well aware of this, but says that without a price on carbon, or at least an expectation of a price on it, the market was unlikely to change its investment in energy companies.

That is disappointing to me. I had hoped Wall Street executives would notice their kids and grandkids, asking themselves what kind of future they would have. That should be motivation too. Because I don't see the U.S. instituting a price on carbon any time soon. According to Bob, that means no change from financial institutions. Which kinda means we are doomed to excessive climate change, according to the scientists I talk to.

Anyway, I appreciate Bob Litterman talking about climate change, and the importance of this new release from the AAAS. Bob is aware of climate risks, and hopes a solution can be found. Read his interesting article "What Is the Right Price for Carbon Emissions" here.

Almost as an aside in the interview, as a Board Member of the World Wildlife Fund, Litterman explains the WWF has investments in both coal and the Tar Sands. Fearing a possible price on carbon, they didn't sell those investments. Instead, the WWF kinda green-washed the situation by using a derivatives swap to be able to say the income was from a general stock index instead. I'm sure wildlife heading for extinction would understand.

None of us can afford to wait for a price on carbon. Pension funds, universities, non-profits and anyone with a brain needs to get out of fossil fuels right now. They are killing off our future.

Congratulations to the American Association for the Advancement of Science for having the guts to speak against climate change and denial.


We've all got the sinking feeling. Climate change could mean food shortages in the coming decades. But we don't really know how, or how much. An international team of scientists has plowed through vast numbers of studies, trying to add up what we know. They've published a first look at their findings in the journal Nature Climate Change. the Nature Climate Change letter titled "A meta-analysis of crop yield under climate change and adaptation" was published online on March 16, 2014.

At the the University of Leeds, where he teaches climate impacts, I reached the lead author, Dr. A.J. Challinor.

Food experts, including Lester Brown of Earth Policy Institute, have used the maxim that for every degree of warming, world food production would be reduced by 10 percent. All though this new study doesn't measure things in those terms, Challinore says that figure does that hold up.

I ask how this new paper compares to the previous AR4 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and will it be part of the new Fifth Assessment report coming out this year? Previous IPCC estimates thought food production might be the same, but this new study finds real problems as we go forward into climate change. As Challinore is also an author of the Fifth Assessment due out in a week or two, his work will be included. Radio Ecoshock listeners get an advance preview in this interview!

Download/listen to this interview with Dr. Andy Challinore here, in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Find articles about this study here and here.


That concludes another packed show from Radio Ecoshock. I'm your reporter Alex Smith. Please help this program keep going, with your financial support at our web site,

And during the spring fund-raising drive, I ask you to pledge support for your local non-profit radio station. These are not easy times, and we need that platform for the uncomfortable truth to get out there. Here is a list of stations that broadcast Radio Ecoshock.

Thank you so much for listening, and I hope we'll meet again next week.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


SUMMARY: Dr. Michael Jennings says Earth's climate is already beyond the worst scenarios. Could a new Dark Age save us? Dr. Sing C. Chew says we are due. It's edutainment for troubled times. Radio Ecoshock 140319


The bad news is planet Earth is already committed to very dangerous climate change. Dr. Michael Jennings published a paper in 2012 showing we are already in the worst case scenario. My interview with Dr. Jennings is frank and moving.

We may be saved from utter disaster if an economic collapse comes sooner rather than later. Dr. Sing C. Chew will give us the good news about Dark Ages, and the signs we are entering one now.

In March 2014, the Earth's atmosphere went above 401 parts per billion of carbon dioxide. The Arctic ice is at an absolute record low this winter, even as eastern north america freezes. New science is reporting bad news like artillery fire from a climate war zone. Increased malaria zones, dying birds, faster Greenland ice melt, climate disruption is moving faster than anyone can comprehend.

I'm Alex Smith, welcome to Radio Ecoshock, the cheerful program for pessimists and realists alike.

Download/listen to this Radio Ecoshock show in CD Quality (56 MB) or Lo-Fi (14 MB)


Well it's official. With no international agreements and ever-growing greenhouse gas emissions, scientists are asking if we are heading off the cliff of climate disruption, into the worst of all worlds.

