Sunday, February 27, 2011

Oil Versus Light: the Jeremy Leggett interview transcript


An interview with Jeremy Leggett, by Alex Smith. From the Radio Ecoshock Show Feb. 25, 2011.

Alex Smith: This civilization uses oil for its blood. Almost everything we make, buy, and use has oil in it's food chain. You know that.

Never mind that we are bleeding carbon into the sky and the ocean, or the developing climate shift. Even if oil was lily white, we are still running out of the cheap stuff - that we need for a global economy feeding billions of humans.

And we are determined to drive right off that cliff, without a Plan B.

Here to discuss all that, we have a long-term energy watcher, Dr. Jeremy Leggett.

He was a geologist writing reports for big oil, like BP and Shell, before becoming a climate campaigner for Greenpeace International, from 1989 to 1996. Leggett told insurance companies they could never cover the costs of climate damage. He advised governments to leave the remaining oil and coal in the ground.

Now he's Executive Chairman of the British for-profit company SolarCentury, with several books to his credit, including "Half Gone: Oil, Gas, Hot Air and the Global Energy Crisis", which was published in the US as "The Empty Tank."

Jeremy Leggett, welcome to Radio Ecoshock.

JL: Thank you.

AS: You publish a running digest of news called "The Triple Crunch Log" - can you briefly describe that for us?

JL: I'm Chairman of the company I founded now, so I have a few hours every day to keep up with the dramas of what I think of as “the triple crunch” - the financial crisis, the climate crisis, and the energy crisis. They are all interrelated in different ways.

I just post that on my personal web site, hoping that it will help folk who are much busier than me, and don't have the amount of time that I do, to keep up with these dramas that are so important to us as a species.

AS: Yes, we live in fascinating times. I've just grabbed a couple of from that log. I wanted to start with this headline. It says:

Rising oil price threatens fragile recovery in OECD, IEA warns.

If I may summarize this item:

The developed world is spending 33% more to import oil in 2010 - more than the combined budget deficits of Greece and Portugal. Fatih Birol, of the International Energy Agency, says rising oil prices in 2011 could bring us to another financial crisis.

Jeremy, are we going broke trying to keep the fossil economy going?

JL: Yeah, I think we are. It's just a matter of time before it breaks us.

Because the conventional narrative that the oil industry can keep on producing rising supplies to stay ahead of demand in our oil dependent civilization, is just a narrative that more and more of us can't believe. And we think global oil production is going to drop. It's going to drop sometime soon, on our watch, in the next few years.

The oil price will become very volatile. Basically it will go through the roof. We just simply won't be able to afford to run oil based economies, the way we are at the moment.

AS: Another analyst, Jeff Rubin with the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce analyst, has suggested that rising oil costs could even lead to countries going bankrupt. Is that a fringe idea?

JL: No. That's basically.... I do believe that before that we'll face a crunch because oil producing countries will come to realize that their narrative, the narrative that they are told – that there's plenty of oil, that they can keep on pumping – that too is flawed.

There will be this kind of sweeping wave of realization in the world – the same way that there was in the credit crunch.

You know we went in a matter of weeks with banks assuring us there was no risk with complex derivatives, to a situation where everyone was panicking that the whole damn lot might be toxic.

I think the Peak Oil story at some point is going to play out the same way.
When that happens, the oil producing countries will be husbanding their own resources. They will start keeping it for themselves, in ever-growing quantities. And that will cause not just an energy crisis, for many, perhaps most oi importing countries. It will actually produce something more akin to a an energy famine.

We really will be tested, if that scenario plays out the way I fear.

AS: I think one of the answers to that is to have some alternative energy. I want to get to that a little later in this interview.

But meanwhile, let's talk about Saudi Arabia. Really the big news, that's come out partly due to Wikileaks, is that they may not have the reserves that they have been talking about, to help us out if we need more oil.

We are using … well the oil demand rose by 2.5 million barrels a day last year.

JL: Yes, they are burning more and more oil in electric power plants, a million and a quarter barrels a day at that moment. That's going up by 8 percent a year.

Senior officials are stating ever more openly that … you know if they keep going at that rate, the exports are already dropping, and they will drop still further, notwithstanding peak oil.

So I think what the Wikileaks cables show … you know this wasn't news ot people who follow the drama closely. The gentleman who was quoted, Mr. al-Husseini, he's issued these kind of warnings before.

But what I think was new and interesting, was the way that these American diplomats, obviously very clever professional people, were reporting back in some state of alarm to the Mother ship in Washington, that 'Crikey, we don't believe that Saudi Arabia can keep pumping at the rates that would be needed to control the global oil price any longer.

And that was new, because that's a narrative that is not on the Mantra sheets of the Press Officers in Washington, or indeed in any other capital.

AS: I suppose it's old news to people who have followed peak oil, that are in those circles, that all of the Middle East countries appear to have grossly overstated their reserves. Why does that matter to us?

JL: It matters to the extent – and let's discount climate change for the moment – but if you are living in oil dependent, nay, oil addicted economies, and those economies are growing on the whole (and we are talking about the global picture here) you've got to keep oil supply in pace with demand.

Otherwise, you get a shock. You get prices going through the roof, and all the other thing's I've talked about. That is why it matters.

It is a failing we have, as human beings, more and more. We have some sort of blindness to depletion of natural resources, collectively. And this particular one is going to hit us very hard.

AS: And here is a frightening way that these problems interweave. Though the press hardly reported it, as you noted, 2010 tied with the year 2005 as the hottest year on record. As a result there is more and more open water in the Arctic. That leaves the far North more open for oil drilling, as we see in that BP-Rosneft deal.

How signficant is that BP move into oil drilling in the Russian Arctic?

