Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Earthquake Time Bombs!

UK Geo-hazards expert Dr. Bill McGuire ("Waking the Giants") on recent quakes & links to climate change. Oregon Professor Robert Yeats new book "Earthquake Time Bombs" - most cities at risk from quakes or mega-tsunamis.

About 12,000 years ago there was a period of "volcanic storms", so many erupted. The Earth was unstable, rocking and rolling with Earthquakes. Geologists know climate change destabilized the Earth's crust. Bill McGuire wrote an influential article in the Guardian newspaper about this in 2012.

Does that sound too fantastic? The weight of ice miles thick poured into the sea as that latest ice age ended. Released from that weight, land rose. Long-standing pressure points reacted, and the world shook. As the article in Live Science says:

"McGuire conducted a study that was published in the journal Nature in 1997 that looked at the connection between the change in the rate of sea level rise and volcanic activity in the Mediterranean for the past 80,000 years and found that when sea level rose quickly, more volcanic eruptions occurred, increasing by a whopping 300 percent."

Now, after recent big quakes in Japan and Ecuador, with more under-reported quakes around the world, some scientists are beginning to wonder if climate is starting to destabilize geology again. We talk with one of the world's best geophysical hazards experts, Britain's Dr. Bill McGuire, author of "Waking the Giants".

Even if that time of extra volcanoes and quakes is farther into our future, the threat of everyday earthquakes and tsunamis is larger now. That is because so much of the doubled and tripled human population lives near the sea. We've built our mega-cities - and nuclear power plants - within tsunami range. Eight thousand years ago, an earthquake caused an undersea land-slide off Norway. The tsunami raced around the whole North Atlantic, reaching up to 30 meters high - that's well over 90 feet.

Adding to it all: we've globalized the economy based on a network of mega-cities. Several of them sit on well-known faults that are bound to blow, with quakes well above 8 on the Richter scale. The most precarious is the financial hub of Tokyo Japan. We'll talk about what happened the last time Tokyo was nearly levelled, and the next time, which Japanese scientists say is over 90% likely within the next couple of decades.

The aftershocks would be in the world's shaky financial system. Would a big quake in Los Angeles, Vancouver, or Tokyo be the trigger for a massive collapse in the global economy?

That's why our second guest, Dr. Robert Yeats from Oregon wrote his book "Earthquake Time Bombs". We'll go into that risk in depth.

I'm Alex Smith, as we shake up the world with Radio Ecoshock.

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

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First Japan and then Ecuador. When major earthquakes strike, the media rush to Dr. William McGuire. He's a Volcanologist and world-known specialist in extreme geologic events. McGuire is Emeritus Professor of Geophysical & Climate Hazards at University College London. Bill has advised the UK government on global threats, and appears often on TV.

McGuire was also an author of the 2011 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change regarding extreme events. His latest book is "Waking the Giant: How a Changing Climate Triggers Earthquakes, Tsunamis and Volcanoes."

Dr. Bill McGuire

How could climate change affect earthquakes or volcanic action? One simple way is that in places like Iceland, a thick ice crust has covered over active volcanoes, like the Eyjafjalla Glacier. As that ice melts, it will enable the volcano to explode into the air. As we found out when the Eyjafjallajökull volcanoe erupted in 2010, the shroud of ash can shut down air travel over most of Europe. Research published in Geophysical Research letters tells us about a complicated process when the weight of ice allows land to rise, changing the melting temperature of Earth's crust. That could lead to more volcanoes in Iceland, and perhaps in other currently frozen places.

But that's the simple stuff. We know from geologic research that in previous times of mass ice loss, during global heating, the Earth started to rock and roll. Bill McGuire explains how in his book "Waking the Giant" in this Radio Ecoshock interview.

Download or listen to this Radio Ecoshock 19 minute interview with Bill McGuire in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

So is climate change causing more quakes right now? We don't know, says McGuire. It's still early days for ice melt, despite the billions of tons lost from Greenland and Antarctica each year. There isn't enough signal among the noise to tell, given that there are always some earthquakes every year around the world. We don't yet know exactly when climate change will kick in. The largest impacts, the days of "volcanic storms" could be 5,000 or 50,000 years away. We don't know, and Earth has never had such a rapid trigger as human burning of fossil fuels. Until we know more, this expert says we should be careful about attributing each and every earthquake to climate change.

The deadly 2015 earthquake in Nepal could have a different climate angle. McGuire tells us that a heavier than normal monsoon season (which can be influenced by climate change) - can make the plains below Nepal heavier. This extra mass weighs on the great pressure point as the continent of India crashes into Eurasia. That might increase the quake risk in Nepal.

The only good news, McGuire tells us, is that a heavier ocean (with more meltwater in it) might actually calm the kind of deep ocean tectonic movement that caused the giant tsunami in Japan in 2011 (the one the knocked out the Fukushima nuclear plant). BUT those changes is sea levels and mass may increase the risk of undersea landslides that can create tsunamis, huge waves, around a whole ocean basin.

I hope our east coast North American listeners noticed that on-going threat from a collapse in the Canary Islands. There have been sea-slides before which created massive tsunamis all around the North Atlantic basin, from the United Kingdom to Canada, America, and right over Caribbean islands. We really don't have to live on a fault line to be part of Earth's geologic pageant. Or course not everyone agrees that a mega-tsunami is likely. You can find out what a mega-tsunami is here on Wikipedia.

On April 20th, the Seismological Society of America (SSA) began it's 2016 Annual Meeting in Reno, Nevada. High on their list is the Cascadia subduction zone which runs just off the west coast of North America, from northern Vancouver Island in Canada to southern Oregon in the U.S.

There's been enough science to know this pressure point between two massive tectonic plates of the earth moves in a jolt every 400 to 600 years. That last one was in the year 1700. We don't know when the next one will be, but it's due. Aside from possible wreckage in Vancouver, Seattle and other coastal cities - the resulting tsunami would sweep clean the coasts of California and Hawaii. It would probably reach Japan, as it did in 1700.

The really huge threat, not just to the citizens but to the whole financial world, is a big quake - larger than 8 points - in Tokyo.

I read this at the Infowars site (not usually a reliable source):

"Scientists at Tokyo University estimate there is a 98 percent chance that, in the next 30 years, Japan will be hit by an earthquake equivalent to the “Great Kanto” of 1923, which measured 8.9 and killed an estimated 142,800 people. Seismologists at the Japan Meteorological Agency, however, put the odds of this happening at 70 percent."

So I checked those numbers with Bill McGuire. He says the numbers sound right. In any case, when the odds are so great, you can expect a quake relatively soon. Yes modern buildings in Tokyo are better designed for quakes, but McGuire says there are at least 80,000 wooden homes in Tokyo that could burn. In the past, he has called Tokyo "a city waiting to die".

Maybe that's extreme, but considering Japan is already in big financial trouble, still the second or third largest holder of U.S.Treasury bonds (which they could have to cash in), and still one of the top three financial centers of the global economy - a quake there just might trigger the next Great Depression.

Bill McGuire appears in this You tube video where he introduces four major threats. That's for another of his books "Global Catastrophe: A Very Short Introduction".

You can also read Bill's new short story about climate change and mass migration, called "Incoming" - at his web site


You can divide the human population into two kinds of people: those who have experienced a major earthquake, and those who have not. Each thinks differently.

Robert S. Yeats says we don't think about quakes nearly enough. Sooner or later, and likely sooner, a mega-city will be hit with something that makes the 911 terrorist attack in New York look small. His new book is "Earthquake Time Bombs" and he should know: Bob Yeats is a professor emeritus in geology from Oregon State University, author of the book "Living with Earthquakes in California" and co-author of "The Geology of Earthquakes".

Professor Emeritus Robert Yeats

Five years ago, Bob Yeats was interviewed by Scientific American. He told them Port au Prince in Haiti was in jeopardy due to a major fault line and lack of money to prepare. A week later, 100,000 people died in a catastrophic quake. Was that just chance? Yeats says "yes" because no one can predict an earthquake with exact timing. We do talk about new technology which can pick up the advance waves of a quake and give folks a very short warning.

