Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Talk in Twisted Times

SUMMARY: Deep thinker Frank Rotering introduces his desperate new strategy to split the rich and plunge the world economy into steep contraction. Then Gail Zawacki savages what's left, while she campaigns against the unknown threat of ozone smog. It's a panorama of inner conversations in twisted times.

The weather has gone sideways. Emissions are up. Climate talks are useless. Protests are polite.

Revolution? Not likely. So...

Author Frank Rotering from British Columbia, Canada hosts He called for the usual progressive bottom-up revolution against the consumer society. Now it's too late for that, Frank says. We need to push a schism in the wealthy capitalists who control the game. Some billionaires are beginning to see they will be wiped out along with the rest of us in ecocide.

Download or listen to this Radio Ecoshock show (141022) here in CD Quality (56 MB) or Lo-Fi (14 MB)

Or listen to it right now on SoundCloud


Politicians, bankers and businessmen religiously tell you the economy needs to keep on growing, with more products and profits for all. Any sane person can see there are limits to growth on a single planet. As wildlife goes extinct, food chains break, and the climate spins out, we have already surpassed those limits. Even a steady state economy, steady as we are now, would crush the biosphere we depend on.

The only and obvious answer is contraction until we reach a sustainable plateau. That's the territory of Frank Rotering. He's the independent thinker from British Columbia, Canada, and lord of the web site Frank has two books out, including "The Economics of Needs and Limits". Prepare to have your basic ideas challenged.

Where to start... Let's say Frank thinks the analysis of capitalism by Karl Marx is still useful, while his solutions are not. Until relatively recently, and in his two previous books, Rotering yearned for the same bottom-up revolution many progressive people want. Stimulated by leadership by indigenous people, greens, and activists for social justice, the masses would wake up and demand change.

Now, and especially after reading Naomi Klein's new book "This Changes Everything", Rotering realizes (a) people in the developed countries are not going to revolt and (b) there isn't time left to educate the populace about the true state of affairs. Climate change is just one of several forces that indicate we have less than a decade left, if that, to make radical changes to avoid catastrophe.

While Frank has been a progressive person all is life, the cold facts drive him to a desperate conclusion. Our best and only hope is that enough capitalists will wake up to the dangers, and force changes themselves. That's not an impossible strategy. As you've heard on Radio Ecoshock in the past few weeks, former and current Secretaries of the U.S. Treasury warn climate change can sink our economy (read the wealth accumulated by the capitalist class). Billionaire Michael Bloomberg is on board the same train, worried about climate. Even the oil-rich Rockefellers say they are getting out of fossil fuel investments.

Rotering says as activists we can help speed up a split in the capitalist class. One party realizes we are engaged in the business of ecocide; the other are intent on making more profits while nature goes down into the sixth great mass extinction event. It will be a battle of the titans.

In the interview, I object that it may be a fantasy to depend on the "hero theory" - that the powerful will act to save us. That also relieves each of us from our own responsibility to make the millions of small changes needed to preserve a liveable planet. Frank points out that Naomi Klein also says a small group of billionaires (like Stayer and Branson) are not going to save us. He is not talking about a group of "heroes", but rather a division in a large class of people around the world - the people who have accumulated all the wealth. Their sea-side estates, their businesses, will be hit by climate change, not to mention other high risks faced by their kids.

It's possible, but I'm still not entirely convinced. You can take part in this discussion. Frank Rotering invites all Radio Ecoshock listeners to write him about this strategy. Pour out your objections to test the theory, ask your pointed questions, or make suggestions of how we can push this historic change. All this will be incorporated in Frank's new book, due out in 2015. Beta test social theory! Contact Frank through his web site at

You can also watch a 2011 video interview with Frank Rotering here. Download or listen to the Frank Rotering interview in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


New England's Gail Zawacki is fed up. The Flood Wall Street protest never delivered on it's plan for civil disobedience arrests. It gave up and ate pizzas without ever reaching Wall Street. Zawacki covers a lot of ground in these times of despair and failure. She's also been on a one-woman campaign against the almost unknown threat posed by low-level ozone smog.

From Georgia to New England, leaves are blotchy, trees are dying. It's a sign of the same polluted air that puts up to 20% of our kids with inhalers in the classroom. Low-level ozone is a plague around the world. It weakens plants for a deluge of fungi, insects, and diseases. Yet hardly anyone knows about it. Gail does, and she tells all.

The blog is called Wit's End. So far, it's been read over 11 million times. The author - I want to say artist - is Gail Zawacki. She's edgy. She's on a campaign to save trees from air pollution. But mostly Gail's in a battle against the never-ending conceits humans use to pretend


We begin by talking about the Flood Wall Street protest. Gail's description of the way this degenerated into a happy pizza party is funny and sad. Revolution? Not!

Read that here.

I just love the photo Gail contributed this week. Gail's dog knows where Wall Street is on a map, why don't the protesters?

Gail talks about the book An Appalachian Tragedy. It detailed the on-going impacts of ozone pollution on America's forests, from Georgia to New England. Nobody in the EPA was interested, and in fact, one person Gail wrote snapped the only "tragedy" was that the book was written at all!

We also discussed the Jack Fishman lecture to celebrate scientist Paul Creutzen's 80th birthday. Fishman realized the threat of low-level ozone back in the early 1990's. View that presentation here.

After a few formalities for Creutzen, Fishman launches into a powerful case indicting ozone. The video is described as: "Tropospheric Ozone in the Anthropocene: Are We Creating a Toxic Atmosphere? Max-Planck-Institut für Chemie Published on Feb 19, 2014

"Talk of Jack Fishman Saint Louis University, USA at the Anthropocene Symposium, Mainz, 2 December 2013. The scientific symposium has been organized by the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in celebration of the 80th birthday of Paul Crutzen, winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1995."

Get this. This scientist asks if we are "creating a toxic atmosphere". How many people are interested. When I checked, there were 238 views on You tube. Yawn. Toxic atmosphere... who cares?

You can find out about Jack Fishman's "Ozone Gardens" in St. Louis in a .pdf here. School kids get to learn which plants die fastest from our air pollution.

Excerpts from Jack Fishman's 1990 book "Global Alert" are reprinted in this Zawaki blog post (scroll down past the gory photos of plants and trees blighted by ozone...)

Gail talks about the BBC "Global Dimming" documentary (which shows how our dusty pollution is shading Earth enough to hide up to 1 degree C of the greenhouse gases we've actually put into the atmosphere.

Find a transcript of that program here.

Watch the documentary here.

The Radio Ecoshock special on global dimming (20 minutes, 18 MB) is available as a free .mp3 here.

A transcript of Radio Ecoshock special on global dimming, (broadcast Sept 8, 2006) is here.

We also talk about what can happen if the smog on the air stops suddenly, say due to an economic crash, a solar storm knocking out electric grids, or whatever. Will the Earth experience a sudden burst of warming? Probably.

The Radio program Gail recommends is from Radio Lab, "Dust of This Planet" broadcast September 8th. She also likes the following program on September 19th, called "Staring into the Abyss".

Gail mentions Mark Jacobson, a Professor at Stanford who published a plan to switch the world to renewable energy by 2030. Dr. Mark Jacobson will be my guest on Radio Ecoshock soon.

Gails' Wit's End blog often features paintings by the Medieval artist Hieronymus Bosch. Find out more in this Wiki entry.

You can view the complete works of Hieronymus Bosch here.

Gail mentioned the World Bank applauding China's effort to impose a carbon tax. Find that news article here.

The New York Time article by Justin Gillis about ozone damage to crops is here.

Gail says pollution-damaged crops produce less at harest time, but also have less nutrition. Find the Article in the journal Nature "Increasing CO2 threatens human nutrition" reference here. (Only the Abstract is available for free.)

Find the "Apocalypsi Libary at The End of the World" here.

For the Dead Trees - Dying Forests website, click here.

Find Gail's book "Pillage, Plunder & Pollute, LLC" as a free .pdf download on this page.

Or order the print version of the book here on Amazon. It's Gail's terrific summary of her almost one-woman campaign to wake us all up to the on-going damage caused by invisible ground-level ozone pollution. I recommend it.

And of course, don't miss her witty blog, here.

You can download or listen to the Radio Ecoshock interview with Gail Zawacki in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Gail sailed through a lot of cutting edge material. All of it is backed up by recent papers and articles you will want. Follow the links for yourself.


