Monday, March 26, 2007


[Click on the title above to hear the 9 minute podcast]

America is the largest single cause of climate change.

So says one of the government's top scientists, James Hansen of NASA in a hard-hitting speech given February 20th in New York. The talk was arranged by the New York Academy of Sciences for the Architecture 2030 conference. But Hansen didn't talk about building anything, other than a crisis movement to stop us from arriving at a "different" and "desolate" planet.

I know you are busy. Perhaps this system conspires to keep you busy every waking moment. If you don't have time to listen to the full 34 minute speech, I've broken out some of the main quotes, and set them up with a bit of ear candy, to engage the whole mind. It's a 9 minute podcast version you can listen to, pass along, or link to. Please - this man is at the top of his career, studying climate for the last 30 years. Let's pass on what he has to say.

Once you've had a listen to the podcast, you can pass on this link to your blogs, email lists, whatever:

That's the 9 minute version.

For those who want the full 34 minute speech on global warming, go here:

You can get more info, and the video of the presentation, here:

And still more info, here:

Hansen says we can't wait even another year of two, until the next election. We had about ten years to act starting in 2006, he says. In that time frame, carbon emissions must level out to their year 2000 levels, and then start going down rapidly. We are already up by .8 degrees Celsius, and have another 2 degrees in the pipeline, due to carbon already up there, in the oceans, and the infrastructure we won't tear down.

But if we go above 500 parts of carbon dioxide, a giant mechanism swings into place - one that has been happened several times before in Earth's history - leading to a very different planet, with only a fraction of the species surviving. Yes, new life forms will eventually emerge, as we did, but that takes hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of years. In other words, not in any time frame that humans can comprehend.

According to Hansen, some of the carbon we are throwing up now will last up to 500 years. We are making permanent changes, but if we act within the next 9 years, we can still leave a livable planet. He recommends Bill McKibben's "Step It Up" action coming this April.

Is there anything more important than this? Have we got your attention yet?

Get Jim Hansen's message out there!!!

Radio Ecoshock.

Friday, March 23, 2007

OCEAN FISHERIES: Gloom & Doom - Daniel Pauly

[to hear the full version, with many quotes from the Pauly speech, click the title above. You may have to wait a minute, it is 47 minutes long, 45 megabytes]

What would it take to be the Grand-daddy of fisheries researchers? On-site experience in many places. Five hundred papers published, working with a dedicated team, and with other top scientists all over the world.

Then, what if that top scientist sees, and can now prove, that humans are killing off their own food fisheries, and creating giant deserts, on the bottom of the sea?

Now you understand the predicament of Doctor Daniel Pauly, Director of the well-respected Fisheries Centre, at the University of British Columbia. He is almost a global citizen - French national, raised in Europe, worked decades in the Far East, studying the fisheries from his base in the Philippines. In 1994, he accepts the post leading a dedicated research team on Canada's Pacific Coast.

This is a man, and an institution, that asks the big tough questions. How do present fish catches compare to those of the early 1900's? Are marine mammals a danger to fish stocks? Where do developed countries get fish for restaurants, and home tables, once their own fish stocks have crashed? Are we killing off world fisheries?

Canada knows this situation very well, after its five hundred year old cod fishery collapsed in 1990 - and hasn't come back. Is that an isolated incident?

To find out, the Paulian researchers gathered catch data collected by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the FAO. Along with other scientists, they soon realized that while specific FAO information was very valuable, the total catches being reported were larger than life. Pauly says that China has been exaggerating fish catch reports, as they exaggerate wheat harvests, and other production statistics, to reflect the success of the State. The FAO said the overall world catch was going up. Dr. Pauly, and a chorus of independent fisheries scientists, said the global ocean harvest is actually declining.

The catch is dropping despite bigger, faster boats going much further, burning more fuel that ever before. Even satellite and sonar gear cannot increase the catch. Europe has exhausted many species in the North Sea, and must now go down to the coast of Africa to feed the European diet of fish, including the mandatory Friday seafood meal sanctioned by the Church.

We will hear about trawlers creating new deserts hidden at the bottom of the sea. Dr. Pauly explores the possibilities and problems of aquaculture, which he concludes cannot save us. Even eating seafood using a green guide may not be enough to preserve enough edible species to our grandchildren. On the East Coast, Doctor Boris Worm has predicted the fisheries will crash globally by 2048.

Where does that date come from? What do these scientists really know? Welcome to the first part of "Killing Off the Oceans" - an ongoing series on our impact on ocean life. Will we really force up to 90% of ocean species into extinction? From over fishing, or due to carbon pollution turning the seas acidic? You can download this program, and the rest of the series, free, from Radio Ecoshock at Just look for "Oceans" in the audio on demand menu.

I'm your host Alex Smith. This week we'll be working with a speech made by Dr. Daniel Pauly at UBC in Vancouver, March 10th, 2007. It was part of the top-rated Vancouver Institute series.

To study the state of world fisheries, scientists begin with reported catches, locations, and a mountain of other data - to place each fishery on a kind of curve. If the fishery is very new, relatively untouched - it is labeled "undeveloped." When the catch reaches 50 percent of the possible, it is called "developing." At the peak, when the most fish possible are being caught, that is "fully exploited." Usually, shortly after the peak of an over-exploited fishery, there is a sharp, sharp drop to "crashed."

Using computers, it is possible to calculate each fishery, and merge all those curves into a general pattern for Earth. When this was done, the results showed there were hardly any "fully exploited" fisheries in 1950 - and none had crashed. By the 1980's, a majority of fisheries were "fully exploited" and some had crashed. By 2000, there were almost as many crashed fisheries as exploited ones.