Our guest is Dr. Michael Jennings from the Department of Geography at the University of Idaho. Last year he published a paper in the journal "Global Policy". It's title is: "Climate Disruption: Are We Beyond the Worst Case Scenario?"

Here are the details on that paper:

Climate Disruption: Are We Beyond the Worst Case Scenario?

Published in Global Policy, Volume 4, Issue 1, Article first published online: 3 SEP 2012 and in print: Global Policy Volume 4 . Issue 1 . February 2013

"Climate disruption: Are we beyond the worst case scenario?" was published by the London School of Economics journal "Global Policy", free online here.

Michael wrote me in an email:

"If we are to maintain the climate of the Holocene—which is the climate that agriculture, economies, and societies evolved with over the past 10,000 years—we can emit no more than a total of 500 billion total tons of carbon without a large scale perturbation of the biosphere as we have known it since the dawn of agriculture. So far we have emitted a total 370 billion tons since the beginning of the industrial revolution. That leaves us with 130 billion tons of carbon emissions until we reach the safe limit of 500 billion tons. Right now we are emitting more than 9 billion tons per year; it’s actually closer to 10. So, 130 billion tons at 10 tons per year leaves us with how many years, assuming no annual increases?

At the same time, burning all of the fossil fuel that is currently owned, accounted for and held in known reserves would emit 2,795 billion tons of carbon dioxide. That is more than 20 times the 130 billion tons that is safe. But, our global economy is predicated on not only the value of the existing reserves of coal, oil, and gas as they are traded around the world, but the economic yield of the goods and energy that would be derived from those 2,795 billion tons of emissions. What would you do if you were invested in those carbon stocks?"

More about investments in carbon stocks further, in a segment with Mark Campanale of See below.

Dr Jennings pointed us toward a pivotal paper led by Dr. James Hansen, formerly of NASA. It's titled "Assessing ‘‘Dangerous Climate Change’’: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature" It may be the most important paper of the year. Read it in full text here.

There are two items in the paper by Hansen et al. that seldom get attention. The first is our obligation to coming generations. The second point raised by James Hansen and a who's who of illustrious scientists is the threat posed by climate change is not just to ourselves, but to all the other species of plants and animals in nature.


I clarified one thing with Dr. Jennings. He explained we would hit the ceiling for any "safe" climate change, if there is any safe climate change, in just 13 years at our current rate of consumption (which is actually going up every year). But Jennings is not saying we will experience the full impacts of climate disruption in 13 years.

The good news is the ocean and many other factors will probably buffer and delay the true damage for another few decades. Certainly rising seas will take several decades to really manifest, as it takes time for glaciers to melt, for example.

The bad news is the true impact could be hidden to humans for several decades, during which time we will continue to burn fossil fuels. Then the world changes beyond recognition, and possibly beyond our survival.

After the interview, Dr. Jennings wrote me an email saying:

"One of the really difficult things is that we can't say exactly how, when, and what will happen. It's a bit like breaking the news to someone that they have cancer and we don't really know whether you are going to live or die. And if you live, what sort of life you will have. Or if you die, what sort of death it will be. One huge difference is that with cancers we have doctors and scientists who work with it and study it and we have case studies. We have no previous experience with climate disruption, no indicators providing hints as to what might happen next.

But like a cancer that someone has not been able to come to terms with, climate disruption now has a stranglehold on the most basic systems by which our planet operates."

He added:

"It will not manifest at the same rate, intensity, or magnitude everywhere. Generally, it's safe to say that temperature extremes will be greater at higher latitudes, storm activity will be greater at lower latitudes. Dry places will get dryer and wet places will get wetter. But the key thing is that in a global economy the disruption of agriculture in one place is likely to destabilize economies and social order in other places that are far away, to say nothing about the potential risk of greater armed conflict."

Download/listen to this Radio Ecoshock interview (21 minutes) in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


Is it possible we are already entering another "dark age"? Is that what nature needs to recover?

Next in my series of experts on the coming collapse, we enter the long-view world of Professor Sing C. Chew. Dr. Chew is a global teacher. He's a Professor of Sociology at Humboldt State University in California. He's a Senior Research Scientist at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig, Germany. Dr. Chew has been a visiting professor at universities in Singapore, Hong Kong, Sweden, and Hawaii.