Frank Rotering talked about Naomi Klein's new book "This Changes Everything". Naomi will be my guest on Radio Ecoshock two weeks from now. Gail Zawacki mentioned Stanford's Mark Jacobson, who worked out a path to a world powered by renewables by 2030. Mark will join us soon on the show.

But next week I want to dive into a great gaping sink-hole of mainstream media news coverage. No doubt you've seen fast clips about the two typhoons flooding Japan lately. They don't tell you what is happening at the Fukushima nuclear disaster site, where tons of radioactive water flow straight into the Pacific Ocean on a good day. It's time for a Fukushima update, with our best guide, nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen. Plus, Arnie has been sending reports to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission about California's most dangerous reactor, Diablo Canyon. As we found out from Fukushima, a blow reactor anywhere in the world quickly becomes everybody's problem, no matter where you live. Stay tuned to Radio Ecoshock.

Our Soundcloud page went over 10,000 listens this week. Check that out. Get all our past programs as free mp3 downloads from the show web site at They are only free to all the world thanks to the people who donate to Radio Ecoshock. You can help here.

Donors and subscribers also fund my work on 87 non-profit radio stations. These stations do not pay me anything, and they forbid any program to fund-raise. So I'm counting on you, the podcast subscriber and blog reader, to keep on going.

I'm Alex Smith, saying thank you for listening, and thanks for supporting this show on your non-profit radio station.

I close out the show with a bit of my latest music.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Future Past

SUMMARY: Bojana Bajzelj of Cambridge finds raising food for 9 billion will take all our carbon emissions. Benjamin Blonder tells us how the current plant world was shaped by the last big meteorite hit. Eelco Rohling: sea level rose 5 meters (16 ft) in the last big warming melt. Radio Ecoshock 141015

Welcome to Radio Ecoshock. I'm Alex Smith with a show crammed with science that matters. Three new papers on climate change: rising emissions from our food system, seas rising 5 meters, over 16 feet in a single century, and the big bang of a meteor strike.

Let's go.

Listen to or download this Radio Ecoshock show in CD Quality (56 MB) or Lo-Fi (14 MB)

Or listen right now on Soundcloud.


Several scientist guests on Radio Ecoshock warn we will never be free of carbon emissions because our food system creates greenhouse gases. It comes from clearing forests for fields, from stirring up the soil, from petrochemical-based fertilizers, from cows and other animals (as methane), and then whatever we use to transport the food to your home.

How bad are those food-based emissions? Figures vary from 20% of our total emissions, all the way up to 50%. They are large enough, and growing so much, that in a few decades all the carbon we can possibly afford to release will come from our food system. That means all industry, transportation, and products must be carbon free - or we live in a dwindling damaged climate.

A new study led by Cambridge University in the UK, assisted by Scottish scientists calculates the carbon future of agriculture. I reached the study's lead author, Dr. Bojana Bajzelj. Bojana is from the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge. The paper published at the end of August 2014 is titled "Importance of food-demand management for climate mitigation".

That's in the journal Nature Climate Change, a closed journal, but you can get the abstract and some of the charts in this article.

The more scientists look, the impacts of overpopulation are impossible. A new study from the University of Washington projects world population by the year 2100 will be 12 billion people, 3 billion higher than figures accepted by the United Nations.

Even if it's 9 billion people, a study out of Cambridge University calculates the greenhouse gases just to feed that population will swallow the entire budget for greenhouse gases. Even at our current 7 billion plus people, we are cutting into rich biological forests like the Amazon and Congolese rainforests, to grow more food, especially for meat production.

The Cambridge study predicts the world will lose yet another 10 percent of existing forests in the scramble to feed ourselves. Are you worried about losing half our wildlife in the last 40 years? Bojana tells us that agricultural deforestation is the Number One cause of loss of biodiversity.

These scientists tell us that by 2050, emissions from the food system will be 80% higher than they were in 2009 (when they were already at a record high amount).

I asked Bojana if their study also included a scenario where the world population went DOWN. That seems like a fair question in these days of Ebola. They did not consider this. She recommends the work of Dr. Hans Rosling on population predictions. Rosling offers many statistics on why we shouldn't panic on population. I disagree, but you can see his video "Don't Panic, the Truth About Population" here.

When we burn or cut forests, we lose carbon to the atmosphere twice. The trees themselves are made of carbon. That is released to the air. But forests also buffer some of our carbon pollution, and we lose that too.


We encounter rapid human population growth as yet another positive feedback mechanism. Bajzelj covered that in another paper, released this summer with Keith S. Richards. The title is "The Positive Feedback Loop between the Impacts of Climate Change and Agricultural Expansion and Relocation". I'll pass this one to Dr. Guy McPherson, in case he's missed this for his grand list of positive feedback loops. Find Guy's list here. Scroll down to "Self-Reinforcing Feedback Loops"

If the population does increase to 9 billion, we have to clear more land for agriculture. That deforestation creates more global warming. Climate change causes more damage to agriculture than benefits. So climate change means we would need to clear even more land for farming, especially given the current global trend toward inefficient meat consumption. We clear more land, raise more methane producing livestock, get more warming, get more climate damage, clear more land.... and that's the loop. The author of the study doesn't think it classifies as a major positive feedback loop, but it is definitely another one.

The really stunning thing is the need to do these two studies. Here we are with a population that keeps booming, and keeps demanding more meat. Both subjects are almost taboo with politicians who hope to get elected. There isn't a zero-population, veggie-promoting leader anywhere on the planet, that I know of. How the heck can we get a few billion people to take off the blinders, and see where this train is headed?


Yes, this problem includes you, assuming you eat food, and don't grow it all yourself. So what can be done?

First of all, about half of all food grown in the world is simply wasted. Even in a hungry country like India, over half the crops grown are lost to pests, lack of refrigeration, poor transport, and uneven distribution. Here in the developed world, we also waste about half the food grown, but in a different place in the food chain: restaurants, grocery stores, and homes toss out mountains of food. We could greatly reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture by cutting out that waste.

The second big move is too obvious. We need to greatly reduce meat consumption in the developed world, and head off that ominous trend in the developing world. China has moved big-time "up" the food chain, eating billions of tons more chicken and pork. At least those animals produce less methane than cows do. Cows are the number one biggest emitters - personally as they give off methane, but also in the huge amounts of food required to produce a single pound of beef.

The relationship of vegetables to meat is something like 10 to 90. Growing vegetables producesabout 10 percent of the greenhouse gases versus 90% for the same amount of food power from meat. See my interview with Kip Anderson "Cowspiracy".

Personally, after talking with many scientists, I think any carbon budget for 2050 is not workable. By then, we must find a way to reverse our civilization, so that we are drawing carbon back out of the air, rather than adding any at all. Assuming we are going to continue eating, this study emphasizes the huge amount of carbon draw-down we'll require just to break even, just to take out as much carbon as agriculture requires.


Humans seem set to trigger a climate change at amazing speed. We could experience a greenhouse world from just 150 years of fossil-fuelled civilization. It's likely one of the most rapid world-scale changes in nature in this planet's 4 billion year history.

We're going to journey back millions of years, to explore the fastest mass extinction event we know much about. Maybe we'll learn something about our future. Our tour-guide is Dr. Benjamin Blonder, from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, at the University of Arizona.

Blonder is the lead author of "Plant Ecological Strategies Shift Across the Cretaceous–Paleogene Boundary" It is published in the journal PLOS Biology, which is open to the public. Anyone can read the full paper here.


Seventy million years ago, Earth's climate was in flux, changing from ice-house worlds to greenhouse times. Then 66 million years ago, a chunk of rock 10 kilometers across hit the Earth. We think it landed on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, creating a crater in the Gulf of Mexico. A kind of matter called "Iridium" spread all over the world. Iridium comes from outer space, so we know approximately when this disaster happened.

Immediately there was a giant tsunami, but also a great cloud of smoke and particles that went round the world. We don't know how long it was dark, but possibly for years. About half of all plant life on the planet died off. So did many animals, including most of the dinosaurs (except those which could fly, becoming our modern birds).

The event has been compared to a nuclear winter, but much bigger. It's thought the meteorite exploded with the force of 100 teratons of TNT. That's such a big number. I did a little math. The largest nuclear weapon ever tested, the 1960's Soviet "Tsar Bomba" - that was 58 megatons of TNT. It looks to me like this 100 teraton meteorite blast was the equivalent of about 2 million of the largest nuclear weapon ever made, all blown off at once. That's a big bang.


