Sunday, January 28, 2007

Mark Lynas: Six Degrees of Climate Change

What happens as the Earth heats up?

British author and activist Mark Lynas set out to answer those questions in his new book "Six Degrees." Searching the science, putting it together, he describes the impacts with each degree of temperature rise. The book is due out this March in England, by Harper Collins. We got a sneak preview in this interview with Lynas from his home in the UK.

Sorry, but I don't have time to transcribe the whole thing for my blog. Here are the questions I asked Mark, with a few notes on his replies - but to really get it, you need to download the (free) audio file, by clicking the title above. It is 22 and a half minutes long, and as far as I know, the first audio interview on his new book. You heard it here first.

I began with this:

We're talking with Mark Lynas, an author, journalist and green activist perhaps better known in Europe, than North America. His previous big book was "High Tide: News from a Warming World" - a description of three years traveling the Earth in search of climate change. Mark, I'd like to talk to you about your new book, coming out this March, called "Six Degrees" - but first, I understand you've another new baby slipped out this month, a Collins Gem book called "Carbon Counter"

How do people use your Carbon Counter?

[At first, Mark wonders if I am talking about his real baby - his second child due in early February. He's been quite busy between two new books, a new baby, and other journalism.

Mark explains this Carbon Counter book is published in the UK, is intended to help people calculate (and reduce) their carbon imprint, and will not be as useful to North Americans as it uses European measurements and techniques.]

This leads to the larger picture, namely, what happens to the planet as the climate heats up, triggered by our inordinate use of fossil fuels. Why the title "Six Degrees"?


I've been to your blog, at, where you give a brief outline of changes for the first three degrees. I was alarmed at just one degree of climate change. A new dust bowl for the United States, and much colder weather for Britain and Europe due to changes in the Gulf Stream.

How fast is the temperature rising?

Regarding the Gulf Stream - last spring you told a group in Scotland that cool weather there was likely a sign of the Gulf Stream weakening. But this year, winter hardly came to Europe, so far. Wont' critics says this is a contradiction?

[Mark explains the "jury is still out" about the impact of melting arctic freshwater on the Atlantic Conveyor System. Although studies have shown an increase in the freshwater content, so far the ocean currents (and thus the weather) have not changed, and we don't know why - or when the warming waters might be impacted.]

At only two degrees change, you say the Earth could lose a third of the species, in "the worst mass extinction since the end of the dinosaurs." Most of the talk in governments, and even by concerned citizens, is about how humans will adapt. Have we lost sight of the rest of the Earth's citizens - all the other species?

[Mark says as an ecologist, he feels animals have an intrinsic right to exist, beyond the economic value. While he considers economic studies like the Stern report important, they do not add up to the real value of living eco-systems.]

Getting to three degrees, we lose the Amazon rainforest. We've already seen shocking pictures of rivers there drying up. Those rainforests are a huge reservoir of carbon. Once they dry up, and other positive feedbacks kick in, is it possible we could skip up the scale, and see a rapid increase, perhaps skipping from three to five degrees, without visiting anywhere in between?

[This is the definite worry. Once we get to three degrees rise, positive feed-back loops, such as melting of the permafrost in the Arctic, may take the temperature rise directly from 3 degrees to 4.5 degrees. A good explanation here in the audio interview.]

Have you seen the map that James Lovelock presented at his talk this November to the Institution of Chemical Engineers? Basically it shows the remaining life forms huddled around the Arctic Sea, and Patagonia in South America, while the wide belt of the tropics is desert-like. Even the tropical ocean may lose most of its life, he says. How can we even comprehend a planet so badly damaged?

[Lynas appreciates the fact that Lovelock doesn't try to dress up the real threat climate change poses.]

Everyone quotes the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But they do represent governments, which tend to be very conservative. I've heard various scientists say these estimate are far too low - they usually say it at the end of an interview, almost in a whisper, speaking unofficially. Are we getting a realistic picture about climate change?

[It seems to me that Lynas considers the IPCC results reliable - but you listen and be the judge.]

