Wednesday, October 26, 2011

HOMELESS - A Tour of Four Cities


Some of the people camped out in Occupy Wall Street have no where else to go.

As reported by Associated Press, Occupy encampments from Portland, Oregon through L.A. to Atlanta are finding homeless people moving into tent cities set up by protesters.

Some Occupy sites are finding bylaws written to send away the homeless are being used to prevent Consitutional rights to Freedom of Assembly and expression.

Polls show millions of Americans are just one paycheck away from losing their homes. Many more are already in foreclosure, being evicted, or already out on the street. Lots of us worry, could I be next? Could you handle it, the way things are now?

Maybe the rights of the homeless will matter to you, down the line.

Radio Ecoshock is going to take you on a quick tour of homelessness in North America. We'll visit New York City, where 36,000 school children have no home. San Francisco, where it is illegal to sit or lie on the sidewalk. Even in the capital, in Washington D.C. we'll find the homeless next to the limousines and lobbyists. In Canada, there is a little progress in Vancouver, with street-sleepers reduced by 80%.

There are somewhere between 600,000 and a million homeless people in America. The wild thing is: America is flooded with empty houses. One in ten homes in the United States is vacant. That's about 18 million homes.


If we guestimate there are as many as 500,000 families needing a home, there are 36 empty homes for every homeless family in America!

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, all housing was owned by the government. As Dmitry Orlov has told us on Radio Ecoshock, people just stayed where they were. So there was no wave of homelessness in Russia or it's member states.


But America is stuck. Houses sit empty. Sometimes the banks even tear them down. But people - many of them families with young children - keep getting foreclosed, evicted, kicked out into the street. Apparently Capitalism just can't handle de-growth.

As winter approaches, and the economy heads into the dumpster, homelessness is growing in New York City. The nasty surprise is that both the State and City appear to be slashing help for the homeless in their hour of greatest need.

Radio Ecoshock visits the Big Apple with Gisell Routhier, Policy Analyst for the NYC Coalition for the Homeless.

New York is setting new records for homeless people, and for homeless families. See this and this.


We talk with Jennifer Friedenbach, Executive Director of the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness. Why has this formerly welcoming city gone into a media orgy of bashing the poor?

We'll go on to Washington, D.C. to speak with Michael Ferrell, Executive Director of the District’s Coalition for the Homeless, to see what is going on there.

Our last stop is Vancouver, Canada - with famous anti-poverty activist Jean Swanson of the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP), and author of the book "Poor Bashing: The Politics of Exclusion".

This ain't no social cause. Homelessness in a land of wealth is a national disgrace.

In San Francisco we learn the city has stopped counting the number of homeless people found dead on the streets every year. The average is at least one hundred dead. In just one city.

An estimated 37,000 homeless Americans die every year.


About 155 of them murdered, some as hate crimes, for fun or out of a desire to kill someone vulnerable.

More data here.

You won't see this on TV, but there is a National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day on December 21, 2011, to remember those victims of a system that just didn't care.

World Homeless Day this year was on October 10th. Remember that? All the news specials and coverage that got? Didn't think so.

Let's look at just a few things our guests had to say.

A FOUR CITY POLL ON THE RIGHTS OF THE HOMELESS

First of all, I ran a quick poll trying to compare the rights of the homeless in each city.

Here are the results:

Is it legal for a homeless person to sit on the sidewalk?

New York Yes, as long as not blocking traffic
San Francisco No, not between 7 a.m and 11 pm
Washington, D.C. Yes
Vancouver Yes

Is it legal for a homeless family to sleep in a public place?

New York Not in parks. Are found under bridges, in laundromats. etc
San Francisco No
Washington No
Vancouver Children would be apprehended (by social services)


Is there anywhere homeless people can legally pitch a tent to live in?

New York Not sure, but not likely. All parks have curfews.
San Francisco No
Washington No
Vancouver No

Is it legal to sleep in a car or camper in your city?

New York Yes. But finding legal parking a nightmare.
San Francisco No
Washington Camper Yes, Car No
Vancouver Probably, not sure.

Does your city have public washrooms accessible to the homeless?

New York Not asked.
San Francisco Some, very limited
Washington Yes, a few
Vancouver Very, very few

Do we know how many homeless citizens are found dead on the streets each winter?

New York Information not available
San Francisco Usually 100 or more
Washington 2 to 4 people
Vancouver At least 2 last year

Can a homeless person vote in elections?

New York Yes
San Francisco Yes
Washington Yes, but not convicted felons
Vancouver Yes, but registering difficult

On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the city police, if 10 is where officers protect the homeless, and 1 is the homeless are generally harassed and beaten by police. Your rating of the police?

New York 5
San Francisco 3 or 4
Washington 5
Vancouver 2 or 3

A FEW POINTS, CITY BY CITY

NEW YORK

The New York City Department of Homeless Services reports 8,000 school aged children have no home. The Federal government says it is more like 40,000 homeless kids.

The difference, Routhier says, comes from the way the homeless are counted. New York City only considers children actually in their shelters. The Feds look wider, at families doubled up, people who are moving around from one place to another, the couch-surfers, and so on.

Rocker Cindy Lauper has recently thrown the spotlight on the number of Lesbian, Gay, and Transgender youth on the streets of New York. Some of them were heartlessly kicked out by their parents, and now live in a risky environment. A special shelter for LGBT kids has been set up in NYC, but Routhier says they are a hard community to serve. Many kids stay out on the rough streets anyway.

Read more about the LGBT homeless problem here.

See also this article on State budget cuts and at-risk youth in New York.

And this video on homeless youth in New York City.

We'll find the same problem in San Francisco.

The New York Times reports one in five New Yorkers are living below the poverty line. Other news reports show the general welfare rate in New York City has fallen by 4 %, - but welfare numbers are skyrocketing in surrounding areas, like Long Island.

Read about the welfare surge around New York.


I wondered if NYC is exporting it's homeless to the suburbs, but Gisell Routhier doubts that is a major movement.