We begin by looking at what we can learn from the deadly earthquake in Kathmandu Nepal - not the smaller one that hit in February 2016, but the big one in April 2015. Aside from the thousands killed, and hundred thousands homeless, some world heritage sites were destroyed, while modern buildings stood. What are we supposed to do to preserve the treasured past?


Reading this book, and it's a good read, I was surprised to learn that it's a mistake to go outside. When I was young, I was in the deadly 1971 earthquake in Los Angeles. Everyone ran outside, in their underwear in some cases. We had to look out for teetering palm trees - they have small roots - and power poles, but it seemed better than being crushed in the house. Why stay inside when an earthquake starts to rock and roll?

Yeats tells us about the bartender in a California quake who refused to let his patrons out the door when a quake struck. They would all have been killed by the pile of falling bricks. Certainly downtown in a modern city you might be killed by falling glass from tall buildings. It's a tough question, whether to say in or run out - but Yeats says you have better odds by remaining inside.

The second lesson of the Los Angles quake is that the first three days can be the test of surviving well, or not at all. Gas lines blew up into fires, electricity went out. In a worse quake, food deliveries would stop, and likely food stores would be looted and then empty. Meanwhile there are frightening aftershocks, so you may have to camp outdoors.

Right now Turkey is almost in civil war. Buildings collapse there just because of poor building standards. We talk about the risk in Turkey, and also in giant Mexico City.

Bob and I also discuss quake preparedness, both at the government level and personally.

I spoke to Robert Yeats at his home in Corvalis, Oregon.

Download or listen to this Radio Ecoshock 33 minute interview with Robert Yeats in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

In an email, Bob writes:

"Be sure to tell your listeners about my online book, Living with Earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest, available at It is available free since the book is used by emergency management. Canadians might legitimately take issue with the gringo-centric term "Pacific Northwest". The subduction zone goes about halfway up the continental margin off Vancouver Island. The tsunami chapter includes a description of the 1962 tsunami off Vancouver Island.

You can track quake activity now from a new mapping system from the US Geological Survey here. It was announced that for the first time, this map also includes human-induced earthquakes from fracking, although I didn't see that on their main map today.

You can monitor world earthquakes daily here.


Will we see a new wave of volcano eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis as climate heating melts the ice caps? Even without that, our just-in-time globally linked financial system is not suited to large-scale disasters. Add in the shaky economic times with unsupportable debt everywhere, mix in dwindling resources and the hits from extreme weather - it might not take much to darken our future.

Meanwhile, where I live in Canada, food prices went up 14% in just the last month. When I talked with our mega-hazards expert Bill McGuire, he had just come in from planting potatoes in their home in the highlands. His family moved out of London. I'm heading out tomorrow to plant my own potatoes in our little village plot. I moved out of Vancouver. Coincidence? Maybe.

I'm Alex Smith. If you can contribute to Radio Ecoshock, please do it here.

Thank you for listening, and caring about our world.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016


Signs climate has entered abrupt shift. Includes Dr. James Hansen's video abstract of new science. Special report on smoke pollution from Indonesian peat fires by correspondent Yew Jin Lee, with 3 experts. Sample from "Unwelcome Guests" #726 "The Flight from Death". Radio Ecoshock 160420

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

You can watch this 3 minute video summary of this program.

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It's funny how things build up, how they leak out, finally reaching us. A couple returned to my village from their winter in the Philippines. She grew up there. They had never been so hot, and so dry. They are religious, and they prayed for at least a cloud, to get relief from the relentless sun.

Then I get an email from a radio friend abroad. He's Robin Upton, the producer who revived the deep alternative show "Unwelcome Guests" when Lynn Gary retired. Google it, or go to As an aside, Robin said the heat was in the unbearable range. Heat laced with humidity - over 35 degrees C, or 95 Fahrenheit became the daily normal, flaring up above that at times. Upton was writing from his adopted home in Bangladesh.

A headline flickered in my brain, a one-off story asking if India was experiencing the worst drought ever. Or maybe the worst since 2002. Hundreds are dying of the heat. Fields have burned off dry. The only hope for millions, maybe hundreds of millions, is an above-average monsoon season, this June to September. In the meantime, in parts of the State of Maharashtra, a Criminal law forbids more than five people at a time at any water supply. The authorities fear conflict, maybe violence.

By the way, the super hot weather is melting snow and ice on Mount Everest faster. Changes in the cryosphere in the Himalayas may even create more heatwaves in Europe! Everybody is included in climate change.

Vietnam flashes up in my news and Twitter feed. Along with India and Bangladesh, Vietnam is going through a hot punishing dry period. Vietnam is normally a major exporter of rice. This year, not. A band of suffering has taken over south Asia. Yes, its partly because of El Nino, but a super El Nino adding it's might to the upward pace of global warming. That is one of the world emergencies being blotted out of our minds and screens by endless celebrity trivia, and fake political choices.

Drought in Vietnam


During this past week, climate scientist Paul Beckwith ventured into our darker places. Paul is frustrated with scientists who are constantly surprise the climate beast is roaring already, in so many ways. The global community has had 21 COP meetings, the Conference of the Parties to a Treaty that has done nothing to stop escalating emissions and committment to a climate-damaged future.

Maybe, Paul wonders, a regional nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan would stir up enough dust, to block enough sun, to cool us down for a few years. The dust of a decent sized nuclear explosion would spread throughout the northern hemisphere, likely cooling the planet an astounding one to one and a half degrees, within weeks. It might put a halt to the wildly growing melting of Greenland. The cooling might save the last of the reflective Arctic Ice cap.

Paul's second video on local nuclear war, explaining further, is here.

It's not just Paul talking about this. You can find a 2010 article on the same subject by respected scientist Alan Robock (and Brian Toon) as published in Scientific American here.

Paul explains we have lots of nuclear weapons. Just one big one from Russia or America would do the job. The cooling would last at least five years, maybe ten. Of course then the world would jump to new heat levels, because we've just hidden another ten years of huge greenhouse gas emissions under the nuclear cloud. Maybe we'd have to blow off two the next time.

As Beckwith stands in front of a screen explaining nuclear winter, I spy in the right hand corner another graphic explaining the nuclear explosion would also demolish most of the protective ozone in the Northern Hemisphere. Those who go outside without wearing a protective bag would ratchet up their risk of cancer. Everyone would have to wear eye protection to prevent blindness - at least everyone who could afford the special sun glasses. I suppose that didn't happen during nuclear tests in the 1960's, but then many seniors are getting multiple skin cancers. I just had one removed.

The whole project goes crazy, and Paul knows that. I think he's just telling us how serious this climate shift is, how we We are deluding ourselves about climate action, and the fact that we are not ready to cool the planet in this emergency.


Which brings me to James Hansen. Many of you know Dr. Hansen, the former Director of the Goddard Space Center of NASA - as the man who warned the U.S. Congress about dangerous climate change in 1988. He's struggled with this threat ever since. Last summer, Hansen and a collection of prestigious academics around the world, broke scientific protocol by publicly speaking about their research.

Paul Beckwith did a series of nine videos to explore and explain what Hansen and his co-scientists were saying. Find that video series on You tube, or at

This March, they officially published their study. It got some press. It's huge. Why haven't I said anything about it on Radio Ecoshock?

There are problems. First, of course I invited Dr. Hansen to appear on this program. I got no reply. I have no inside track to reach him. Hansen can pick his world media for appearances.

Second, there has been a fairly strong chorus of criticism of this paper. Of course a few complained that the process was broken. But Hansen says this scientific warning is much too important to wait a year before telling the population what is coming.

Other scientists simply disagree with either his conclusions, or his method of reaching them. A few have said, for example, that Hansen and team did not reach their vision of an ultra-stormy future in a ruined atmosphere by using models.

The paper refers to evidence of super storms, that could move 1,000 ton boulders inland from the shore. We can see these mysterious boulders on Caribbean islands. This is part of the paleoclimate record, but there are questions about how the Hansen team connected those time to these times. It is possible that the vision of dangerous and damaged decades to come was assumed, rather than proven. At that point, and really before then, I am not skilled enough to judge.

Plus, I think Hansen can be mistaken. I believe his promotion of nuclear energy as a solution for climate change is mistaken. I hope to have more on that in a future show.

