Thursday, February 28, 2008

Our Dying Oceans - New Science

Latest awful science on climate's impact: dead zones, acidification, extinctions. Forget Obamamania and gowns on the red carpet - oh, by the way, the oceans are dying.

This show begins with clips from the 1973 classic "Soylent Green". The usual warnings apply: people with depression, cynicism, skepticism, or despair listen at their own risk.

3 original interviews by Alex Smith, of top scientists, with news from the Boston meeting of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science. Then we cover new reports from the United Nations and Australia.

1. From the AAAS in Boston - Ben Halpern has new global maps of ocean damage.

2. the Smithsonian's Nancy Wilson ("Code Red") - super biologist on climate's impact on ocean, new science, and the sad fate of corals. If somone was supposed to muzzle U.S. scientists on climate - they forgot to tell Nancy Wilson. Straight talk on a very serious situation.

3. from Norway, Dr. Christian Nellemann, author of UNEP report "In Dead Water" - the frightening warning from the United Nations, that mainstream media in North America ignored.

Plus: a reading from John Timmer, science editor at Ars Technica: the real deal on ocean acidification, in a way we can all understand it.

and - "the new Stern report" from Australia. Prof. Garnaut says we all must cut emissions by 90%, by 2050 - and even then, our chances are only 50-50. Stunning wrap up of new science, since last IPCC, plus projections of the Asian economies, as China, India - and even Vietnam, head toward super-economy status. Australia will take the worst beating from climate change, says this government report.

1 packed hour Ecoshock Show 080229 CD quality 56 MB or Lo-Fi 14 MB

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Drying of the West & More (Ecoshock 080222)

This is Radio Ecoshock. I'm your host, Alex Smith.

Our audio show begins with a 21 minute interview with Robert Kunzig, author of "The Drying of the West" in the February issue of National Geographic. A great science writer and researcher, Robert Kunzig has discovered a wealth of science showing the American South West is entering into a period of prolonged drought.

The whole Colorado River system, and the massive population who depend upon it (from Denver to Los Angeles) are imperiled. The rains of the past will seldom come, and the water table, with its river systems are drying out.

The vegetation of the Rockies is already changing with the 8 year long drought, especially the trees. The human impact is only now beginning to emerge. Will some cities become endangered? Listen to the interview.

Then...

THE FIRST CARBON TAX IN NORTH AMERICA - BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA

One way to curb consumption of fossil fuels, in the hope of controlling climate change, is a tax on carbon. The first carbon tax in North America has appeared in the Canadian province of British Columbia, on the wild west Coast.

This really matters. It sets and example, and may start a series of similar measures in the most progressive American States. Changing our tax structures can, as the Friends of Earth say, "de-carbonize the tax code."

Governments can encourage some behaviors, and discourage others, through the tax system. For the past many decades, governments have been handing out subsidies to the oil and gas industry, to encourage energy development. Even though we know fossil fuels are wrecking the environment, and people's lives, both the Canadian and the American government continue to give huge tax breaks - billions of dollars a year - to the most profitable companies in the world, like ExxonMobil, which made $39 billion profits just last year. That tax system encourages the end of the climate as we know it.

But what if governments could penalize carbon production, and encourage conservation and alternative energy, through the tax system?

Like Schwartzenegger in California, the Premier of British Columbia has sworn to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Since B.C. gets most of its power from hydro-electricity, the largest single source of greenhouse gases is the transportation system - mainly trucks and cars.

Isn't that just another big government tax grab? Carole Taylor, the finance minister for British Columbia, says no. They have announced a "revenue neutral" plan. While the price of carbon goes up, due to the added tax, the income tax rate will go down. And B.C. will mail a check for $100 to every resident, helping the poorest, who don't pay taxes. In balance, the government won't make a dime out of the new taxes, and theoretically, it won't cost consumers any more either - providing they continue to seek out better energy solutions, like buying a more fuel-efficient car.

The tax covers all the fossil fuels at the consumer level. Including home heating oil. But it doesn't apply to the gas and oil producers themselves, which is a big loop-hole. The cement companies also get out scot-free.

