Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Beginning of The End

Economic collapse will come before peak oil or climate disruption, says investment guru Chris Martenson, author of "Crash Course". Matthew Stein, author of "When Technology Fails" explains how a solar flare could cripple society and set off 400 Chernobyls - and how we could fix it. Alex rants against 2012 mythology. Radio Ecoshock 120425 1 hour.

Sorry, it's a long blog this week. Blame it on our guests - they had too many good things to say!

If you want to quickly download the interview separately, here they are, in CD quality (larger file) and Lo-Fi (faster download, lower quality)



Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Fire! In A Crowded World Wild fires from climate change cause still more warming. Three experts from American Academy for the Advancment of Science meeting February 19th recorded in Vancouver by Alex Smith. Michael Flannigan, U of Alberta on fire and climate. From UBC medical unit, Dr. Michael Brauer on health impacts and personal protection during smoke events. Tasmania's Fay Johnston' estimation of global annual deaths from landscape fire smoke. Radio Ecoshock 120418 1 hour.

I've been working on the latest science about wildfires and climate change. The plan was to save the broadcast for summer, when the fires start.

Nature isn't waiting. From the first week of April major television networks like CBS reported wildfires all the way from New England, Long Island, down through Virginia, into Georgia - the whole East Coast.

This follows a winter with very little snow. New York got 20 inches less than normal. It's all gone, as places like Boston sizzled into the 90's at the very end of winter. Gardeners started to feel like planting a month early. Farmers feared a continuing drought, with no snow to water the land before seed time.

Forget about normal. Wildfire season started ridiculously early this year in North America, in the first week of April.

TV and news reported thousands of heat records set in the Eastern United States, without ever mentioning "global warming".

It's time for the Radio Ecoshock special, my recordings of a special session on fire and climate. The fire experts gathered at the February conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver 2012.

You'll hear how fires make a hotter climate which feeds more fires, the cycle of positive feedback. An internationally recognized wildfire expert, Dr. Michael Flannigan reports on the latest science and experience in the field. Flannigan also describes a new risk that could tip the climate of the world.

You may have a personal stake in this. Anyone with lungs does. From the University of British Columbia School of Medicine, Dr. Mike Brauer explains new ways of tracking dangerous smoke, which can travel thousands of miles, across international boundaries. I like Brauer's talk, because he also tells us how citizens can protect themselves during a smoke event.

Finally we'll hear from Dr. Fay Johnston from the University of Tasmania. She was part of a team asking the big question: how many people die from fire smoke every year? The answer, and the places most at risk, may surprise you.


Let's get the big picture, from one of my favorite wildfire experts. Dr. Mike Flannigan is a Professor of the Department of Renewable Resources at the University of Alberta, and Senior Research Scientist at the Canadian Forest Service. His PHD is from Cambridge. He also trained in meteorology. Flannigan is Editor-in-chief of International Journal of Wild land Fire, and part of the U.S. Assessment on Global Change. Mike is a leader in newly formed Western Partnership for Fire Science.

In the program you hear excerpts from my recording of Mike Flannigan's presentation at "Forest fires in Canada: Impacts of Climate Change and Fire Smoke" delivered Sunday morning, February 19th, 2012, in a special workshop at the American Academy for the Advancement of Science general meeting in Vancouver.

Nobody says more in fewer words than Flannigan. When huge fires erupt, in Canada or internationally, Mike often gets called in. He begins by exploring the fire in Northern Alberta, Canada, where a town called Slave Lake had one third of the place burned out, including the municipal buildings the libraries. Video of that fire appoaching the town here. Photos of the aftermath here. And this could happen to any town or city. Hundreds of homes were burned in Kelowna British Columbia in 20003. I don't have to tell anyone in California or Texas about the huge risks from out-of-control wild fires.

Australians know how deadly fires can be.

Slave Lake had to be evacuated. There was no way to fight such fires, and they moved fast with ferocity. Satellite images show the Slave Lake fire was actually the smallest of four infernos raging at the time.

Remember the fire leader in Texas who said "No one alive has seen fires like this". Except we are seeing them more and more, especially after heat events.

Mike Flannigan makes it clear that climate change is a contributing factor to these fierce fires. The underbrush is tinder dry, even in spring-time. The hotter weather creates a longer fire season. Heat also induces more lightening, which ignites the wild fire.

It's a positive feed-back cycle, at least in the near-term. The burning forests release all the carbon previously held in vegetative matter. Tree trunks are mostly carbon. That release of carbon, and the extra black soot, all drive more warming.

A few years after the fire, perhaps 7 years later, new growth will re-absorb some of the carbon back from the atmosphere. The fire zone changes from a carbon source to a carbon sink. But in the meantime, climate change has been further ramped up.

If you ever wanted to know the basics of wild fires, and why we hear more about them, or get hit with smoke from faraway places, Mike Flannigan is the man to learn from.