That is partly why I haven't covered this story. Another part is a deep feeling that I might not be able to bear knowing what Hansen knows. You see, we've all been sold a picture of slowly developing climate change. In countless interviews scientists have cautioned that melting glaciers like Greenland and Antarctica will take hundred of years at least. The global mean temperature has only been going up slowly. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is discussing how we can still burn more fossil fuels, peak in a decade or two, and gradually come down, with quite survivable impacts. The seas will only rise slowly. It's the mantra of changes in geologic time.

If James Hansen is right, all this is wrong. The stakes are enormous, far larger than anything humans have experienced, bigger than the Earth has seen in more than 50 million years. The speed of change may be absolutely new.

I'm slowly collecting my files and links on the Hansen paper. He's gone to the press saying James Hansen is not an extremist. The science is what it is, the rapid changes we are seeing speak loudly. On March 21st, Hansen put out a video on You tube, explaining the work. It's 15 minutes long. If I can't interview the man, we still need to hear him speak. Here is James Hansen with "Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise and Superstorms Video Abstract."

In a way, Hansen spoke partly to other scientists. The full impact of what could happen is not explained, although I suppose for a scientist of his calibre to warn "all Hell will break loose in the North Atlantic" is pretty clear. Losing most of our coastal cities by the end of this century is clear enough. The time of the great storms is left to our imagination.

I'm going to re-read this paper, watch another dozen videos, listen to the scientific back talk. I'll come back to this paper when I know more. I'm also in touch with some of the co-authors of the paper, to get their views in coming programs.


Meanwhile the recording of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at Manu Loa Hawaii hit another frightening record of 409 parts per million. We started at 280 ppm at the beginning of the industrial revolution. During most of my life it has climbed slowly but surely. Now it's peaking, so that the new lows will be the old highs, and the new highs have never been seen on Earth for many millions of years.

Greenland has begun its summer melt season in early April. That's another record. Worrying news is pouring in from a wave of scientific papers around the world. My jaw drops, my nerves tingle, at least a dozen times a week. No one can keep up. All we know is that it's coming, and we are sleepwalking into a new more dangerous world. Sometime soon, or maybe yesterday, we reach the damage that can never be undone in thousands of years.

We are writing our wills for our descendants. Through our actions and inactions, we promise them a damaged atmosphere, with unstable weather and strange seas. The bugs, the plants and the other animals will move and change as they can. The future of our species cannot yet be written, even by the most imaginative science fiction writers, or poets of tragedy. Unless we can pull off a miracle of collective action, the future will be distorted beyond recognition. That is the only certainty.


We talked about the dry heat in East Asia, and the possibility of creating dust to cool the world in an emergency. But there is already a long season of smoky haze hanging over a lot of Asia, especially over Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

Unfortunately, that smoky is unlikely to cool anything. It comes from burning tropical forests in the islands of Indonesia. There is black carbon in it, which will soak up sunlight and heat. Even worse, a lot of the fires are actually burning peat, that compact vegetative matter just one step below coal for carbon pollution. When the biggest peat fires erupted in Indonesia in a previous El Nino of 1997-98, it launched that country into the top three greenhouse gas polluters in the world. The peat fires continue, as big corporations and small land holders clear and drain the tropical forests, transforming them into palm oil plantations.

Check out this image of smoke from Indonesian fires covering Thailand and beyond

I got an email from listener Yew Jin Lee, offering to ask the experts why haze was covering Malaysia and Singapore yet again. Yew Jin is a Master's student studying Environmental Sciences at the University of Cologne in Germany. He carefully crafted this report for Radio Ecoshock.

For Radio Ecoshock, Yew Jin Lee interviews Dr. Helena Varkkey, senior lecturer at the University of Malaya; Alan Tan, professor of the National University of Singapore Law School; and Dr. Rachel Carmenta, Post-Doctoral Fellow at CIFOR " the centre for international forestry research in Indonesia.

Under the smoke, endangered creatures like the Orangutan, and tropical plants, are disappearing as the forests are cut, and peatlands burn. My thanks to Yew Jin for digging into this, with original radio for Ecoshock listeners. Don't forget, you can download this radio report, or share it with others, using thesse permanent links:

Asian haze interview (17 minutes) in CD Quality.

In "Lo-Fi" (lower quality mono, suitable for those with low bandwidth or listening/downloading via mobile phones)

If you want to Tweet or share this on Facebook, here is a shorter URL for the Lo-Fi version:


Near the beginning of this program, I mentioned Robin Upton, now a resident of Bangladesh. Robin rescued one of the most popular underground radio shows, called Unwelcome Guests. It was founded by New York State resident Lynn Gary, who ran produced the show for years and years. Unwelcome Guests covers alternative speeches and ideas in depth, with a two hour show each week. You can get it at, or at

As we play out this week, you will hear just the start of a full program #726 on the work of Ernest Becker. His book "The Denial of Death" won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-fiction in 1974, just before Ernest died. Only the Western culture struggles so hard to deny the reality of death, and I think that is directly connect to our parallel denial of abrupt climate change.

Good bye from me, Alex Smith for this week.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


With what we know about climate change, should anyone add another child into that future? We'll get two points of view from women who write about it: Madeline Ostrander and Alisha Graves. Then we hear recent science from Dr. Marcus Donat proving extreme rainfall events, and extreme drought will continue and get worse as the planet warms.

I'm Alex Smith. Buckle up, and off we go, in this week's Radio Ecoshock.

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

What's in this program? Check out This week on Radio Ecoshock - preview (2 min 30 second) You tube video

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When we talk about "The Conversation" it is usually the far-too-late talk about sex by parents with their kids, who already know all that. Today, we are going to re-label "the conversation". It's an inner talk you have with yourself, and and a careful dialog you might share with close friends. The question is touchy and heavy: knowing the climate is going to be wrecked, with huge consequences for humans and nature - should I bring a child into that world?

As Madeline Ostrander put's it: "How do you decide to have a baby when climate change is remaking life on earth?" That's the title of her latest article in The Nation magazine. Ostrander is also a contributing editor at Yes! Magazine.

Journalist Madeline Ostrander

Beyond the personal decision to have a child, there is often an indirect pressure, in one direction or another, by the previous generation, by the grand-parents. I am an example. We had two children, and they revolutionized my life in many good ways. But now I worry a little too much about our grandchild and his future. Part of me is quietly glad our other child has not had kids. But then I am sad for what that grown-up will miss that I had.

Most North Americans and Europeans can never again experience what I had, in community, but more especially with nature. There were empty lots and it was safe to play in them without adults watching. There were woods within easy walking distance. We spent two months of every summer on an island in a Canadian lake. Nature and I are siblings. For millions of people, who think they are well off, their children can probably never experience this. Perhaps we can say, even without climate change, there are reasons not to have children in this civilization, in the state it's in.

There are a few pockets left of natural sanity in all countries. So the question becomes not only "should I/we have this baby" but also: WHERE should this baby grow up? Am I willing to move to a place with space, clean air, clean water, with much more safety and outdoors? I'm sure women from Beijing to Berlin are troubled by this question: "Is this is a place to have a baby?"

I think that politics, and mainstream media that makes politics entertainment, is hopelessly distant from this conversation we are having, about to baby or not to baby. This whole conversation, and the fears behind it, are driven underground. It's pretty well impolite to mention at dinner, at parties, at work, at school - anywhere.

Madeline tells us about a group in New England called Conceivable Future. They host meetings for young people to discuss this dilemma. The banner on their web site says "The climate crisis is a reproductive crisis".

Part of the problem in tackling this of course, was the early prediction (1970's) by Paul and Anne Ehrlich about "the population bomb". It was supposed to have exploded by now in mass death and famine, that never happened - partly due to advances in agriculture. The group they founded, Zerio Population Growth, has now been renamed as Population Connection.

Judging by emails I've received from listeners, this issue is far, far from solved. Some folks think I haven't given the population issue enough coverage, or even suggest I'm afraid to cover it. This show answers that, I hope.

Download or listen to this 21 minute interview with Madeline Ostrander in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Or if you would like to share the phone-friendly Lo-Fi version (please do) - you can use this shorter URL:

My thanks to Caitlin Graf at The Nation magazine for her help arranging this interview.

And how about this: ABC Australia is writing about how hot weather can reduce women's desire for sex...the article is "Climate change and your sex life".

