Monday, December 03, 2012

Climate: On the Road to Extinction?

Are we on the road to climate extinction? Dr. Guy McPherson lays out the case in this speech at Bluegrass Bioneers in Kentucky. Then the World Bank says "Turn Down the Heat". Daphne Wysham on their coal addiction, and Olivia Maria Serdeczny from the Potsdam Institute in Germany, authors of the report for the Bank. Is collapse our best way out of a Hellish future? Radio Ecoshock 121205

Download or listen to the Radio Ecoshock show for this week (1 hour) in CD Quality (56 MB)

Or try the faster downloading, lower quality Lo-Fi version (14 MB)

Guy McPherson talk at Bluegrass Bioneers (edited for radio, 29 minutes) in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Radio Ecoshock interview with Olivia Maria Serdeczny of the Potsdam Institute (18 min) in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


This week on Radio Ecoshock, more revelations of coming climate disasters, as the fossil fuel bubble expands.

Even the World Bank, which funded plenty of big coal plants, admits we are headed for a world 4 degrees Celsius, or 7.2 degrees Faherenheit hotter. We'll talk with Olivia Maria Serdeczny from the Potsdam Institute in Germany, authors of the report for the Bank.

But first, I'm going to toss you into the deep end. If our recent broadcast of Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Institute shocked you, Dr. Guy McPherson will blow you away. I'm not so sure our industrial system will collapse anytime soon, but I fact-checked everything McPherson said about escalating climate change. He's got it right. You need to hear this.

At the Bluegrass Bioneers conference in Louisville Kentucky November 2nd 2012, Guy gives us the no-holds barred assessment of what we we've been told, and what we haven't, about the developing wreck of Earth's climate. His "good news" sounds pretty bad, but it's better than extinction. I hold my notes and comments to the end of the speech.


Dr. Guy McPherson

His web site is

His book is "Walking Away From Empire".

I did a full Radio Ecoshock interview with Guy last June. Our June 19, 2012 show with Guy is titled: "Still Walking Away from Empire". Read that show blog with links here.

I didn't want to run Guy McPherson's speech just to titilate our taste for disaster porn. I fact-checked pretty well every statement McPherson made. My pages of notes have been condensed into an entry for the Radio Ecoshock blog at You can chase the links for yourself, and verify what Guy is saying.


I know there are a lot of communicators listen to Radio Ecoshock. I've had email from dozens of print journalists, bloggers, radio hosts, TV producers, film-makers and general social media trouble-makers. So go ahead, dive into those McPherson notes - there are a half dozen big stories in there. Anyone can get an education following up on the reports and sources McPherson gives us in this talk.


Guy referenced a scientific paper in the prestigious journal "Climatic Change" by Dr. Timothy Garrett from the University of Utah. The title is "On the coupled evolution of inflation, wealth, and atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide."

Dr. Timothy Garrett


Garrett interview, from November 19, 2011 Radio Ecoshock show, 24 minutes.

Watch a You tube video version of one Garrett interview here (prepared by Khalid Hassan of Outfield Productions in Pakistan).

In a Radio Ecoshock interview on November 19th, 2010 - Professor Garrett says his research showed only a big economic collapse could save us from the worst of climate change. Here is a transcript from that interview:

"Alex: This is Radio Ecoshock. I'm Alex Smith with Dr. Timothy Garrett, an atmospheric scientist, from the University of Utah.

I'd like to get to the conclusions of your new paper. Based on our past records of energy use and wealth, what does your model show as possible futures?

Garrett: Well, in fact, this was actually stimulated by our past conversation. In my first study, I showed that carbon dioxide emissions and wealth were intrinsically coupled. Without actually decarbonizing the economy by switching to renewables, or nuclear power, at an extraordinarily fast rate, you cannot have wealth without having carbon dioxide emissions. The two go together.

And in fact, since 1970, the relationship between the two has been very, very tightly fixed. Now, that would seem to have implications for the future. Because carbon dioxide emissions accumulate in the atmosphere.

As carbon dioxide emissions accumulate in the atmosphere, some fraction goes into what we call "sinks" in the oceans and the land, but about half of what we emit accumulates in the atmosphere. That is going to create an ever increasing pressure on civilization.

By eating away at civilization's wealth, global warming will actually reduce our capacity to emit carbon dioxide. So there's actually what you would call in Physics a "negative feedback."

