Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sick Food & Black Carbon

SUMMARY: Agricultural economist John Ikerd explains why factory food fails our health needs. Jonathan Mingle on black carbon, the second largest cause of climate warming, melting Arctic, and killer of millions.

In this Radio Ecoshock show, we'll find out why factory farms are wrecking the health of millions. Then on to the second largest cause of climate warming, and no, it's not methane. I'm Alex Smith. Let's get going.

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

Or listen to this program on Soundcloud right now!


When young people want local food, safe food grown organically, when they spend a few cents more for eggs from a free-range chicken - they may not realize there is a long-term champion for all of that and more.

John Ikerd was raised on a Missouri farm before going all the way to his doctorate in agricultural economics. He's worked in the big farm system, and taught at the University of Georgia, the University of Missouri, and more. Since retiring as Professor Emeritus of Agricultural and Applied Economics, John didn't go quiet. He's written a half dozen books, and continues to speak in America and abroad.

His book include: "The Essentials of Economic Sustainability", "Sustainable Capitalism: A Matter of Common Sense", "Small Farms are Real Farms: Sustaining People Through Agriculture", "Return to Common Sense", Crisis and Opportunity: Sustainability in American Agriculture", "Revolution of the Middle… Pursuit of Happiness", and "The Case for Common Sense". The Case for Common Sense is available free online here.

John objects to the "industrial paradigm" in modern agriculture: "specialization, standardization, and consolidation of control."

This creates "animal factories" set up like "biological assembly lines." It treats animals as though they were raw materials running through a factory. These animals are not healthy. They factory system kills them at a very young age, and it's likely they may not have lived much longer. There is a lack of concern that these animals are living sentient beings.


While there is a saving in labor, Ikerd says, there is no saving in fossil fuels, or in capital required. Big food operations require more of both. Studies show that if we changed to a really sustainable and organic system, using techniques learned in the 1930's and 40's - retail food prices would not go up more than 10 to 12 percent. In the U.S., food prices already rose more than that, as a consequence of the biofuels program, where food was turned into a gasoline substitute or additive. Up to 40% of the U.S. corn crop went into ethanol production. We can feed the people without an industrial agriculture system, at a reasonable price, says this experienced agricultural economist.

It is not true, Ikerd says that we need factory farming to support our large population. The industrial farm can produce food with less labor, and particularly less skilled labor. I would add that fewer farmers means a depleted sense of community in rural areas. These large farms tend to inhabit a kind of social dead zone, with fewer people to volunteer or organize community, and less need to do so.


Most people never visit a factory farm. In fact, in many places we are prevented by law from seeing these secret massive pig and chicken farms, much less taking pictures. How did the act of farming become so closed off - that anyone questioning where our food comes from can be called a "terrorist"?

Part of economic theory, Ikerd says, is the ability to carry out impersonal transactions. We do it all the time in the market place.

"The local food movement, that is booming all across the U.S. today, and the organic food movement before that, was really and is really an attempt by consumers to gain some knowledge of where their food comes from. I think they are increasingly losing confidence in the industrial food system - including the government that supposedly is regulating that system to ensure them of the quality and the safety, and kind of the ecological and social integrity of how the food is produced. They are increasingly turning to more localized production so they can know the farmers, or they are in a situation where they could actually visit the farm if they wanted to. They are ensuring the integrity of the products through this sense of personal connectedness with the farmer."


Obesity, diabetes, and many diseases unkown when we were kids are sweeping the Western World. Can we tie massive health problems to industrial agricuture?

John says industrial agriculture is part of this poor outcome, while more rests with the next stage of packaging and marketing.


Scientists predicted this problem in the 1930's and 40's. This includes Professor William Albrecht at the University of Missouri.

"He said when you turn to focus on the economics, as he knew was coming, with the chemical fertilizers and pesticides and things of that nature - he said what you will end up with is you select crops for the maximum yield rather than the quality. And what you end up with in crops with maximum yield is crops that are higher in those nutrients that come from the air - carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen. And he says, they will be deficient in those essential nutrients that come from the soil, because that will be the nutrients that limit production, whereas those that come from the air are basically limitless. If you think about that, what is coming from the air is carbohydrates - carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. And so you end up with crops that are high in carbohydrates, high in sugar and high in calories, and lacking in some of the essential nutrients. That was his hypothesis.

That is what you will end up doing. People will end up over-eating in the calories. You'll have crops that are too high in calories relative to those essential nutrients. And [people] will overeat on the calories in the process of trying to get enough of those limited nutrients that come from the soil."

Albrecht famously said:

"NPK formulas, (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) as legislated and enforced by State Departments of Agriculture, mean malnutrition, attack by insects, bacteria and fungi, weed takeover, crop loss in dry weather, and general loss of mental acuity in the population, leading to degenerative metabolic disease and early death."

You can read John Ikerd's 2011 Albrecht Lecture "Healthy Soils, Healthy People" here.

Ikerd says our food system is directly related to problems of obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, and various forms of cancer. The industry actively discourages research into the possibility that "people are overweight today because they are starving for essential nutrients that have been taken out of the industrial food."

John doesn't discount other factors, like lack of exercise and changes in lifestyle - but even those may be related to lack of vitality from a poor food supply.


In a You tube video, John put out a fact that stunned me. He said "If you've got even 200 cows you've got as much waste as a city of 10,000 people". There are operations with thousands of cows, and tens of thousands of pigs, not only in America or Europe, but in China too. What is the impact of all that manure, and what can we do about it?

"We have the evidence that shows we are polluting the streams, the air and the water with agricultural waste from these operations." While there are differences between human waste and that from cows or chickens, in some ways they are very similar. Why do we treat human waste with sewage systems and other precautions, John asks, while we don't require farm waste to be disposed of safely? It's the same as telling a city of people to just dump their sewage in their backyards, and let it be washed away with storm water. We wouldn't allow that for humans, but that's what happens at large animal feeding operations.

"The problem is we are treating these big agricultural factories, as if they were traditional family farms."

An EPA report from the late 1990's found there were 35,000 miles of streams, in 22 states, that had been polluted with waste from these confined animal feeding operations (CAFO). The groundwater in 17 states was polluted.

"In the state of Iowa there's been a three-fold increase, a three hundred percent increase, in the number of waterways that are impaired with agricultural waste since the early 2000's.... The facts are there. I think there is a conscious attempt to keep the people from knowing, at you hinted at earlier on, to keep the people from knowing what's going on with the industrial food system."


As we've seen in California, the climate can change for years at a time. John Ikerd, says the climate threat can actually boost better farming methods, and more localization.

In several speeches, John has said it's difficult to forecast the future. But there are underlying principles. With climate change the greatest impact is going to be the variability. That's key for agriculture, which is susceptible to extremes, whether untimely cold spells, heat waves, dry and wet years. That's a huge risk for agriculture, with more crop losses.

This may change the nature of agriculture away from the industrial type, e.g. large feedlots and mono-culture, which is highly risky with no diversification. Family farm operations tend to be more diversified.

With climate change, the public may soon become more aware of the huge tax cost of supporting industrial agriculture. Most people are simply not aware that most Western governments spend many billions of dollars supporting industrial agriculture. We pay attention to military spending, but not agricultural spending.

More than half the cost of crop insurance is compensation for a certain yield. Governments also provide low interest loans, subsidies, and other means of keeping up with disasters. The taxpayer assumes a lot of risks. Now futures even guarantee the price. Farmers can plant any amount of crops, without worrying about market prices which are guaranteed by the government. Then there are tax credits. For example, the polluting manure pits of hog operations are not taxed in property taxes in some states, like Iowa.

As climate change stresses crops, for example requiring more irrigation from dwindling water supplies, then the cost of production will go up, and so will the cost to the taxpayer through all the subsidies. Tax payers may start to object to this blank cheque for industrial food production.

The logical alternative is a move to more sustainable agriculture. Crop rotations, organic, and better livestock management. These can cope with risk, from the time before government and taxpayers took up the risk. They can produce as much as the industrial farm, he says. And they can adapt better to changes in the climate.

Here is another key point, as raised by many other guests on Radio Ecoshock: the sustainable farm can also capture carbon back into the soil, becoming a solution for climate change.


Ikerd is author of "Essentials of Economic Sustainability", "Sustainable Capitalism, A Return to Common Sense", "Small Farms are Real Farms", "Crisis and Opportunity: Sustainability in American Agriculture", and "A Revolution of the Middle". More complete background information and a wide selection of writings are available at

In this interview John believes that we owe a debt to the people of the past who made our lives possible - and we can only repay that debt by leaving a sustainable society to the people of the future.