In Eastern Canada, Dr. Worm used fed this date into a computer model which showed a global crash somewhere around 2048. That was a wake-up call for the public and their politicians, but little action has followed. In fact, as we'll see, governments have become part of the problem, prolonging fisheries beyond their real life spans, by paying off the fish industry with billions of dollars in subsidies. Likely, that includes your own government.

Actually, the figure 2048 was not in the scientific research paper, but appeared in the press release. It caused a controversy. Dr. Worm's model created a projection, which assumed we go on fishing as now. If humans fail to change their fishing practices, and rein in the excessive fleet. But no one can predict the future. Perhaps you and I will act in time. Dr. Pauly gives concrete suggestions of how we can change, and this is why he accepts the state of gloom about world fisheries, but not yet the sense of doom.

Meanwhile the press attached the 2048 figure, rather than realizing the immanent threat.

[Pauly Quote #1 "Finger pointing."]

Pauly's "Sea Around Us" project mapped out where humans fish. The richest fisheries are on the continental shelf areas. That's is where we can catch enough to pay for the fuel, the fishers, boat, and allegedly a profit. There are some fish in the open ocean, but they are so dispersed it is not economical to catch them. The open ocean contains ten times fewer fish per square kilometer than nearer the shore. Most of the world's ocean wealth hugs the coastlines.

China is a concern in all this. The billion Chinese love their seafood and count on it for protein. The government must always announce success, but Dr. Pauly finds their catch is decreasing.

[P2 "China catch decreasing."]

Here is another pitfall. The FAO has been reporting an increase in fish catches - but that is because they add aquaculture to the total. The real ocean catch is declining steadily, at an alarming rate, Pauly's team has found.

[P3 Decline Continues FAO Aquaculture]

The FAO didn't count the by-catch - more than 30 millions tons of sea life wasted annually, tossed over-board as non-target species, dead. Now more of that is being kept, and counted as catch tonnage, to be fed to other fish in aquaculture. That addition also hides the real decline in species that humans like to eat. And the catch effort is increasing all the time. Ships have to go much further, perhaps thousands of miles, burning up low grade diesel, spewing out tons of carbon and pollution.

The scientists can measure the "biomass" of the fish - the number of fish per square kilometer (or mile). The biomass is dropping rapidly - and Pauly shows this decline, compared to 1900 and 1950, on slides.

As Europe fished out its own waters, they moved to West Africa. They were joined there by the Russians and Asians. Corrupt and failed states were easily bought out and bribed. Some, like Angola, were fighting civil wars. As a result, while Africans went hungry, their fish went to European dinner tables, as a healthy alternative to other meat. Local people starved because they could not afford to buy fish from just offshore, and some were forbidden to fish. Dr. Pauly compares this to the Irish potato famine, in the 1840's, when Ireland was exporting wheat as millions starved.

The African countries get very little for their fishing rights. Almost all the value goes to Europe, Russia, or the Far East.

The same rapid decline of over-exploited fish is now happening off the coast of Africa, and is shocking to see in East Asia.

There is one glaring exception. The billionaire Sultan of Brunei, an absolute monarch, doesn't want fishing boats around his offshore oil platforms. So the Sultanate has become one of the few fish preserves in the region. It works. Fish are plentiful there, while wiped out in neighboring countries.

Next Pauly investigates the emotional question of whether marine mammals are to blame for falling fish stocks.

Should we kill off whales, seals, and dolphins - to protect the fisheries? After all, marine mammals do eat more than the total human catch. Scientists have calculated their populations, and mapped out where these wild creatures overlap with important human fisheries. That overlap is high in Europe and in East Asia, and consequently there is more pressure from the fishing industry. Some fishermen demand a "cull" - a killing - of marine mammals to leave more fish for humans to scoop out of the sea.

Canadian officials have repeatedly tried to blame seals for the collapse of the cod fishery - instead of the hundreds of mega-trawlers that scraped the bottom into lifeless mud. It is typical human denial - yet it leads to a seal slaughter every year. Pauly says Canada makes about $40 million selling seal products, mainly pelts. But Canada may be losing up to $200 million a year in tourism - from people who refuse to visit Canada because they think the seal hunt is so barbaric.

So what does Pauly say about the prospects of saving the fisheries by killing off marine mammals:

[P6 - Killing all marine mammals plus Japan whaling - Pauly's team research showed that killing off every marine mammal on Earth would not save the fisheries. Humans are responsible for their decline. Japan is trying to tell poor countries to support whaling, to improve their fisheries, but the real culprit is trawlers, including Japanese trawlers.]

We learn that humans start with the largest fish, such as the giant tuna, predators that live at the top of the food web. As these disappear, as tuna are now disappearing, we go down the food chain, to hunt their food. We catch juvenile fish, crashing the larger species, and smaller fish.

Our worst practice in the sea is trawling - otherwise known as "bottom-dragging." Huge weights and rollers cause a net to scrape up everything on the sea floor and haul it to the surface. Most is then tossed overboard, lifeless. In this speech, Dr. Pauly stressed a small but very important concept. Up in the ocean, microscopic algae are the staple of the sea. When algae drops to the bottom, it is consumed by other very tiny animals, often anchored to the sea floor. These animal forms (some look like plants) help to control algae, and hold the ocean floor together.