You can download my Radio Ecoshock interview with Mike Flannigan in May 2011 from the program titled "FLOOD FIRE WIND - Climate Shift" at (13 minute interview)

About two weeks after this broadcast, you can download a free mp3 of Mike Flannigan's full speech at the triple AS from our Climate 2012 page. All of today's speakers will be there in full.


Can we say there are more fires now than at any time in human history? What about fires in the past hot ages, in previous greenhouse worlds? I listened to two presentations on the history of fire by Douglas Woolford, from Canada's Wilfred Laurier University, and Richard Routledge, Simon Fraser University.

The science was too complicated for radio broadcast. I came away thinking the field of fire archeology is still very young. Do we know enough to answer those questions, to compare our future to the distant past of fire?

I came away from these American Academy presentations thinking we just don't know enough yet. You can dig further into the research that has been done, by downloading those two speeches (for a fee) from

We do know that fire smoke travels huge distances, sometimes smudging out part of a continent. In the soot below, human lungs don't do very well. As we'll hear in our third speaker, hundreds of thousands of humans die every year from inhaling smoke from natural and agricultural fires.


But first, you should hear this Canadian medical expert Dr. Mike Brauer. He explains big advances in predicting the smoke plumes, so people with breathing difficulties can be warned. It's almost like tornado warnings, only more accurate. Pharmacies can know to stock up on inhalers. And Brauer ends with tips you can use to protect yourself, if smoke fills your air.

Mike was introduced by session organizer Charmaine Dean, of Simon Fraser University.

In the radio program, you hear major excerpts from Mike's speech.

In the first part, Mike explains several methods to predict where fire smoke will go. That's important to know if you are a health planner, a hospital worker or doctor, if you have health problems like asthma, - and if you just want to protect the lungs of yourself and your family.

I became even more interested in the second segment, as Brauer explains the public health efforts, and personal things we can do to protect ourselves. If there are going to be more fires, and more smoke, we all need to learn about this.

A smoke plume can travel hundreds of miles over a place like California, or New England (from Canadian fires). Whole parts of Asia have been covered in smoke - like the times Malaysia and Singapore went under a smoke cloud from fires in Indonesia.

We know, from Brauer's study, that in Western-style economies, visits to doctors’ offices and pharmacies will go up. Those places need to stock up on inhalers and other medicines.

People with certain ailments or low lung function need to stay indoors, with the windows closed. Driving around does not help, as Brauer says the smoke is actually worse inside the car.

Brauer struck a chord with me when he recommended simple HEPA air filters for people's homes. I have had one running for the past five years, because we live in a high traffic area. We used to need to dust the place way too often, now much less.

That air filter was running when the wave of radioactivity hit the West Coast about a week after the Fukushima nuclear plants blew up. About a month later I changed out the filters, which were no doubt radioactive. It saved our lungs a bit.

These filters also reduce indoor smoke from fires by about 65% Brauer says. That's better for everybody.

Once again, this is another reason to have at least a few days’ worth of food stocked up too. Nobody needs to go out to the store.


Our final presenter in this week's special on fire and climate change is Dr. Fay Johnston, a physician and environmental epidemiologist at the Menzies Research Institute in Tasmania, the Down Under of Australia. Here is a link to one of her smoke assessment projects. And here is a link to a public article "Fire Smoke Important Contributor to Deaths World-Wide".

Her topic for this session of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science is: "The Estimated Global Mortality Burden Attributable to Landscape Fire Smoke".

Let's find out who really pays the ultimate price for advancing fires in a crowded warming world. We only have time for a few excerpts.

First, what is a "landscape fire" and who is studying it?

Dr. Fay Johnston describes the first attempts to quantify the impacts of global wildfires.

As she says: "a world without fire does not exist." It is natural, but not when humans create the fire conditions, and then set those fires. Her team estimated about 90% of "landscape fires" around the world are set purposely by humans. We do it to clear new land for things like soy beans or palm oil.

Africa is a central location for fires. It is part of their agricultural cycle. The old crop is burned off to prepare for the new one. Radio Ecoshock has had other guests explain that method of agriculture is adding to global warming.

As far as deaths go, we find out there has hardly been any study in the developing world, where most of the fires are, and most of the death happen. To measure health impacts, Johnston's group had to use pollution studies generated in major smoggy cities. It turns out those impacts on lungs work pretty well for people smoked out in the jungle as well. Still, just like medical research, we take studies from the First World and apply them to developing countries, hoping it will work. There's no money to do the research in the heavily populated places where it is needed most.

Isn't that always the case, in this unfair world? Whether its medicine or smoke, almost all research is funded and performed in the developed world, where a minority of Earth's population live and die. It may take another generation to see how climate change and fire do their dance in the most populated, and the most plant rich places on the planet.