One result of that meteor impact, and this was the major point of Blonder's paper, is the widespread deciduous plants we see today, in the Fall colors of North America, Europe and Russia. Prior to the impact, most of that region was clothed in slower-growing flowering evergreen plants. These survive today in things like ivy and mistletoe.

When the sky went dark, plants had several possible survival strategies. One was to drop their leaves, and wait for the next patch of sunlight. Evergreens couldn't do that, and died in great numbers. Plants also migrated, invasive species filled up the ecological holes, and so the Earth saw many of the responses we might see again with a rapid climate shift.

It's difficult to apply this meteor-strike science directly to modern times, because the research method cannot be more accurate than 10,000 years. That means they just don't know what happened in 100 years, for example.

The science involves the study of fossil leaves, which can tell us a lot about the ecology and biology of formerly living things. It's similar to the work explained by Dr. Robert Spicer to Radio Ecoshock listeners in our 2008 interview. Find that here.

My friend and correspondent Dr. Andrew Glikson in Australia made a time map and catalog of all the known meteor stikes during the last billion years or so of Earth's history. Things arrive from space from time to time. is there anything stopping another big comet or meteor showing up and hitting the Earth again? Not at all, says Blonder. His University of Arizona is a leader in tracking activity from outer space, (the "Space Watch program") - but surprises are always possible.

Personally, I don't worry about rocks from space. The most dangerous thing around here is a species that can't live up to it's name "homo sapiens". Dr. Blonder says there is no point in worrying about such a meteor strike, as there is absolutely nothing we can do to prepare for it, or survive it. There may be no big strike in the next 50 million years, or it may come next year. Nobody knows for sure.


In a warming world, we picture sea level rise creeping up slowly, measured in inches or milLimeters. Maybe not. According to new science, at the end of the last five ice ages, the seas rose several meters per century, more than 10 feet. There was such a case about 14,600 years ago.

Eelco Rohling is a Professor of Ocean and Climate Change at the National Oceanography Centre at the University of Southampton, in Australia. He's the co-author of the paper "Sea-level variability over five glacial cycles." That was just published in the journal Nature Communications. As that is a closed journal, here is a good science-based article about this new study.

Dr. Eelco Rohling

We should stress that sea level rise comes from land-based ice, and not the more well-known melting of the sea ice cover at the North Pole. Right now, Rohling tells us, land ice is melting rapidly from Greenland, from West Antarctica, and almost anywhere glaciers are found. The recent NASA science showing that Antarctica is also losing ice mass was stunning. I covered that in my Rado Ecoshock show for May 21st, 2014. Listen to, or download that here. The show blog with links is here.

The scientists led by Rohling managed to date several major de-glaciations in the last hundred thousand years, and about 120 lesser melt periods. The largest amount of sea level rise was indeed over 5 meters in a single century (over 16 feet). BUT that record amount happened when Earth was covered by more than twice as much ice as today. North America, for example, was half buried in a glacier more than a mile deep. To look at what could happen today, Rohling says we need to look at the lesser melt events.

For example, there were similar size melts 240,000 years ago, and 330,000 years ago, Rohling tells us. These resulted in about 1.5 meters of sea level rise (almost 5 feet) in a single century. That's pretty close to what the IPCC is predicting as well.

Five feet is catastrophic on it's own. Just think of the amount of delta farming land lost, the major world cities that would need to relocate, the mega-changes to nature on the coasts. And that doesn't include the storm surges from climate-driven monster storms. Add another 20 feet or more for those.

Two more things stand our for me in this study.

1. We shouldn't even be talking about what happens in one century. Rising seas will continue for many centuries. In some case the greatest sea level rise happens 400 years after the melting begins.

2. Related to that, the past history of de-glaciation shows that once this melting process begins, it is "irreversible" (says Rohling). Past major melts were begun in part by changes in the Earth's orbit, slowly leading to warming on Earth. The current melt is being cause by human-induced climate change. It doesn't matter what triggers the melt. Once it's begun, it will continue to unfold - even if humans managed to cool things down, say with geo-engineering or quitting the carbon habit.

We're committed to ever-changing coastlines already. We are imposing a constantly rising sea, an ever-changing coast line, on all humans, animals and plants to come, for hundreds or even thousands of years.

It's hard to picture a civilization where the coast is always changing. I suppose cities now by the sea, and that's many of the world's largest metropolises, would have to be abandoned. Living by the sea will become more dangerous, especially during storm surges.

I also worry that the current melting may not follow the patterns of the past. We may heat things up so fast, that we get the 5 meters of sea level rise anyway, much sooner than anyone expects. Nobody knows for sure where this experiment with the atmosphere is leading.

Blogger Robert Scribbler has a good article, saying "Current sea level rise is faster than at any time in the last 6000 years."


I hate bugging people for money. In my ideal world, science journalists and radio producers would live from some magical grant money. I don't get any grant money, don't run advertisements, and won't take corporate funding.

Right now I need your support to pay the bills, and keep on going. I may have to mount an official fund-raising drive. We'll see. If you can help, please either send a one-time donation, or sign up for the $10 a month membership. Both kinds of donors have kept this radio show going for the past year. Can you help? Visit this page for details.


Coming up: we'll talk about why Progressives (maybe you and I) are part of the problem, rather than the solution. I've got a special on new radioactive leaks into the Pacific from Fukushima coming up. You know, the big storms that hit Japan, and nobody mentions the already flooded reactor cores down there somewhere.... Later in the month, Naomi Klein joins us. Stay tuned.

That's our program for this week. Download all our past programs as free .mp3 files at our web site, I'm Alex Smith. Thanks for listening, and please share the news about Radio Ecoshock on social media. Once a week I Tweet out the show announcement. Follow @ecoshock.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014


Quick summary: WWF report: 52% of wildlife lost since 1970. Cost of climate change forum with Treasury Secretaries Robert Rubin and Jack Lew. Update on climate march and results. Plus climate poetry and new song by Neil Young. Radio Ecoshock 141008

***THIS JUST IN: PRIME MINISTER OF AUSTRALIA, TONY ABBOTT, SAYS "COAL IS GOOD FOR HUMANITY" *** (like Ebola is good for humanity I suppose, considering Australia just had it's hottest year ever and seems headed for the worst of climate change) ****

Welcome to Radio Ecoshock. This week we take a break from interviews with experts. There is just too much stomach-churning news to ignore. I would let you down if we didn't cover the biggest headlines.

There is some recovery time as well. You'll hear a few clips from the massive climate march in New York City and around the world. I've also slipped in 3 new songs and a sample of climate poetry.

Buckle up, and let's slip into the raging river.

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

Or you can download or listen to this program on Soundcloud right now!


The population of vertebrate wildlife has fallen by half since 1970.

We could more or less stop this program right there. Maybe we should fill the rest with a funeral march.

Wait. We are adults, we are conscious, we can take it.

The study is called the "Living Planet Report 2014". It was published by the World Wide Fund for Nature, the new name for the World Wildlife Fund.

The 180 page report features a new way to count the species most like us, those with backbones. That includes mammals of course, but also reptiles, birds, amphibians, and fish. The new method is called "The Living Planet Index".

In addition to the World Wildlife Fund, other groups contibuted heavily to this new assessment. These include the Zoological society of London, the Global Footprint Network, and the Water Footprint Network.

I play short clip from Ken Norris, Director of Science at the Zoological Society of London, recorded by ITN news.

Just a couple of years ago, in their 2012 report, WWF said the wildlife populations were down "only", only 28 percent since 1970. That's almost doubled, to 52 percent, now that scientists have been able to add up the damage in developing countries. Earlier estimates were based on easily available wildlife counts in North America and Europe, where some creatures are even recovering. Now we learn that in Southeast Asia, and Latin America, the animals are disappearing at a terrifying rate.

I know we are all thinking about iconic animals like tigers, elephants and gorillas. These have declined by 38 percent, and some like the Siberian Tiger and the White Rhino are almost extinct. The causes are hunting, for trophies, bush meat, ivory, or alleged medicines. But it's also the same problem faced by animals all over the world: human populations are booming. We want the wood from the forests, the water from the streams, we want to cut it all down for money and places to live and grow our food. That's called "habitat loss".

Ocean species are also declining, by 39 percent around the world since 1970. That's mostly by overfishing, overfishing, and overfishing including by-catch. Governments are still subsidizing the construction of new ever-more powerful fishing boats with underwater radar and all that. We are literally scraping the bottom of the sea into emptiness.