Even if we say a minority of men and women are concerned enough about climate change to seriously question having a child, two things: first, knowledge about the uber-threat from climate disruption is growing rapidly in the general population, despite the Koch Brothers. That means what is now the minority may be the cutting edge who define a whole new movement or current among humans.

Second: whether it's just you, or a hundred million people, this question is one of the most important decisions made in a person's lifetime.


The old saying about the circus: "There's a sucker born every minute". But hundreds of new humans are born every minute, as the human population continues to multiply. Many will be Western-style super consumers, the ones who drain resources and fill the skies with greenhouse gases. If we can't control that urge, a major climate disruption may do it for us.

"Green sex" - Do it for the climate. We'll find out what that means with Alisha Graves. She has a Masters in Public Health from the University of California. She's co-founded and leads a group called the Oasis Initiative, which stands for Organizing to Advance Solutions in the Sahel.

Alisha Graves is also a research fellow for Project Drawdown, a group of scientists and other experts working to create a livable climate future, led by Paul Hawken.

Public health expert Alisha Graves

To hear some environmental groups tell it, all we have to do is install solar energy and drive electric cars - problem solved. But can we really tackle the climate issue without talking about population?

Our instant mental defense is to tell ourselves it's those billions of peasants "over there" somewhere who are responsible for the population impact. What's wrong with that idea? Think of it this way: if you decide not to have a child, you have done far more to reduce greenhouse gases than buying an electric car or installing solar panels. That is because every new consumer born is a heat engine.

We talk about the IPAT formula: I = P × A × T

As Wikipedia explains it, "Human Impact on the environment equals the product of Population, Affluence, and Technology. This shows how the population, affluence and technology produce an impact. The equation was developed in the 1970s during the course of a debate between Barry Commoner, Paul R. Ehrlich and John Holdren."

Sex is such a powerful urge. It can drive our lives even when our brains are barely involved, maybe especially when our brains are weak. Do you believe that rational debate can change sexual behavior? It's interesting to discover that half the babies born in the United States were unintended. So fifty percent of the time, there was no conversation like "should we do this?" Meanwhile, states like Texas are making it harder and harder for a woman to access a safe and legal abortion. At times I'm sure we are going backward in population control, not forward.

Then Alisha gives us a quick snapshot of conditions in the Sahel. That's the region in Africa just south of the Sahara Desert. The Sahel country of Niger has the highest fertility rate in the world: huge families born into utter poverty and lack of health care. Studies show that half the children of Niger are stunted, both physically and mentally. The Oasis Initiative is seeking solutions.

Alisha links to the paper titled "Reproduction and the carbon legacies of individuals" by Paul Murtaugh and Michael Schlax as being useful in this whole debate on climate and population. You can read the full text as an online .pdf here.

Of course, you should also check out the Project Drawdown web site.

You or anyone can listen to or download just this 23 minute interview with Alisha Graves using these permanent links (in either CD Quality, or the faster loading but lower quality Lo-Fi)

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News about record rains, or sometimes snow, has become so frequent, I could report on it every week. Just recently, a half dozen people died in recent floods of Louisiana. Parts of Brazil were hit with half their average monthly rainfall in one day. In the desert, the United Arab Emirates recently recorded their highest single day rainfall ever, 50 times normal for March.

New research says this is only going to get worse as the world warms, but with an unexpected twist. A letter published in the journal Nature Climate Change is titled: "More extreme precipitation in the world’s dry and wet regions." In Sydney Australia, we've reached the lead author, Markus G. Donat, a research fellow at the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales.

Dr. Markus Donat

This is important research. Along with journalists around the world, Joe Romm quotes Markus Donat in this article on Climate Progress. But if you listen to my Radio Ecoshock interview, you'll be surprised to find that Joe got Donat's research a little bit wrong. It's all about the long-held slogan "the wet areas get wetter, and the dry areas get drier". Markus says that was true of a global model where the oceans are included, but not necessarily true on land (where it matters most to us). Yes will get more extreme droughts and super rainfall events, but like everything else about climate change, it's not quite as simple as that.

You or anyone can listen to or download this 16 minute interview using these permanent links (in either CD Quality, or the faster loading but lower quality Lo-Fi)

If you would like to Tweet or Facebook this interview (please) here is a shorter URL for the Lo-Fi version:


We are out of time - in this radio show at least.

Of course you can still download all our past programs (ten years' worth!) for free from our web site, thanks to the on-going support of listener donations. This blog has been going steady every week since 2006.

My team is working on the new web site/blog connection tool. I've seen the working model and it looks great. Radio Ecoshock will enter the modern world. This blog will also be revamped. And it will all work on phones too!

As you can see, I'm slowly learning new software purchased to produce videos, starting with the short "This week on Radio Ecoshock" series. If I have time, this may morph into a kind of video blog.

I can still use your financial support to keep this development going. If you can afford $10 a month, or wish to make a one time donation of any size, please do it here.

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

By the way, I wrote the bits of music you hear in this program. You can hear the whole piece here on Soundcloud.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016


From the Netherlands, green lawyer Roger Cox: "Is Revolution Justified?" From UK, Glacier specialist Thomas Bauska on the last big temperature jump in a warm world like ours. Plus, scientist Paul Beckwith warns we are in a climate emergency. Radio Ecoshock 160406


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

Or listen on Soundcloud right now.


Despite the spring misery in Eastern North America - world heat records continue to tumble. Ice is melting faster at both poles. We're in trouble, but world leaders are preoccupied with getting elected - or hiding money in Panamanian corporations.

If governments fail our children's future, is revolution justified? That's the question raised by Roger Cox, a prominent green lawyer in the Netherlands. He's not calling for crowds in the street, but real justice. Cox sued the Dutch government for failing to protect the future, and won. That's spreading all over Europe, Canada, New Zealand, and into the United States. Hear Roger Cox explain how it's done.

Who is this revolutionary? In the Netherlands, Roger Cox is partner at the law firm Paulussen Advocaten. He is the power-house lawyer who sued the Dutch government, demanding a 25% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. He won, setting a precedent for people around the world, and we'll talk about that. He founded the "Planet Prosperity Foundation" promoting a circular economy. And Roger is known in Europe as a leader in sustainable real estate development, something almost unknown in North America.

Award-winning lawyer Roger Cox

Roger Cox is also a CIGI senior fellow with the International Law Research Program. The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) is an independent, non-partisan think tank on international governance. My thanks to CIGI for helping to arrange this interview.

Roger's book is called "Revolution Justified."

Download or listen to this 24 minute interview with Roger Cox in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

If you wish to Tweet out the Lo-Fi version of this Roger Cox interview, here is shorter URL for that:


Roger was central to a lawsuit against the government of the Netherlands. The Plaintiffs were the environmental advocacy group Urgenda Foundation, and 900 individuals. Essentially they argued that the poor legislation for emissions reductions by the Dutch government endangered future generations. They won the lawsuit and the government had to enact requirements for bigger emissions cuts, much sooner. The Dutch government agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25 percent by 2020 (compared with 1990 levels).

This set an international precedent which is growing into a movement.

A similar lawsuit has been launched in Belgium, and another is pending in New Zealand. Other lawsuits are being considered in Canada, Italy, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and France. The French action follows one legal victory there in June 2015.


The idea begun by Roger, that citizens can sue their governments on behalf of the children, is now being tested in a U.S. Court. See this article on Alternet, and this piece from Australia.

The Oregon-based "Our Childrens' Trust Foundation" has launched a climate lawsuit in the United States. That suit is led by none other than Dr. James Hansen, along with 21 young people, many of them teens.


In another case, launched by the State of Massachusetts versus the EPA, the Supreme Court has already "in effect" ruled that climate change is real and dangerous, Cox tells us.


Of course, waiting for a break in the U.S. Supreme Court (depending on who gets nominated) might take too long to avert disaster. I have to ask Roger, and you as listeners, would a violent overthrow ever be justified? Let's say the Arctic sea ice disappears, and the northern Hemisphere is hit by years of unrelenting storms and heat waves. Crops fail. If governments fail to respond, should we go down quietly? I doubt people will just go along with business as usual, once they see the impacts of an abrupt climate shift.

