Friday, April 25, 2008

HIGHWAY TO HELL: How Smog Kills

Polluted cities kills hundreds of thousands. Under-reported plague from vehicle emissions. 2 interviews.

We are honored to have as a guest on this weeks' show: Dr. Joel Schwartz, Harvard's top expert on air pollution. I discuss Dr. Schwartz' testimony to Congress in late 2007. His presentation is still available on the Net, as a .pdf file. It is on Carbon Soot and Global Warming.

Schwartz presents one of the two most scary maps I have ever seen. (Number one was the map showing the new world regime under climate change, attached to a presentation to the Royal Society late in 2007, by Sir James Lovelock....)

The Schwartz map is simple: is just shows where particulate soot, dangerous to human health, is congregating. Gray means very unhealthy amounts of particulates, black means lethal levels.

In the United States, the whole of New England is gray, with black blotches. There is more heavy pollution over the Louisiana/Texas refinery area, and of course gray and black over Southern California.

But all of Europe is one gray area, with huge blobs of black. In our interview, I ask Dr. Schwartz whether the new diesel cars being sold in Europe have filters to preserve the air. Not nearly enough, was the reply. Apparently, about 70% of all new private cars sold in Europe are diesel, not gas. That means a lot of particulates. There are new stricter rules for emissions from these new cars, but it won't stop the rash of heart attacks, pneumonia, and prenatal damage from diesel particulates.

Worse, the Europeans have been buying diesels for a long time - and the engines can last up to 30 years. That means decades more diesel smoke from all the old engines still in use. Dr. Schwartz says anyone could tell, even blindfolded, whether they were breathing European or American air.

We cover a new study from England, by Professor George Knox, finding that pneumonia deaths, thousands of them, caused directly by transport emissions, have been missed by medical authorities. The situation now is killing more people than the famous killer smog of 1952, but the reporting system just doesn't pick it up.

The Joel Schwartz interview is a must - if you live in a city. We talk about smog canyons, how people die, and what could be done about it.

The program starts, though, almost at the other end of the world, in Alaska, with Dr. Riki Ott. Why would we call a marine expert on oil spills, to find out about city smog? Because after the Exxon Valdez spill, the American government spent hundreds of millions of dollars in research into the toxicity of oil. It was the first time such research was ever done. They found that even small amounts of oil was toxic not just to fish, but to mammals - including mammals like ourselves.

After the research, in 1999, the EPA quietly added one oil component, the PAH's, to the most deadly list of bio-accumulative toxic materials - along with things like DDT. The Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons are in your blood stream and mine. They persist, build up, and lead to cancer, birth abnormalities, and other ugly things.

Dr. Riki Ott has the expertise to explain how toxic oil is infiltrating our cities and our lives - and the bravery to speak out against a well-oiled system.

As you know, all the major TV newscasts now depend upon car advertising. So do the newspapers, which run full page ads, classified ads, and whole sections about cars they want you to want. This mainstream media is never going to tell you what this single Ecoshock program reveals.

Nanoparticles in your bloodstream - and carbon soot makes more global warming.

There are two basic kinds of air particles that impact climate. The sulphates, which come mainly from coal burning, can actually cool the planet a bit, by reflecting sunlight back into space. But these particles don't stay air-borne for more than a few weeks. It is a temporary effect.

Black soot, from coal plants and from vehicle emissions, absorbs the sun's energy, heating up the planet. It is the second largest cause of global warming. These particles also land on the snow regions, especially in the Arctic. White snow reflects a lot of solar heat back into space - but when it becomes darker, grayish, the energy is absorbed. The snow may melt earlier, or ice may not form as thickly.

I found it interesting that Dr. Schwartz, in his testimony to Congress, said that cleaning up coal emissions in North America, and car emissions, is a double win. We can save as many as 200,000 lives a year - and cut out the second largest emitter in the world. Why kid ourselves, and send money to China, or some forest project in Indonesia, when we can save lives, and reduce climate change, with action right at home. I agree.