When the ocean floor is scraped clean by trawlers, the algae control animals are killed off, along with bottom plant life. The result is a lifeless muddy bottom, suitable only for some types of jelly fish. The heavy rollers and net create a muddy wake of turbid water, which Pauly compares to the contrails of jets. In the lecture, he showed, for the first time, photos taken from space - showing the muddy contrails of trawlers, deep under the sea. One startling slide showed long lines of Chinese trawlers dragging the China Sea, side by side. It looked like a thousand tractors plowing up the Great Plains. Nothing will be left there. What will the Chinese people do? We can expect the launch of a new international Chinese fishing fleet, burning still more carbon-laced fuel, to take fish from the far corners of the world, just as the Europeans and Russians do now.

[P7 Trawler damage.]

[P8 incredible clear cut ocean bottoms]

When the process of taking everything in the sea has been complete, and the algae control animals are gone, the result is deadly algae blooms followed by long-lasting dead zones. Dead Zones are popping up all over, and Pauly thinks trawling is a major contributing factor.

[P9 dead zones in America, Europe & elsewhere - latest off the coast of Oregon.]

Meanwhile, you the consumer don't really notice the tragedy playing out on the ocean, because fish keeps showing up in the supermarket. Hardly any of it is local anymore, those stocks are gone. No one asks where the seafood comes from, how far away, who went hungry while you could afford more.

Here is another problem. If you follow a green guide to sustainable fish, you still may not avert a global crash in the fisheries.

[P10 - choosing the right fish important, but will not save fisheries in a real way. More of an "indulgence" for our sins, he says.]

But there are some things we can do.

[P11 He advises strong political pressure, plus more pressure on bureaucrats who "manage" fisheries.]

Meanwhile, marine protected areas, which we desperately need, are growing slowly around the world. Only point 6 percent of the ocean is protected, and at the rate we are going, we will miss all the conservation targets.

[P12 Targets aimed for 2012 may be reached by 2082 at the current rate - too late.]

The really crazy thing: governments who should be acting to preserve ocean food stocks are actually paying more people to go out and destroy it. While dead and dying fisheries would be totally uneconomic - nobody can make a living from such thin catches - the boats keep arriving, due to billions of dollars in government subsidies to the fishing industry and fish boat owners. Over $34 billion a year in subsidies!

[P13 subsidies keep dead fisheries going over $34 billion.]

It gets stranger. When some European governments agreed to buy out old boats, to reduce excess capacity - owners used that promise to go to the bank to get loads - to buy brand new, even larger trawlers. The biggest subsidizers are Asian governments, followed by European ones. Strangely, the United States is one the right side of this issue. The U.S. doesn't offer big subsides to ocean farmers, as it does to land-based agriculture. America has called for an end to fishing subsidies in the World Trade Organization.

Part of the answer, beyond ending deadly subsidies, is to move toward small scale fishing again. Pauly says there are two types of fisheries: the industrial scale and more localized small scale. Research and history show that small scale fisheries, run by locals, can be sustainable.

[P14 advantages of small scale fisheries]

But Dr. Pauly says aquaculture is not the answer. It cannot replace declining fish stocks, and aquaculture as understood by North Americans and Europeans - fish farms raising salmon or trout - are terminally wasteful of ocean resources. Our style of aquaculture takes large amounts of perfectly edible small fish, and concentrates them in high value fish like salmon.

[P15 Eat Anchovies, not farmed salmon.]

I'll give you the conclusion to this speech by Dr. Daniel Pauly on March 10th, 2007 - but don't go away. As often happens, important answers come when the public gets a chance to question the scientist. We even find out the worry that makes a would-be optimist like Pauly admit a fear of ultimate ocean extinctions.

Here is the wrap up, your call to action.

[P16 conclusion, What you can do (pressure governments right now, and join environment groups.]

The first question is this: should trawling be banned? And if so, what could replace it?

[P17 Should trawling be banned - he thinks it will end eventually, and is being banned in many parts of the world. Small scale fisheries, and other methods such as long-lining should be employed.]

Finally, we arrive at the castle of doom. A member of the audience asks why Dr. Pauly has not mentioned the problem of our carbon emissions dropping into the ocean, to make it more acidic. Here is his reply:

[P18 Doom - Ocean Acidification - a surprisingly gloomy view - perhaps 90% extinction in the oceans by the end of this century if carbon continues to pour from the skies into the ocean, causing the oceans to acidify.]

That is where we leave Dr. Daniel Pauly, and our thanks to him, and the Vancouver Institute for allowing this important speech to be recorded. You can download the whole one hour lecture, plus the question and answer period, free, from the Web at Look for "oceans" in the Audio on Demand menu.

Learn more about Dr Pauly's work. His ocean modeling system is Ecopath software (see ), the online encyclopedia of fish types he helped establish is FishBase, at, and the global mapping of fisheries trends is available at

I'm Alex Smith, Thanks for tuning in. Keep your ears out for the next part of this series: "Acid Ocean Meltdown."

Thursday, March 15, 2007

GLOBAL DRYING - Super Drought?

Click the title above to hear my 12 minute summary on global drying news.

Don't get me wrong. The science says that a warmer world will hold more water vapor in the atmosphere. And water vapor is also a potent greenhouse gas itself! You can see the positive feedback loop there.

All that water has to come down somewhere, and tons have dropped on the Pacific Northwest lately. I feel like an amphibian here. But that's an exception. A whole belt around the tropics, and extending up into the U.S. Southwest, and the Australian South, are set to dry out into recurring droughts.

That's in the news all over. CNN reports that a leak of the upcoming IPCC report in April (to AP Press) - predicts billions of people - that BILLIONS - could face water shortages by the end of this century.

We're already seeing a super drought in southern Australia. The bush keeps burning up, and former farming land turns into dust. The rainfall there has shifted Southward toward Antarctica, as warming climate disturbs the weather system.