Will you give us your sneak peek preview of life on Earth if the climate advances by six degrees?

[Only in the audio interview]


We would need a whole other interview to talk about your solutions to save the planet. Can you give us a quick rundown of ideas that will work, and a couple that might make things worse? [e.g. carbon rationing & less flying; Frankenstein fuels, nuclear power]

[Mark starts out by denouncing "geo-engineering", such as putting up millions of tiny mirrors into space. Then he outlines several plans he thinks will be needed to minimize climate change, and perhaps more importantly, to slow it down. If things go too rapidly, the animals and plants will not heave enough time to adapt.]

You've said the goal of 550 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, set by Sir David King for the UK government, will be "nothing less than a death sentence for half the world's population." That sounds so extreme. How did you arrive at such a gloomy calculation?

[Lynas outlines the impacts that 550 parts per million would have, from the research done for his new book. He makes a convincing case.]


Due to the crazy carbon generated by globalization - shipping everything across the globe by freighter, or even by air, you have suggested relocalizing our production. How soon do you see the carbon costs of globalization becoming a real issue for business, and the public?

[answer in the interview]

There is a whole group of people who believe Peak Oil, our production high point, has already been reached, and so oil burning will decrease simply because those energy supplies are running out. Do you see this happening in time to save us from severe climate change?

[Mark doesn't think we are running out of fossil fuels, perhaps just using up the cleanest versions, such as natural gas and easily available oil. All that means is people will switch to things like the Canadian Tar Sands, which he finds very destructive, and coal, which is plentiful and absolutely disastrous from the carbon point of view. If fear of running out will convince people to use less carbon, good - but he doesn't count on the Peak Oil people to solve climate change.]


Obviously, this is the prime issue facing humanity today. Will you be coming to North America to promote your book?

[Lynas says he is torn about doing a book promotion in North America. The book will be published in N.A. (later) - but he worries about using air planes, which are such a growing part of the carbon emissions problem. He doesn't fly anywhere for holidays, and tries to use any air travel very judiciously. Not sure if he will come.]

How do people find your book, and your website?


From his home in England, we've been speaking with Mark Lynas, author and activist, about his new book Six Degrees. Mark, thanks for taking the time to talk with Radio Ecoshock.

Monday, January 22, 2007


[Audio begins with almost 2 minutes of alarming media clips on recent storms in U.S. and Europe - to listen, click the title above]

Do these media reports worry you? Take a deep breath. Humans are hard-wired to fear extreme climate events. And not just humans. My big German Shepard dog always headed into the bathtub with every bolt of lightening - even though she was relatively safe inside the house. Mammals instinctively don't like big wind storms, big piles of snow, or big waves crashing against the shore.

These are not the first big storms.. A trio of storms that hit Europe in 1999 were worse than the January blow, and killed more people. History still remembers violent weather there in the 1300s. People thought those storms were caused by God, due to our sins, rather than climate change.

Our only remedy for this natural fear, and our religious reactions to it, is science. The problem is: now the science is scarier than Jove or Jehovah.

The new mantra goes like this. Meteorologists say you cannot PROVE this latest strong weather came from climate change. Weather is unpredictable, they say, which makes us wonder, why do we bother paying all those forecasters in the first place?

Climate scientists agree the causes of a specific storm cannot be certain, BUT, the long-term impacts of altering the atmosphere ARE predictable.

The Earth will get hotter. A lot of that heat will be soaked up by the oceans. Warmer oceans mean more water gets sucked up into the atmosphere, causing more violent precipitation - which could be rain or snow. The hotter oceans also add more power to existing storms. We may not get more storms, but those that do form will be stronger.

Nobody needs to be reminded that all kinds of hurricane records were set in 2005. Hurricane Wilma was the biggest ever recorded, and Katrina the most damaging to a developed city. There were so many hurricanes the weather experts ran out of internationally accepted names for them. Then, 2006 was relatively quiet. Again, the studies of the long-term records by people like Kerry Emmanuel show we may not have more storms, but they will be more powerful.

What does it all mean?