Finally, we talk to both our guests about what we need - to breath better, live longer.

Radio Ecoshock Show 080425 1 hour CD quality 56 MB or Lo-Fi 14 MB

Production Notes: end song "Highway to Hell" by Midnight Oil; opens with Gino Vannelli clip "Wild Horses". No copyright on interviews. Major media, loaded with car ads, will never report this story. Please help get it out there.

Alex Smith
host
Radio Ecoshock

Friday, April 18, 2008

ADDICTED TO OIL

Even President George Bush admits we are addicted to oil. But what does that really mean?

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF ADDICTION

Dr. Bruce Alexander, a professor emeritus at Simon Fraser University in Canada, is a pioneer researching addiction. His ideas are so unconventional, he won the Stirling Prize for controversy. Bruce Alexander is currently writing a book titled "The Globalization of Addiction: A Study in the Poverty of the Spirit." - coming out this summer.

"Addiction is a democratic disease, affecting both the rich and the poor. Sadly, scientific medicine has made no progress on addiction." In addition to addictions to tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs, Alexander reminded attendees that other addictions that will increase with globalization include gambling, pornography, and shopping."

Dr. Alexander's recent study for the Centre for Policy Alternatives, "The Roots of Addiction in Free market Society", is available online, as a .pdf file.

In our Radio Ecoshock interview, we pick Dr. Alexander's brain, on the addiction that could change our climate, virtually forever - fossil fuels.

PEAK OIL AND ADDICTION

I've been listening to a talk given by Nate Hagens, at the 6th ASPO Peak Oil Conference, in Ireland. Nate is completing his PHD at the University of Vermont. There is a video of his speech online - and Hagens goes into great detail about our brain formation, and the importance of neurochemicals that determine, he says, our actions.

Rather than using our relatively recently developed neo-cortex, to making rational long-range decisions, Hagens says science repeatedly shows, we use older portions of the brain, to ensure a continuing dose of chemicals like dopamine. He suggests this inability of the brain, to let thinking dominate decision making, is one of the reasons humans are unable to make better choices for the future, like alternative energy. Instead we just keep sucking up oil, which rewards us right away, today.

Nate Hagens is perhaps unique in his experience. In his twenties, he was selling big investments, covering hundred of millions of dollars. In that world, there is a big discount for future risk, instead of taking profits now.

Hagens claims psychological tests, in monkeys for example, seem to show that novelty and reward are absolutely necessary for our brain functioning. This could lead to an explanation, of why his rich clients needed to keep making even more millions, or why the suburban housewife must buy yet another pair of expensive shoes. The more expensive, the more the charge card is loaded up, the better the chemical hit in the brain. It makes me wonder...Is our whole society really in a state near overdose?

By now almost all of us know the oil society is killing us, in many ways. We know exhaust is poisoning our lungs, deadly car crashes, the foreign wars, and now horrible prospects of climate change. And yet we still go like addicts to the gas pumps, and fill up. Why, why, why? And what can we do?

Everyone likes to laugh about the hippies going back to the land... but are those people seeking a more natural environment, where their addictions to things like television, shopping, and lottery tickets can subside? Could that be part of the answer, making our living arrangement more suitable, for the mammals we really are?

How can we apply what you've discovered, about the myths and realities of addiction, to really kick the fossil fuel habit, before it kills us?

RADIO PLAY "ECOVENTION"

While addiction is very serious, we just had to poke fun at ourselves as oil addicts. In this Radio Ecoshock show, you hear our new radio play "Ecovention." It is a parody of the A & E program "Intervention" which deals with addictions to drugs, alcohol, eating disorders, gambling and so on.

Four people helped out with this radio drama:
Matt Codrington is an up and coming Canadian actor, playing the role of "Gordon" the SUV-driving oil addict. His wife "Annette" is played by Colleen Kimmett - who in real life is a tech and science journalist. Colleen may be producing some pieces for Radio Ecoshock in the future. Sister "Ginny" was played by an anonymous radio industry personality, and Gordon's buddy "Norman" was none other than "The Simulator" - who hosts the wildly popular video podcast "It's The End of the World As We Know It" found at submedia.tv.

