Thursday, February 25, 2010

ON THE ROAD TO MASS EXTINCTION

Are we on the road to mass extinction? More scientists, from different fields of study, say that is possible, as we pollute the atmosphere and oceans.

We'll explore that - the worst case scenario - in this edition of Radio Ecoshock.

I'm going to dedicate this program to one such scientist, Dr. Andrew Glikson, an Earth and Paleoclimate specialist, from Australian National University.

We featured Andrew Glikson in our Radio Ecoshock show, May 1st, 2009. You can download that free from our web site, ecoshock.org.

We'll also interview a top scientist from Yale, Dr. Mark Pagani. His recently released study shows a hot greenhouse world, just 5 million years ago, with CO2 levels similar to those we have already put into the atmosphere. We'll talk about what the IPCC may have missed.

And we'll keep coming back to the mother of all climate nightmares: the dying oceans, which could wipe out most land species as well. Including us. You'll hear clips from an important speech, "Brave New Oceans" by Jeremy Jackson, Scripps Professor of Oceanography. He too warns we are heading toward a mass extinction event. And Jackson is far from alone.

But first, we'll start with a drop of good news: Bill Gates, the world's richest man, has finally discovered dangerous climate change. Here is how Gates began his speech to TED, the Technology, Entertainment and Design series, on February 12th, 2010.

READ MORE (with links to more audio, video and references)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Hot Climate Activism

A different twist on Ecoshock this week. We go radio active.

While major media goes into denial hyper-spin, the public and greens are making a difference.

You'll hear about the victories over insane expansion of coal-fired power plants in the United States. It's grass-roots, it's bigger than the anti-nuclear movement of the 70's, and it's grossly under-reported. Author Ted Nace explains the high-tech tools and old-fashioned grit that stopped the construction of at least 90 more coal plants in America. That's good news for the climate, and hope for us all. His coal activist Wiki is here.

Then we'll get a sneak preview from journalist and military specialist Gwynne Dyer. The military and politicians know climate is shifting much faster than anyone expected. Why haven't they told the public the truth?

Dr. Gwynne Dyer has a degree in military and Middle Eastern history. He's served in three navies, and advised military colleges from Sandhurst to Oxford. Dyer is also a famous war journalist, who lately dove into climate change, with a book and 3 part radio series called "Climate Wars."

Our speech clips were recorded at a presentation by Vancouver Community College Arts and Science, February 2nd, 2010. After interviewing many scientists, top politicians and generals, Dyer's first conclusion is chilling. Climate change is moving much faster than the public has been told.

Why did all the countries of the world suddenly agree to a two degree limit on warming? Because that's the point at which the climate spins out of any human control. Dyer explains it all.

In our second half hour, we get an update on climate campaigning around the world. Gavin Edwards, the departing Climate Campaign Director for Greenpeace International, tell us about climate action in Asia. And the response after the Copenhagen conference failure.

In breaking news, Gavin Edwards told me he's taking a sabbatical to work on his Masters, while still advising Greenpeace campaigns. Meanwhile, the climate campaign will be directed by Stephan Brockman and, in a surprise return to Greenpeace, Tzeporah Berman. Tzeporah was the famous face of the Clayoquot and Great Bear Rain Forest campaigns, founder of both ForestEthics and Power Up Canada. She will work out of Amsterdam for up to two years.

And that's it for Radio Ecoshock this week.

I'm Alex - thanks for listening. And tune in next week, as we confront the horrible, and fight off our impossible future.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Buying Into A Dying World

FST746RWSN87

Attics, basements, and garages are loaded with the plunder of past shopping. Some people rent storage lockers just to hold all their extra stuff. Dumps are filling up with brand new items, never used, but tossed out. There's even a TV show called "Hoarders" - a reflection of the national preoccupation. Do all these THINGS really make us happier?

In this Radio Ecoshock program, we examine the two extremes of consumption: the Americans who use up more of the world's resources than any other people; and the slum dwellers who use practically nothing.

The World Watch Institute has released it's annual report. "State of the World 2010, Transforming Cultures: From Consumerism to Sustainability" is 262 pages of solutions from around the world. You can buy it from worldwatch.org for $19.95 as a paperback, or $9.95 as a downloadable ".pdf" file (requires the free Adobe Reader).

I interview the project director, Erik Assadourian. We start by noting the total disconnect between governments and economists encouraging consumers to get out and buy to save the economy - versus the plain facts that resources are getting harder to find, the forests and land are being devastated, and the atmosphere is damaged by all the useless spending.

Why do we do it? We were raised to shop. Kids grow up with millions, if not billions of ads everywhere we look. Why do we wear corporate logos on our clothes, like walking billboards? Why do we need walk-in cupboards, multiple shoe racks, garages full of big-boy toys seldom used?

