SUMMARY: Dr. Michael Jennings says Earth’s climate is already beyond the worst scenarios. Could a new Dark Age save us? Dr. Sing C. Chew says we are due. It’s edutainment for troubled times. Radio Ecoshock 140319


The bad news is planet Earth is already committed to very dangerous climate change. Dr. Michael Jennings published a paper in 2012 showing we are already in the worst case scenario. My interview with Dr. Jennings is frank and moving.

We may be saved from utter disaster if an economic collapse comes sooner rather than later. Dr. Sing C. Chew will give us the good news about Dark Ages, and the signs we are entering one now.

In March 2014, the Earth’s atmosphere went above 401 parts per billion of carbon dioxide. The Arctic ice is at an absolute record low this winter, even as eastern north america freezes. New science is reporting bad news like artillery fire from a climate war zone. Increased malaria zones, dying birds, faster Greenland ice melt, climate disruption is moving faster than anyone can comprehend.

I’m Alex Smith, welcome to Radio Ecoshock, the cheerful program for pessimists and realists alike.

Download/listen to this Radio Ecoshock show in CD Quality (56 MB) or Lo-Fi (14 MB)


Well it’s official. With no international agreements and ever-growing greenhouse gas emissions, scientists are asking if we are heading off the cliff of climate disruption, into the worst of all worlds.

Our guest is Dr. Michael Jennings from the Department of Geography at the University of Idaho. Last year he published a paper in the journal “Global Policy”. It’s title is: “Climate Disruption: Are We Beyond the Worst Case Scenario?”

Here are the details on that paper:

Climate Disruption: Are We Beyond the Worst Case Scenario?

Published in Global Policy, Volume 4, Issue 1, Article first published online: 3 SEP 2012 and in print: Global Policy Volume 4 . Issue 1 . February 2013

“Climate disruption: Are we beyond the worst case scenario?” was published by the London School of Economics journal “Global Policy”, free online here.

Michael wrote me in an email:

If we are to maintain the climate of the Holocene—which is the climate that agriculture, economies, and societies
evolved with over the past 10,000 years—we can emit no more than a total of 500 billion total tons of carbon without a large scale perturbation of the biosphere as we have known it since the dawn of agriculture. So far we have emitted a total 370 billion tons since the beginning of the industrial revolution. That leaves us with 130 billion tons of carbon emissions until we reach the safe limit of 500 billion tons. Right now we are emitting more than 9 billion tons per year; it’s actually closer to 10. So, 130 billion tons at 10 tons per year leaves us with how many years, assuming no annual increases?

At the same time, burning all of the fossil fuel that is currently owned, accounted for and held in known reserves
would emit 2,795 billion tons of carbon dioxide. That is more than 20 times the 130 billion tons that is safe. But,
our global economy is predicated on not only the value of the existing reserves of coal, oil, and gas as they are
traded around the world, but the economic yield of the goods and energy that would be derived from those 2,795 billion tons of emissions. What would you do if you were invested in those carbon stocks?”

More about investments in carbon stocks further, in a segment with Mark Campanale of See below.

Dr Jennings pointed us toward a pivotal paper led by Dr. James Hansen, formerly of NASA. It’s titled “Assessing
‘‘Dangerous Climate Change’’: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature” It may be the most important paper of the year. Read it in full text here.

There are two items in the paper by Hansen et al. that seldom get attention. The first is our obligation to coming generations. The second point raised by James Hansen and a who’s who of illustrious scientists is the threat posed by climate change is not just to ourselves, but to all the other species of plants and animals in nature.


I clarified one thing with Dr. Jennings. He explained we would hit the ceiling for any “safe” climate change, if there
is any safe climate change, in just 13 years at our current rate of consumption (which is actually going up every year). But Jennings is not saying we will experience the full impacts of climate disruption in 13 years.

The good news is the ocean and many other factors will probably buffer and delay the true damage for another few decades. Certainly rising seas will take several decades to really manifest, as it takes time for glaciers to melt, for example.