But the largest losers are the creatures who inhabit fresh water. Everything from lake and river fish, to amphibians and fresh water mammals are down by an astonishing 76 percent since 1970. How long until these waters are empty?

The exit of wildlife from Planet Earth is not mainly about climate change. Yet. The WWF report estimates 37% of animals loss is from exploitation, 31% from habitat change, 13% from outright habitat loss, and smaller amounts from invasive species and genes, pollution, disease, and at this point 7.1% from climate change.

Wildlife protection works, sort of. The study found land-based animals within protected zones dropping only 18% since 1970. On the other hand, rhinos are disappearing even in protected area in Africa and Southeast Asia.

We wrap this one up with a quote from Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International, recorded for the Telegraph newspaper in the UK.

Here is a decent AP article about this report. Or check out the good charts on it

Do I need to spell out what it means? In the time since some of your were children, in 1970, Earth is bleeding out half the species closest to us in structure, in their brains and lives. As we expand our billions of people, and our endless desires and consumption, we are knocking most other species off the planet. Does anyone really think we can survive without them?

Normally I complain mainstream media doesn't cover the biggest stories. This time they did. The Living Planet Report got video with TV networks, and stories from all the wire services and major newspapers. From there it will head into oblivion, as the next headline pops up, the next video goes viral. We'll re-enter the dream of forgetfulness, only dimly aware of our growing position of lonliness, as Nature exits stage right.


Here is a short climate poem, in the genre known as "investigative poetry." It's read by the poet, Edward Keenan. He's the City Hall reporter for the Toronto Star, and author of a book about the rise of the crack-pot Mayor Rob Ford.

This recording comes from a podcast called "After the Collapse", recorded live at La Revolucion Cafe in Toronto, Canada. That's produced for "Radio Regent" - a virtual station from one of Toronto's poorest habitations, called Regent Park. I love how really local radio is flowering. You can find the After the Collapse podcast episodes at


And I mean really, really hot. Like in Southern California, where it was over 105 degrees Fahrenheit, 40 degrees C, in the first week of October. The Los Angeles Times compared it to Death Valley temperatures escaping into the rest of the state.

In their story headlined "Sweltering heat continues to hold Southland in its grip", we find this quote from William Patzert, a climatologist for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge:

"This is not a good preview of coming attractions...Triple-digit temperature, single-digit humidity and gusty breezes — that's a formula for misery and fires." Patzert added: "We're living in a warmer world, so we should expect that daytime and nighttime temperature records will tumble."

And here is what happens when the hot future arrives: it's too hot for many human activities. School districts like Long Beach, without air-conditioning in schools, cancelled classes. In Los Angeles, schools cancelled "all outdoor activities and sports practices". Just imagine trying to do construction jobs, agriculture picking, electric line maintenance - anything that involves outdoor work. These will have to become night-time activities in the coming decades. It will be too hot to go outside in the daytime. In October.

What about the state-wide extreme drought in California and the Southwest?


A new study released by Dr. Toby Ault of Cornell University warns megadroughts are coming, in many parts of the world, due to climate change. Some places will go 35 years of more without any rain. These will be drying and hotter than anything we've discovered in the past.

The peer-reviewed study will be published in the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate. It is the first to conclusively prove extreme droughts are caused by climate change.

Dr. Ault told the Independent newspaper in the UK, quote:

We can now explicitly add megadroughts to the list of risks that are being intensified by climate change. Without climate change there would be a 5 to 15 per cent risk of a megadrought in the south-west of the US this century. With it, the probability jumps to between 20 per cent and 50 per cent, with the southernmost part of the country particularly at risk."

We are not just talking about California. These dry decades of megadroughts are expected to show up in southern Europe, in many parts of Africa, Central and South America, and Australia.


Speaking of Australia, new science shows the extreme heat in 2013, Australia's hottest year ever, can be attributed directly to climate change. In 2013, as Tim Radford of Climate News Network tell us, "Australia recorded its hottest day ever, its hottest month in the history books, its hottest summer, its hottest spring, and its hottest year overall."

All that is found in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society titled "Explaining Extreme Events of 2013 from a Climate Perspective". You can download it for free.

There is more here, from NOAA.

The irony is that Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has been down-playing or denying human-caused climate change. But this study was partly paid for with tax dollars. Actually, five scientific teams looked at extreme weather in Australia.

Tim Radford writes, quote: "doubled the chance of severe heat waves in Australia - making extreme summer temperatures five times more likely, increasing the chance of drought conditions sevenfold, and making hot temperatures in spring 30 times more probable."

The same collection of papers was unable to agree on the climate influence of the current drought in California, or the strange out-of-season snowfall events in South Dakota or the Spanish Pyrenees. Some scientists found enough evidence for climate drivers, others did not. That is a hung jury among scientists.


What are over-heated Australians to do? One town is leading the way into the new future. Coober-Pedy has moved everything, from homes to a shopping mall, underground to avoid the heat. I've been to a similar underground village in Southern Tunisia.

Coober-Pedy was founded in 1915 for opal mining. The miners left a handy collection of tunnels and underground rooms. Resident re-fashion these into homes called "dugouts". There are 1500 dugout homes, with every modern convenience.

That's the future folks. It's what our early ancestor mammals did to survive an earlier giant greenhouse world a some millions of years ago. Burrow undergound, and come out at night.


Looking for more hot stories. How about this one. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, says 2014 is on track to be the hottest year ever recorded. NASA data shows August 2014 was the hottest August ever, around the world.

As reported by Andrea Thompson at, Jake Crouch, NOAA climatologist told a press briefing:

"If we continue a consistent departure from average for the rest of 2014, we will edge out 2010 as the warmest year on record.”

More from Andrea,

"For the year-to-date, the globe has measured 1.22°F above the 20th century average of 57.3°F, which makes January-August 2014 the third warmest such period since records began in 1880. The record-hot August marks the 38th consecutive August and the 354th consecutive month with a global average temperature above the 20th century average, according to the NCDC."

Maybe folks in the Eastern US and Canada had doubts about this cool summer, but around the world it's been sweltering. There are more reports that the oceans are abnormally hot, but we'll save that for another show.


People know it's hot. Coming up you'll get some clips from the big climate march. But first, it's time to follow the money.

The new game among some big money men, in business and in governments, is to calculate the cost of climate change. Some talk as though it's an item you can put in a spreadsheet, a cost of business as usual. Others sound genuinely worried, as they describe climate damage in language Wall Street can understand.

Let's listen in as former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and current US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, speak at an event co-ordinated by the Hamilton Project on September 22nd, 2014.

These are no lightweights. Robert Rubin is currently co-chair of the very influential power center, the Council on Foreign Relations. And Rubin is clear and concerned about climate change. The two were joined by Michael Greenstone. He's The Milton Friedman Professor in Economics and Director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago. Trust me, The Milton Friedman chair is no left wing position. And yet here they all are, talking about climate change.

You can find the video of this event online. Or download the audio here.

I play you the key material from this forum.

Note that at the latest meeting of G-20 leaders of developed countries, the best they could do for the climate was to continue to study funding mechanisms to help those countries wrecked by it. More study! Utterly lame.

Later in the question and answer period, Michael Greenstone said that if scientists are in almost complete agreement about climate change, economists have a big majority who agree on what to do about it. Put a price on carbon. That penalizes big emitters, and rewards those who find cleaner ways.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew must repeat the mantra that the American economy, and the world economy, must continue to grow, despite climate change. He apparently didn't get the memo that scientists, including Radio Ecoshock guest Dr. Timothy Garrett, have shown the economy must actually shrink to have any hope of reducing climate emissions. In a peer-reviewed paper, published in a respected journal, Garrett showed that wealth equals energy equals heat. In fact, at this point, only a rapid collapse of the economy could save us from extreme climate change.

Never mind. All finance ministers must talk about ever-lasting growth, even on a finite planet obviously already under stress. Sooner or later I'm going to interview Professor Niko Paech. He's a professor at the Carl Ostiewsky University in Oldenburg. Niko made himself unpopular by showing how developed economies could shrink themselves, and reduce emissions for real. Aside from consuming much less, Niko Paech calls for a 20 hour work week. Work less, consume less, produce less, pollute less - and maybe we have a chance.


Meanwhile, the huge accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers has released a report stating the obvious: the world is failing to cut emissions. Instead we are adding more pollution. The report says we are headed beyond the supposed 2 degree C, 3.6 Fahrenheit "safe level". It's called "Low Carbon Economy Index".