Rush Limbaugh nearly had a heart attack when the sacred advertisers were threatened by this rather brave World Watch report. It didn't help when the British Guardian newspaper came out with the headline "US cult of greed is now a global environmental threat, report warns."

The sub-head was "Excessive consumption has spread to developing countries and could wipe out efforts to slow climate change, Worldwatch Institute says."

Assadourian replied, saying the report wasn't trying to blame Americans - who were simply indoctrinated into a culture developed since World War II. The answer isn't blame, but a willing shift, a transformation to a survivable way of life.

Here is the Earthscan blog entry where Assadourian (sort of) agrees with Rush.

In our Radio interview, Erik and I discuss a little of the psychology, and the horrible statistics. But we spend longer looking at key institutions that could help us move away from shop-till-the-planet-drops lifestyles.

These include the greening of world religions, early childhood education (keep those toddlers away from TV!), the way Universities groom us to accept corporate symbols as self expression, the role of media, and so on.

But Worldwatch goes further, with chapters on things like converting agriculture to Permaculture (with Albert Bates), and a lot of other good ideas from all over.

Counter-consumerism hasn't exactly caught on, but there are some examples we can try. Of course, our previous week's guest Keith Farnish says this is all window-dressing for a civilization that has to collapse to save the biosphere. You decide.

Incidentally, Keith's blog entry for February 9th is titled "Monthly Undermining Task, February 2010: Time To Break The Ads." Whether is straight sales, or "green" products, Farnish says it's time to end advertising, before it ends us.

IS IT THEM, OR IS IT US?

Then we look at the other part of the world, the 3 billion people who create hardly any carbon emissions. Most of them live in "illegal settlements", with no government services, no police, no fire, no hospitals, no schools, and little hope.

Except, as our next guest David Satterthwaite tells us, the so-called "slum dwellers" are self-organizing to improve their lot, in many parts of the world.

Dr David Satterthwaite is a senior urban planner for the International Institute for Environment and Development, a non-profit based in the UK. He's traveled to the poorest parts of cities all over the world. He's the editor of the Earthscan Reader in Sustainable Cities, and co-author of many other books, including "Adapting Cities to Climate Change: Understanding and Addressing the Development Challenges."

Satterthwaite has also researched the role of consumerism, in the developed versus developing world. If you were wondering, when it comes to climate change is it "them" (increasing population in the "Third World") or is it "us" (Western-style consumers) - the verdict is in: it us!

Here is a link to a press release from the IIED "Study shatters myth that population growth is a major driver of climate change."

Here are a few factoids from that press release:

"Dr David Satterthwaite of the International Institute for Environment and Development analyzed changes in population and in greenhouse gas emissions for all the world’s countries and found that between 1980 and 2005:

* Sub-Saharan Africa had 18.5% of the world’s population growth and just 2.4% of the growth in carbon dioxide emissions

* The United States had 3.4% of the world’s population growth and 12.6% of the growth in carbon dioxide emissions

* China had 15.3% of the world’s population growth and 44.5% of the growth in carbon dioxide emissions. Population growth rates in China have come down very rapidly – but greenhouse gas emissions have increased very rapidly

* Low-income nations had 52.1% of the world’s population growth and 12.8% of the growth in carbon dioxide emissions

* High-income nations had 7% of the world’s population growth and 29% of the growth in carbon dioxide emissions.

* Most of the nations with the highest population growth rates had low growth rates for carbon dioxide emissions while many of the nations with the lowest population growth rates had high growth rates for carbon dioxide emissions."

Asked about the human failure (so far) to tackle either carbon emissions or urban poverty, Satterthwaite said we have a duty to keep on trying, even when facing apparently hopeless situations. I agree.

WHY ARE GREENS AFRAID TO TACKLE POPULATION?

Almost every question and answer period I record, on climate change, has at least on guy (and it's always a man) who stands up and says (somewhat angrily):

"Why don't the Greens every tackle population growth. That's what is causing climate change. Why are the enviro's always afraid to tackle the real cause of it all?"

Well, angry guy, now you know. That's just a slick denial in the West, to avoid taking responsibility for our own role. Blame the brown person on the other side of the world for our climate-wrecking, planet-draining need to shop.

Or check out this column by the UK journalist George Monbiot, titled "Stop blaming the poor. It's the wally yachters who are burning the planet."

It's the rich bastards that do the most damage, with those multiple monster houses, big SUV's, flying around the world. What about limiting the rich? There's a campaign you won't find in mass media - even if it has to happen.

Alex Smith

FST746RWSN87

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Toward the Collapse

Is global warming unstoppable now? Could we be saved by total economic collapse? If so, should we help civilization fall?

It's another cheery edition of Radio Ecoshock, with your darkness at the end of the tunnel, Alex Smith. There are lots of links to our program content below.