The legislation isn't perfect, but it is still an important milestone. A group of 70 economists in the Province called for this revenue-neutral carbon tax. It was backed by the largest environmental groups, and even the Chamber of Commerce, the voice of business, backed the plan. Business will also get a reduced tax rate, to offset their higher carbon costs.

Let's listen to B.C. Finance Minister Carole Taylor announce the first Carbon Tax in North America, in the legislature. One note for listeners: the "PST" she refers to is the B.C. Provincial Sales Tax, which will be reduced or removed for some green alternatives.

[Carole Taylor in the Legislature 4:54]

To give you a quick snapshot of the carbon tax in other countries, I'm going to quote directly from the Wikipedia entry:

"On January 1, 1991, Sweden enacted a carbon tax, placing a tax of .25 SEK/kg ($100 per ton) on the use of oil, coal, natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas, petrol, and aviation fuel used in domestic travel. Industrial users paid half the rate (between 1993 and 1997, 25% of the rate), and certain high-energy industries such as commercial horticulture, mining, manufacturing and the pulp and paper industry were fully exempted from these new taxes. In 1997 the rate was raised to .365 SEK/kg ($150 per ton) of CO2 released. In 2007, Sweden will raise taxes on carbon emissions.[15]

Finland, the Netherlands, and Norway also introduced carbon taxes in the 1990s.

The United Kingdom Treasury imposed the Fuel Price Escalator, an incrementally-increasing pollution tax, on retail petroleum products from 1993. The increases stopped after politically-damaging Fuel protests in 1999, at which time tax and duty represented more than 75% of the total pump price. Tax now represents about 2/3rd of the pump price[16]

In 2005 New Zealand proposed a carbon tax, setting an emissions price of NZ$15 per tonne of CO2-equivalent. The planned tax was scheduled to take effect from April 2007, and applied across most economic sectors though with an exemption for methane emissions from farming and provisions for special exemptions from carbon intensive businesses if they adopted world's-best-practice standards of emissions. After the 2005 election, the minor parties supporting the Government opposed the proposed tax, and it was abandoned in December 2005.

In 1993, President of the United States, Bill Clinton proposed a BTU tax that was never adopted. His Vice President, Al Gore, had strongly backed a carbon tax in his book, Earth in the Balance, but this became a political liability after the Republicans attacked him as a "dangerous fanatic". In 2000, when Gore ran for President, one commentator labeled Gore's carbon tax proposal a "central planning solution" harking back to "the New Deal politics of his father."

In April 2005, Paul Anderson, CEO and Chairman of Duke Energy, called for the introduction of a carbon tax. In January 2007, economist Charles Komanoff and attorney Dan Rosenblum launched a Carbon Tax Center to give voice to Americans who believe that taxing carbon emissions is imperative to reduce global warming."

That brief history of the carbon tax comes from Wikipedia. You can find out more about the American situation at www.carbontax.org.

Of course, in September of 2007, Michigan Rep. John Dingell proposed what he called a "hybrid carbon tax." The bill had some really appealing ideas. In addition to a carbon tax, which included things like jet fuel, Dingell's bill called for an end to tax subsidies for monster houses over 4200 square feet.

But the major Green groups couldn't support any climate change initiative coming from the dark representative of Detroit. Mr. Dingell had led the charge, year after year, to prevent any meaningful fuel-efficiency regulations for American car producers. Greenpeace descended on the parking lot of Dingell's district office, transforming into a car dealership for gas-guzzlers. After years of betrayal on CAFE fuel efficiency standards, where America has dragged behind Europe for decades, Dingell's bill seemed too much like Dick Cheney selling face protection armour - for hunters.

Meanwhile America has been more focussed on the alternative carbon-reduction plan called "cap and trade." This works more with original big polluters, rather than consumers. For example, a giant coal-fired electricity plant in Ohio could pay for better coal burning equipment in China, or even re-planting some rain forest, rather than cut back their own emissions.