So our wealth is emitting CO2, CO2 accumulates in the atmosphere, and then feeds back on our capacity to produce new wealth.

Eventually one could imagine that civilization would enter into a phase of collapse because the carbon dioxide levels are so high, that we are simply unable to produce new goods, without them being destroyed by global warming.

And at that point, perhaps, emissions would go down. Eventually, if civilization collapsed fast enough, then perhaps carbon dioxide levels would be stabilized.

Now you asked me last time, what would be required to keep carbon dioxide concentrations at 450 parts per million. And that's normally what's considered at a dangerous level, let's say during the Copenhagen Accord.

And I made a guess that it would require actually flat out civilization collapse. Based on some preliminary work that I did, and I decided to look into this more deeply. I actually wrote a second paper, where it turns out that it true.

Not only would we have to have civilization collapse starting very soon, like within the next decade or so. But we would also have to have extremely rapid decarbonization, in order to keep carbon dioxide levels below let's say 500 parts per million - twice pre-industrial levels.

In order to keep them below 1,000... Well, without civilization collapse let's say we have continuing health.. let's say the civilization is very resilient to global warming...then carbon dioxide levels are going to go extremely high by the end of this century - probably above 1,000 parts per million.

You think about 1,000 parts per million, that's probably - it depends on what the climate sensitivity really is - but that's something along the lines of 5 degrees Celsius warming at least.

And when we think about 5 degrees Celsius warming, people who are familiar with this, usually start bringing up highly catastrophic scenarios.

In some sense, it's hard to imagine it's hard to imagine how civilization cannot be in pretty dire straights during this century."


In other news, the World Bank has released a new report about climate change. It warns we are heading to a world hotter by 4 degrees C. or 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit, by the year 2100. In fact, as we'll hear in our next interview from the Potsdam Institute in Germany, on our current course of emissions, it might even get that hot by 2060.

That would be devastating, for humans, for our civilization, and for all the creatures on the planet who have evolved to live in the Holocene era, between the great ice ages. In some places, what was a normal summer will become a normal winter. Cities by the sea, like New York, London, and so many others in Europe, China and India will be regularly flooded, if not partially abandoned, due to rising seas.

The great Amazon Rainforest would disappear, along with the coral reef that nuture so much sea life. It's ugly. The report is titled "Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4 degree warmer world must be avoided."


Let's begin with a regular Radio Ecoshock contributor, Daphne Wysham, this time on Aljazeera TV November 30th, 2012, just as the report was released by the World Bank. American listeners of course cannot get this information on TV, due to state or big corporate censorship. The program is "Inside Story Americas" with host Shihab Rattansi, broadcast on Aljazeera TV November 30th 2012.

Both host Rattansi and guest Daphne Wysham (from the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington) outline the many cases where the World Bank funded coal plants, including in Kosovo, South Africa, and India (including the giant Tata Mundra project which is having serious problems.)

The World Bank is ostensibly a public bank, funded by taxpayers in many countries. It is not a private corporation. Until recently, it has been difficult to calculate the billions spent by the World to support fossil fuel projects. According to the Guardian newspaper of November 20th, 2012 - the second largest development bank funding new coal plants is the World Bank, which has advanced $5.3 billion dollars for coal plants in developing countries. It turns out that number is way low.

Daphne Wysham just wrote me to say...

"I actually UNDERestimated how much the Bank has spent on fossil fuels over 20 years [in the Aljazeera interview]. I found this out from a story coming out at The total over 20 years is $48.8 billion, NOT $20 billion as I said on Al Jazeera. That's a huge difference!"

Read more in this Aljazeera report, complete with a 25 minute video of critics and defenders of the World Banks' fossil fuel record. (Like a criminal record).

The Aljazeera article tells us...

According to the Bank Information Center, a watchdog group, in 2010, the World Bank's funding for fossil fuel projects hit an all-time high of $6.6bn - that's a 116 per cent increase from the year before. Most of those loans went towards coal.

In Kosovo, the bank is financing a coal power station, which will use brown coal, the most polluting sort. The plant will increase the country's carbon emissions up to 400 per cent.

In South Africa, $3.75bn in World Bank loans goes to Eskom, the largest power utility company in Africa.


Now it's time to hear from the Potsdam Institute, who wrote the report "Turn Down the Heat".