Last night I recorded another glimpse of the climate apocalypse, with the author of "Climate Wars" Gwynne Dyer. He outlined the short distance from here to the cliff where long-known natural feed-backs leading to runaway global warming begin, and continue on for millennia. That limit is known as two degrees. Beyond that, great forests melt into fire, liberating their carbon. Beyond that, the Arctic permafrost melts, likely doubling atmospheric greenhouse gases. Five to seven degrees Centigrade of average global temperature rise. Utter disaster.

Dyer says world governments quickly agreed to the 2 degree limit at Copenhagen, without telling the public why. No need to panic the herd.

Dyer says we won't make it in time, before the big climate switch is pulled. You'll hear clips from that speech in an upcoming Ecoshock Show. I can't run the whole speech, because as usual, Gwynne is developing his new work toward another radio or TV program. I appreciate Gwynne sharing his "working notes" with our Radio Ecoshock audience. Kind of a sneak preview.

Find out more at www.gwynnedyer.com
Here is info on the "Climate Wars" radio series.

... and the book.

Up early this morning, I tune into a climate science web cast from the Center for American Progress. Two top American IPCC scientists, trying not to say too much. Late in this program, I'll have a few clips and comments from that update, hosted by Joe Romm, of the blog climateprogess.org.

But we'll start out with a different sort of scientist. Cloud specialist Tim Garrett stepped in a few people's faces, when he proposed a formula about carbon and the world's wealth. Simply put, unless our economy collapses, to levels you and I would hate, climate change is unstoppable. Garrett bases his jarring statements on a basic law of physics, of thermodynamics.

Read the "Is Global Warming Unstoppable?" article here.

You won't need a science degree to understand our Radio Ecoshock interview.

Following Garrett, we dive deeper into the culture of despair. Keith Farnish is the author of "Time's Up, an uncivilized solution to a global crisis." I've put lots of Keith Farnish links below, including one to his online book.

Are you ready to become uncivilized?

If collapse is the best solution, would you help kick the system over? Or would you just watch it fall? Farnish has been called a terrorist, and a green realist. Your brain exercise for troubling times.

Let's start with the science of collapse.

[Garrett interview]

This is Radio Ecoshock, with Alex Smith. We've just heard Tim Garrett from the University of Utah - and let's take a quick review.

His paper is titled "Are there basic physical constraints on future
anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide?"

The basic thesis, tested against past industrial development, is that neither population nor standard of living have to be included in modeling prediction of climate change. Garrett concludes that civilization, as measured by gross domestic product, is directly related to the amount of carbon burned. More emissions, more wealth. Less emissions, less economic production.

Here is the exact description of the theory, from an abstract of Garrett's paper:

"Here, it is shown both theoretically and observationally how the evolution of the human system can be considered from a surprisingly simple thermodynamic perspective in which it is unnecessary to explicitly model two of the emissions drivers: population and standard of living. Specifically,
the human system grows through a self-perpetuating feedback loop in which the consumption rate of primary energy resources stays tied to the historical accumulation of global economic production—or p × g—through a time-independent factor of 9.7 ± 0.3 mW per inflation-adjusted 1990 US dollar."

By applying his formula, Garrett says it would take a new nuclear plant built every single day to keep up our current standard of living. As that isn't happening, and may be impossible, the only other solution is economic collapse. In our interview, Garrett suggests a horrible economic crash, which I imagine as diving perhaps to Medieval standards of life, is required just to reach 450 parts per million of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

In the conclusion of that paper we find, quote:

Viewed from this perspective, civilization evolves in a spontaneous feedback loop maintained only by energy consumption and incorporation of environmental matter.

Because the current state of the system, by nature, is tied to its unchangeable past, it looks unlikely that there will be any substantial near-term departure from recently observed acceleration in CO2 emission rates. For predictions over the longer term, however, what is required is thermodynamically based models for how rates of carbonization and energy efficiency evolve. To this end, these rates are almost certainly constrained by the size and availability of environmental resource
reservoirs."

end quote.

Several science journalists picked up on the paper's underlying prediction: global warming is unstoppable, unless the economic system crashes. And that leads to our next guest. He agrees, and suggests it is our duty, all of us, to help the inevitable hard landing come sooner, rather than later. Why wait until Nature is totally used up, on a nearly dead planet?

[Keith Farnish]

Here are a bunch of links for Keith Farnish:

His blog. earth-blog.bravejournal.com
Another blog ("unsuitablog")
Keith's book "Time's Up" (online version) www.timesupbook.com
========

Web casts are proliferating, as various publishers and institutes slash travel costs. That's good for emissions, and a way to let more people into the virtual room. I attended two this week.

