Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Transition Yourself

Ideas from America on starting a Transition Town. Ruah Wennerfelt, Steve Chase & host Mark Helpsmeet in live stage conversation. Plus Greg Pahl, author of "Power from the People, How to Organize, Finance, and Launch Local Energy Projects." Max Keiser & Stacy Herbert on corporate corruption. Music: "In Your Eyes" by Peter Gabriel. Radio Ecoshock 120926 1 hour.

The climate has gone rogue, energy prices are threatening, and the economy sucks. You know the elections aren't going to make it better. Why wait for government? You can protect your community and yourself by helping your town withstand the shocks.

Download/listen to Radio Ecoshock for September 26, 2012 in CD quality (56 MB) here.

Or use the faster downloading, lower quality 14 MB version here.

This program is about the Transition Town Movement and local power.

We begin with a half of an hour-long dialog with Ruah Swennerfelt and Steve Chase on the Transition Town movement in New England.

It's a rebroadcast of "Sprouts", radio production by independent community media. Last July, host Mark Helpsmeet of "Spirit in Action" hosted a live event Transition Town dialog in Rhode Island at the University of Kingston. It was originally broadcast on WHYS-LP in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, as part of Northern Spirit Radio. WHYS also broadcasts Radio Ecoshock.


The opening of the Sprouts segment contains part of the song "The Turning of the World" performed by Sara Thomsen (written by Ruth Pellam) & "I Have No Hands But Yours" by Carole Johnson.

The show closes with the Peter Gabriel classic "In Your Eyes" (this You tube from a live concert from the 2003 Growing Up Tour in Filaforum, Milan, Italy. Or try this live classic recording Papa Wemba & Peter Gabriel


Our discussion of Transition in New England and Europe was recorded in front of a live audience, in early July, in Rhode Island at the University of Kingston.

One guest speaker is Ruah Swennerfelt, former long-time General Secretary of Quaker Earthcare Witness. She is currently involved with the Transition Town implementation in Charlotte, Vermont. Find her Transition US blog here.

Both our guests are involved in Quakers in Transition.

Steve Chase is Director of Advocacy for Social Justice and Sustainability at Antioch University New England. Steve talks about the Transition Town in Keene, New Hampshire, where their slogan is: "for local people concerned about peak oil, climate change, and a dysfunctional and unjust global economy - who want to respond with vision, courage, and creativity."

Helpsmeet asks how people who have very different political beliefs can work together in a Transition movement. One way is to stress "resilience" rather than the eco word "sustainability".

For the Quakers, the prospect of "energy famine" (as fossil fuels decline, become too expensive, or are taken over by others) can easily lead to resource wars. In this way, Peak Oil can really be a "peace" issue.

In Europe, some Neo-Nazi's took up the name "Transition" applied to their town. Partly in response to austerity in some European countries, this group agreed we have to learn to live on less, and so there is a need to keep immigrants out, using racist rhetoric.

In response, Transition US posted some core values, including posting local group constitutions on the Transition US web site.

It's ironic, because unlike the Nazi leadership cult, Ruah says success comes because Transition is a leaderless movement. Leadership is shared as well.

Having fun together is "a really core principle" says Ruah. Have fun, not long dreary meetings.


Keene New Hampshire had a ground-breaking for a new food coop in mid-2012. It already has a thousand members in a town of 25,000.

They have around 20 community-supported agricultural projects in their area, which allows for more local food production. They now have a farmers' market and a winter farmers' market.


What's the hurry? asks host Mark. Is it just concern with oil supplies?

There are many reasons, says Ruah, but she doesn't think of it as all doom and gloom. In permaculture, she says, the solution is found in the problem itself.

Ruah still has a car, but is always aware of her pollution, that she is helping cause more global warming. She wants a group to help develop less harmful local transportation schemes. Like biking to a collector bus van, which leads to a larger bus to the city of Burlington, Vermont.

Central is the idea that we will have to learn to live well on less. Perhaps much less. Fossil fuels will be less available, cost more, and the damage they cause will become more and more apparent. But also, the idea of global equity, which is central to global peace, demands Western people use fewer resources, allowing the poorest people to get the basics.

In most cities, there is only 3 to 5 days’ worth of food. After that, if the trucks don't roll in, people run out of food. Local food production increases the ability to absorb coming shocks in the food production and delivery system, for whatever reason.