The accountants say, quote: “the gap between what we are doing and what we need to do has again grown, for the sixth year running." They expect us to reach at least 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit of warming by the year 2100. I'd call that an underestimate.


Before we jump off the nearby bridge, there was one big, big piece of good news from the financial world this week. The legendary Rockefeller Brothers announced they are divesting themselves of fossil fuels. The Rockefellers practically brought us the the oil age.

When they get out, it's time to get out!

The Rockefellers says renewable energy is the future to invest in.

According to the Financial Times, the Rockefeller Brothers trust fund joins another 800 institutions and billionaires controlling over 50 billion dollars in investments. In particular, the Rockefellers are withdrawing any money from the Tar Sands. Maybe some day, the Canadian Tar Sands will shut down because no one will invest in them. It's a small hope, but a real one.


Just for a break, here is a short music creation sent in to Radio Ecoshock by long-time listener and musician Dana Pearson from Oakland California. It's all produced at home on synthsizers, and called "Overshoot".

Find Dana Person as vastmandana at Thanks for your work Dana, on behalf of the climate and your fervent dream of solar energy for the world.


So what about the climate march, September 21st, 2014? Somewhere between 300,000 and 400,000 people filled the streets of New York city. They marched with very creative floats and banners. They rallied to push for climate action, starting with the meeting of world leaders the following Tuesday, called by the United Nations. There were thousands of other marches in other cities and countries around the world on the same day.

It was the biggest climate protest so far. That is certainly encouraging. Poll after poll find that at least 60%, and often 80% of humans believe climate change is real and caused by human actions.

You can watch or listen to the special Democracy Now! coverage of the New York City climate march here.

I selected clips from the climate march, New York September 21st from Democracy Now with Amy Goodman. Speakers are Leonardo di Caprio, Bill McKibben, Robert Kennedy Jr., Jim Schultz, Katy Robbins, Sandra Steingraber.


And yet, as the satirical headline in Onion News shows: "7.1 Billion Demonstrate in Favor of Global Warming".

"In an overwhelming show of support for dangerously escalating temperatures, 7.1 billion people from nearly every nation on earth staged massive demonstrations yesterday in favor of global warming. 'Whether they were sitting in their living rooms, watching Football at a bar, or just driving somewhere, a sizable portion of the world let its support for climate change be heard loud and clear,' said environmental policy expert Janet Purvis, adding that the protest that began in the morning never lost steam at any point throughout the day. 'This should serve as a wake-up call to officials around the world that the factors contributing to global warming are real, important, and must be protected at any cost.' At press time, the 7.1 billion protesters were reportedly making plans to stage similar rallies every day for the foreseeable future."


The Democracy Now coverage also included the premier of a new eco-song by Neil Young. Here it is, "Who's Gonna Stand Up? (and save the Earth)".

Find that song here on Soundcloud.

Neil Young donated that song "Who's Gonna Stand Up" to the climate protest movement. Thanks Neil!


Earlier we talked about the world of finance, and their role in supporting the continued development of deadly fossil fuels. That was not lost on the climate marchers in New York. They helped resurrect the Occupy banner, to "Flood Wall Street". More here from Ecowatch, including the polar bear arrest photo taken by Shawn Cain.

The protesters made clear they hold "unregulated capitalism" responsible for the continuing heating of the atmosphere, with resulting damage here on Earth. This protest of several thousand people was more tense. The cops arrested over 100 people. One full-size polar bear was also cuffed and removed. Actually inside it was Peter Galvin, co-founder of Center for Biological Diversity.

Naomi Klein, Chris Hedges and Rebecca Solnit spoke at the rally.


After all that, the actual UN meeting of world leaders on climate change was, if you' permit a pun, "anti-climactic". In spite of attention around the world, nothing much was done.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping didn't show up. Those are the leaders of the world's largest carbon polluter, and the up-and-coming candidate for second largest. Two other big polluters skipped this meeting of world leaders: Canada's Mr. Tar Sands Stephen Harper, and Australian Mr. Coal Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Also missing in action was Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

India's absence was really depressing. China at least has made some goals for reduction, and actually implemented new clean energy on a large scale. By contrast the government of Narendra Modi has avoided climate change, while loading up on coal power.

According to the New York Times, India plans to increase emissions. Never mind if the Monsoons don't come, or the heat becomes even more unbearable. We're going to need a whole show on India and climate change.

Some promises were made. President Obama outlined his country's plan to reduce emissions. The European Union promised to cut emissions by 40% of 1990 levels by the year 2030. That's huge. Most of the emissions explosion happened since the year 1990, so the Europeans have a big target.

Britain's David Cameron was more long term, promising to cut emissions by 80% by 2050. He'll be dead then, so it's OK. The climate would be irretrievably lost at that rate.

According to a handy round-up of climate meeting promises in the National Journal, quote: "Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli repeated China's previously stated goal of cutting carbon emissions by 40 to 45 percent from 2005 levels by 2020." Find that article here.

Japan made no commitments at all. Canada said they would cut emissions from cars, but said nothing about the Tar Sands or other fossil fuel production. It was all under-whelming. If these are our brave world leaders, there is nobody there to save us, or our grandchildren.


That's my Radio Ecoshock climate round-up for this week. Next week we'll be talking with scientists about shocking new developments in climate change. Did you know the sea level can rise 5 meters in a century, once the ice starts melting? It's happened before.

Christine donated enough to pay for our entire month's worth of Radio Ecoshock downloads from the Internet. Thanks Christine! You can help keep this program going. Get the details here, or click the donate button above. It all helps!

We've indulged in a little music and poetry this week. I want to close out with my own heart-break for the hundreds of thousands of ordinary families in Syria who lost their homes in the past two weeks. They were kicked out at gun-point, with women kept behind, and head-of-households executed. I had to pour out my feelings into music.

I'm Alex Smith. Thanks for listening, and please tune in again next week.

Here is my new song: "Allah weeps".

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Why Lie to Ourselves About Methane?

Welcome to another packed Radio Ecoshock show. I'm your tour guide, Alex Smith.

This week we look into why the U.S. government, and governments around the world, continue to kid themselves about the power of methane, the number two global warming gas in the atmosphere. With a threat this serious, coming from the melting Arctic, warming oceans, fracking, agriculture, and all or natural gas use - it isn't "kidding". It is lying to ourselves at great cost. A group of esteemed scientists have written to top levels of American government calling for a change toward reality on methane.

Then we'll investigate some of the costs of carbon pollution, with seasoned journalist and author Mark Shapiro. His new book is called "Carbon Shock" The show wraps up with a turn toward the spiritual, a kind of scientific change in our whole story. Andrew Beath is our guest.

Onward and upward.

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

Or listen to/download this program right now on Soundcloud!


While the world's focus is on carbon dioxide, a group of powerful scientists have written an urgent letter to the directors of five U.S. government agencies. More than 21 scientists wrote the letter on July 29th, 2014. It's just now surfacing in public, brought to my attention by Paul Beckwith.

The scientists worry the American government, like other governments around the world, is not paying attention to the big risks posed by methane. That's methane from the Arctic, as you've heard on this program, but also methane from gas fracking, which our guest Robert Howarth warned us about years ago.

One of the lead agents behind this letter is Anna Moritz, known as Mickey. She's a legal fellow at the Center for Biological Diversity. Moritz has published a lot, including as co-author of this just released paper on "The Worst Case and the Worst Example: An Agenda for Any Young Lawyer Who Wants to Save the World from Climate Chaos". She's also a co-author of the university level book "Climate Change: A Reader".

This letter is one of those rare historic and extraordinary warnings from scientists to top levels of government. It reminds me of the letter written by Albert Einstein to President Roosevelt, warning atomic power is real, and could be used to make a super-bomb never seen before on Earth. Now we have the methane bomb.

Read the letter for yourself here.


I am not a scientist. I've learned from my guests and research. I welcome any corrections to this primer.

Here is the situation in a nutshell: carbon dioxide is measured as a global warming by it's climate forcing over a 100 year period. That is given the value of 1. There are other greenhouse gases that are many time more powerful than carbon dioxide, so they get a higher number which is meant to compare them to CO2.