JL: You know, what it shows you is just how desperate these companies are becoming. They are having to go ever further into far-flung frontiers. And they are having to hook up with... what is the word I want to use that's polite here ... ah, potentially unreliable partners.

The very fact that I think a few days after they announced their deal with Rosneft, which is a Kremlin owned oil company, making the Kremlin the single biggest shareholder in BP. Can you imagine?

The day after that happened, they then get sued by the Oligarchs who own the TNK share of TNK-BP, which is the big joint venture elsewhere in Russia looking for oil. And these business partners announce that they are taking BP to court, for breach of contract, etc., etc.

So what a mess! I mean, that shows how desperate they are. It blows a clear whistle on the dangers of keeping going with this oil-addicted global economy.

AS: It's pretty strange. We've seen that Putin can order the takeover of an oil company at any time. And yet BP is the single biggest supplier of oil to the U.S. Military. So the Kremlin has control of the military supplies for America!

JL: Yes, it is a world of paradoxes, is it not?

AS: It is. And despite that, we continue to burn more and more oil. You note in your log that it's up 2.8 million barrels a day in 2010 from just the year before. It's like a big river of new carbon dioxide pouring into the atmosphere.

Doesn't it seem like our green initiatives are really going nowhere?

JL: No, I don't think 'nowhere.' It's certainly not happening fast enough, but there are all sorts of grains of hope around.

It's important for people who care about these issues to keep fighting, because I think there are fundamental non-linearities in the system. By which I mean just to use an example: None of us saw the collapse of Communism. It just happened so quickly. Once it started to go, it was upon us and Crikey! There were no experts standing up and saying 'The Berlin Wall is about to come down' – even days before it did.

So I think that the clean-tech revolution, the ability we have with current technologies to power our economies without producing emissions, and without relying on overseas oil, and gas, and coal. All that is there. And many of these markets growing as I know from my day job – because I set up the solar company, SolarCentury because I'm so worried about fossil fuel dependency. Look, people like me who are on this front line, we see how quickly this stuff can go. I believe if we can just mix a bit of shall we say residual cleverness with a bit of luck, we might surprise ourselves.

AS: This is Radio Ecoshock. I'm Alex Smith with guest Dr. Jeremy Leggett, the campaigning geologist who founded his own solar company in Britain, SolarCentury.

Jeremy, we talk about the possibilies of solar. But I also noticed that as the rising price of oil hurts world economies, and the tax revenues to governments goes down, and perhaps as a reaction to this, and more fossil fuel lobby pressures – governments from the UK right through Europe to Australia have cut subsidies to solar energy, one of the few viable solutions. What is going on there?

JL: You know, the most popular subsidy is the feed-in tariff, which is a levy on all energy bills to pay a little bit of a premium price for solar.

They are supposed to be cut. I mean they are designed to come down in tandem with the decent of cost and price in solar equipment. Which is happening. Between 2008 and 2010, in that three year period, the average installed price of solar systems around the world came down 40 percent.

So, you don't want to keep your subsidies at the same level when you are dealing with that kind of cost down systemically within an industry.

So all this is good news. It points to the time – the inevitable time – when in every country solar electricity is going to be produced cheaper than electricity can be produced from 'brown' sources, from fossil fuel sources, and in fact from nuclear.

In my own country, in the UK, the average price of conventional electricity in that same period, 2008 to 2010, has gone UP 38 percent. Against solar prices going down 40 percent.

This is another reason to be cautiously optimistic, that if we can get our act together, we can soften the damage from these triple crunch problems.

AS: Let's talk about Australia for just a minute. Some scientists suggest rising sea temperatures are adding both moisture and power to those weather systems that hit Australia time and again. In fact, there is another one right now, coming on.

The coal ports had to be shut for a while, and mines were flooded. I'm guessing as the world economy is hit over and over again, we may be able to do less and less about it. What are your thoughts?

JL: That's the worrying scenario. That we leave ourselves in such a mess, with escalating damage from the increasing effects of climate change, with debilitated economies because we are incapable of keeping our financial institutions under control, when they go back into the casino and gamble our money away on our behalf, and then bring the world economy almost to its knees again, as they did with the credit crunch. And on top of that, you have oil depletion causing the oil price to go through the roof.

Yeah, you can stitch together a really gruesome triple whammy that would make it incredibly difficult for us to mobilize the survival technologies, even if we had finally the will to do so.

But, you know, it isn't certain to play out that way. There is everything to go for in trying to stop that from happening. By presenting the arguments, and mobilizing the survival technologies. That is why I do the Triple Crunch Log. And that is why I set up a solar energy company.

AS: Meanwhile, there is a lot of backsliding in the United States. I think Americans would have a heart attack reading the British Parliamentary report calling for energy rationing by 2010. Do you think gas and oil rationing is really coming in this decade?

JL: I think it is going to be inescapable. Certainly from the point of view of oil. Gas maybe is a little more uncertain, given some of the recent discoveries.

But my prediction, and people can call me up in 2012 and accuse me of being an irresponsible scare-mongerer if it's wrong, but I don't expect to be wrong here. I think we will live in times of rationing of oil, just as my parents had to do in the run-up to war.

I would say again on the positive side, when we had to mobilize in those years in the late 1930's and '40's, my parents generation, - in the United States and in Britain, people were amazed at how quickly the necessary technologies and strategies and tactics were mobilized, and the way people went along with that.

So, I think we will find the same thing when we are forced to mobilize in the face of the third and final great global oil crisis.

AS: Jeremy Leggett, as you know, Americans pay less than half the price for gas at the pumps, compared to Europeans. How long can this imbalance go on, and what happens if we get some sort of price parity?

JL: I have to admit that I don't think that those of us who believe in Peak Oil are going to win the argument.