One was a re-assessment of Copenhagen, and the way forward, from the British publisher Earthscan.

There I met David Satterthwaite, our radio guest next week. His recent work on the realities of human settlement, slums, and western consumerism - fits in perfectly with the new Worldwatch 2010 State of the World Report. I interview that report's project director, Erik Assadourian, as we ask "Is it them, or is it us?" Next week, on Radio Ecoshock.

My second web cast was provided by the Center for American Progress, and hosted by uber-blogger Joe Romm. His spot climateprogress.org really is the indispensable climate blog, as author and New York Times columnist Tom Friedman called it.

On the web cast, we got to hear from two top American scientists, who have helped organize IPCC reports: Dr. Michael MacCracken and Dr. Christopher Field. Dr. MacCracken has been a Radio Ecoshock guest.

I'm not going to lie to you. At time the web cast was timid to boring, as the two scientists were so careful about the limits of the IPCC process. You had to re-interpret wonk speak, to realize this Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is not really up to the task of warning the world about the real threat.

Why not? Let me count just a few reasons.

One: the whole pile of summaries, the things you, and I, and politicians actually read, must be agreed to, line-by-line, by each and every government in the world. That means, for example, Saudi Arabia, the giant oil producer who denies climate change, has to sign on. It's almost like having Dick Cheney approve everything the Obama administration does. Oh wait, it seems like that's happening in the Senate anyway.

Two: when incompetence, and possibly corruption in the case of grand-leader Pachauri show up, the IPCC has no agency to investigate, to correct the problem, or even to handle the press. Pachauri was involved with the unscientific and botched prediction about the Himalayan glaciers melting by 2030 - now shown to be contrary to the common knowledge of most glacier experts. A member of the team acknowledged they knew the information to be false.

Yet Pachauri helped get that wrong prediction into the report, and then personally profited from the panic by the Indian government. His company got fairly big money to find out more, about a problem with did not exist at the levels claimed.

It stinks of corruption, not a new idea at the United Nations. I've posted a list of Pachauri 's various businesses, and it's a long list, in my blog for this week. He should resign.

Here is an article which claims a direct conflict of interest for Dr. Pachauri , when it comes to carbon trading.

The same blog goes into detail about Pachauri 's business holdings and roles. It doesn't look good.

And let's not forget that Pachauri is essentially President George W. Bush's man. Bush objected to Robert Watson heading the IPCC, and pushed for Pachauri instead. Another very bad sign.

None of this was mentioned by the upright scientists at the American Progress web cast. They admit a major mistake was made, but don't criticize either the man, or the system that let him get away with it. Pitiful.

Three: there are a lot of things that science simply can't address, that matter a lot. For example, when the assembled scientists realized they didn't know how to predict Arctic ice melt, they just left that out of the calculations of sea level rise. So their prediction of a few millimeters rise by 2100 was laughable.

There's a lot more unknown unknowns, including public panic, climate wars, and climate trauma, and mass migration, just to name a few. Those demons are outside the realm of science, but definitely part of what we need to understand, or at least plan out with the best guesses.

Four: the IPCC is always 5 years behind current science. And why do we only report every five years, on a problem that suggests we only have ten years left to act, if that, before Nature takes over control of the greenhouse? We need a permanent climate war room, or rather a peace room.

Five: experience with past reports shows, the IPCC always underestimates both the urgency, and the severity of the impacts of climate disruption.

I run a couple of the best clips from the web cast, which you can see in full here.

In our first radio clip, Dr. Christopher Field echoes, almost exactly, the theory we heard in our first interview, with Tim Garrett. Carbon equals wealth.

Then Field adds to a list of climate change impacts, already begun by Michael MacCracken.

And finally, Dr. Michael MacCracken expands on everyone's nightmare, melting permafrost.

Still, it was a worthwhile web cast by the Center for American Progress, February 2nd, 2020. My thanks to Joe Romm, super-climate blogger at climateprogress.org, for at least trying to keep it lively.

Most of the talk about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, was diplomatic - and disappointing.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and in fact the whole U.N. system for negotiations, isn't working. If anything, it's working against us.

Frankly, we need a new public body to measure and predict the climate threat in real time. Let scientists say what they can prove, without censorship from Saudi Arabia, George Bush, or whoever. Maybe it can all be built as a knowledge machine on the Internet. Heaven knows who will fund and control it. Maybe some billionaire will care enough about the future to fund it, and let it go, without strings. Maybe we can find a few honest women and men?

Something has to change, or we are toast.

Can the public stomach the awful truth? Or, will we go down in a sea of denial and business-as-usual?

It's almost to the point, where the danger to the world as we know it, might matter as much as the Toyota recall, or who won the Oscars. I know that's a big claim, but that's the way I see it.

I'm Alex Smith. Thanks for listening.