The play is fun, and can be downloaded to pass around, from our web site at ecoshock.org.

ADDICTED TO OIL SONG

We also got permission from Loose Bruce Kerr to play his parody of the hit "Addicted to Love" by Robert Palmer. Now it's "Addicted to Oil" - and the lyrics are great. Bruce Kerr, who is a lawyer for Sun Microsystems (good thing I got permission first!) says he is now working on a video for the song.

A BUFFET OF AUDIO CLIPS

Then we play a collection of short clips on oil addiction, and our hopes of overcoming it. You hear a snatch from a speech given by Terry Tamminen, formerly green advisor to Gov. Schwarzenegger of California. Terry wrote "Lives Per Gallon" - one of the definitive books on oil addiction. I recorded his book tour speech in Vancouver over a year ago.

You also hear a short clip from the new speech given by Tim Flannery in Toronto, also available in full from our web site. This was recorded and passed along by John-Paul Warren. Flannery describes new developments in Denmark to replace oil burning cars by all-electric ones. A company will make the new cars, and another group will make one in every six parking spaces in Copenhagen equiped with re-charging posts. You drive up, park, and plug in. The system recognizes your registration, and charges you for the power you use.

Not enough juice? The new system will also have hundreds of "refilling stations" where you can quickly exchange for a new battery. This is supposed to be faster than filling up at an old style gas station, because the cars are designed for it. Neat, eh?

We end up with a few sample quotes from Al Gore's recent (April 2008) presentation at TED, the Technology, Entertainment and Design folks. TED has some great talks, and you can still find Al Gore's new video there. Highly recommended.

In the end, I hope we all think deeply about this oil habit. It's in our lives, in our brains. But just like tobacco, or heroin, we can kick the habit. We must - of face a ruined climate, and continuous wars - not to mention empty wallets!

Good luck - and let's get clean together.

Alex Smith
Radio Ecoshock

Friday, April 11, 2008

SOLAR TO SAVE US

Calif. scientist Nate Lewis says CO2 is rising rapidly - and why only Solar can power the Earth.

This includes Repodcast clip from ABC National's "In Conversation" with Robyn Williams. Robyn finds Nate frustrated with the gush of greenhouse gases in the last few years. We are going the wrong way, while conferences conference, politicians talk, and consumers take teeny tiny green steps.

That leads to disaster, but scientist Lewis quickly knocks out the nuclear option. By his calculation, we would have to start building a new nuclear power plant, starting today, every day, basically forever, to meet the world's power needs (they only last about 40 years, and so we never quite make it, given the developing world's needs.) Nuclear really is no answer.

But the Sun has more than enough. A single hour of the Sun energy striking the Earth, if we could capture it all, is equal to the total power consumption of our entire current civilization.
Lewis explains that we can get enough solar, and build a civilization with it. We just need to get going. It is an impassioned speech, one of many scientists trying to get humans to act, while action is still possible.

Then Wall Street insider of Climateer Investing explores solar market & new tech that could do the job. This interview is almost half an hour, from a person plugged into the multi-million dollar trades in alternative energy. Our guest explains how solar energy subsidies by governments can lead to some strange results. In fact, in some cases, subsidies might even be a transfer of wealth from the poorest people/ratepayers to the wealthy (who actually install the solar capacity, in part paid for by the rest of us...)

We talk about what is going on overseas in solar, and whether the big oil companies were sincere when they bought solar companies (you guess....) Best of all, we peak into the hot new solar tech coming online - especially thin cell solar, which is reaching the Holy Grail of alternative energy: it can be build at the same cost as coal. Why would we ever use coal, if clean solar can do it cheaper? And the Google boys are in the race, with their company Nanosolar. Lots of info on what could be the world's most important topic: how solar energy could power the next civilization.