Let's make a couple of home-spun observations about this recent series of storms.

[media clip, the whole continent]

Number One: this was a transcontinental storm. Within the same week, weird and wild weather stretched all the way from California to New England - and hit England, Scandinavia, and all of Europe from West to East. Most of the Northern Hemisphere was engulfed an extreme weather event. That is worth worrying about. As the climate becomes destabilized by carbon emissions, and various feedbacks, is it possible we may see global storms? Just think about what this might mean to the economy, and how limited rescue efforts might be in a future super storm.

[clip "We don't know when the electricity will come back on"]

Observation Number Two: The European storm was not a hurricane. Hurricanes, and their tropical counterparts the typhoons, involve a spinning mass of air and water.
The speed and damage of the wind depend upon rotation around a central vortex. But the blast that hit Europe was described as a river of wind. It was almost as though the Jet Stream had dipped down to Earth, blowing along the surface at over 100 miles an hour. That is the sort of science fiction scenario described in the 1994 book "Heavy Weather" by Bruce Sterling. Following a period of industrial damage to the Earth's atmosphere, a more-or-less permanent storm developed in the U.S. mid-West, a new category beyond our current ranking system.

In the real world, meteorologists are already discussing the need to add a new class, the F6 hurricane, to top the existing worst case F5 type. With climate change, they expect storms stronger than anything humans have seen in the last 10,000 years.

But again, the rest of us have to wonder if the Jet Stream will not become a bigger factor for the Northern Hemisphere. When we looked at the big satellite pictures and maps, there was a strong line running right across the Southern half of North America, and then jagging up toward Europe. Are disturbances to the Jet Stream linked to transcontinental storms like the one we just experienced?

[media clip]

Observation Three: North Americans already know the price of their fruits and vegetables will go up in the next few weeks. That is because up to 75% of the fruit and winter vegetables for North America come from just a few valleys in Southern California. Those valleys were hit by freezing temperatures that put ice around the crops when only 30 percent had been harvested. Governor Schwartznegger estimated a billion dollar loss for the citrus industry alone.

The point is: climate instability will damage the world's ability to feed itself. Higher prices for oranges are only an inconvenience for the rich, but the poorest people will starve, by the millions, as rising temperatures, storms, and reduced water supplies reduce our output of wheat, corn, and rice. Lester Brown of the World Resources Institute says just a half degree temperature increase could reduce rice production by 20%. And we are going to get a lot more than that - perhaps two to five degrees change.

This storm is an early warning about the coming food deficit as climate destabilizes agriculture.

It's hard to say how people will react. Like passengers rushing to the high side of the boat, there has been a stampede of political pronouncements on climate change action. Ultra conservatives, - even big oil companies - are saying it is time to act. The media are developing climate change desks, and newspaper devote pages to it. It's the hot topic for now.

Of course, humans have a notoriously short attention span. Soon we'll all be sick of hearing about it, and the big media spotlight will move on to some other celebrity scandal or war.

Meanwhile, on the more local level, millions of homeowners are eyeing the beloved trees around their yard and street much more suspiciously. We can already hear the chain saws humming to cut down big trees before they fall on the family home or municipal building. We'll denude our cities, chopping out our best smog protectors, just to be safe from the new 21st Century winds.

Expect another big push to move more power lines underground. Our old system of poles and pylons are not ready for Jet Stream-like winds at ground level. We can't function without our electric juice, so main transmission lines, and common street distribution systems may go underground, just to keep the lights on.

Some ocean-side real-estate may go down in value, or be relegated to seasonal use. Storm surges will wipe out billions of dollars in value, and insurance will be impossible to get. We may have to put most of the State of Florida in that category.

One more conclusion: as the decade progresses, the price of food will continue to escalate - from a minor budget item to something as large as the mortgage.

The ocean grabs enough heat to act like a 30 year buffer. Our current climate troubles come from Carbon Dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions from the late 1970's. But experts estimate half of our greenhouse gas emissions went into the atmosphere since 1970. That means you ain't' seen nothing yet. It also means that all the new clean energy we add now, and all the CO2 we manage to conserve and reduce, will have no impact until about 2036. For the first time in our recent consumerist history, we will have to act for the next generation, even though there is no direct benefit for ourselves. Can we do it? Or will we party like it's 1999.