Read about the growing poverty in New York here.


The real place to look in New York City in my opinion is the wild growth of homeless school children there.

Gisell tells us that the homeless of New York have a special problem: their Mayor! Republican Mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg started turning down federal funding for supportive housing around 2005. That was free money that could have helped build more permanent homes for the city's poorest people.

Instead, Bloomberg has launched a number of City initiatives, which generally provide temporary housing, lasting up to two years. NYC is seeing a number of families homeless AGAIN after their two year limit is up. Bloomberg seems to be standing in the way of a longer term solution for these people, even though it would cost the city nothing.

Listen to the interview with Gisell Routhier. Her organization, the New York Coalition for the Homeless is one of the oldest such institutions in the country.
Again, here is their web site.

SAN FRANCISCO

I start off asking Jennifer Friedenbach, Executive Director of the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness - about the connections between Occupy San Francisco, and homelessness. It turns out more than a few of the protesters are homeless.

That is happening to Occupy movement sites around the country. Sometimes there is a conflict between lifestyles, whethere is is alcohol or drug use.

The bottom line: the rights of the lowest 1 percent of the population are becoming the rights of all.

So... laws written against the homeless in San Francisco are being used against OccupySF as well.

Not to mention the police-state style eviction of the Occupy Oakland camp! My God, the police assembled hundreds of officers from more than a dozen jurisdictions. They stormed in with full riot gear, into the peaceful campers. Many were arrested, with some injuries.


When the crowd used social media to re-assemble later that day, the police opened fire with not just stun grenades, not just multiple blasts of tear gas - but rubber bullets! One veteran was seriously injured, with a rubber bullet to the head. Find the video, and be amazed.

It turns out the homeless have become a political football in San Francisco elections. Conservatives drive up voters with the boogeyman of pan-handling (which hasn't really increased).

San Francisco voters just passed a law to make it illegal to sit or sleep on a sidewalk in daylight hours. Imagine, some old fellow with a heart problem dares to sit down - and beep, he gets a pricey ticket. Good revenue for the city. On second offence, he or she goes to jail!

We go over the civil rights abuses, and how the very banks and real estate interests that foreclosed on so many people (making some homeless) - backed and funded more laws against the homeless.

It's a revealing interview.

WASHINGTON

Washington, the District of Columbia, is really two cities. One part is pretty wealthy, with a lot of power. The other half is broke, really poor, often homeless.

It surprises no one to find that up to 95% of the homeless in D.C. are African Americans. Nothing racist mind you. Just the millionaires are mostly white, and the homeless mostly black.

Our guide Michael Ferrell, Executive Director of the District’s Coalition for the Homeless, says the number of homeless people in the Capital hasn't really gone up much. In fact, the number of homeless single people went down, due to Federal Stimulus money creating some housing.

In their place, the number of homeless families in D.C. has gone up.

We talk about emergency medical care for homeless people, and the hypothermia vans that try to keep the street people alive for another winter night.

VANCOUVER, CANADA

I had a short talk with with famous anti-poverty activist Jean Swanson of the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP), and author of the book "Poor Bashing: The Politics of Exclusion".

There is good news and bad news.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson announced this week that the number of homeless people on the streets of Vancouver (not the suburbs, just the city of Vancouver) has gone way down: from 800 last year, to just 145 this year.

That is good news, and it shows around the city, with fewer bodies under tarps behind the trash bins.

However, Jean Swanson points out part of the "success" is providing more shelter beds, under Robertson's administration. The number of homeless people in Vancouver has actually gone up, Swanson says, but more people are in shelters.

This year Vancouver also opened three new buildings, out of a planned 14, to provide affordable housing for it's poorest citizens. There has been a bit of a fight about who should get a home first. Should it be people coming out of drug treatment programs or jail? Or people directly on the street right now. But everybody agrees more housing is good.

Jean Swanson says that program is late, with many more to build, while people wait. Plus, the City of Vancouver is supposed to buy one new property a year in the Downtown East Side, and hasn't for three years.

Swanson's group is demanding the city buy 5 properties a year for the next five years at least.

Meanwhile, the number of former hotels available for the poor (called "SRO's for Single Room Occupancy) is going down rapidly, faster than the government can build new housing. It turns out the city is also encouraging developers to upgrade properties, which are then too expensive for local residents. Gentrification threates to kill off the culture of the Downtown East Side.

One more plus for Vancouver: unlike the United States, in Canada a person does not need to have children to get welfare, including a housing allowance. The helps reduce homelessness. Others get disability pensions.

We didn't talk about harm reduction in Vancouver, such as Insite - the legal place to shoot up heroin or other injection drugs, with a medically trained person available. This helps prevent deaths from overdose, or street-drug poisoning.


It all adds up to a slight improvement in street homelessness. But the sky-rocketting prices of real estate in Vancouver, added to it's relatively warm climate (for Canada) - means the number of people without a home will continue to grow.

The Provincial government, just announced they will not fund 160 beds that were available last year. Yes, it's always good to slash social support for the poorest people, when they need it most...

HATING THE MOBILE HOMELESS

I didn't have time to cover the hate affair local government have for people forced to sleep in their car, van, or old RV.

Mind you, I did ask whether sleeping in a car was legal in each of the four cities. See the results above.

But it's wild to see the last of the Middle Class demanding some of their former neighbors, foreclosed and now living in their vehicles - get out of town.

The California city of Santa Monica at least had the decency and sanity to arrange un-used parking lots for the mobile homeless overnight. You can park your whatever there, with a security guard around, but need the gas money to get out at 7 am.

Next door, Venice California is posting big signs prohibiting anyone from sleeping in a car or RV. Even across from empty lots where the economic crash prevented some new subdivision from going up.

Check out my tips for living in a car, in this Radio Ecoshock feature.

Here are some more great links to follow up on the story of homelessness in America.