The cap and trade system did work in the United States to help bring down the sulfur emissions that were killing off lakes and forests with acid rain. But the international situation with greenhouse gases is much more complex. Cap and trade is open to wild abuse and corruption, which we have already seen. I've found reports of one Chines company which made $800 million by not opening a polluting plant. Meanwhile, the original polluter kept on pouring out the greenhouse gases.

All the super-capitalists on Wall Street back the cap and trade option. They are already testing out futures markets, to make money out of climate change. These are the same people who just brought us the sub-prime and Collateralized debt fiasco, which may bring down the whole ecomony.

Frankly, cap and trade stinks. The carbon tax option is much more honest, and likely to work, in my opinion. Oh by the way, Al Gore happens to have my opinion as well.

We may eventually have some combination of efforts. Certainly, the British Columbia plan isn't strong enough really protect the climate. The Province intends to keep on making money selling off oil and gas rights, and taxing production - it is in the oil and gas business itself. Maybe that is why the original producers got off with no taxes. Surprise, surprise.

But climate active scientists like Andrew Weaver, a lead IPCC author, and Mark Jaccard, an expert in government carbon control, have backed the British Columbia carbon tax as an excellent start in a long process. Ian Bruce, climate campaigner for the David Suzuki Foundation said: "It's a landmark decision in North America as far as governments taking strong action on climate change."

You can find out more about the B.C. Carbon Tax from the best online source, the Tyee magazine at the t y e e dot ca, thats thetyee.ca.

To wrap things up, here is an economist from the University of British Columbia, David Green. He was one of the 70 economists pushing for this legislation, and a member of VTACC, Voters Taking Action on Climate Change. This clip comes from the Canadian TV broadcast, the CBC:

[short clip of David Green]

Check out our website at ecoshock.org - and let's a hear bit from Andy Sloan, as Hummerman.

[Hummerman clip]

MUZZLING CANADIAN CLIMATE SCIENTISTS

Just as U.S. President George Bush hit a record low approval rating of 19 percent - the Conservative Canadian government steps in to copy another lame duch move. Like Bush, Canada will now muzzle it's climate scientists.

All calls from the press must go to the communications officers in the capital, who will answer with "approved lines." Environment Canada staff were advised to follow the policy of "one department, one voice". The department wants no surprises for the Minister, John Baird.

Several Canadians were lead authors on the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They are in demand as experts in everything from Arctic Ice to global weather impacts. Now, like NASA scientist James Hansen, the country's scientists are being told to follow the political line. It is anti-scientific, and a recipe for further disaster.

Luckily, I happened to record one top Canadian Scientist, just a week before this edict was sent out. You can download the whole 28 minute speech by Dr. John Fyfe, of Environment Canada, from our website. Just look on the Climate Change page of Ecoshock.org. Here is the introduction, and the last part of that speech, by Dr. John Fyfe.

[Fyfe Excerpt]

The whole idea that our climate will change radically, within our lifetimes, is so difficult to grasp, personally. Every time I listen to a climate expert, explaining our real situation, something new seems to sink in.

Although I had read the IPCC Summary Report, plowed through many news articles, and hours of audio - Dr. Fyfe emphasized something I failed to digest. All the projected scenarios of our future, made by the best expertise and super-computers of the Earth, suggest that we are "doomed" to suffer climate change, in the next few decades, no matter what we do.

That is sobering. We will cut down on fossil fuels somehow. Many of us will choose less convenience, fewer products, smaller cars and houses, rather than continue to wreck the atmosphere. Our economies may founder, in the attempt to save ourselves. And still, despite our sacrifices, the world as a whole will get hotter, the seas will rise, species will disappear - it will happen.

The short-sighted public will surely get tired of the new rules, taxes, and limits to their former consumption. Why bother giving up carbon, when Mother Nature is punishing us anyway, they will say. The environmentalists have failed us, our leaders mislead.

But.... and this is huge, a real reduction in greenhouse gases, starting as soon as possible, will determine whether the world is really livable by 2100. For the first time in European-based civilization, there must be a willing reduction, something that does not benefit us - but acts to preserve our grandchildren. We are called to save the stability of the planet's climate, for all coming generations.

Surely, this will inspire us, in new ways. We have a goal that is greater than ourselves, a gift to pass down in time.