To be honest, this study finds smoke deaths from landscape fires are far less serious than deaths from smoking tobacco.

Whereas several millions die because of tobacco, this study estimates about 340,000 people a year die from landscape fires. Around 10,000 of those are in South America, where relative population is low. Over a hundred thousand are in the Sahel region of northern Africa. More than a hundred thousand die each and every year from air-borne smoke in Asia but that is still fewer than die from cooking over smoky fires indoors in Asia.

Two weeks after broadcast, you can find the full speeches by Mike Flannigan, Mike Brauer, and Fay Johnston on the Climate 2012 downloads page at My thanks to the American Academy for the Advancement of Science for allowing me to record on February 19th, and to Simon Fraser University for organizing this session on forest fires, smoke, and climate change.

Our music in this program was from the 1968 hit "Fire" by Arthur Brown. News clips were from NBC12 Richmond, and CBS evening news.

I'm Alex Smith.

Tune in next week for our next big adventure into the future - on Radio Ecoshock.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Worst Problems In The World Could the collapse of the fuel pool at Fukushima Reactor #4 endanger the Northern Hemisphere? Nuclear industry executive Arnie Gundersen explains. Then a top Canadian scientist exposes a scandalous government cover-up of poisons moving from the Tar Sands to dying aboriginal people. David Schindler speech excerpts. Plus a climate rant by comedian Lee Camp.

The nuclear accident at Fukushima Japan is far from over. Three reactors continue to melt-down and now there is a storm of international worry about nuclear fuel pools tottering in blown up buildings. The whole Northern Hemisphere is at risk right now.

I'm Alex Smith for Radio Ecoshock. We are joined again by nuclear industry expert Arnold Gundersen, of Fairewinds Associates.

Arnie Gundersen, a year ago, warned us here on Radio Ecoshock, and to anybody who would listen, that a world-scale catastrophe was lurking in the nuclear fuel storage pools of both reactors Three and Four, at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant in Japan.

Why is this story finally getting wider attention, a year later?

The Japanese press, which has been following the government line, is starting to break out. On April 2nd, Takao Yamada, Expert Senior Writer for the Mainichi paper, said, quote: "The 7-story building itself has suffered great damage, with the storage pool barely intact on the building’s third and fourth floors. The roof has been blown away. If the storage pool breaks and runs dry, the nuclear fuel inside will overheat and explode, causing a massive amount of radioactive substances to spread over a wide area. Both the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and French nuclear energy company Areva have warned about this risk."

And check out this translated video from Japanese TV!

We also had the unusual case of Japan’s former ambassador to Switzerland, Mitsuhei Murata, speaking at a public hearing of the Budgetary Committee of the House of Councilors on March 22, 2012. He told the Swiss if the Reactor 4 fuel pool collapses, the cooling water for all six reactors would be shut down, as well as for the nearby spent fuel pool with another 6,000 fuel rods.

Another Japanese diplomat, Akio Matsumura is also blogging about this.

It is very surprising that Japanese officials are speaking out. Why now? Do they know something we don't?

It seems to me, and many Radio Ecoshock listeners from all over the world have written me about this - that the whole world is sleep-walking through this potential global catastrophe. They want to know: Why isn't there an international emergency action plan, to save us from a nuclear disaster which would make Chernobyl look small in comparison?

The average person thinks the Japanese could just dig an in-ground pool, move the fuel rods into a safer place, and then cover all that with a containment building. Why aren't they doing that?

So we have debris over the fuel rods, a broken crane, broken fuel rod assemblies, and a building so shaky any attempts to fix things might cause the building to fall. Is it possible we have a situation which cannot be solved?

Over at MSNBC, Rachel Maddow says Reactor 2 is an example of a technology which has no solution. Humans can't get near such high radioactivity. Even robot electronics fail in such circumstances. The Japanese require a technology that hasn't been invented yet. Should we even be using nuclear technology, if unsolvable accidents can happen?

It is time to think the unthinkable. Arnie walks us through what could happen if we wake up one day, and the Fukushima Dai-ichi Reactor 4 fuel pool collapses.

Arnie tells us the Brookhaven National Laboratory in the U.S. issued a study on the impacts of a nuclear fuel pool fire.

Here is a good article summary of that 1987 Brookhaven study by Stuart Staniford.

In this article from the New England Centre for Investigative Reporting, we find "A 1997 [actually it was 1987] study by the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island concluded that a pool fire at a plant like Millstone Nuclear Power Station in Connecticut or Pilgrim Nuclear Generating Station in Massachusetts could kill 100 people instantly and another 138,000 people eventually. Some $546 billion in damage would result, the study said, and 2,170 square miles of land could be contaminated."

From the selfish point of view of someone living on the West Coast of North America, and for everyone in the Northern Hemisphere, it seems the key point is whether there is a major explosion, driving radioactive materials into the stratosphere. That's what it takes to spread these poisons right around the world.