As you might imagine, Sing C. Chew is the author of many papers and books. We'll be drawing from just his trilogy on how civilizations rise and fall with their degradation of nature.

Yes, Dr. Chew tells us the coming Dark Age is an inevitable cycle of civilization consuming the natural world. That is not a tragedy. It means a rest for the natural world, and eventually a re-birth for the human story.

Read more about his predictions for ecological futures here.

For this program we focus on his trilogy:

1. World Ecological Degradation: Accumulation, Urbanization, and Deforestation 3000B.C.-A.D.2000 Vol. 1 Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press/Rowman and Littlefield Publishers 2001.

2. The Recurring Dark Ages: Ecological Stress, Climate Changes, and System Transformation Vol. 2 Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press/Rowman and Littlefield Publishers 2006

3. Ecological Futures: What History Can Teach Us Vol. 3 Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press/Rowman and Littlefield Publishers 2008.

This first book begins from Chew's background in studying forests and deforestation - a factor he finds influential in the decline of very early civilizations.

The Recurring Dark Ages takes a natural resources explanation of the collapse of previous civilizations. Dark Ages, he tells us, are not temporary blips in history, but necessary and in themselves natural results of civilizations. One leads to the other.

Ecological Futures tries to take this work, what we know, and apply it to where we are going. That doesn't look good.

Under Chew's system, we may be approaching a dark age, but this would be natural, and could be the necessary resting space that nature needs to recover from us.

He predicts there will be a hit to the neo-liberal profit system (say the world banking system) but the real driver of civilization's decline will be deterioration of the ecosystem, especially through climate change, but also, as before in history, via deforestation, reduction of species due to agriculture and cities, pillaging the ocean beyond its capacity, and so on.

As it says in this Daily Kos review: "That there be a social/ technological fragility to the civilization in question which does not allow it to persist. "

Dr. Chew just returned from Singapore where he delivered Keynote Address for Conference on Sustainability in Education: Pedagogical Themes and Practices in Asian Countries. That was at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, running from February 26-28, 2014.

You can find The Recurring Dark Ages: Ecological Stress, Climate Changes, and System Transformation in paperback on Amazon here.

Find a detailed review here.

Also find a good overview discussion here in the World Financial Review.

Further, Dr. Chew writes about the confluence of Peak Oil and climate change:

"The declared impending scarcity of fossil fuel (energy) by this mid-century therefore poses a global threat to the reproduction of life on this planet, and the thousands of years of human evolutionary development will be in peril.

Without energy the devolution of the complexity of life will start. Life chances, expectations, and growth will slow down, and eventually growth will end. Such conditions will generate global instability as different regions, political and economic powers compete to ensure their own economic, political and social survival. A natural system crisis including interconnected complications such as global warming brought on by excessive consumption without any regard to sustainability of energy resources has spilled over to the socio-economic system sphere leading to a global crisis.

Download/listen to this Radio Ecoshock interview with Dr. Chew in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


In both of this programs' interviews, I raise the eerie economic danger of thinking we can burn all the carbon reserves that big companies and fossil-fuel rich countries claim on their books. Earlier this year, Mark Campanale of Carbon Tracker startled world markets with his analyis of the business side of extreme climate change. A couple of weeks ago, Mark gave an hour-long web conference, organized by the British Columbia Sustainable Energy Association, the BCSEA. Long time energy man Guy Dauncy was the host.

You can watch that full presentation on You tube.

Here is why you should tune in. Campanale is asking why big oil, gas and coal companies can raise hundreds of billions of dollars on the stock and bond markets, without disclosing they may not be able to burn all the reserves they claim to own.

The details are in the Carbon Tracker report: "Unburnable carbon 2013: Wasted capital and stranded assets".

I know your objection right away. Of course they will burn it. Governments aren't going to limit fossil fuel use. Mark answers that objection raised during the Q and A, and I play his response in this radio show.

It's partly just our inability to imagine the empire of fossil fuels could end. Picture the situation in the late 1890s when the first horseless carriages appeared. Everyone knew these were freaks, while horses would continue to be the major vehicle for personal and business transportation. Just three decades later, cars and horses were battling it out on the roads. By 1950, the last horses in the city were drawing a few milk wagons. And then they were gone. Large changes can and do happen, even if we can hardly believe it now.