HOMELESS IN AMERICA - Barbara Ehrenreich

Tent City - The Nation

CRIMINALIZATION OF THE HOMELESS IN VARIOUS US CITIES


more info at nationalhomeless.org

To find out what homeless living is like, check out this video. Every day, approximately 10,000 people in Minnesota will sleep outside or in temporary shelter. This video allows us a chance to see the world from their eyes. For more information, please visit www.voicesofthestreets.org

If the economic situation in Europe, and America, and China is as bad as I think it is, many of us will experience at least a period of homelessness in the next few years.

It can happen quickly - maybe from a flood, storm, electrical blackout, or social unrest.

People write about being evicted with no chance to get their belongings after a marital complaint. Check out this dude's complaint, and his tips for "How to Be Homeless"

Maybe in America, it's better to say you are addicted to hard drugs, even if you are not. That might help you get shelter, the writer says.

I know an old Greek man whose little food stall in a local mall failed. He was tired, alone, 66 years old, and just went home. Two months later the mall lawyers seized his paid-off home, and all his possessions. Bingo, homeless.

In the U.S., a medical emergency can do the same thing.

We all need to pay attention to the rights and care of the homeless. That may be the bottom line of the civil rights we can expect.

"A society is ultimately judged by how it treats its weakest and most vulnerable members."
Anonymous

Alex Smith
Radio Ecoshock
http://www.ecoshock.org
Now broadcast by 48 radio stations.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

From Occupied Territory


Happy Birthday humans! At the end of October 2011, the 7th billion person will be born on Earth. With over a billion humans already going to bed hungry every night, this may not be a blessed event.

Just twelve years after we hit the 6 billion mark in 1999, it's going to a be a lot harder to look after the new arrivals.

The extra billion people will find an unstable climate, declining energy and resources, and a host of other challenges.

To help us sort out what it means, and what can be done, we are joined by Robert Walker, Executive Vice President of the Population Institute in Washington. He's the author of a new report "From 6 Billion to 7 Billion: How Population Growth is Changing and Challenging Our World."

Read more (and find a link to download/listen to this interview as a separate 21 minute piece).

THE RENEWABLE ENERGY HANDBOOK - RADIO WORKSHOP

The dream and the need for renewable energy just keeps getting stronger.

You want to help avoid drastic climate change. You want to be independent, even if the system goes down.

Perhaps you want to live outside the gird, in a home or camper. Maybe you just want to save money, as electricity and fuel prices keep rising.

Everybody talks about it. But how can we really do it?

In this program, We get a fast work-shop of ideas and techniques. My guest has the best how-to guide on the market. It's called "The Renewable Energy Handbook", written by William H. Kemp, and published by Aztext Press.

Listen to/download the Bill Kemp interview separately here (35 minutes).

Here are three other resources you might find handy related to this subject:

Lo-Tech magazine (useful online blog)

No-Tech magazine (check it out)

And this edition of a bright new podcast called "The Extra Environmentalist". Here is their web site, but right now I'm recommending Podcast Episode 21 "When Technology Fails". It's a useful interview with engineer and author Mat Stein about his first book "When Technology Fails" - a huge Bible of alternative ways of doing things without high tech. Anybody expecting collapse may want to get that book.

I found it poignant that Stein is under financial stress himself, after getting ripped off by the publisher, and then finding himself in foreclosure (along with a million or more other Americans).

Stein is bringing out a new one "When Disaster Strikes". Really. Listen to this podcast.

In Spring 2011 we talked with Aztext publisher Cam Mather, about his adventures living off-grid in Ontario, Canada. We shared a lot, since I also lived on a homestead without electricity for 10 years. And I've lived for months on solar power.

(Download or listen to that June program "Your Renewable Energy Path Now" here.)

In the new radio interview, we learn about the home built by Bill Kemp and his wife with the aim of energy self-sufficiency. As a person with technical training and experience, Kemp has spent the past 20 years experimenting with living with renewables.

First, the Kemps are not living without electricity! They have most of the usual kitchen and home appliances. But they chose those appliances carefully, checking labels to find ones using the least electric load. Bill Kemp stresses this point: if you hope to use renewable energy, step one is to greatly reduce your energy demands. The extra power wasted costs a lot of money.

Kemp has both a wind generator, and 2700 watts of installed solar power. The solar panels are mounted on "trackers" that aim the solar most directly at the available sun, moving throughout the day and seasons.

The hundred foot wind tower also doubles as an antenna location for local cell service (which provides a small extra income).

TELEPHONE CONNECTIONS WITH NO LINES

I was surprised to find out our whole telephone interview was happening with no wires. Kemp describes a system where he has wireless amplifiers that make remote telephone service work with no connection to any telephone lines.

The other big challenge for people going off-grid, especially in rural locations, is to avoid propane. After all, propane is another fossil fuel, and it keeps costing more money all the time.

SAVING ON YOUR HOT WATER HEATER

Both Cam Mather and Bill Kemp say a solar hot water heater may be the place to start, rather than solar panels, as a first step. Water heaters can account for up to 30% of your energy bill. Most new homes in Mexico have solar hot water tanks visible on their roof tops.

There are various types of solar hot water heat, one which even works in the winter (without freezing). But in places like Canada, there will not be enough Sun from November to February to provide all the heat needed.

One answer is to get hot water heat from a copper pipe wrapped around a wood-stove chimney pipe. Or those people with wind power (which is often strong in the winter) can use an electric hot water heater.

Kemp advises saving energy by installing a timer switch on your hot water heater (wherever you live). Run it during the night time, especially in places which offer a lower off-peak rate, get the hot water showers in the morning, and then turn off the heat. A well-insulated hot water tank will hold it's heat through the day. You can add common insulation wrapped around any hot water tank, to save money on your bill.

UNPLUG THE PHANTOM LOAD

Kemp devotes a whole segment of his Renewable Energy Handbook to getting rid of the "phantom load". This is the constant use of electricity by all sorts of appliances and accessories, even when you aren't using them at all.

The television/DVD player complex is a famous case. They are never really off, and draw significant power even in "sleep mode". That is easy to solve: put all such devices on a power bar, and turn off the power bar. Electric use stops. Europe has already legislated that all TV's etc sold there must have a true OFF function, without drawing phantom power. North America has hardly heard about this energy waste.