And I am not alone in this desperate hope that humans can, and really will, turn this around. Just this week, I heard that optimism in an interview with Simon Fraser University Professor Bruce Alexander. The topic was the globalization of addiction - not just drugs, but all our addictions from gambling to our fake second lives on television, games, and the Net.

Here is that clip, from the penetrating weekly program called "Redeye" from CFRO, Co-op Radio in Vancouver.

[Bruce Alexander - stumbling toward hope]

Find all the Redeye interviews at www.coopradio.org/redeye.

And that's it for Radio Ecoshock this week. Grab all our features, and a lot of good green audio, free, from our website at ecoshock.org

I'm Alex Smith, finally with a happier ending, and a hope that change is growing out of the dark. I've just come from a good place, where the Latin music pours out into the hot Havana night.

Just for something different, we'll go out with a group you won't find anywhere on the Net, or hear anywhere else. This is the homemade album for El Groupo Santiago y Habana, from the club Monserate, en Viejo Habana.

Adios, muchachos.

Alex

www.ecoshock.org

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

NOT SO COOL FARMING

The report is called "Cool Farming: Climate impacts of agriculture and mitigation potential" It's from Greenpeace International.

We have with us one of the authors, Dr. Pete Smith from the School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen. Dr. Smith was also a lead author, reporting for last year's climate series, from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The total amounts of greenhouse gases coming from human agriculture are surprising to me. Your report finds that farming contributes at least 20 percent, and perhaps even up to a third, of all human-made greenhouse gases.

Dr Smith and I looked at a lesser-known greenhouse gas - nitrogen dioxide, usually shown on charts as N2O. It has a global warming potential 296 times higher than that of carbon dioxide. So it only takes a tiny amount of nitrogen dioxide to kick up a great deal of global warming.

According to Greenpeace:

"The overuse of fertilizers and the resulting nitrous oxide emissions have the highest share of agriculture’s contribution to climate change:
the equivalent of 2.1 billion tonnes of CO2 every year. And, the energy-intensive production of fertilizer adds another 410 million tonnes of CO2-equivalents. Of all chemical products,
fertilizers are among the greatest contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions."

We know fertilizers were poisoning various river systems, and adding dead zones to coastal ocean areas - but I did not know they were such a potent force to change the climate.

That's why we spent some time, in this Ecoshock interview, going over how fertilizer really works. It is made from natural gas - another fossil fuel in short supply. As James Howard Kunstler told us in previous Ecoshock programs, the big fertilizer plants formerly located in Alabama and Louisiana - close to the Gulf of Mexico gas fields - have now moved to the Middle East. The American gas fields are in decline, so fertilizer manufacturing goes where the gas is.

That means our fertilizer is shipped thousands of miles by (oil-burning) ships. It also means that a Middle East conflict could not only cut off oil to the United States - but the very fertilizer required to feed America, used by the industrialized farm systems. Another vulnerability.

It might not even take a war to start this shift. Competition, and higher prices from China and India, could divert fertilizer away from both America and Europe.

You would think the big global warming gases would be in production of the fertilizer. Nope. Although those plants do spew out plenty of greenhouse gases, remember, the fertilizer itself contains fossil fuel derived greenhouse gases, especially nitrogen dioxide. Most of that goes into the water supply (our rivers and lakes, causing eutrophication) - but a significant amount just evaporates directly from the field, or from cow manure.

One solution would be to use other farming methods to build up the natural soil, so we don't need these fossil fuel fertilizers. At the very least, farmers need to find ways to use the minimum amounts of chemical fertilizers. They need to contain the greenhouse gas emissions from their fields and feed-lots.

BIO-FUELS


Then we looked at all the former forest land that is being bull-dozed to make "green" biofuels. I want to refer our listeners to a study done by Paul Crutzen at the Max Planck Institute, along with a whole group of international scientists, titled "Nitrogen dioxide release, from agro-biofuel production, negates global warming reduction by replacing fossil fuels." That was published August 1st, 2007.