We're not quite there yet, maybe (see the next interview with Paul Beckwith). It can't hurt to have all lawyers, judges - the whole legal community - become aware of the threats posed by climate change. Roger tells us that local judges, and some state courts, are already moving in the direction of taking climate safety as a real legal issue.


Roger tells us all industrialized countries signed into an international law to protect the climate at the 2010 Climate summit in Cancun Mexico. A few countries, including Germany and Denmark, have followed up, enshrining this protection into law.

Knowingly breaching the 2 degree C "safe limit" would also be an infringement of human rights, as laid out in various United Nations binding agreements. More legal safeguards were added at the COP-21 climate summit in December, 2015, Paris. There are a lot of international laws, which your government likely agreed to, that lawyers can use to push the government to act on greenhouse gas emissions.


One of our regular guests, scientist Paul Beckwith from the University of Ottawa, is warning anyone who will listen that we are in a global climate emergency. Forget 2050 or even 2030. Abrupt climate change has arrived, Beckwith says.

Paul has two Masters Degrees. He teaches climate science at the University of Ottawa, while working on his own Doctorate - on the subject of abrupt climate change. Paul is a scientists-activist, with a busy You tube channel, Facebook community, and more - all found on his new web site,

When I checked last, his new video and article is titled "My Condolences to Australia's Great Barrier Reef" (April 3rd).

In this program, I run a slightly edited audio version from Paul's important You tube video "Chat on our ABRUPT climate change EMERGENCY". This just has to get out there, and I'm happy to offer Radio Ecoshock as another way to express how serious our situation really is.

As Paul explains, the shift in climate is coming much faster than most scientists expected. If you want proof, just try this Google experiment:

"Google "climate change” and “faster than expected”, “unprecedented”, etc. and you get gazillions of science articles. Google “climate change” and “slower than expected”, etc. and you get squat."

- from Paul Beckwith's web site.

Download or listen to this 11 minute compact version of Paul Beckwith's warning in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Here is a tiny url for the Lo-Fi version (which works best for people listening on phones, or slow bandwidth) for Tweeting purposes:


We wrap up with an intriguing visit with a specialist in the story of glaciers and ancient climates. Before the 10,000 years of stable climate our civilization grew up in, the great glaciers came and went. The climate shifted with them, sometimes warming as much as 5 degrees Centigrade within 50 years. It's a tough field to understand, and harder still to figure out what applies to climate change today, and what does not. Some climate deniers have played on that confusion.

But the science of past deglaciation is getting better and better. A new paper out from a team of scientists from the United States, Britain, and New Zealand almost crushed my skull with problems. I wrote the lead author, Thomas K. Bauska with my beginner's questions, and he patiently schooled me in patterns of climate change I did not know.

That's why we called on Thomas for Radio Ecoshock. Educated in Chicago, with a Ph.D in Geology from Oregon State, Dr. Bauska is currently a researcher with the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Cambridge in Britain. The paper that stimulated this discussion is titled "Carbon isotopes characterize rapid changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide during the last deglaciation." It was just published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, or PNAS.

As a non-scientist, my first surprise reading this paper was that deglaciation can cause a rise in CO2, and not the other way around.

About ten years ago, people denied carbon dioxide was warming the planet. They jumped on the science of glaciology, to produce the argument summarized as "CO2 doesn't lead, it lags." Can carbon levels rise AFTER a warming, and if so, what caused the initial warming?

Talking about this, Thomas referred me to a 2012 paper published in the journal Nature by Shakun et al. The title is "Global warming preceded by increasing carbon dioxide concentrations during the last deglaciation." You can read that full article (as an online .pdf) here.

As I understand it, the point is this: past climate shifts began with geophysical forces: things like the 100,000 year cycle where the Earth's orbit tilts toward or away from the Sun (a bit). That can start a warming, which then releases carbon dioxide (and methane!) - which becomes a positive feedback effect, increasing the warming much more.

Contrarians argue other forces, like a tilt of the Earth's axis, can cause warming, so carbon dioxide isn't causing warming today. That is so simplistic it's silly.

Regarding abrupt climate change, Bauska et all write in their paper:

"At least twice during the deglaciation a rapid release of 13C-depleted carbon to the atmosphere may have occurred over a few centuries, suggesting that abrupt and significant releases of CO2 to the atmosphere may be common nonlinear features of Earth’s carbon cycle."

A second discussion in this paper seemed familiar to me. That was about changes in ocean currents, as deglaciation developed. We have just seen a giant cold spot appear in the seas south of Greenland, big enough it is thought to be altering the winter weather in Britain.

I wouldn't want to leave listeners with the impression that abrupt climate changes only happened as ice ages ended, and cannot happen now. I have spoken with scientists like paleontologist Peter Ward and Ottawa's Paul Beckwith who assure me there are records of abrupt warming, even from relatively warm starting points.


Considering glaciers at both poles are melting rapidly, as well as all other land-based glaciers melting, can we say we are NOW in a period of deglaciation? In the interview, Thomas said "no" - based on the large-scale deglaciation he studied. Today's melting is comparatively small. However, after the interview, Thomas sent me one further email explanation:

"One interesting question that I wasn't able to answer fully is whether we are currently in a "deglaciation" or not. My gut reaction was to say "not really" because the projected sea level rise over the next century is an order of magnitude less than the last transition from the ice age.

However, this paper really changed my view of future sea level rise. The authors (colleagues from Oregon State) take a long view and project sea level and temperature changes over the next 10,000 years (rather than the next few hundred). For context the compare the past 20,000 years, essentially the last deglaciation and Holocene. This is perhaps the long-term, geologic perspective that the deglaciation that your audience might gain insight from.

As stated in the abstract: 'This long-term perspective illustrates that policy decisions made in the next few years to decades will have profound impacts on global climate, ecosystems, and human societies — not just for this century, but for the next ten millennia and beyond.'

Listen to or download this 24 minute interview with Dr. Thomas Bauska in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

If you wish to Tweet out the Lo-Fi version, here is shorter URL for that:


I'm still working with my team on a classy new web site and blog (combined) for Radio Ecoshock. It will have a much better search function, so you can find the scientist or author you want to hear from. Plus, the new design will really work for all the folks who reach out to Radio Ecoshock by phone or tablet. The new blog will also be compatible with Itunes, so we can raise the number of podcast listeners.

I'll let you know as soon as it arrives.

Also, to help get the message out through video, I'm experimenting with a short (3 minutes or less) series of videos with the working title "This week on Radio Ecoshock". I'm hoping people will share these with social media, to raise climate awareness. Please do.

If you feel you can afford to support my work on this program, please either make a one-time donation, or sign up for the $10 a month subscriber status, from this page.

Thank you for listening again this week, and caring about our world.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016


SUMMARY Humans pumping more carbon, faster, than in last 66 million years. Lead author Dr. Richard Zeebe from U of Hawaii. From The Center for Climate and Security, Shiloh Fetzek on origins of Syrian conflict, Ret. Brigadier General Gerald Galloway, on what the Pentagon knows about climate threats. Radio Ecoshock 160330.

Humans are tossing more carbon into the atmosphere ten times faster, and in much greater quantities, than at any time in the last 66 million years. We'll talk with the lead author of that study, Richard Zeebe.

Then, with the turmoil of the Middle East spreading into Europe, Africa and beyond, we ask two specialists on the driving role of drought, heat and climate change. Our guests are analyst Shiloh Fetzek and retired American Brigadier General Gerald Galloway.

I'm Alex Smith. Welcome to your world.

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

Or listen on Soundcloud right now.


In the Guardian newspaper on the 21st of March, we find this headline: "Carbon emission release rate ‘unprecedented’ in past 66m[illion] years." It then says "Researchers calculate that humans are pumping out carbon 10 times faster than at any point since the extinction of the dinosaurs."

To understand what this staggering situation means, we go to a new paper published the same day in the journal Nature Geoscience. The title is "Anthropogenic carbon release rate unprecedented during the past 66 million years." The lead author is Dr. Richard E. Zeebe. He's published or co-authored about 75 scientific papers since the 1990's. Richard is a Professor at the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology at the University of Hawaii.

From Honolulu, we welcome Richard Zeebe to Radio Ecoshock.

We are looking for clues to our current fling with heating the world. I'll bet many listeners hear "66 million years" and think this will be all about an asteroid hit and the end of the dinosaurs. But really the focus of this paper is on a climate changed world about 10 million years closer to us, around 56 million years ago.