I also ask John about his impressions from his trip to China (he just returned in the past week). Ikerd hopes the Chinese will avoid the mistakes made by America with industrial agriculture. The Chinese people have traditions and methods which could enable them to jump over the stage of industrial plunder of the land and animals, toward a truly sustainable system. He doesn't know if they will accept and complete that challenge. There are billions of rural farmers in Asia. There is no where for them all to go, in order to clear the land for large-scale industrial agriculture.

China and India cannot release the same per capita pollution that we did in the West - or our climate is doomed.

He talks about his long relationship with the Institute of Post Modern Development for China. This is associated with Claremont Lincoln University in Claremont, California. The group is associated with 23 centers in China studying everything from "process theology" to "sustainable urbanization". Finally, Ikerd takes some hope from the rapid growth of alternative farming in America. It's small, but growing fast. Asked if we can really hope that industrial giants like Monsanto or Cargill could fall, John says one advantage of being old (he's 75) is that older people have experienced a world much different from today. Maybe old people believe major change is possible, because they've seen so much rapid change already.

Find John Ikerd's personal web site here.

Download or listen to this 34 minute interview with John Ikerd in CD Quality or Lo-Fi (and feel free to pass on these links, they are permanent).


This one hour Radio Ecoshock show contains audio from this You tube video: Climate Change Denial Disorder by Funny or Die, uploaded April 16, 2015.

Coming up: the second biggest cause of climate change, driver of half of all Arctic melting, and killer of millions. Jonathan Mingle on black carbon.


Something is killing millions of people around the world, including in your city - but we don't want to know what it is. The same something is the second largest global warming substance after carbon dioxide. Few people know that either.

We'll investigate with Jonathan Mingle and his new book "Fire and Ice: Soot, Solidarity, and Survival on the Roof of the World".

Here is the publisher's bio on Jonathan Mingle:

"Jonathan Mingle’s writing on the environment, climate and development has appeared in The New York Times, Slate, The Boston Globe, and other publications. He is a former Middlebury Fellow in Environmental Journalism, a recipient of the American Alpine Club’s Zach Martin Breaking Barriers Award, and a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group. He lives in Vermont."

We have a long way to travel in this interview, to the Himalayas, so recently brought into the spotlight by the massive earthquake in Nepal. But we start closer to home: Why did US President Obama make his most recent climate announcement in a hospital?

Living in a city powered by fossil fuels is like smoking cigarettes. Everybody, men, women, children and babies are smoking in the smog. Why don't we hear more about it? The health impacts from burning fossil fuels are many and deadly: heart attacks, lung cancer and cancers of all kinds, asthma, birth defects - in fact, we don't know all the ways this pollution hurts us.

And that's not just in North America, or Britain (which recently had severe pollution alerts, along with much of Northern Europe). Of course you've heard about smog in Chinese cities, but did you know New Delhi India likely holds the dubious honor of being the world's most air-polluted city?

Jonathan travelled to a small valley in Nepal, which was a very poor nation even before the recent great earthquakes. There he found the village of Kumik, in the Zanskar Valley. These simple people will be among the early refugees due to climate change. Aside from a punishing drought which has gone on for years, the major source of water from nearby glaciers is starting to dry up. The glaciers are melting back. In the coming century, they will stop feeding these legendary rivers: the Ganges (reaching both India and Pakistan), the MeKong, the Yangtze (aka Yellow River in Tibet and China).

In a century, it's possible these could run dry, says Mingle. That's partly because the Himalayas, like the Arctic, are warming 2 to 3 times faster than the global average. In fact, there are a lot of comparisons to what is happening in the Arctic and the Himalayan mountains. The Himilayas have been called the world's "third pole".

The Kumik villagers, poor as they are, know they have to move. They will move, but no one knows where.


"Black carbon" is defined as ultrafine particles that are the result of incomplete combustion. The common name is "soot". The small size of the particles is key, because they can get past our defenses, like nose hair, and go straight to the lungs, where they are very damaging.

Because this carbon is black, it also absorbs more of the sun's heat and energy, both in the air, and wherever it lands. Large parts of Greenland, for example, are now black, as scientist Jason Box has revealed, speeding up glacier melt there. The same factor is at work on Himalayan glaciers and snow. Quicker and earlier snow melt adds to climate change.

The third factor is harder to study. It's the way black carbon changes cloud formation. This can even change the monsoon rains that Asian agriculture depends on. There was some debate about whether increased clouds from smog may actually be a cooling factor. However, an exhaustive study led by Radio Ecoshock guest Tami Bond showed the net impact of black carbon is indeed global warming. In fact, black carbon is the second largest cause of climate change, after carbon dioxide in the air. It's more of a threat even than methane (so far).

Here is a link to my Radio Ecoshock show on black carbon, with Tami Bond and more, from April 23, 2010.

You can also find out more from in my Radio Ecoshock special for April 25th, 2008 "Highway to Hell, How Smog Kills". (Download that .mp3 here, or read the blog here.)


Black carbon comes from many sources, including forest fires and burning of agricultural waste. But a huge contributor in India and other places in Asia is the use of solid fuels for cooking. This includes burning dung in primitive stoves indoors, which is a huge health hazard, leading to early death of millions.

The Indian government and some NGO's have been trying to convert citizens away from using these fuels in cooking. But impoverished people cannot afford a modern stove, and there is no electricity or gas available for hundreds of millions of people. Even families who could afford to convert, say they prefer the taste of food from "traditional" cooking methods!

About 3 billion people, almost half the population of the world, still use solid fuel for cooking. As a result, satellite photos often show huge continent-sized clouds of smog over North India, and parts of China. The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves is just one group working to help solve this problem.

NASA photo shows smog over India.

Then we have hundreds of millions of people using kerosene lamps for light. That also produces black carbon. In fact, Mingle tells us, kerosene smoke is almost 99% black carbon!

This interview, and Jonathan Mingle's book, is a real adventure in climate change developing at a very human level. It contains the big, big picture of the second largest cause of warming, but it also has a portrait of early climate refugees, on a very human level. Mingle obviously fell in love with the place and the people. It shows.

The book is: "Fire and Ice: Soot, Solidarity, and Survival on the Roof of the World".

Find a good article by Jonathan in the Huffington Post here.

Download or listen to this Radio Ecoshock interview with Jonathan Mingle in CD Quality or Lo-Fi (and feel free to pass on these permanent links).


That's all for this week. Check out all our past programs as free mp3 downloads at our web site

If you can contribue to keeping this program going, that would be great! Get details here.

Thank you for listening, and caring about our world.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

How to Avoid Thinking About Climate Change

In this week's show:

* Norwegian eco-psychologist Per Espen Stoknes tells us why public concern about climate may be falling, even as the science becomes more certain. How to avoid thinking about climate change.

* Alternative energy expert Robert A. Stayton says "yes we can power the world with solar" and tells us how.

* Dr. Alan Rozich tells us "Other Inconvenient Truths Beyond Global Warming."

Due to circumstances beyond my control, the full blog for this program, with many more links, will not be posted until tomorrow, Thursday. Please check back tomorrow. In the meantime, this will get the new show out to our thousands of podcast subscribers.

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

Or listen on Soundcloud right now!

You can also download individual interviews. Per Espen Stoknes in CD quality or Lo-Fi

Robert Stayton in CD quality or Lo-Fi

Alan Rozich in CD quality only.

I'm Alex. Thank you for listening, and caring about our world.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Fires Raise Chernobyl Radiation - Again

Some interviews drive by, others stay for the deep record. This week I have two heavy-hitters for you. Right out of the international news, forest fires near the Chernobyl nuclear wreck in Ukraine have raised dangerous radioactive particles into the atmosphere - again. We have Dr. Timothy Mousseau, the world's foremost expert on the impacts of Chernobyl, and Fukushima radiation on living things.

Then Utah scientist Tim Garrett updates his work showing only a collapse of civilization could prevent terrible climate change. There are new discoveries, about our utter dependence on fossil energy, and where that leads.

Both of these are important interviews for the record. So I'm going to share my detailed notes, with some quotes. There's lots to learn, and many shocking facts.

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

Or listen on Soundcloud right now!


The largest fire in 20 years is burning near the crippled Chernobyl nuclear plant. The smoke will re-release radioactive contamination dropped in the forests during the 1986 melt-down of Reactor number 4, possibly the world's worst nuclear disaster.

How can radiation remain and return? What is the real risk? Scientists have been hard at work studying this problem. Just this February, the journal Ecological Monographs published a paper titled: "Fire evolution in the radioactive forests of Ukraine and Belarus: future risks for the population and the environment."

Dr. Timothy A. Mousseau is a co-author of this paper, and recommended to Radio Ecoshock by the lead author, Norwegian scientist Nikolas Evangeliou. Tim is a Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of South Carolina. Dr. Mousseau joins us on Radio Ecoshock.