It is true we can't blame one storm on climate change. But we do know some storms will be much worse because of global warming. Those extreme events may finally spook the herd into action.

In the meanwhile, I also think that meteorologists are just humans too. When older people tell newscasters "I've never seen anything like this"; when new records are set; when the German train system closes down for the first time - Hell they didn't even close the whole system when it was being bombed in World War Two! - the rest of us are not over-reacting.

Nature is trying to tell us something. We are doing something wrong, and it isn't mystical or religious. It is factual, measurable, and all powered by fossil fuels.

This is Alex Smith reporting from Radio Ecoshock. Try out our full-time environment radio station on the Net at - or subscribe to our free podcast.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Top 5 "Save the Climate" Speeches of 2006

Will it be a happy or a grim New Year?

In 2006, the Arctic melted more, rains fell heavier, fires burned bigger, the plants and animals were confused by a changing climate. This was the year polls showed the public is slowly getting the big picture. People are worried. Unlikely characters and corporations are calling themselves "green."

It was also the year of plans to avert catastrophic change.

Most of these proposals did not come from governments, who are still, with a few exceptions, in paralysis, or denial. The visionaries are self-appointed, yet generally world-watching veterans and professional communicators.

We are talking about Al Gore, the former politician; Amory Lovins, a Green gone big time; British journalist sensation George Monbiot; Pulitzer-prize winning investigator Ross Gelbspan; the official World Watcher, Lester Brown; and perhaps urban critic James Howard Kuntsler with the Peak Oil movement. Radio Ecoshock has assembled their latest speeches on how to get out of the heat, in a special section of free downloads, at

Or course, there is an official plan of sorts. The Kyoto Protocol was organized by World governments, prodded on by the world's largest group of peer-reviewed, climate-related scientists. It is a start, but half dead without the world's biggest atmospheric polluter, the United States. Kyoto expires in 2012. It doesn't have teeth to really accomplish much. Most governments give Kyoto lip service only, while actually increasing their greenhouse gas pollution. Beyond Kyoto, there is only the recent failed Nairobi Climate Conference, and an agreement to talk more.

When it comes to the big, big reduction really needed to have any impact on human-induced climate change, proponents of the Kyoto Protocol admit this plan won't save us.

At the other extreme are the survivalists whose only plan is to grow local food, get off the grid, and wait for the crash. We might include urban critics like James Howard Kunstler and the Peak Oil crowd who think oil and gas supplies will dwindle even as world demand multiplies. They may be right, but if we just burn the remainder, the climate will spin out of control long before the oil shortage forces a major social adjustment. Worse, humans might just use even more coal, and there is plenty of coal.

One of the best Peak Oil sites is

Others think big climate change is already upon us. Plans to limit CO2, to stop even worse heat and storms, may be necessary, but we need other, more urgent plans, to survive it. For example, James Lovelock is calling for new dikes to protect the City of London, and much of the Southern English coast, from the ravages of rising seas and storms. New Orleans and New York also need protection. Most of the less developed low lying countries, such as Bangladesh, may be unable to mount climate defenses.

We also have the plans of geo-engineers. One example: the people who would shoot gazillions of tiny mirrors into outer space, to block some of the Sun's rays, and thus cool off the Earth. I can't go into all those plans here, but George Monbiot offers this important caution. Even if we could succeed with such a wild space adventure, and cool down the Sun, without damaging the natural world - we would still have to turn off the carbon smokestacks. That's because all that carbon is being absorbed by the ocean, and that makes the ocean so acidic that basic life forms, like plankton, may not survive. It's not just the heat. We have to reduce the impact of carbon on the oceans as well.

Today you and I are going to rumble through five plans to avert climate catastrophe - from people serving as spark-plugs for the public mind.