The bad news is the true impact could be hidden to humans for several decades, during which time we will continue to burn fossil fuels. Then the world changes beyond recognition, and possibly beyond our survival.

After the interview, Dr. Jennings wrote me an email saying:

One of the really difficult things is that we can’t say exactly how, when, and what will happen. It’s a bit like
breaking the news to someone that they have cancer
and we don’t really know whether you are going to live or die. And if you live, what sort of life you will have. Or if you die, what sort of death it will be. One huge difference is that with cancers we have doctors and scientists who work with it and study it and we have case studies. We have no previous experience with climate disruption, no indicators providing hints as to what might happen next.

But like a cancer that someone has not been able to come to terms with, climate disruption now has a stranglehold on the most basic systems by which our planet operates.”

He added:

It will not manifest at the same rate, intensity, or magnitude everywhere. Generally, it’s safe to say that temperature extremes will be greater at higher latitudes, storm activity will be greater at lower latitudes. Dry
places will get dryer and wet places will get wetter. But the key thing is that in a global economy the disruption of
agriculture in one place is likely to destabilize economies and social order in other places that are far away, to say nothing about the potential risk of greater armed conflict.

Download/listen to this Radio Ecoshock interview (21 minutes) in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


Is it possible we are already entering another “dark age”? Is that what nature needs to recover?

Next in my series of experts on the coming collapse, we enter the long-view world of Professor Sing C. Chew. Dr. Chew is a global teacher. He’s a Professor of Sociology at Humboldt State University in California. He’s a Senior Research Scientist at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig, Germany. Dr. Chew has been a visiting professor at universities in Singapore, Hong Kong, Sweden, and Hawaii.

As you might imagine, Sing C. Chew is the author of many papers and books. We’ll be drawing from just his trilogy on how civilizations rise and fall with their degradation of nature.

Yes, Dr. Chew tells us the coming Dark Age is an inevitable cycle of civilization consuming the natural world. That is not a tragedy. It means a rest for the natural world, and eventually a re-birth for the human story.

Read more about his predictions for ecological futures here.

For this program we focus on his trilogy:

1. World Ecological Degradation: Accumulation, Urbanization, and Deforestation 3000B.C.-A.D.2000 Vol. 1 Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press/Rowman and Littlefield Publishers 2001.

2. The Recurring Dark Ages: Ecological Stress, Climate Changes, and System Transformation Vol. 2 Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press/Rowman and Littlefield Publishers 2006

3. Ecological Futures: What History Can Teach Us Vol. 3 Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press/Rowman and Littlefield Publishers 2008.

This first book begins from Chew’s background in studying forests and deforestation – a factor he finds influential in the decline of very early civilizations.

The Recurring Dark Ages takes a natural resources explanation of the collapse of previous civilizations. Dark Ages, he tells us, are not temporary blips in history, but necessary and in themselves natural results of civilizations. One leads to the other.

Ecological Futures tries to take this work, what we know, and apply it to where we are going. That doesn’t look good.

Under Chew’s system, we may be approaching a dark age, but this would be natural, and could be the necessary resting space that nature needs to recover from us.

He predicts there will be a hit to the neo-liberal profit system (say the world banking system) but the real driver of
civilization’s decline will be deterioration of the ecosystem, especially through climate change, but also, as before in history, via deforestation, reduction of species due to agriculture and cities, pillaging the ocean beyond its capacity, and so on.

As it says in this Daily Kos review: “That there be a social/ technological fragility to the civilization in question
which does not allow it to persist. “

Dr. Chew just returned from Singapore where he delivered Keynote Address for Conference on Sustainability in Education: Pedagogical Themes and Practices in Asian Countries. That was at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, running from February 26-28, 2014.

You can find The Recurring Dark Ages: Ecological Stress, Climate Changes, and System Transformation in paperback on Amazon here.

Find a detailed review here.

Also find a good overview discussion here in the World Financial Review.

