Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Three stories, 3 hosts, 3 continents. Professor John D. Steinbruner on a new report to the C.I.A. about disruptive climate change. Ecoshock's Gerri Williams with Jonathan Kaufman, EarthRights International. Why do big oil companies pay for spills in developed countries, and get away with murder in Nigeria? From Berlin, Daphne Wysham with expert Hans Verholme: the fantastic growth of renewable energy in Germany. Radio Ecoshock 121128 1 hour.
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WHAT DOES THE CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY KNOW ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE?
John D. Steinbruner
A new report to the C.I.A. advises the intelligence and security community to prepare for disruption in a warming world.
The title of the assessment from National Research Council is “Climate and Social Stress: Implications for Security Analysis.” You can read the full text of this report here.
In a strange irony, presentation of this report to the C.I.A. was temporarily postponed, as the capital closed down due to a violent storm, Hurricane Sandy.
Our guest is John D. Steinbruner. He's a Professor of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, and chairs the 14-member panel of experts who conducted the analysis for the intelligence community.
If I were in the C.I.A., I would certainly have paid attention to the Russian heat wave of 2010. At least one nuclear reactor, and another Russian military base with nuclear materials were cut off and threatened by fire, which was stopped only by extraordinary measures.
DOES DISASTER MAKE BIG GOVERNMENT WEAKER OR STRONGER?
Let's consider climate and government. A major climatic event might destabilize a central government, or it might make it stronger.
Take the case of the Pakistan floods of 2010, which covered an estimated one fifth of the land area in this nuclear-armed country. There could have been social break-down, but my understanding from people in-country was the government looked after its own supporters first, and may have been strengthened by disruption in areas where they had weak control anyway.
Even considering U.S hurricanes, we could say the poor response of the Bush administration weakened the federal government. The anti-FEMA meme (the right wing conspiracy theory that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is planning concentration camps, etc.,) grew stronger after Hurricane Katrina. The idea that central government was incompetent, and less necessary, accelerated after 2005.
By contrast President Obama's team response may have strengthened public perception of the necessity of a strong central government. There was less hostility to Federal aid and demand for more of it.
Given the likely role of warming oceans and rising seas adding to the damage from both hurricanes, we can see the possibility of even worse future climate events affecting the ability to govern all over the world.
Consider Mali, that central African country suffering from long-term drought that may be linked to global warming. Islamic fundamentalists, carrying weapons taken from fallen Libya, have taken over the northern part of the country. The whole of the North Africa Sahel is drought-stricken and at the same time politically unstable.
Dr. Steinbruner and I spend more time looking at the flash point of Pakistan and India. Water needed to irrigate Pakistani crops, to feed the people, is dwindling in the Indus River, as glaciers and snowfall decline upstream in India. The Pakistani government blames its old enemy India, but is climate change the real culprit?
I ask Steinbruner how seriously the C.I.A. takes climate change. That's a difficult question as the Agency just closed its climate change office. Were they ducking Republican attacks on climate, ahead of looming budget cuts across the board in the Federal government? Did the C.I.A. climate operation just go underground (it's what they do for a living)? Or is the Obama Administration just not that interested in climate information? We don't know.
What we do know is the National Research Council report was well received where it was presented, and Dr. Steinbruner hopes it assist all the government agencies get ready for possible "climate surprises" coming up.
Unfortunately, the NRC was only tasked to look at the next ten years. The biggest surprises might come a decade or two later. Climate change is definitely a subject for long-term study and planning.
At least we know: the government has been told.
I have to wonder, how much will the intelligence agencies share with other government agencies, and the public? As we learned from 911, critical information can become compartmentalized. Right now, governments in some countries are either publicly denying climate change, or trying to avoid talking about it. If their intelligence agencies see a real threat, will we even find out in time to protect ourselves?
Climate change is a global problem unfolding in various ways across the world. A massive flood in Beijing or Mumbai might begin a financial or political domino effect reaching us at home. The report suggests a network of rapid information sharing between America, her allies, and other governments - as fast-developing climate events arise. But Pakistan considers things like rainfall statistics a national secret. India wants to sell the info to the U.S. Satellites can only do so much.
John Steinbruner has blogged about a book by Fred Guterl, the Executive Editor of Scientific American. It's called "Fate of the Species: Why the Human Race May Cause its Own Extinction and How We Can Stop It." Find an abbreviated version of that book here at Scientific American.