That study finds that the process of growing biofuels creates so much nitrogen dioxide, as a powerful greenhouse gas, that we actually ADD to global heating, when we try and use biofuels.

MITIGATION

Dr. Smith, and the Greenpeace report, has some very positive suggestions for mitigation. Many of these are simple steps that could at least slow down the heating of the planet. I know farm talk isn't very sexy these days - but since we all eat - we all have to take responsibility for our impact on the planet's ecosystem derived from farming.

Following my chat with Dr. Pete Smith, I went for a Greenpeace agriculture campaigner based in Vancouver, Canada - Josh Brandon. Josh has real credentials in the field. He's been working on GM (Genetically Modified) food, trying to get labeling, at the very least, in Canada. Really, Greenpeace wants the experimentation on our food chain stopped until we know more about the impacts and risks.

Now Greenpeace has realized that farming itself is at least 20% of our climate change problem, maybe more. So, Josh Brandon has to morph into a climate change campaigner as well.

We focused on the situation in North America, and the changes Greenpeace want, to help preserve out climate.

Surely, it isn't necessary to burn out the planet, with droughts, storms, and floods, just to eat? Brandon doesn't think so, and again, there are some obvious improvements we can make to our farming process.

Here is where to find the 20 page summary of the report (558 KB) as a .pdf file.

www.greenpeace.org/international/press/reports/cool-farming

The full version (995 KB pdf file) is here:

www.greenpeace.org/international/press/reports/cool-farming-full-report

Or just Google "Greenpeace International Cool Farming"

Check out the interview. Food activism is becoming strong - not just for our own health, but for the continuing health of the whole ecosystem.

Alex Smith
host
Radio Ecoshock
www.ecoshock.org

Saturday, February 09, 2008

End of Age of Oil - Kunstler Part 2

How will we live as oil declines - and the price keeps going up?

In our previous program, we ran the first hour of a speech by James Howard Kunstler, given as the first visiting scholar to the Urban Studies Program at Simon Fraser University, in Canada.

Today, we present the conclusion of the speech followed by a moving question and answer period, uncut. The audience reacts with admiration, animosity, and tough questions for author Kunstler.

Hear what your neighbors think, their worries, suggestions - and the brilliant wit of Kunstler as he fields all questions.

Recorded 080124 by Ecoshock.

This is the Ecoshock Show for 080208 1 hour CD Quality 56 MB was podcast, (or listen by clicking the title above) but you can also get the Lo-Fi 14 MB mono version if downloading by telephone.

Production Notes: 30 second music bed for station ID at 31:25 Also: Clip from David Rovecs song "End of the Age of Oil"

Alex Smith
host
Radio Ecoshock
www.ecoshock.org

Friday, February 01, 2008

End of the Age of Oil - 1

James Howard Kunstler lecture as 1st visiting scholar to Simon Fraser Urban Studies 080124

From the Long Emergency to new measures after Peak Oil. The best speech of the year so far.

Why the housing boom will not return, and what that means to the American economy. The disaster of investing in suburbia, as oil becomes more and more expensive, and dangerous to get.

How Nationalization of most of the oil of the world (the major companies like Shell and Exxon only deliver about 5% now, Kunstler says) - means not only will oil run out - but the countries who control it (like the Emirates, Iran, Venezuela, and Russia) will (a) keep more for their own economies and (b) send it to their friends (which may not be America....)

A whole range of social issues, tackled head on, with verve, from one of America's most articulate writers and speakers. Kunstler is the author of "The Geography of Nowhere" and "The Long Emergency" plus many other fiction and non-fiction books. His newest, a fiction novel set in the near future, after oil has run out, is titled "World Made by Hand." That comes out in March of 2008.

Meanwhile, he has been appointed the first visiting scholar to the progressive school of urban design at Simon Fraser University, in British Columbia, Canada. This speech was one of two given for that program - and the conclusion plus the lively question and answer period will follow in the Radio Ecoshock program next week. Kunstler unsettled the audience, who responded with both admiration and antagonism. A sign of a good speaker.

Part 1 of 2.

Ecoshock show 080201 1 hour CD Quality 56 MB or Lo-Fi 14 MB