I've had a couple of scientific guests who describe relatively rapid global heating, say in 50 years or less, but always moving from a time of massive glaciation toward a warmer period. The Palaeocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum or PETM, is more useful for us, because there was a spike in global temperature even when the Earth was already ice-free.

One reading of this new paper is that perhaps we have been lulled to sleep by earlier paleoclimatology. We looked back at ice cores, for example, and decided climate change is a long drawn-out process, so we have time to change our energy systems and adapt. Zeebe and his co-authors say this research uncovers: "a fundamental challenge in constraining future climate projections."

Then finally, his team ends with this short statement: "future ecosystem disruptions are likely to exceed the relatively limited extinctions observed at the PETM." It sounds like we are in a free-fall where conditions on Earth may become hotter and more changed than the hottest period known to science since the dinosaurs. That's frightening.

The stunning new research paper was published in the journal Nature Geoscience on March 21st, 2016. Here is a link to the abstract, But if you use the link provided in the Guardian newspaper article, and wait patiently for a few seconds, the full paper shows up in your browser as a .pdf file. It's one of the most important papers so far this year. This interview with Richard contains some stunning perspectives on where we stand, and where we are going.

Listen to or download this 15 minute interview with Richard Zeebe in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


A new kind of creeping war is developing in Europe. It constantly threatens to re-appear in the United States and Canada. Meanwhile bombed cities spread across the Middle East . We hear rumors that climate change is a hidden factor driving Middle East discontent. Is it true?

Our guest Shiloh Fetzek writes about deep connections hardly reported by the press. Shiloh provides research for a non-governmental organization called "The Center for Climate and Security" - where she is a Senior Fellow for International Affairs. She is also Senior Fellow for Environment, Climate Change and Security at International Alert in London.

Shiloh Fetzek

In an article about Syria with Jeffrey Mazo, Fetzek writes:

"More than 70% of the country’s freshwater resources come from transborder flows, the bulk from Turkey via the Euphrates River."

What is the over-all status of that regional river water system. Has Turkey taken more, and left less, via up-stream dams? Is precipitation lower? How much is "water politics" and how much real climate pressure? We talk that through.

It is fair to say the agricultural collapse in Syria was badly mishandled by the Assad regime. As Fezak tells us, the Assad government cut fertilizer subsidies, and subsidized prices for farm diesel, at the critical time, during the drought.

When rainfall is low, farmers all over the world try to pump up the difference from ground water. Why didn't that work in Syria? For one thing, as we've said, the subsidies for diesel fuel needed to run the pumps was cut. But the real problem developed over time. The Syrian government favored large scale agriculture of water-hungry crops. The irrigation system was often based on open canals, which lose far too much by evaporation in the hot desert sun.

All over the world, displaced peasants and farmers are moving toward cities that are not prepared to handle their numbers. One author described Earth as slum city. Why was this global movement so much more serious in Syria? That's because there were already over one million refugees from the Iraq war living in Syrian cities. That's added to hundreds of thousands of long-time refugees from Palestine. Even the slums were full when the Syrian families started pouring in from the countryside. They lived in tent camps on the outskirts with no services.

Do we know for certain that displaced Syrian farmers formed part of the opposition to Assad government, or added to attempted revolution? Those statistics are not available. We do know the farmers were very upset with the lack of aid, and the way most of the country's wealth was channelled toward an ethnic minority living near the coast. It was a tinder box of discontent. Some of those same families are now in tent camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. Some of them made it to Greece, and on to Europe. Some of them drowned trying to get out.

When I study climate projections for the Middle East during the second half of this century, most sources predict even fewer water resources, greater desertification, and longer periods of dangerous heat. That heat, linked with humidity in some Gulf regions, is projected to go beyond the tolerance of humans to go outdoors. I wonder if we will see an even greater exodus, even more migration - to anywhere cooler.

We've had several guests who explain the medical consequences of a high heat-humidity index. But hardly anyone can explain the social impacts of finding more days too hot to go out, too hot to work, and nights too hot to sleep. This is a hidden factor that can drive individuals crazy, and societies to the breaking point.

Listen to or download this 21 minute interview with Shiloh Fetzek in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


Before winding up, I would also like to point out this critical article at The Center for Climate and Security: "US Embassy in Iraq Issues Mosul Dam Failure Warning". It's incredible.

The dam in Mosul Iraq could break.

Here are some points from a Factsheet issued by the U.S. State Department, courtesy of the Climate and Security article: (any bold type is my addition)

"The State Department Factsheet lists a series of ways in which the failure of the Mosul Dam and the resulting floodwave will have catastrophic consequences in a region already facing significant threats, and gives new meaning to the concept of “cascading disasters.”

Here is a sampling of some of the potential consequences of a dam failure drawn from the factsheet:

The approximately 500,000 to 1.47 million Iraqis residing along the Tigris River in areas at highest risk from the projected floodwave probably would not survive its impact unless they evacuated the floodzone. A majority of Baghdad’s 6 million residents also probably would be adversely affected— experiencing dislocation, increased health hazards, limited to no mobility, and losses of homes, buildings, and services.

The flood will severely damage or destroy large swaths of infrastructure and is expected to knock offline all power plants in its path, causing a sudden shock to the Iraq electricity grid that could shut down the entire Iraqi system.

Two-thirds of Iraq’s high-yielding irrigated wheat farmland is in the Tigris River basin and probably would be heavily damaged.

Some parts of Baghdad would be flooded, which could include Baghdad International Airport.

Much of the territory projected to be damaged by a dam breach is contested or ISIL-controlled, suggesting an authority-directed evacuation is unlikely, and that some evacuees may not have freedom of movement sufficient to escape.

Evacuation warnings that occur in the narrow window between the detection of a breach and the impact of a flood wave would be subject to electrical blackouts, technical and bureaucratic delays, or rejections by communities that probably would not grasp the urgency and scope of the threat, suggesting that prior awareness of risk could improve mobilization time in the event of a breach...

It's huge, and so far, no one is acting to prevent this catastrophe!

It's not just Iraq. Check out this article: Peter Gleick on Syria: Water, Climate and Conflict. Climate Change and Trouble with Pakistan's Reservoirs and Dams"


Shiloh and her colleagues, including Francesco Femia, sent me a good list of articles for further research. Here are some of them. Surf and learn!

Syrian climate change, drought and social unrest. NOAA on climate change and Mediterranean droughts. April 2012: The Other Arab Spring: Tom Friedman writes an Op-Ed on the subject, citing the work of the Center for Climate and Security, and interviews with others.

February 2013: The Arab Spring and Climate Change: The Center for Climate and Security and partners release a multi-author volume on the subject, edited by Caitlin Werrell and myself and including a preface from Anne-Marie Slaughter. Our own piece in the volume includes a slight update of the 2012 article on Syria, as well as a look at Libya's post-conflict water and climate woes. Dr. Troy Sternberg writes about climate, China, Egypt and wheat prices, which builds on his previous journal article in Nature.

January 2015: Climate change in the Fertile Crescent and implications of the recent Syrian drought: Kelley et al publish a study in PNAS which makes an important contribution to the literature. While we had drawn a connection between the dramatic precipitation decline in the Middle East and Syria from 1971-2010, the drought in 2006/7-2010/11, natural resource mismanagement, and social unrest, this study demonstrated that the drought that lasted from 2007-2010 was "2-3 times more likely" because of anthropogenic climate change. Big deal.

February 2016: Spatiotemporal drought variability in the Mediterranean over the past 900 years. The recent study by Cook et al.

Still thirsty? Here are more key resources on Syria, and the climate change connection, from Shiloh:


There are institutes where top scientists regularly prepare projections of a world thrust into severe climate change. You can bet there are parallel "war-rooms" where the military plans out their role in a stressed-out warming world.

Here to tell us about preparations and planning in the American military is retired U.S. army Brigadier General Gerald Galloway. He is a Visiting Scholar at the US Army Corps of Engineers Institute for Water Resources. After 38 years in the U.S. Army, Galloway joined the faculty of the University of Maryland. He's worked at Westpoint and the White House, always with a focus on sustainable water use. Gerald has three Master's degrees, and a Ph.D. in Geography from the University of North Carolina. He is also a member of the Security Advisory Board at The Center for Climate and Security.