Let's start with the most famous man in climate change - Al Gore, Jr. The former Vice-President, and almost President of the United States needs no formal introduction. And he has real climate credentials. Gore began his climate fixation, as a convert in college under the scientist Roger Revel. Al Gore brought the issue to government very early, and published his book "Earth in Balance" in 1992.

Al Gore is now known for his movie presentation "An Inconvenient Truth." There is also a book version published by Rodale Books. But since that unlikely best-seller, Gore has graduated from warning about climate change, to a grass roots plan to push the American, and world, public into demands for change. As a whole chorus of people convert to climate reality through Inconvenient Truth, Gore has become a kind of clearing house and meeting place. He's a mixture of Hollywood, scientists, businessmen and believers, who want a new vision of not just America, but the world energy economy.

What is Al Gore's plan? First of all, Gore continues his initial role of awakening millions of people to the awful risks we face as the climate becomes unhinged. He used the hundreds of millions of dollars earned by the movie and personal appearances to create a new Institute, called the Alliance for Climate Protection, based in San Francisco. As the new year of 2007 arrived, about 1,000 volunteer communicators assembled for a combination pep-talk, media training, and grass roots organizing of Inconvenient parties. These are local events, which may be large or living-room size, like climate Tipperware parties. They aim to move people from worry to action. These will be the new Evangelists, or agents of social change, to save the Earth's climate, as we know it.

In recent speeches, Gore has also outlined a larger political plan, centered in America, but reaching the whole globe. It is essentially a made-in-America plan, to sell to U.S. voters. Gore envisions a re-vamping of the failing U.S. industrial sector to produce prodigious amounts of alternative carbon-free energy tech. These mass produced solar panels, windmills, and super-efficient vehicles will fill the freighters that currently leave American ports empty, having disgorged their load of consumer goods.

As reported in the Washington Post of September 19th, and in Gore's speech "Solving the Climate Crisis," he proposes a Carbon Neutral Mortgage Association. This would let home owners stretch out the increased costs of more insulation, solar panels, and energy efficient houses as part of the mortgage - and these costs should pay for themselves as energy bills will be less. Gore also wants to revamp the electricity distribution system to let homeowners and businesses sell their own electricity back to the system. He calls it the "electranet."

Like several other climate planners we will meet, Gore sees our carbon fix as a challenge that can save rather than wreck America. Alternative energy will end dependence on oil from unstable regions, make the U.S. self-sufficient, and rebuilt it's manufacturing pre-eminence. At the same time, this new tech Renaissance will give energy to the billions of people in the developing world, without harming the world's atmosphere. Unlike other speakers we will meet, Gore doesn't go into details of how this transfer of new wealth will take place.

Gore's plan targets America, and may well be part of a political platform - for himself or others, in the 2008 elections. And everyone knows America certainly needs a plan, an exit strategy from the deadly carbon fix.


Let's move to another long-timer, Lester Brown, the founder of Worldwatch Institute. Brown is almost an institutional environmentalist. For more than two decades, he has been counting up the world's resources, and identifying trends. His statistics have been used by people with different agendas. He perceives Earth as a limited system, with finite resources that dwindle not only as human population grows, but as those humans adopt consumerism.

In 2004, Brown proposed Plan B. Our present direction, Plan A, isn't working. Lester Brown has a relatively comprehensive alternative direction, that employs existing institutions, whether governments, banks, or large non-profits. He relies on reforming trade and agriculture, for example, rather than counting on new technology or a radical change in our social system.

One of the key indicators pursued by the World Watch Institute under Lester Brown was world grain stocks. Both production and back-up supplies of grain are falling due to water shortages, soil depletion, increased population pressure, and climate change. In many parts of the world, such as the grain growing areas of India, the crop depends on pumping fossil water from long ago, from ever-falling water tables.

His Plan B calls for three major changes of direction. First of all, we must learn to use water much more efficiently, all over the planet. This includes recycling waste water in the world's mega-cities. Agriculture needs to use seasonal rains, rather than draining aquifers.

None of that works without reducing the pressure of new population. We are adding between 75 and 100 million new mouths to feed every year, and we have already bypassed sustainable food production.