Gundersen says it is unlikely there would be an explosion if the #4 Fuel pool collapses. But dangerous "hot" particles would still be sent around the world, because within two days of the collapse, the Zirconium and radioactive metals (like Cesium and Plutonium) would burn at a very high temperature, sending particles high into the air. The result would be an everlasting disaster for Japan. Arnie thinks it could create a no-man's land 50 miles across the country, perhaps destabilizing the government.

The famous anti-nuclear activist and pediatrician Dr. Helen Caldicott just said in a speech: if there is a major nuclear release from Fukushima, she would evacuate her family from Boston, and head back to her native Australia, or anywhere in the Southern Hemisphere. Would it be safer south of the equator? Likely, as there is much less mixing of air from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern. All the countries in the Northern Hemisphere would suffer radioactive fallout if this happens.

We can't evacuate the Northern Hemisphere. The explosion at Reactor 3 showed we have 5 to 7 days before radiation hits the Pacific Coast of North America. Personally, I would definitely leave Vancouver. We get a lot of rain here, so the hot stuff is going to wash into our open water reservoirs. They would be poisoned for hundreds of years. I would try to get east of the Rocky Mountains, to a drier place, with a source of fossil water from deep underground.

What would you do?

In the 1950's, all children were trained in civil defense in case of nuclear attack. It was lame, but it was something. Do you think world governments should be teaching everyone the basics of trying to avoid the worst exposure to radiation, in case Fukushima blows? We would all have to stay indoors, with the windows shut. You should buy a couple of HEPA air cleaners right now, I think. The economy would collapse. Do you have food stored for such an emergency? I hope so.

Surely there must be a better way to reduce our risk of having an accident that would damage the Planet more or less forever in human timescales. What can be done at Fukushima?

Arnie says the nuclear power game is set up so each country handles safety and any accident as an internal affair. But when an accident threatens us all, we need to pressure our own governments to formulate an international response, to help the Japanese acts as fast as they can.

In the interview, Arnie Gundersen, who was an executive at a company which installed nuclear fuel racks in those very same types of reactors, lays out three ways to handle this emergency. None of them are great, but his suggestion to make a smaller fuel canister, and start moving the rods out to an already existing in-ground pool on the site, sounds best to me. It would be slow and painstaking, but would begin to make us all safer every day.

Maybe an earthquake won't strike near Fukushima in the next few years. However, on February 14th, Dapeng Zhao, geophysics professor at Japan’s Tohoku University, published a paper in "Solid Earth", a journal of the European Geosciences Union.

Here is a good article summarizing that paper, in Common Dreams.

Zhao said the giant earthquake in March of 2011 had reactivated a seismic fault close to the Fukushima nuclear plant. Using the latest scientific techniques and measurements, the paper warns another big earthquake could strike even closer to the plant.

Washington's blog concludes "Scientists say that there is a 70% chance of a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hitting Fukushima this year, and a 98% chance within the next 3 years."

In a radio interview with Dr. Helen Caldicott in early February, Gundersen estimated a quake of 7.0 or greater could cause the Reactor 4 fuel pool to collapse.

What have the Japanese done so far to strengthen the building, and could they be doing more?

We have to remind ourselves, we might just get lucky. Maybe the Reactor 3 and 4 buildings will keep standing for few years, while the Japanese invent a solution. We didn't have a major nuclear war so far, maybe we'll squeak through this one. But are our chances good, or not so good, the way things are going?

Robert Alvarez, an expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists, has tried again and again to warn us: this isn't just a problem in Japan. The American reactors have built up even more stored fuel rods, some of them over earthquake fault lines, all of them requiring non-stop cooling, and none of the storage pools have containment if there is an accident.

The spent fuel risk in America is even greater in Japan. Why is no one talking about this?

Arnie Gundersen has not heard of government meetings or plans to get faster action to protect the world against yet another giant nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima. We need citizens organizing everywhere, pushing their governments to stop ignoring the threat, or playing along with Japan, to stop being polite about the danger. I'm sure many people in Japan would welcome international pressure to get faster action.

We could compare this reactor accident to the horror of thermo-nuclear war, hanging over our heads. It took a generation of protests, and a fallen empire, to reduce that threat. A nuclear war is still possible, but it's less likely.

But we don't have a long-time frame, 30 years, to stabilize the Reactor 4 fuel storage pond. I'm surprised we got through this year, and I'm not sure about the next one. Can we scrape through again?

Listen to/download the Arnie Gundersen interview (26 minutes) in CD Quality... or Lo-Fi.


I'm Alex Smith and I'm angry. There are lots of sick and ugly things in this world, along with tremendous beauty and love. But there are two giant projects which I know offend God, if there is one.