I ask Dr. Steinbruner whether the panel of National Research Council experts considered the possibility that runaway climate change could bring about the human extinction.
THE POSITIVE SIDE OF CLIMATE DISASTERS
One surprising result of the National Research Council study was the possibility of building better communities.
Climate instability may not be all bad. Tyrants may have a harder time subjugating people where climate stress changes communications and social relations. The victims may unite into new political formations.
Maybe people will develop a larger sense of a shared Earth.
It seems that people engulfed in the climate emergency, whether they live in Asia or the Rockaways of New York - have to create an instant community of self-help. Just look at the way Occupy movement members jumped in to help in the hardest hit areas. They were very effective, without government help.
Maybe we'll see more localization and resilience developing, as big weather events strike with more regularity. Will a more stressful climate change social organization?
John D. Steinbruner has written a lot of technical books on security and public policy, but also a novel "The Secular Monastery". It's an intriguing look at a society where information is used for the public good. That is a novel idea. Find more about that book here.
OIL CRIME AND JUSTICE IN NIGERIA
Next we turn to unreported news: huge oil spills continue in Nigeria. In America, BP may pony up over 4 billion dollars in damages for their Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. But in Nigeria, none of big oil corporations are fined for their decades of pollution. The fisher people lose their livelihoods; vast areas of the Niger Delta are plagued with oil spills and leaks.
But the government of Nigeria gets most of its income from oil revenues, not from taxpayers. Leaders there know where the money comes from, and more or less work for the oil multinationals like Shell, Exxon/Mobil and the usual suspects.
American and European multinationals are dodging the law and wreaking havoc with nature and local people. From the Washington studios of WPFW Pacifica radio, Ecoshock correspondent Gerri Williams reports.
Gerri's guest is Jonathan Kaufman, an attorney with EarthRights International. That organization finds ways to give a voice to the dispossessed, polluted and wronged in countries where justice is in short supply.
Kaufman describes the on-going oil mess in Nigeria, and the lack of redress. America imports lots of Nigerian oil, as does Europe. But hardly anyone covers the corruption and outright murder going on there.
What to do? The Shell oil company is being sued for damages in a local court in the Netherlands.
IF CORPORATIONS ARE "PEOPLE" THEY SHOULD BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE
Others have brought a suit all the way to the American Supreme Court. The discussion there should concern all of us. As you know, corporations have been designated as "persons" - people with rights. The current Supreme Court strengthened those corporate rights in the case of Citizens United.
But as Kaufman explains, there is a law dating back to the pirate days of 1789, as America's fundamental laws were drawn up. As I understand it, any person profiting from illegal action abroad could be brought to justice in an American court. Well.... corporations are "persons" - so this law should apply to big oil companies like Exxon or Shell. All of a sudden, lawyers are trying to argue corporations cannot be held responsible for things like genocide or pollution they cause or fund. They can't have it both ways.
So this is an interview for those interested in the mysteries of Nigeria, but also for everyone following the legal rights corporations are claiming for themselves, versus the public interest.
Find Jonathan Kaufman's blog here.
Gerri Williams did a great job getting this interview.
GREEN ENERGY SUCCESS IN GERMANY: HOW DID THEY DO IT?
Last summer, Germany - that industrial power of Europe - had enough renewable energy to sustain their entire grid. Daphne Wysham from the Institute for Policy Studies was in Berlin to find out how they did it. Daphne is the long-time Earthbeat Radio.
In Berlin, sitting beside the River Spree, outside the new German parliament buildings, Daphne sat down with energy and climate expert Hans Verholme.
The interview is important, because Verholme describes what works to make a country go for green energy. The population gets involved because they can make money at it too. Distributed energy is more important than giant wind or solar farms, and more resilient.
The struggle to keep the big energy and transmission corporations from ruining the green revolution never ends, Verholme says. But so far it's working in Germany, and Verholme has good advice for people in North America who want that same energy security along with a safer climate.
I wish I had a transcript of this interview. Anyone wanting to volunteer should email me at radio [at]ecoshock.org so we don't get duplication.
Again my thanks this week to all those who donated to keep Radio Ecoshock going. The "Donate" button is at the top right of this blog. Your donations let me concentrate on developing big stories.
The Kevin Anderson show two weeks ago continues to reverberate. Discussion continues on that blog item. Please note I added a link to the full transcript provided by a Radio Ecoshock listener. That's very helpful.