The group think on the other side is so strong. The desperation to believe the comforting narrative, and cast aspersions at the uncomfortable narrative – which of course we saw in the run-up to the credit crunch. The way the investment banks poured scorn on people trying to blow whistles, even though history shows who was right in that.

It's the same with oil, and the peak oil story. I fear what is going to happen, I think what is going to happen, is that we are simply going to find out who is right about peak oil.

We are going to find out in a couple of years. And we will be tested then. We will have to mobilize. We will have now choice. We will have to mobilize low carbon technologies much faster than we ever thought we'd have to do, even if we could get our act together on climate change.

I live in a state of cautious optimism that once that happens we will be able to find our way to some sort of renaissance, by dint of the innate civilizing characteristics of renewable energy. When you have local energy production, and clean energy production, a lot of social good can come from that.

AS: Are you pushing for huge giant solar plants that spread over vast areas? Or do you think there is still a market for smaller installations to make a difference?

JL: I don't think it's an 'either/or.' There will for sure be utility scale power plants. They already are under construction. There are reports that those under construction now in Southern California, or planned there, they are going to be generating electricity that is already cheaper than gas. So of course there is a role for those kinds of plants.

But buildings, and this is what I passionately believe, buildings are so perfectly suited to roof-top and facade solar. I think there is a fantastic resource there. Especially when you hook solar technologies up with energy efficient technologies.

AS: If you had to pick an under-reported news story for our audience, what comes to your mind?

JL: I think the state of electricity supply in Saudi Arabia might be near the top of my list.

If people could see the pressure they are under, and read some of the occasional reports of officials speaking out about what they are going to have to do, then I think there would be a lot more concern.

There was a gentleman the other day, I record it in the Log. I forget his name, but he was an ex-Minister in the Saudi government. He said: If Saudi Arabia keeps burning oil domestically, at the growing rate it is at the moment, then within some years, I forget the exact figure, they are going to be burning 8 million barrels a day domestically.

There will be virtually nothing left over for export. If that isn't a warning sign that should be galvanizing us all, I don't know what is.

AS: This is a bit hilarious in a way. The Saudis say 'We have to develop more solar, and even more nuclear energy.' And yet we don't get the message.

JL: No. That's right.

AS: I'd hate to wrap up with total gloom. Can you fix us up with some more hopeful news on the solar front?

JL: Look. I come back to my point about what you can do with existing technology. A couple of weeks ago, with a big utility partner, big energy partner Scottish and Southern, we opened a group of low-income houses here in the UK, that are zero carbon and beyond.

They get all their electricity, and a lot more besides, enough to charge up a communal electric car, from solar roof tiles on the roof. And they get all their heating as well, from any one of four renewable heating technologies: air source heat pumps, ground source heat pumps, wood-chip boiler, and solar thermal.

Of course they are triple glazed. They are airtight. They've got A-Grade lights and appliances. But just imagine, these things are stand-alone power plants. They produce no emissions. They use no oil, no gas, no coal, no nuclear.

And they were put up in 8months, from breaking ground to connection to the grid.
When you see things like this, you sort of think to yourself 'Crikey. If we could just but half get our act together, just imagine what we could do', to change the face of energy use, and hence the global economy, to make it more sustainable.
That's what gets me out of bed every morning. And there are countless more examples like that, of course.

AS: We've been listening to one of the most informed minds on world energy, the green geologist, Dr. Jeremy Leggett. Find his web site at - and there are two gg's and two tt's in Leggett. And check out his Triple Crunch Blog, to find the key news stories your local media seldom reports.

Jeremy, thank you so much for your time with us.

I'm Alex Smith, for Radio Ecoshock.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

PEAK TROUBLE: Navigating the Chaos

Don't you hate it when a shadow comes into another nice day?

All my weather worries are far away. The East Coast is grumbling under more snow. The deep South may be freezing the Canadian "Snow Birds." There is another crazy cyclone over Darwin Australia, dumping over a foot of rain in 24 hours.

But hey! The sun shines where I am. Then I see the sign by the produce stand. It says:

"Due to extreme cold in California, Arizona, Texas, and Mexico produce prices will go up. Farmers lost nearly 80% of their crops. Expect higher prices, shortages, and lower quality."

I head over to the bread isle, and get more sticker shock. My favorite Flax Bread is now 5 bucks a loaf. Pretty soon I'll need to dip into those big pails of hard red wheat I put away for hard times, to make my own. That investment went up 25% in value, in just two years.

Gas here is $1.25 a litre - more or less five bucks a gallon, and climbing. So far there is plenty of it, but speculators are going wild, as Libya shuts down production. Are the Saudi's next, the headlines ask?

How will we know when the crisis has come?

I'm Alex Smith, and I can't avoid this simple fact: we are all connected now.
This week on Radio Ecoshock, we'll talk energy news, with an eye-out for the early stages of oil depletion, while solar just gets cheaper. Dr. Jeremy Leggett, geologist, oil expert, climate campaigner, and British solar entrepreneur joins us for a no-holds-barred talk of the world.

Later, we'll get back to solutions from the Transition Movement. But this time our guest Carolyn Baker suggests we need to look deep inside. Are you really ready for the wild changes coming up in the next few years? Carolyn gives us tips from her new book "Navigating The Coming Chaos: A Handbook for Inner Transition."

All the music you'll hear comes from the new Radiohead album "The King of Limbs."

READ MORE (with tons of links)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Transition in America - Michael Brownlee Transcript


Alex Smith of Radio Ecoshock interviews MICHAEL BROWNLEE on February 18, 2011. Transcript.


Alex Smith: The Transition movement has spread from the United Kingdom to North America. Michael Brownlee is a gateway for many people discovering this new vision of living and community building. Brownlee co-founded Transition Colorado.