Mark Campanale is calling for two things. First, fossil fuel companies should be regulated to divulge the full climate risk of what they do, and the probability they cannot capitalize on all the oil, gas, and coal they have in the ground.

Second: Divestment, selling off investments in these climate killing companies, makes sense, especially for bodies like universities who claim to represent the future of younger people. But, Campanale, who knows the markets well, suggests simple greed and risk aversion can help these fossil giants wind down, as they must, one way or another.

Campanale says there is no point in spending more billions, actually trillions over the next years, to discover more reserves that can never be burned. For example, oil companies have to spend more and more to get less and less, using expensive processes like the Tar Sands or deep sea drilling. Why not simply return the profits to the shareholders, as the companies move away from what will eventually be an unsaleable product? Investors will like that, whether they care about climate change or not.

Sooner or later, the world mega-projects for oil, gas, and coal won't be viable. Either they will be limited by public and government demand, perhaps following years of climate-driven weather tragedies. Or they will burn on until an economic collapse snatches the funding mechanisms away, again perhaps due to storms and agricultural collapse so severe society cannot recover. That is the worst stage scenario. Far better, Campanale says, for these companies to voluntarily wind down, giving up new exploration, and paying out more to shareholders now.

Behind the scenes, major financial institutions, like HSBC bank and the Norwegian investment fund, and big companies, like Shell and BP, are starting to recognize the giant lop-sided risk unburnable reserves pose to the overall markets. Once shareholders and investors realize the books are cooked, there is a possibility of collapse of the economic system, from that one carbon bubble alone.

Tune into this important slide show and talk by Mark Campanale of at the bcsea web site,


Next week we'll continue this barrage of good-times radio, with a full feature interview with David Korowicz. He'll explain why the crash could happen much faster than you think.

Help yourself to all our past programs, as free mp3's at

Please don't forget to donate or subscribe to Radio Ecoshock, if you can. It all helps me keep this show in production and on the air. Get the at the web site,

I want to thank all the listeners for their show suggestions. You can contact me any time, using the contact form on the web site, or email to radio //at//

I'm Alex Smith, saying thank you for listening, and caring about your world.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


On 3rd anniversary of Fukushima, two authors report American reactors are unsafe at any speed. Shocking risk. Plus audio from March 2 XL Pipeline dissent protest in D.C. & letter from youth, via Bobby Wengronowitz. Radio Ecoshock 140312

Yes, despite a punishing cold winter, thousands of Americans showed up at the White House to fight off the Keystone XL pipeline. They were mostly young, protecting their future against climate change driven by the Tar Sands, the dirtiest fuel on Earth. Over 350 people were arrested. I'll take you there.

But first, on the third anniversary of the worst nuclear disaster in the world, I'll talk with the authors of Fukushima, The Story of a Nuclear Disaster". But America is just waiting for it's own nuclear mega-disaster. Despite promises after March 2011, the U.S. industry is still stalling on safety critical fixes to aging reactors. It's just a matter of time.

I'm Alex Smith. Welcome back to Radio Ecoshock.

Listen to/download this program in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


Interview with David Lochbaum, Union of Concerned Scientists

After the triple melt down of reactors in Fukushima Japan in March 2011, the American Nuclear Regulatory Commission did two things: they assured the public "it can't happen here" - and they promised a flurry of action to make reactors safer in the United States.

Now we have the first new book from nuclear experts explaining what happened at Fukushima. And we have a report that American reactors are still unsafe, still waiting for the next major melt-down.

Both come from David Lochbaum. He worked in U.S. reactors for 17 years. He was an instructor for the NRC. David is now Director of the Nuclear Safety Project, for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Read David's latest article "Nuclear Disaster American Style" here.

Half of reactors in U.S. don't meet fire regulations. This is as dangerous as a risk factor as the tsunami that broke Fukushima.

David writes:

"The Nuclear Regulatory Commission examined fire hazards during a briefing on July 17, 2008. An NRC senior manager informed the Chairman and Commissioners that “Approximately one-half of the core damage risk at operating reactors results from accident sequences that initiate with fire events.” In other words, the fire hazard roughly equals all other hazards combined. And that analysis assumed the NRC’s fire protection regulations were being met—the risk goes up when the fire regulations are not met.