The Cabot Institute, who hosted Anderson's lecture "Real Clothes for the Emperor: Facing the challenges of climate change" posted a video of the whole lecture on this page.
Craig K. Comstock wrote about Anderson's talk in the Huffington Post, and linked to the Radio Ecoshock show.
Another listener sent me a link to another block-buster speech of climate bleakness. I'm working on that for your program next week.
This has been Radio Ecoshock. Find more free mp3 downloads at our web site, ecoshock.org
I'm Alex Smith. Thank you for listening.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Film-maker Mike Freedman says we've hit "Critical Mass" toward extinction by over-population. Bill McKibben tells me why everybody in the world needs to battle the Tar Sands. Council of Canadians founder Maude Barlow links dirty energy to dirty politics. And native leader Caleb Behn on his fracked land, poisoned lives, and linking up around the world. With previews from film "Fractured Land". Radio Ecoshock 121121
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MIKE FREEDMAN ON HIS NEW FILM "CRITICAL MASS" (overpopulation) in CD Quality or Lo-Fi
CALEB BEHN ON THE WORLD'S BIGGEST FRACK
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MAUDE BARLOW ON TAR SANDS
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HAVE WE HIT "CRITICAL MASS" ON HUMAN POPULATION?
Director Mike Freedman
To make a bomb, you need critical mass. In the nuclear world, "critical mass" is the amount of radioactive material required, in the right shape, to create a self-sustaining chain reaction, and maybe a devastating explosion.
Millions of people around the world are wondering if we are heading toward that moment. Film maker Mike Freedman set out to document the really big picture, the forces that could culminate in disaster for humanity, and most living things.
Mike and I began by talking about another short documentary he posted on Vimeo about the Occupy London protests. It's called "Between Two Mirrors - Occupy London".
Several of Freedman's interview subjects have been on Radio Ecoshock, including Robert Rapier, Bill Rees, Richard Heinberg, and John Michael Greer. But he has Bill Rees and zoologist Desmond Morris, author of the "The Naked Ape", talking about population. It's a cast of alternative thinker all-stars, on a nearly taboo subject these days. Even environment groups don't want to touch overpopulation - despite the huge impact an extra 80,000 or 200,000 new bodies a day has on this small planet.
Desmond Morris talks about the meme of "we'll go to space". Great, but by then, we'd have to launch 200,000 people a day! That's a lot of space ships. The film "Critical Mass" is pretty well finished in production, but needs to raise another $30,000 to pay for the rights for all the wierd and wonderful archival footage Mike Freedman weaves in. Find out how you can help launch this film at critcalmassfilm.com
TAR SANDS PANEL LAYS OUT THE DIRTY TRUTH
Then we go to the Tar Sands, plus the network of proposed mega-pipelines which will let them double in size. Not to mention super-tankers on Canada's stormy west coast, or going out of Vancouver's gorgeous harbor. NASA scienstist James Hansen clearly says if we burn all the oil from the Canadian Tar Sands, it's game over for the planet's climate (at least for us mammals). Now the American government has just agreed to big leases in Utah to start a Tar Sands operation there. Don't do it Utah! Listen to the growing mess of poison in Alberta Canada.
THE WORLD'S BIGGEST FRACK: IN NORTH EASTERN BRITISH COLUMBIA. WHO KNEW?
Caleb Behn at TedX (video here)
Listen to Caleb Behn, the lawyer-in-training and native leader who grew up in the Athabascan region. Behn's talk to a few hundred people in Burnaby B.C. (a suburb of Vancouver) on October 25th was short and bittersweet. A people already weakened by colonization is being systematically poisoned by air and water pollution from the Alberta Tar Sands.
I mix in some clips from the new film "Fractured Land" by Damien Gilles. That isn't out yet. Find a trailer at fracturedland.com.
As a British Columbia resident, even I didn't know the full extent of gas fracking in the remote north eastern part of the province. It's the world's biggest single fracking operation. The government just ran a multibillion dollar power line up to the region, bringing electricity for the first time, just to power all the gas fracking rigs (and maybe a mine or two). The wild land there is being industrialized at a huge rate, while whole rivers of water are turned into toxic waste. It's painful just to hear about it.
WHO CARES WHAT IS GOING ON IN SOME REMOTE PART OF CANADA?
Bill McKibben was there. His speech has already been posted at radio4all.net by the Redeye Collective.