Michael, welcome to Radio Ecoshock.

Michael Brownlee: Thanks Alex, glad to be here.

AS: Michael, just to let the listeners know what to expect, I'd like to suggest a game plan. Let's start with a brief explanation of what Transition is - that can take hours, but let's try for a few minutes. Then, we'd like to hear from your seminal article in Transition Times, "The Evolution of Transition in the U.S." A little history first, before we dive into the new proposals for "Deep Transition". If we have time, I'd like to end up with stories from Transition Colorado, a few on-the-ground examples of what people are doing.

So - for the many listeners who already know about climate change and Peak Oil, what is the Transition movement?

MB: The transition movement is about preparing our communities for the local impacts of these global crisis, like climate change and fossil fuel depletion or Peak Oil, and economic decline as well.

Because what's happened, over the last 60 or 70 years especially, is as the economy has becoming increasingly globalized, our communities have lost their capacities to meet their own essential needs, locally. So the Transition movement is about relocalization – finding ways to make it possible for our communities to regain those capacities again.

The movement started in the UK just over 4 years ago in Totnes England, where Rob Hopkins, a long-time permaculture teacher, decided to see if he could create a community-wide process in that little town, for relocalization. He mapped out a process in his experience there, which other communities have begun to pick up around the world.

The movement has, much to his surprise, grown quite rapidly in 15, maybe 16 different countries now. So it spread.

One of the reasons that it's important is that it is the first thing that any of us have seen that gives us a sense that there is a process, that there is a pathway that we can bring to our communities to move toward relocalization, to make the transition off of fossil fuel dependence, and become much more resilient and self reliant. That, in a nutshell, is what the transition movement is about.

AS: How did this British initiative appear in the U.S. and what existing institutions did it build on?

MB: It began in the United States because there were several of us, in many communities, in this country and others, that were attempting relocalization. Although we were quite clear that we didn't know how to do it. Many of us had been inspired by the Post Carbon Institute, founded by Julain Darley, who had begun this idea of a relocalization network.

But by the time Rob Hopkins and this transition process came along, we were all pretty hungry for a methodology, a pathway toward relocalization. So we'd been watching what he was doing over there.

I finally went over in early 2008 I guess it was, to see for myself if all the good rumors about transition were true. I went through a 2 day transition training in Scotland, and made my pilgrimage down to Totnes, England to meet with Rob Hopkins and some of the other leaders there. I saw what was happening in the UK, and was very excited and insprired by it. I felt that 'this had to come to the United States.'

So I and several other people in the U.S., began organizing, reshaping our relocalization work around transtion. Our organization here in Boulder, Colorodo actually became the very first officially recognized Transition Initiative in North America.

It has spread. Since that time I think there are now 79 officially recognized Transition Initiatives in the U.S. And we don't know how many, but probably another couple of hundred that are what the movement likes to call “mullers” - those who are considering utlizing the transition process in their communities.

AS: Could you just name some of the larger or more advanced places in the U.S., that are taking on this transition challenge?

READ MORE (with links for follow-up)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

TRANSITION - The West Coast Scene

Finally, a shaky roadmap toward sustainability, in troubling times. I'm Alex.

This week we go for the Transition movement - West Coast style.

What started with Rob Hopkins in the village of Totnes,England, is evolving in North America. We hear from early adopters in Colorado, Los Angeles, and Vancouver.

Our guests are Michael Brownlee from Boulder, Joanne Poyourow from Village L.A., and Vandy Savage from Vancouver.

We top that off from with two speakers I recorded at a Village Vancouver meet-up, Ann Pacey and Ross Moster.

It's crammed full of ideas for your own action plan.

The Village Vancouver meeting gives you some ideas of how you can run your own group.

First of all, there were notices in local event listings, on the Net, and through word-of-mouth, about the meeting. About 35 people came, to a free meeting room in a local community centre. Budget for the event: zero.

There was a long table to receive the pot-luck food that arrived with the participants (and there was almost more than could be eaten). This was important because the meeting was held around 6:30 pm, after a working day, and before many people got a chance to have dinner. The food was vegetarian, home-made, some of it locally grown.

Everone gathered around one large table to start. There was a round of introductions - and I was amazed at the gathered talents of people there. We could have run a small city with just the folks who showed up. And produced a lot of food.

Then Ross and Anne did an introduction to Transition for any newcomers. They showed a film clip of Rob Hopkins, and another of urban farming in Cuba, where the Soviets suddenly cut off oil. The Cubans had to grow their own due to the American embargo, with very low oil. It was amazing - from the video "Power of Community." An example to us all.

We also got brief reports from local organizing groups. One person reported a local money system that was working well. Even a few area merchants were accepting "Dunbar Dollars".

Most groups seemed organized around areas of a few blocks, or at least walking distance. About a half dozen participants were gay or lesbian, and there was talk of organizing along those lines as well.

Then everyone broke up into local areas, to communicate and strategize. The real work of the evening. I left quite hopeful that we might at least survive with dignity.

Everyone involved admits Transition isn't the perfect answer. It may fail. But it beats giving up - and you can get involved directly, without counting on rotten politicians.

If oil becomes expensive like gold, or stops. If the climate shifts. If the economy falls apart. These neighborhoods are working now, to keep going. Community building. Transition Towns. You get a peak into the West Coast scene, this week on Radio Ecoshock.

Next week we'll continue with another look into "Deep Transition" with Dr. Carolyn Baker. Expect other surprise guests.

Alex Smith
Radio Ecoshock


The Wikipedia Transition entry, to get an introduction, and more links.



His page.

Key article: "The Evolution of Transition in the U.S."
by Michael Brownlee, Transition Colorado, Nov 26, 2010


U.S. NATIONAL ORGANIZATION: - with links to transition groups around the country.