Fire is a large risk for the same reason that flooding caused so much trouble at Fukushima. Fires and floods can disable primary safety systems and their backups. If workers are unable to recover disabled equipment or connect temporary replacements, reactor cores overheat and melt down.

The nuclear plant fire hazard is not speculative. In March 1975, a fire at the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Alabama disabled all the emergency systems for cooling the Unit 1 reactor and most of those systems for Unit 2. Only heroic worker efforts prevented both cores from melting that day.

The NRC did not want another nuclear plant to experience another fire as bad as, or worse than, the one at Browns Ferry. It adopted fire protection regulations in 1980 intended to manage the fire risk to an acceptably low level. In the late 1990s, the NRC’s inspectors discovered that dozens of reactors, including the two at Diablo Canyon, did not satisfy the 1980 fire protection regulations. In 2004, the NRC adopted an alternative set of fire protection regulations. Owners had the choice of satisfying either set of regulations. On December 29, 2005, Diablo Canyon’s owner notified the NRC that it opted to someday implement the measures necessary to achieve compliance with the 2004 regulations. As of today, Diablo Canyon meets neither set of fire protection regulations.

Fully one third of American reactors are not protected against flooding from upstream dam breaking. Another nuclear plant would be in severe danger if a DOWNSTREAM dam broke, because that would drain away the source for it's cooling water.

About one quarter of all American reactors in geologic danger zones are not protected against earth quake hazards.

Get the Executive Summary of the Union of Concerned Scientists report on the NRC and U.S. nuclear safety in 2013 here.

After Fukushima, David Lockbaum was on Radio Ecoshock June 1st, 2011. Here is a link to that show blog, and you can listen to/download that interview with David here. It's still important today.

David and co-author Susan Stranahan did an excellent interview for The Real News on American nuke safety. Find that here. Or watch it on You tube. They are also featured in this Washington's Blog entry.

You can buy the book "Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster" here. Or get more details at the Union of Concerned Scientists web site.

In testimony relating to the C-10 group in Boston, and the Pilgrim reactor relicensing, David Lochbaum explained how the NRC stopped enforcing regulations in 1998, after Congress threatened to cut NRC funding. It's incredible how the nuke industry managed to use politicians to avoid spending money on safety fixes.

All this leads to the third big question about American reactor safety. After Fukushima, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission promised to be more vigilant, and get more problems fixed in American reactors. Yet the NRC oversight seems weak, where many safety matters are just voluntary for the companies involved. What happened to NRC Chair Gregory Jaczko, who wanted changes, and is the NRC fixed? Jaczko wanted things repaired to fast, so he got the boot.

I recently covered hearings where the NRC sought a generic environmental approval process for ALL nuclear reactors, instead of case by case - following a high court ruling. That's still on-going.

By refusing to be regulated, the nuclear industry is really gambling with the whole American economy, and maybe the world economy. Twenty percent of US electricity is being gambled on no plant having a really bad accident.

Look what happened in Japan after Fukushima. ALL nuclear plants were shut down. Imagine that happening in the U.S.

Here is another worthwhile article on this new Fukushima book.

Download/listen to this Radio Ecoshock interview with David Lochbaum in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Finally, something that puzzles me, and confuses the public. A nuclear reactor produces huge amounts of power. But if outside electricity is cut off, even for short periods, the whole system risks blowing up or melting down. Why can't a reactor use it's own power to run the cooling system, water intakes, and all that?

Lochbaum says they could have been designed that way, avoiding total dependence on backup generators and batteries. But the electrical equipment within the plant would have to be a higher industrial grade, so this riskier design was chosen - to save money.


Our next guest was the lead author of a team of reporters for the Philadelphia Enquirer. Their reporting on the Three Mile Island reactor accident in Pennsylvania on March 28th, 1979 won a Pulitzer Prize. Suasn has published in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Fortune and Time magazines, and the Rolling Stone.

She's now a free lance writer living in Maine. Susan Q. Stranahan is co-author of the new book "Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster".