Even the common door-bell is a prime example of wasted energy. It uses power 24 hours a day, seven days a week, just waiting for the few seconds someone might push it. Use a door-knocker.

Then we have all the "wall warts" as Kemp calls them. The black charger boxes for the IPOD, Cell phone, maybe even a small handi-Vac. These are still using electricity if plugged into the wall. Unplug them, or use a power bar to turn them off.

Kemp estimates that phantom power accounts for the production of about 3 or 4 extra coal-burning power plants in North America alone.

BATTERIES, KETTLES, YOU NAME IT

We talk about batteries, and using solar power at your cottage or in a Recreational vehicle. I slightly disagree with Bill's claim that cheap ($150) deep cycle batteries (sometimes called "marine batteries") will only last 5 years. Mine last ten years. That may result from the fact my solar panel is always keeping their charge up. Other people let their RV batteries go flat over the winter, and the helps kill them.

Kemp says the new commercial-grade batteries for off-grid homes (which cost hundreds of dollars) will last 20 to 25 years. This is great news. Good-quality solar panels are also guaranteed for 25 years (and really do last that long). That means you can guarantee your own source of power, no matter what happens with peak oil, or
skyrocketting utility bills, for 25 years. That's peace of mind.

For RV use, I recommend batteries that DO NOT have lids that open to access the cells. I like closed top batteries, because they don't slop during travel. Look closely, and you will find metal parts near batteries are the first part to rust out in older campers. Remember, batteries need to be vented. You cannot ever keep a battery inside your home or vehicle (unless the battery is enclosed in an air-tight container, and vented to the outside).

One other quibble with Bill: he tells us to use a counter-top kettle to boil water. They use half the energy of a standard electric stove. Agreed, BUT don't use a plastic kettle! I've talked to two toxicologists who both say the plastic kettle is a major source of plasticizers (like gender-benders and carcinogenic materials) into the tea or coffee you drink. Find a (more expensive) kettle with a stainless steel interior, to protect your health.

That is why in the interview I recommended my method to cut electric power in half for making tea or coffee: use a thermos. You can make two or more cups of your favorite brew, with just one kettle boiling session. A decent thermos keeps the drink hot up to 8 hours. The thermos also makes a better cup of tea, since it works better than a tea cozy to keep the water hot enough when "steeping".

HIGH-FIVE FOR THIS BOOK - I'M KEEPING MY COPY TO USE IT

The Renewable Energy Handbook is simply the best book on the subject I have ever seen. It's almost like the "Whole Earth Catalog" style, in the sense that it's loaded with useful charts, comparisons, bullet-point info, real hands-on tech, illustrations. So many books these days don't take the time to be a real manual. This one does, on a whole lot of subjects. There is even a bit on generators, and a whole chapter on home-made biofuels.

There is lots more in this extended Radio Ecoshock interview. I hope it will inspire you to get going in renewable energy - not waiting for a big utility - but doing it yourself.

Alex Smith
Radio Ecoshock
http://www.ecoshock.org

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Robert Walker: From 6 to 7 Billiion

Happy Birthday humans! At the end of October 2011, the 7th billion person will be born on Earth. With over a billion humans already going to bed hungry every night, this may not be a blessed event.

Just twelve years after we hit the 6 billion mark in 1999, it's going to a be a lot harder to look after the new arrivals. The extra billion people will find an unstable climate, declining energy and resources, and a host of other challenges.

To help us sort out what it means, and what can be done, we are joined by Robert Walker, Executive Vice President of the Population Institute in Washington. He's the author of a new report "From 6 Billion to 7 Billion: How Population Growth is Changing and Challenging Our World."


Robert Walker has been on every major television network - yet I get the feeling the average Western citizen thinks population growth is just a problem on the other side of the world.

Are we bored with the population challenge? Why should we care?

Aside from report chapters on solutions, some of the most interesting pages in this report compare the global prospects in 1999 - the six billion person world - with the outlook in 2011.

We start with something at the top of most people's minds these days - the economy. The American economy looked great in 1999. Real estate expanded as banks were able to unload mortgages, resold as securities to other banks and investors all over the world. It was the beginning of the great Ponzi scheme which collapsed in 2008.

The Glass-Steagall Act, which limited such transactions between a bank holding company and security dealing was repealed in November 1999.

From the Radio Ecoshock interview, Robert Walker:

"Oil prices shot from $10 a barrel in 1999 to an average of over $100 a barrel today.

The prices of grains, and other essential food stuffs, have more than doubled. Hunger and severe poverty have a substantial come-back.

The fight against climate change has been nearly abandoned.

The global economy has been battered by two Recessions since 1999.

... Water scarcity and resource limitations have grown more acute. And the transition to a Green economy has not been swift as many people hoped.

So we are facing a much different world today, including the economy, but not limited to the economy."

Alex Smith: "In 1999, Peak Oil was something for a few pundits relegated to the fringe. Now the International Energy Agency and the military say we've passed the Peak. Our civilization is based on cheap fossil fuels, so how are we going to support an extra billion people?"

Robert Walker: "That's the critical question. If we are having trouble today feeding 7 billion people - and as you indicated earlier, there are about 1 billion people on the planet today who go to bed hungry at night. And there is plenty of reason to believe it's going to get more difficult, not easier."

Walker goes on to discuss the threat of climate change, loss of topsoil, water tables being pumped out, and more.

For example, food production in developing countries will have to double, to meet the expected population of 8 billion as early as 2023.

Meanwhile, the cost of basics, like bread, have doubled for the world's poorest people. Fifty to nintey percent of their income is spent on food for the day.

Walker also points out that just like Climate deniers, there are population deniers. Perhaps those who saw world population go from 1 and a half billion in 1900 to 6 billion by 1999 think this expansion can just go on forever.

Some believe a technical fix will save the planet from population overload. Walker says we have now reached the limits of growth.