Ruah describes how to start a Transition Town. There are three books now available to help: the first one was "Transition Handbook" by Rob Hopkins. You'll have to get that one used from online services, as it is out of print. The Transition Culture blog now advocates buying "Transition Companion" also by Rob Hopkins. There is a third: "Transition Timeline" by Shaun Chamberlin published in 2009.

Here is the description of "Transition Timeline" from

"The Transition Timeline lightens the fear of our uncertain future, providing a map of what we are facing and the different pathways available to us. It describes four possible scenarios for the UK and world over the next twenty years, ranging from Denial, in which we reap the consequences of failing to acknowledge and respond to our environmental challenges, to the Transition Vision, in which we shift our cultural assumptions to fit our circumstances and move into a more fulfilling, lower-energy world. The practical, realistic details of this Transition Vision are examined in depth, covering key areas such as food, energy, demographics, transport and healthcare, and they provide a sense of context for communities working towards a thriving future.

The book also provides a detailed and accessible update on climate change and peak oil and the interactions between them, including their impacts in the UK, present and future. Use it. Choose your path, and then make that future real with your actions, individually and with your community. As Rob Hopkins outlines in his foreword, there is a rapidly- spreading movement addressing these challenges, and it needs you.

Also see Rob Hopkins in a 17 minute presentation "Transition to a World without Oil" at TED, on You tube in 2009.


In 2011, Ruah visited Transition communities in 10 different European countries, as well as a "Transition France" conference and a "Transition UK" conference. All the communities took different steps, or in different order, to adapt to where they lived.

There is even Transition Paris. They broke down into smaller transition communities within the larger city. They had a central hub to serve these smaller groups.

They do the same thing in Transition Los Angeles and Transition Barcelona.

Find Transition Barcelona in Spanish or in English.

One group in England had members map out where food trees, like peak and apple trees, were accessible and perhaps not harvested. They asked homeowners for permission to harvest the fruit, rather than let it be wasted.

In Charlotte, Vermont they have an "Asset Directory". They took a survey of community skills, to allow skill-sharing. It also hooks up people who want to learn skills, whether it's canning, small scale farming or whatever.

Steve Case points out that social movements are not like corporate franchises. You don't buy a license to become a Transition Town. There are about 1,000 formal transition initiatives around the world.

They have workshops on how to deal with difficult people. We are a "cussed species" and sometimes the culture doesn't help us.

We need an outer transition to reconfigure our communities with resilience, an energy descent plan, to live without damaging the climate, and live on less and less.


When Rob Hopkins wrote the Transition Handbook around 2008, he advanced "the theory of anyway". Even if climate change isn't as serious, or oil continues longer than thought, or the economy limps along - we'll still be living and eating better with the transition town, with a more resilient economy. You'll feel better with more local democracy, more skills, and more community involvement - no matter what happens.

The international site for Transition Towns is here.

The local producers and buyers try to reduce food miles, and the use of pesticides and fertilizers which are petroleum based. Like Ruah, Steve Chase says the challenges of energy depletion and economic downsizing also contain the solutions. For example, one water treatment plant in New England was getting swamped by sudden inflows of water. This problem was solved by installing micro-generators on the intake pipes. Now that plant is self-sufficient, generating its own energy from the former "problem".

They plan to have about 12 transition trainers in New England this year, to offer weekend workshops. Beyond this basic training there is a new training workshop called "Transition Thrive" (what to do next, after getting your group going).

Transition groups in Scotland are incorporated to do community business, like community bakeries. Ruah recommends the book "The Town That Food Saved". It's about Hardwick Vermont.

It's important to partner with town or city government. Their local government had one immediate problem: too many parents drove kids to school even though school buses are provided. It caused dangerous congestion, and more climate change. How to make riding the bus cool for kids? Now that's a challenge!

Transition may say "don't wait for government" but groups still work with existing governments to get things done, says Steve Chase.

In Keene, they have awareness raising "Transition Tuesday". One success was showing the film "A Convenient Truth" about Curitiba Brazil. That town transformed itself. See a short trailer for A Convenient Truth here.

People need to see examples of what is possible, Chase says, rather than only hearing the dire consequences if we don't do something. Once you begin to think creatively, all the problems seem like opportunities.


In our second half hour, our guest is Greg Pahl, author of the new book "Power from the People, How to Organize, Finance, and Launch Local Energy Projects."

We all worry about future energy supplies - and the climate cost of what we've got now.