His third vector of change is to cut carbon emissions in half in the next ten years, to preserve the climate. His book Plan B describes various tools we can use, from new fuels, conservation, and re-thinking society.

We can count Lester Brown among the macro thinkers who is concerned not only with climate, but with a wide range of problems facing the human project. These days, you can find Lester Brown at

However, like almost all our planners in this series, his emphasis is on humanity, rather than the whole range of species on Earth now facing extinction.


At a different pole of society, Amory Lovins is an American environmentalist and experimenter, who definitely believes that new technology could save us from a climatic wreck. This is a man who goes to the high places of Colorado, and builds an experimental home/workshop to test out alternative energy and lifestyles. He claims to grow bananas in the winter in a home without any central heating system. The passive house he inhabits with his wife Hunter Lovins grabs heat from the ground, and the sun, and never lets it go.

Lovins was a long-time environmental activist, but in the last 15 years has risen into the elite circles of big business and even the Pentagon. He has helped design ultra-light cars using carbamate instead of steel, that use very little fuel. Lovins investigates the most stingy energy mechanisms and then looks for real-world applications. His work has penetrated into the labs of General Motors, although apparently that car company didn't listen or follow through.

Amory's most recent big report was co-produced by the Pentagon. The American military is deadly serious about a future that doesn't require fighting in the Middle East for oil. They want a fighting army, air force and navy that generate their own energy, and depend on anyone else. Although Lovins has been an outspoken critic of both nuclear weapons and nuclear power, he hasn't shrunk from working with the military. Perhaps this is appropriate, since the U.S. military uses up to half the oil Americans import. It takes a lot of juice to ship, fly, or drive all that equipment, weapons, and people all over America and all over the world. Reform there might actually help save the world.

Lovin's technical plans might make a more efficient world. His talks and ideas are exciting. In fact, he and Hunter Lovins propose a new model for capitalism, which they call Natural Capitalism. As a horrible simplification of a complex idea, we can say Natural Capitalism involves including the cost of nature in corporate book-keeping. It attempts a money-making world that can profit from such challenges as natural shortages, or even climate problems.

So there is a very large political and economic idea coming from the Lovins camp. We may wonder whether greed can really save the world, but short of outright revolution into completely unknown territory, some modification of Capitalism is definitely required when it comes to climate change. Perhaps Lovins' proposals are just twenty or a hundred years ahead of their time. We don't know.


Let's get out of America, and cross the Atlantic to get a European perspective, another journalist and book-writer with a plan. George Monbiot has finished his initial book tour to promote "Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning."

Unlike Amory Lovins, Monbiot insists on using technology we have today, to solve our problems. He points out the scientific consensus that time is short. To balance the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, in time to avert catastrophic climate change, we need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by at least 50% by 2030. And if we assume that the rest of the world's population, especially in China and India, are growing toward life-style standards similar to our own - we will have to share energy and other resources much more evenly than in our colonial and corporate colonial past.

According to Monbiot, who cites experts he has interviewed and papers studied, that means people in the developed world must reduce our carbon emissions by a staggering ninety percent by 2030. That will leave just enough emissions for the developing countries to reach reasonable living standards, development, and technology. In a sense, we need to emit much less, so they can emit more, while they build up infrastructure, housing, and a modern economy.

Monbiot investigates the various major categories of energy use Western-style life. These include such things as heavy industry, electric power generation, and transportation. His speeches so far deal less with industry, other than a call for 90 percent reduction across the board. We presume he means alternative energy, collecting carbon dioxide for underground storage, and the like. We may have to do without certain products and processes that create climate havoc with their emissions.

His plan has more detail when it comes to electricity generation. Monbiot can tolerate nuclear power - as preferable to roasting without life as we know it. But he doesn't think reactors can be build in time to save us, and, unlike Gaia founder James Lovelock, he doesn't see nuclear power as the answer to our big problems.