Gerald Galloway

There are plenty of high-placed politicians who continue to question the importance of climate change to our security. Does the Pentagon think it's real? Yes indeed, says Galloway. The American Military has involved climate change in all their planning. There have been a series of reports for the Pentagon, including this one which found that climate disruption is a far greater threat than terrorism.

Dr. Galloway specialized in water resources for decades. And for decades we've heard about the coming water wars, especially in the Middle East. Have they arrived? Surprisingly, the answer is "no" and "not yet". Galloway says that so far nations have managed to negotiate reasonable water deals with each other, realizing that water supply is so vital, the only other option is war.

Here is a fascinating Al Jazeera article, with excellent coverage by Mansur Mirovalev, explaining why Uzbekistan may be the location of the first real water war. I'd love to have Mirovalev on this show, but so far I've been unable to reach him.

It doesn't take an expert to see that many millions of people in Bangladesh are going to be displaced by sea level rise in that low-lying country. When they move, there is no where to go, in a region already heavily populated and impoverished. Could that become a military situation?

I'm also thinking of China, and their war on terror with the Muslim Uyghur people on their Western flank. That's also part of a region expected to be hit harder by desertification, and temperatures too high for traditional crops. I'll bet that's a watch-point for the American military as well.

But the classic cases so far are in North Africa and the Middle East. Libya is constantly water stressed. Egypt is barely coping, and now has to import most of it's grain. The drought that hit Syria for several years also impacted southern Turkey, Iraq, and the list goes on. Gerald Galloway gives us a tour.


On a tactical level, the armed forces have to work out how to power themselves in a world where fossil fuel use becomes constrained. I ask Gerald what the U.S. military doing to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. We are also told the United States military is the largest single user of fossil fuels in America. Is there an awareness that all those emissions are actually fuelling a more dangerous world, through climate change?

FYI, the US military was exempt from reporting on greenhouse gas emissions under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. They lost that exemption in the Paris climate talks of 2015.

It's fascinating to get Galloway's insider view of how the Pentagon is working to (a) adapt to a changing climate (b) reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and (c) think about how to protect America, it's allies, and American interests in the coming climate disruption. Despite the misgivings many of us have on all this, it's still true that when hurricanes or typhoons flatten a country, or millions of desperate people need aid, it's usually the U.S. military that shows up for large-scale food drops, evacuations, and medical aid. We expect the American military to be there to help.

Along those lines, the new Canadian government under Justin Trudeau has announced a return to Canada's long-term role of using their military for aid in emergencies, and peace keeping, instead of war. We'll see.


In the 1990's, Gerald Galloway chaired a report for the White House on the Great Flood of 1993, along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Parts of the south have flooded again this year. In fact, we've seen more extreme rainfall events in many parts of the United States. Galloway says we are NOT prepared for flooding well beyond the ordinary, and could do a lot more to prepare for that aspect of climate change. You can read Galloway's 29 page report here. A lot of military planning is necessarily kept secret. But I think climate response is not a good candidate for secrecy, because we all face a global problem. Is there a way for the Pentagon to involve the American public more on this issue?

I would like to thank The Center for Climate and Security for helping to arrange this interview with Retired Brigadier General Gerald Galloway.

Listen to or download this 19 minute interview with Gerald Galloway in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


One final word: background news reports indicate the Belgian/French terrorists were planning an attack on a Belgian nuclear facility on the outskirts of Brussels, but felt too pressured by police searches to wait. Washington had already warned Belgium of lax security at privately run reactors there. Footage of a Belgian reactor official was found in a terror hide-out. A security guard for a Belgian reactor company was shot dead on Thursday. Two employees with complete clearance to the Belgian Doel nuclear power station left to join ISIS in Syria in 2012. What did they tell ISIS?

Belgium is about the size of the State of Maryland, or one and a half times the size of Wales in the UK. A plane crashing into poorly stored spent fuel there, or a bomb inside a reactor, could irradiate the entire country. Instead of confronting the mega-risk, the government of Belgium keeps extending the life of already old and unsafe reactors. That's a kind of self-terrorism.

A dirty radioactive bomb, or even blowing up a working reactor, remains the golden dream of those who hate. The United States, Canada, pretty well every European country, and even dear old Australia are always prime targets for nuclear terrorism.

In her weekly nuclear update, Australian campaigner Christina MacPherson reminds us of this:

"Nuclear terrorism a possibility in Belgium – and elsewhere. But oh no, not in Australia! Except – has everyone forgotten Willy Brigitte? Brigitte was sent to Sydney in 2007 as part of a cell that trained terrorists in Pakistan, with a plan to bomb the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor, was convicted in France."

Keep up with Christina here on the Web, and here on Facebook.

We only have to slip up once, and they only have to win once, to illustrate why nuclear power is not safe for anyone. There is still time to shut down the nuclear industry.

Don't say I didn't warn you.


Assuming nothing too big blows up in the next week, our next program asks: in the face of government unwillingness to protect a safe climate, is revolution is justified? Stay tuned, and thank you for caring about our world.

I am fundraising partly to pay for a new web page and blog set up, which should communicate this important message better and farther. If you would like to help Radio Ecoshock keep going, please consider becoming a monthly supporter. Find out how here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


SUMMARY: Global heat Jan & Feb hits hard, worries scientists. Bob Henson from Weather Underground explores the loss of normal. Australian scientist Ben Hankamer on new study: world will warm faster than you think. Radio Ecoshock 160323

The jolt. That's what scientists are calling the absolute heat records set around the world in January and February of 2016. Expert meteorologist and climate science writer Bob Henson takes us on a tour of the new normal.

But hang around too for our second interview, with Australian scientist Ben Hankamer. He's co-author of a new peer-reviewed paper that says warming will happen much faster than you think.

Hankamer tells us:

"If what the models suggest are correct, then by 2020 we might have to have about emissions reductions of 50% if we want to stay below a 1.5 degree climate change level. And if we want to stay below 2 [deg C] it might be 50% by 2030. And it really depends if you want to go with this pro-growth strategy or whether you want to carry on with business as usual... Of course you can say 'we're not going to do that' but then you have to also make the assumption that you will keep people in poverty."

A fifty percent cut in emissions needed by 2020! That's a call for crisis-level action. Sure, we can continue to splurge on fossil fuels in the developed world, but keep in mind (a) we need almost half the world's population to keep living in desperate poverty (less than $2.50, a day) and (b) we accept a rapid transition to a ruined state of nature for all coming generations.

That's coming up in our second half hour. First, let's get past the weather porn, to explore another step up the staircase to climate catastrophe.

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

Or listen on Soundcloud right now.


"February Smashes Earth's All-Time Global Heat Record by a Jaw-Dropping Margin" That's the headline at wunderground, the influential Weather Underground blog. What does it mean? Is the new carbon-loaded atmosphere stretching it's muscles? Is this the new normal, or the end of normal?

Joining us to talk about all this is a seasoned meteorologist, journalist, and one-time storm chaser, Colorado's Bob Henson. Bob co-wrote one of the most widely used college textbooks on weather, "Meteorology Today" - now out in it's 11th edition this year. For more than a decade Bob had a front row seat as writer and editor for AtmosNews, from the National Center for Atmospheric Research. His articles are published all over the world, and his latest book is "The Thinking Person's Guide to Climate Change." Bob often teams up with Wunderground's Jeff Masters to bring out all the facts and figures about the strange changes we see today.

Bob Henson, Weather Underground

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Let's be clear, we are talking about a global average temperature that in February almost reaches the 1.5 degrees C the supposed "safe" level raised at the Paris climate talks in December. Not in 2100, or 2050, but almost right now. NASA released their report forFebruary temperatures - the world is 1.35 degrees C above the baseline, which they choose as the period from 1951 to 1980.

But that's a recent baseline that minimizes real warming! There was at least a half degree warming from pre-industrial levels (say 1850). So we are already above the 1.5 deg temps agreed as really safe at the Paris climate talks.

Even taking the low-ball NASA starting point, as the Guardian newspaper reports, global temperatures in February 2016 broke all records not a little but, but by "a shocking amount".