Here are my detailed notes, in the order each topic appears in the interview.

1. Mousseau started studying radiation effects on living things in the Chernobyl area in the year 2000, and has returned the area 3 to 4 times a year ever since.

2. I ask about the meme saying life is thriving in the highly radioactive Chernobyl closed zone. It is true that nature has returned. But everything from plants (such as trees) to animals (including birds) are suffering some impacts. (More about that later).

3. The Chernobyl radiation affected the Ukraine, Eastern Europe, Scandinavia and Northern Europe (including Britain) the most. But it went around the world and can still be found as a marker in oceans in the Northern Hemisphere as well. The areas of highest contamination are within a couple of hundred kilometers of Chernobyl.

Mosseau compares the fire that burned in the Chernobyl reactor for ten days to a volcano that erupts radioactive materials.

4. How does it work? How radiation enters the fibres of plants and cells of animals. "The dominant isotope at Chernobyl, and at Fukushima too for that matter, is Cesium 137. And Cesium 137 is a potassium analog. It behaves chemically much like potassium does. And so the plants actually mistake it, confuse if for potassium, and take it up as if they were taking up potassium. This Cesium gets taken up by the plants in the water, transferred to the leaves, and into the tissues.

And so it gets moved around. Even though most of the fallout is in the soil, it gets taken up in the water through the plant root system up into the leaves - and then redeposited on to the surface soil every year as the plants drop their leaves during the Fall

To me, the horror of this is partly that we expected radiation in the soil to gradually be buried by plant debris and subside, away from the surface. Instead, roots keep grabbing the Cesium 137 and recycling it to the surface with leaf litter each year. Find a BBC article about the impacts of Chernobyl on tree growth here.

5. Fires near Chernobyl at the end of April 2015. Estimates are a few hundred to a few thousand acres of forest have been burned. It appears in early May the fires are under control. While some of the fires are in high contamination areas, most of them happen to be in areas of lower contamination. Satellite photos show dozens of small fires in Ukraine and Belarus and parts of South Western Russia - all areas with signicant amounts of radiation from Chernobyl.

"Its an on-going condition that is likely to get worse in the future as global climate change raises the average temperatures and reduces the total amount of precipitation in the area as well."

6. Tim is part of a large team of scientists from many countries who are studying the past records of forest fires, the record of radiation from Chernobyl, combined with climate change into models.

"What we've demonstrated is there is an enormous potential hazard from these forest fires because of the fact that they are likely to increase in size and intensity. And this has the power to basically lift the radioactive contaminants from the soil, from the plant material, and put it into the atmosphere and redistribute it."

7. What kind of particles?


"The concern is that several of these isotopes are potentially far more dangerous biologically than the Cesium 137."

Scientists and the press have focused on the Cesium because it is cheap and easy to measure, even with a simple Geiger Counter, while others require sophisticated and expensive testing.

"Strontium 90 is really there in about equal levels to the Cesium. The Strontium 90, because it's a Beta emitter, doesn't give off any Gamma. This makes it much, much harder to measure it's levels."

For that reason, Strontium 90 is often not measured, and assumed to move as Cesium does.

"But Strontium is a calcium analog. And so it gets taken up the same way into plants and animals, the way the calcium would. And as a consequence it tends to be fixed into the teeth and into the bones. It can actually bio-accumulate and bio-magnify up the food chain to a much greater level than Cesium usually does. So this makes it [Strontium 90] a more hazardous isotope. It tends to be in the background because we can't measure it very easily."


"There's a significant amount of plutonium deposited in the ground around the [Chernobyl] reactor. This Plutonium is also decaying into something called "Americium". Americium and plutonium are extremely dangerous if ingested. The dangers are well known and ever a threat."

They [Plutonium and Americium] are heavier, they're denser, and they're less likely to be mobilized, but they are going to be mobilized if the fire is large enough. And of course, the half-lives of the Plutonium isotopes are measured in the tens of thousands of years, and the Americium is in hundreds of years. In fact the Americium levels are increasing in the area as a result of the decay of the Plutonium. So the hazards are actually going to increase over the coming decades with respect to those isotopes


The biggest risks are for the firefighters. [Alex notes the many stories of poor equipment, no breathing protection, no decontamination for these firefighters.] They do wear masks and gloves, Mousseau says.

The air-borne hazards decrease as one moves away from Chernobyl, so breathing hazards diminish relatively quickly with distance. The problem is that scientists are not so concerned with an external dose, as ingesting cancer-causing radioactive particles. We've just heard about bones and teeth. Mousseau also points out mushrooms bio-accumulate radiation, so that wild boar in Germany who eat mushroom are too radioactive to be safe to eat. Mice also eat these mushrooms, and then other things eat the mice.


Mousseau has been part of scientific studies, along with Andrew Mueller on birds and insects both at Chernobyl and around the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.

Alex's note: Andrew/Andres Pape Moller is a Danish ornothologist studying birds at Chernobyl with Mousseau, but Moller is not without controversy about his methods. Accused of manufacturing some facts, Moller was almost ostracized by other scientists. Tim Mousseau has kept up their friendship, and criticizes the attacks on his fellow scientists. During a long career, Moller has published at least 600 scientific papers. His work on barn swallows stimulated a generation of biologists.

For more on this controversy see this article, but also read the comments below.

Other scientists have joined the Chernobyl investigative team over the years. They have found unexpected consequences for the animals living in the contaminated areas. They've published papers over the years about this.

"We found repeatedly in both Chernobyl and Fukushima now that the numbers of birds drops off in the more contaminated Chernobyl we see that up to 40 percent of the male birds are completely sterile. They have no sperm, in the more radioactive areas."

Birds in contaminated areas have higher incidents of eye cataracts. They have higher incidences of tumours and other developmental abnormalities.

In the last couple of years they've started new work with small rodents - mice and voles both in Chernobyl and Fukushima. They find very similar patterns of decline and disease.


The half life for Cesium 137 is about 30 years, so it will eventually disappear. It's a 29 year half life for Strontium 90. "Certainly after a century or two most of that will have decayed into either less radioactive or non-radioactive daughter products."

Plutonium and Americium will be around for hundreds if not thousands of years.


"The main motivation for the research we've been doing in these areas wasn't so much to document all of these abnormal, these negative consequences of exposure to radioactivity - but in fact to determine whether or not there have been adaptive evolutionary responses of the organisms to this novel stressor."

Just last year they published a paper showing a "handful" of birds had "managed to cope with the radiation in a way that was really quite striking. They do this by changing the allocation of some of their antioxidants towards defense against the radiation. "Now it's not all rosy because this change in allocation probably incurs a cost in terms of they can't use that antioxidant in terms of some other important function."

The scientists hope that knowledge might help humans who have to respond to radioactivity as well.


12. We discuss the problem of the unfinished "safe confinement" project for the radioactivity at Chernobyl, which is still covered only by a hastily constructed "sarcophagus" of cement, which is deteriorating. Why after almost 30 years from the melt-down hasn't this site been secured against further radioactive release?

The main hold-ups have been the complicated design, and the money. It's costing about 2 billion US dollars (and may go higher). Without the new shelter, they can't begin a more permanent remediation of the area, Mousseau tells us. The Ukraine can't afford that big cost. The world community is stepping up to provide funding, but they are still at least a half billion dollars short. A meeting is taking place in London this past week, trying to find the missing funding needed.

Building a new roof is just the first step. The planned new building includes cranes that can be operated remotely. They hope to investigate the interior of the Chernobyl building. No one knows what is going on inside - it's been too radioactive to approach the lower reaches of the reactor, where most of the spent fuel is, even almost 30 years later. Also, because the roof was leaking, Mousseau says, water has filled the bottom. This makes it impossible for people or machines to find out what is happening there.

Tim says as a much larger accident site, Fukushima will be even more expensive.


Things are very unstable in the Ukraine, "given the ongoing conflict between the Ukraine and Russia over the Eastern territories, and of course this has had an enormous impact on their economy. Their currency has been devalued considerably, by several factors, in the past few years, mostly in the past few months. And the unemployment rate has gone through the roof."

They will continue their studies of the rodents in the most irradiated areas, and hope to study the endangered Przewalski's horses, also known as the Mongolian wild horse, the last truly wild horse in the world. They were introduced to the closed zone near Chernobyl, but not monitored or studies well yet.

[See Wiki on Przewalski's horse here.]


They have some parallel and comparative studies going on at Fukushima Japan. It's currently at a smaller scale due to lack of funding.

They just published 3 papers in the last few months on the ways Fukushima radiation has affected the bird population.

"The bottom line is that many of the bird species are showing very dramatic declines in the areas of high radioactivity ... what makes that particularly interesting is that it parallels what we've been finding in Chernobyl, ina completely independent area...again providing fairly strong scientific support for the hypothesis that it's the radioactivity that's the underlying cause of these drops in numbers."


What about the contentious issue of the impacts of low-level radiation? Every time there's an accident, the nuclear industry says eating a banana or flying in a plane is more dangerous. What do you say?

"The bottom line to all this discussion is that all radiation, of all sorts, generates damage to our cellular structures. It leads to damage to our DNA, damage to the membranes around the nulceus of our cells and the cell walls themselves.

Our bodies have evolved mechanisms to repair most of this damage over the eons. Radiation isn't new. Mutagens in the environment aren't new. In fact the very oxygen we breaths is a major cause of mutations in our bodies. And so we have all the machinery in place to deal with it, at least to some extent. But the fact that we grow old and die is actually in part the product of on-going mutational accumulation into our lives.

So radiation of all sorts, even small amounts contributes to that and so there's no such thing as a little bit of radiation being good for you... the more you add, the more the effects will be.

"One airplane ride is unlikely to be of much significance, given that we expose ourselves to many other mutagens in the environment. The same could be said for eating one banana. But if you fly an awful lot then you will be increasing the dose to your body and this has been demonstrated to increase rates of cataracts for instance in airline crews - which is one of the first signs of radiation exposure. We see it in the birds, we see it in humans as well. Certainly it's just the first step. There are other consequences likely."


Some places in the world have elevated radiation levels simply because radioactive materials, like uranium or radium come close to the surface. Mousseau et al did a meta-data study to comare what they found at Chernobyl and Fukushima to these sites.

In one example, the second largest cause of lung cancer in the U.S. and in China is radon, a colorless, odorless gas that can accumulate in basements. Radon leads to many thousands of extra lung cancer deaths in the U.S. every year. There is no such thing as a good amount of mutagens.


Japanese forests are in mountains, and there is more moisture. Mousseau isn't sure about the fire hazards there. Japan has had years and years of forest management, largely restricting fires, which may add fuel if one arises.

"It is a significant concern for Japan, although I don't think anybody's started to think about it just yet. Given what we've found about the accumulation of dead plant material in more radioactive areas - the fact that the radiation impedes the normal decomposition process, leading to higher accumulation of what is essentially fuel for a fire, this is a significant concern."

Along with Japanese collegues, they've just started research to see if the same kinds of accumulation of litter is happening in Japan. We may get an answer by this Fall.


Due to differences of views in the scientific and political communities, funding for basic research into the impacts of these nuclear accidents, and radiation in general, has not met the needs of what we should know.

"These nuclear accidents are not as rare as we used to think they were. There was a recent study published, highlighted by MIT, that suggested that nuclear accidents on the scale of Chernobyl are likely to occur in the coming years. You know, a Three Mile Island scale accident is likely to occur in the next ten years. Nuclear energy is not going away any time soon, so we really do need to know more, much more, about the consequences for both human health and the broader environmental impacts, if we're going to continue down this path."

Find a British newspaper article about the likelyhood of more nuclear accidents here. Original source: "Probability of contamination from severe nuclear reactor accidents is higher than expected" May 22, 2012. (lead author Jos Lelieveld, director of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry).

CHERNOBYL FUNDING RESULTS (Alex's notes, not in the interview)

Finance ministers of major developed countries met in London in early May, trying to raise hundreds of millions of dollars needed to complete the "Safe Confinement" building over Chernobyl. This would be the largest movable structure in the world. Note they cannot say the radioactivity will be "contained" but it will be lowered, and thus "confined". Read about the funding crisis here.

With new funding promises the project is stil short 85 million euros, but has enough now to continue without delay.


Remarkably, three reactors at Chernobyl that did not explode continued to be operated for years after the accident. Consider the whole area was evacuated, including the fully developed city of Pripyat, we have to wonder at the exposure to the workers inside the remaining reactors.

The last Chernobyl reactor shut down in 2000, but they still have their fuel and spent fuel in the highly radioactive building.

According to this article in the World Nuclear News...

"For the period between 2028 and 2046, the most contaminated equipment will be removed from the units, while the reactors themselves will be dismantled between 2046 and 2064."

"For the decommissioning of units 1, 2 and 3, the international community is financing, through the Nuclear Safety Account, the Interim Storage Facility 2 (ISF2) at a cost in excess of €300 million and the Liquid Waste Treatment Facility (LRTP). The ISF2 facility is currently in the final phase of construction and will process, dry and cut more than 20,000 fuel assemblies and place them in metal casks, which will be enclosed in concrete modules on site. The used fuel will then be stored safely and securely for a minimum period of 100 years. The LRTP received an operating licence at the end of 2014."

In other words, it will take about 80 years after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 to bring the whole site to a "decommissioned" state. I expect about the same time frame for Fukushima, taking operations there to about the year 2100, all the time draining the economy and threatening health and the environment. And governments wonder why we don't trust nuclear power!

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


Here is an unusual plot for a story: an atmospheric scientist uses principles of physics to predict the global economy will slow to near zero growth. Then it's fragility and exposure to natural disasters suggest a high risk of "accelerating collapse".

That's all part of an on-going discussion I've followed over the years on Radio Ecoshock, with University of Utah scientist and Professor Timothy J. Garrett. In two interviews in 2010, Tim Garrett explained his discovery of a formula that linked economic wealth to the amount of energy consumed. That sounds simple, maybe even obvious, but it caused a slight storm of criticism from old school economists. Tim's work also predicts that only a precipitous crash in our economy could avoid a disastrous warming of up to 5 degrees Celsius by the year 2100.

Listeners have downloaded Tim Garrett's two previous Radio Ecoshock interviews thousands of times, partly because they cover the convergence of Peak Oil, climate change, and economic distress - all in terms of the laws of Physics. It's ground-breaking work which hasn't yet really reached the wider public.


You can listen to (or download) Tim's first Radio Ecoshock interview (February 5, 2010) here at His second (November 19, 2010) is here. Plus there is a transcript of his November 19, 2010 interview here.

Download or listen to this new interview with Dr. Tim Garrett in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Tim has pursued his theories and observations in a two-part publication, coming out in scientific journals in 2014 and in March 2015.

Here are links to Tim's two most recent papers, as discussed in this interview:

"Long-run evolution of the global economy: 1. Physical basis"

First published: 4 March 2014

"Long-run evolution of the global economy: 2. Hindcasts of innovation and growth"

Published March 24, 2015


THE BASIC THEORY AS LAID OUT IN EARLIER (2010) PAPERS (my interpretation of what Tim said)

1. The global economy occurs in a physical world which is bound by relatively simple laws of physics.

2. Picture a body. It begins small, consumes energy, and eventually reaches a relatively stable size, but must keep consuming energy to maintain that size. It may not grow more, but it still needs energy.

3. It turns out there is a fixed relationship between wealth and the amount of energy it consumes.

4. Right now our total wealth turns out to be about 2,000 trillion dollars. Our rate of energy consumption is about 17.5 Terawatts. That's about 17,000 large power plants, whether they are coal or nuclear. In 1970, those quantities were almost precisely half of that. And from 1970 to 2015, wealth and energy have grown in "lock-step".

5. Just as a heavier person needs to consume more energy to sustain themselves than a smaller person, a large world economy has to consume more energy just to sustain itself. There is a fixed relationship, which turns out to be about 7 watts per thousand inflated-adjusted 2005 U.S. dollars.


6. The first is titled "Long-run evolution of the global economy: 1. Physical basis" as published in "Earth"s Future", an open journal of the American Geophysical Union, on March 4th, 2014.

7. He points out that economists seem to see a different world than physicists or biologists. Instead of trying to influence the economy or politics, the physicist sees our system as a whole, where we are all (people, cars, factories) energy-consuming agents.

8. His theory sees "wealth" a global total, rather than the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of various countries. For example, "wealth" could include all the remaining production of previous ages, including the Roman Coliseum or Rembrandt paintings, which are not part of this year's production alone.

9. I ask where he fits in with the movement of limits, such as Richard Heinberg's "Peak Everything". If we discover new sources of energy, as in the Tar Sands of Alberta and heavy oil in North Dakota, these new energies will be applied to generate more wealth. It allows civilization to grow faster. Conversely running out of energy demands a smaller economy and less wealth. Garrett's formula allows us to predict the impacts of either scenario.

10. If we grow faster, then we need to consume more energy to maintain ourselves, just like a heavier person who finds more ready food. If we need to consume more to keep what we have, we will deplete those reserves ever faster. In that way, discovering more energy leads to sooner depletion.

11. Meanwhile, carbon dioxide accumulates ever faster in the atmosphere. Eventually, perhaps even now, climate change damage begins to cost more than civilization can afford.

12. Garrett has written about the role of innovations in this scheme of things. Can we innovate our way out of this predicament? He replies that we got into this situation precisely because of innovation. We've just gone through a period of innovation but our rate of emissions are much higher than even 20 years ago. We grow, and our pollution grows.

13. He writes about the "fraying" of networks within civilization, due to continual natural disasters, as climate change develops, and, I would add, along with Joseph Tainter, perhaps due to other pressures and breakdowns in a complex civilization. How long can major corporations and Wall Street continue to ignore those risks and those costs? Garrett replies at this time local disasters, like Hurricane Katrina, are very serious, but the global effects are still rather small. We overcome this fraying by discovering new energy resources.

14. There are two ways this "fraying" may become more difficult to recover from. 1. We may not discover enough new energy resources to replace the wealth lost. Or 2. environmental disasters become more frequent and widespread, so that we struggle just to keep at our current level, and cannot grow further.

15. At that stall speed, Garrett's modelling work suggests the global economy becomes fragile, so a following natural disaster may lead to "accelerating collapse".

16. This leads to the question: "How will the growth end?" Nothing grows forever. Using the analogy of ocean waves, there are some which rise and fall slowly. Others rise very rapidly, perhaps because they are reach a rising bottom near the shore, and then they fall very quickly. He thinks the rapid rise of this fossil-powered civilization is more likely to fall quickly as well. We are more prone to a rapid collapse, than a slow decline, he says.

Reintro 16:55

17. We go to the second paper, "Hindcasts in Innovation and Growth", published in March 2015. The "hindcast" part comes from testing weather models. Those models are tested by starting the model somewhere in the past, and see if it can accurately describe ("predict") the weather is actually happening now. The success of failure is measured into something called "a skill score".

18. Garrett did the same thing with his model of the constant between wealth and energy, trying it at various periods of time to test for accuracy. As it is accurate, he feels confident in predicting the future economy, if we know the availability of energy. The skill scores for predicting energy and gross world wealth were greater than 90 percent. However, the theory may not work for specific countries.


19. As an atmospheric scientist, I ask Garrett how his predictions compare to the forecasts made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Their models are extremely complicated, trying to calculate a huge range of variables, with hundreds of equations. Complex models are very hard to test.

[My own research notes: A whole series of scientists and institutions try to model out a whole range of human activities and responses. These are called "Integrated assessment models" or IAM. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change uses them to calculate different emissions paths. Recently the American economist and MIT scholar Robert Pindyck suggests integrated assessment models are useless and misleading.]

20. Testing IPCC models against his own, Garrett finds the IPCC models are very optimistic about how much the GDP is going to grow in the coming century, and also overly optimistic about how little CO2 levels are going to rise. "In fact they have us growing to an absolutely massive size, without having to consume much energy to sustain that accumulation of wealth".

21. The IPCC may argue effiency gains allow this optimism. Garrett's research shows efficiency gains to the opposite: "it is by becoming more efficient that we are able to grow faster and ultimately to consume more."


22. It is an expression of "the fraying" we talked about earlier. Like a tree we have intertwined branches of social, political, and communication networks that always spread outwards. Social networks, for example can decay, as we lose touch with people. The decay parameter recognizes and measures how networks may naturally fall apart.

23. For a civilization, one example would be the natural decay of buildings over time. Natural disasters due to climate change may advance the decay parameter.


24. We discuss the example of fad items that are "worth" a lot for a while, but then become worthless. Beyond the basics of food and shelter, do we define what wealth is, and how does that affect this theory?

25. Tim says that is true of "money" and gold. We agree they are worth a certain amount. But without that common agreement, they may be useless. Values may depend on how things help a network to flow.


26. Garrett has also wondered about this, but says it is above his economic expertise to say. His models based on physics can't break down those kinds of details. He would like to be able to answer that and will consider it.


27. Some people believe population growth is the driving factor in our consumption and pollution. Instead, population grows because of a higher availability of energy resources. Finding the Saudi oil fields in the 1950's was like winning the lottery. I agree new sources of energy can provide fertilizer for more food, more transport and refrigeration of that food, etc.

28. Like roads or telecommunications, we are all made of matter, and it takes energy to make us. From the view of the physicist, all things are networks which require energy to exist.


29. Our growth rate is starting to stabilize after the huge impulse of finding giant oil fields in the 1950's.

30. If there another impulse developing? Possible. An eye-opening presentation at Stanford by Professor Adam Brandt showed a mind-boogling amount of accessible fossil fuels in Alberta's Tar Sands, North Dakota and in fracked oil and gas. We may have stumbled on another energy lottery which could propel more growth and more wealth. Read an article about Adam Brandt, and why the 20% greater pollution from Tar Sands really matters, here.

31. Garrett's formula can be applied to those resources, once they are better known, to predict the growth outcome. Here I may disagree, because at the same time a "keep it in the ground" movement of disinvestment in the tar sands is gaining ground. Social forces, based on concerns about climate change, may mean that lottery ticket may never be cashed, or at least not in full.


32. With Garrett's atmospheric expertise, I ask him about the warnings from the Earth League that we face a 10 percent chance of experiencing "cataclysmic climate change" of 6 degrees C (11 degrees F) by the end of this century, on our present course.

33. He replies: "That sounds totally plausible to me". His model shows that if civilization manages to sustain itself, perhaps based on new energy from Tar Sands, the Arctic or wherever.

" the models it is not impossible to imagine carbon dioxide levels passing 1,000 parts per million - that's four times pre-industrial levels. Four times pre-industrial corresponds to two CO2 doublings, which would translate quite easily to 6 degrees Celsius of warming. And that's where you start thinking about, well the title of one of my papers, 'maybe there's really no way out'. I mean if civilization doesn't collapse because we run out of energy, then perhaps civilization keeps growing for a while as the carbon dioxide emissions accumulate in the atmosphere to such a point that there is this warming that you talk about.

And then you do have to think about what the implications are for civilization, and again, the word 'collapse' does come to mind

34. I ask if a popular press book with this theory will come out. He's thinking about it.


Special thanks to Patricia, who made a generous donation to Radio Ecoshock this week. I'm still a little short of what it will cost to run the program over the summer time. If you can help, it's easy to do from this page.

Find Radio Ecoshock on Soundcloud, Facebook, and Twitter. Our web site with all our past programs as free mp3 downloads is at

I'm Alex Smith. Thank you for listening and please join me again next week.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015


SUMMARY: Welcome to a power-packed Radio Ecoshock Show. I'm Alex Smith. My guests are George Kourounis, host of the TV show "Angry Planet", and the solar-powered international musician known as Turtuga Blanku. But first, we'll talk with a high-powered international lawyer who switched from taking multinational companies into China, to creating new alternatives for local economies.

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

Or listen on Soundcloud right now!


Radio Ecoshock has remarkable guests. Our next is no exception. He was a lawyer advising China, to bring big name multinational companies into that Asian economy. Now he's writing about anti-globalization, localizing economies, and the coming eclipse of the Western banking model. His latest book is "Fusion Economics - How Pragmatism Is Changing the World".

Who is Laurence J. Brahm? Let's find out.

In the 1990's, as an international trade lawyer, Laurence Brahm was instrumental in bringing big-name multinational into China. In 1996, he wrote a book called "China's Number One" predicting China would become the world's largest economy. That drew heat and criticism, but now, according to the World Bank, China is the world's largest economy.

More and more, Brahm turned to advising the government of China, which he still does. He wrote a biography of Zhu Rongji, the former Premier of China, and often seen as an architect of the modern Chinese economy.

Laurence Brahm

In 2002 Laurence retired from his practice as an investment lawyer, to seek "Shangri-La". In 2005, he moved to Tibet, and started a business restoring buildings. He helped found the Himalayan Consensus (more about that in the interview). One of his role models is the Bengladeshi Muhammed Yunis, founder of micro-credit banking.

Also in 2011, he helped form the African Consensus. One innovations of this Consensus was to say the true cause of violence and terrorism is economic poverty and identity stripping.

In 2011 Laurence attended the Climate Conference in Durban South Africa. He found it useless, and joined the protesters outside. He says China is more aware of the dangers of climate change, especially since the disappearing Himalayan Glaciers will dry out the Yellow River. Brahm is quite aware of the challenges climate change is posing for many countries and peoples.

In 2014 he attended the Nepal Economic Forum (see You tube presentations here), and in 2013 the G20 Counter Summit in St. Petersburg (You tube here).

On the economy, Laurence sees the end of world domination by the Bretton Woods World Bank IMF model. In the near-term he sees two parallel universes: the Western reserve currency system, and the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) system, based mainly on the Chinese currency Yuan (pronounced Yen) and in Beijing.