We have to choose between big utility mega-projects, or toss some solar panels on the roof, right? Wrong, according to Greg Pahl. He gives examples of community-based energy projects from the West Coast to the East Coast.

Greg tells us about two projects: a solar community installation in Ellensburg Washington State, formed in 2006; and the Fox Islands Wind Project in Vinalhaven Maine.

The Fox Islands project is three wind turbines funded and owned by the local community, instead of a distant big corporation. Pahl says local energy not only helps unite a community, it also helps the local economy in these hard times.

We even talk about what condo owners and apartment dwellers can do to make communities more energy self-reliant. For example, one condo association in Chicago voted to install solar on their roof-tops. Other people can support larger local energy projects.

Pahl also notes that sometime moving is the right thing to do. You could either move to a more energy efficient house, build one, or - as we talked about in last week's Radio Ecoshock show "Heading to Air Conditioned Hell" - move to a part of the country or world which requires far less energy for heat or cooling.

Local energy initiatives do not have to be huge. For example, instead of building a dam which deforms river ecology, your town or group could use run-of-the-river power generation.

Greg Pahl isn't a fan of hydrogen. That really isn't an energy source, but a type of storage and transmission. It currently takes so much power to pry hydrogen out of water, that the hydrogen process is a net energy loser.

We talk about financing local energy projects. Don't discount the possibility of funding from local banks or credit unions, Pahl says. "Crowd funding" will also be legal in the U.S. for energy projects in 2013, with new regulations coming from the SEC, as part of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act.

"Power from the People, How to Organize, Finance, and Launch Local Energy Projects" is from Chelsea Green Publishing and part of the Post Carbon Institute’s Community Resilience Series. Find out more at

We started out this program with information on how to turn your community into a Transition Town, with examples from New England. Next week we'll find out this transition movement transcends many different political views. The famous alternative thinker Albert Bates joins us from The Farm in Tennessee. Albert tells me Transition can succeed in a Red State, thick with Republican voters, even in very rural communities. We'll find out how.

As you know, the Transtion Movement started out in the UK with Rob Hopkins and his community. If you have local experiences you would like to share, be sure and send me an email with a short description of what is going on. We can share that with listeners, or perhaps you can be a guest on Radio Ecoshock, sharing what works. Maybe you would like to suggest someone I should call as a guest. There are two ways to get in touch: email me - the address is Or go to our web site at and click on the "contact" button to send me your message.

When it comes to Transition, we all have a role to play, and a voice to speak. I appreciate hearing from you.


We have a little time left to pass on this gem from another in my list of must-listen radio. This is from the "Truth About Markets" radio program, broadcast from Resonance FM in London. Co-hosts Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert have been warning for years the banking and corporate system are corrupt. They pretty well coined the term "banksters" back in the day when people still trusted banks and the markets.

In this 5 minute clip, Max - who worked for years in the markets, and designed sophisticated trading software, and Tracy talk about new studies on one law for the rich, and another for you and I.

The research they discuss shows that corporations who pay big lobby bucks are far less likely to be investigated, and if they are caught, get much more lenient sentences. There is academic research to prove that. Listen and learn.

Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert from the August 11th "Truth About Markets" show (Episode 325) on Resonance FM, London . Resonance FM also broadcasts Radio Ecoshock every Tuesday at noon.

Their web site is Use the search box on the home page to searchg for "Truth About Markets" to listen or download.

By the way, Max Keiser and Stacy are one of the few finance experts who also warn us about climate change, rather than denying it. It's refreshing.

You've been listening to Radio Ecoshock. I'm Alex Smith. Our web site is

We'll finish this show with the classic by Peter Gabriel "In Your Eyes" (links above). Something in the words and melody stuck a chord in my heart this week.

Look after one another, and thanks for caring about your world.

Alex Smith

Monday, September 17, 2012

Heading to Air Conditioned Hell

Who knew air conditioning could add another 20% to the world's emissions? High power use and nasty refrigerants. Stan Cox, author of "Losing Our Cool". Guus Velders, Netherlands Environment Agency, expert on ozone and climate. Michael Sivak, U. of Michigan, on global expansion of air conditioning. Music: "Mercy" by The Dave Matthews Band. Radio Ecoshock 120919 1 hour.

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Stage one: the Earth gets hotter and hotter due to growing greenhouse gas emissions.

Stage two: humans cool themselves artificially with machines.

Stage Three: air conditioning makes the world even hotter, until we run out of fossil fuels to run the machines, or extinction takes us down.