The report "From 6 Billion to 7 Billion" finds the only solution is to empower women to make choices about family size. That means education for women, and less male dominance about birth control.

It also helps to delay marriage age. Some girls in the fastest growing population, in places like Yemen, are married off at age ten. They may start having babies at age 12 or 13, when they are not really biologically prepared. Large families result, even though neither the local economy nor the regional environment can support more people.

Where women stay in school instead, and marry later, the population levels off, or even goes down a bit.

When asked about the Obama administration response, Walker said significant improvements were made in funding for family planning in the first two years, but now the new Republican dominated Congress wants to cut such aid.

Even in the United States, there are politicians demanding that all funding for family planning be slashed. Walker warns that will bring the population problem to the United States in a big way, in the years to come.

Walker: "And that would have catastrophic impacts. Both at the personal level for women, but also at the global level for world resources and the environment."

Unbelievable but true: Walker's research for the Population Institute found real family planning could be implemented world-wide for only $3.5 billion a year. That is practically the charge-card limit for some of the world's billionaires. It is a tiny amount in the trillion dollars spent by the United States every year, not to mention Germany or China.

This is Radio Ecoshock. I'm Alex Smith. In my opinion, it's way past time for solutions. Everybody who cares about the economy, climate change, energy, and just plain human decency, needs to learn the basics of how to stop the next billion people from arriving.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bastards of a Dying World



Welcome to another packed show from Radio Ecoshock!

This week we cover:

* behind-the-scenes panic over reports of methane blowing out of the sea-bed in the Eastern Arctic. This could dramatically increase global warming.

* activist resistance against a wave of gas frackin in Australia - with a new album of great songs

* a feature interview (you heard it here first) with Craig Rosebraugh on his new film about the oil giants: "Greedy Lying Bastards"

* second feature interview with Peter F. Sale. He's the coral expert (20% of coral dead in last two decades) who looks at the "Holocene Mass Extinction Event" (going on right now)

To start you off, here are some links for this program (with more in the articles below)

"Whole Lotta Frackin Going On" album. Some green music sucks. These songs shine. Check them out, listen for free, download cheap, help the cause.

Albums from world music master Ariel Kalma, now living in Australia. He was a pioneer in ambient music, nature sounds, and trance. Now showcasing artists from around the world, especially India and Afria.

Film trailer for "Dirty Lying Bastards"

Book site for "Our Dying Planet" by Peter F. Sale

=====================

RUSHED EXPEDITION FINDS "METHANE TORCHES" IN THE ARCTIC

The research ship RV Polarstern has returned to Bremerhaven, Germany with it's crew of scientists from six countries. They travelled almost 12,000 nautical miles on the 26th Arctic expedition, measuring ice in the polar seas.

The verdict: Arctic sea ice is young and very thin. For centuries, the polar seas have been covered by a thick layer of ice built up over many years. America designed a nuclear submarine capable of breaching up through thick tough ice. Now it's weak, with much less mass - the first step toward losing the Arctic Ice cap due to global warming.

The Greenpeace ice-breaker "Arctic Sunrise" is just now returning to Amsterdam, after a two month expedition with scientists from Cambridge studying ice thickness.
The news is alarming, as the Earth's new dark seascape in the Summer Arctic will pump more heat into the oceans, and add to long-term climate change. Scientist Wieslaw Maslowski's team predict the Arctic Ice cap could disappear in Summer as early as 2016.

There is worse - and you won't hear this in the mainstream media at all.

Behind the scenes, officials and scientists in various governments went into panic mode this September. The problem: a big increase in methane gas has been discovered in the Eastern Arctic.

If frozen methane gas under the sea, technically called "clathrates", melt in quantity, we are on the road to a dramatic climate shift beyond imagination.

It happened before, around 56 million years ago. In less than a hundred years the temperature of the Arctic seas rose several degrees, reaching almost 90 degrees Fahrenheit, or 30 Centigrade.

Here is what we know. On September 2nd, the Russian news service RIA Novosti announced, quote:

"A group of Russian and U.S. scientists will leave the port of Vladivostok on Friday on board a Russian research ship to study methane emissions in the eastern part of the Arctic.

'This expedition was organized on a short notice by the Russian Fund of Fundamental Research and the U.S. National Science Foundation following the discovery of a dramatic

increase in the leakage of methane gas from the seabed in the eastern part of the Arctic,' said Professor Igor Semiletov, the head of the expedition.

The group consists of 27 scientists who would attempt to measure the scale of methane emissions and clarify the nature of the process.

The 45-day expedition will focus on the sea shelf of the Laptev Sea, the East Siberian Sea and the Russian part of the Chukotsk Sea, where 90% of underwater permafrost is located.

'We assume that the leakage of methane results from the degradation of underwater permafrost...A massive release of such a powerful greenhouse gas may accelerate global warming,' Semiletov said."

End quote from the Russian press, September 2nd.

Methane is generally said to be 20 times more powerful than CO2 when it comes to trapping solar heat. That is really just an average, because when it first emerges, methane can be as much as 75 times more powerful. It degrades more quickly than C02, becoming less potent in 10 years. But methane degrades into CO2, continuing the greenhouse gases for up to 100,000 years, according to Dr. David Archer.

So what did this hurry-up research find?

We go with a report September 29th from the Russian news agency Itar-Tass: "Heavy methane emissions found in Arctic Eastern sector."

In the northern sector of the Laptev and Bering seas, the Chief of the expedition, Igor Semiletov reported by phone that "methane torches" (his words) are coming from the ocean sea bed into the atmosphere. Also on board were scientists from Alaska Fairbanks Scientific Research Center and Georgia University.

I can only conclude that as the Arctic sea ice melts back every summer, and seas warm, methane from either deep in the ground, or from clathrates on the shallower sea beds, are starting to melt. The Russians, and scientists from the National Oceanography Center in the UK, has found methane is leaking up from fissures deep inside the Earth. So we have both frozen methane on shallow sea beds, and geological methane, coming up.

Read more.