In the Q and A, I asked McKibben why my many American listeners should bother with what is happening in a remote part of northern Canada? "They don't call it global warming for nothing." McKibben replied. You can debate about second hand smoking, but second hand carbon warms our whole world. Folks in from the far Pacific Islands right to the Rockaways of New York all pay the heavy price of burning the world's dirtiest energy, the Tar Sands oil.
MAUDE BARLOW GIVES US THE BIG PICTURE: DIRTY OIL AND DIRTY POLITICS
Council of Canadians, co-founded of the world water rights group Blue Planet Project, is a founding member of the San Francisco–based International Forum on Globalization, and a Councillor with the Hamburg-based World Future Council. Barlow has written more than a dozen books.
Barlow gives us a frightening overview of the Tar Sands, the pipelines that will release this dirty oil to the world, and the dirty politics behind it. A worthy listen.
MY THANKS TO ALL THOSE WHO DONATED TO RADIO ECOSHOCK!
We got a good response to our first-ever appeal for donations. It was great to get support from all over the world, from Australia to Scandinavia.
American listeners were especially generous. Happy Thanksgiving to all those in the States.
Radio Ecoshock is about half way to the amount needed to fund the program into the New Year. If you would like to contribute, please hit the donate button on the upper right of this blog.
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Last week's program on Kevin Anderson set a new record for blog reads and downloads. Apparently a lot of people know the climate situation is worse that we have been told. The Cabot Institute at the University of Bristol is working on a video version of the event. I'll let you know when that is ready.
Coming up: we'll talk about climate change spooks, and then a program to help you grow your own food right in the city.
Monday, November 12, 2012
Scientists and officials are not telling the public the awful truth: we are hurtling toward catastrophic climate change. A review, summary and critique of an earth-breaking speech by Prof. Kevin Anderson, Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre in Britain. Speaking to the Cabot Institute in Bristol November 6th, Anderson told the sold-out crowd our future is not possible. Radio Ecoshock 121114 1 hour.
Professor Kevin Anderson
Are the climate deniers right? Are some scientists colluding with government to hide the truth about climate change? "Yes", according to top British scientist Kevin Anderson - but not the scandal you've heard about. Top scientists and government reports won't tell you we are heading toward catastrophic climate change. Emissions are skidding out of control, leading us to a world six degrees Centigrade hotter on average, much faster than anyone thought possible. Why doesn't the public know?
Why are world conferences still talking about staying below 2 degrees, as though that is possible?
In a devastating speech at the University of Bristol Tuesday November 6th, 2012, Professor Kevin Anderson accused too many climate scientists of keeping quiet about the unrealistic assessments put out by governments, and our awful odds of reaching global warming far above the proposed 2 degree safe point.
In fact, says Anderson, we are almost guaranteed to reach 4 degrees of warming, as early as 2050, and may soar far beyond that - beyond the point which agriculture, the ecosystem, and industrial civilization can survive.
All this comes from one of the world's top climate scientists, plugged in to the latest research and numbers. Kevin Anderson is from the UK's premier climate modeling institution, the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, and the University of Manchester. He delivered the speech "Real Clothes for the Emperor, Facing the Challenges of Climate Change" at the Cabot Institute of the University of Bristol in Britain.
His estimates are backed up by recent reports from the International Energy Agency, and now the global accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. I also quote from Joe Romm's blog at thinkprogress.org, and a comment by Lewis Cleverdon from Wales, in the Transition blog at transitionculture.org.
I'm Alex Smith for Radio Ecoshock. In this program, I'm going to play selections from Kevin Anderson's latest speech, accompanied by some explanation and references to other sources. Anderson speaks very quickly, assuming a highly informed European audience, and includes some technical data and reports unknown to most of us. So we're going to work through this together.
MUSIC BY SUVARNA
All music on this program is by Suvarna, with her co-conspirator Ravi, and guest Egyptian percussionist Hossam Ramzy. The album is "Energia" on Etherean Records. Suvarna, a world music maker, has another couple of albums with White Swan Records. We end this Radio Ecoshock show with a special single she sent to Radio Ecoshock. It's dead on. The song is "Atmosphere's Lament".
Suvarna's home page.
HELP RADIO ECOSHOCK KEEP GOING!
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THE RADIO ECOSHOCK PROGRAM WITH ANALYSIS
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NEW! TRANSCRIPT OF KEVIN ANDERSON'S CABOT LECTURE
A Radio Ecoshock listener made this transcript of the talk, as a .pdf file.