Plus our look at who owns India's Tata, and why World Bank is financing Tata Ultra Mega coal plants as "clean energy." Just recently, the United States, Britain, and other OECD countries announced a multi-billion dollar clean energy fund. The World Bank is supposed to run it.

Unbelievably, an arm of the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) is funding a $4.4 billion project to build five 800 MW coal-fired power plants in India - and they are calling it "clean coal". It even qualifies under the "Clean Development Mechanism" under the Kyoto Protocol! That's it: burning mega coal to save the planet.

We give the details on this "Tata Ultra Mega" project - and learn about "supercritical" coal burning. Yes it is more efficient, but it will still release millions and millions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere - in a state renowned for it's sun power. Wrong way Jack.

I always wonder who the mega-billionaires are, who could stop a project like this. We investigate Tata, and find a maze of Parsi charities own a big chunk. The Parsi (also spelled Parsee) are a tiny (less than 100,000 people) minority in India, who arrived from Iran many centuries ago. They are very successful business people, and own India's largest industrial conglomerate: Tata. It is the same Tata who just announced a cheap people's car, that will soon flood the roads, and skies, of India.

The Parsi are renowned for their charity. So even though a Tata is still CEO, he doesn't really own control. However, there is one large block of stocks owned by another Parsi giant, the Mistry family. Palonnji Mistry took up Irish citizenry, now becoming the richest Irish citizen! But his whole empire runs out of Bombay. Remember, Tata also bought out the English steel industry, now known as Corus.

Anyway, these are the people who may help wreck the climate of India, while trying to help their own people get the electricity they need to develop. The ideals are good, the technology choice is absolutely suicidal. We hope Tata Group will reconsider, and go solar.


Ecoshock show 080411 1 hour CD Quality 56 MB or Lo-Fi 14 MB

Production Notes: Our feature ending song is "Until the Day is Done" from new album "Accelerate" by R.E.M. Participating stations can cut it, if you need more time for local station announcements.

Visit our website at http://www.ecoshock.org

Friday, April 04, 2008

Climate: Who If Not Us?

In this show: a new speech by Thomas Homer-Dixon, author of "Ingenuity Gap" and "Updside of Down" Toronto 080320.

Homer-Dixon says a carbon surge threatens the world, breaking IPCC predictions.

He outlines the latest science, and makes an odd suggestion of how the Internet might help save us.

This is one of the most powerful speeches I have heard this year. It was recorded by John-Paul Warren of Toronto - an example of the kind of recording and exchange that is pushing exchange of new climate knowledge, via the Internet. Thanks John-Paul for sending this in to Radio Ecoshock. Look for more from John-Paul, including a new speech by Tim Flannery...

Plus, this week we have an Ecoshock interiew with climate modeller Andreas Schmittner. He is an ocean science specialist who is working the world's best computer model - looking up to 500 years into the future. According to British scientist James Lovelock (who summarizes the science of others in this case) - our atmosphere was formed by tiny organisms in the sea. Without them, we wouldn't have an oxygen layer to breathe.

Now Schmittner has published research saying we haven't taken into account the full force of ocean life, once the oceans heat up. Will plankton blooms add to carbon? Can a warmer ocean accept as much of our excess carbon? Schmittner's models show, so far, that even if we stopped producing all carbon emissions by 2100 - the world would continue to heat up, a lot, for the next one or two hundred years! The science isn't certain, but it's a huge red warning flag - and another reason we need to act very quickly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

All in all, this show is a stunning, scary look at gap between the new atmosphere, and human inaction.

Ecoshock show 080404 1 hour CD quality 56 MB or Lo-Fi 14 MB

Production notes: no station IDs. Clips from "Turn Off the Light" by Nelly Furtado (Canadian) and "Mother Earth" by Shane Philip (Cdn). Clip of Pres candidate John Edwards in New Orleans on climate.