You don't need to be told about the Sahel of Africa. There are already millions of environmental refugees from spreading deserts and drought-lands caused by first-world carbon spewing uncontrolled into the atmosphere. Tim Flannery blames the Darfur tragedy on Europe's smokestacks and tailpipes.

Even the Amazon rainforest has begun to dry out, with reports of rivers shrinking to a fraction of their normal size. The great rainforests may become grass lands - and all their carbon will be released, to our peril.

Then Joseph Romm, author of the blog Climate Progress, writes an article on "the interglacial super drought" in the U.S. Southwest. Agriculture, and eventually who cities of people in Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico will be hit by drought.

Even Los Angelese residents know what I am talking about. So do people near the mountains in China. A new article in the journal "Nature" explains that a type of rainfall formerly caused as hot air cools around the mountains, is greatly reduced. That's because the type of smog particles coming from diesel motors, burning bio-mass, and agricultural fertilizers - is inhibiting the formation of raindrops.

Weather experts suspected that smog was reducing rainfall. The mountain-type rain in California has been reduced between 10 to 25 percent in the last 30 years or so. Now there is scientific evidence to prove it.

The study was done in China, where air pollution is so severe. On a particular mountain, blessed to receive the smog of a great city, raindrops were unable to form. The mountian ecosystem, and all the residents of the valley below, lose the rain they need.

Perversely, when human-made dust in the air ("aerosols") travels over the Pacific, picking up larger particles of salt as well - they drop sheets of heavy rain on the Pacific NorthWest. What fails to fall in one area, is moved elsewhere, to provoke heavy flooding.

Heavy rainfall events will increase in some parts of the world, while droughts strike others.

We're just beginning to understand all this. A lot of science is hot of the press, as they say.

James Lovelock has a map of what an over-heated world would look like. Sure enough, the tropics are mostly deserts - both on land, and under the sea! The green habitable areas are much closer to the poles, especially around the Arctic Sea.

The planet has been in that kind of a state before, in cycles that seem to take many millions of years to develop - except we're pushing it that way in just one or two human lifetimes. Apparently, Nature never expected one of its creatures to drag out hundreds of millions of years of carbon, and burn it all!

Dig into this. Global drying will hit in a wide belt, even while other areas experience Biblical floods.


Saturday, March 10, 2007


In just a sec, I'm going to tell you where to download a hot new speech from Cory Doctorow.

Normally, I stick to the environment and nothing but. That's right, I want to help save the plentiful Earth as we know it.

But we can't do it without the freedom to express ourselves, to move around without government or corporate interference. We need all or our creativity unleashed to solve problems like climate change and dying oceans - not a dictatorship - and especially not a "green" totalitarian government.

Is there a totalitarian urge embedded in our new technologies? Many of us dreamed that computers, and later the Internet, would lead to an unstoppable burst of freedom. Now we see people pushing RFID tracking chips for all our kids, cameras on every street corner, and secret rooms in AT&T to record all our Net activities.

Cory Doctorow is a consistent voice calling for privacy, technical freedom, and innovation from below. I was lucky enough to hear and record his "Leonardo Lecture" at Simon Fraser University in Canada. You can find the whole speech at:

It is 76 minutes on the cutting edge, where freedom faces the specter of technical totalitarianism. Must listen audio.

For the sake of really winning when it comes to the environment, we better hope we all get this right. If you are secretly dreaming The Great Green Leader will save us from ourselves, think again. Abdication leads to the pit. All of us are creating this challenge to the Natural world, and all of us are going to be part of the solution.

Incidentally, Cory practices what he preaches. There is no copyright on this speech about freedom of speech. Please, pass it around.

Radio Ecoshock - the Net's only all environment radio station, and the biggest green audio download site - no ads, no sign ups, no bull - at

Monday, March 05, 2007

James Hansen: Climate Deadline

To listen to/download the audio mp3, click the title above.

It's time to hear the awful truth: Nature's carbon clock is ticking. We have less than ten years to make a major turnaround, according to one of America's top scientists.

This is Alex Smith of Radio Ecoshock.

Despite being censored by the Bush administration, there is an important recent interview with James Hansen, the outspoken climate scientist at NASA. This one comes from independent radio journalist Maria Gilardin, who has produced an intriguing series of alternative specials at TUC Radio.

TUC stands for "Time of Useful Consciousness." It's a flying term, referring to the amount of time a pilot can react to save the plane, after the oxygen system fails, before passing out. I guess we are in that boat now, when it comes to human civilization, the climate, the oceans, and the ecosphere generally.

As Director of the NASA Institute for Space Studies in New York City, part of the Goddard Space Flight Center, James Hansen has testified about climate change to Congress and the Cabinet (including Vice President Cheney). This interview was captured on a San Francisco roof, following Hansen's lecture at the December 2006 meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

You can get more information from Maria's website at, and the full speech from our website at in the Climate section of our Audio on Demand menu. I'll just give you some critical highlights from the interview.

For example:

"We did not realize, until recently, that previous warm periods, that previous so-called inter-glacial periods, some of which were warmer than the present one, were not very much warmer. At most, one degree warmer than the present period.

On the other hand, there were times, if we go back three million years ago, when the Earth was about three degrees warmer, but it was a different planet! There was no sea ice in the Arctic. And sea levels were at least 15 meters higher, probably about 25 meters higher - that's 80 feet. I mean, that's a huge climate change. It's something that we really would have a very hard time dealing with, because we've set up all or our infrastructure with the coast lines where they are now.

And also, a warming that large would have a huge impact on many species. It would drive many high latitude and high altitude species to extinction. So, we really cannot afford - we really don't want to have a climate change of anything like that magnitude."