A READY-TO-BROADCAST VERSION OF ANDERSON'S WHOLE SPEECH
Here is a 58 minute radio edit of Anderson's speech for those wanting to rebroadcast. It could be even shorter if you cut the intro and provide your own.
This version is also great for busy people downloading the speech for their IPOD, mp3 player, phone or whatever. To save space you can use the "Lo-Fi" version, which is less than 14 megabytes.
Find the complete and full original speech, just over an hour long, as recorded by Alex Smith here. My thanks to Chris at Sheffield IndyMedia for telling me about this important lecture in advance.
Find the helpful slides (including the graphs) for this Kevin Anderson speech here.
You may also want to check out Kevin Anderson's first chapter of a recently published book, “Climate, Development and Equity”.
That's available online here: Kevin Anderson: “Climate Change going beyond dangerous: brutal numbers and tenuous hope”
THE IEA: WE ARE ACCELERATING TOWARD A DEAD WORLD...
Anderson begins his talk with a source that is hardly known as green or radical. Fatih Birol, Chief Economist and Director of the International Energy Agency has warned on our current energy pathway the global mean temperature will rise by 3.5 degrees C - over 7 degrees F - over pre-industrial levels by 2040. For those counting, that's just 28 years from now. The IEA predicts 4 degrees rise by 2050, and 6 degrees by 2100.
In his book, "Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet", and the National Geographic series based on the book, Mark Lynas says at +4 degrees C "Southern Europe will become unlivable due to extreme heat. The West Antarctic ice sheet will melt away and add another 5 meters to global sea level." At +6 degrees C, the Amazon forest long ago burned in a giant fireball, and all the polar ice melted, Lynas simply says "we will all be dead." The short You tube version is here.
Fatih Birol of the IEA says we have only five years to change our energy system - or have it changed for us. We'll talk more about that short time frame later.
Tuesday, November 06, 2012
SUMMARY: Can big cities like New York or Washington protect against storm surge and rising seas? Three interviews. Mike Tidwell, author of "The Ravaging Tide: Strange Weather, Future Katrinas, and the Coming Death of America’s Coastal Cities." Professor J. Court Stevenson, University of Maryland, on city surge defenses around the world. Daphne Wysham interviews German Green Parliamentarian Hermann Ott: leading the way to renewables before climate collapse. Radio Ecoshock 121107 1 hour.
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As the American election plays out, we start out with this quote from famed NASA scientist James Hansen:
"Neither party wants to offend the fossil fuel industry. They want to win the election. And they know the power of the fossil fuel industry. You can’t turn on your television without seeing these advertisements about clean coal, clean tar sands, and the claim that there’s more jobs associated with fossil fuels than with other energies. That’s of course not true, but they’re hammering that into the voters heads.
And so if anyone challenges the fossil fuel industry, they know they’re going to lose the money that they get from the fossil fuel industry. And secondly, they’re going to have the fossil fuel industry against them in the election....
... The politicians are not willing to say that we cannot burn all the fossil fuels without guaranteeing a different planet — and cheating our children."
That was NASA scientist James Hansen, speaking on the Young Turks on Current TV.
I'm Alex Smith. No matter who gets elected in the United States, the fossil fuel companies won. This year, big oil, coal and gas made more money than anyone in the history of money. A Supreme Court decision called "Citizens United" let big corporations spend hundreds of millions to fund politicians.
But there was another judgment made recently. In the court of nature, reality has spoken. Deny climate change all the way to the bank, but we will all pay billions, even pay with our lives, as Earth's climate is destabilized. The residents of New York and New Jersey got an ugly taste of the "different planet" James Hansen has warned us about for the past 25 years.
Can we protect New York City from the next big surge of the rising seas? What about Washington and Baltimore? What happens to all that expensive real estate with ocean-front views? We'll talk with a scientist about storm surge controls around the world. It will cost tens of billions, but as always, the cost of doing nothing is even more.
Of course, we can still prevent the worst by switching to renewable energy. Daphne Wysham brings us a key interview from Germany, where renewables are booming. Hermann Ott is a Member of the German Federal Parliament. But even he knows renewables can't power our current over-amped civilization.
But first we're going to hear from the man who wrote the book on New York, predicting the whole mess we've just seen in a book published six years ago, Mike Tidwell.
Ah New York. Let’s warm up with Billy Joel's "Miami 2017" - rewritten for New York after Sandy, and performed live at the NBC Red Cross fundraiser November 2nd.