Further, Dr. Chew writes about the confluence of Peak Oil and climate change:

The declared impending scarcity of fossil fuel (energy) by this mid-century therefore poses a global threat to the
reproduction of life on this planet, and the thousands of years of human evolutionary development will be in peril.

Without energy the devolution of the complexity of life will start. Life chances, expectations, and growth will slow
down, and eventually growth will end. Such conditions will generate global instability as different regions, political
and economic powers compete to ensure their own economic, political and social survival. A natural system crisis including interconnected complications such as global warming brought on by excessive consumption without any regard to sustainability of energy resources has spilled over to the socio-economic system sphere leading to a global crisis.

Download/listen to this Radio Ecoshock interview with Dr. Chew in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


In both of this programs’ interviews, I raise the eerie economic danger of thinking we can burn all the carbon reserves that big companies and fossil-fuel rich countries claim on their books. Earlier this year, Mark Campanale of Carbon Tracker startled world markets with his analyis of the business side of extreme climate change. A couple of weeks ago, Mark gave an hour-long web conference, organized by the British Columbia Sustainable Energy Association, the BCSEA. Long time energy man Guy Dauncy was the host.

You can watch that full presentation on You tube.

Here is why you should tune in. Campanale is asking why big oil, gas and coal companies can raise hundreds of billions of dollars on the stock and bond markets, without disclosing they may not be able to burn all the reserves they claim to own.

The details are in the Carbon Tracker report: “Unburnable carbon 2013: Wasted capital and stranded assets“.

I know your objection right away. Of course they will burn it. Governments aren’t going to limit fossil fuel use. Mark answers that objection raised during the Q and A, and I play his response in this radio show.

It’s partly just our inability to imagine the empire of fossil fuels could end. Picture the situation in the late 1890s when the first horseless carriages appeared. Everyone knew these were freaks, while horses would continue to be the major vehicle for personal and business transportation. Just three decades later, cars and horses were battling it out on the roads. By 1950, the last horses in the city were drawing a few milk wagons. And then they were gone. Large changes can and do happen, even if we can hardly believe it now.

Mark Campanale is calling for two things. First, fossil fuel companies should be regulated to divulge the full climate risk of what they do, and the probability they cannot capitalize on all the oil, gas, and coal they have in the ground.

Second: Divestment, selling off investments in these climate killing companies, makes sense, especially for bodies like universities who claim to represent the future of younger people. But, Campanale, who knows the markets well, suggests simple greed and risk aversion can help these fossil giants wind down, as they must, one way or another.

Campanale says there is no point in spending more billions, actually trillions over the next years, to discover more
reserves that can never be burned. For example, oil companies have to spend more and more to get less and less, using expensive processes like the Tar Sands or deep sea drilling. Why not simply return the profits to the shareholders, as the companies move away from what will eventually be an unsaleable product? Investors will like that, whether they care about climate change or not.

Sooner or later, the world mega-projects for oil, gas, and coal won’t be viable. Either they will be limited by public
and government demand, perhaps following years of climate-driven weather tragedies. Or they will burn on until an economic collapse snatches the funding mechanisms away, again perhaps due to storms and agricultural collapse so severe society cannot recover. That is the worst stage scenario. Far better, Campanale says, for these companies to voluntarily wind down, giving up new exploration, and paying out more to shareholders now.

Behind the scenes, major financial institutions, like HSBC bank and the Norwegian investment fund, and big companies, like Shell and BP, are starting to recognize the giant lop-sided risk unburnable reserves pose to the overall markets. Once shareholders and investors realize the books are cooked, there is a possibility of collapse of the economic system, from that one carbon bubble alone.

Tune into this important slide show and talk by Mark Campanale of at the bcsea web site,


Next week we’ll continue this barrage of good-times radio, with a full feature interview with David Korowicz. He’ll explain why the crash could happen much faster than you think.

Help yourself to all our past programs, as free mp3’s at

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I’m Alex Smith, saying thank you for listening, and caring about your world.