It's an obvious progression, another adaptation to what we've done. I counted air-conditioning as a minor factor, another irritant to living systems. Now I've learned it's a major vector, a force that could help tip us into runaway climate change.

Everybody knows air-conditioners suck up lots of energy, most of it powered by coal. We've heard rumors a billion people in Asia are buying them. I've known for 20 years the refrigerants are super global warming gases - but those tiny amounts hiding in the back of our refrigerators and air-conditioners can't amount to all that much...

Wait until you hear the truth about air-conditioning. We've got three powerful interviews. Stan Cox is author of the best guide, a book called "Losing Our Cool". His latest article in the Guardian newspaper gives us the global picture.

Dr. Guus Velders is from Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, and he advises world bodies on ozone depletion and climate change.

Dr. Michael Sivak from the University of Michigan wrote the best studies on the global growth of air-conditioning.

We wrap up with a new song from The Dave Matthews Band which captures our situation so well. It's called "Mercy" - hear the whole song at the end of the show.

Are we heading to air-conditioned Hell? I'm Alex Smith. Tune in to our guests this week, and find out for yourself.


This week we're looking at air-conditioning. Are we heading into artificially cooled caves as the outdoors becomes unbearably hot? In some places, anyone who can has already abandoned the summer streets, travelling between air conditioned rooms in air conditioned cars. If the grid fails, or electricity becomes too much, what then?

All the while, the gases used to cool your food in ships and trucks, in a billion refrigerators and hundreds of millions of air conditioners for homes, malls, offices and factories, is escaping into the upper atmosphere, like a blanket warming the world.


In November 2010, Radio Ecoshock interviewed Stan Cox, author of an excellent book on the over-all impacts of air-conditioning, titled "Losing Our Cool". We mostly talked about the United States, how air conditioning has changed the way people interact, and the huge amount of energy wasted.

Stan's authority on air-conditioning has gone global, just as air-conditioning is exploding in the developing world, including China and India. His most recent article for Yale 360 was republished in Britain's Guardian newspaper. It's a scary read, with a little known twist that could help tip us into runaway climate change.

Stan Cox is a senior scientist at a non-profit agricultural research institute in Salina, Kansas.

This past June I was in Page Arizona. It has hardly rained there for two years. The temperature was 104 degrees in the shade - 40 Celsius. It was punishing. When people stopped for coffee, they left their vehicles running to keep them cool. The streets were deserted by ten in the morning, it was just too hot. Everyone spends the day hiding in some air-conditioned building.

I asked whether there will be a mass exodus of people from the American South, when electricity prices get too high. Now we're into a series of record hot years, the hottest July in American records - how long can the Sun Belt residents keep their cool?

Stan's article for Yale 360 - I read it in the Guardian - took us out of America, and into a whole new world of air conditioning. Where is the big growth of air conditioning now?

Northern India just suffered the world's biggest power blackout. Electricity for 700 million people went off, for a few days. A lot of that was due to demand for air conditioning. We talk about India's love-affair with cooling, powered by coal.

Then we cover the growing A.C. giant of the world: China.


Of course, we could always listen to Rush. Maybe he's not high on a hundred painkillers any more, but Rush Limbaugh's brain takes him on some strange excursions. I play you a quick clip, as Rush explains how air conditioning makes you think global warming is happening, even when it's not.

Thanks Rush. It just FEELS hotter because we have air-conditioning...Never mind all those temperature records measured by new-fangled thermometers. Or the melting poles. Who needs science when we've got you! Try Radio Ecoshock instead.


Why are we using super global warming gases, thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide in air conditioners? Let's find out, from Dr. Guus Velders.

I found out about Guus from the Guardian article by Stan Cox.

Let me give you one astounding paragraph from that article in the Guardian newspaper published on July 10th 2012. This blew my mind:

"According to a recent forecast by Guus Velders of the Netherlands' National Institute for Public Health and the Environment and his colleagues, refrigerants that accumulate in the atmosphere between now and 2050 (increasingly HFCs, mostly from refrigeration and air conditioning) will add another 14 to 27 percent to the increased warming caused by all human-generated carbon dioxide emissions. "

So we're not talking about all the greenhouse gases coming from generating electricity to power billions of air conditioners, as frightening as that is. No, this Dutch report is just about the refrigerants, the chemicals hiding in the back of all our refrigerators and air conditioners - adding as much as another 25% to all our warming of the planet!