BLOG BY ROB HOPKINS, founder of the movement. Updated 5 days a week


Colorado networking site


Also this running Transition L.A. blog.

Our guest Joanne Poyourow's blog.

The Cluk Trek - a tour of local L.A. chicken coops....

VANCOUVER CANADA - Village Vancouver


A regular Transition online newspaper.

This Transition Network site, based in the UK, which has this alphabetical listing of 713 Transition Towns around the world.

Transition Info in other languages.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Paul Ehrlich - Humanity on a Tightrope

Radio Ecoshock interview with Alex Smith, February 11, 2011

When it comes to population, the name Paul Ehrlich inevitably comes up. In 1968, Dr. Ehrlich published "The Population Bomb". About 40 years, and 40 books later, this distinguished scientist comes to us with a new book called "Humanity On A Tightrope."

Dr. Erhlich, it's an honor to welcome you to Radio Ecoshock.

PRE: Great to be with you.

Alex Smith: First off, you have an authoritative co-author for this project. Can you tell us a bit about Robert E. Ornstein, and how you two came to write this book?

PRE: Well, Bob and I have been friends for years. And he's a very distinguished psychologist, noted for some of his early work in split brains, for a number of great books explaining what we know about how the brain works.

We're both very, very concerned about human behavior, in various dimensions. So we decided that it was time to write a second book together. We wrote one about twenty years ago called "New World New Mind". So this is in a sense a follow-up.

AS: Listeners and readers may be surprised, to find your new book is not specifically about population. Instead, you propose a common tool we'll need to face the many threats to civilization. Things like climate change, polluted oceans, and so on.
Dr. Ehrlich, what is the common human ability we need to develop?

PRE: We already have one that allows us to put us in each others' shoes. That's a very unusual trait for an animal, but we have it. It's a critical one, and we do it automatically when in small groups. Because, as you know, for most of our evolutionary history we've been a small group animal. We lived for hundreds of thousands of years as homo-sapiens, and before that as other species in groups of 50 to 150 people where we could easily tell, often, what was going on in the minds of other individuals and in a sense feel what they were feeling.

We actually have nerves that are designed, in our brain, to let us put ourselves in other peoples' shoes. That's a really crucial thing which we need to spread much further these days.

AS: Part of your exploration is the positive and negative implications of our feelings for "family." How should we rethink all that?

PRE: First of all, human beings have come up with - particularly since the time of the agricultural revolution - with all different kinds of family structures, many of which work well. Some of them don't work so well.

I mean, the current myth that human beings are designed to be monogamous, one man doing the work, one woman raising the kids, and 2.4 kids that never think about drugs or sex...simply doesn't exist. It existed in the minds of some right-wingers for about five years after 1945. But we found as a species all different kinds of family arrangements.

What we need to do now, is to design an overall family arrangement which lets us put ourselves in the shoes, not of a hundred or a hundred and fifty other people, but something like seven billion other people.

We are a small-group animal, faced with the problem of figuring out how to live peacefully in gigantic groups. And treat each other - and our environment - in ways which will allow our civilization to persist.

AS: If I'm being honest, I'm not really convinced that feelings for distant humans will win out. I think of Libertarians like Ron Paul, he wants to end foreign wars, but also foreign aid. In it's economic troubles, America may withdraw into isolationism, again.

What are the signs that empathy is growing?

PRE: First of all, you gotta look at what time course your're talking about.

By the way, I'm talking to you about what will be REQUIRED, if we are to reach a sustainable society. Nowhere is it written that we will.

Many civilizations in the past have collapsed. And we are now facing the first global collapse of a civilization. I'm not sure where I would put my money any more. I would tend to put it on 'We're not going to do the obvious things we should do to prevent it.'

On the other hand, if you look at the last few hundred years, for example, the sorts of things we've done that cheer me up is we got rid of slavery, at least in the United States, at least open slavery.

When I was a kid in the Thirties, if you were a woman your choice of jobs if you wanted one was going to be a Grammer School teacher, a nurse maybe, or a secretary, and that's it.

I'm an instrument-rated pilot. And I ended up taking my instrument training from a woman pilot. Today many of your listeners probably have flown on airliners piloted by women. That's a change in the right direction.

World War Two changed our view of what women could do. And also changed race relations. I was a Brooklyn Dodger fan in the 1940's. When Jackie Robinson broke in in 1948, there were big discussions about whether people with dark skin could actually play sports. Of course, before that, in the '30's lynchings were common.

So we haven't gone far enough on gender equity or on racial equity, but we've come a very long way in just one short lifetime. We have changed in the right direction in the past, just not far enough. And now we have to do it really fast.

AS: Reading your book, did bring some dark doubts to my mind. For example, many people in the land of cars and supermarkets, that they think they are "green" or "progressive" - but they still somehow expect a billion or more people will die off. They are confident it will be "them," those other people on the other side of the planet, and not "us" here at home.

Is that really how it could play out?

[Time: 5:40]

PRE: Personally, I don't think so. In other words, I don't think those people understand how tightly our fates are tied to people in the rest of the world, and how much we have to care - not just about them, but about descendants.

I have a great-grand daughter that I would like to see have a wonderful world.
Think about it for a minute. There are about 1.6 billion people utterly dependent on the ice and snow of the Himalayas, and the Tibetan Plateau for their agricultural water. There are people who are already having problems with their food supplies because the warming of the planet has cut the productivity of the grains, wheat and rice, that they are dependent upon.

If the agricultural water dries up, you are going to have a horrendous situation there, among people who are already well-armed with nuclear weapons. The most recent studies show, for instance, that if India and Pakistan get into it, with a relatively small nuclear war, a few hundred Hiroshima-size weapons, say 15 kilotons - they are firecrackers by today's standards, that would end the civilization in the United States and Europe.