The first is blowing the tops of mountains, and plowing the rubble into Nature's valleys. The second is the largest and most polluting industrial project on Earth: the Canadian Tar Sands.

The big oil companies are spending millions, even hundreds of millions of dollars, to convince you they produce what they call "ethical oil". It's everywhere. News columnists blather on about the wonderful "oil sands" and why we can't live without them. Never mind the full page ads from tar sands companies in the same newspapers.

I can't even go to a movie without seeing Hollywood-quality ads with butterflies and forests all around the new clean green Tar Sands operations.

Here is the other side of the story - a quick clip of a talk by Mike Mercredi, an aboriginal man from Fort Chipewyan, downstream from the Tar Sands.

(In the audio, Mike lists out his relatives that are dead or dying of cancer, which was unknown to them in previous generations, before the Tar Sands came upstream of their drinking water and fishing grounds)

I recorded that in 2008, when we had no experts to back him up. Listen to the whole Radio Ecoshock program "Climate Terrorism: The Tar Sands" 3 speakers recorded December 5th in Vancouver, listed on our 2008 show archive page at

As you will hear in this program, they are lying about being able to reclaim land to their former natural state. The oil companies and the governments who collude with them are faking and hiding the health effects.

The whole tar sands operation is a world-scale Ponzi scheme which will bankrupt future generations with the costs of clean-up, - if any remediation is possible. Or they will do what most mining companies do: leave a massive open scar upon the earth, all for the quick quarterly profits of foreign multinationals.

Why says so? According to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and his Environment Minister, anyone who criticizes the Tar Sands is just a foreign-funded radical - unpatriotic environmentalists.

Let's meet one of those radicals. Here is the introduction to Dr. David Schindler, before his speech in Vancouver, on March 28th, 2012. The intro is by John Pierce, Dean, Faculty of Arts, Simon Fraser University.

(audio: Schindler helped discover that phosphorus from detergents and water treatment plants was killing the Great Lakes; he proved acid rain was coming from coal plant pollution; he's recently done a study of Tar Sands pollution. Schindler has an Order of Canada, is a member of the Royal Society, and has many, many honors.)

That's the wild-eyed radical the Prime Minister fears. A life-long scientist who helped clean up the Great Lakes from phosphorus, who proved the source of acid-rain, a world-recognized and heavily awarded expert, David Schindler.

David is no fly-in academic from New York. He lives in Northern Alberta. He's fished in the many streams threatened by the proposed Enbridge northern pipeline. He's measures the water and the air, finding pollution governments denied.

In the program I summarize some of the surprising revelations in this speech, bolstered by selected audio. For example, did you know the tiny amounts of supposedly reclaimed lands can never be returned to their previous state, because the mine tailings are too salty?

I also didn't realize the biggest source of pollution is actually air-borne. We'll learn all that and more in this work-shop from Canada's top Tar Sands expert, a quiet but devastating critic of the world's dirtiest source of oil.

* Tar Sands chemicals flood local rivers, probably explaining higher levels of cancer in aboriginal Canadians downstream. The government won't investigate the many deaths there.

* The former Alberta caribou herds will never return.

* The forests are being stripped in an area projected to be larger than the state of Florida.

* Countless tons of methane are burned and released just to get oil out of the sands. More global warming gases.

* The corrosive raw oil is carried in a network of pipelines, tankers, trucks, and famous spills. It's an industrial spider web reaching down into the United States, indeed all over North America.

* Wherever you live in the world, the Tar Sands are wrecking your atmosphere, as the single largest industrial source of greenhouse gases on the planet.

* The damage can be seen from space, and will last for thousands of years.

Welcome to your secure energy source, your damned "ethical" oil.

David begins with the tailing ponds, some of which are just meters away from the Athabasca River. According to Tar Sands Watch, every square meter of oil-bearing bitumen mined creates six square meters of tailing. These are tossed into toxic lakes now covering more than 55 square kilometers, over 13,000 acres and growing rapidly. The tailing dyke of just one company, Syncrude, is the second largest dam in the world. Only the Chinese Three Gorges Dam is larger.

Here is David Schindler...
[SH1_TailingsAthabasca etc. 1:38]

David then makes several key points.

First, development in both the Tar Sands operations, and in the surrounding town and infrastructure has far outstripped any planning process or regulation. It's a wild-west anything-goes oil rush. As that building boom grew, the size of planning and regulatory bodies needed to keep pace. Instead successive governments have cut funding, to the point that hardly anything is monitored, regulated, or planned.

Second: while the many foreign corporations make obscene multi-billions in profits, the Canadian public gets less and less of the revenues. Governments, with political parties heavily funded by oil companies, kept reducing the percentage going to the Canadian public. Later, we'll find the whole cleanup bill is mounting, as reclamation is stalled for decades. Young Canadians will pay those astronomic bills.