Could the cooling chemicals in your refrigerator or air conditioner help tip the world into massive heating? "Yes" says expert Guus Velders, as billions more units are sold in the developing world, using the same chemicals.

Dr. Guus Velders is an expert's expert. He works at the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency as a senior scientist on ozone depletion, climate change, and air quality. Velders advises the Dutch Government, the European Environment Agency, and makes assessments for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations Environment Program and more.

As you know, the science of how small amounts of a chemical can radically change the heat-trapping ability of the atmosphere isn't new. The Irish scientist John Tyndall made this discovery as early as 1860. But now we are using relatively new chemicals, known as CFC's and HFC's. Perhaps we should lay the groundwork with CFC's, also known by the DuPont trade name "Freon" - and their role in damaging the ozone.

To stop this ozone damage, the Montreal Protocol, first agreed in 1987, called for a ban on CFC's, with some exceptions for developing countries. The cooling industry provided a replacement that was safe for consumers, but not for the climate.

Moving to 2009, in this You tube video Velders said the Montreal Protocol accomplished more to control climate change than the first stage of the Kyoto Protocol. But he warned we needed to reign in HFC's or lose any progress. At that time, Velders reported HFC emissions could be the equivalent to 6 or even 8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, by 2010.

In my reading of graphs presented in his 2009 paper, HFC consumption by developing countries appears to reach the same levels as developed countries around 2015 to 2018. The radiative forcing from HFC use in developing countries equals all developed countries a little later, around 2025 to 2030 - but then takes off upward in a very steep curve, indicating big impacts on the climate. We talked about how these refrigerants escape. Velders gives the example of the hundreds of millions of car air conditioners. Because there is so much shaking during travel, about 15% of car refrigerants escape into the atmosphere every year.

Refrigerators and air conditioners are always being replaced. While some European countries have strict provisions for recapturing the coolants for incineration, most of the world just dumps the old machinery. The refrigerants escape into the atmosphere, adding super warming gases.

Dr. Guus Velders is also a published expert on the relationships between ozone damage and climate change. In fact, he was a lead author in an IPCC special report on ozone depletion and climate change.

That's a subject that stumps many people. Countless well-meaning people say we have to stop the ozone hole to save the planet from climate change. The public gets the two issues confused, and they are very different.


Dr. Michael Sivak is the director of Sustainable World-wide Transportation at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. He's looked at the energy we use to heat and cool, coming up with useful suggestions for where you might want to live, who's next for the air-conditioning boom, and how the world should count carbon emissions.

We take a lightening tour through three of his papers. The earliest is called: "Where to live in the United States: Combined energy demand for heating and cooling in the 50 largest metropolitan areas."

It's intriguing. Energy costs, with the exception of natural gas, just keep going up. Around 35 million Americans moved around last year anyway, according to the U.S. Census Bureau 2011.

Where should people go to pay the lowest energy bills, and reduce their climate footprint? Sivak found people in San Diego have the lowest energy footprint, while places like Milwaukee have the highest.

That paper was published in 2008. Since then, we've had some scorching years, with milder winters - with more to come as the climate changes. According to Sivak's work, from Florida right across the South, Americans already use more energy for cooling than heating. If the world warms a few degrees, places like New England might require less energy?

Then we move to the global scale, with Michael Sivak's article titled "Potential energy demand for cooling in the 50 largest metropolitan areas of the world: Implications for developing countries."

In the U.S. Sivak found heating homes still using more energy than cooling. Does that hold true for the biggest world cities? Not at all. The developing mega-cities are toward the south, with much hotter climates. Cooling demands must have been a factor in last summer's world's largest blackout across Northern India.

Now more people live in cities than in rural areas, and that trend is accelerating. We know leafy, natural landscapes add cooling, while cities develop a "heat island" effect which raises temperatures several degrees. Add in the trend toward higher incomes, and global warming - I worry people will need air conditioning in cities, just to survive. That will make climate change and energy shortages even worse.

Perhaps you've seen rankings of countries based on their emissions per capita. Michael Sivak says those aren't fair, unless we also count each nation's real need for heating and cooling. That's in a recent publication in "American Scientist", written with Brandon Schoettle. The article is called "Accounting for Climate in Ranking Countries' Carbon Dioxide Emissions". In a way, Michael, is building on his earlier studies.