So, things are not exactly charming. We really have to do something about it.

AS: And also, if we let a few billion people starve away in slums, we also have a disease breeding mechanism. It only takes one day for the airplane to arrive with that disease here.

PRE: Absolutely. The rapid transit systems, a growing population increases the chances of a nasty jumping from animals to human beings, like AIDS did recently. Like all our infectious diseases did at one time or another. The disease situation is horrendous.

The toxic situation is horrendous. In some Sub-Arctic villages, there are roughly two times as many girl babies born as boy babies, even though the normal sex ratio is a hundred and five boys, roughly, to a hundred girls. That is a sign, going along with inter-sex alligators, and frogs with five legs and so on, that show us that the hundreds of thousands of toxic chemicals that we've spread from Pole to Pole, are not harmless. They could very well turn out to be more serious than climate disruption, as far as our future options go.

AS: I'm surprised you de-emphasized population in the book. It seems like your ship is coming in now. I'm thinking of the tensions in Egypt, with double the population since 1980, fifty percent unemployment. Do you think the crisis you PREdicted in 1968 is starting to boil now?

PRE: Oh, first of all. One of the complaints about 'The Population Bomb' was we said 'The battle to feed all of humanity is over.'

That was 1968. There were three and a half billion people. About a half a billion were hungry. Now we've got seven billion people, and about a billion of them are hungry.

In other words, the predictions saying 'Oh, we can easily take care of five billion people. Technology will do it. Don't worry about it.' - simply haven't come true. And population is a huge element in it.

The problem is: if we want to humanely deal with population, it's going to take us many decades. Which means we should have started long ago, we should be starting right now.

Our biggest tool of the moment, besides having to start on the population issue because if we don't do that, we'll never get anywhere, is we have to change our consumption patterns. And we have to change the system of stealing from the poor and giving to the rich, which in the United States, and the world as a whole, has been so successful since Ronald Reagan instituted the program.

[Time: 9:03]

AS: Just before we get back to your new book, I have one question from a listener: Dr. Ehrlich have you looked into how declining, or more expensive fossil fuels, will impact population?

PRE: More expensive fossil fuels are already impacting population, in the sense that they are increasing hunger in the world. The food riots trace in part to our attempts to keep the fossil fuels up, and by creating corn into the equivalent of a fossil fuel, that is into ethanol.

So there's no question our food system is incredibly dependent on fossil fuels, and we are not showing any sign of transitioning off of them. Which means that the fossil fuels get more expensive, scarcer, and more importantly, as the climate system changes ever more rapidly, it's going to clobber agriculture. You clobber agriculture where people get hungry and have nuclear weapons and you can paint your own scenarios. And they are not going to be painted in sky-blue happy colors.

AS: This is Radio Ecoshock. Our guest is Dr. Paul R. Ehrlich, with his new book "Humanity on A Tightrope, thoughts on empathy, family, and big changes for a viable future."

Dr. Erhlich I found the book really started to shine with some of the solutions you and Robert Ornstein suggest. Maybe we could start with your own stomping grounds, the University system. What changes do we need to makethere, to survive into the future?

PRE: First of all, we need to teach people how the world works. You could - I mean I'm at the greatest university in the world, it's been a wonderful place. But I would guess that 90 percent of our graduates, and 90 percent of our faculty, couldn't give you a coherent story of where your food comes from.

If you ask the average American where there food comes from, and the average educated American, and they'll say 'the supermarket.' They have no idea, for example, the huge connection between fossil fuel supply and their food supply. They have that the sort of cosy sounding 'global warming' may mean 'global getting rid of a lot of the food we need.'

The first thing we should do, is start at the very bottom, of course, in our Grade schools. In other words, we should get off of the 'see Spot run' reader, and have one that says 'see the plant grow in the Sun.' So that people would understand the connection between photosynthesis and their own lives.

And go on up right through, closing what Anne and I call 'the culture gap.' The fact that, for the first time in human history now, the average person have less than a billionth of the information that is possessed by the culture as a whole.
So that you have, for instance, a Congress full of people utterly clueless on how the world works. The people who think that global change, that climate change, climate disruption is 'a hoax' just don't have a clue. It's very simple to teach someone how you know that the Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, coming from burning fossil fuels, nobody every told them. And of course, they are besides being pig ignorant, a lot of them don't want to learn.

And so we've got to really start educating through our school system, changing our University structures. We have to develop 21st century universities, instead of 19th century ones, and that's a big order too.

There's a lot to do, and I can't tell you I'm thrilled by the prospects that we are actually going to do it.

AS: How could we translate your book to develop what I would call "empathy activism"? How do we make this work?

PRE: I think that one of the thing that goes for us is we are great social animals. We like getting together with other people. And we can get together with other people to solve problems, and a lot of people already do it. Look at the people who do charity work. Look at the people working in environmental organizations, NGO's, the Sierra Club, and so on, all trying to make a better world. That's the kind of thing we've got the best chance of spreading. And it's gotta come from the bottom up.

We're actually working very hard to try to organize the scholarly community to get the job done. We're bringing social scientists in to talk to natural scientists about how human behavior can be changed. We're people in the Humanities involved, because we know that just telling people the scientific results doesn't do it. You gotta give it in the proper narratives. And we are trying to get the general public involved.

Whether it will work or not, who knows? But of course, part of it is programs like yours, and me raving on them, to try and get people thinking about these things and learning about them.

AS: This is really interesting. You say in the book that we have passed the time where we need more physical science, more proof. What we really need a rapid response team, to figure out how to change human behavior.