[SH2_FastDevleopment_massiveprofits 4:43]

From the recording March 28th, in Vancouver, here is what David Schindler says about "ethical oil".

[SH3_Ethical_Oil 2:58]

OK, now we are going for a long walk through David Schindler's presentation. He talks about cancer in the Native people; how the industry-sponsored river testing found NOTHING, no contaminants from super-polluting smoke stacks. His own team of scientists found a wide range of heavy metals and toxic polycarbonates the industry and government somehow failed to detect.

David Schindler all along gives you the big picture references that nobody else is talking about. For example, there are two giant chemical complexes called "the upgraders" which process the raw bitumen. These are sending out pollution for 50 miles around. It accumulates on the snow, and on the frozen rivers, until the fast Spring melt supercharges all the waters with toxic chemicals. It's the quiet science of the horrific.

[SH4_ScienceTesting 17 min]

That was Dr. David Schindler, an internationally renowned scientist working in Canada, talking about his team research into pollution from the Tar Sands. This was recorded by Alex Smith at the Simon Fraser University Wosk Centre in downtown Vancouver on March 28, 2012.


I hope you got one of the stories Schindler explained. As I understand it, Dr. Schindler and other scientists could not accept the industry-funded government approved study saying that NONE of the dirty pollutants from the tar sands operations could be measured in the Athabasca River or its tributaries. They found the alleged testing set up measuring stations either upstream of the operations, or far down river near the river mouth at Lake Athabasca, where dilution would be greatest. The testing method had a baseline, or used techniques, which eliminated low levels of contaminants.

Three scientists, David Schindler, Jeff Short of NOAA, and Peter Hodson, a toxicologist at Queens University took their own samples. These included sites near the Tar Sands operations.

This independent team used better testing methods. They found low levels of many, many toxic substances, especially near the so-called upgrader plants, where air pollution is strong and obvious. This is a scandal! The First Nations people living downstream from the tar sands complained for years their families were dying of cancer. Industry and the government told the victims there was no pollution in their water.

After the not-so-mysterious cancer deaths of the First Nations people, and after two decades of warnings from scientists, here are the results of the health impacts study done by the Canadian government: nothing!

They don't investigate. They don't care. There are billions of dollars of profits to be made every year. That is what matters.

You aren't going to hear the dirty truth about the tar sands from any authority, and certainly not from the millions spent on propaganda by the multinational oil companies digging out the tar.

We are out of time for this week, but not out of ammunition. In an upcoming Radio Ecoshock show, you'll hear more from famous scientist David Schindler. He'll tell us why the heavily advertised "restoration" of the scoured landscape is fake. Remaking nature is not possible, and it's not going to happen.

The native people like Mike Mercredi know. They live there, eating the polluted fish, breathing the polluted air.

[Mike Mercredi clip 2]

Keep your ears out for more on the Canadian Tar Sands, the world's single largest source of pollution, on Radio Ecoshock.


We also have a short rant by New York Comedian Lee Camp. Here is a comedian who knows that global warming is not all that funny, but it's real. We run a short 2 minute clip from Lee's podcast "A Moment of Clarity" available on You tube.

I'm Alex Smith. Thank you for getting real about your world.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Relapse and Recovery A fresh update on Japan after the tsunami and nuclear accident with Warren Karlenzig. Is it a chance to build new green cities, or a vision of what we all face as the oil runs out? Then a quick interview with anti-nuclear campaigner Helen Caldicott, and Marsha Coleman-Adebayo at the Occupy the EPA protest in Washington. We conclude with an invitation by Susanne Moser to "get real" about our difficult future as we destabilize the climate.


Download this 24 minute interview... in CD Quality or faster download in Lo-Fi.

Do you worry about an energy shortage, a nuclear accident, or a severe economic hit? Welcome to Japan, which is dealing with all three, following the deadly Tsunami and nuclear accident in March 2011. PCI Fellow Warren Karlenzig just returned from the damage zone, with this radio report.

We have a new report from Warren Karlenzig, who just toured Japan with a United Nations group. As the founder of Common Current, Warren advises city and national governments on sustainability. He's a Fellow of the Post Carbon Institute. In 2009, Radio Ecoshock broadcast Warren's speech at a Vancouver panel on building green cities.

We can't get to the impact of the nuclear accident, or Japan's exciting prospects for green energy, without first giving respect to the people who live with the tragic loss of more than 20,000 lives, of whole towns, and a large part of the country. Warren gives us some insight on how are people in Japan are handling unimaginable stress.

Are there immediate lessons we can learn about surviving a large-scale disaster? How much help comes from government, and how much from self-organization by the citizens?

One of the hot button issues in Japan is the national government's plan to redistribute tsunami wreckage, including material contaminated with radioactive waste, all over the country.

With almost all nuclear reactors out of service, how are the Japanese dealing with the lack of energy? Fifty two out of fifty four reactors were out of service when Karlenzig toured Japan, and the 53rd was shutting down the day of our interview.