Or this:

"And if we want to preserve a planet resembling the one we inherited from our fathers, we're going to need to change the course of our emissions into the atmosphere. And in fact there are other reasons that it makes sense to do that.

I think we still have time to do that, but unless we begin to make changes this decade, it's going to be very difficult to preserve a planet similar to the one that we inherited."

We all need to grasp the concept of "thermal inertia" - the science of how some climate change is coming no matter what we do.

Maria Gilardin asks:

"In your talk, just now, you referred to half a degree Celsius that is still in the pipelines, regardless of what we do. I missed that date by which you expect to see that half a degree warming to occur."

Jim Hansen replies:

"Yes, because the ocean has large thermal inertia, it takes it a long time to respond to changes in the heating. And there's still about half a degree Celsius of global warming that's in the pipeline, just because of this slow response time of the ocean.

Some of that warming, more than half of it, should occur within a few decades, but part of it will take more than a century, just because the ocean is very deep, and it turns over very slowly."

Then there is the deep ocean, which churns very slowly, over hundreds of years.

"One of the interesting things is that, deeper ocean is now getting warmer, which is not surprising, because as we warm the surface, the rate of formation of deep water, which is formed at the high latitudes, is decreasing. And that causes the deep ocean to warm. Because normally it cools, by formation of deep water at high latitudes.

So it's a complicated ocean/atmosphere system, and the changes that we are seeing, I think do make sense. But there's variability from year to year, just because the climate system is a non-linear chaotic system, just like the weather. It's going to fluctuate warm and cold, and we have to look at the long term, in order to really understand what is going on."

Hansen has suggested an alternative, or supplemental method of preserving the Arctic from the worst of climate change: by controlling methane. For more on this, see my own special "Methane Primer" and "The Methane Fix" in the Ecoshock Features section of I discuss the American plan, now expanded to other countries, to control methane as a way to combat climate change.

Here, Maria Gilardin asks:

"You said in one of your papers, that carbon dioxide is not the only Greenhouse gas. And that there are other gases that contribute to global warming as well."


"Yes. It's very important to realize that it's not only carbon dioxide. There are other gases, methane being the second most important, and tropospheric ozone, which is a pollutant. And in addition, there are particles, like black soot.

And one of the things, which I think is very important, is that although it looks like the Arctic is now beginning to lose it's ice, and there's a prediction that we will lose all the ice in the Arctic by 2040 - but in fact some of the non-CO2 climate forcings are particularly effective in the Arctic. And we could reduce those, easier than we could change carbon dioxide.

There's going to be some increase in carbon dioxide, even if we try to use energy more efficiently. But we could reduce methane, which in turn, would reduce tropospheric ozone. And we could also reduce the black soot particles.

If we do that, then I think we can retain the sea ice in the Arctic."


"How do we go about reducing methane?"


"Methane has a number of sources. Landfills are one of them. You can design your landfills so you can capture the methane, and then use it, as natural gas, for heating purposes. In addition, there's methane lost in fossil fuel mining, in coal mines. And again, that can be captured, and used as a fuel. So we need to pay attention to the various sources of methane, and reduce those. That would go a long way toward saving the Arctic."

Next Maria moves to the dreaded feed-back mechanisms that can create runaway climate change. We find that positive feed back loops can kick in after just one degree Celsius of warming! This is a key point. And I love how sirens from the street below intrude for a few seconds, as Hansen describes a possible rapid unwinding of our climate echo of the future?

When Maria refers to the Hadley Centre in the UK, you should take some time to find her six part radio series on British scientific predictions of climate change. Important stuff. Check out her website, or search for Gilardin as a producer on the radio exchange site - the series is archived there.


"One of the issues that were dealt with at the Hadley Centre, in the UK: comprehensive descriptions of the feed-back mechanisms, and methane was one of them. The recent releases of Tundra-bound methane in Siberia, that's caused by global warming, have already been measured."


"You know, as we look at the history of the Earth, we realize more and more how important feed-back processes are. That's one of the reasons that I argue that we better keep warming less than about one degree, because we know that in the previous inter-glacial periods that were warmer by up to one degree, the feed-backs were there, but they were moderate.

On the other hand, if we have warming of two or three degrees, we're almost certainly going to melt most of the Tundra, and that's going to release methane. And we can then get very positive feed-backs, and we may get a system that's really out of our control."

Maria Gilardin:

"Do you want to say something about feed-back systems in the oceans?"


"Yeah, the ocean is another important source of feed-backs. Now, the ocean is taking up about 40 percent of the carbon dioxide that we put into the atmosphere. But, if the rate at which we put it into the atmosphere continues to increase, then one of the feed-backs is the ocean will become LESS capable of taking up CO2. And that will provide a positive feed-back, in effect, and we'll get still more warming. [Sirens]"


"And what about feed-back from the ice sheets, the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets?"


"The ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica contain enough water to raise sea level many tens of meters. Greenland has about six or seven meters of sea level. West Antarctica has another 6 or 7 meters, and East Antarctica has about 16 meters.

The West Antarctic ice sheet and Greenland are particularly vulnerable. They are beginning to show signs of increased melt. If we have warming of more than about a degree, I think it's likely that we will lose both West Antarctica and Greenland.

The issue is: how long will it take? It had been thought that it may take millennia.

But the more and more data that we get, we find that ice sheets in the past have responded quite rapidly. There was Melt water Pulse 1A about 14,000 years ago, and sea level went up 20 meters in 400 years. Well that's one meter every 20 years. And that was with a forcing much weaker than the human-made forcing.

So is a real danger that we could set in motion disintegration of the Greenland and especially the West Antarctic ice sheet - and get changes quite rapidly, even this century."