MIKE TIDWELL, author and activist.
Mike is the founder and director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, a grassroots nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness about the impacts and solutions for global warming in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. He's also a film-maker and award-winning environmentalist. According to his web site bio: "In 2003, Tidwell received the Audubon Naturalist Society's prestigious Conservation Award. Two years later he received an honorary Doctorate of Letters from Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana."
We began by talking about Tidwell's predictions for New York City attacked by a storm surge - 6 years before it happened. It was dead on. You can check for yourself, by reading for free the online version of "The Ravaging Tide" at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network web site. Tidwell tells me the paperback edition even had an illustration of flooded New York City. Simple geography shows what could happen, and it did.
Mike used the same techniques to study and write about the impacts of a hurricane on New Orleans. That was published in 2003 - two years before Katrina struck - in his book "Bayou Farewell, The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana's Cajun Coast".
As so often happens in human affairs, people just weren't ready for those books, until the worst happened.
On behalf of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Mike Tidwell held a national press briefing about what could have happened if Sandy had turned further South, into the Washington, Baltimore, and general area of Maryland and Virginia.
He was backed by two scientists from the University of Maryland. Dr. William Boicourt, Professor of oceanography, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences spoke about the unique possibilities for storm damage both in New York and New Jersey, but also further south in Maryland and D.C.
The second speaker is our second guest in this show, Dr. Court Stevenson, Professor of coastal ecology and sea-level rise, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences.
Read about it here. Find a copy of that press conference audio here. Note the audio begins part way through Mike Tidwell's opening remarks.
In the press conference Tidwell explained a new concept that everyone needs to grasp, after Hurricane Sandy. I'm talking about the continual line in scientific circles, echoed by the press, saying "You can never blame a single storm like Sandy on climate change". Mike explains the new way of looking at such events, as proposed by George Lakoff, the well-known professor of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley. Lakoff just wrote a piece in the Huffington Post, saying Sandy was "systemically caused" by climate change. Read that here. It's important, because it helps us get through the insanity of seeing event after event so obviously driven by climate change, but cautious scientists have not found a way to say so.
We need to get the concept of "systemic causation" out to more scientists, and the public, fast enough to stem the rising tide of climate disasters.
Mike Tidwell goes on to explain several climatic factors which lined up to make Sandy into something worse than seen before. Key is the ocean heat. Sandy tracked north following a Gulf Stream that was about 3 degrees C hotter than normal for this time of year. That allowed Sandy to gain power, even at the end of October, quite late for a storm to go that far north. In fact, the interior low pressure of Sandy was lower than any storm ever measured north of Virginia.
Maybe Fox News and Mitt Romney don't believe in climate change, at least not this week for Mitt - but insurance companies sure do. Mike Tidwell tells us that in 2006, All State insurance stopped issuing new policies within 20 miles of the Atlantic coast, due to the higher risk of storm damage. They specifically talk about climate change.
Likewise, Tidwell received a notice from his own insurance, Travelers Insurance. They said rates for coverage near the coast must go up, due to higher risks associated with climate change. Travelers included a brochure showing the typical American house, with a tornado and dark storm clouds all around. They cited information from the re-insurance giant Swiss Re, about climate change.
Mike notes that this message did not come from Obama or Al Gore. It comes from businesses that are neither Republican nor Democrats, but firms with their own money at risk.
However, the insurance companies are caught in a difficult bind. They don't say too much against the fossil fuel companies as the cause of this developing destruction. That is because insurance corporations make money not on your premium, but on investing that premium in the stock market, among other places. Where can you make good money on stocks? By investing in oil, gas, and coal companies. So the insurance industry ends up investing in the very businesses that could put them out of business. Tidwell hopes that industry will wake up, and begin to criticize the fossil fuel companies for destabilizing the climate.
I suggested to Mike that talking about "the Coming Death of America's Coastal Cities" is pretty provocative. Is there really a possibility we'll have to abandon some coastal cities?
Although Tidwell suggested that attention-getting subtitle came from his publishers, he hopes that humans can turn things around before the climate goes that far astray. But "yes" if we burn all the fossil fuels we can get, as currently, the sea will rise more than 10 meters by about 2020, or 30 feet, if the ice on Greenland melts. At that point, most of the cities on the eastern and western seaboards would have to be abandoned. There is no surge gate possible to protect against that kind of sea level rise.