The Japanese are scrambling to import more LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) - and burning more coal - but there is still a massive energy short-fall.

It turns out their response could be very close to our future as oil becomes too expensive for most uses, if we can get oil at all.

The Japanese generally were either not heating buildings, or just keeping the pipes from bursting, while wearing winter coats inside. For a special meeting, a kerosene heater was brought in. Only the most necessary energy was used.

Karlenzig says the sudden failure of the Japanese energy supplies is comparable to a peak oil shock.

There an opportunity in Japan to rebuild new green cities and towns. Two cities have proposed "smart growth" models. One is pursuing ideas for renewable energy, and zero emissions. Find the details, and photos from the tour of Japan, in Warren's blog article here.

This reminds me of the astounding Japanese recovery after World War Two. Most cities were flattened, and energy was in short supply. Yet Japan rebounded with new factories, new technologies, and more efficient production.

But there are still major roadblocks to recovery in the region hit by both a tsunami and a triple nuclear melt-down. For one thing, young people were already leaving the central East coast region, which was known mainly for tourism, fishing, and agriculture. Young people were going to larger cities, seeking more modern employment, in computing for example.

This disaster has made the youth drain much more serious. With no work, hardly a place to live, and few prospects, many of the young people needed for rebuilding have left.

Warren raises another challenge. Japanese society tends to organize with male administrators. Women, and the elderly, did not attend most planning meetings, and appear not to be consulted about the new vision for a future. Karlenzig says experience shows real planning has to involve everyone, with meetings, questions, and working through the process. That is not happening in Japan, yet.

I was surprised to learn that after one year reconstruction has not yet begun! One reason is shocking: the land has not yet settled enough to rebuild. Many parts of the Eastern coast are still sinking. Land is sinking anywhere from a few inches, to several feet. With continuing aftershocks, in fact with a continuing wave of serious earthquakes ranging over 6.0, still happening, things are not yet settled for rebuilding.

One personal note: Warren Karlenzig was offered home-made meals with organic food. But should he eat things grown in a radioactive area? All the tour members were concerned. One official told Karlenzig the local mushrooms were much more radioactive than Tokyo was admitting. There are also reports that rice, the staple of Japanese food, is also contaminated.

The simple act of eating can feel threatening, after a nuclear accident.

Be sure and listen to this interview with sustainable cities expert Warren Karlenzig. Keep track of Warren at


On March 30th, various groups united to march on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. They were protesting the lack of regulations and enforcement to protect the environment, and people's health.

One of the co-organizers was a former EPA employee, and whistleblower, Marsha Coleman-Adebayo. You can hear our previous Radio Ecoshock interview with Marsha here.

This time our Washington D.C. correspondent was on the scene for the march. She interviewed Coleman-Adebayo. We only had time to run this short selection.


Gerri Williams: "I'm speaking with Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, one of the co-organizers of the Occupy EPA march that is going to be taking place. Doctor could you tell me about your motivation for this march, the reason behind it, and what you hope to accomplish."

Marsha Coleman-Adebayo: “I think it's incumbent upon our entire community to really start fighting for an environment that's healthy. And not an environment, and particularly not an EPA [Environmental Protection Agency], that's not controlled by corporations. One of the problems that we have in our community is that the EPA is not taking care of its business.

It's important for African Americans and people of color to become involved with the environmental movement. We are really the first victims of environmental injustice. Our homes are sited closer to environmental facilities than any other homes. Our children are more likely to have lead poisoning or neurotoxic levels of lead in their brains. Our children are more likely to have learning disabilities. Breast cancers in African American women tend to be a bit more stubborn than in Caucasian women. So we are really the first victims of environmental injustice, and it is so important that we become involved.

Recently a report was issued by Deloitte consulting firm that said it takes EPA 15 years - 15 years! - to handle a Title Six complaint.

Now a Title Six complaint, it's a complaint by a community about a facility in their community. Fifteen years is a lifetime in the history of a family. Which means that the agency has turned its back on communities of color that are suffering under the weight of industrialization.

So we have decided to say 'Enough is enough'. We are going to fight for our families and for our communities, and fight for our health. And as far as we are concerned this Administration has really not heard yet the voice of the people on this issue.


An important guest speaker at the Occupy EPA rally was the famous anti-nuclear activist Dr. Helen Caldicott. She never fails to warn us that the two headed nuclear dragon still waits to attack us, much worse than terrorism.

Vast nuclear weapons systems are still on hair-trigger alert in many countries. New nations are still joining the nuclear club.

This weapons complex is married to nuclear power - one supports the other. Here is a short transcript, just part of the seven minute interview with Dr. Caldicott speaking to Gerri Williams of Radio Ecoshock.