Could you tell us about the "Millenial Assessment of Human Behavior" or (MAHB)? [pronounced "mob" ]

[Time 13:40]

PRE: The MAHB is now an international group. It's really a network of people in the humanities, in the natural sciences, in the social sciences, and just interested people, who have been talking together and working together about how to change the behavior of the people of the world. Where we want to go, and how we can possibly get there.

Because again, the basic facts of the situation are now well known. Even the dumbest economist who writes for the Wall Street Journal knows that gasoline is underpriced in our country, and should be much more expensive - so we cut driving the big cars, and start phasing out fossil fuels, and stop killing people in places like Iraq and Afghanistan to try and keep our flow of fossil fuels going.

Everybody knows that. Try politically to try and put a tax on the price of gasoline, or even start raising the prices toward what gasoline costs in Europe, and you'll be out of office! How do we change that behavior? That's the discussion we are starting.

We've had some positive results, but it's still a baby at the moment.

AS: But despite all the bad news, you and Robert offer us page after page of hope. Why should we be hopeful?

PRE: We should be hopeful because we can do it. It's not like the monster army from Mars is invading and they are fifty times as technologically talented as we are, and they are going to devour us. There's a statement - you are probably too young to remember - but one of the greatest scientists of all time was named 'Pogo'. He came up with the straight answer: 'We have met the enemy, and he is us.'

Therefore, we have the capability of doing it. In the past we've seen very rapid turnarounds in attitudes. To just give you a relatively recent example, nobody I knew predicted that the Berlin Wall would come down and the Soviet Union would collapse as fast as it did. But it did.

Our big hope is we can change our behavior towards each other, and towards our life support systems, suddenly and rapidly, so we can get the job done.

We know, that given the right incentives, this sort of job, gigantic change can be effected. In 1941, the U.S. produced almost 4 million passenger cars. And then December 7th came along, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor - and over the next four years we switched to producing hundreds of thousands of tanks, hundreds of thousands of military trucks, over three hundred thousand military aircraft, dozens of aircraft carriers. We rationed meat, we rationed oil and gasoline, we rationed sugar. We designed and built nuclear weapons. We won the Second World War, and that was only four years.

Then the next year, we turned it all around, and went back to manufacturing automobiles and TV sets. In other words, when you have the right incentive... we could for instance do what Al Gore said we could do, and we could do it in much less than ten years. And that is: convert all electricity in the United States to not using fossil fuels.

It would take a huge effort, a World War Two style mobilization. That's what we need. We've got to recognize the enemy, and as I say, he is us.

[Time: 16:50]

AS: As we approach the close here, I wanted to ask you what research is interesting you most now?

PRE: The research that is interesting me most is what we have been talking about. I've been working with several colleagues trying to figure out culture, that is non-genetic information, evolves.

We have a pretty good picture - not complete and with some very interesting holes in it - of how our genetic evolution works. But we really don't our cultural revolution. The answer of why do you have Sarah Palin as a possible candidate for President? It seems absolutely insane. We don't understand why we have the kind of anomaly. We've got to learn how to understand that sort of thing, and how to steer people in a direction that's going to be useful for the survival of people, and their children.

AS: One of the problems that I've been working, and is part of that, is we have a movement now, the Transition movement, or the relocalization movement, where people are trying to make face-to-face groups that are under that 150 small-group animal level that you discuss in your book. And yet we have these global problems, and you are suggesting we need global empathy.

Are they contradictory moves?

PRE: No, they aren't. It's gotta be a combination. Because, first of all, we can be empathetic with more people. We actually can't avoid being empathetic to anybody we are exposed to.

I mean think about people, if they watch a television soap opera like 'Law and Order.' If something happens to the hero, you feel bad. If you read a great novel, and something happens to the hero, you can't help but feel bad.

Our ancestors solved this same sort of problem when they put together thirteen disparate colonies into a union, where they tried to maintain individuality, smaller group functions, which they did quite effectively. And yet got together, all thirteen, do do things they couldn't do individually, like protect themselves from the British.

And we face the same thing with nation states today. We can keep out individual groups, and value them. But we can also value the larger groups, and understand that what somebody does in Tibet affects our lives and vice versa. And that we've got to give up some of our soverignty and develop some mechanisms for helping other people in the world, because it is helping ourselves.

If we do not stop the distribution of stuff from the poor to the rich, and reverse it. If we don't start treating our environment right, we are all going to go down in the collapse.

So we have to spread our empathy. It doesn't mean we lose our empathy for people that we know even more personally - we just spread it around.

AS: You have been listening to Dr. Paul Ehrlich. He and co-author Robert Ornstein say we have an innate ability to understand and care about all humans. We need to re-develop that skill, to survive in a troubled world. To understand how, the book is "Humanity on A Tightrope".

Dr. Ehrlich, thank you for spending time with us on Radio Ecoshock.

PRE: My great pleasure.

AS: I'm Alex Smith.

Download this interview as a free mp3.

Find more on population, including speeches by Paul Ehrlich.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Welcome, welcome, to the house of Ecoshock.

Last week we tried a little shock therapy: a modest proposal from Dr. Jack Alpert to sterilize everyone, to bring about Rapid Population Decline. Birth permits, just 350,000 a year, would be awarded to the lucky few by lottery. Earth would head back down to the 100 million human animals it can support forever.

For now, that's just dark science fiction.

But the reality of over-population, and over-consumption, is not.

Right now the Egyptian people are celebrating just the possibility they might escape the torturous grasp of the new Pharoah Mubarak.

But there are no happy days coming for anyone in the Middle East. The number of people in most countries there has doubled since 1980. About a third of the population is under the age of 24. Half of all adults are unemployed. Humans have outgrown the land-base, and food must be imported always. There is no possible political solution, from anyone, no matter how well-intended.