Warming can develop quite rapidly, Hansen says:

"The data that we get from Greenland and Antarctic ice cores is remarkable. One of the things that it shows is that climate changes in the past, when we go toward a warming climate, it can happen very rapidly. Much more rapidly than as we go toward a colder climate. And the reason is positive feed-backs.

If you start to get warmer, and begin to get melting, then the ice becomes darker. Wet ice is much darker, and it absorbs more sunlight, and it melts much faster. And as the ice sheet begins to get smaller, then the surface lowers, and so it gets warmer. So there are multiple positive feed-backs, which can accelerate in a warming phase."


"You mentioned ten years a little while ago, not millennia, not a hundred years, but ten."


"Yes, because if we look at the Earth's history we realize that while one degree warming is perhaps something we can deal with, but more than that's beginning to become really a problem. And the problem is we already have additional warming in the pipeline. If we continue with business-as-usual, then carbon dioxide emissions by 2015 will be 35 percent larger than they are in the year 2000. And it will be impossible to get onto a scenario that keeps warming under one degree.

Like Ross Gelbspan, James Hansen also worries about Nature's deadline.


"Last year the 10 year deadline by which action is needed was set at the G8 meeting, and it was pretty much ignored. So, I've been deducting. We're now at nine."


"That's right. Because I argue that by 2015, that's when we're 35 percent higher if we continue with business as usual. So we've really got to get the attention of the public now. Because it takes time to make the changes in the infrastructure.

It's very unfortunate that this global warming story is cast as a doom and gloom story. Because it's not in fact a gloom and doom story. If we decide to deal with it, there are many benefits in cleaning up the atmosphere and reducing the emissions. And reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, because that's a source of a lot of problems.

And in fact, it is possible to have improved technologies that use much less energy. And to develop renewable energies. And this will produce high tech, high paid jobs. So the only people harmed are the people who are strongly trying to influence the discussion - some of the existing fossil fuel industry.

But for the people at large, it would make sense to begin to make the changes that are needed.

I tell young people that they had better start to act up. Because they are the ones that will suffer the most. Many of the changes will take time, but we're setting them in motion now. We're leaving a situation for our children and grandchildren which is not of their making, but they're going to suffer because of it. So I think they should start to act up and put some pressure on their elders, and on legislatures, and begin to get some action."

You have been listening to Dr. James Hansen, Director of the NASA Institute for Space Studies, interviewed in San Francisco by Maria Gilardin of TUC Radio. Maria has more climate interviews on offer at her site, She also has a recent program on Ralph Nader and the Green Party in America.

The text of this interview is available from the Ecoshock News blog at

I'm your host, Alex Smith for Radio Ecoshock. Thanks for listening. Sign up for our podcast to get our latest features, and check out my weekly radio show on CFRO FM in Vancouver Canada, live Fridays at 1 o'clock, on the Net at, by Star Choice Satellite channel 845, or later by download, at

Saturday, March 03, 2007


Hello. This is Alex Smith from Radio Ecoshock. This week I received a remarkable video on DVD. It's a conference organized by the Massachusetts Climate Action Network, November 19th, 2006.

At the conference, a series of speakers address some of our toughest climate problems. I was struck by a presentation by Prof William Moomaw of Tufts University, a Lead Author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. His topic was: "How can we utilize technologies, and policies, to get us to a 75% cut in global warming emissions?"

But the headline speaker was Ross Gelbspan, a seasoned investigative reporter, a tough thinker, and a scary truth teller.

In this review, I'm going to include some highlights from Gelbspan's speech. I think you are going to want to see it, and later, I'll tell you how to find it.

For 31 years, Ross Gelbspan was an investigative reporter and editor, for the Philadelphia Bulletin, The Washington Post, and the Boston Globe. His work lead to a Pulitzer Prize.

Retiring in 1998, he wrote the book "The Heat Is On, The Climate Crisis, the Cover-up, the Prescription." President Clinton read it. His 2004 book is "Boiling Point," reviewed in the New York Times, by Al Gore. Gelbspan has appeared at the World Economic Forum, and regularly in the largest American media. His web site, gets hundreds of thousands of visits every year.

His latest speech was organized by Marc Breslow of the Mass Climate Action Network. The topic is "Straddling between Solutions and Survivalism."

Getting published on global warming has been a challenge for even top named reporters like Ross Gelbspan. He explains the huge gulf in media - and public awareness - between America, and other parts of the world, particularly Europe. Other governments and publics have long recognized the dangers of climate change. This barrier to information has become a fixation for Gelbspan. He has taken a lead in exposing the corruption of the public mind, oiled by millions in propaganda dollars, from the fossil fuel industry.

He says, the major media outlets are blinkered, seeing politics in everything. So they fail to cover issues outside the political sphere, like science. Facts are not political.

"The Whitehouse has become the East coast branch office of Exxon and Peabody Coal, and global warming has become the pre-eminent case of the contamination of our political process by money.

This fusion of corporate interests and government power has proved to be an almost insurmountable obstacle to the climate movement's ability to get it's larger message across. So I think a really critical focus for climate activists should be on the press. And I know from my own experience, that when the press covers an issue thoroughly and consistently, the public responds, laws get passed - I think in this case it would mobilize the public in six months.

Unfortunately, the industry public relations specialists have been so successful in promoting equivocal and confusing climate coverage, that the American public is about ten years behind the rest of the world in this area. There are a number of reasons for this, none of them really justifiable. Let me just go through one of scores of reasons why the press behaves the way it does. One reason, I think, is that the career path to the top of news outlets, normally lies in following the track of political reporting. Top editors tend to see all issues through a political lens.