Monbiot is also dismissive of small-scale electric generation as a solution to anything. A recent column derided greens who mount wind generators, or small solar panels on their houses. He doesn't even like distributed small-scale power systems. Let's think really big, he says, and build monster scale alternative energy plants. He wants offshore wind farms with thousands of gigantic rotors, similar to the recent mega-wind project recently proposed to help power the city of London.

But Monbiot advocates using DC, Direct Current, to carry this alternative energy for very long distances, with much less power loss than our Alternating, AC, current. Using new technology for these DC cables, he foresees grabbing vast areas of the Sahara desert for solar farms to power Europe and Africa.

Meanwhile, Monbiot would re-think and re-tool simple transportation systems like the humble bus. The new bus system would operate only on already existing highways. A big fleet of deluxe and comfortable buses would run constantly between towns and cities, on the highway, loading and unloading at terminals right at the off-ramps. You would reach these terminals by fast-moving mass transit, like light rail or subways. The buses themselves never move into towns, where they bog down, but just move people between major locations. By being more convenient, safer, and almost a leisure-time experience instead of a frightening rush hour, these buses would soak up the inhabitants of private automobiles, mainly replacing the car. The energy savings are enormous, and emissions could drop the required 90 percent of current levels - without giving up our ability to get around.

There are many more ideas like this in his book, which you can find at His talks are available at, in the Audio on Demand Climate section. I have heard him live, and came away thinking we really could chart a way out of this climate mess, without going into a cave.


Back in America, Ross Gelbspan is also a credible advocate for a new alternative economy. He starts out with a vision to install carbon-free energy tech in the developing world on a crash basis. Without that, he thinks, the massive increase of oil and coal burning in China, India, and all the rest of the developing countries, will swamp any changes we make as concerned consumers in the developed world. We have to bring everyone along with the new wealth that technology can bring, he says, and we can't let that happen using old-style industrial carbon pollution.

His alternative is to raise about 300 billion dollars a year, for ten years, to create a new alternative energy infrastructure in the developing world. Solar power galore, wind power wherever it works, big tidal power, even hydrogen as a transmission technology, where needed. I haven't heard Gelbspan advocate nuclear power, but perhaps I just missed a speech.

Where will this money come from? Gelbspan advocates the so-called Tobin Tax. This is a tax on currency trading, which is believed to top 1.5 trillion dollars a day. If some agency, he doesn't say which one, could grab point 5 percent of this trading, that would raise the 300 billion a year. It taxes speculation, and transfers a small portion back toward actual production - the production of alternative energy devices.

Perhaps a carbon tax, or a travel tax, could work just as well, Gelbspan says. The actual mechanism of raising this tax is less important than the imperative to arm the rest of the world with safe, carbonless sources of energy.

In addition, Gelbspan wants a global agreement, or decisions by national governments, to increase carbon efficiency by 5 percent a year. A country, or a company, could produce 5 percent more goods using their current energy, by increasing efficiency in production. Or they could institute energy saving plans. In the first few years, conservation would be the main mechanism to achieve this 5 percent annual efficiency gain. New technology could also help hit the target. But eventually, several years down the line, he thinks, the end result would be an over-all 5 percent reduction of carbon emissions, year-by-year. In ten years, this would cut carbon emissions in half, if it works. We don't know how this will be measured, or who will enforce it, but perhaps that's just a little too much detail to ask of one person suggesting a plan for a complex world. We may have to take Gelbspan's ball and run with it.

Ross also wants an end to the $200 billion in government subsidies to the coal and oil industry world-wide, and he specializes in hunting down scientists and front groups who create doubt about global warming on behalf of the fossil fuel industry.

Find the real guts of his plan in his book, "Boiling Point" available at major booksellers and his website, as well as his speeches at

We haven't covered another British journalist and environmental activist, Mark Lynas. Watch for his new book "Six Degrees" coming out this spring from Harper Collins. It will show the different stages that Earth might expect for each degree of temperature rise. But I don't know if Lynas adds a plan to avoid the worst extremes. His website is

That's it for the 2007 Ecoshock round-up of plans to save the world. I have assembled speeches by our protagonists in a special section of the Radio Ecoshock website, called "Climate Plans". Look for it on the Audio on Demand menu at Or see below for the exact address.