Methane (CH4, also known as "natural gas") deteriorates in the atmosphere, devolving into more carbon dioxide, among other things. The life of methane at it's most powerful levels is around 12 years. In order to compare methane to carbon dioxide, it was given a comparative number of 20. If we look at the warming potential of methane over 100 years, pound for pound, or kilo by kilo, it would be 20 times more powerful at trapping warmth than CO2.

Here's the trouble: during it's (approximate) 12 year life in the atmosphere, methane is actually at least 86 times as powerful as the same amount of CO2, according to the most recent science, and it's very good and dependable science. Other scientists suggest that for very short periods, perhaps a year, methane could be 150 times more powerful than CO2, or even higher. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has moved a bit, raising methane's Global Warming Potential (GWP) from 20 to 34 - but that's still based on 100 years, and is still misleading and dangerously low.

Previously, say in the 1990's, governments took the long-term view of global warming. It was something that would develop over centuries, and wouldn't likely be seen much until later in this century. They talked about limits for greenhouse gases for the year 2100. Then big impacts of climate change showed up at the START of this century. Arctic sea ice melted away to levels not seen in human history. Glaciers began to disappear. The weather went strange, heat records climbed, ocean acidity rose, and the weather went wonky. It turns out the Earth's sensitivity to greenhouse gases was far great than science previously thought.

So now it matters very much what happens in the short term, including in the 12 years methane is in the atmosphere. Worse: that 12 year term assumes methane appears, and then disappears. But what if we have a steady source of methane, something that keeps on replenishing the load in the atmosphere, or even increases it annually, and decade by decade?

We've found many such steady sources of methane. As the human population increases, and there is more demand for meat all over the world, methane from crops (like rice paddies) and from animals (principally cows) goes up. Let's add the big expansion of natural gas drilling, especially fracking. Over-flights measuring methane in the United States found certain fracking regions are "super-emitters" of CH4. "Natural gas" is also leaking from transmission pipelines, and aging city delivery systems. We've had several guests on Radio Ecoshock explain this, including Dr. Robert Howarth (blog and interview here), Dr. Adam R Brandt from Stanford (blog item and interview available here) and Scott Miller (interview here)

Paradoxically, the Environmental Protection Agency has a chart on their site saying methane emissions from the United States have actually gone down a little in the 12 years from 1990 to 2012. They don't post more recent information, which would include fracking. Radio Ecoshock guest Scot Miller from Harvard was part of a group of scientists that found real methane emissions in the atmosphere are at least 50% greater than EPA calculations. The EPA used a ground-up figure, trying to add up things like gas wells, wetlands, and cows. Meanwhile other scientists flew in the air and measured what was up there. It's almost like the Agency doesn't want to know, or is stuck in the past. Can this letter give them a push in the right direction?


Added to those human sources of methane, we have two new giants on the block. The first is frozen methane in the ocean, blobs of methane and ice called clathrates. These are found in both the Pacific and the Atlantic. The Japanese talked about mining them for energy. But the biggest threat appears to be clathrates located on shallow sea beds in the rapidly warming Arctic. There's a lot of hurried, almost desperate, research going into that now, with a focus on the shelf off the coast of Eastern Siberia. Scientists have already found funnels of methane bubbling to the surface, more than a kilometer across.

How methane erupts. Source:

Here is an interesting article about that "Arctic Seaved Methane Stores Destablizing and Venting" from


The second fearsome giant is more widespread, and possibly impossible to measure at this time. There is methane trapped below the permafrost, the permanently frozen cap covering the northern part of this planet. At least we thought it was permanent. Now with Arctic temperatures soaring 10 or even 20 degrees Fahrenheit above the previous normal, the permafrost is starting to melt. Check out this NASA factsheet on permafrost methane: "Is a Sleeping Climate Giant Stirring in the Arctic?" NASA is trying to monitor Arctic methane with a project called "Carve".

As I understand it, melting permafrost opens two great methane risks. The first is release of methane trapped in pockets below. This is thought to be the cause of at least two explosions and craters found recently in Siberia.

The second is more insidious. As the surface levels melt, there are plant materials that have been kept frozen for many thousands of years. These are already starting to melt, and then rot. Plant materials on the ground will release CO2. Those under the millions of shallow ponds in the Arctic will decay without oxygen, and release methane, clouds of methane.


For all these reasons, it is a dangerous fallacy to only count methane as "20", as though it comes up once in 100 years and then disappears. That is why a group of illustrious scientists have written the American government, asking for the higher scientific standard of 86 to be used, instead of the old number of 20.

If we use the new standard, the real risks of methane become apparent, and that adds heat to the government's responsibility and effort to limit methane emissions in every way we can. It certainly means new regulations to force gas drilling companies to stop venting methane, at drill and storage sites, and to repair leaking equipment and pipelines. It certainly means going further to capture methane from land-fill sites, and push an international effort to change agriculture to minimize methane emissions.

I ask Mickey Moritz why the standard hasn't changed already. After all, as she tells us, other standards for gases have been changed as new information comes along. We can guess the natural gas industry, with all its political donations, is against the change. But Mickey also says there is a problem with international reporting. Countries calculate their emissions using the old standard of 20. If America leads the way to the new methane standard, U.S. emissions will suddenly appear to go up. The scientists suggest America could use a double accounting standard for now: a value of 86 for domestic regulation, and a value of 20 for international reporting, until that can be changed by international agreement. That can easily be done, Moritz says.

For me, and I'm sure for the scientists involved, this urgent letter is more than about book-keeping. To get the kinds of action that have any hope of saving a habitable climate, we need to stop lying to ourselves about the power of methane. It's the second largest source of warming on the planet. Paul Beckwith tells me the "Present radiative forcing of methane is 1 W/m2 [Watts per square meter] compared to 1.7 W/m2 for CO2".

Be sure and listen to this interview with Anna "Mickey" Moritz, available in CD Quality, or Lo-Fi.

Among the 21 scientists who signed this letter are some names you may recognize from Radio Ecoshock. You can find their interviews or speeches by search our program archive at

* Robert W. Howarth, * J. David Hughes, * Michael C. MacCracken, * Scot M. Miller, * Drew Shindell

The letter was addressed to letter to John Holdren, Gina McCarthy, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Ernest Moniz, the Secretary of the Department of Energy, among others. That was a month and a half ago. So far there has been no reply, but Mickey thinks the wheels are turning.

When America leads on methane, we need to see the world community act in the 2015 Climate Summit in Paris. At the very least, we can stop lying to ourselves about methane.


There are two kinds of climate denial running around: theirs and ours. Some people and politicians still say climate change isn't happening, even as extreme weather events pummel the globe. Others know global warming is coming on much too hard and too fast. That can become to a despair so deep we don't want to talk about the phoney solutions coming from business, national governments, and those failed international talks.

Despite all the green hype, carbon emissions are rising, and the increase is increasing. Face the facts: this is a human problem requiring human solutions. If you don't like the idea of new taxes on carbon, our next guest says we are already paying plenty for climate damage.

As an experienced journalist, Mark Schapiro tackles the whole messy climate problem. His new book is "Carbon Shock, A tale of Risk and Calculus on the Front Lines of the Disrupted Global Economy". Schapiro has appeared everywhere intelligent reporting is allowed, from PBS specials, to features in magazines like Harpers and the Atlantic Monthly. As an award winning environmental journalist, one of his previous books was "Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products."

Here are some of the stories we talk about in this interview:

* the many ways the real cost of fossil fuels is hidden from us (direct subsidies to oil and gas companies, huge health care costs of carbon pollution, all those taxes going into roads, it's a big wild list!)

* the reasons for the California drought (one huge factor: the snow pack is now falling more as rain, and melting too fast and too early to be stored for summer crops)

* why cherries need some cold in the winter (and aren't getting it in recent years in the big California cherry orchards)

* the scandalous loop-hole in carbon accounting, where humans pretend air-planes are not a major source of emissions, and no-one has to take responsibility for aircraft greenhouse gas emissions (Schapiro alerts us to aircraft emissions as the first shot in an international trade war over climate change)

* a few hopes for the 2015 Climate talks in Paris

* some climate initiatives "breaking out all over the world" you may not have heard about

* why some "Conservatives" want to fight climate change with carbon taxes and clean energy (no, the climate movement is not just something that happens in New York or San Francisco).

* the thorny problem of China, verging on being the world's biggest polluter, and needing still more development

Mark Schapiro is now out on a large-scale book tour to promote "Carbon Shock". He'll be blogging all over the place. Keep track of Mark and his work via his Twitter feed: @schapiro.