Early in his administration, and this is one example, President Bush declared he would not accept the findings of the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] because they represent foreign science - even though half the scientists who contribute to the IPCC are American scientists. Instead, Bush called on the National Academy of American Science to provide American science.

What I found astounding was this: even as the Washington Press Corp reported this story, not one reporter that I saw bothered to check the position of the NAS. Had they done so, they would have found that as early as 1992, three years before the IPCC declared that we are changing the climate, the NAS was pushing for strong measures to minimize the impacts of human-induced global warming."

Some of Gelbspan's most famous reporting exposed the links between fossil fuel corporations, and a hand-full of paid scientists, who implanted the impression of a debate within science, about the human role in climate change. But there was no debate in scientific journals, or among thousands of experts in the field.

Gelbspan compared this effort to cloud our thinking, to the public relations efforts of the tobacco lobby, who found experts to deny that smoking caused cancer. History may find the Exxon and Peabody lobbyists helped kill many more people than the tobacco industry, as climate change unfolds in floods, heat waves, droughts, and storms.

Some have argued that the foundation of newspaper sales, and television viewers is controversy, and conflict. So the media simply fell into their old model, to sell the fake climate controversy, supplied by public relations companies, and their paid hack experts. Gelbspan, who knows the media industry as well as anyone, doesn't let the press off so easily. He says irreparable damage has been done to the planet, while valuable years were wasted in denial, led by the mainstream media. As he digs away at the black dollars that bought time for ever-growing and excessive profits for the fossil fuel industry, Ross finds the media as guilty as the carbon kings.

Let's listen to a few clips from his recent speech, starting with the fake debate.

"The next reason has to do with this campaign of disinformation launched by the coal industry and carried forward by Exxon/Mobil. As I mentioned, the fossil fuel industry paid a handful of scientists to dismiss the reality of climate change. That campaign has had a profoundly corrosive effect on journalists, by insisting this issue of climate change be cast as a debate - when in fact there is no debate whatsoever in the community of mainstream scientists.

When it is a story involving opinion, a journalist is ethically obligated to give the major competing points of view their best shot, about equal space, and their most articulate presentation. But when it's a question of fact, it's up to a reporter to get up off his or her butt and find out what the facts are. [Applause] In this case, we know what the facts are."

"As one co-chair of the IPCC said to me, there is no debate by any statured scientist on this issue about the larger trends about what is happening to the climate. That is something you would never know from American press coverage. But it is something you should point out to every editor and reporter you encounter as you work to get your message out. Stop approaching reporters like beggars asking for a handout. Let them know how angry you are at them, for allowing themselves to be conned into betraying the public trust.

One researcher who surveyed over three hundred peer reviewed research articles a couple of years ago found that not one questioned the consensus about human-induced warming. By contrast, much of the coverage in the U.S. continues to cast this issue as a debate. And that's exactly what the public relations specialists at big coal and big oil want. They don't care who wins the debate, as long as the public perceives it to be a debate. And that way, people can shrug their shoulders, and walk away, and say 'Come back and tell us what you really know, when you know what you are talking about.'

To keep the issue framed as a debate allows the public to avoid confronting what can be a frightening, and potentially emotionally overwhelming threat."

Reporters and editors, Gelbspan says, have broken the public trust on the environment story.

Isn't this media denial handy for all of us? Why should we make personal sacrifices, or expect expensive action by government or business, if we aren't sure? The fossil fuel companies know full well that many of us wish the whole greenhouse gas problem would just float away into the sky, along with our exhaust. As his speech develops, Gelbspan seems to say the public might be panicked, if it knew the true extent of damage already done to the climate.

Gelbspan was asked to leave the audience with a note of optimism. But he changed his title to reflect the divided feelings many in the field hold. His new title: "Straddling Between Solutions and Survivalism." I think we're going to need both: ways to survive a very bumpy transition, to a carbonless sustainable economy, even while we implement the solutions that will save future generations from Hell on Earth. There is a whole chorus of people, from Net bloggers to senior scientists, who are thinking about survivalism, if we can't adapt our political and economic systems, soon enough. Things may fall apart.

"Because of the success of this deeply dishonest campaign of information control, we find ourselves today in a sort of schizophrenic predicament. We are torn between the promise of solutions and the impulse of survivalism. The situation is that dire."

Meanwhile, this seasoned journalist pleads for everyone to drop the political angle. Climate change doesn't care about Conservatives, Liberals, or even Greens for that matter. Greenhouse gases operate by the laws of physics, not by the grace of campaign donations.

Here is a short list of Conservatives who warned about climate change:

"For example, many editors see climate change as a sort of proxy issue for political liberals. That's not the case. The earliest and very forceful advocate on this stuff was Margaret Thatcher, Britain's Conservative Prime Minister. William F. Buckley has published serious warnings about global warming. Jim Woolsey, former CIA Director and Republican Senator Richard Lugar had a long piece in Foreign Affairs a couple of years ago about the need to deal with climate change. President Bush's first Treasury Secretary, Paul O'Neil, has likened the impacts of climate change to a nuclear holocaust. And the one Senator taking the lead to regulate carbon emissions is Conservative Senator John McCain. It would be really useful if journalists were to spend a bit of time examining the real, rather than the assumed, politics of climate change."