There you will find speeches with action proposals by: Al Gore, Lester Brown, Amory Lovins, George Monbiot, Ross Gelbspan, and James Howard Kunstler. We'll throw in a feature on James Lovelock, too. They are all completely free to download in MP3 format. I encourage you to explore your own future and alternatives, because these are the questions you will have to answer in the next few years, at the ballot box, at the cash register, and in your own heart.

How will we save this gracious and fertile planet, from the perils of carbon garbage we toss into the atmosphere? How will we save the climate? It's up to you.

Ths five speeches can be found at:

Monday, January 01, 2007


To hear full audio version, click title above.

Look out! Look out!

The Arctic Ice is disappearing much faster than anyone thought possible. Events which were supposed to take centuries are occurring now.

Scientists at Canada's new global ice laboratory, at the University of Ottawa, have discovered a giant ice shelf cracked off Canada's most northerly island, Ellesmere Island. The Ayles ice shelf is about 40 square miles. Now it is loose in the Arctic, and next year may head toward shipping lanes, or run into offshore oil platforms.

Unlike an ice sheet, which is over land, an ice shelf floats on the sea, but is attached to land. Several big ice shelves have broken off Antarctica, including the gigantic Larsen B collapse in 2002. This time, we've seen the end of one of only six huge ice shelves in the Arctic. One down, five to go.

The Canadian Ayles sheet broke off in a sudden thundering event on August 13th, 2005. That's what earthquake monitors show. Even more disturbing, we didn't find out about this major Arctic event for a year and a half. That's is how bad our monitoring of Arctic ice really is. Who cares if the Arctic Sea turns into an open lake? Who is watching?

The ice shelf was 3,000 years old. Professor Warwick Vincent of Laval University in Quebec City told Michael McCarthy of the Independent newspaper:

"This is a dramatic and disturbing event. It shows that we are losing remarkable features of the Canadian North that have been in place for many thousands of years.... Unusually warm temperatures definitely played a major role. It is consistent with climate change."

Find that at:

Two NASA reports last September revealed an area of ice, the size of Turkey, disappeared from the Arctic in just the last 12 months. Where early explorers dared to cross countless miles of ice, last summer it was possible to sail to the North Pole.

In 1906, when Arctic explorer Robert Peary first examined the region, there were almost 4,000 square miles of ice shelves. Today, 90 percent of those are already gone.

This is why the United States government finally recognized that the Polar Bear, which must get its main meals from the ice, is endangered as a species. So is the entire way of life of the Arctic people, the Inuit.

We'll all pay for this big change. Where the mass of ice reflected the Sun's rays back into space, the much darker sea will absorb the heat, fuelling even more global warming. That is called the Albedo effect, and it makes a positive feedback loop: more warming means less ice cover, which means more warming.

Official government scientists, like Dr. Luke Copland, are still officially cautious, saying it is too early to conclude this came from human induced climate change. I suppose the whole Arctic will become tropical, before government scientists express themselves, much less become activists, to help save us.

It is simply amazing to me that the Emperor of fossil fuels can parade naked in the streets, while everyone admires his imaginary clothes. The Arctic ice is sinking into history. Temperatures there are more than 5 degrees above normal, and may experience a double digit increase within a decade or two.

There are exceptions. NASA's Jim Hansen has just said we are heading toward a very different planet, unless we protect the atmosphere from our exhaust, starting now.

I like the planet I was born on. Emperors and fashions came and went, history recorded its dismal tale, but at least we could count on the Seasons, apparently fixed by some Power, at the beginning of time. Now we find the climate system is delicate, and changeable as the wind itself. Even a small force like a smokestack, or an exhaust pipe, can tip the Earth into roaring instability, where every species must move, scatter, and survive if they can.

Ice quakes send shivers up my spine.

This is Alex Smith. Join me for much more climate information at

Check out this ABC News video (while it remains active) of the Ayles Shelf, and what this really means for the arctic and the climate: