Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Healing Green Despair?

Summary: A new green biography of eco-billionaire Ted Turner, with author Todd Wilkinson. Kathleen Dean Moore offers a medicine for green despair. Writer and owl biologist Tim Fox sees humans as the unstoppable flood. Radio Ecoshock 141119.

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In this second half of the program, we 're going to hear about an answer to ecological despair, from the noted author and philosopher Kathleen Dean Moore. We have a guest interview from Orion magazine. I'll follow up with another view from author and owl biologist Tim Fox.


Now that the Polar Vortex brings cold to much of North America, the whole climate movement goes dormant. The people don't know the ocean off New England is 5 degrees above normal, so hot it's threatening species there with extinction. They don't know Alaska and Greenland are still way above normal. They don't know Australia has been roasting again. A vast area of Eastern Australia is heading into another major drought. South Australia just had the driest October on record. But who cares? It's really cold outside, so there isn't any global warming....

How can we keep the climate movement conscious through winter in the Northern Hemisphere?

It's not an impossible challenge. I remember the failed Copenhagen climate summit in 2009. It was bitterly cold outside in Denmark, but thousands of climate activists stood outside the halls. We may have to take climate change so seriously that climate protests continue even when it's 20 degrees below zero outside. We'll never make it as "fair weather" environmentalists.

By the way, all the time I was growing up, nobody ever heard of "the Polar Vortex". It's like a dam recently broke in the Arctic, flooding the plains and the East with polar weather. Did you know an American scientist named Jeniffer Francis discovered this shift in the Jet Stream may be due to disappearing Arctic ice?

Not enough people know that climate change is really climate disruption, - that it can bring unseasonably cold weather as well as heat. But Matt Drudge and his drones are already laughing at Obama's China climate deal, because it's COLD in Washington!

Another thing people don't realize is that our emissions keep on going all winter. In fact, they ramp up in the North, as all those oil heaters, gas furnaces, and giant coal-fired electric generating plants run overtime. So we're ducking the whole issue of climate change, while we go into another orgy of filling the atmosphere with our carbon garbage. Winter is a climate killer too. What heats your house?

Another fact about winter CO2: because there are far fewer plants in green during the winter, much more of the CO2 we produce goes into the oceans, or stays in the atmosphere. I'm almost afraid to do a Radio Ecoshock show on how we are all going to roast. I know plenty of people, myself included, have a subterranean voice that says "mmmm warm, I'd like to be warm". But the climate movement cannot be season. It can't be a part-time job. Every month we toss more greenhouse gases into the sky. Don't stop trying. I won't.


As The Economist reports, the top point 1 percent of America's population have as much wealth as the bottom 90% of the people. No wonder some hope this elite will finally turn toward saving what's left of the planet.

Do the billionaires know? Some do. There's talk about Richard Branson and his 3 billion dollar pledge to combat climate change. Branson and other bigwigs like Warren Buffet and T. Boone Pickens credit another fellow billionaire for their turn toward green thought and action. That would be the unsung radical rich man Ted Turner, founder of CNN among other things.

There's a new book out: "Last Stand: Ted Turner's Quest to Save a Troubled Planet". From Bozeman Montana, we have the author and long-time environmental journalist Todd Wilkinson as our guest. Find Todd's web site here.

Download or listen to this Radio Ecoshock interview in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

The secret to understanding Turner, says Wilkinson, is that he always sees himself as the underdog. This develops through a troubled childhood, where nature appears to have been part of Turner's sustenance. His father, owner of Atlanta's largest outdoor sign company, killed himself when Turner was 24.

Ted saw some unique opportunities. He bought an inexpensive Atlanta TV station, and hooked it up to a satellite, creating the first "Super Station" broadasting all over the world. Then he bought entertainment companies with rights to old movies, and played those on his growing cable network. Then he developed CNN news, which helped fuel some political change as people in different countries saw how others lived. Some give Turner's CNN some credit for ending the Soviet system.

Even as Turner was a capitalist on his way to the wealth stratosphere, he still had a yearning to protest the system. I know in the 1990's he was a big supporter of Greenpeace USA. Then he funded something called the Ruckus Society. They trained young people to climb trees or block bulldozers. It's wild to imagine a capitalist quietly funding people who protest against capitalist pollution.


Now Turner is the second largest land-owner in the United States, with about 2 million acres. Most of this is old ranches, big ones that were worn out from over-grazing cattle. Turner ruffled some rancher feathers when he said cattle were dirty and unsuited to the terrain. In their place, he introduced the almost extinct Plains Bison.

The Bison can protect themselves better than cattle from predators like wolves and bears. So taking a page from eco-radical Dave Foreman, Ted Turner started "re-wilding" his lands. In Montana, he re-introduced wolves, and now has the largest wild wolf pack in the lower 48 states. He also brought in Grizzly Bears, long extinct in the West. Turner admires Yellowstone Park, and has pretty well succeeded in having all creatures found in Yellowstone also on his Montana Ranch, called the Flying D.

Turner is still a capitalist, maybe an eco-capitalist, with all these ventures. Documentary producer Michael Moore claimed Turner's land has a higher gross domestic product than the country of Belize. And he doesn't just raise bison, he slaughters them for the meat he sells in his Ted's Montana Grill chain.

Everything has to pay it's way with Ted. But he sees that as justice for coming generations. The thinking goes we can't saddle them with a "debt" of land that can't pay for itself. And such lands will not be protected.

Wilkinson also explains that Turner has put easements on some of his lands that prevent them from being broken up in the future. This helps preserve the big corridors, connecting to public lands, that wide-ranging species need.

Turner also believes strongly in alternative energy, and in solar power in particular. He's put his money where his mouth is. Turner Enterprises has a whole subsidiary where he's gone into partnerships with large utility companies, (who previously invested mostly in coal plants) to build commercial grade solar electric projects.

In just one example, his Campo Verde Solar Facility in Imperial County California can produce 139 Megawatts. I did a little comparison, and found that is larger than the rated capacity of over 200 coal generating stations in the United States.

Find out more about his solar projects at Turner Renewable Energy here.

Turner money has gone into a wide range of green organizations - over 1,000 of them.

He's also been concerned about the other big threat to human existence (beyond climate change) - nuclear weapons. With former Conservative Senator Sam Nunne he created a foundation called "Nuclear Threat Initiative". For one thing, they helped pay for an American team to go grab unguarded nuclear materials from the former Soviet Union - before terrorist could. Find out more about Turner's anti-nuke weapons foundation here. Warren Buffet has also got on board this one.

Oh yeah, and he gave a billion dollars to a foundation to promote public awareness of the United Nations. It was more than a pledge. He made good on it, giving $600 million himself, and finding $400 million from other private donors.

According to Wikipedia, quote: "In 2008, Turner asserted on PBS's Charlie Rose television program that if steps are not taken to address global warming, most people would die and 'the rest of us will be cannibals'."

Most of our listeners are suspicious of super-rich white men talking about greening the planet. Nobody is perfect. Is Ted Turner our billionaire green hero savior? I asked author Todd Wilkinson that question. He says "no". In fact, Turner's wife of 10 years Jane Fonda said Turner was likely trying to save himself as much as the environment. And Turner does fly around to various houses in his private plane, creating super-sized personal emissions.

But Todd wrote the book for a couple of reasons.

First, Turner can influence other very wealthy people and does. He brought Texas wild-catter T. Boone Pickens to realize climate change from fossil fuels is real. Pickens has been pushing wind power. Turner also has influenced some of America's richest people, like Warren Buffett, and the heirs of Sam Walton, owners now of Walmart. Ted also led the way in saying that at least half of great wealth should be given away, helping influence Bill and Melinda Gates.

More than that though, Wilkinson says Turner can be an example or meme that could help move the capitalist class, or even all of us, to save what's left of the planet. Wilkinson has been an environmental journalist for 3 decades. He knows how tough it is. A revolution doesn't seem likely in the near-term. the near-term is all we have left to make big changes, so we may have to get capitalists to care about saving the climate and the biosphere. That debate continues.

The book is "Last Stand: Ted Turner's Quest to Save a Troubled Planet". Judging by the deep info and passion shown in this interview, it should be a worth read. It's on Amazon of course, but Wilkinson asks you to support your local book store if you can. Find them here.


I have a good connection with Erik Hoffner, a photographer, fish-lover, and outreach co-ordinator for Orion Magazine. He sends me good tips and sometimes guests.

Erik pointed me to an article and podcast with Kathleen Dean Moore. She's an author and philosopher I admire. I recorded her speech in Vancouver, and broadcast on Radio Ecoshock on May 2, 2012. Find that audio here. It's titled "It's Wrong to Wreck the World: Climate Change and the Moral Obligation to the Future"

Now Moore is back, talking about an epiphany she had one sleepless midnight in Alaska - when the temperature even at night was 93 degrees F! (34 C). Talk about global warming!

So this week I'm running that podcast interview from Orion Magazine, with Kathleen and Assistant Editor Scott Gast. She describes how a river changes, and what that means for we who despair of our civilization ever reducing greenhouse gases.

Follow Kathleen Dean Moore at My thanks to Orion magazine for this thoughtful interview. Be sure and visit

Download or listen to this segment with Kathleen Dean Moore and Tim Fox, in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

We've heard the story of the river from Kathleen Dean Moore. But there is another river flowing over the world, and that is us.

Whenever I encounter a nexus of enquiring minds, like Orion magazine, I don't quit with the main article. It really pays to surf through the intelligent comments as well. That's how I found our next guest. Tim Fox lives in Blue River Oregon, in the Cascade Mountains. He saw that other river.

So it's appropriate that Tim tells the tale of a great raging river in the Pleistocene - that age running from about 2.5 million years ago to around 11,000 years ago (though to be the beginning time of modern human civilization). That river came as ice dams repeatedly melted from the glacier Lake Missoula.

Moving up to 60 miles an hour, this vast collection of rushing water - think of a land-based tsunami - reshaped the landscape, creating among other things the "Badlands" of Montana.

Tim's point: we are that kind of river. Humans are flooding the globe, remaking the landscape as we go. We talk about what that means, and how we can ever hope to change a current like that.

Tim Fox writes for various alternative press outlets. He's also been an owl biologist. Apparently the famous endangered spotted owl is being threatened not just by habitat loss, but also by one of it's cousins, the newly arrived Barred Owl.

Some ancient forests in the US Northwest, like those near where Tim Fox lives, are protected under the Endangered Species Act because of the spotted owl. If that owl goes, the forests are no longer protected. Tim calls on us to revere the ancient forest for their own values, not just one species.

In the interview, I ask Tim to read out his very sane comment on the Kathlene Dean Moore podcast, and his own reaction. Tim Fox is a gem worth finding, and I thank Erik Hoffner for putting me, and all of us, in touch with him.

Here are some links to Tim's writing. His comment in Orion can be found here. He's just published in the recent Issue 5 of Dark Mountain. Here is his article in Yes Magazine.

That's it for our time together this week. Our web site is Find us on Soundcloud.

If you would like to help this program cover it's costs and keep going, find out how here.

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

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


SUMMARY: David Collings, book our "Stolen Future and Broken Present". From Sweden, forest expert Martin Persson says tropical deforestation is still stripping the planet - for us, for consumers in rich countries. Finnish intellectual Ollie Tammilehto asks can we can survive a system which rewards the rich with a license to commit ecocide?

The Jet Stream gets blown off course again - this time by Nuri, the most powerful storm on the planet. Arctic air spills down into central and eastern North America, in mid-November, while another awful storm track shapes up for Britain and northern Europe. We live through the time of climate disruption, but what does it mean?

Our first guest David Collings talks about our "Stolen Future and Broken Present". Then it's a quick tour of bright minds from Scandinavia. From Sweden, forest expert Martin Persson says tropical deforestation is still stripping the planet - for us, for consumers in rich countries. Then Finnish intellectual Ollie Tammilehto asks can we can survive a system which rewards the rich with a license to commit ecocide? There is a better way.

This is Radio Ecoshock.

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What is climate change? It is not an event. It is a complete change of context in which events take place.

No wonder we have trouble grasping it... I am once again reminded of that viral video where a man filming a triple rainbow breaks down in tearful wonder, repeating over and over again "what does it mean"?

On Radio Ecoshock we go into depth with scientists who explain the funtioning of the atmosphere, soil, and sea, and the creatures who live there. Today we're going into the humanities, to ask scholar David A. Collings "What does it mean?" Collings has written about romanticism, poetry, and "monstrous society".

David is a Professor of English at Bowdoin College in Maine. Now he's turned to the largest news of this or any generation: human disruption of the climate. His new book is titled "Stolen Future, Broken Present: The Human Significance of Climate Change."

David A. Collings

We hardly know what we are looking at. Just take this short blip from the editor's introduction to this new book. Quote:

"Climate change concerns material agencies that impact on biomass and energy, erased borders and microbial invention, geological and nanographic time, and extinction events."

That's almost everything. Is climate change an everything?

In his book David writes:

"What we face, in short, is perpetual adaptation - the task of making a wholesale adjustment to our reality, then doing it again … then doing it yet again. It would be better if we admitted that if we make the necessary changes too late, we will have to adjust radically, and at uneven and unpredictable intervals, for as long as we can imagine..."

It's never going to be over. That's one of many ways the climate threat is different from the threat of nuclear war which hung over several generations. It's still around, but a massive nuclear war would be a short and final event, compared to climate change which will unfold over generations, and hundreds of years.

Many of us can only stand the many acts of injustice and violence in this world because we think it might get better. Four hundred years we've believed in "progress". What happens to us if we think progress may be over, and things will get worse?

My listeners know climate change is real. They also see emissions going up, and the political system owned by the fossil fuel companies. We're stuck, and what does it mean that we're stuck? That's the kind of question David answers, in this interview, and even more in his book.

You should listen to his argument that "for all of us in this society, the market is more real than nature."

I was struck by David's passages on the mortality of nature. We humans expect nature to live beyond our mere mortality - but in this case, WE may continue living, while the nearby forest or lake dies. The wild fields of my childhood have been paved over, the forest I played in cut down. I'm not sure where that leaves me.

Here is another quote from the book:

"The value of our ordinary activities begins to fray, and the entire framework of our lives becomes suspect. Climate change does not just melt the ice caps and glaciers; it melts the narrative in which we still participate, the purpose of the present day. In this sense, too, we are already living in the ruins of the future."

One place I disagree with Collins' book: he suggests we use carbon offsets. I've looked into carbon offsets, and found fraud after fraud. Even the well-intentioned ones, like protecting a forest, can disenfranchise aboriginal people, or the forest be lost to a wildfire overnight. We are just kidding ourselves - again - when we turn to carbon off-sets.

Other than that, I found the book stirred my thoughts, expressing many things I've been trying to say but couldn't. I think you will like this interview.

Download or listen to this half hour interview with David Collings in CD Quality (27 MB) or Lo-Fi (7 MB)

Next up, Martin Persson from Sweden, and Ollie Tammilehto from Finland, as Radio Ecoshock covers the world.


We know cutting down tropical forests drives extinction of plants and animals. It also destabilizes the climate around the world. But that's either getting better, or it's the fault of poor farmers who need a place to live. Wrong on both counts. Tropical deforestation is still going on, and these forests are being cut down or burned for products you and I consume.

That's the news in a report commission for the Center for Global Development. We've reached the lead author, Martin Persson, an assistant professor at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenberg, Sweden.

The title is "Trading Forests: Quantifying the contribution of global commodity markets to emissions from tropical deforestation". It was backed by the Center for Global Development.

Martin Persson

Martin tells us where the hot spots for deforestation are - and how this is being driven by international trade. These countries include Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea - but not the Congo. Yes the forests are being cut down in the Congo, but not for international trade (just local use, so far). Except for Brazil, over half the deforestation in the countries studied came from international demand.

He lists some companies that are taking a pledge to not purchase wood taken from deforested tropical lands. These include IKEA, H & M clothing (both Swedish companies) but also Unilver and the MacDonald's food chain.

But he's come to realize that is not enough. The wood that is left after major corporations refuse to buy is easily soaked up by an international black market for tropical wood, and others who are willing to buy soy for animal feed, no matter where it comes from. So the next step is to ask big corporations to take an active stance with national and local governments, to stop cutting down tropical jungles.

These forests have a huge ability to either soak up excess carbon dioxide, or release it when they are cut down or burned. Persson gives us the numbers. Up to 10% of all climate change gases are related to tropical deforestation.

Their press release says:

"1.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions can be linked to the production of the analyzed commodities, with one third being embodied in commodity exports. The biggest recipients of these embodied carbon emissions are China and the EU. By elucidating the links between consumption and environmental impacts, the aim is to identify more effective measures to address tropical forest loss by targeting key commodities and countries."

The international climate negotiations are based on the amount of greenhouse gases each country produces. We know rich countries exported a lot of their manufacturing emissions to countries like China. We also export our agricultural emissions, when we buy soy or palm oil from former tropical forest lands.

Download or listen to this 14 minute interview with Martin Persson in CD quality (13 MB) or Lo-Fi (3 MB)


Why are the rich so amazingly blind to the extreme damage caused by private planes, multiple mansions, and endless shopping? Why do millions of people struggle hard to be just like them? Because my friend, ecocide pays. That's the system we have. The more you pollute, the more you threaten the future, - the better our society rewards you!

We're going all the way to Finland today, to find author and independent researcher Ollie Tammilehto. He's published lots of books. I'm calling Ollie about his new paper "Rewarding with a Licence to Commit Ecocide." That was presented at the Fourth International Conference on Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity, held in Leipzig Germany, at the beginning of September, 2014.

Ollie tells us about 3,000 people attended this De-growth conference. There is more support for the idea of purposely shrinking the economy in Germany, than in Finland, he says.

Interviewing many guests, I always ask myself "why do we do it". We know the weather is strange, animals are going extinct, the oceans are damaged. And still we think about flying to the tropics for a nice winter holiday, as though there were two worlds, one for rational thought, and the other for our personal rewards.

I think Ollie's paper provides a fundamental answer. People do it because our economy rewards pollution. It would be great to have a couple of houses, and fly around between them wouldn't it? People would be attracted to your expensive car and lavish parties. We talk about the big percentage of global greenhouse gas emissions that come from a very small group of people.

The awkward side continues: the poorest people suffer the most from the climate change mainly generated by more wealthy people. Poor people can't exactly cut back on their energy - they only get enough to heat themselves and cook food. Plus, when the big storms come, the poor don't have insurance, and can't afford to move out of the way. They have nothing to rebuild with.

Right now, billions of people are facing extreme weather events that they did not cause.

I ask Ollie whether Finland has doomers who are preparing for a breakdown of the economy, or even society itself? He says "yes" but not so many as are found in America.

Finland one well-known writer with an unpleasant solution for our ecological problems. Pentti Linkola says the only way to prevent the extinction of man is fascism. What is his argument? Do we need a green Hitler? It sounds alluring: since the masses will never be conscious enough to act, we need a small group to seize power and force ecological controls on everyone.

Of course, Linkola says violence may be needed. We only have to look at the record of violence-loving elites to see (a) they don't save anything, (b) they wreck a lot of lives, and take a lot of lives and (c) we can't really change the world toward sustainability without a willing populace.

Find Ollie's argument "The Blind Spots of Eco-Fascist Linkola" here.

One of my worries is that humans don't really control their own lives as much as we think. We have an allegedly rational voice in our heads, but we also have some deep biological drives to reproduce, to dominate, and perhaps even to kill. Of course that is dangerously close to Pentti Linkola's theory as well.

I ask Ollie about the Finish government's position on climate change (they favor the bureaucratic solutions which don't really do much); and about the expansion of nuclear power in Finland. We agree that nuclear power pre-supposes and enforces a centralized government that must be willing to use force to protect the reactors - for generations.

Ollie Tammilehto's most recent book is "Cold Shower, Prevention of Climate Catastrophe and Rapid Social Change." That was published in Helsinki in 2012.

You can find Ollie Tammilehto's work in Finnish and English at his web site at

"REWARDING WITH A LICENCE TO COMMIT ECOCIDE: High incomes and climate change"

This paper, written by Olli Tammilehto, was presented in Fourth International Conference on Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity, Leipzig, 2014, and has been published on the conference web site. You can also download the article as a PDF-file here.


We are totally out of time. Check out the Radio Ecoshock soundcloud page, or get all our past programs as free mp3 files at We've received donations to pay the bills up to February. Thanks so much for all who donated. Now I can concentrate on making radio programs.

Thank you for listening again this week. I'm Alex Smith.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The World of Radical Facts

SUMMARY: Super-scientist Mark Jacobson from Stanford explains soot-causing warming + a way to run the world on clean energy by 2030. We visit an Ultra-Mega coal power plant in India. Manzoor Qadir on the farm soil loss larger than France since 1990. Radio Ecoshock 141105

It's a full show for you this week on Radio Ecoshock. Super-scientist Mark Jacobson from Stanford explains soot-causing warming - plus a way to run the world on clean energy by 2030. We visit an Ultra-Mega coal power plant in India, ten times larger than U.S. stations. It's already killing people. The show wraps with Manzoor Qadir on the farm soil loss larger than France, just since 1990. You won't believe what's killing the land. I'm Alex Smith.


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Trying desperately to find some good news, I thought I'd call up Dr. Mark Jacobson, author of the 2009 article in Scientific American titled "A Path to Sustainable Energy by 2030". Read that article here. Mark could only spare 20 minutes, but how hard could it be?

Doing my usual background research, I discovered I completely underestimated my guest. Jacobson has two big fields of research. Finding answers to the climate threat is just one. Mark is also a distinguished atmospheric scientist with answers to many of the most vexing questions we've encountered on Radio Ecoshock. He's published over 100 papers in the Journal of Geophysical Research, and authored several books. The latest is "Air Pollution and Global Warming: History, Science, and Solutions", from Cambridge University Press, in 2011.

Mark Z. Jacobson is the director of the Atmosphere and Energy Program at Stanford University. He is a Professor of civil and environmental engineering.

This is important stuff. For example, Jacobson found that about 18% of all carbon emissions come from a source most environmentalists hardly ever think about. The paper is "Effects of biomass burning on climate, accounting for heat and moisture fluxes, black and brown carbon, and cloud absorption effects". That was published July 27th, 2014 in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

Here is a good article on the 18% of global warming from burning biomass figure. The original article containing that figure is here. So it's "burning biomass". What's that? Think of millions of acres of African grasslands burned every year, as part of agriculture. Actually burning the savannah doesn't help the soil as the farmers think. But it blows megatones of carbon into the atmosphere, including black soot. More on that in a moment.

Biomass burning also includes all the fires set to destroy forests for more farmland. That's happening in South America, and yes still in the Amazon. It's all over the world. Indonesia and Malaysia are forest biomass burning hotspots. This category of carbon sources also includes all the home cooking and heating fires. More than a billion people burn wood or dung to cook and keep warm.

What's wrong with biomass burning? Here is a summary from Wikipedia:

"Using computer modeling he developed over 20 years, Jacobson has found that carbonaceous fuel soot emissions (which lead to respiratory illness, heart disease and asthma) have resulted in 1.5 million premature deaths each year, mostly in the developing world where wood and animal dung are used for cooking. Jacobson has also said that soot from diesel engines, coal-fired power plants and burning wood is a 'bigger cause of global warming than previously thought, and is the major cause of the rapid melting of the Arctic's sea ice'."

Burning biomass is killing millions of people directly, warming the planet in a big way, and contributing to that "dark snow" and blackened ice in the Arctic (recall Jason Box's stunning photos of blackened glaciers on Greenland). Darker snow and ice attracts the sun's heat and melts faster.

Jacobson tells us these soot particles only stay in the atmosphere for a week or two, but that's long enough for them to sweep around the world, and accumulate in the Arctic.

There's more. In the interview I ask Mark whether the global dimming effect of burned biomass pollution will be greater than it's warming impacts. You know that soot in the atmosphere can block some of the sun's rays, and actually hides up to 1 degree of warming we have already caused, but not yet felt.

Jacobson's work is original and important in showing that cooling by global dimming is less, and less important, than the various warming impacts of this pollution. In a nutshell:

1. scientists forgot to include the actual heating from the fires themselves. That's right, massive forest and grass fires cause short-term localized heating, but it all adds up.

2. the black soot tends to disperse cloud formation. That means more sun reaches the surface, warming the planet.

3. as discussed above, once it lands, black soot speeds heating of the earth's surface, and melting of frozen places

Yes, some of the carbon from burned plant material will be re-absorbed when new plants grow, but the net impacts lead to significant warming. If you want to follow up further, I recommend this 2010 Jacobson paper: "Short-term effects of controlling fossil-fuel soot, biofuel soot and gases, and methane on climate, Arctic ice, and air pollution health."

Since Jacobson also emphasizes solutions, I ask him to outline some of the ways we could reduce the impacts of biomass burning. Also you can find a good article about soot and global warming here.


Jacobson is one of the few scientists who study both the problems and the solutions. His landmark 2009 article in Scientific American claimed we could power the world with renewable energy alone. We could end the fossil fuel age by 2030. Others say that's impossible. How could we do it?

Mark outlines the huge untapped potential for renewable energy (solar, wind, tides, etc). He's very quick on his feet with facts and figures. Listen to the interview.

The National Geographic article sidebar says "The authors’ plan calls for 3.8 million large wind turbines, 90,000 solar plants, and numerous geothermal, tidal and rooftop photovoltaic installations worldwide."


I raise the objections that listeners send me every time we discuss renewable energy. For example, what about the emissions from building the solar panels or wind machines.

Mark replies that there are several different solar technologies. The most energy intensive are the crystaline solar panels. Even there, it takes six months to a year of using a solar panel (depending on where you live) before you are gaining energy, and saving carbon emissions. Since good panels produce for at least 25 years, that means 24 years of saving carbon with solar. The large solar plants that use mirrors to reflect the sun to a central source use much less carbon to build. Wind machines also produce much more energy than they take to produce.

What about all the birds killed by wind machines, and large solar plants? Yes, the best estimates (by wildlife groups, not industry) are that wind machines currently kill about 500,000 birds a year. Just so you can compare, household cats kill 80 MILLION birds a year. Another 100 million birds a year die from hitting buildings. Maybe we should keep our cats indoors, or put a bell on them, instead of trying to stop wind power?

Mark's research into "A Path to Sustainable Energy by 2030" acknowledged two key limitations. The first was a possible shortage of relatively rare elements required for their production. In this interview, Jacobson gives us the numbers, showing there is enough lithium and neodymium already available to power the world with renewables.

The second main hurdle was social, especially finding the political will. We have to tell all the oil and coal workers their jobs are obsolete. Plus the richest people in the world, like the Koch Brothers, have to give up their fossil-fueled wealth. What if we could save a livable climate, but can't do it socially? That's a tougher one for a scientist to answer. But Jacobson does have figures showing there would be a net growth in jobs in a renewable civilization, over the fossil society. The Koch Brothers already have enough money, so we won't shed a tear for them.

Personally, I think a massive reduction in energy use is part of the answer. But if we don't go big on solar, wind, and geothermal - I'm reminded of the doomy map produced by James Lovelock for the Royal Society. It showed a wide band of deserts - dead zones - stretching around the world, where large parts of North America, China, and Europe used to be. It's hard to argue against that cost of not trying for rewewables on a big scale.

This is a really good interview, with one of America's important scientists. Don't miss it.

Download or listen to this Mark Jacobson interview (21 minutes) in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


At 4,000 megawatts (when completed) the Sasan Ultra Mega Power Project (UMPP) is ten times the size of the average coal generating station in the United States. It's one of four such monster coal projects in India, as the world's second most populous country makes a deadly dash for coal power.

Prepare to enter a world of opposites. That's where a mega coal plant in India is classified as "environmentally friendly technology". Where electricity customers in Europe can buy credits from a coal plant as a "clean development mechanism". Where hundreds of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars help build that deadly coal project.

We're going to travel to a small place in the big State of Madhya Pradesh in India. That's the 6th largest state, with a population of 72 million people, right in the middle of the country. Our destination is the village of Sasan, in the Singrauli district. There we'll find the Sasan Ultra Mega Power Project being built by the Indian Government.

Unlike other big Indian coal plants, this one is not on the coast, ready to accept coal ships from Indonesia or Australia. The Sasan Power Project is fed by 3 Indian coal mines relatively nearby. Our guide today is Nicole Ghio of Sierra Club International.

Nicole Ghio, Sierra Club International

This one coal burning complex adds megatons of carbon to the Earth's atmosphere every year. India, and next-door neighbor Bangladesh will be hit hard by the climate disruption it helps create.

Sierra Club just teamed up with 4 other NGO's to publish the report titled "The U.S. Export-Import Bank's Dirty dollars". The sub-title reads "U.S. tax dollars are supporting human rights, environment, and labor violations at the Sasan Coal-Fired Power Plant and Mine, in India".

Find that report here. I've learned that the Sasan mega project is owned by Reliance Power, which is in turn part of a business conglomeration owned by Anil Ambani. The families of the two Ambani brothers are listed as the second richest family in the world. The Ambani's are something like India's Koch brothers. Reliance Power is a subsidiary of the corporate complex owned since 2005 by Anil Ambani. He is also one of the largest promoters of the Bollywood film industry, and owns 44 radio stations. His business is run from Mumbai.

At a cost of 4 billion dollars, the Sasan coal plant is listed as the single largest industrial project in India's history. Through a funding agency called the U.S. Import-Export Bank (EX-IM) - the U.S. taxpayer kicked in about 900 million dollars toward this project, as a loan. At first Ex-Im denied the funding for Sasan, as dirty coal. Then they turned around and approved it, after Reliance Power promised to build a comparitively small amount of renewable energy as well. Oh well - that makes all the pollution OK!

The Sasan plant is powered by 3 captive coal mines owned by the Indian government. These mining operations were just slapped by the Indian courts for improper license granting and corruption. They are also deadly, being responsible for severe accidents to miners, including child miners. Nicole Ghio says that when people protest pollution and working conditions, they sometimes "disappear", or their children do, courtesy, she suspects, of the mine or power plant operators.

Many people were displaced by this large power plant. Some got compensation, others did not. There are still people taking water right near the very toxic giant power plant sludge ponds. The mining overburden covers a big area, and is not well-controlled. It's an ultra mega mess.

I ask Nicole about the position of India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who did not attend the world leaders' summit on climate change in New York this past September. Ghio says Modi is at least more friendly to renewable energy than his predecessors, and includes in the current five year plan. However, the country is firmly committed to coal, as a way to get electricity to the over 200 million Indian citizens who have no access to electricity.

The problem is, Ghio says, centralized electricity sources don't work for the power-less. It's always too profitable to route that power to the Indian Middle Class in urban areas, who can pay the bills. Plus there's the outrageous cost and power losses that come with establishing a new grid. Solar power right where it's needed, in the community, on the roof, is a far better answer.

It astounds me that the Sasan coal plant has qualified as a Clean Development Mechanism, or CDM, under the Kyoto Protocol. Allegedly that's because these new coal plants are "super-efficient" getting more power with less coal. But the U.S. built "super-efficient" coal plants in the 1970's. It's old tech from an old power source.

If I'm a power grid customer in Europe, part of my bill could go to purchase better sources of power, using the Clean Development Mechanism. Of course, I'll never know my money is going to pay off the richest family of India, and their coal plant. However, Nicole says this Clean Development Mechanism money has not yet been implemented for the mega coal plants in India. Not yet. It's insane to call coal good for the climate!!

the big worry for all of us goes beyond the millions of people killed by coal pollution every year. It's even more serious than the warming and melting of glaciers hastened by the black soot coming out of those stacks. It's this: if the second-most populous nation of the world, projected to become the most populous, plans it's modernization on coal, global warming from those emissions could destabilize the whole world. what happens in India is a problem for all of us.

Listen to this 20 minute interview with Nicole Ghio of Sierra Club International in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Find out more in the Sierra Club blog "Compass". And follow Nicole Ghio on Twitter for the latest on the coal front.


It's amazing the things we don't know about the simplest things, like the air, the soil, and the water. Did you know that "freshwater" contains tons of salt? It carries enough that constant irrigation, without proper drainage, can kill off farmland due to salinization. That's happening all over the world, from Australia's Murray Darling Basin, to America's San Joachim Valley, to the Indus valley in Pakistan and India.

When I read that the world is losing 2,000 hectares a day, almost 5,000 acres every day, of valuable farm soil to salt damage - I thought aha! Rising seas are impinging on the deltas. No, this is a completely different problem brought on by human agriculture. Valuable crop land is disappearing just as our increasing population needs it most.

Here to explain is lead researcher Manzoor Qadir. He's the Assistant Director, of Water and Human Development, at the United Nations University's Institute for Water, Environment and Health. Based in Canada now, Dr. Qaadir has taught in Germany and Pakistan. He was a senior scientist at ICARDA, the global agricultural research center.

There is a solution for salt degradation: proper drainage and water circulation. That's been done on a large scale in the Murray Darling Basin in Australia, and it's working. Governments have to take the lead. Individual farmers can't do it. Download or listen to this 15 minute Radio Ecoshock interview with Manzoor Qadir in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Learn more about salt degradation of farmland in this Al Jazeera piece.


If you are in the New England region, plan to attend the "Restoring Ecosystems to Reverse Global Warming" Conference at Tufts University, in Medford, Massachusetts. That's being held November 21-23, 2014. Find the details here.

Two of the big speakers that caught my eye are on Friday evening: Bill Moomaw, from the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy, and Adam Sacks, the Executive Director of the organization Biodiversity for a Livable Climate. Full disclosure: I got this tip from Karl Thidemann, also with Biodiversity for a Livable Climate.

Karl's a remarkable man, being one of the pioneers of the electric car. He's never given up organizing for solutions to climate change. We've been email buddies for years now. Karl never misses a chance to tell people about Alan Savory and his technique to restore land with properly managed cattle. It may be one of the few ways to capture large-scale carbon back into the soil. You can find Savory's TED talk here on You tube. Even Richard Branson tweeted about that one.

Bill McKibben and Paul Hawken have been tweeting about this upcoming New England conference. Plus, expect to find a speaker from the New England group Mothers Out Front.

You may recall in my interview with George Marshall last spring, he told us young mothers are the least likely to want to talk about climate change. I said mothers are the people we need most in the movement. And here you go, Mothers Out Front is organizing, and hoping to spread. I'll see if we can get an interview with them.


We are out of time in this triple header Ecoshock show. Get all our past programs as free .mp3 downloads at, or listen live at our soundcloud page. Thank you for listening, and thank you for caring about our world.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


SUMMARY: Nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen: Fukushima continues to irradiate the Pacific. Plume reaching West Coast. Where is next American Fukushima? Diablo Canyon in California? Then Naomi Klein's new vision "This Changes Everything".

Welcome to Radio Ecoshock and what a show we have for you this week! Arnie Gundersen covers the world's worst nuclear dangers, from the on-going poisoning of the Pacific Ocean by the melt-downs at Fukushima Japan, to America's disaster-in-waiting - right in California. Oh yeah, and the nuclear plume is hitting the West Coast right now.

Then we'll talk through the battle of capitalist profits versus the climate, and all of nature. Our guest will be Naomi Klein, author of the new book "This Changes Everything".

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

Or listen to it on Soundcloud right now!


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We get an update on the Fukushima mess from our favorite correspondent, Anrie Gundersen. He's a former nuclear industry executive who now gives expert testimony on reactor safety. His videos on the web site are the best anywhere. This interview ranges from Japan to California reactors unsafe at any speed, and even to the possibility of a massive nuclear melt-down right near New York City. Why not... Tokyo is already radioactive!

We begin by talking about the impact of the big typhoons that just swept over the site of the Fukushima nuclear disaster complex. There were two typhoons in a row, Phanfone and Vongfong. The second one dumped 10 inches of rain (254 mm.) in 24 hours - right on to a site where groundwater running through the melted reactor cores is already overwhelming TEPCO's ability to pump it into temporary storage tanks.

Three hundred tons of radioactive water runs off the site each and every day into the Pacific Ocean. It was much more during these two storms. The operator hasn't said how much more, but we know in one previous incident Fukushima leaked 600 tons of water into the Pacific, twice the "normal" highly nuclear runoff. We also know from other news reports that new record high levels of radiation was measured after these typhoons in various trenches and wells. Consider the giant amounts of radiation previously measured at Fukushima, we don't wan't to hear about new record highs.

The Japan Times reported "Tritium up tenfold in Fukushima groundwater after Typhoon Phanfone"

"Some 150,000 becquerels of tritium per liter were measured in a groundwater sample taken Thursday from a well east of the No. 2 reactor. The figure is a record for the well and over 10 times the level measured the previous week."

"Tepco also revealed that, at a separate well also east of the No. 2 reactor, a groundwater sample was giving off a record 2.1 million becquerels of a beta ray-emitting substance, nearly double the level from a week earlier.

The cesium activity in the sample was 70 percent higher at 68,000 becquerels

There was even worse news after Typhoon Vongfong, one of the strongest in a generation.

Arnie Gundersen makes this stunning statement: just one month after the accident "there were things they could have done back then. I recommended pumping down the groundwater, but between the pumps and the nuclear reactor [they should] have something called a zeolite trench. Zeolite is a really good material - it's volcanic - that would capture all the radioactive Cesium, and most of the other isotopes.

Well I was told three years ago that Tokyo Electric didn't have the money. It's one of those 'pay me now or pay me later'. Because they didn't keep that groundwater under control three years ago now they are paying the price

Arnie says the total releases from Fukushima now are much higher than from the Chernobly nuclear accident in the Ukraine in the 1980s. It is without a doubt the world's worst nuclear disaster.

One sign of that: the site is so highly radioactive that even now, three years later, nobody knows where the nuclear cores of those 3 reactors are. Within about a year and a half, the world saw photos of the nuclear cores at Three Mile Island (in Pennsylvania) and Chernobyl. There are no such photos, or any kind of record, of the reactor cores at Fukushima.

By the way, a Korean government report estimates Fukushima may have released up to 4 times as much Cesium as Chernobyl did.

Arnie Gundersen of


Every week, TEPCO has to construct two new giant storage tanks to hold still more radioactive water pumped from the site. There is a vast tank farm on the hill above the former reactors. But, Gundersen warns, these temporary tanks are not "seismically qualified". That is, they are not intended to withstand a serious earthquake. If such a quake hits Fukushima, "they'll all fail and run down into the Pacific en masse, which would be an insult to the Pacific which has never occcured in the history of the world". But hey, what are the odds Fukushima will be hit by a major earthquake (again)!


Arnie Gundersen is the only person I've heard raising yet anothe serious problem arising from this triple reactor melt-down. Major media have completely missed the fact that TEPCO is filtering out up to 90% of the major radioactive materials. Essentially, they are reconstituting nuclear cores in these filters. But what will they do with this brand new form of super-radioactive waste? Where will the filters be stored safely (for at least 300 years)? What place in Japan will have that dark honor? The filters contain not just cesium, but uranium and plutonium. They may need 250,000 years to be really safe.

When the water is filtered, with just 10% of the radiation left, the Japanese want to dump it, and probably already are dumping it, straight into the Pacific Ocean. As Gundersen says, they think 90% is good enough. If any other nation, in any other circumstance, was dumping even that 10% of radioactivity into the ocean (how much is it?) - there would be international outcry. Japan is using the Pacific as a nuclear waste dump.

Gundersen: "So by filtering the water, they've reduce the liquid problem, but they've created a huge solid radioactive waste problem that no one... you've got an exclusive here Alex. No one in the world is talking about where in the world are they going to store all of these filters for a quarter of a million years."


TEPCO needed to reduce the continuing airborne emissions of highly radioactive materials floating out of the wreck of the Number One Reactor building. They constructed a fabric shell around the building (which also hid the wreckage from international photographers). Now that shell is absolutely loaded with radioactivity. The company is in the process of removing it. We discuss the dangers.

This week, an unexpectedly high gust of wind shook a crane removing the cover, and tore a large hole in it. It's a very risky operation. Gundersen says without the cover, more radioactivity will be carried away by the winds.


Alex: In these first few years after the nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima, we've heard almost nothing about the impacts on people in that region. There are accounts of strange tumors, kids dying, pets dying. What have you heard, and can we ever expect an honest accounting from Japanese authorities?

Gundersen: That's a pretty good summary, frankly. We continue to get information from people who live there about cancer rates and illnesses in general. Not just cancer. You know we think of radiation as a cancer-causing thing, but it also causes many other ailments.

Arnie then tells us about a woman 30 miles from Fukushima who has grown and stored seeds for a very long time. Now three years after the accident, she is see "gargantuism" (a.k.a. gigantism) in plants. When plants (or animals) mutate to become abnormally large, or have certain organs or parts growing very large, this is a sure sign of genetic damage caused by radiation.

Gundersen: "We are also working with doctors in Japan. Some brave doctors are saying that they are being threatened, that their hospital rights have threatened. If you tell your patient 'this illness is radiation related' you will lose your right to practice, and things like that. So there's an enormous pressure on the medical community to tell the patients that what they are experiencing is not at all related to radiation."

They key, Gundersen says, is statistics. We haven't received real verifiable date on cancer rates and other illness from Japan, since the reactor accident. We're not likely to get it. It turns out that under a prior agreement, all the statistics and reports have to go first to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) who must approve them. "Article Two of the IAEA's Charter, is to promote nuclear power" Gundersen tells us.


Reuters news service reports Japanese prosecutors are once again considering criminal charges against executives from the Tokyo Electric Power Company, TEPCO. Last year they said "no charges". But a special citizens' panel is forcing them to reconsider. The almost invincible insider reputation of TEPCO is legendary. Is there any chance those who allowed this disaster to happen will be exposed to justice?

Gundersen thinks it's unlikely under the Japanese system of authority that any charges of TEPCO executives will be successful. The charges, if any, would not be for allowing the accident to happen (e.g. they knew the sea-wall was too low...) - but for hiding the true risks after the accident (and thereby endangering people's health). Lawyers in Japan are progressive, Gundersen thinks, but the judicial system is legendary for its conservative nature.

Shortly after this interview, we received news that the Japanese prosecutors have delays their recommendation about charges for another three months. Don't hold your breath.

Gundersen has a chance to speak in depth with former Prime Minister of Japan Naoto Kan, who was in charge at the time of the accident. Kan said he got bad information from both TEPCO and MITI, the organization responsible for nuclear matters. TEPCO wanted to abandon the site, Kan told Gundersen, but the Prime Minister said "no".


We also talk about the move by former Japanese Ambasador Mitsuhei Murata to have the 2020 Olympics held somewhere other than Tokyo, due to the continuing health risks. I ask Arnie whether Tokyo is radioactive.

Gundersen: "Yes Tokyo is radioactive. I've spoken to Ambassdor Murata. My problem is we worry about the exposure to Olympic athletes who are going to be there for three weeks, what about the exposure to the people who live in Tokyo for the last ten years - nine years, from 2011 until the two thousand twenty Olympics. I'm afraid it's a little bit elitist to worry about visiting athletes who are going to be there for three weeks, when in fact 35 million people are exposed to this radiation for nine years.

Now I think the government of Japan should be aggressively cleaning up Tokyo. But to do so would spread fear, and that in turn would stop the Olympics, which would then crush nuclear revival that the [current Prime Minister] Abe regime is so desiring. It's so desirable to the Abe regime to get those nuclear plants running again."


Why is Tokyo radioactive? You would need to scan back through my past Fukushima shows, and the special podcasts I sent out at the time to get the details. All of that is available at my web site at Just type "Fukushima" into the search box there.

In a nutshell here are just some of the pathways radioactivity took to get to Tokyo:

1. In the first days of the accident, most of the radiation was blown north and west, but there were some reversals of wind, where the radiation was carried south and bathed Tokyo with nuclear particles. These were measured around the metropolis at that time. Various Japanese corporations considered moving their head offices out of Tokyo (some did). It later came out the whole government considered moving out of Tokyo.

2. For weeks after the accident, and especially after three reactor buildings blew up, there was continuing air-borne radiation of Tokyo.

3. The hills around Tokyo, were also bathed in radioactivity. Each successive rainstorm brought more radiation into the city. Tokyo has a vast amount of undergound water. Some of the city is build out over what was the ocean. Radiation was measured in the underground water.

4. More difficult to quantify, large amounts of radioactive materials were dumped or burned after the accident. Some radioactive hot sewage sludge was trucked around the country. So was radioactive cement, which used that sludge. Some of all that arrived, as almost everything does, in the hub of Tokyo.

The point is this: radioactivity doesn't go away like yesterday's news. It lasts and lasts, for decades, even generations. Residents of Tokyo hosed down some hot spots, but the city never really admitted the magnitude of the problem. There was no massive clean up of Tokyo (which would help but couldn't get it all). Perhaps this was not done to avoid alarming the population, or to save the economy, which would have crashed in Tokyo was abandoned. So this giant metropolis remains radioactive, worse in some places than others. In my opinion, pregnant mothers should go to a less polluted area, and perhaps raise children to at least the age of 5 before returning.


The Japanese authorities released a report saying the Sendai nuclear plant would not experience a volcanic eruption for the next 30 years. That's convenient, because that would be the expected operating life of this reactor site, if it is restarted. How polite for the volcanoes to wait!

However, on September 27th, there was an unexpected major eruption by another volcano not so near to Sendai. And influential volcanologists in Japan said there is absolutely no way to predict when a volcano will go off, and certainly no 30 year guarantee. br>
Gundersen says the real risk to Sendai is not so much that a volcano would immediately destroy the nuclear plant. The problem is a volcano can dump twelve feet or more of ash on the site, and on all roadways leading to it. It could become impossible to keep cooling the reactor core. If that is not cooled, it blows up, just like Fukshima did. The cooling system has to be kept going at least 5 years without any pause, even after the reactor is shut down. That applies to the nuclear reactor near you! Not that it matters if there is a reactor near you. Fukushima blew radioactive particles around the Northern Hemisphere, and as we are about to find out, the radioactive plume from the leaking site is just now reaching North America.


This spring of 2014, a citizen found a sample of Cesium-134 in a park in British Columbia, Canada - inland from the ocean. What does that tell us? Unlike Cesium-137, which lasts a long time, Cesium-134 only lasts about two years. That means this particle arrived from Fukushima. I think it may be from continuing airborne radiation, but Gundersen suggests it came from the original blowout three years ago.

Gundersen told us in previous interviews that his company Fairewinds tested automobile air filters from Seattle Washington after the accident and found highly radioactive hot particles in those filters. We know from another Radio Ecoshock interview that radioactivity from Fukushima was found in seaweed, and in Vancouver, Canada. Similar Fukshima radiation was found in California, and in fact in many U.S. states including Pennsylvania, and those in New England.

Now we're looking at a new wave of radiation reaching the West Coast. The slowly moving ocean currents are finally bringing the first part of the radioactive plume to Canada and the United States.

A Canadian research scientist named John Smith just told the meeting of the American Geophysical Union that this group has measured a radioactive plume from Fukushima in Canadian waters. The blog Live Science reports: "Smith and his colleagues tracked rising levels of cesium-134 at several ocean monitoring stations west of Vancouver in the North Pacific beginning in 2011. By June 2013, the concentration reached 0.9 Becquerels per cubic meter, Smith said. All of the cesium-134 was concentrated in the upper 325 feet (100 m) of the ocean, he said. They are awaiting results from a February 2014 sampling trip."

There's a long list of proof and sightings.

Ken Buesseler, the senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, had to arrange crowd-funding to measure this radioactivity in the Pacific. The American and Canadian governments don't appear to care. So far Buesseler says the radiation found is weak, and not yet dangerous. We're still in the early days. Buesseler set up this web site.

Gundersen says he receives a lot of worried calls and emails about the safety of West Coast beachs. This follows a couple of erroneous reports of high radioactivity on California beaches which turned out to be not from Fukushima, but left over from Cold War days. Yes, radioactivity from atmospheric atomic testing is still with us - which shows how long lasting any radioactivity is! Thanks to the Japanese experiment with nuclear power, the Pacific will still be more radioactive long after you and I are dead.

However, don't panic surfers! Gundersen says the risk is still very, very low for people swimming in the Pacific. Go for it, if you can stand the cold water. The fish living there are not so lucky. The bottom feeders especially will soak up radioactivity, and this will bio-concentrate as these are eaten by other predators. Is that why the local pod of killer whales (Orcas) in southern British Columbia did not have a baby in two years? The pod just had their first birth, but the baby died soon after. There may be many factors at work, but increased radioactivity in the Pacific is not good for marine mammals. Nobody disputes that.

Gundersen also suggests that fresh water fish in British Columbia, and likely the whole West Coast, may also be accumulating radioactivity. The place to test, if anyone cares, would be bottom-dwelling feeders like Catfish, who live in waters above a dam. The runoff from the surrounding mountains would accumulate in those dam lakes.

Arnie says he won't eat any fish from the Pacific until the government starts testing, and releases the actual data found, so he can make an informed decision about his own health.


So what American nuclear plant will blow up? There's a too long list of possible candidates. All American plants were built at least 30 years ago, and many are operating on extentions granted by the NRC. All that concrete, all those pipes and equipment deteriorating.


That doesn't even include known design flaws. Arnie and I were talking about earthquake risk and of course the last remaining California reactors at Diablo Canyon. Then he surprised me with this:

"By the way, we think of earthquakes as something that happens in California, but the plant with the highest what we call 'core damage frequency' is actually Indian Point. [38 miles from New York City - Alex] It's only a mile away from a Richter point 7 and a half earthquake fault that wasn't discovered until after it was built. So we could have an East Coast earthquake at Indian Point, which would be disastrous."

We talk about the unsafe storage of 1600 tons of nuclear waste at the now-closed San Onofre nuke plant in California. Gundersen says that waste needs to be put into casks right away. The nuke materials in casks at Fukushima were not damaged by the earthquake or the tsunami.


Now to America's biggest nuclear risk: the Diablo Canyon reactors half way between San Francisco and Los Angeles, right on the coast.

Gundersen: "Diablo Canyon is in my mind the most dangerous reactor in the United States. It was known when they built the plant that ground accelerations of .4 G - [which is] four tenths the acceleration of gravity - could hit the plant. And that's the way they built it.

Well, as they were building it, they discovered other earthquake faults that were much nearer to the plant that could double that, to .75 G. They didn't change the plant, they just changed the numberical analysis to make the plant fit an earthquake that was twice as severe."

The two reactors at the Diablo Canyon site. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.



Gundersen: Fairewinds just produced a report that we sent to the NRC. The big thing that they're ignoring is not the gross collapse of the [reactor] building in the event of a Richter .7 G earthquake. It's something called 'instrument chatter'.

It's really not spoken about very often in nuclear circles, but hopefully Fairewinds can bring it to the forefront. You know you have switches on the wall that turn the light on. Well they have switches in nuclear plants too. We call them 'relays'. And if the ground shakes, the relays turn on and off without any human intervention. Now we found an NRC report that shows that the NRC has said there's a hundred percent probability that in the event of an earthquake, some of those relays are going to end up in the wrong position. So if you want a pump to be 'on' the relay's going to be 'off'. If you want a pump to be 'off' the relay's going to be 'on', because this relay chatter will cause them to bounce back and forth, and at the end of the earthquake they won't be in the right position.

It's a really serious problem that has been un-analyzed at Diablo Canyon. In my opinion, Diablo Canyon should be shut down until they analyze that problem. But of course that would be a four or five year effort and they may as well throw in the towels. So they are choosing to ignore the problem rather than really analyze this relay chatter issue.

Alex: This is the first I've heard of this. I guess we can say we are breaking this on Radio Ecoshock.

Gundersen: You are. You are. You know it's in the deep bowels of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's files, but they don't want to talk about it either. People who work with relays have seen them buzz. We'll be posting a video in the next couple of weeks about relay chatter. They routinely will buzz when they are not working right, when the springs are worn and tired, they'll sit there and go bzzzz.

Well, in the event of an earthquake that will happen anyway, even if it's a brand new relay, because they'll just bounce. The switches will turn on and off, on and off, and then when the earthquake ends there's no guarantee they'll be where you want them to be."

So what? If a series of pumps need to be on, to cool the reactor, and the quake leaves them off, the reactor could heat up and blow. These reactors are such complicated systems, that we are not talking about one or two switches that some human will reset. We are talking about a vast system of interdependent switches that will reset themselves in chaotic patterns. It may not be easy to recover... in time.

We go on to discuss a report by David Lochbaum, a nuclear expert working with the Union of Concerned Scientists. Lockbaum says Diablo Canyon has never met basic fire regulations, and the NRC doesn't make them meet the standards. Why can anyone operate a nuclear reactor with faulty fire protection? Arnie Gundersen says Diablo Canyon falls into Region Four of the NRC, which has a history of being lax about enforcing nuclear regulations.

The other trick, applied to dozens of American reactors which fail to meet safety standards, is to "grandfather" them. They are built, it's too expensive to fix (the operators say) and so they must be safe, even though they aren't. That's the kind of nuclear logic that led to the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.


Gundersen: "We published a ... I think it's about q 45 page expert report that was sent to the NRC about a week and a half ago, with a legal filing that was sponsored by Friends of the Earth. Basically we determined that Diablo Canyon never should have been allowed to run. Because it violated a federal law. It's called 10 CFR 50. That's a nuclear law and it's part 50-59, which basically says that when you know a plant has problems, and you change your analytical approach to solve that problem, the public has a right to know it.

That didn't happen at Diablo Canyon. The public was not informed that Pacific Gas and Electric, the owner of Diablo Canyon made gross changes in all of the assumptions in order to get Diablo Canyon qualified to a much larger earthquake. The argument should have been made in 1980 and now Friends of the Earth is taking forward the argument 35 years later.


I asked Arnie Gundersen how can we finally shut down these aging dangerous reactors, before another Fukushima happens in America. His answer surprised me: install as much solar power as you can, personally, as a community, as a State.

It turns out nuclear plants actually lose money at night. They only make money supplying electricity during peak usage hours during the day. That's exactly when solar produces it's peak power. If enough solar power comes on line, nuclear plants will no longer make money. That's when they shut down.

You can also help concerned Californians trying to get the dangerous Diablo Canyon reactors closed forever. Contact Mothers For Peace, check out this article, or watch a video about it from EON here.

The Friends of the Earth document on Diablo Canyon is here. The Petition to the NRC just filed by Friends of Earth is here. Arnie recommend his latest video talk, given in San Francisco at the WAVE conference. Find it here, on his web site at

Please listen to this whole interview. There's more than I could capture in one blog.

Download or listen to this Radio Ecoshock interview with Arnie Gundersen of in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


Speaking of limitation - apparently Blogger only allows posts of reasonable length, or it chokes. So I'm not going to include my notes on the Naomi Klein interview. She was brilliant as always, pointing out capitalism seems unable to do what is necessary to avoid a global climate disaster. It's a wide-ranging interview with Klein, and I hope more original than the generic Klein interviews now swamping the Net.

Learn which big green groups take money from fossil fuel companies, and which "green" billionaire isn't living up to his 3 billion dollar pledge. Find Naomi's new book "This Changes Everything, Capitalism Versus Climate Change" here. Everyone will be reading it, it's already a hot topic of discussion here and on many blogs around the Net.

Download or listen to my interview with Naomi Klein in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

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I'm Alex Smith, saying thank you for listening, and caring about our world. And please don't forget to answer the call for our (hopefully short) fall fundraiser. Details here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Talk in Twisted Times

SUMMARY: Deep thinker Frank Rotering introduces his desperate new strategy to split the rich and plunge the world economy into steep contraction. Then Gail Zawacki savages what's left, while she campaigns against the unknown threat of ozone smog. It's a panorama of inner conversations in twisted times.

The weather has gone sideways. Emissions are up. Climate talks are useless. Protests are polite.

Revolution? Not likely. So...

Author Frank Rotering from British Columbia, Canada hosts He called for the usual progressive bottom-up revolution against the consumer society. Now it's too late for that, Frank says. We need to push a schism in the wealthy capitalists who control the game. Some billionaires are beginning to see they will be wiped out along with the rest of us in ecocide.

Download or listen to this Radio Ecoshock show (141022) here in CD Quality (56 MB) or Lo-Fi (14 MB)


Politicians, bankers and businessmen religiously tell you the economy needs to keep on growing, with more products and profits for all. Any sane person can see there are limits to growth on a single planet. As wildlife goes extinct, food chains break, and the climate spins out, we have already surpassed those limits. Even a steady state economy, steady as we are now, would crush the biosphere we depend on.

The only and obvious answer is contraction until we reach a sustainable plateau. That's the territory of Frank Rotering. He's the independent thinker from British Columbia, Canada, and lord of the web site Frank has two books out, including "The Economics of Needs and Limits". Prepare to have your basic ideas challenged.

Where to start... Let's say Frank thinks the analysis of capitalism by Karl Marx is still useful, while his solutions are not. Until relatively recently, and in his two previous books, Rotering yearned for the same bottom-up revolution many progressive people want. Stimulated by leadership by indigenous people, greens, and activists for social justice, the masses would wake up and demand change.

Now, and especially after reading Naomi Klein's new book "This Changes Everything", Rotering realizes (a) people in the developed countries are not going to revolt and (b) there isn't time left to educate the populace about the true state of affairs. Climate change is just one of several forces that indicate we have less than a decade left, if that, to make radical changes to avoid catastrophe.

While Frank has been a progressive person all is life, the cold facts drive him to a desperate conclusion. Our best and only hope is that enough capitalists will wake up to the dangers, and force changes themselves. That's not an impossible strategy. As you've heard on Radio Ecoshock in the past few weeks, former and current Secretaries of the U.S. Treasury warn climate change can sink our economy (read the wealth accumulated by the capitalist class). Billionaire Michael Bloomberg is on board the same train, worried about climate. Even the oil-rich Rockefellers say they are getting out of fossil fuel investments.

Rotering says as activists we can help speed up a split in the capitalist class. One party realizes we are engaged in the business of ecocide; the other are intent on making more profits while nature goes down into the sixth great mass extinction event. It will be a battle of the titans.

In the interview, I object that it may be a fantasy to depend on the "hero theory" - that the powerful will act to save us. That also relieves each of us from our own responsibility to make the millions of small changes needed to preserve a liveable planet. Frank points out that Naomi Klein also says a small group of billionaires (like Stayer and Branson) are not going to save us. He is not talking about a group of "heroes", but rather a division in a large class of people around the world - the people who have accumulated all the wealth. Their sea-side estates, their businesses, will be hit by climate change, not to mention other high risks faced by their kids.

It's possible, but I'm still not entirely convinced. You can take part in this discussion. Frank Rotering invites all Radio Ecoshock listeners to write him about this strategy. Pour out your objections to test the theory, ask your pointed questions, or make suggestions of how we can push this historic change. All this will be incorporated in Frank's new book, due out in 2015. Beta test social theory! Contact Frank through his web site at

You can also watch a 2011 video interview with Frank Rotering here. Download or listen to the Frank Rotering interview in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


New England's Gail Zawacki is fed up. The Flood Wall Street protest never delivered on it's plan for civil disobedience arrests. It gave up and ate pizzas without ever reaching Wall Street. Zawacki covers a lot of ground in these times of despair and failure. She's also been on a one-woman campaign against the almost unknown threat posed by low-level ozone smog.

From Georgia to New England, leaves are blotchy, trees are dying. It's a sign of the same polluted air that puts up to 20% of our kids with inhalers in the classroom. Low-level ozone is a plague around the world. It weakens plants for a deluge of fungi, insects, and diseases. Yet hardly anyone knows about it. Gail does, and she tells all.

The blog is called Wit's End. So far, it's been read over 11 million times. The author - I want to say artist - is Gail Zawacki. She's edgy. She's on a campaign to save trees from air pollution. But mostly Gail's in a battle against the never-ending conceits humans use to pretend


We begin by talking about the Flood Wall Street protest. Gail's description of the way this degenerated into a happy pizza party is funny and sad. Revolution? Not!

Read that here.

I just love the photo Gail contributed this week. Gail's dog knows where Wall Street is on a map, why don't the protesters?

Gail talks about the book An Appalachian Tragedy. It detailed the on-going impacts of ozone pollution on America's forests, from Georgia to New England. Nobody in the EPA was interested, and in fact, one person Gail wrote snapped the only "tragedy" was that the book was written at all!

We also discussed the Jack Fishman lecture to celebrate scientist Paul Creutzen's 80th birthday. Fishman realized the threat of low-level ozone back in the early 1990's. View that presentation here.

After a few formalities for Creutzen, Fishman launches into a powerful case indicting ozone. The video is described as: "Tropospheric Ozone in the Anthropocene: Are We Creating a Toxic Atmosphere? Max-Planck-Institut für Chemie Published on Feb 19, 2014

"Talk of Jack Fishman Saint Louis University, USA at the Anthropocene Symposium, Mainz, 2 December 2013. The scientific symposium has been organized by the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in celebration of the 80th birthday of Paul Crutzen, winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1995."

Get this. This scientist asks if we are "creating a toxic atmosphere". How many people are interested. When I checked, there were 238 views on You tube. Yawn. Toxic atmosphere... who cares?

You can find out about Jack Fishman's "Ozone Gardens" in St. Louis in a .pdf here. School kids get to learn which plants die fastest from our air pollution.

Excerpts from Jack Fishman's 1990 book "Global Alert" are reprinted in this Zawaki blog post (scroll down past the gory photos of plants and trees blighted by ozone...)

Gail talks about the BBC "Global Dimming" documentary (which shows how our dusty pollution is shading Earth enough to hide up to 1 degree C of the greenhouse gases we've actually put into the atmosphere.

Find a transcript of that program here.

Watch the documentary here.

The Radio Ecoshock special on global dimming (20 minutes, 18 MB) is available as a free .mp3 here.

A transcript of Radio Ecoshock special on global dimming, (broadcast Sept 8, 2006) is here.

We also talk about what can happen if the smog on the air stops suddenly, say due to an economic crash, a solar storm knocking out electric grids, or whatever. Will the Earth experience a sudden burst of warming? Probably.

The Radio program Gail recommends is from Radio Lab, "Dust of This Planet" broadcast September 8th. She also likes the following program on September 19th, called "Staring into the Abyss".

Gail mentions Mark Jacobson, a Professor at Stanford who published a plan to switch the world to renewable energy by 2030. Dr. Mark Jacobson will be my guest on Radio Ecoshock soon.

Gails' Wit's End blog often features paintings by the Medieval artist Hieronymus Bosch. Find out more in this Wiki entry.

You can view the complete works of Hieronymus Bosch here.

Gail mentioned the World Bank applauding China's effort to impose a carbon tax. Find that news article here.

The New York Time article by Justin Gillis about ozone damage to crops is here.

Gail says pollution-damaged crops produce less at harest time, but also have less nutrition. Find the Article in the journal Nature "Increasing CO2 threatens human nutrition" reference here. (Only the Abstract is available for free.)

Find the "Apocalypsi Libary at The End of the World" here.

For the Dead Trees - Dying Forests website, click here.

Find Gail's book "Pillage, Plunder & Pollute, LLC" as a free .pdf download on this page.

Or order the print version of the book here on Amazon. It's Gail's terrific summary of her almost one-woman campaign to wake us all up to the on-going damage caused by invisible ground-level ozone pollution. I recommend it.

And of course, don't miss her witty blog, here.

You can download or listen to the Radio Ecoshock interview with Gail Zawacki in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Gail sailed through a lot of cutting edge material. All of it is backed up by recent papers and articles you will want. Follow the links for yourself.


Frank Rotering talked about Naomi Klein's new book "This Changes Everything". Naomi will be my guest on Radio Ecoshock two weeks from now. Gail Zawacki mentioned Stanford's Mark Jacobson, who worked out a path to a world powered by renewables by 2030. Mark will join us soon on the show.

But next week I want to dive into a great gaping sink-hole of mainstream media news coverage. No doubt you've seen fast clips about the two typhoons flooding Japan lately. They don't tell you what is happening at the Fukushima nuclear disaster site, where tons of radioactive water flow straight into the Pacific Ocean on a good day. It's time for a Fukushima update, with our best guide, nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen. Plus, Arnie has been sending reports to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission about California's most dangerous reactor, Diablo Canyon. As we found out from Fukushima, a blow reactor anywhere in the world quickly becomes everybody's problem, no matter where you live. Stay tuned to Radio Ecoshock.

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I close out the show with a bit of my latest music.