America already had a nuclear reactor melt down. Perhaps you didn't know that. Even though I've followed nuclear affairs since before Three Mile Island, I only learned after Fukushima that there really was a melt-down inside those reactors in Pennsylvania.

It was four years before they could even get a camera inside Three Mile Island to see what happened. They found the fuel rods totally melted down, and some nuclear fuel escaped from the reactor. Yet most Americans still buy the original line that it was just a little release of radioactive steam.

Download/listen to this interview with Susan Stranahan in Cd Quality or Lo-Fi

One important aspect of this story is the huge amounts of extra debt accumulated by the Japanese tax payer. All the people who object to government debt, and higher taxes should really pay attention to nuclear safety. The Tea Party should be virulently opposed to nuclear power! When, not if, an even more serious nuclear accident strikes in the U.S., the American people are on the hook for any costs. That's because under the Price-Anderson act, the taxpayers are the insurance company for all 100 current plants, and those that have shut down. No private insurance company would touch the, for good reason. The risks are too huge.

The other story is about all the people who lost their homes, many possibly forever. Imagine part of America being closed.

It's also about the kids. Children are at risk of leukemia and other health problems, and no doubt they learned a new level of fear that day.

To my mind, there are three major scenes in the Fukushima tragedy. The opening act consists of decades where the risks were known and not dealt with. Then we have the technical story of what happened in nuclear terms. But the saddest part may be the failure of humans to react properly and rationally.

In both Fukushima and at Three Mile Island, the government's first reaction seems to have been to reassure the people that everyone is perfectly safe - to downplay the danger. As NBC News reported just last week, "U.S. Nuclear Agency Hid Concerns, Hailed Safety Record as Fukushima Melted". They knew it was bad, but told the public otherwise.

I'm betting most our listeners don't know that in 2010, just before Fukushima, the NRC acquired a new building and hired a thousand more people, just to get ready for the promised nuclear renaissance. The U.S. Government is still promising $8.3 billion for new reactors in Georgia, but the re-birth of nuclear power in America has become more unlikely. That's partly due to public concern after Fukushima, but even more because low natural gas prices makes nuclear reactors completely cost impossible.


There are about 22 dangerous Mark I nuclear reactors still operating in the United States - the same basic design as leaked fuel out of containment at Fukushima. That's almost one quarter of the U.S. fleet of about 100 reactors operating today. As David Lochbaum tells us, the containment was built too small, to save money. And as Fukushima demonstrated, the way the fuel rods come up from the bottom of the reactor makes for weak seals where damaged nuclear fuel can escape. These need to be closed down as a priority. Find out what type of nuclear reactor is nearest you (that is, within a couple of hundred miles upwind...).

We must protect ourselves. The nuclear regulators won't do it, in any country. The nuclear industry is the fourth largesT donor to both political parties in the United States, behind big oil and big tobacco. No wonder both parties protect the industry - even from enforcement of obvious safety fixes!


I get email at Radio Ecoshock, and its the best kind: feedback and ideas from you, the listener.

Bobby Wengronowitz from Boston told me he and a whole flock of students from the Boston area were heading to the U.S. capital to protest the Keystone XL pipeline. Though he's not an expert, Bobby took his sound recorder as a witness. In this picture, Bobby is attached to the Whitehouse fence, in the blue shirt, second from the bottom right.

On March 2nd, they marched from Georgetown to the capital, where they handcuffed their bodies to the Whitehouse fence. Hundreds were arrested. That's a big commitment in the U.S., where your criminal record can become part of your life. It's criminal now to demand a safe climate for young people, and the next generation to come. It's not criminal to blow up the climate with a giant pipeline from the notoriously dirty Canadian Tar Sands. It's all a matter of campaign donations I guess.

When he got back, Bobby wrote to his local paper of record, the Boston Globe. They never published his impassioned letter, so we will. Listen to clips on-scene from the protest, and Bobby's letter here.

It's almost enough to give us hope. Young people know. They care. They have not given up.

You can grab some good chants from the audio of that march, for your own climate protest. If the people of North Africa and the Ukraine can change the government, maybe Americans can boot out the climate deniers and fossil fuel apologists Congress. Maybe Americans can have a future.