He sees the latest sanctions on Russia driving that country closer to China. The two can be natural trading partners, because China needs to import clean food (much of China is not able to produce food, and Chinese food may be contaminated); and water (Beijing itself is facing desertification, China needs a lot of water). To make this trade happen, there needs to be more infrastructure, such as pipelines and roads, connecting the two countries.

His latest book is "Fusion Economics - How Pragmatism Is Changing the World". Brahm is a curious mix of a lawyer at home with CEO's and bankers, who also protests as an activist.

Laurence has his own You tube channel. He talks about "compassionate capital" and "conscientious consumption". Brahm recommends we set up our own alternative financial systems (like local currencies, or bitcoin).

On BBC in December, Brahm said 80% of the wealth of America comes from betting on stocks, currencies and other financial games, and not from producing goods and services. That is not sustainable.

China's super growth came at tremendous cost. Brahm told the BBC that, "about 70% of the underground water in China is undrinkable" (BBC interview 8:49) and "about 60% of all surface water is too toxic for human contact".

Brahm is not a total advocate for all things Chinese. He is critical of their use of fossil fuels, the pollution in major cities, and doesn't think top-down government is good for other countries. He says the emphasis on growth in China was a machine for burning fossil fuels, which has ruined the environment. We can learn from China, but should not try to emulate them.

He says the oil-fossil fuel sector forms an oligarchy that currently runs America. That is why there is no Amercian leadership on climate change. Oil-fossil fuels run in a partnership with the Financial Sector, labelled "Wall Street". Quantitative easing, and over a trillion of tax payer money, went to reboot that financial sector, not to the people. He advises the Chinese that government funding should go to a new green economy, instead of the banks.

Laurence is listed as "Chief Economist" for the New Earth Nation (with Sasha Stone).

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


There's so much interest in extreme weather. Almost every news cast features a storm. And with climate disruption, there will be plenty more to see.

That's good news for our next guest, George Kourounis. He travels the world looking for adventure and downright dangerous weather, for his television series "Angry Planet". There's a new batch of shows running right now, so it's a pleasure to welcome George to Radio Ecoshock.

There have been 4 Angry Planet series, running on everything from the Weather Network, the Outdoor Life Netowork in Canada to cable TV channels all over the world (including Finland MTV3, TV8 Sweden, and TVB Hong Kong).

This new season 4 has a special emphasis on stories about the impact of global warming, all over the world, but with a focus on the South Pacific. Some countries there are already flooding regularly, and some will disappear as nations during this century, due to rising seas.

You can watch the free Episode One on the Pivot TV web site here.

George got the storm-chasing bug in the 1990's. He's flow into the heart of hurricanes, and run down the back roads in Oklahoma and the Mid-West looking for the big one. He's also a fan of volcanoes. In fact, he and his wife Michelle hiked into a volcano in their wedding clothes to tie the knot in 2006. It's wasn't a dead mountain either. That one has erupted every 5 minutes for the past 800 years, he tells us.

George has been in Amazon forest fires. One time he landed in the South Pacific island of Tuvalu just as they had 354 mm of rain (13.9 inches, over a foot!) in 24 hours. That's an extreme precipitation event for sure.

It's great that Kourounis is so aware of climate change. He worries we are going to leave a legacy to coming generations they may not be able to deal with. He's getting the word out through this new Angry Planet series: the relationship between extreme weather events and climate change. It's refreshing to find an adventure TV host this climate aware. Catch his new Angry Planet series on Pivot TV if you can.

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


Regular listeners know one of my hobbies is writing music using computer synthesizers. Martin, who is known at Turtuga Blanku, got in touch, to tell me about his solar studio in the Caribbean. You can visit the studio in this You tube video.

Here is a You tube listing of his eco music.

Why the name Turtuga Blanku? It literally means "white turtle" but is also a name given in the Caribbean to the green turtle. You see, Martin is also a diver and ocean lover. He was in the Caribbean at one of the finest dive locations in the world. That's where he got his knick-name.

During the interview, I learned something new (as I often do from guests). Martin tells us that solar panels are less efficient in high heat. While he got lots of power from his panels in the Caribbean (enough to run his house and studio) - he's get as much or more from the same panels in France. The sub-tropics are good for solar.

Martin has just moved back to "the middle of France". He'll set up a solar studio again. Plenty of his neighbors have solar installations, some large ones, thanks to the French policy of guaranteeing a good rate for renewable power, and in some cases, helping finance the original purchase.

We talk a bit about music. Martin has more talents than I - he can play a range of instruments, which he records and then tweaks on a studio computer. It's good stuff - hard to describe - you just have to click around to find the songs you like best. I enjoyed his music, and his conversation.

Find all of Martin's songs, or at least a lot of them, on You tube here.

Then head over and buy your favorite tunes (quite inexpensive) at his Bandcamp page here. Martin has also done some podcast interviews, including with Alan Weisman, the author of the World Without Us, who also spoke on Radio Ecoshock. Find Martin's interview with Alan here.

And here's a bunch more contact info:

Web: Facebook: Soundcloud: Download or listen to this Radio Ecoshock interview with Turtuga Blanku in CD Quality (recommended for the best music) or Lo-Fi (not recommended unless you have a very slow internet connection).

In this program I play a clip from a Turtuga Blanku tune called "No More" from his album Golden Bubble.


My special thanks to those who sent donations this week, and particularly the person who arranged a $10 a month contribution. All that helps me get through the summer, when donations crash. In a way, it's almost unfair that blog readers, and podcast subscribers pay the whole cost of Radio Ecoshock. The non-profit stations prohibit anyone asking for money, other than themselves. So a few people are really paying to get Radio Ecoshock to all those radio listeners on 87 non-profit stations! You are doing a good thing.

If you can help, click here for details.

Thanks for joining us this week. Stay tuned for more shocking news from Planet Earth. I'm Alex Smith. Keep caring about your planet.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Five Stories Seldom Told

SUMMARY: Science fiction author Robert Marston Fanney selects 5 stories of science truth from his Robert Scribbler's Blog. Excerpts from oil guru Nate Hagens.

What is really going on? What are the big stories the media leaves out, while they fill the news with quirky headlines and fluff? All over the world, from pole to pole, the Earth and her species are going through big changes. The atmosphere is trapping heat into the oceans, air, and land.

This week I'm going to cover five of those big stories, with the help of one of the world's best risk watchers. He's author Robert Marston Fanney, and his launching pad is called Robert Scribbler's Blog.

At the end, we'll squeeze in a few words about the new oil poverty creeping into our lives, with a recent talk by former financial advisor and Oil Drum editor Nate Hagens.

I'm Alex Smith, and this is Radio Ecoshock.

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

Or listen on Soundcloud right now!


We know humans and all species are about to live through a huge change not seen on this planet for over a million years. We have no memory of this planetary shift. No one has experienced it. The first stages are already happening.

As a science fiction author of Luthiel's Song and other works, Robert Marston Fanney has the imagination and ability to communicate. As a former specialist on emerging threats for the prestigious military publisher Jane's Information Group, he's learned how to research and pry into things. All of that, plus a special something else that is hard to define, leads to one of the most stimulating climate change blogs on the Net. It's called Robert Scribbler's Blog.

Robert Marston Fanney

Here's the catalog of recent blog posts we cover, or uncover:

* world-changing ocean currents

* cracks in the ice castle of Antarctica

* drought and fires in South America

* methane and blown craters in the Arctic

* the coming heat


In an interview on KPFA radio Robert Fanney said North Atlantic current news should be a major story in the mainstream media, every night. It's not. If we went down the street asking about it, we won't find much comprehension. What makes a major driver of our weather, and civilization as we know it, so boring, so off the radar?

That KPFA radio interview with host Caroline Casey can be found here.

Here is Robert's blog on why we should worry about big climate-driven changes in ocean currents.


I interview scientists about Antarctica, but they are often very, very cautious. In a way, science can only study the past, and barely captures the present. The future seems beyond it. What do these developments in Antarctica really mean?

I've just read a couple of papers about sea level rise expected from the melting of Antarctic ice. Some scientists suggest we might see about 1 meter of global sea level rise from Antarctica by the end of this century.

James Lovelock famously said humans might end up as a few breeding pairs huddled around a tropical Arctic ocean. It seems inevitable to me, that if we survive, humans a thousand years from now may be settled on Antarctica, as that continent is revealed by global warming.

Oh boy! - a whole new continent to plunder!

Check out Robert's most recent blog on Antarctica. And here is my feature interview on Antarctica with scientist Roland Warner from a few weeks ago on Radio Ecoshock.


Robert Maston Fanney, you've been one of the few bloggers who really pays attention to South America. I wonder if some of the climate disruption going on in Chile, Argentina, and Brazil may be related to changes in relatively nearby Antarctica. We know that changes in the Arctic have affected the Jet Stream, and weather in the Northern Hemisphere.