He seems to be saying, people in other countries have a right to be as comfortable as we are. If we ever agree on a fair distribution of greenhouse gas emissions, we have to count that in. That isn't necessarily bad for developed countries. Americans may have a right to a certain amount of energy because their climate demands it - while a balmy Pacific island state does not.

Calculating carbon allowances based on heating and cooling needs seems like common sense. We'll see if international negotiators pick up on this.


Remember, in our current rush to air-condition everywhere, Dr. Gus Velders estimates that by 2050, the burst of energy use combined with super warming gases in the refrigerants, could add up to 20% of our current total emissions. It doesn't take much to tip a climate into a new hothouse age. Maybe that will do it.

In the movie sci-fi movie "Brazil" by Terry Gilliam, every home and indoor space is climate controlled by machines. Otherwise, who could stand what is lurking outdoors. We may be there already. As our first guest Stan Cox told us, it took a generation for Americans to install 100 million air-conditioners. Fifty million were sold in China in 2010 alone.

The strange thing is: as Elizabeth Rosenthal makes clear in her excellent series in The New York Times, we have much safer alternatives. Commercial installations (like shopping malls!) could use ammonia as a coolant. They just have to keep the ammonia outside.

Watch this New York Times video with Elizabeth Rosenthal to get the images and facts on the cooling mania.

Even carbon dioxide itself can be a refrigerant, and there are others. Greenpeace developed a "green fridge" that was manufactured in Cuba. I've seen one and it works great. The industry could switch over tomorrow if there was enough public awareness and demand.

You can even find You tube videos of how to hook up an air conditioner to as little as 600 watts of solar panels, keeping a house cool enough for comfort without burning fossil fuels.

As we feel the rumble of the on-coming climate train, I'm not going to count on prayer alone. Activism and action can preserve a livable world. Next week, we'll hear about the beginnings, in localization and the transition movement.

I'm Alex Smith. You can contact me through our web site at I always appreciate your feed-back, tips, and ideas.

Radio Ecoshock isn't a music show, even though good sound often sustains me. But when I heard this new song by The Dave Matthews Band, I had to share it with you. It's called "Mercy".

Monday, September 10, 2012

ARCTIC MELT DOWN Scientists Speak Out

In 2012, the Arctic Sea Ice hit a stunning new record low. Rutgers scientist Jennifer Francis explains how this changes weather for billions of people in the Northern Hemisphere. Plus the Director of the Snow and Ice Data Center, Mark Serreze on record and what it means, and analysis from polar scientist Cecelia Bitz, U of Washington. In depth, direct from top scientists. Radio Ecoshock 120912 1 hour.




It's been called the Arctic Death Spiral. All time-lows for polar sea ice have been shattered this year.

A new record Arctic sea ice melt-back occurred in August 2012 ( a month earlier than ever before), with more to come in September. To me, this may be the largest single impact of human activity on the planet. It's hard to exaggerate how big this story is.

In early September, it looks like the last of the Arctic ice is hovering around the large chain of islands in the Canadian Arctic, to the West of Greenland. The West side of the Arctic Ocean is wide open, the fabled Northwest Passage along the Canadian Coast is clear with some ice around McClure Straight. The sea ice has melted away from the entire Russian coast along Siberia.

Sooner or later, there will be no sea ice in the Arctic in the summer months. Professor Peter Wadhams of Cambridge, previously a guest on Radio Ecoshock, now predicts we could see that open Arctic Ocean as soon as 2015.

All the 24 hour power of the summer sun will pour into the polar ocean, instead of being reflected back into space. A new article in the Journal "Nature" reports parts of Arctic Siberia are already releasing far more carbon dioxide and methane than previously thought.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center says lack of sea ice could drive heat up to 900 miles further inland, threatening to melt the Permafrost. Most scientists agree that would trigger runaway global warming, well beyond anything humans could do to stop it.

It's an Arctic Emergency, plain and simple - a warning sign Earth's climate is tipping into a new hothouse age.

We need all the facts we can get, and I've lined up three of the best scientists for this week's show. We'll talk with atmospheric scientist and polar expert Dr. Cecilia Bitz from the University of Washington. We'll get the latest figures, and tips for tracking the polar ice yourself - from the Director of the National Sea and Ice Data Center, Dr. Mark Serreze.

But first, I want you to hear the Rutgers University scientist who is stirring up meteorologists, TV weather people, and government insiders. Dr. Jennifer Francis says the melt-back of Arctic sea ice is already affecting the climate of the whole Northern Hemisphere.