"I don't think people are accepting it [nuclear power] now after Fukushima. In fact I saw a poll yesterday in the New York Times that said that about 60% of Americans now are cautious and wary and concerned about nuclear power. That's post-Fukushima, which shows that the nuclear industry have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the past few years, saying that they are the answer to global warming - even though they cause global warming in their own right because they are undergirded by huge industrial infrastructure, mining, milling, enriching uranium and building reactors - that produce a huge amount of CO2 and global warming gases.

They advertise in Scientific American, on NPR [National Public Radio] all over the place. Which was really wicked. I rang NPR and said 'Why are you taking these ads from the nuclear energy industry?' And they couldn't really answer me. Money. 'Underwriting' they call it but it's advertising.

But now the Fukushima accident I predict will lead to the end of nuclear power, not just in Japan, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, which have all said 'No'. But China, America... and also when you have a meltdown, and I tell you when you have Americans dying either of acute radiation illness and leukemia - that's it. So it hasn't hit you yet. Do you have to wait until it hits you until you develop some common sense, and do the right thing?


"The new reactors are much, much more dangerous, by orders of magnitude that the present light water reactors. Because they are fueled with Plutonium, where one millionth of a gram is a carcinogen. They are cooled by liquid sodium which explodes when exposed to air. So if you get a hole in a pipe you get a meltdown. And five kilos or ten pounds of is critical mass [the level required for a nuclear explosion]. So if you've got a hundred tons of plutonium in a nuclear reactor, and you lose the coolant, and there's a meltdown, and you get ten pounds of plutonium together, and you get critical mass, and a massive nuclear explosion scattering tons and tons of plutonium to the four winds. It's the most ghastly, hideous machine I could ever imagine. They are the new 'safe' reactors."

There is more. Download this 7 minute interview with Dr. Helen Caldicott in CD Quality or Lo-Fi.


Let’s get real about our situation.

As David Orr put it: "This is not the time for illusion or evasion; it is time for transformation".

In our Radio Ecoshock interview we talk about an article, part of an upcoming book. The title is: "GETTING REAL ABOUT IT: MEETING THE PSYCHOLOGICAL AND SOCIAL DEMANDS OF A WORLD IN DISTRESS".

Our guest is the author, Dr. Susanne C. Moser. She is a researcher and consultant from California, associated with Stanford University. Susanne was previously a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and with the Union of Concerned Scientists. She currently has her own research and consulting company in California.

I learned about Susanne's article from a link provided by Carolyn Baker, at

I've looked forward to our talk, ever since I read her refreshing look at where we really are. I ask you a few impossibly difficult questions, but only because Susanne was brave enough to raise them.

Before we get to her prescriptions for living in a sick civilization, she picks out one particular illness as a case study. We could be talking about mass extinctions, or running out of fresh water - but Moser chose the problem of climate change as her example. That is her area of expertise, where she can make the best case study of the ways we fail to look at reality.

After making a convincing case we are hurtling toward completely unknown lives, in a climate never seen by any human, Moser suggests there are two roads ahead. She calls them two kinds of transitions.

But first, I hit a real stumbling block. Moser writes about "environmental leaders".

I wonder if there are any. I see environmentalists, who are more or less powerless in the current political economy. I see leaders who are mostly bought by big fossil fuel companies, and other corporate interests. An "environmental leader" sounds like a hybrid that doesn't exist yet. Who is she you talking about?

Listen to the interview for her answer. For one thing, she is writing a chapter for the upcoming "Sage Reference Handbook of Environmental Leadership." But Moser goes much deeper, looking at the roles we all can play.

Let's imagine that whole populations realize we are in a biosphere on life-support. They elect leaders to save us from more losses, if not extinction. Moser doesn't pull any punches. She says any new system will have to live through, "enormous losses, human distress, constant crisis, and the seemingly endless need to remain engaged in the task of maintaining, restoring, and rebuilding - despite all setbacks - a viable planet..."

Here is another thorny issue we discuss: once people realize a couple of generations have ruined the known natural world, what the heck are we going to do with all the blame? Do we hang a bunch of geriatric "climate criminals"; do we declare an amnesty, or what?

I think the world of mass media, especially advertising, but also the industrial consumer system, has infantilized the whole population - all of us. We don't know how anything is produced, we just wait for it to come, and we don't count all the costs. So how do we transition a whole species away from being irresponsible children, to become responsible adult Earthlings?

Even though Moser's article "Getting Real About It" is aimed at environmental leaders, it is useful for everybody. I think that's why it's bouncing around the Net so quickly.
Download this 23 minute interview with Susanne Moser in CD quality or Lo-Fi

Under our program ending, you can hear the international artist Ariel Kalma, with "Spirit Dancer". Check out his work, as the father of disco, and electronica. Good stuff.

As always, thank you for listening, for daring to think about the tough problems of our times.

Alex Smith
Radio Ecoshock