Sea level has already gone up one foot in one hundred years, and that rate is accelerating. That is one reason Sandy hit New York City and the Jersey Shore so badly. Even with the emissions we have now, scientists expect the sea level will go up three feet, or one meter, by 2100. That means our current high tide becomes a permanent high tide. The next "normal" will be far above what we have experienced now, even in Sandy.
Our listeners will get some information about building defenses for major cities from Professor J. Court Stevenson. But it seems to me, now that we've failed to control carbon emissions for so long, now we have to fight a war on two fronts. We've got to try to protect the big cities, at a huge cost, at the same time as we re-tool our entire energy system and transportation too. In a time when governments are already going broke, should we just concentrate on one or the other, adaptation or mitigation, like switching to renewables?
Mike says due to the warming we have already created in the oceans, some adaptation will be required, no matter what. New York city will require flood gates, as London has, to survive the coming decades.
Outside the cities, wealthy people, and some ordinary retirees, have been building more and more housing with ocean views. Maybe the wakeup call by Hurricane Sandy could be another blow to the American real estate market, as these ocean front properties become a liability instead of million-dollar investments. That's a blow to the fragile economy nobody is talking about yet.
The whole world economy is built on sea-side city ports. The great metropolises of the world, from London to New York, Shanghai, Los Angeles, and Bombay - they are all built right on the sea. To be honest, I'm wondering if that one-two combination of steadily rising sea levels adding to more extreme storms will just deal our civilization some kind of knock-out punch. What do you think?
PROFESSOR J COURT STEVENSON
Dr. J. Court Stevenson is a Professor of coastal ecology and sea-level rise, at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences. Because Stevenson has traveled the world looking at storm surge and defenses against sea level rise, he brings a unique and informed perspective.
The devastation in New York State and New Jersey from Hurricane Sandy was shocking, but was it predictable? Professor Stevenson admits he knew professionally this could happen - but the violence and damage wrought by Sandy caught many professional off guard. Nobody expected so much, so soon.
In the audio interview, we go into a discussion about what New York City could do to protect itself against this happening again - which could even be next year for all we know. It's complicated by the three entrances to New York Harbor. One main channel is used by most shipping - so this would need more flexibility and speed in opening and closing.
Although it's expensive, Stevenson seems to prefer the option just being installed to protect the city of Venice. Venice has had flood problems from tide surge for about 30 years. Often the famous medieval plazas are flooded, along with palaces and shops. The city is raising some plazas, and some buildings have installed a way to insert board thresholds to deter lesser flooding.
But the main defense of the city will be huge flood gates which lie on the bottom until they are filled with air. They rise quite quickly to block an incoming storm surge. Such a device for the main channel for New York City could cost as much at ten billion dollars, Stevenson suggests. But that would be repaid by stopping the damage from a single storm like Hurricane Sandy, which may cost much more. There is always a problem of finding political and popular will to spend large amounts of money, and keep building for years and years all the levees and protection required, but what choice is there?
In Britain, the City of London built their flood control gates on the Thames River. Known as the Thames Barrier, it was built following deadly floods - which is often the case: cities don't spend big money to build defenses until after a disaster. And sometimes not even then. Construction on the Thames Barrier began in 1974, and was mostly finished by 1982. Find the Wikipedia entry on it here.
However, due to rising seas and more violent storms, the rotating cylinders in the Thames Barrier may not be able to handle coming surges of sea water. The British are actively looking at ways to boost the current system, or replace it, to protect London.
The Dutch have the greatest system of flood control. They have worked on it for many decades - otherwise large parts of the Netherlands would be under water. Studying the Dutch system is very time consuming. Professor Stevenson has been over there, but it's hard to take it all in. The city of Rotterdam has a flood surge gate, but Stevenson doesn't think that design would be as good in America.
The whole river delta of Bangladesh is prone to flooding from tropical cyclones. In the Northern Hemisphere we call these great storms "hurricanes" while in the South they are called "cyclones".
Bangladesh does what it can to prepare for such flooding, but building large surge control gates seems far beyond their national budget. So the poor people living there will suffer most from the rising seas we in the West have caused by burning so much fossil fuel.
One application Stevenson described caught my ear. In Bangladesh, they built storm shelters that are about 24 feet above ground level, and strong enough to withstand cyclone winds. People can go there during the storm, and have a platform for the week or more it takes for the water to recede. The shelter doesn’t protect anything below, it just saves lives.