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Jennifer Francis is a Research Professor at the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, at Rutgers University, in New Jersey. She is an atmospheric scientist who specializes in the Arctic. Dr. Francis has many published papers, and don't miss her important presentation on You tube from the Weather and Climate Summit, held at Breckenridge, Colorado in January 2012. The New York Times also interviewed her about a new observation: melting Arctic Sea Ice has changed our weather further south.

The idea that sea ice could modify weather in the American Mid-West, the UK, or China, is hard to grasp. In school, we were never taught about waves and rivers in the atmosphere, like the Rossby waves, or the Jet Stream.

Spend the time on this in-depth video: Jennifer Francis presenting at the Weather and Climate Summit last January. Pretend you are going back to college - to find out how the world works now that global warming is melting the Arctic. You'll be surprised how much sense strange winters, and the daily weather forecast starts to make sense, after you've seen this.

One big surprise for me in this Jennifer Francis interview: I assumed that the summer sea ice melt would be a driving factor in things like the record heat waves in the U.S. this past summer, the big drought there, and the wet summer in the UK and Northern Europe. But Francis says the main impact of less sea ice comes as the ice refreezes. That releases heat, builds up a big high pressure zone around the poles, and impacts WINTER WEATHER in the Northern Hemisphere.

The summer weather, Francis suggests, is more changed by the record early snow melt in Arctic lands this spring and summer. Mark Serreze confirms there was a record snow melt this year, exposing a lot of land, across Russia, Canada, and Alaska, to much more heat. That is one of the biggest unreported stories of this year. We've all be staring that sea ice melt, without also looking at the huge melt back of snow, much earlier than normal, on land.

We've heard warnings that retreating ice means a change in the salt content of the sea, which could produce more climate changes, if the Gulf Stream warming New England and Northern Europe weakens. Jennifer Francis says that is such a slow long-term process, we don't have to focus on that now. It can be a positive feed-back loop as changes in the ocean develop, but not a big change. The movie "The Day After Tomorrow" looked impressive, but it's simply not possible to see such a big change in a small time scale. We can dial that down - for now!

Finally, I asked Dr. Francis how other scientists are receiving the theory her group proposed. She replied it's not so much a "theory" as a paper of observations. That is, their science is not based on models, but on actual reporting of events in the Arctic, and the behavior of the Jet Stream.

Frankly, this year's record melt of the summer sea ice leaves me with a sense or horror. Dr. Francis says we should all be shocked and worried about such a big change in the way Earth systems work.


When it comes to the Arctic, one of the first stops for both media and scientists is the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder Colorado.

Radio Ecoshock is pleased to have as our guest the NSIDC Director and Senior Research Scientist, Dr. Mark Serreze.

The capability scientists ask for most is for better ways to measure that ice thickness. Is the United States working on improved ice monitoring? Yes, Serreze tells us - but the most useful satellite for measuring Arctic ice is no longer there - and the next one won't be launched until 2016.

We also discuss the fact that America has only one operational polar class ice breaker. Russia has about 17. The U.S. rents a Russian icebreaker just to reach their Antarctic base. All the scientists I talked to would like to see at least one more Arctic icebreaker - especially if there is going to be more ship traffic and oil drilling in the Arctic.

You might think with less ice we need fewer icebreakers - but Serreze explains why the need is greater than ever. To build a new icebreaker could cost as much as half a billion dollars - money that might be hard to find in these fiscally challenged days. It's possible there might be no search and rescue, security patrols, or oil spill cleanup help from the United States.

Way back in June 2008, the NSICS warned heat from the Arctic Ocean could penetrate up to 900 miles inland! Let's take a snip from that release.

MEDIA ADVISORY: Permafrost Threatened by Rapid Retreat of Arctic Sea Ice, NCAR/NSIDC Study Finds

"The findings point to a link between rapid sea ice loss and enhanced rate of climate warming, which could penetrate as far as 900 miles inland. In areas where permafrost is already at risk, such as central Alaska, the study suggests that periods of abrupt sea ice loss can lead to rapid soil thaw.

Thawing permafrost may have a range of impacts, including buckled highways and destabilized houses, as well as changes to the delicate balance of life in the Arctic. In addition, scientists estimate that Arctic soils hold at least 30 percent of all the carbon stored in soils worldwide. While scientists are uncertain what will happen if this permafrost thaws, it has the potential to contribute substantial amounts of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

As wrap up the Serreze interview, he gives us all helpful tips on how to use their fabulous web site to keep tabs on the Arctic. There are easy to click maps and information sheets for the non-scientist. If you have the expertise, you can even download their raw data to run your own models. It's a tremendous resource.