I haven't seen much science saying Antarctica is changing things in the Southern Hemisphere. That's because there is less land in the Southern Hemisphere and more oceans. In fact, the Jet Stream there has more or less intensified and moved closer to Antarctica. Scientists say that's one of the reason less rain is coming to Australia.

Let's get to what we do know for sure. Last Fall Robert raised the alarm about drinking water in one of South America's biggest cities, Sao Paulo. How many people live there, and what is happening now? I can imagine the non-stop media attention if water in New York was cut off for hours or days. Yet we hardly hear about Sao Paulo. Why?

We can definitely tie the drought in Brazil to deforestation or other changes in the Amazon rainforest. The Amazon was the constant rainmaker for Souther America, and now it's smaller and not as potent. This even affects cloud formation and rain in North Africa.

There's also been dry times, and an extended fire season in Chile. Robert just reported on that in Robert Scribbler's blog.


Let's head to the other end of the Earth, the Arctic. There is a school of people who think methane eruptions from the Arctic sea bed could wipe out the human species in this century. Are you part of that crowd?

Right now, it is carbon emissions, coming from cities where we live, that is endangering the future of civilization and helping the on-going mass extinction of species. We'd like to put it far away, in the Arctic, but it's us, here in the "civilized" sub-tropics.

There are some strange signs in the far north. Robert tells us about dozens of craters that have appeared in Russia. They are likely methane explosions.

(The Yamal Crater, as seen above, would be miniscule compared to a Yakutia Crater reported by Russian Scientists yesterday. Image source: The Siberian Times via Vasily Bogoyavlensky.)

We talked earlier about the power of ocean currents. What is happening with warm waters entering the Arctic Ocean around Alaska, via the Barents Sea?


Let's talk about something that worries me. I keep hearing new science that suggests we may be entering a new warming phase. Things have been delayed, and now the heat is coming, this decade or the next. Here is Robert's blog on the prospect of heating: "Bad Climate Outcomes".

Let's say we get a warming event, in a single year, or over three years. What do you imagine that would look like?

Again, ocean currents may be a factor. The Pacific Decadal Oscillation, a cycle of warmer or cooler surface waters in the Eastern Pacific - could that play into a heating event. It may have artificially cooled us (or minimized the warming we are due for) these past few years. When that changes to El Nino, we may be a burst of heat, as the planet did in 1998. But with added global warming gases, each heating event could be hotter than the last. Always setting records.

In a way, I think some climate hawks would like to see a really visible heat wave. At least that might galvanize the world and it's leaders into action. Could it be a good thing in a way?

On the side of pessimism, we may just get a slow, slow ramping up of warming, where we don't get enough impulse to react. It's the boiling frog effect. (That's not true by the way. Frogs will jump out of boiling water, even if we don't as a civilization.)

Robert Scribbler's blog has turned into a monster. It's become really popular with those in the know, kind of a thought-leader thing. I also appreciate the community of informed commenters that have built up around it.

From Washington Grove Maryland, we've been talking with science fiction author, emerging threats specialist, and climate blogger extraordinaire, Robert Marston Fanney. In literature, he's best known for the science fiction seires called Luthiel's Song. Find out more about Luthiels's song on Facebook. His previous Radio Ecoshock interview titled "I Have A Confession to Make" continues to be downloaded by people all over the world.

Check out Robert's blog for new postings on the rampant fires in Siberia (way to early in the season for that!)(he calls it "Siberia's Road to Permaburn Hell") and his update on the terrible drought in California.


In the little time we have left, I'm going to give you a taster of a simple but important talk by former Oil Drum editor, financial advisor and academic Nate Hagens. This is from my recording at the launch of the World Watch Institute State of the World 2015 Report, on April 13, 2015 in Washington D.C.

This is where Nate Hagens explains -through the lens of energy - why real growth ended in the 1970's for most people in Western countries. Since then, as the cost of getting energy goes up, more poverty is created. At this point, about 40% of Americans are pretty well broke, and 52% don't have enough savings to survive 3 months out of work. GDP may go up, but real wealth is declining, - a fact that is hidden by ever increasing debt.

I invite you to listen to Nate Hagens' full 25 minute talk at the World Watch Institute. You can download it as a free mp3 here.

Meanwhile, we'll zip forward to Nate's quick summary of his presentation.

Get all the details, with some video, and the full World Watch report, at


Thank you so much for listening to Radio Ecoshock.

If you can afford it, I can use more help from listeners to cover the costs or producing and distributing this show. I'm shy about fund-raising, but the Ecoshock account is getting low, just as we approach the summer season. The bills will keep coming in.

I have a small crew of folks who donate $10 a month - and I'm really grateful for that steady support. You can do that easily and automatically from this page.

If you prefer a one-time donation, that's great too.

I know I should do a fancy fund-raising drive, but so far just making the program has taken up most of my time. Let's see if you can help this week, to keep Radio Ecoshock going.

Meanwhile, thank you everyone for giving me the opportunity to talks with amazing minds, and stay in the loop of people who are trying to change the world for the better.


Radio Ecoshock





twitter: @ecoshock

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Melting Antarctica Will Shake the World

SUMMARY: New science on melting Antarctica. From Tasmania, polar expert Dr. Roland C. Warner. Then the return of Marjory Wildcraft, with more tips on growing your own groceries. Radio Ecoshock 150415

This week on Radio Ecoshock, we're going to the end of the Earth. It's a feature length interview about new science that shows Antarctica is melting. I guarantee you will read headlines, and see amazing video news, from the science you'll hear this week on Radio Ecoshock. For one thing, sea levels will rise around the planet, for centuries, reshaping the coastlines and civilization.

Then we'll finish up with the return of Marjory Wildcraft, with more tips on growing your own groceries. It's all food for thought and action.

I'm Alex Smith. The journey begins.

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

Or listen on Soundcloud right now!


There's a lot of action in Antarctica - and that can bring changes all over the world. Here to discuss recent science is Dr. Roland C. Warner. He is a researcher with the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre at the University of Tasmania. Tasmania is the closest Australian state to Antarctica.

In a shocking bit of news, Antarctica just experienced the two hottest days ever recorded there, namely 63.5°F or 17.5 C at the Argentinian Esperanza Base on Antarctic Peninsula. I've heard that was warmer than the temperature in Britain on the same day in late March.

Dr. Warner says it's not that surprising, because there is no doubt Antarctica is warming over-all, along with the rest of the planet. This one-day event doesn't mean much. A previous record was set in 1961. It takes a few thousand days to be "climate change."

According to the British Antarctic Survey on Warming in the Antarctic Peninsula over the past 50 years: that polar continent warmed by 5 degrees Fahrenheit ( 2.8 degrees Celsius), since 1950. In the interview Warner may have said 5 degrees C. but he meant 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Even 5 degrees F. makes this arm of Antarctica pointing toward South America one of the fastest warming parts of the whole planet.

That shows up in giant ice shelves cracking off West Antarctica, like the Larsen B. ice shelf that disintegrated in February 2002. The whole of West Antarctica is losing mass, as shown by the NASA Grace satellites that can measure mass from space. That means it's melting, and eventually several meters of sea level rise will pour out of that part of the continent.


But hold on, we have to distinguish between three types of ice around the poles. They are:

* sea ice (the surface of the ocean freezes)

* ice shelves (permanently frozen water, over the sea, but anchored to the land)

* glaciers (ice based on land)

As Dr. Warner explains, we know since the famous bath-tub experiment by the ancient Greek scientist Archimedes, water levels will not rise when ice in water melts. That is why your drink does not overflow when the ice cubes in it melt: the same mass of water was already displaced by the ice.

So disappearing sea ice in the Arctic, or collapsing ice shelves in the Antarctic, do not directly add to sea level rise. However, Roland tells us, the ice shelves can retard the flow of glaciers into the sea, and speed up glacier melt when they disappear. So ice shelf collapse can indirectly add to sea level rise. There's lots of science on this.

Secondly, we've been talking about West Antarctica. The biggest portion of the Antarctic continent is "East Antarctica". (There's no point in talking about North or South Antarctica, since everywhere is more or less "North" there.) As recently as five years ago, I can remember reading that East Antarctica would not be a major factor in sea level rise in this century. Not much was happening there, it was said, and in fact some areas were getting colder, not warmer.

That's all been stood on it's head with new science. Last May I did a program on NASA's revelations that East Antarctica was also losing ice mass. Find the blog entry, and that program here.

Our guest Roland Warner is a co-author of a new study that shows massive ice loss from another giant of East Antarctica, the Totten Glacier.