That the Americans and Russians sent a ship into the Arctic on such short notice tells you how serious it is. Keep in mind, there is no over-all way to monitor methane emissions from the Arctic, although scientists do monitor global average methane content in the atmosphere. According to my limited research, the amounts coming out of the Arctic so far are smaller than emissions from rice paddies.

We haven't seen anything like a giant increase in methane globally yet. But we are seeing the start of a methane source that could, if it grows, easily tip the planet into a new greenhouse world. Keep your eye on the Arctic methane news.

=================

FRACKIN GAS - WE MUST POISON THE EARTH MILES BELOW US!

We open the show with "Act Locally Think Globally" by MC Shea Jasmine and the Awesomes. It's from a whole album of 14 anti-fracking songs called Whole Lotta Frackin' Going On.

That's right. We humans aren't satisfied polluting the atmosphere with toxic guck, radioactive particles and greenhouse gases. Nope. Not finished with spreading all our poisons over the surface of every continent.

We just can't rest until we manage to take the most toxic chemical crap we've got, and injecting it at least a mile underground. All to get some more carbon trapping gases to burn out the climate. It's the last frontier, the deep underground, and we'll poison the last fresh water and blow out the coal seams if we can.

The frackers are hitting Australia right now. Their drilling rigs will set up, blow up the deep, and then move on endlessly, till there's nothing left.

Get ready in Britain for more of the same, now that the North Sea gas field production is 25 percent down. They'll tell you it's "green" - much cleaner than coal! Green all the way down to a wrecked planet with more fossil fuels.

Just wait for the Marcellus gas frackin field in New York State to leak into the watershed for millions of people. Oooops. The roving drill companies will fold into their corporate shells and evaporate, leaving the groundwater poisoned for centuries.

Here are the details on the new album, from singer/activist Laura-Doe:

"Australian musicians create CD to warn of dangers of coal seam gas mining

They may not have big advertising budgets like the mining companies, but a group of Australian musicians opposed to coal seam gas (CSG) mining are using the power of song to spread their message.

‘Whole Lotta Frackin’ Going On', (www.wholelottafrackingoingon.com) is a compilation album featuring 14 songs, in a range of genres, from musicians keen to alert Australians about the dangers of ‘fracking’—a process used in CSG extractions where water and chemicals are injected into the rock bed.

The CD is the brainchild of singer/comedienne, educator and women's sexual health activist Laura-Doe. Laura-Doe said she was inspired to write a song, 'Lock The Gate', after seeing the documentary ‘Gasland’ about Coal Seam Gas mining using hydraulic fracturing in the USA.

'There are hundreds of documented cases of water contamination from CSG mining in the USA,” Laura-Doe said. “The fracking process has not been adequately tested with none of the chemicals used assessed by Australia's industrial chemicals regulator'.

'As big budget advertising is not an option for the people being affected by CSG we wanted to use the power of music to get our side of the story across.'

Laura-Doe said she and her producer, Anando Bharti, put a call out for songs via Facebook and email, and through the campaign groups B.S.A.N.E. (Byron Saving Australia's Natural Environment) and Lock the Gate Alliance.

Most submissions came from artists in the Northern Rivers area of New South Wales—next on the mining companies’ exploration agenda in Australia.

'Within two weeks we had over 20 songs submitted. I think this says something about the depth of feeling on the topic amongst the people we reached.'

'Each song on the album conveys a different artist's perspective on the issues involved and they all provide information in an accessible way.'

All songs on the album were donated by the artists for use in this project and the CD was mastered voluntarily by Byron Bay engineer Paul Gomersall. Mullumbimby-based online distributor Music-Mosaic.com have sponsored placing the songs on iTunes and other music sites. Pressing of the CD was funded by the owners of the Crystal Castle at Mullumbimby and online women's web magazine www.yOni.com.

The CD will be offered at cost as a funds and awareness raiser to environmental groups opposing CSG mining.

You can hear and purchase tracks online at www.wholelottafrackingoingon.com and also on iTunes. "
- report from Laura-Doe.
==================

BIG OIL: GREEDY LYING BASTARDS

Soon or later, we see the black dragon behind our oil addiction. These are the megacorporations who span the world. They have private armies of security men, and the biggest military in the world behind them. They own politicians, private jets, and maybe a few countries.

But the most potent weapon in the arsenal of Big Oil is the river of money available for public relations. Advertising soothes us, movie placements make us want more, the oil industry is the subtle pusher, who keeps us addicted, keeps us coming back to the pumps, keeps us buying plastic products, and oil-based foods.

If only someone could tell it like it is.

That would be Craig Rosebraugh. Don't be fooled by the technical sounding name of his upcoming film. "Greedy Lying Bastards" is no puff piece for the industry.

Craig Rosebraugh - film maker, academic, writer, and activist. Craig is highly educated, Masters and has Law Degree. The Co-writer is Patrick Gambuti Jr.

He is the film-maker, director, and occasional actor in the new film "Greedy Lying Bastards" to be released in 2012. A rough cut has just been submitted to the Sun Dance film festival.

This is a no-holds barred film about "the power and dominance of the fossil fuel industry." The project started two and a half years ago, going to 14 countries on 5 continents. It covers the poisonous results of spills, corruption, and climate change caused by oil burning.

Some of the locations are Tuvalu (which will disappear as a country due to rising seas), to Uganda (now plagued by droughts and floods), and Peru (where melting glaciers threaten the only water supply for millions). There is also the Niger Delta, where children swim in the goo from oil pollution, and a prominant activist was murdered.

Craig covers a lot of the damage from the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster.

He finds people who cannot get medical care because Gulf doctors are so dependent on oil company business. Many businesses were wrecked. A group of four Florida tourists became sick swimming in oil and chemical dispersants. One died. A lot of Gulf coverage.

We hear about BP claims processing problems, after the big PR campaign by BP. Initial payouts of $5000 per person. Interim payments have been the problem, as losses continued. Only 16% of interim claims have been paid out so far.