Gelbspan's anger lands on George Bush and his administration. He outlines, case by case, how Bush and his oil company appointees, censored scientific reports, and muzzled scientists themselves, by a campaign of career fear, and funding cuts. Worse, Bush and Cheney managed to sabotage efforts by many other countries, to establish international agreements to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

"And of course, the President withdrew America from the Kyoto talks. When he did so, he pledged that the U.S. withdrawal would not affect the efforts of any other countries. Nevertheless, two years ago the Bush administration used its diplomatic leverage under the Framework Convention to emasculate the next round of climate talks.
So when the Parties to Kyoto met in Bohn the following spring, to discuss the next commitment period, they were prohibited from coming out with any action plan whatsoever. They were limited to information seminars.

As one veteran climate negotiator said, 'the U.S. left the climate talks hanging on to a rock face by their finger nails.' This is not political conservatism. This is corruption disguised as conservatism."

Meanwhile, scientists and senior bureaucrats are getting nervous about the short time-line before climate disaster.

Last year, Rajendra Pachauri declared we have a ten year window to make very deep cuts in our carbon fuel use if humanity is to survive. That is remarkably strong language for a United Nations diplomat.

That same warning was echoed in December by NASA's Jim Hansen. The British ecologist James Lovelock was even more pessimistic. Earlier this year, he declared that we may have already passed the point of no return in our ability to stave off climate chaos.

You can even see the panic in such accomplished scientists as Nobel Laureate Paul Krutzen and NCAR's Tom Wigley who just proposed pumping long-lived aerosols into the stratosphere to reduce the amount of sunlight hitting Earth. And both scientists acknowledge this is nothing but an expression of their pure desperation."

But Ross Gelbspan does have solutions for us. In fact, he has three major programs to save the climate.

"The centerpiece of my last chapter of my book 'Boiling Point' outlines three strategies which we think is a model of what needs to happen, and I want to talk about them for just couple of more minutes. They include a change in energy subsidy policies in industrial countries; the creation of a large fund to transfer clean energy to poor countries; and a regulator mechanism that would require every country to increase it's fossil fuel efficiency by five percent a year. "

And he thinks we can make money doing it.

"I think one antidote to the generalize psychological denial, that provides such fertile ground for this industry campaign, lies in an understanding that a switch to renewable energy does not imply a major decline in our living standards. And to the contrary, it provides a pathway to a far more wealthy, equitable, and secure world."

These solutions are explained fully in his book "Boiling Point." They make sense. Why subsidize oil companies to find more fossil fuels, for example, when they are already making billions in profits, and we can't afford to burn all that oil and still survive.

Similarly, transferring to clean energy in established industrial countries won't save us, if poorer countries, like China and India, just keep on pouring on the coal. When all the costs of climate damage are considered, it will be cheaper for us to help them build renewable clean energy. We might even live to enjoy our wealth without drowning, being blown away, or dying of drought, or heat.

The concept of improving fuel efficiency by 5 percent a year is more subtle. At first, companies and countries will do it by conservation alone. But eventually, new technology, and new economies, will have to develop to meet the goal. But it doesn't demand an end to production, or the economy. Read the book.

The Tobin Tax, a small levy on world currency trading, is Gelbspan's favorite mechanism to raise the $300 billion he thinks necessary to re-wire the world, with safe energy. But he isn't fussy. A carbon tax could work, too. The funding mechanism isn't as important as getting the job done before the climate is wrecked beyond recognition.

Here is his vision to re-wire the world:

"I think a plan of this magnitude, regardless of the details, would create millions of jobs, especially in developing countries. It would turn impoverished and dependent countries into trading partners. It would raise living standards abroad, without compromising ours. It would undermine the economic desperation which gives rise to so much anti-U.S. sentiment. And in a very short time, it would jump the renewable energy industry into being a central driving engine of growth in the global economy.

Finally, at the risk of being a bit visionary, I do believe that because energy is so central to our existence, that a global project to rewire the world could be the first step toward peace, even in this profoundly fractured world."

Strangely, in the super-patriotic atmosphere of the United States, Gelbspan suggests the world has outgrown nationalism, which he calls "toxic." He says both the environment, and our intertwined global trading system, call for international planning, and action.

"The economy is becoming truly globalized. The globalization of communications makes it possible for anyone to communicate with anyone else in the world today. And since it is no respecter of national boundaries, the global climate makes us one."

In the end, the aging Ross Gelbspan disposes with the obligatory happy ending for the troops. He can envision re-wiring the world, but sees it struggling through, quote, "the coming age of collapse." All due to climate change and instability.

We have already failed to understand the natural system which regulates the winds and seasons, and without a Herculean effort, we will miss what he calls "Nature's deadline."

[Conclusion of the speech available in audio version only.]

You can find some of Ross Gelbspan's earlier speeches at our website,, in the climate archives. But this recent talk, his most powerful in my opinion, is so far only available on the DVD set. The producer, Marc Breslow, is an activist and organizer who is hoping to recoup the cost of filming, which is always more expensive than we expect. That's why, so far, the video is only available for $29 bucks - and he may still lose money at that.

Forget the cost. Just the one speech is worth the price of admission, in my opinion, and there is a whole day's worth of information and activism on this double DVD set.

To learn more about MCAN go to As you know, I don't sell or advertise anything. But I do tell you where to get good climate info. Copies of the two-DVD set can be ordered for $29 plus $5 shipping (U.S.). Send payment to MCAN, 86 Milton Street, Arlington, MA 02474. Or pay online by making a contribution to MCAN on the website, and then send an e-mail to saying you have paid.

This speech, and rest of the presentations at the conference, is a must for your climate discussion group. I rate Ross Gelbspan up there with great climate communicators like Al Gore, George Monbiot, Elizabeth Kolbert, and Mark Lynas.

Plug in to Ross Gelbspan, by going to his website, at

I'm Alex Smith, reporting from Radio Ecoshock. Join us for 24 hour, free, all environment radio, at