The only good news is that we still have the rest of the year to go, which might cool down. Experts think the current El Nino is winding down over the next few months. For all we know, 2017 might be a La Nina year, and cooler. Henson says it takes a few years steady at 1.5 or 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels to qualify as permanent warming. He thinks we are several decades away from that point. I disagree.

It's also important to note that CO2 levels, as measured at the Mauna Loa lab in Hawaii, go up during an El Nino year, and never come back down. The reasons for that are complex. For example, drought during El Nino, coupled with climate-driven heat, causes more forest fires, which releases more CO2 into the atmosphere.

But the essential point is we are now well over 400 parts per million CO2, and much higher if we count the more realistic CO2 equivalent (which includes ever-increasing methane, plus rarer but more powerful greenhouse gases).

I remember the late Dr. Albert A. Bartlett of Colorado spent a lifetime teaching how important and threatening exponential math can be. That's where we get an increase on the increase. Is that happening now with greenhouse gas emissions? Sort of. Henson tells us CO2 was going up about 1 part per million a year during the 1960's. It became 2 parts per million annually during the early 2000's, and since 2015 has been hitting 3 parts per million increase. So yes, that is exponential, and ever-more dangerous.

Here's one of my worries. Every time the Earth takes another jump in temperature, a great number of irreversible feed-backs get a push. So we might be going up a stair-case, step-by-step, which only goes up. For example, what is the condition of the Arctic sea ice this winter? Yes, it is the lowest on record for February. The extent is low, and the ice is thin.

However, that does not necessarily mean we will hit a new record low sea ice level in the Arctic this summer, Henson says. The main factor that can break that record is whether it is cloudy in the Arctic during the key months of June and July, when the polar sun is strongest, or wide open and sunny. So we'll have to wait and see.

It's been just plain weird in the Arctic. It rained at the Pole in the December darkness, and there's been a lot of open ocean north of Scandinavia. Henson tells us about conditions around Svalbard for example. North of Norway, where the ice should be surrounding Svalbard, it the sea is open. And that northernmost city in the world (at 78 degrees latitude) has been strangely warm. Some days it was 20 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than usual. That's a huge jump!

Mark Sereze of the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center says this past winter is the strangest he's ever seen in the Arctic. For example, Anchorage Alaska had the warmest weather ever, with the least snow ever.


Did this El Nino manage to break the long California drought, as advertised? It did not go as expected. The big deluges from El Nino tracked hundreds of miles north of California, hitting Oregon and Washington State. At least there has been some snow in California mountains, which should ease water supplies somewhat. Water supplies for Sacramento and San Francisco have half recovered.

But it's an "ominous sign" Henson says, that this El Nino did not fully break the California drought this year. That's partly because projections are for the U.S. Southwest states, including California and Arizona, to get drier and drier as this century rolls on.


We've talked about heat records set on land. But it's not just there. Dr. Roy Spencer at the University of Alabama in Huntsville has persistently talked down the threats of global warming. He often interprets satellite data to find the lowest estimates. But even he reports the lower atmosphere is hotter than ever.


As Bob and Jeff Masters picture in their blog, there have been severe impacts of this combined El Nino and a jolt in climate-induced heating. Extreme drought has cost Vietnam and Zimbabwe at least 10% of their Gross Domestic Product. That has not been reported in mainstream news at all. We did hear about the strongest typhoon ever recorded hitting the Pacific island of Fiji. That country has continued it's state of emergency for another month, as thousands of people remain in temporary shelters. Their homes and businesses were demolished.

As Henson blogs: "For comparison, nine nations had their most expensive weather-related natural disasters in history in all of 2015, and only one did so in 2014."

Henson tells us scientists predict with the warming of the Pacific Ocean, there is a better chance we will get more El Nino heat years in the coming decades. You can guess what that means, from what happened this year. Our guest predicts we will see dramatic rises in temperatures, and surprising extreme weather, in this coming decade.

On another front, Australia's Great Barrier Reef Marine Authority has just issued an alert about widespread coral bleaching. Coral guru Thomas J. Goreau has been privately warning this could be another huge coral die-off.

Bob Henson is that rare combination of meteorologist and journalist. He's been published all over the world, but my favorite spot to find him is at the Weather Underground blog, at His Twitter handle is @bhensonweather.


Professor Stefan Rahmstorf, from Germany's Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research, told Australian newspapers "We are in a kind of climate emergency now." In the show, I run a few minutes from a short interview of Stefan Ramsdorf done by by Phil Stubbs of


Look out. The world may warm much faster than we thought. That could create an energy-squeeze. It's all in new a big-picture study from Australian researchers. Let's peer into a real future, with Professor Ben Hankamer from the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland, near Brisbane Australia.

Dr. Ben Hankamer

Now we know the choices. Let half the world's people live in poverty, and keep up our energy-intensive lifestyles for an extra ten years. Then we all struggle to survive with rising seas, heat waves, drought, fires, and weather so unstable crops and species are doubtful. OR the world's leaders and people somehow wake up from the fog, to begin the war on carbon emissions, to make the transition to a low-energy, all-renewable world. We have four years to cut our emissions in half. It's beyond the days of worry,now. It's do or die.

The title of this new paper suggests giant topics: "Trading Off Global Fuel Supply, CO2 Emissions and Sustainable Development". It was published in the open access journal PLOS one. Anyone can read the full paper, and please do.

Download or listen to this interview with Dr. Ben Hankamer in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

In the interview, we look more deeply into this concept of personal energy use. Here in North America, we like to think personal energy use is going down, as cars become more fuel efficient, bike use increases, and things like LED light bulbs slash utility bills. Is that assumption wrong? Yes and no. It's true many appliances, cars and stuff are becoming more energy efficient. But it appear we are using the saved money to buy still more appliances, cars and stuff.

One of the paper authors, Dr. Wagner says "“Simply put, as we get more efficient at manufacturing, goods get cheaper and we buy more." That sounds to me like a restatement of the classic Jevons Paradox, which was originally applied to coal. So it's still true.

I'm also assuming that a huge portion of demand for personal energy use will come as billions of people in the "developing world" get motorbikes, electric appliances and all the things we take for granted.

So here is one thing new in this study: previous studies did not include the relationships between energy use, climate and poverty. Add in population, and the amount of carbon left to safely burn takes a nose-dive. In my opinion, we don't have much of a chance of staying below 2 degrees C warming in the next 20 years. So buckle up your seat belts for world-changing extreme weather, and the relentless rise of the seas.

But Ben Hankamer is much more positive. He thinks there is plenty of solar energy to power the world. If global leadership recognizes the crisis in time, and organizes us all to act, maybe we can pull out before a real climate catastrophe is inevitable.

Again, most of our fossil fuel use is in liquid form, especially for transportation, I wonder how much renewable energy can really replace that? That is exactly the question being investigated at the Solar Biofuels Research Centre in Queensland Australia. It's co-ordinated by the University of Queensland, with major corporate partners. They are testing algae that grows in the sun, which can then be converted to a number or widely recognized liquid fuels.

Large-scale projections by necessity assume a future economy similar to what we have now. But I worry that the economy will slide into a Depression, where wealth shrinks instead of grows. That may come from unsustainable debt levels, and all countries will be buffetted by increasing costs of replacing infrastructure and crops damaged by an unstable climate. Most studies do not include that possibility.


The most dire prediction comes from Sam Carana.

The post in Arctic News is not a scientific paper, but a blog with some scientific contributors. This blog is sometimes too extreme, and sometimes spot on. I don't have the expertise to say what is right or wrong with Sam's calculation of 3.9 degrees C warming by 2026, shown in the graphic, part way down in this post. Sam Carana draws on a number of warming factors which I've seen listed separately in scientific papers, but which are too seldom brought together. I ask our guest Ben Hankamer if he thinks a warming of 3.9 degrees C by 2026 is possible. Ben says it could be possible!

Graphic by Sam Carana of Arctic News blog.

And that is Carana's low end number. His worst case scenario is so bad we can hardly conceive of it.

Mind you, one of the original climate change scientists, Dr. James Hansen, has just released a paper with a gang of other scientists warning that heating is coming, and seas rising, faster than anyone thought possible!


I'm Alex Smith. My thanks to everyone who has helped get this radio message out through social media, and especially the non-profit radio stations who tell the truth.

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