You can download or listen to this Radio Ecoshock interview with Mark Schapiro in CD Quality or Lo-Fi.

(I apologize for mis-spelling Mark's last name in the file name, but that can't be changed at this point)

Along with the book I received a fact sheet which says "Just ninety companies are responsible for two-thirds of greenhouse gase emissions". We all need to know who those biggest polluters are. It shows once again that real climate talks can't just be in New York, Lima or Paris. They need to happen in the Board Rooms of multinational corporations.

"Carbon Shock, A Tale of Risk and Calculus on the Front Lines of the Disrupted Global Economy" is just out from Chelsea Green books. Find it here.


When I consider the climate movement, it seems almost split into two camps. One is very science-oriented, fending off any suggestion of spirituality. The other is spiritual, where science is almost a side-line. While most of Radio Ecoshock is devoted to science, we all know there are deep movements within us that science can't really touch or fulfil.

I used to think if you gathered all the science-oriented people in one room, and all those concentrating on the spiritual approach in another, you would have more men in Room A, and more women in Room B. Is that sexist, or does there tend to be that difference between genders? But then, all those preachers, mullahs... old-time religion was not just created by men, to worship a man-God. It continues to promote sexism, including denying women leadership roles in the church. So it's little wonder some women are looking for spiritual alternatives.

While science has been dominated by men for a generation, there is a whole crop of really smart women scientists coming up now. It's a breath of fresh air for sure. Meanwhile more men are realizing just staying nailed to jobs and football, while avoiding our inner needs is harmful, if not fatal.

Our next guest has been a green activist for 30 years. He founded the environment group Earthways Foundation in California back in 1985. More recently, Andrew Beath has been considering our green needs for spirituality. For example, he's the author of the book "Consciousness in Action, The Power of Beauty, Love and Courage in A Violent Time." The Earthways Foundation is still going, with some helpful projects in Los Angeles, but also in Latin America. Beath was also instrumental in founding "Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs" which guides people into setting up non-profits for social change.

Beath has helped save Wetlands in L.A., and assisted in starting up Amazon Watch. He's got a long trail of organizations he helped birth.

Now Andrew is publishing a trilogy of books which look at a new story of creation, one based on the amazing discoveries of science, but also new ways of looking at the world. The Trilogy is called "The New Creation Story, Spirit, Eros, and Climate Chaos". Find out more here at the book web site.

Books One and Two are already on sale. Book Three will be released shortly. The new creation story goes right from The Big Bang to modern times, with illustrations of life in between.

Previous religions have begun with an act of God, followed by just a few thousand years of history. Then the bones of dinosaurs and the study of geology showed that timeline was flawed. Now we have amazing views into the galaxies, and with it, into deep time. We need new narrative about the beginnings of things, to know where we are.

We also discuss whether life on this planet has a consciousness, something we could call "Gaia".

We don't really know how human consciousness connects us, or why sudden waves of thought pop up all over the world. The psychiatrist Carl Jung called it "synchronicity". There are lots of people out there who hope, maybe even pray, that a wave of awareness could spread rapidly across the globe, driving us toward action not just on climate change, but in our whole relationship to nature. I ask Andrew if that is his hope, and are there any signs of it? Ever the realist, Beath says right now it looks more like we are going the wrong way. "Business as usual" is still in triumph.

But, in the end, Andrew Beath has not given up. He knows and feels the depths of our damage to the Earth. But Beath tells us: "the destruction we've caused is the catalyst for the next step in human consciousnesss".

You can listen to or download this Radio Ecoshock interview with Andrew Beath in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


Once again, we are totally out of time. Thanks for sticking with the program.

It's been a while since I updated our stations list, or counted them up. Good news! Radio Ecoshock is now broadcast on 87 non-profit radio stations in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom (we can still say that), Australia, and now Paris, France.

You make it all happen, by passing on the Tweets, Facebook links, emails and word of mouth. Let's get the word out there.

My thanks to those who donated this past week, to keep Radio Ecoshock going. You covered the electric and internet bills for this month.

I'm Alex Smith, and let's get together again next week.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Is Global Collapse Imminent?

QUICK SUMMARY: "Is Global Collapse Imminent" by Australian academic Graham M. Turner. Linda Doman from US Energy Information Administration says world will burn 30% more oil and gas in 2040. Marc-Andre Parisien from the Canadian Forest Service tells us about record mega-fires in the Canadian far north. Radio Ecoshock 140924

Are we really in "recovery". A comparison of predictions made in the 1970's in the Limits to Growth study, suggest we may be heading toward collapse instead.

Key to the theory advanced by Dr. Graham M. Turner of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne, is that more and more capital will be diverted into getting difficult oil and gas (fracking, Tar Sands, deep water drilling) - with less available for manufacturing and consumption of products.

In the decline, you and I get less purchasing power. At some point, the global system collapses - perhaps even before climate change delivers devastating extreme weather.

On the other side, Linda Doman, chief energy analyst for the US Energy Information Administration predicts the world will use even more oil and gas as the decades advance. Oil use by OECD countries (US, Canada, Europe, Japan) hit a peak in 2005, but continues to ramp up in India, China, and the Middle East, swamping our gains from energy efficiency.

Dr. Jason Box, the Danish ice specialist, has released stunning pictures of normally white Greenland turned sooty black. It's partly from coal burning and general pollution. But another boost of black soot comes from record fires in the Canadian Boreal forest and Arctic this year. Black soot is a warming agent of it's own, absorbing more of the sun's heat over vast northern areas - instead of reflecting sunlight back into space.

Northern forests are becoming a carbon source, instead of a carbon sink. Our guest Marc-Andre Parisien is a wildfire specialist with the Canadian Forest Service.

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

Or you can listen to (and download) it right now on our Sound Cloud page.

The heads-in-the-sand photo taken The Strand beach in Townsville, Australia is in response to lack of action on climate change. Photo: Cranky Curlew Productions.


If you are wondering how long this high-consumption civilization can keep going, you are not alone. It's not just counter-culture types either. A small parade of billionaires have appeared on the financial blog Zero Hedge, predicting a shattering financial crash. But seldom do we find academics asking "Is Global Collapse Imminent?"

That is the title of a new research paper, which adds "An Updated Comparison of 'The Limits to Growth' With Historical Data". The author and our guest is Dr Graham M. Turner. He is a Principal Research Fellow at the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, part of the University of Melbourne in Australia.

Find this paper here. It's not a difficult read, and well worth your time.

You can also read this interesting take on the paper by Graham Turner and Cathy Alexander in the Guardian newspaper, September 2, 2014.

This is Turner's second review of the Limits to Growth. His first was in 2008: Turner, G.M. 2008 "A comparison of The Limits to Growth with 30 years of reality" Global Environmental Change, 18, pp. 397-411.

The original "Limits to Growth" study in the 1970's helped shape the entire environmental movement. It was remorseless trashed by pro-business writers, as proven wrong, and consigned to the dustbin of history. Now many of us sense we are teetering on the edge, so I'm really pleased to have this opportunity to talk with Dr. Turner.

It seems to me, reading this paper, Turner has returned to the Peak Oil scenario, saying the ever-increasing diversion of capital into more difficult to extract fossil fuels is, quote "the primary cause of collapse of the BAU [business as usual] scenario."

Keep in mind, Graham Turner is not absolutely PREDICTING an imminent global collapse. His research shows we are following a path that could lead there. I asked him what signs we should watch for, and one suggestion was infrastructure falling apart. You know, bridges falling down, sewers that don't work, things don't get repaired.

Why? Because governments, corporations (and you) will have to put more and more of our social capital into simply getting more fossil fuels. Think about the costly Tar Sands, deep water drilling, Arctic drilling - these are very capital intensive. As the cheaper easier oil (like from the Middle East wells) gets used up, it will cost more and more to get less and less. Richard Heinberg has released a study saying this applies even more to fracking, as wells run dry quickly, needing more and more expensive drilling.

At some point, there is not enough money left to you and I to consume, not enough money left to start new manufacturing, not enough to re-pave the roads. That snowballs, compounded by continuing climate-driven weather disasters, agricultural crisis and rising population (all part of the Limits to Growth, except climate change.)

The charts which Turner presents in his paper, showing predictions made by the MIT group in the 1970's Limits to Growth track very well with what has actually happened in the more than 30 years since. We don't have to guess.

We can measure what happened, and he does. All the signs point to an eventual collapse of our current system, perhaps our civilization as well.