Read the report from the Potsdam Institute and the World Bank as a .pdf here.

Olivia Serdenczy, Potsdam Institute

Our guest Olivia Maria Serdeczny is a research analyst for Professors Schellnhuber and Rahmstorf, at the German Advisory Council on Global Change to the Federal Government there. Olivia was part of a team producing the report "Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4 degree warmer world must be avoided." That's from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, released in November 2012. It was written for the World Bank.

Radio Ecoshock interview with Olivia Maria Serdeczny of the Potsdam Institute (18 min) in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Seasoned reporter Chris Hedges did a brilliant piece on this World Bank report, titled "Stand Still for the Apocalypse" at November 26th.

How about this quote from an Ars Technica assessment:

"The typical summer temperatures would be the equivalent of our worst heat waves. In fact, the specifically note that normal temperatures in Russia would be similar to those of its recent heat wave, which killed 55,000 people and caused massive property damage. Meanwhile, the baseline winter temperatures would be equivalent to our current summers in most areas. Temperatures over land will rise faster than they do over the ocean, and some regions will be especially hard hit. The authors predict that typical temperatures in the Mediterranean will be up by roughly 9°C."

The World Bank had plenty or warning. European Greens and American activists all cried foul when public money was used to build giant coal plants in Kosovo, South Africa, India and more - even as clean energy was ready to go. Now with a new President, Jim Yong Kim, at least the World Bank is asking what might happen.

It's part of a tide of major institutions that have backed the fossil fuel bubble. Now some begin to admit climate disaster can be the result. We'll see if there is any major change in World Bank funding, or if it's already too late.


Radio Ecoshock has been blaring the bad news about climate for the past many shows. But there is a little good news coming. It turns out there are plenty of inventive people all over the world trying out new solutions. Before this month is out, you will hear a lot about ways we can change toward survival.

Hang in there.

I'm Alex. Please turn your friends on to our broadcast, and our web site at And please support Radio Ecoshock with your donations if you can.

Thank you for listening again this week.


Wesmofo said...

This is one of the best shows so far! Better hunt down Malcolm light and do an interview with him to. I listened to a lecture in Baltimore by dr. Michael Raupp about insects and climate change. Interesting decoupling events. Wasps trying to lay eggs in host larvae that is so far ahead in its life cycle that it spins around and eats the wasp! Keep up the great work. Scary stuff but at least the masses are starting to pay attention.

Anonymous said...

Garret's comment about 450ppm is not actually survivable for the human community. This level ensures total climate collapse (occurring now at just 398ppm). Major positive feedbacks are now already irreversible.

While his work is important, he needs to go back and plug in what C02 levels are actually survivable (approx 280ppm) - not achievable now for at least a thousand years.

Survival Acres said...

The total accumulated carbon loading in the atmosphere will last at least 1000 years. Emissions continue to rise, at the rate of 2.4 million pounds per second. Projections claiming "by 2100" fail to address this.

At just 396ppm, we are now experiencing total climate collapse worldwide. Irreversible positive feedback mechanisms are accelerating atmospheric carbon loading (such as permafrost melt). This last point will not even be included in the next IPCC report (due in 2014) -- a staggering omission that leads to erroneous conclusions and assumptions by even the best scientists.

Perhaps the single greatest failure is how science continues to ignore the latest and best data, devising models and projections on data sets that are already outdated and incorrect. Then, their reports and assessments are released years later, drawing predictions that are already woefully out of date.

I'm seeing the "2100" target oft used as a very dangerous mistake, but rarely being identified.

4C warming is already a given -- unstoppable, irreversible, and will occur by 2050.

Alex Smith said...

Survival Acres: you are so right the next IPCC report looks like a dud already.

The IPCC has missed all the major events we are already seeing. They must use data that is years old (because of the slow peer-reviewing and publishing system). And they must have CONSENSUS of governments (not just the scientists). That means Saudi Arabia, or even more retrograde countries like Canada, have a line-by-line rewrite or veto power.

I've heard from several scientists, including reviewers, who say so much has been left out it's like a report on the climate of the last century, not the next one.

We've heard calls for a new evaluation system, getting governments out of the loop, but then the problem is: who will pay for it all. It's quite expensive.

Still, I think a new scientific and citizen organization is needed to create real projections of what we can expect, and what we are already seeing.

Radio Ecoshock

Anonymous said...