I'm Alex Smith. Please support this program at our web site, or the right hand top of this blog.

There are years worth of free mp3 interviews waiting for you at the web site - the voices of scientists, authors and activists from around the world. Help yourself, and help the future, with Radio Ecoshock.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

California Drought: Is this the big one?

RADIO ECOSHOCK SPECIAL ON CALIFORNIA DROUGHT Despite recent rains, California's reservoirs are near empty, snow-pack light, and groundwater depleted. Four experts on a drought that really started in 2006, impacts on economy, food, farming, and nature. Guests: Dr. Peter Gleick, Dr. Jay Famiglietti, David Schroeder, Dr. Reagan Waskom


Rainstorms finally arrived in California, after a 14 month drought with no significant rain. But the big reservoirs are still pitifully low, and snow pack is less than a quarter of normal. Hundreds of thousands of acres will not be planted, and food bills will likely go up in North America, and possibly around the world.

This is the Radio Ecoshock special on the California drought, as a case study of what we can expect in many parts of the Earth. I've lined up 4 experts all with something new for you.

Dr. Peter Gleick is a climate and water specialist who has been warning this could happen for years.

Dr. Reagan Waskom is another water and agriculture expert from Colorado.

We connect with boots-on-the ground water conservation specialist David Schroeder in Montclair, right on the edge of thirsty Los Angeles.

Finally, we get back to the big picture, as Professor Jay Famiglietti at University of California Irvine warns of depletion of the ground water under one of the world's biggest food producing areas. That's a trend all over the world, as we race toward peak water.

Download/listen to this Radio Ecoshock show in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

PETER GLEICK: Is the drought climate change?

Our first guest is Dr. Peter Gleick. He's president of the Pacific Institute in Oakland, California, one of the world's leading independent think tanks on water issues. Peter is also a scientist known around the world.

Peter introduced the term "Bellwether Drought" for this event. We know climate change threatens the water cycle. Scientists believe the wet areas (like the UK!) will get wetter, and the dry areas like California, will get dryer. So the dice are loaded for more droughts to occur in this major food producing area.

Dr. Gleick points out we could say this drought started in at least 2006. There have been several drier-than-normal years since then. Scientists have found records showing California has experienced droughts lasting more than a hundred years in the past, in the 1100's for example.

So we may be asking if human-induced climate change has triggered this drought cycle. The causes of regional weather events are complex. We have ocean currents, natural cycles like El Nino and El Nina, and changes to the Jet Stream. All of those, especially the Jet Stream (as shown by the work of Jennifer Francis et al at Rutgers) can be influenced by climate change.

It's a Bellwether event because whether or not we can nail down direct causation by climate disruption - it's a sure test of what is likely during the coming decades. As in Australia, it is possible Euro-humans arrived in California during a cyclical wet spell that was bound to end. But have we hastened that process?

I also talk with Peter about desalination, it's promises and obstacles. A new desalination plant has been build to feed the San Diego water system. But really, it's so energy intensive and expensive that desalination cannot save the whole California agricultural system.

Peter Gleick is an influential scientist in many places. He talks about the global work his institute is involved in, and it's heavy-duty stuff. It's cool he Tweeted this program link out to his 11,000 plus followers.

You can download or listen to this 18 minute interview with Dr. Peter Gleick in CD Quality or Lo-Fi.

DR. JAY FAMIGLIETTI: Looking at the drought from space.

When the rains don't fall in California, every one checks their wallet for rising food prices. But rain or not, cities and farmers are pumping out California groundwater at an alarming rate. Thanks to new satellite science, now we know how much of that unseen wealth has been depleted. It's a problem for farmers and all humans all over the world, as we grab water stored over the ages, to keep us alive right now. At some point, the water runs out.

Dr. Jay Famiglietti is a Professor of Earth System Science, and Director of the Center for Hydrologic Modeling at the University of California, Irvine. He's an expert's expert.

When the federal government, and state agencies cut off water supplies, as they did just this past month, farmers don't just roll over and die. All those who can start pumping up groundwater furiously. They've been doing that for decades, always at an increasing level. You may think ground water gets replenished with rains, but some of it was captured and contained over millions of years. When I have a glass of water in my village, that water is 100,000 years old.