At first glance, that sounds like something the residents of the New Jersey shoreline could have used. Of course we know most people should have evacuated to higher ground. They had four days of serious warnings. Then we wonder, if the government builds storm shelters, would that safety net just encourage more people to stay and "ride it out" instead of evacuating? In my opinion, the whole phrase "ride it out" should go out of use, as it's a dangerous phrase meaning "risking death". It's sad to think the American culture of distrusting government (as valid as that might often be) and individualism means people can't get out of the way of a major hurricane.
Getting back to the interview with Court Stevenson, he tells us about the risk if such a super-storm turns further south. The main part of Washington D.C. is high enough to avoid flooding, but the famous plazas at the shoreline, with many historical buildings, would be submerged if the surge was 14 feet as it was in New York. Even the basement of the National Archives, holding many treasures, could be flooded.
But could such a storm surge happen in the smaller space of Chesapeake Bay? Both Stevenson and Maryland oceanographer Dr. William Boicourt agreed it is possible. The Bay has certain characteristics that can create a tidal "resonance" that could reverse the flow of the river all the way up to Baltimore, which could also flood.
Once again, it should be possible to build flood protection for D.C. and Baltimore, but at a cost of billions. That needs to be seriously studied, now that we are committed to sea level rise and hotter oceans that power big storms. There is less to anchor the flood gates - and we need to be very careful about the rich marine life in Chesapeake Bay, and the Potomac River. Stopping or changing water flows might be damaging to the natural system around there.
Stevenson tells us the U.S. Navy, which has a big base at Norfolk Virginia, is very aware of sea level rise and the threat it poses.
When the federal disaster preparedness agency, FEMA, looked into protecting D.C., they wanted to reclassify some areas as flood prone. Local business owners were against that, as they feared their insurance rates would go up.
North Carolina proposed a law that would permit planning agencies from using future projections of sea level rise. Only the past could be considered. This is a bit like the legendary British King Canute standing at the sea, forbidding the waves to come in. He got wet. Stevenson says that law died in the house, but it's a tragic example of the resistance to facing climate reality.
The Maryland coast flooded badly in 1933. It's interesting to note that storms were not given official names until the end of the Second World War.
Virginia is doing somewhat better in its preparation for rising seas, but nowhere near enough.
Similarly, when the issue of where to build along the low coast comes up, States often call on a panel which has some scientists, but generally more real estate developers. It's no surprise their judgments are generally to build, build, build. Will that be reconsidered now? Should all other tax payers be hit with the costs of bailing out those who recklessly build in flood zones along the Atlantic? In some areas, it might be cheaper for the government to buy out property owners who cannot sustain their location. It's called "managed retreat". Learn those words of the future. But should we all pay for that?
I ask Professor Stevenson if this flood "hardening" is just a stop-gap measure, considering the high sea levels coming, as we fail to restrain our greenhouse gas emissions. He agrees, we must combine things like flood gates with drastic cuts in emissions. There is no mechanical way to stop a big rise in sea level, other than abandoning parts of coastal cities.
HERMANN OTT, THE GERMAN GREENS AND RENEWABLE SUCCESS
But in Germany, progressive parties like the Greens were elected. They didn't want to rely on big corporate power either. So Germany set a severe target: to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to just 40 percent of their 1990 levels by 2020. Germany is ahead of schedule. In a period during the summer of 2012, they were able to power their entire electrical needs from renewables alone - in the most highly industrialized nation in Europe.
Daphne Wysham, long-time host of Earthbeat Radio, is now with the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington D.C. She travelled to Germany and Denmark last summer to discover how this renewable energy renaissance happened. Here Daphne speaks with Hermann Ott. He's a lawyer with the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy - but on leave, while he sits as a Member of the German Federal Parliament for the Green Party.
Find the Hermann Ott interview transcript here.
HELP RADIO ECOSHOCK KEEP GOING!
In the radio show, we go out as we came in, with more from Bill Joel at the Hurricane Sandy benefit concert live in New York November 2nd, hosted by NBC for the Red Cross. The song is "Miami 2017" and I found it on You tube. The whole concert was supposed to be available online at the ABC site, but it seemed stuck when I tried to view it. Maybe there were just so many people trying to watch it?
By the way, downloads of our programs doubled in October, going over 50,000 shows downloaded in one month. My thanks to everyone who listened and shared our programs.
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I'm Alex Smith. Thanks for listening, and caring about our world.