Our last guest on this Radio Ecoshock Arctic special is Dr. Cecilia Bitz. At the University of Washington, she is Associate Professor in the Atmospheric Sciences Department, an Affiliate Physicist for the Polar Science Center, and part of the Program on Climate Change.

Dr. Bitz studies the role of sea ice in the climate system and its impacts on wildlife. She's also investigating Arctic ice in past climate change, and works with models attempting to predict the future.

I ask her how we know global warming is causing this Arctic ice disaster, and not some other force, like Sun spots, or natural ocean changes. It turns out about 30% of the record melt of sea ice is due to natural causes - particularly the North Atlantic Oscillation.

But the other 70%, according to Bitz and many other experts, is due to human made climate change.

I find it interesting to note another scientist at the University of Washington, Jinlun Zhang, points out Antarctic Sea ice has NOT retreated, and temperatures have not risen there very much. Why is the Arctic experiencing astonishing change, while most of Antarctica is not? Bitz says the West Antarctic Peninsula is experiencing extreme warming and ice loss. But the main part of the Antarctic continent is surrounded by oceans, unlike the Arctic Ocean surrounded by big land masses. That is the principal difference. The details also include the different mixing patterns and currents around Antarctica. That Southern Pole will lag significantly behind the Arctic, when it comes to global warming.

I know Cecilia Bitz works on climate models. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was not alone in missing how quickly this sea ice melt happened. If climate models serve as our eyes into the future, why did they fail us, and what can we do to improve them? We discuss that.

It's a pleasure to talk over the whole Arctic situation with such a scientist.


Arctic methane - new study says methane from the Arctic "an order of magnitude larger" than previously estimated, from Eastern Siberian sea.

George Monbiot has some really handy Arctic facts in this column in the Guardian newspaper (UK)


Is the Arctic Ocean set to warm and change the world climate? Never mind. Big oil is getting ready to party. Greenpeace warns Arctic drilling will tip the planet into weather extremes, and spills there can never be cleaned up. I play a quick clip from Greenpeace saying oil drilling in the Arctic, now that oil burning has destroyed the summer sea ice, is "obscene".

That is followed by a slice from Democracy Now, as host Amy Goodman interviews Greenpeace Director Kumi Naidoo. He is live on the deck of the Russian Gazprom Arctic drilling rig, doing what Executive Directors never do. Naidoo is hanging under a high pressure fire hose, as the activist group protests that ice-hardened Russian drilling rig.

Greenpeace protesters were also arrested in Moscow, in a concerted effort to wake up the Russian public to the threat of Arctic oil drilling.


We're out of time. Maybe really out of time - for the sea ice, for the polar bears, for the Arctic environment, for the climate as we know it. I urge you to wake up your neighbors, your local and regional politicians, your national candidates. Don't shut up. Pass on the news, talk it up, blog it up, use social media and all the media.

Make copies of this program, to play for groups, or just hand them out on CD. Download it free from the Radio Ecoshock web site at

See you next week, as we head to air-conditioned Hell. Then we'll transition to real local solutions where you can play a big part.

I'm Alex Smith. Thanks for listening, and caring about your world.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Looking for an End


Waiting for a resolution to the triple crisis of climate, energy and the economy? Alex interviews Gareth Renowden, co-host of New Zealand's "The Climate Show" on the big stories. From Beijing, Li Yan, Greenpeace East Asia climate coordinator, on China's emissions and coal dependence. Plus "Tip of the Iceberg News" points you to important blog posts and audio you may have missed. Music from Deva Prewal. Radio Ecoshock 120905 1 hour.

Welcome back to another season of Radio Ecoshock! I am your tour guide, Alex Smith.

In this week's program we travel the world. From New Zealand, we'll hash out our disturbed weather, with the co-host of The Climate Show, Gareth Renowden.

Then it's off to Beijing, for a report straight from China. Greenpeace Asia Campaigner Li Yan is our guest.

We'll cap that off with "Tip of the Iceberg News" - my welcome back round up of world-shaking developments, pointers to great audio, blogs and articles, and four big trends in the alternative/activist scene.

Our music artist this week is Deva Premal. Find her at White Swan Records, or at her web site here.