We can say the same for Mexico, for India, for much of the world.

As fossil fuels run out, get crazy expensive, and wreck the climate, we'll find out Earth cannot support 7 billion humans for long. And we are still expanding by 217,000 humans a day.

It's time to drag this out of the closet!

This week on Radio Ecoshock, we'll take another crack at it, as part of the month of February "Population Speakout."

You can find one of the front lines not in some far away slum, but right where you live. Every child born in high-consumption countries, in places like North America, Europe or Australia - consumes and pollutes hundreds of times more than a baby born in the poorest agrarian countries.

We suck it all up, and throw it all away.

Our governments, and our deepest social and biological roots, continue to push for even more fossil-fueled kids. It's a home-grown Ponzi scheme built out of human lives, and soon, endless human suffering.

Can we change all that? Can we head back down the mountain, toward sustainability? Making our numbers match the true Natural production of the land where we live?

In this program, you will hear three voices with solutions. Not drastic voices, but human ones, with real choices.

We'll kick off with Lisa Hymas, co-founder and Senior Editor of the most successful online green magazine on the Planet: She'll tell us about GINKs, Green-Inclined, No Kids.

Following Lisa, clinical psychologist Dr. Ellen L. Walker will talk about the good and the bad of going childfree. Can we be "Complete Without Kids"?

And don't miss our third interview. The grand-daddy of the whole population movement, Dr. Paul Ehrlich, joins us. His 1968 book "The Population Bomb" woke us up. Now he's got a surprising new tool that could help us survive the multiple crisis we face.

Right now. On Radio Ecoshock.

On the show I play two quick clips from the classic "Having My Baby" song released by Paul Anka in 1974. The first version is a recent cover by the cast of Glee. In 2006, a CNN poll voted it the number one worst song of all time.

Did you feel the warm glow. We have "babylust" built into us, a yearning and a duty, hard-wired into the brains. And just like bacteria, we'll do it until we bust the world.

Speak out! Head to to find out more.

And I've got a few other free audio downloads on the Population page of our audio on demand menu, right on the main page of

It's time for the population bomb. Be sure to listen to Paul Erhlich. At age 78, he's smarter than I'll ever be, with stamina to fight on, while others give up.

You have heard it all. Check out Download this program as a free mp3 from our web site, And do something, damn it!

I love you all - and thank you for listening.

Next week, we'll join the people looking for a transition to a more sustainable world.

We go out with a bit form the song "2525" - this version by Venice Beat, with Tess Timothy.

Radio Ecoshock

Thursday, February 03, 2011


Radio Ecoshock February 4, 2011.

Welcome to Radio Ecoshock. I'm Alex Smith.

When it comes to "the population bomb", our feature speaker today makes Paul Ehrlich sound like an optimist. Now that it's over 30 years into the tragedy of exploding humanity on a small planet.

Jack Alpert says it's time for "Rapid Population Decline or Bust." That bust may haul down civilization, taking us back thousands of years. In Roman Times, there were about 100 million humans on the planet. It turns out, with reasonable scientific investigation, that is the maximum sustainable population - 100 million - to live anything like our current lifestyle, in the developed world.

This year of 2011, somewhere on the planet, the seven billionth baby will be born, along with almost half a million more babies, that very same day.

Of course others will die. All told, the number of humans on Earth increases by about 217,000 a day, and climbing.

This crushes people, economies, governments, other species, and the whole global environment. As can see in the Middle East, the crisis has arrived.

It is time to hear from Dr. Jack Alpert, of the Stanford Integrated Research Laboratory. Long ago he invested seat belts, saving hundreds of thousands of lives, perhaps millions. He went on to research perculiarities in the human brain and personal functioning. Strange human traits that could end this civilization, to dangle on the edge of extinction.

Those are strong words - and this is a strong radio program. I don't recommend this program for the severely depressed, or impressionable young children, say aged 9 or under. Save this one for the grown-ups, and young people whose lives are threatened.

There are three reasons why Jack Alpert will never be popular, and why this radio program is difficult to make, and difficult to listen to:

1. Jack admits he is not a master communicator. He is an engineer often operating in fields before their time, before social acceptance.

2. the material is difficult to communicate. It must cross boundaries where conversation has been hidden or forbidden. At times, he is trying to express his studies into the limitations of the human mind - but those same limitations prevent people from readily understanding it.

3. the subject and options are so horrible, we don't want to hear it, much less think about it.

The food riots have already begun to bring down governments, threatening us with chaos,. With the spectacle of mass suffering and starvation all over the world, - the heart-break will enter even the most prosperous houses, like an accusing ghost over the dinner table.

We must try!

The scene of this recording was an unassuming living room, in the home of a Greenpeace founder, in the City of Vancouver, where Greenpeace was born.

Six of the brightest minds around gathered to hear Jack Alpert, and to again work through the endless question: "What Is To Be Done?".

Plus one Alex Smith, with not enough microphones. Permission granted to record what I could. My main microphone went to Jack Alpert.

Then I did three follow-up phone interviews, go get audio suitable for radio. The interviews are with:

Rex Weyler, Greenpeace Co-founder, historian for that organization, regularly published pundit on the environment and Peak Oil.

Dr. William (Bill) Rees, the co-inventor or the ecological footpring, an amazing thinker and scientist at the University of British Columbia.

Vandy Savage, a community organizer, project leader and person extraordinaire.

In a week or so, I'll get those interviews posted separately at, on the "Population" page of our Audio-on-Demand menu (right on the main page). In the meantime, if any listener wants to make a transcript of these interviews, I'd love to have them, and would add them to this blog. Write me: radio //at//

READ MORE (with lots more from Jack Alpert, quotes and all)