The title of that new science is "Ocean access to a cavity beneath Totten Glacier in East Antarctica". The Totten is the largest glacier in East Antarctica. At 540,000 square kilometers, it's size is simply mind-boggling. For North American listeners, the Totten drains an area more than twice the size of all the Great Lakes put together. Aussies would say it's more than twice the size of the Australian State of Victoria.

Seventy billion tons of ice flows out of the Totten Glacier, into the ocean, every year. That's about the flow rate of Niagara Falls, and it is expected to increase. Why? Because, and this is the crux of the new paper, scientists have discovered deep channels where warmer water can flow right under the glacier. "Warmer" water isn't terribly warm, but it contains enough extra energy to melt the glacier from below.


That takes us to another key concept going the rounds with experts. It's the "grounding line". My understanding is that's the point where the glacier reaches the sea and floats on top of it. But also: the geography below the glacier will determine what, if anything, will retard the flow of all that ice into the sea. The problem, according to NASA scientists, in West Antarctica, they haven't found any under-glacier mountain or ridge to stop glaciers there from pouring into the sea. That means that really big sea level rise is coming, and again according to NASA, the progress of West Antarctic ice into the sea is now "unstoppable".

A large Antarctic contribution to sea level rise will happen even if we cut all carbon emissions tomorrow. We have crossed that tipping point. That is why Antarctica will shake the world.

Please listen to this interview to get the real science, from a real scientist (which I'm not).


We also talked about two strange twists to this story. I encountered the first from comments made by scientist Laurie Padman, a co-author of another paper titled "Volume loss from Antarctic ice shelves is accelerating." Here's the twist: as more glaciers lose mass in Antarctica (adding to global sea level rise) the sea levels around Antarctica, and Greenland, may actually go DOWN.

Why? Because water is attracted to mass, to heavy things, by gravity. If these polar continents lose a mile or more of ice from their land surface, there will be less mass, and so some of the water now attracted to those polar land masses will dissipate, and go elsewhere.

The kicker is that scientists think the extra (from rising seas AND from loss of polar mass) will show up in places like New England. New England sea levels may go up as much as 25% more than other place in the world. Ditto Japan.

The second twist is that Antarctica may actually see snow pile up higher, especially in East Antarctica, due to climate change. A generally warmer world holds more moisture in the atmosphere. That has to come down, and where it's cold, if falls as snow.

The projected increased snow in Antarctica is still rather an unknown. In our interview, Roland Warner said it would take another year of observations to "make it clear whether the acceleration in loss from Antarctic grounded ice sheet was a trend – disentangling the effect of variability in snowfall." In a follow-up email, he meant to say "several more years" and perhaps even another decade of observations. His comments are based on the paper “Limits in detecting acceleration of ice sheet mass loss due to climate variability”, B. Wouters, J. L. Bamber, M. R. van den Broeke, J. T. M. Lenaerts and I. Sasgen, Nature Geoscience 6, 613–616 (2013) doi:10.1038/ngeo1874 Find the abstract and illustrations for that paper here.


We talk about the real geography of Antarctica. Warner says if all the ice were gone, we could sail right through part of Antarctica, going from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean without going around Cape Horn at the tip of South America.

As Roland told me in email: "the fact that the region behind the floating part of the Totten has a large region with bedrock below sea-level is important for the potential sea level rise. This was reported in Nature in 2011: Young, D. A., et al. (2011), A dynamic early East Antarctic Ice Sheet suggested by ice covered fjord landscapes, Nature, 474(7349), 72–75, doi:10.1038/nature10114. Find the abstract for that paper here, or download a .pdf of that paper here.

It's not easy trying to map our this continent, below a mile or more of ice! Scientists are still working on it, and some parts of Antarctica are still unknown, the last frontier some would say.

We also talk about the lack of scientific consensus on how much sea level will rise by the year 2100. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been very, very conservative, suggesting one meter by the end of this century. Others say we will get one meter of sea level rise from Antarctica alone. Some scientists suggest several meters of sea level rise (more than 10 feet) is possible. We don't know yet.

Hanging in the balance are many of the world's largest cities, which would be partially submerged. Several countries in the South Pacific are almost guaranteed to disappear. Deltas supporting millions, as in Bangladesh for example, will fill with salt water, ending agriculture there. This may be the biggest question of climate change.


I had a little difficulty finding a scientist with wide interests in Antarctica willing to give us this update. Roland Warner was brave to take it on, with an eye to keeping us in the research loop - because this is really important news for all of us, even though it takes place far away. The coasts of the world will be re-arranged, no matter where our cities are, because of melting in Antarctica.

Roland is a research scientist for the government-funded Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre. That's located in Tasmania. I thought the island of Tasmania was the part of Australia closest to Antarctica, but Warner tells me Australia claims islands that are closer still. In fact, Australia has laid claim to 42% of Antarctica. Many countries claim parts of the Continent, but all those are currently on hold, under the Antarctic Treaty established in the 1950's.

Warner has flown many times in an old World-War Two vintage DC3 airplane over Antarctica, as they make painstaking maps and measurements. The propeller driven planes can fly at the slow speeds needed to operate the instruments. It's many hours out and back, with no civilization below. Warner was also aboard the Australian ice breaker Aurora Australis when it made the closest approach ever to the Totten Glacier front, where it drops giant chunks of ice into the sea.

He's been part of a research venture called ICECAP - Investigating Cryospheric Evolution through Collaborative Aerogeophysical Profiling. Apparently ICECAP can also stand for Investigating Cryospheric Evolution of the Central Antarctic Plate.

Find more about that here and here (University of Texas site)

Any way you take it, events on Antarctica will re-shape our world. We were lucky to get extended time from Dr. Warner. I also appreciate his help in educating me in preparation for this interview. Any errors found in this blog are my own, and not those by Roland Warner.

Listen to/download this 45 minute Antarctic science update with Roland C Warner in CD Quality or Lo-Fi.


Last week we featured Marjory Wildcraft, author of the wildly successful DVD series called "Grow Your Own Groceries". She organized a super-summit of small-scale growers, home gardeners and pepper gardeners - all free last week. It was the "Home Grown Food Summit" with over 30 presenters. Over 100,000 people tuned in for that!

That shows the amazing growth of people who want to grow their own food for a variety of reasons including:

* knowing factory foods are bad for your health (pesticides, toxics, fats, sugars)

* knowing factory farming is bad for the environment (global warming, soil loss, abuse of animals, GMOs)

* knowing the supermarket food system is fragile, and may fail without much warning

* experiencing the high cost of food, and looking for cheaper alternatives

That's just the short list. Did I mention crops failing due to climate change and extreme weather?

So I asked Marjory to come back, with more tips we can all use to grow food. In this interview, we assume you know why to do it. Now we get down to how to do it.

We had Sylvia Bernstein, one of the original writers about aquaponics, on our June 2013 Radio Ecoshock Show. Find the blog for that interview here. You can download or listen to that interview with Sylvia here. She's fabulous. But when I watched some serious You tube videos about it, aquaponics seems pretty tricky and demanding. It can be tricky keeping fish alive.

There's no doubt that aquaponics can provide some super veggies, really lush crops. But I worry it will require too much energy to keep the fish warm enough in the winters in northern states or Canada. Yet the people who have a mind to manage an aquaponics system have a lot of top quality food to show for it. It's up to you.

We all know gardening can help seniors maintain their mental and physical health much longer. But eventually we may not be able to handle the heavy work. We talk a bit about how can we set up a garden to keep going with very little effort. Thinks like raised beds can help those who have trouble bending over, for example. In fact busy working people need the same thing. We can't cover it all in a short interview. Check out Marjory's DVD course for her tips to save time and effort.

You know it's strange. You start following your heart into something, as Marjory did with her transition from a financial planner to personal food growing, (which I could also call personal liberty.) Then she teaches, communicates, and suddenly, Marjory Wildcraft has become a one-woman movement on her own. Of course, as we discuss, she's connected to a world-wide collection of home-growers, all sharing tips, all educating one another.

Listen to this second Radio Ecoshock interview with Marjory Wildcraft in CD Quality or Lo-Fi.

If you missed last week's longer talk with Marjory, about the Home Grown food summit and her work, find that here in CD quality or Lo-Fi.

Check out last week's blog for a list of my favorite Majory Wildcraft You tube videos. You can learn a lot!

I'm prepping my own garden right now, with two new raised beds, a better compost bin, nets for the rasberries, and 8 inches of mulch all around.

Find all our past programs as mp3 downloads at our web site Listen on the soundcloud page, at If you can afford it, please help support me making this program. That's my life, dedicated to communicating alternative truths that can help us be ready for the future. Get the details on many different ways to contribute to Radio Ecoshock here. Any amount is appreciated.

I'm Alex Smith. Thank you for listening, and I hope we'll get together again next week, as we talk with the creator of the popular and inspiring climate work called Robert Scribbler's blog.