Download or listen to this interview with Graham M. Turner in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


There is another world out there. That's the flow of business, oil, and governments toward an increasingly high-carbon future. It's stunning to consider, but the majority view is the world will produce, consume, and burn ever more oil, gas, and petroleum produced from coal. Check this out.

I'm on a ton of media press lists, including several from the U.S. government. An American government department has just predicted the world will increase the supply, demand, and consumption of liquid fossil fuels (oil, gas, and petroleum products converted from coal) as this century progresses. Is it a nightmare, or just the hot reality?


We are joined by Linda Doman, the lead energy analyst for their publication, the "International Energy Outlook". Their latest report, released September 9th, 2014, is from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the EIA.

You can download or read that EIA publication online as a .pdf here.

Jonathan Cogan from the EIA helps put this report in perspective when he tells me by email:

"The projections in International Energy Outlook 2014 (IEO2014) are not statements of what will happen, but what might happen given the specific assumptions and methodologies used for any particular scenario. The Reference case projection is a business-as-usual trend estimate, given known technology and technological and demographic trends. EIA explores the impacts of alternative assumptions about oil prices in a low-oil-price scenario and a high-oil-price scenario. The price cases examine a range of potential interactions of supply, demand, and prices in world liquids markets IEO2014.

All of the cases generally assume that current laws and regulations are maintained throughout the projections.

Thus, the projections provide policy-neutral baselines that can be used be used to analyze international energy markets.

Keep in mind that the U.S. Energy Information Administration is a policy-neutral statistical and analytical agency. We are not involved in formulating, promoting, or advocating energy policies.

So what does this report really say about coming oil and gas demand and production?

First of all, they don't foresee a huge rise in prices, which is an important factor in consumption. Oil may be $140 2012 dollars in 2040 they say, although several scenarios are contemplated. Production is expected to increase from the current 87 million barrels a day in 2010 to 119 million barrels a day by 2040.

That's about a 30% increase. When you consider we are already putting record amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere now, with extreme weather as a result, fires, floods, rising seas and all that - a 30% INCREASE as the century goes forward must be absolutely disastrous. But that's not the concern of the EIA, which is only concerned with plotting our trajectory from the now.

Linda Doman tells us production expectations have been raised from the 2013 report, due to the extra production from fracking. They expect fracking to expand from it's base in the United States to countries all over the world.

The EIA says use of oil and gas in developed OECD countries (U.S., Canada, Europe, Japan) peaked back in 2005. More efficient cars, savings by power companies, and an economic recession have all helped push consumption back in these countries. But that is overshadowed, in fact increased, by higher demand in Asia (China, India, Indonesia mainly) and in the Middle East.

Why the Middle East? 1. The young population is coming of age to get driver's licenses. 2. Oil producing governments subsidize fuel prices (like 25 cents a gallon for example) which doesn't limit demand. And 3. (which I will add) - there is a movement toward more industrialization in some Middle East countries. They will consume their own oil and gas in petrochemical refineries, and other manufacturing activities.

There is still a lot of uncertainty about how much oil and gas China and India will burn in the future. The EIA created three possible scenarios. In the highest use picture, BY 2040, India and China would consume about as much in liquid fossil fuels as the whole world does today. That is truly frightening if it happens.

Where will all this oil and gas come from? From fracking for sure. But the EIA also expects more millions of barrels from OPEC members. Plus countries like Iraq and Mexico have not developed their full potential, partly due to lack of investment and infrastructure from larger oil companies and international banks, Doman suggests.

It would be very interesting to get Richard Heinberg's response to this report. I'll send him a link, and see what he says. In the meantime, I thought you should hear what the experts are saying about our carbon-rich future.

Download or listen to this short interview with Linda Doman here.

If you REALLY want to dig deep into fossil fuel projections, here is the You tube recording of a presentation September 22nd 2014 by Adam Sieminiski, the Administrator of the EIA, on this very report (the International Energy Outlook for 2014).


Slate Magazine is running a stunning story "Why Greenland's 'Dark Snow' Should Worry You." Don't miss those photos from Danish scientist Jason Box. They show what should be the white ice and snow of Greenland have turned dirty black. That means the surface absorbs far more heat from the sun, instead of reflecting light back into space. Expect record ice melt, and another jump toward rising seas.

Where does that dirt come from? Certainly from coal power plants in America and China. From polluting industries in Europe and Russia. But I suspect the largest amount comes from soot. Siberia has plenty of fires, but northern Canada just experienced the greatest fire season ever recorded. A Canadian scientist calls them "a major event in the life of the earth system".

The soot from these fires may be a primary cause of Greenland turning from white to dirty black.

Photo by Jason Box.


Regular Ecoshock listeners know wildfires in the Arctic are bigger and badder than ever. Scientists predict a huge increase over the coming decades due to changes in climate, and various feed-backs triggered by global warming. Could the whole boreal forest burn down?

New research has taken us deeper into fire behavior in the far north. The paper that caught my eye is titled "Resistance of the boreal forest to high burn rates." Our next guest is one of the authors. Marc-Andre Parisien is a research scientist for the Northern Forestry Centre of Natural Resources Canada’s Canadian Forest Service, located in Edmonton Alberta.

Along with scientists at the Centre for Northern Studies in Quebec, Parisien is an author of the new paper "Resistance of the boreal forest to high burn rates" published in PNAS, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on August 4th, 2014. You would need to be a paid member of PNAS to read this, but find the abstract here.

Marc most of us can barely imagine the size and condition of the great Boreal forest. It runs from Alaska right across the whole of Canada to Labrador - and that's just in North America. There is more in Scandinavia and Siberia.

Television doesn't report on fires in Canada's far north. Most of these blazes run their course with no one trying to put them out. How large can a fire get? A single large fire can be bigger than the island of Manhattan, which is 9,000 hectares, or more than 22,000 acres. One fire in the Canadian province of Quebec was 560,000 hectares, or 1.3 million acres.

This summer of 2014, Parisien tells us, over 4.6 million hectares of forest burned (11.3 million acres) - that is larger than Switzerland. It's a stunning amount of carbon taken from trees and forced into the atmosphere. That is when forests become a carbon source, rather than a carbon sink. It's also a huge burst of black soot, a global warming agent on it's own, and a contributor to the blackening of Greenland.

There are very different estimates for the increase in northern fires as the planet warms. By 2100, some scientists suggest forest fires in that region will increase by 30%. Others have suggested they might increase by 500%. If that becomes reality, we can doubt whether northern forests will continue to exist.

The one possible saving agent, and the point of the paper by Parisien and scientists from a Quebec University - statistically, forests that burned within the last 40 or 50 years are LESS likely to burn again in our time. It looks like there is a kind of negative feedback loop at work here, at least for forest fires. However, I feel all that is uncertain as the Boreal and Tundra continue to heat up much more than the rest of the planet. We're running a big experiment here on planet Earth.

In this interview, Marc-Andre notes that fires are not the only threat to northern forests. As the permafrost melts, trees can lose their hold in soil, tipping over in a phenomenon known as "drunken forests". These can already be seen in Alaska and the Yukon. We may also see changes in hydrology (when it rains or snows) as the planet warms. And forests have already been hit hard by changes in insects, like the Rocky Mountain Pine Bark Beetle which is killing off whole valleys of pines. These were enabled in such great numbers by a continuing lack of winters cold enough to kill them off.

We didn't have time to talk about the other big threat: logging the Boreal forest. It's huge, all for toilet paper and other items we throw away. Find out about endangered Boreal forest logging at Greenpeace here, Forest Ethics here, or Canopy here.

Marc-Andre listed other Canadian scientists who are studying the impacts of climate change on fires and the Canadian northern forests (despite Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister of the Tar Sands). He also recommends this web site: the Canadian Wildland Fire Information System. There you can find all kinds of helpful maps, charts and information. It's a super resource for those who care about what happens in the North. Since the future of the world may be partly determined by what happens there, that's you and everybody else in the world.

Download or listen to this Radio Ecoshock interview with Marc-Andre Parisien in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


Next week we'll find out why the U.S. government, and governments around the world, are lying to themselves, and us, about the true threat of methane gas. A group of top climate scientists have written a powerful letter to change that.

Join us next week on Radio Ecoshock. You can find all our past programs, as free mp3 downloads, at our web site, Don't forget our Soundcloud page.

My special thanks to the hardy band of people who support my reporting with a monthly $10 donation. Find out how you can help here.

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