Case: Steven Aguanaga, went to Fla Gulf Coast at beachfront hotel in summer of 2010. No sign of contamination. Hotel told them beach was safe, went swimming one afternoon - came back covered with an orange goo. All four in party felt ill. Steven's friend went back in, felt sick, Merrick Valian died within three weeks. Aguanaga continues to have symptoms of chemical exposure.

Case: Mississipi Shirley Tillman and husband very ill after a direct hit of dispersant, out on a boat helping to clean up the oil. Although they protected their grandson Gavin, no beaches for him, no water contact, but got sicker than rest of family. Got it likely from the air.

Case: Clayton Mathern, Louisiana. Clayton out on water half a mile from the rig when it exploded, on a supply ship. In addition to smoke from burning rig, Clayton was covered in dispersant sprayed from the air. Hospitalized several times. During Craig's interview, he was rushed to the hospital. Diagnosed with paralysis in one of his legs.

Few doctors will treat this toxicity. Some doctors turned away patients when BP chemicals were found to be the source of the problem. Doctors themselves are dependent on the industry and it's suppliers. They also fear the litigation, with the huge legal budget BP has.

BP is not paying the medical costs of ongoing toxic health problems. The company made an announcement in November 2010 that they would not pay for medical treatments
resulting from the spill. They didn't want to acknowledge there was a problem.

The only option left is to try and sue BP - but these are lower income and poor people with no money for lawyers.

Craig interviews people like Ban Ki Moon, UN Secretary General; Henry Waxman Congressman from California; former EPA Administrator Christine Todd Witman; top scientists from all over the world; and individuals impacted from communities around the world.

He also includes some statements by climate change sceptics.

What emerges is the cost of our deep addiction to fossil fuels and a hope to inspire people to change.

TESTING POLLUTED SEA FOOD

Film makers did their own tests about safety of seafood. They tested shrimp, sand and water. Shrimp was 10 times higher than levels set by Fed Government and BP after the spill.

Oil pollution in Gulf shrimp was found ten times higher than allowed by the EPA. But it is still sold nationally.

At time of Exxon Valdez spill safe level was set at 11 parts per billion in seafood. Then gov't and BP raised "safety" level 45,000 times higher to 500 parts per million, after the BP Deep Water Horizon spill.

Sea food buyers are relying only on smell tests(!) done by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Scientists used their noses to smell levels of hydrocarbons in fish.

"Gulf seafood is still contaminated and ending up in our U.S. food supply." -Craig Rosebraugh said.

CLIMATE CHANGE

Why so many sceptics shown in the film? So many pseudo debates on whether climate change is happening, despite majority of Academies say argument is over.

The fossil fuel industry is the force behind deniers, buying deniers, media, and scientists. They want to create confusion and doubt.

Deniers are buried by their own voices. "Greedy Lying Bastards" covers the industry's PR campaign. Two of worst are ExxonMobil and Koch Industries. In last decade each spent nearly 25 million dollars just funding climate denial campaigns.

HOW CAN WE CHANGE

Forming a new economy. Even the energy companies could convert and make money, but don't. Big oil companies have showcase projects to use in advertisments, but don't plow the investments into making it real. This film shows their investments in renewables are miniscule compared to what they spend on finding and developing more oil.

@greedylyingbast is Twitter url The film is also on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greedylyingbastards

The oil industry will not/can not regulate itself. Profits are too big a draw. The industry needs an outside government agency. Will Congress do anything?

Plus: we must change ourselves.

=====================

OUR DYING WORLD WITH PETER F. SALE

Here on Radio Ecoshock, you've heard speakers like Dr. Daniel Pauly lament that humans are stripping the oceans bare of species. Blog entry on Pauly here.

His 47 minute speech (45 MB) on the death of the oceans here.

I've played you a clip of Dr. Wes Jackson, on the possibility of a mass extinction event in the seas. And paleoclimatologist Peter Ward told us up to 90% of ocean life was killed, in a big extinction event many millions of years ago.

I took all this in mind, when I got a new book from Peter F. Sale. He works with the United Nations University, and he is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Windsor, Ontario.

The title of his new book through me off at first. It's called "Our Dying Planet, An ecologist's view of the crisis we face." Sometimes I'm called extreme - why would he say the planet is "Dying"?

I'd say Sale was were exagerating, but a new study published in the journal Nature found 75 percent of all mammal species are at risk of extinction within 300 years...

Nature: climate change leads to 67-84 percent intraspecific biodiversity loss by 2080 – Holocene Mass Extinction within this century

"... A Nature study earlier this year has looked at marine and terrestrial biodiversity threats combined – and found for instance 75 percent of all mammal species to be at risk of extinction within 300 years, and defined such a massive loss of biodiversity as establishing the Earth’s sixth mass extinction event.

That would mean the combined effort of a couple of billion human beings, relentlessly producing and consuming over a couple of centuries time, would somehow have very creatively managed to outweigh the impact of the PETM methane clathrate bomb."

And check out this item: "Climate change will lead to far more extinctions than previously thought..."


We start out the interview with Peter Sale's 40 years in studying coral reefs - how they live, and how they die. I found his description of what coral is, how it works, really kept me going.

We discuss the wonders of coral. Did you know even the sand around coral reefs is biotic, created by the coral?

About 25% of all marine species inhabit coral reefs at some part of their lives. Not all would go extinct without coral, but a lot would.

Since the first major reported mass coral bleaching event in 1983, there have been waves of coral deaths. Sale estimates about 20% of all coral living in the 1970's is now dead.

The main cause is "coral bleaching". This is directly connected to climate change, and heating of the oceans. When there is a hot spell, generally during an El Nino event, global warming adds just enough more to make the corals eject the algae which they use to live. These algae give the coral reefs their color. So the dead reefs are white, instead of a rainbow of bright colors.

Like many species (and crops) coral is already at the top of it's temperature tolerance. Just a little more warming, and we'll lose them all. That will have profound effects, because the coral reefs hold more different types of species (phyla) than even the rainforest. The rainforests have more species overall, because they have so many varied insects. But coral reefs have more different KINDS of animals.