So just like oil, ground water is a limited resource. When you run out, that's it.

Amazing to tell, scientists can measure the rate of groundwater depletion in California from space. The twin GRACE satellites have shown the loss of mass in Greenland as the glaciers melt. Now scientists at the University of California Irvine report that California is setting new records for groundwater loss. The state is literally getting lighter.

Find out about the GRACE satellites here. Oh, and by the way, one of their top stories is the discovery that climate change is causing the Earth's poles to migrate. Don't believe that? Read about it here.

One result is the land starts to sink, once the water below is removed. That's serious in the Sacramento delta, where so much of North America's fruits and vegetables are grown. Once it goes too low, a rush of salt water, say from a storm surge, can take thousands and thousands of prime acres out of production.

Jay Familietti describes what we know. He says the average of prediction of when California will run out of groundwater at current rates is 60 years from now. After that, the glory days of big populations and big cities may be done. Some experts say it will come sooner than that.

That same story is being repeated, even worse, in countries like China and India. India is pumping out the water tables at an alarming rate. In both countries, as thousands of wells go dry, they drill deeper, and burn even more energy with bigger pumps, just to keep up. Some places are already out of water, and out of production.

Keep this story in mind as you build the big picture: peak groundwater. It's coming.

By the way, I ask Dr. Famiglietti what happens to all the water we pump out for our fields and cities. Some of it goes into the ocean, to become salt water. The warmer atmosphere can hold 4% more water vapor already, since 1970, and that's a huge amount. Other water ends up falling in those places that are already wet.

Don't miss this 12 minute interview with Jay Famiglietti. It's short but powerful. Listen or download in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Read a key article by Dr. Famiglietti "Epic California Drought and Groundwater: Where Do We Go From Here?". And check out his LA Times Op-Ed from 2013, "California's water house of cards".

DR. REAGAN WASKOM - Feeding the western food supply

I was referred to Dr. Waskom by Michael Cohen of the Pacific Institute. Even though Waskom is the University of Colorado in Fort Collins, he's one of the country's wisemen when it comes to water supplies and our food system.

Reagan Waskom is the Director of the Colorado Water Institute, and Chair of the Colorado State University Water Center.

It turns out Colorado supplies much of the water to Southern California. We are not talking about the big food production areas, but more the heavy populations in places like Los Anglees. So what happens in Colorado matters a lot to California.

The good news is there is a heavy snow pack this year in Colorado. How useful that is depends on how fast the snow melt is, among other factors.

I ask Dr. Waskom what happens if California really is in a long-term drought. Could we replace all that food with farming somewhere else in the country?

Dr. Waskom has also been studying the big use of water by the fracking industry. We touch on that.

My final question is more personal: "You've taught a lot of students, and graduate students. Do you think young people are more disconnected from natural reality than when you were growing up?"

I learned a lot just talking with the man. You probably will too. Download this 17 minute interview in CD Quality or Lo-Fi.

DAVID SCHROEDER on the ground outside of LA

I wanted to get you some reporting from right on the ground in southern California. Acting on a tip from a Radio Ecoshock listener, we've reached David Schroeder. He's a Water Conservation Specialist with the Chino Basin Water District. That's based in Montclair California, right on the edge of one of America's biggest cities, Los Angeles.

We talk about where water for southern California comes from, and what to do when it doesn't. Dave specializes in getting the public involved in tearing up grass to install natural vegetation, to use less water in the home, and so on. There isn't much farming left in the south of the state. Now the challenge is huge cities and endless suburbs.

Dave lives in the mountains that used to be white with snow in winter, when I lived in L.A. many moons ago. No snow there this year he reports. That's not good news for the coming fire season, for anything.

Download/listen to this 10 minute interview with David Schroeder in CD Quality


That wraps up my Radio Ecoshock special on the California drought, 2014. I hope you learned, as I did, about where our water comes from, where it's going, and the dangerous tightrope we walk trying to feed a growing world population during climate disruption.

Radio Ecoshock is provided free to more than 75 non-profit radio stations. I depend on your financial help to keep going. Find ways to support this program in this blog, and at the show archive and web site,

I'm Alex Smith. As always, thank you for listening, and caring about your world.