There was a lot of important content, but I found myself wishing that the speaker had been less flippant, as it encouraged extremely annoying and distracting tittering from the audience.

Coyote Imagination said...

Listening to McPherson, I am reminded again of the work of Derrick Jenson: "The only sustainable age is the stone age."

Teemu Turunen said...


Couple of short comments to the Notes-page.

The CO2-level fluctuates yearly mainly because of northern hemisphere forest growth season. That's why the annual data peaks at spring:

The NOAA data for annual means is here:


CDIAC publishes data on CO2-emissions from fossil fuel burning and cement manufacturing, it is here:

Direct link to 1751-2009 data:

2009-2011 preliminary data:

NOTE: "All emission estimates are expressed in million metric tons of carbon. To convert these estimates to units of carbon dioxide (CO2), simply multiply these estimates by 3.667."


About CO2-level being permanent for 1000 years: only if you don't believe it is possible to enhance sink activity or create artificial sinks. Couple of clues:

Isomäki, Risto (2011): 66 Ways to Absorb Carbon and Improve the Earth’s Reflectivity – From Reasonable Options to Mad Scientist Solutions (Into)

Luyssaert et al (2008): Old-growth forests as global carbon sinks (Nature)

Lal, Rattan (2010): Managing Soils and Ecosystems for Mitigating Anthropogenic Carbon Emissions and Advancing Global Food Security (BioScience)

Toensmeier, Eric (2011): Climate Stability with "Permanent Agriculture" (Permaculture Activist) part 1, part 2

Goeppert et al (2011): Carbon Dioxide Capture from the Air Using a Polyamine Based Regenerable Solid Adsorbent (Journal of the American Chemical Society)

Simply put: when sinks are larger than sources, CO2 goes down. Of course the future of natural sinks, especially if and when temperatures keep going up, is highly unsure.

Teemu Turunen said...

Meant to say: monthly data peaks at spring

Teemu Turunen said...

And one more:

About the collapse is necessary -kind of thinking:

Isn't it obvious that some sectors of the economy (fossil fuels & nuclear, heavy industry, speculatory economy) need to go down and others (such as sustainable agriculture and forestry, insulating houses, emergency actions in Arctic) need to grow. After the crisis is over, then a steady-state sustainable and egalitarian economy.

Before that, some sections definitely need to grow. Some interesting economic analysis: check Robin Hahnel's books and other writings.

I don't think that collapse would be good even for the environment. Why? Because cutting emissions is not enough (as AMEG makes clear).

Thanks for the great program and blog by the way.

Wesmofo said...

Great links teemu

Wesmofo said...

What was the statement about anybody who lives in the interior of a continent especially in the northern hemisphere? Please expand!

Alex Smith said...

Guy McPherson did not expand on his statement about living in the center of a Northern Hemisphere continent being a bad idea.

However, I could say the climate estimates I've seen show much greater heating in the middle of continents, than near the ocean, which will be cooler (it takes a very long time to heat up the sea).

So places like Britain are expected to remain more habitable. I've heard that 50% of the U.S. population already lives within 100 miles from the coast. So the majority are already where they might have to be.

Consider the great heat that struck Moscow and the whole of Russia in 2010. That and more of that would happen over the next 40 years, as we head toward a global mean average heating of 4 degrees (assuming we don't change course or collapse soon).

Then there is the hydrological cycle. Most models project the formation of vast desert areas around the subtropics (which already contain vast desert areas in North Africa, China, and the United States.)

The South West in particular will dry out, they say. That is already underway.

The area around the Mississippi River may be an exception. A finger or rain can develop as the atmospheric river above the Mississippi extends upwards from the wetter Gulf of Mexico. Storms and twister may be the larger problem for those folks.

So for both heat and water problems, living in the interior of a large continent may be difficult. I would expect many people will leave those areas. Some will migrate north, others to the coast.

That's my guess.

Guy himself has recognized that his "mud hut" along the border of Arizona and New Mexico is in an unsustainable place in the long run. In his latest post at Nature Bats Last, he calls that situation a "failure" as any place for his descendents.


Wesmofo said...

Well looks like I will move to Hudson Bay and wait for it to warm up. It's supposed to be the new Mediterranean!

Grant T B said...

Profoundly moving show. Thanks especially for your rigor in fact-checking. The notes are highly valuable.