Sale tells us coral reefs also protect the mainland from storms, which will be more important as the seas rise. And they provide billions of dollars of tourist revenues to Australia, the Caribbean, and elsewhere. About 50% of all Gross Domestic Product in the Caribbean is derived from the sea coast. Even if tourists don't visit coral reefs, they lie on beaches created and maintained by coral.

The reasons for coral decline are complex. It is more than raw temperature. Ships break up coral with their anchors. Overfishing deprives the reefs of many key species need to maintain that ecosystem. Peter Sale worries that the environment movement will concentrate on small parts of the puzzle, rather than being able to see the big picture complexity.

Humans are also not very good at understanding exponential change. Listen to the interview for his explanation of why that matters.

Finally, Peter Sale concludes both the book and the interview with his four projections of where this disintegrating ecosystem and economy could go:

1. Belvedere world (the rich countries withdraw into fortresses, and then the rich within those countries go into armed communities, while extinctions continue, and a Mad Max society is left for the rest of us) This is seen as most likely to Sale, the way we are going.

2. Woodstock world (almost hippie-like, humans withdraw into simpler old technology, with less complexity)

3. The third possible future is called "Technopolis". Technology will save us, we withdraw from Nature into a separate tech world. Unlikely says Sale, but some engineers and scientists actually believe this is possible.

4. "New Atlantis" - Sale's vision of how a sustainable but still civilized world might continue. This option is very hard, perhaps unlikely, but a worthwhile goal.

I haven't done justice to the depth of any of these four projections. Get more from our interview, and the longer descriptions in the book "Our Dying Planet".

I thought the book could have been laid out better, with more charts and illustrations. In places Sale tries to approach people unfamiliar with ecology, so Ecoshock listeners might skip those. But there are strong points in the book, and the work on coral shines.

You should get a lot out of the interview, where we took our time to go into depth.

That's it for this week.

Alex Smith
Radio Ecoshock
http://www.ecoshock.org

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

SUDDEN & ABRUPT CHANGE



It's a fine time for bad news bears. World floods continue, this time in Asia. The Arctic has an ozone hole. Oh yeah, the global financial system is on the edge of bankruptcy.

The economic system and the ecosphere are at risk of massive and abrupt change.

From the popular financial blog "The Automatic Earth" writer "Ilagi" on the European banking mess, and blowback to America.

Boston Globe journalist Dianne Dumanowski reads from book "The End of the Long Summer" (our former stable climate).

Two part interview of Alder Stone Fuller on the risk of abrupt and violent climate change. It's not just James Lovelock. Dozens of major scientists warn heating could rise up to 8 degrees C. in a decade, with extreme weather all through. It has happened before. Time to "shock-proof" our basic system.

Radio Ecoshock 111005 1 hour.

Credits:
Economy news mashup courtesy KaputtRadio Some background music by Vastmandana at soundclick.com

--------------

All eyes and ears are on the rumblings of a financial crash in the European banking system. Our correspondent from "The Automatic Earth" (one of the top 3 finance blogs) reports from Europe.

Ilargi says Greece is a distraction from the bankruptcy of American banks and governments. He also says more debt cannot solve too much debt. The Ponzi scheme (which holds our pensions and savings as well) has to end somewhere.

With a nod to OccupyWallSt.

Greens need to pay attention, Ilargi says, because any money needed for things like solar conversion, mass transit, new energy grid, are being tossed away right now to the black holes of banking and derivative debt. We will leave our children no options. They may fight for bare survival, eating up the last of the Earth.

Whatever happens financially, our second guest, Alder Stone Fuller, says massive climate change can no longer be avoided.

The IPCC shows slow steady growth of heat and rising seas. Alder Stone says reality is nothing like that. We will go through a long period of extreme weather, and possibly a sudden jump of more than 8 degrees in a decade.

Listeners and readers, I want you to know the idea of rapid climate change is not fringe science. On January 2010, I interviewed Dr. Michael MacCracken, one of America's leading scientists. He was a principle author of a collection of papers called "Sudden and Disruptive Climate Change".

Earlier, in December 2007, I interviewed a specialist in ancient plant life, Dr. Bob Spicer of Open University in the UK. He described previous greenhouse worlds for us. We know the world climate can change to very different states.


Such wild swings in climate have happened many times in Earth's past. We can find them in the geological record. The last 10,000 years were abnormally stable.

Alder Stone taught advanced climate theory in his own academy in Eugene Oregon, and has now moved to New England. He's doing roving workshops, and setting up an online course, to learn about "Type II" climate shift, and Gaia theory.

The Intergovenmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC has given us loads of graphs showing a gradual rise of heating and sea level. That is "Type I" climate change. In this program, you hear what experts fear, and the media never talks about, "Type II" climate shifts.

After giving us the bad news, Alder Stone Fuller talks about coping skills, and the need to keep going as survivors. In addition to "The End of the Long Summer" by Dianne Dumanowski, Alder strongly recommends we read two more books:

1. "With Speed and Violence" by UK journalist Fred Pearce, and
2. "Deep Survival" by Lawrence Gonzalez (and his sequel "Everyday Survival")

The survival books look at humans who have lived through incredible problems, accidents and challenges - to find the traits that helped them survive when others don't. "Everyday Survival" goes further, describing ways we might all need as the economy, climate and other problems go out of control.

Fred Pearce, who has also been a guest on Radio Ecoshock, interviewed dozens of top scientists on the possibility of an abrupt climate shift. Everybody should know this, especially government planners. But they won't read it, unless you do, and tell them to get with the real program.

If a sudden shift of climate is possible, we must learn "adaptability" skills, and shock-proof our basic systems (water, food) as Dianne Dumanoski wrote in her book "The End of the Long Summer". Dianne was a journalist for the Boston Globe for several decades. She reads several short passages, just for this program.

You must hear the audio interviews in this Radio Ecoshock show, to get the big picture.

Alex Smith
Radio Ecoshock